Prologue: The Escape
The night was dark and full of terrors. It had grown darker yet at the Purple Wedding, when Joffrey, the mad boy king, had finally met the end everyone knew he deserved, gulping down wine poisoned by one of his many enemies. But Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark had still managed to escape the clutches of those planning their downfall, branding them as the murderers, and seeking gain through their deaths. But Jaime Lannister, driven on by a spark of conscience few knew existed within him, would not have it be so, and arranged for his brother and sister-in-law's escape. Now was their chance to fly by sea, and seize the window of time opened to them.
The black cape that swallowed the sun shielded Tyrion and Sansa as well, and as they waited in a craggy outcropping along the coastline for the craft that had been paid to ferry them away, starless silence reigned between the estranged husband and wife. But it was not an empty silence, for Sansa could sense the movements of Tyrion's mind, just as she saw him turning his dagger over and over again in his hands.
He was plotting something, and when he plotted, he buried himself inside himself. It was that part of him no one had ever been able to reach, much less change, that menacing beast locked in the dungeon of his soul. His sadistic father, hateful sister, and spurned former mistress all had conspired to bring about his death. His cunning made him a threat to their power, and the money of family weighed more to most than his head. But now…now was the day of reckoning.
"I'm going back." Tyrion broke the silence with a razor sharp tone.
Sansa knew what he meant instantly. "Going back…to kill?"
He snapped his eyes on her like a small angry dog. "Going back," he growled.
He had never acted this way around her before. He had raised his voice when drunk, but she had always known it was the alcohol talking more than the man…and, aside from the debacle that was their unconsummated wedding night, he had rarely allowed himself to be seen completely drunk by her. He preferred to only approach her when he could be sure of being the courteous gentleman, of being soft-spoken and understanding and gentle towards her.
But this was different. All the hate that had gnawed away at his heart for year after year was rising to the surface like a sea serpent, and soon it would overflow like lava, scalding anyone in its path. These were the warning signs of the coming eruption. He was turning dangerous now, like a wounded animal on the run. He was loose, and he was lethal. For the first time since their marriage, Sansa felt truly afraid of him. His face was ugly as a demon, and his tone was ugly, and his thirst for blood was uglier yet…
But he had been kind to her. Her heart felt a strange pin-prick of sorrow for what was about to be lost. Some goodness in him had been kind to her when she needed it most. Some goodness in him still lingered, but it was about to die at his own hands. He was going back to slay it. She seemed to see what would be as clearly as if it had already happened, and her stomach twisted in a knot. And suddenly…she knew. She had to try.
"If you let them draw you back into their game, you lose, my lord," she stated steadily. "You lose everything."
"You know nothing of such things," he snapped.
"I know you will either kill or be killed, or both," she stated. "Is it really worth it? Are they worth it?"
"On the scales of justice, yes, it is," he affirmed.
"You are using the scales of vengeance," she countered. "You know you are."
He stifled an ironic chuckle. "And if I am?"
"Such a scale has a mind of its own," she whispered. "It never forgives, not even the one using it."
"I do not wish for forgiveness," he retorted. "After these deeds are done I shall be past the point of such things."
"Then you will have gone past the point of the man I was beginning to trust."
He felt her words now; she knew he did. But he forced himself to play the cynic. "A Stark trusting a Lannister?" he scoffed. "Really…you…you knew better all along, m'lady."
"Yes, perhaps I should have," she admitted sadly. "But then…I am not really a part of you, not like the ones you are going back to kill. Your father and sister are of the same blood as you, and Shae…"
"Do not speak of her," he ordered.
She exhaled. "Then you did love her, didn't you?"
"I…do not love," he claimed through gritted teeth. "It was a business transaction, pure and simple. We both had our own uses for each other. And I…always knew what she was, anyway. She would do anything for coinage. She couldn't hurt me if she tried."
Sansa sensed something new in his voice. A struggle, at least, with the pain punching against his ribs, a struggle that was revealing cracks in his armor. She had to keep trying…keep trying to crack him all the way.
"But Shae is part of you still," she declared. "You lay with her many nights. You cannot blot that out, nor the harm you will do to yourself if you harm her or those who share your blood…"
"The shedding of their blood will only strengthen me."
She shuddered. "If you want that kind of strength, you are on your way to becoming a true-born Lannister," she predicted grimly, allowing her contempt for the family that had caused her own so much pain to sing through her voice. "Perhaps that is what you want, after all."
"I have always been more a Lannister than they ever were," he hissed. "That is why they could not suffer me to live."
"They could not suffer you to live because they care naught for any life if it comes between them and their precious power," she countered. "And you…you are not one with them, not all the way…and that is a blessing you do not seem to realize."
