ENTITLED: In Better Days
FANDOM: A Song of Ice and Fire
LENGTH: 8,100 words
SETTING: Beginning directly after ADWD, and continuing for six years afterwards.
DISCLAIMER: I am but a poor undergraduate baby, and I don't own shit.
NOTES: The fact that I am pushing for this to happen says something about me, doesn't it?
SUMMARY: "Tell him that it was me who sent you. Tell him that he never should have trusted me." — Sansa, and the ugly road to becoming a queen.
ONCE, when Sansa had been very young, her mother had told her not to trust a smiling man.
"A smile," Catelyn told the back of Sansa's head, "Is easy enough to make. Do not trust a man by his mouth or his words. Listen to his hands and eyes, and you will know him."
"But I shall marry a prince," Sansa argued, "And a prince ought to smile, lest his people come to hate him."
"Do they hate your father?"
Sansa was puzzled. It seemed to her that her lord father was always smiling. Most people smiled for Sansa, save Arya, but Arya was wicked and everyone knew that.
Quietly, Sansa decided that perhaps her mother was simply confused about some things.
Alayne studied herself in the mirror carefully. Once, she might have admired and blushed over the pretty girl her reflection made. It was colder now, more of an assessment. She turned her cheek, drew them in with an inhaled breath. She couldn't decide if she was too pale, or not pale enough. Her newly darkened hair hung severe about her face, adding shadow. Even her eyes looked nearly grey. Almost like Arya's.
She shut them quickly.
"Alayne, my sweet," a mild hand clasped her shoulder, "This won't do."
She turned immediately, eyes flying open, "Father?"
Lord Baelish was studying her in much the same way she had studied herself only seconds earlier. Careful, critical, restrained. He touched the crown of her head, let his fingers slide to the back of her ear. "It is a shame about the brown. You have such lovely hair."
"Thank you," Alayne murmured, trying not to fidget. Lord Baelish smiled, the slightest etchings of lines creasing out from his eyes. His hand ran, ever so slowly, to the underside of her jaw.
"Are you frightened, sweetling?"
She swallowed without meaning too, then blushed, knowing he must have felt it. She struggled to meet his dark, grey-green eyes, and to not look away from what she saw there.
"What does my lord father suggest?" she asked softly into the thinning silence.
Petyr's hand fell away, as if he had simply forgotten to reclaim it previously. "You are a very beautiful girl, Alayne, even when you are frightened and covered up. But you cannot be just a beautiful girl. I need you to be a queen. Can you manage that?"
But Alayne Stone was not a queen, and Sansa Stark had been eaten by the wood and the sea and the old gods.
Sansa shook her head. "I can't. I don't know how." She looked up at him helplessly, begging with her eyes, pleading with him to know her fear. "And even if I could—Sansa Stark was wed. I am wed. The wedding will be called off and the Lannisters, they'll know where I am and they'll kill me."
Petyr smiled wryly, "Do you really think I would allow anything to happen to you?"
Sansa caught herself from thinking too long of Aunt Lysa.
As she drew a breath to ask him to explain, he smiled slightly, a wicked flicker crossing his face. "The Lannisters shall not trouble us. It is all Cersei can do to keep Tommen on the throne at present, and your marriage to the dwarf went unconsummated, a fact that is well known to all. The dwarf himself has been lost for some months now, and I should think it shall stay that way. The world is not kind to little men."
Sansa wanted to argue with him, to coax out the nuances of his plan rather than deal in the glossed-over promises he was so fond of. But she could see the moment passing, and gone as Petyr's cool smile faded as he returned to regarding her.
"Stand straighter," he began, and she hastened to correct her posture, filling her bosom with breath and extending her back, rather than stiffening it, as her mother had taught her. She tried on Cersei's face in the mirror, then discarded it almost immediately for poor Margaery's. But no, Sansa realized, watching her own expression of adopted sweetness. That, too, lacked something.
Lord Baelish stood behind her now, and he bent forward to brush back a dark lock of hair so that her pale throat was bared. "Not so tender now, Sansa. A queen must be as strong as she is gentle, beautiful as she is wise. You must be perfect, do you understand?"
He was looking in the mirror over her shoulder. Sansa watched him watch her, then turned her eyes forward and put on her mother's face.
"Lady of Winterfell," his voice sounded, exactly on cue, and she could predict his dramatic pauses now. Her fingers felt the rough stone of her lady mother's balcony. His hand landed not more than an inch apart from her own, as he joined her to watch the steady, fluttering flakes coming down upon her old kingdom. "I did promise you, didn't I?"
"Yes," Sansa murmured, her voice crisp from the cold air, "And here I am."
The stone was colder than she remembered.
Lord Baelish's hand fell to her lower back, "Now you have the Eyrie and Winterfell both, my beautiful Sansa."
"Thank you, Lord Baelish."
He clucked his tongue, "Of course, my darling, of course. But I wonder after your husband? How is he feeling this morning?"
The snow pricked against her bare skin where it touched. "I expect he'll recover soon enough. The Septa said the arrow wasn't poisoned."
She thought the tips of his fingers might have flexed slightly, pushing her forwards, "Are you sure?"
Sansa kept her face plain, and as stupid as she could manage. "I pray it is so. Harold's men do not love you, father." She steeled herself, and then turned her head just slightly to the side, looking up at him through her eyelashes, the way Catelyn had once looked at Eddard, and it was with her mother's voice that she spoke, "Let me manage him. His men are mine, now. They should learn to love me."
And Sansa smiled with the crooked lips of a liar, before turning her face forwards once again. "My brother Robb marched on King's Landing, once, when the north was a hundred times stronger than it is now. We cannot take it now, and especially not with men who have no cause to fight."
There was a long pause, while Petyr studied her face carefully, "Such treason," he murmured at last, with an approving smile, and kissed her brow. He spoke quickly then, whispering barely an inch from her ear. "Very well, then. You stay here and see to your husband's men. See to your husband. See that you bear a son. Keep the stag alive, for the moment, and keep the wall cold while I am gone. And I shall go to find you a more worthy partner, my beloved Sansa. Do you think you can manage all that on your own?"
"Of course, Lord Baelish," Sansa murmured, eyes cast low, before she remembered to brighten them and met his own, to be his willing partner. "A son. I shall see to it."
"Then tend to it immediately," he murmured, hands against her shoulders, "I shall be gone a very long time. Give me something to remember you by."
Harold was slow to recover, though Sansa spared little enough of her mind to worry after him. With Petyr out of the castle, he was safe at least for the moment. More pressing was the leanness of her stomach, still flat but for sharing Harold's bed for the past few months.
"You're young to have a baby," the new septa, one of Harold's, told her. "Barely more than a child yourself. Drink the tea and pray to the mother, should it please you. You're healthy as can be, sweet. You have time."
Not much time, Sansa knew. If only she had been born as a son. If only she'd had her brothers left to her. Even Arya, for all that she was nearly a boy herself, would have been welcome
Winterfell was lonely now without them. Sansa set the townsfolk to rebuilding and the men to training themselves and the younger boys. She was careful to make an appearance at every tournament and banquet she hosted, and equally careful to keep the grand chair next to her empty.
It was taking Harold an awfully long time to recover. An awfully long time.
"Do you know," he whispered to her that night, "That you're the only pretty face I've had since we married?"
Sansa closed her eyes, "You honor me."
He laughed. It was a painful sound. He died very slowly, Harold. "Sweet Sansa. How kind you've been to me. How good a wife." His hand pushed down on her shoulder.
After a pause, she lay down beside him, fully clothed, silent as his hand curved against the back of her knee. It was dark in the room. It was darker under the covers.
Sansa kept her mouth turned carefully from his own. There was a lingering scent of poisoned wine on his breath.
Stannis Baratheon did not die as planned. Nor did the Greyjoys.
Sansa returned Stannis to the outer world almost as soon as he was able to walk again, with only mild reassurances as to their friendship, and pleas for excusal from taking up his cause—she was only a woman, after all, only a girl, and her husband was sick. Yet he lingered in her hall, eating her food and upsetting her men, so for the moment Sansa left him to his plotting and his red gods.
Though perhaps foolishly, she was more concerned with her attending maid. It had taken Sansa weeks to coax Jeyne back into her company, and the other girl stayed skittish, feeble. She lurked about Theon's cell, her arm submerged up to the elbow as she groped through the bars.