"Such blessings are easily bartered."
"Then you have sold yourself cheap," she spat, standing tall against the other side of the rock face, "and whatever worth I thought I saw in you was naught but weakness."
"You are weak, Tyrion Lannister, weak in body and in soul," she continued, her voice building like the roar of a lioness. "That is why they hated you, because you are not fully a part of them, and yet you went along with them like a leaf in the current of a river. You would live for nothing and die for nothing except to prove your own cunning to make up your lack of manhood…"
"You are dwarfed not only in your form, but in your heart…"
"Damn you, stop it, bitch!" he bellowed in a fury, instinctively throwing the object in his hand in her direction. It was hatred he was flinging, pure unadulterated hatred for the whole ugly world. It was…his dagger.
Tyrion heard her yelp, and saw her arm pinned back against the rock face. He felt the anger drain out him, replaced by sheer horror. He had not even realized what he was doing when the blade glinting in the first light of morning; he had just wanted to silence her words, her harsh words of truth that bore into him like a drill. He had wanted to kill those words. But now…but now…
"Sansa…" Her name fell out of his mouth, and he stumbled towards her, his heart lodging itself in his throat. Their eyes met, and he felt as if the dagger had been thrown at him instead.
Her gaze was a cross between fear and pain, steeled by some emotion harder to identify. She was trembling all over. Still, with admirable presence of mind, she managed to pull the dagger free with her other hand, and then extended it to him, hilt-first, with the tip pointed towards her breast.
He saw the blade had her blood on it. It froze him to the heart, and his eyes grew hot at the sight. He had hurt her.
"If you wish for vengeance so dearly," she rasped, "take it now…with this. My blood will do just as well." Her breast was heaving with intensity. "Remember, I rejected you. I can stand in the stead of all those who rejected you…so stab hard, Tyrion, until enough blood runs to quench your thirst for it."
He was stunned and struck dumb as if he had just been beat about the head. He understood now what she had been doing, why she had been pressing him to the brink of insanity. Her words, cutting as they were, were meant for his own good. She was trying to save him…risking herself to try and save him from himself. She was putting herself at his mercy, or at the mercy of his own humanity which was forfeit if he returned. Was she such a fool?
With a blank expression, he slowly took the dagger from her. She closed her eyes tight, and turned her face towards the wall. No, it was no ruse then; she really thought he might do it. She was willing to let him do it. Her whole frame was tight, awaiting the bite of steel through her flesh, but making no move to run or defend herself. He felt…sick…sick unto vomiting, sick unto death…
He took several steps backward, almost drunken seeming in their unevenness. Then with a cry of frustration and anguish unleashed from the darkest depths of his soul, he turned towards the edge of the cliff and hurled the dagger over it. It clanged on the rocks as it fell, like the siren song of vengeance, and splashed into the ocean waters below. Then he sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands to hide his shame. He had failed…failed to be a Lannister. He had not the stomach for it any more. If he could have called the dagger back to his hand…he would have fallen on it.
The ship was mooring. They could hear the sailors straining at the ropes and swearing down on the beach. Sansa approached him warily.
"Tyrion, come, come now, we must go." Her voice was like a mother's trying to soothe a child who had just thrown a fit. She extended her hand to him, trembling and bloodied though it was.
He gazed at it strangely. "I…I made you bleed…"
"It's only a scratch; I'll be fine."
"But…I did it…I…"
"Please, please, no more," she begged. "Just…come."
"I thought more of you, Sansa Stark! I thought you were learning…that you would survive us all…" His voice was breaking like the waves on the shore. "You know what I am, and I know what you are, and…and…you're supposed to leave me, damn you! Why would you take such a risk? Why don't you…"
"Because." She reached her hand a little further towards him, and he saw her eyes were glistening like ocean glass. "Just because. Hate me if you like…but we Starks are as stubborn as the sea. And I'm not leaving without you. I'm not." She shook her head.
He forced himself to look up at her, ashamed and belittled by his stature. She sensed his humiliation, and knelt down to his own height, still with hand extended. She did not try to come any nearer to him, for fear of making him run or attack like a cornered animal; but still her hand was there, and the invitation of salvation open.
If only he would reach for it. Reach for it…reach…
He reached. Just for the sense of touch again, just to show that he hadn't meant it, hadn't meant to hurt her. The feeling of her hand clutching his helped him stop shaking inside. He was tired, so tired…tired of the intensity of the hatred throttling against him and his own death-dealing hatred coursing out in return. It had burnt him out till he felt like nothing more than a blackened shell inside. He couldn't think anymore…for once, he stopped trying to think…so he did not fight back when she led him…led him away…