It made Sansa sick to think of him, and frightened her to keep him and Stannis alive beneath her roof, shackled though they were.
But it was Asha who she should have feared.
"I would speak with you alone," the ironborn woman said, wrists bound behind her in the audience chamber. Sansa looked at her mutely, wondering. There was a subtle swell at Asha's stomach that looked out of place on her lean frame.
"Tie her to the chair," Sansa ordered, finally, and only rose after the order had been carried out, and Harold's men had left the chamber. Asha smiled slightly.
"You need to marry my brother."
Sansa only looked at her. A hysterical rage boiled against her throat. "Your brother betrayed my family. I should hang him. I wonder daily what keeps me from it."
Asha's grin was unsettlingly familiar in its condescension, "Because you're a clever girl, and you're going to kill your husband as soon as he puts a baby in you."
Sansa inhaled slowly through her nose.
"But that alone isn't enough," Asha continued, "You need the alliance of one of the great houses. You have Baratheon and Greyjoy beneath your roof, and Stannis is already wed."
"Theon looks ready to die," Sansa murmured, "And the fact remains that a marriage is just a marriage. The power you and your brother once commanded has been sacked."
"And there is the fact that you loathe him," Asha laughed, "In that we are alike. But here, listen to me. Theon cannot fight on the sea any longer. He was raised too many years with his feet on the land. But I have salt in my blood, and I am the eldest of Balon's children, the rightful lord of the seas."
Sansa did not say what she thought, that a woman could never be a king. It didn't seem to be the sort of thing that could apply to a woman like Asha.
"My brother and you can take the land," Asha finished, "Only let me have the sea. Marry Theon, and we can take the sea together, and I swear to you now that I shall not rest until I am dead or you are queen of Westeros."
The bold words filtered off into the silence while Sansa pondered them. She tried to imagine herself wed to Theon. Theon, who had once been so darkly handsome, and was now little more than a ghost. Theon, who had slaughtered her only remaining family.
"I shall consider what you have said," Sansa said at last. Asha nodded, her smile knowing. There could be trouble, there, Sansa realized. It was hard to hold onto water.
"There is one other thing you should know," Asha tossed out, as Sansa moved to call the guards back in, "Theon never killed your little brothers."
"It's true enough," Asha said calmly, "If it had been my father or uncle, they would be dead. But Theon has grown soft from the land. Those were peasant boys strung up on your wall."
"And my brother Robb?" Sansa cut in, "Is that so easily forgiven?"
Asha Greyjoy turned her head slowly, and looked Sansa dead in the eye, "Your brother Robb was better than other men. People do not take kindly to that. He could never have taken King's landing."
It was true enough, Sansa knew. She gritted her teeth and looked away. "And what about you?"
"You," Sansa repeated, and bent so their faces were very close together, "Would you have killed Brandon and Rickon, had you been in Theon's place?"
Asha grinned, "Only if they were bigger than me."
"And what of my brothers? Where are they?"
"That was years ago, lady. Even if Theon knew then, he doesn't now."
Sansa exhaled heavily, the little bubble of hope she had felt fizzling away. Years ago. Two little boys, one of them barely more than a baby, and one who could scarcely walk. But lost, not dead. Something. It was something.
Harold died within the fortnight, a good week after Sansa's belly had begun to swell. He'd kissed her stomach in the darkness of their room, his lips shaking and cold, and called her his sweet wife, his dear little bird.
Sansa pushed the thought out of her mind.
She had the Greyjoys brought up from the dungeons and kept out of sight, mindful of the influence Asha commanded over men. Harold's funeral was extravagant, and Sansa was beautiful in her mourning clothes. The speech she delivered to Harold's men, his brave men who were so far from home, who had done so much for her and who she loved individually, made them love her. She had been careful to learn every man's name. There would be no dissent yet, not while she still had nothing to ask of them.
And her growing stomach did not go unnoticed.
"You're well along," the septa told her cheerfully, "You'll have the babe just before your fifteenth name day, I should think. A boy, of course. Harold's boy."
Sansa had smiled meekly, and thanked her.
Asha was further along into her pregnancy than Sansa, and irritable for it. Theon, who had needed to be carried up from the dungeon, was filling out, and looking younger by the day. His white hair looked strange against his darker eyelashes, and the pained lines about his mouth made it difficult to distinguish a smile from a grimace.
Jeyne was in love with him. A desperate, painful love. It hurt Sansa to see it. It hurt her equally to speak to Theon.
"Lord Baelish is coming back soon, isn't he?" Asha asked, then carried on before Sansa could answer her, "He'll have another husband for you. You'll need to have the baby first, of course. You can't tell him about Theon and I. Tell him that we died in captivity, and we'll take on servant's clothes, and he'll be none the wiser. We're due at nearly the same time. Give me your baby, and I'll tell anyone who asks that I've had twins."
"No," Sansa said immediately, her hand against her stomach. A son. Her son. Her son, who was the key to Harold's men. "I'll keep him. Give your son to Jeyne, if you want to play at switching babes."
Asha frowned, "The widow of Bolton's bastard? That gains me nothing but a pleasant loss."
"Marry her to Theon," Sansa said softly, "Begin stuffing her dress. Tell everyone that the baby is hers, once it's born."
Asha's frown did not lessen, "Theon cannot have children, and you have run yourself out of allies."
Sansa pressed her lips together, "I did not say that Jeyne should stay his wife forever."
Asha looked at her a moment, and then laughed outright, "You are cold as your name, Sansa Stark."
Sansa stood dutifully at the entrance to the keep as Petyr returned, entourage in tow. The banners of house Frey shook in the wind, and Sansa's stomach turned over. A Frey. Of course, always the Freys.
Lord Baelish leaped nimbly from his horse and came up the steps towards her quickly, eyes nearly green from pleasure. He kissed her prettily, if briefly, and left his hand to idle at the back of her neck. "My sweet Sansa. I was so sorry to hear that Harold had left you," he sighed, loud enough for those near them to overhear, and spread the word.
Sansa swallowed, and pressed her forehead momentarily against his shoulder, before bravely looking up. "None more sorry than I."
She looked over his shoulder as she spoke, watching as the Frey dismounted. He was older than Petyr, and very fat. His horse looked relieved to rid of him.
"My sweet," Petyr's smile grew as his eyes passed over her belly, "May I present to you Walter Frey, a man of great fortune, who offers you the honor of his hand in marriage, and the loyalty of house Frey."
Sansa wanted to spit on the supposed honor of House Frey. She was so violently repulsed by him that should would have had Theon a thousand times over. She looked towards Petyr, her eyes wide and pleading against his unreadable, clever smile, until she understood.
Walter Frey, in the business of crossing the yard, stopped in bewilderment. "No?"
"No," Sansa repeated, more strongly, as she turned to him.
She became the queen. "I am sorry, ser, to have you travel so far for so little to show for it. My hall is open to you and your men for rest and bread, but I cannot marry you. Though I recognize my duties to Winterfell, to my position as Lady of Winterfell, I have an obligation to my late husband as well. I carry Harold's child in me, and for that child and for the dear memory of my just-buried husband, I cannot marry you. I am truly sorry."
There was silence in the courtyard. It was a silence that trembled, and grew, and finally exploded into a roar of approval as Harold's men rushed the courtyard, bodily lifted Walter Frey off the ground with complete disregard for his roars of protest, shoved him back onto his horse, and chased the procession past the castle gates.
"You're faint from the baby," Petyr prompted, and Sansa fell against him obligingly. She rested her head against his shoulder as he carried her inside.
"My clever girl," he started, "I hope you're ready to ruin the house of Frey?"
She shifted uneasily, "We aren't strong enough to storm the castle. The men know it. They might follow me there, but a fruitless battle will be enough to turn them away again. I need to give them a man to follow."
"And so you shall," Petyr said patiently. "Frey we shall take from the inside. He's an old man, our Lord Frey, and with so many sons..."
"You can't assassinate Walter Frey," Sansa pulled back her lips in a grimace as they accidentally brushed his throat. Then she made herself do it again, "We'd hardly be the first to try."
Petyr didn't reply to her, and she shifted, uncertain if she'd made him angry. "What is it?"
"I do find it endearing when you include yourself in my plans," he confessed, and passed her to one of the guards at the door, with strict instructions that Sansa was to be taken to bed at once, and was not to be disturbed.
The assassination of Lord Frey came with the birthing of Asha's child. A healthy girl named Quella Greyjoy for her grandfather, who after just a week had the same roguish good looks Theon had once claimed. The stuffing came out from under Jeyne's dress.
"Are you sure it was wise to let him out?" Petyr asked her over dinner, watching lazily as she cut into her bread. Sansa kept her eyes low. "Jeyne was a friend of mine when we were girls, and Theon is not long for this world. You see how frail he is. The death of his sister destroyed him further."
She took a careful bite, the crust flaking and crumbling as she bit into it. Petyr's eyes moved to follow her throat as she swallowed. "She has given him an heir."
"No," Sansa turned to face him, sucking a bit of butter from her index finger, "She has given me a ward."
The birth was mercifully clean, and Asha was back on her feet within the week, bright-eyed and seemingly ready to reclaim her ships. All that was left was the departure of Lord Baelish, who, Sansa suspected, would not leave until her child had been born. Jeyne, for her part, took to the baby almost immediately, for all that she could not nurse it. Watch her rock it to sleep, Sansa almost wondered if perhaps Jeyne had forgotten how children were made, and truly believed that the baby she held was her own.
She was not the only one who looked. "Don't kill her," Theon murmured, as they stood together in the Godswood, looking after Jeyne and the baby, who seemed more interested in crying than ancient history. "She doesn't deserve to die."
"None of us deserve anything we are given," Sansa said bitterly, "Save you, perhaps, but you deserve more."
"Be careful of my sister," Theon ignored her, "You might think that Asha will help you, but I can tell you now that she doesn't give a whit for the kings of dirt. You mean less to her than a drop of water from the sky."
Sansa smiled, "And you would have be turn to you, Theon? You, who ruined everything I loved?"
"Yes," he said flatly. Sansa nearly snorted as she turned to look at him, then caught herself. There was a handsome man growing stronger just beneath the ruin he was supposed to have become. She frowned, and reached to touch his cheek.
"You're looking too healthy," she instructed, and left the Godswood perhaps more quickly than was necessary.
The baby came a fortnight earlier than expected, in the middle of a silver mist. Sansa hadn't realized it at first, and attributed her discomfort to a series of especially vicious kicks. And then she understood.
"Oh," she said, and put her hand over her eyes, "Oh, no. Oh please, no."
Jeyne had run for the septa, while the maids helped escort Sansa to her chambers. It would be hours before the actual labor began, she reminded herself again and again. Hours. She was a Stark of Winterfell, and she would bear Harold's son, skinny hips or not.
It was a long and bloody delivery. Sansa lay in her bed, crying, watching as the septas shook their heads and told her, again and again, that she was too young to be having children. "I'm going to die," Sansa said, terror lodged in her stomach, "I'm going to die."
"Don't be silly, Sansa!" Catelyn said.
Sansa jerked her head to the side, vision blurred from tears, "Mother?"
Asha Greyjoy seized her hand, "Don't be absurd. Now. You listen to me, Sansa Stark. You are not allowed to die here. Not after all this. Your family is half wolf, remember? You don't die because of a little blood."
Sansa began to laugh hysterically, "Lady's dead. My wolf's dead. They killed her. They killed me."
"Stop that," Asha's hand was indecently strong. Sansa thought her bones would shatter, "Listen to me. Listen to me. You've got to marry Theon. You've got to take the Iron Throne. You've got to be the queen of all the land-people, and if you want to burn Cersei Lannister while you're getting there, I don't doubt you'll find a number of men eager to lend you some fire."
Sansa wasn't sure if she was shaking her head or crying. "You aren't my queen, Asha Greyjoy."
"I'm a king, little bird," Asha snapped, and Sansa gasped.
Grayson Hardyng had green eyes. Not dark enough to be grey, nor light enough to be blue.
Sansa had hoped, when he'd first been born, that his eyes would stay the dark-blue of infancy. He was undoubtedly her son, with his thick auburn hair, and young enough for his features to blur into a resemblance of whomever the onlooker chose.
Lord Baelish smiled as he looked down at he baby, and extended a finger for the infant to sleepily clutch at. "He'll never be very tall, I'm afraid."
Sansa kept silent, unable to name her feeling of profound violation. "You knew," she accused, barely able to control her tone.
Petyr shrugged, humming, as he lifted the baby away from her, "What a handsome little one. He must take after you."
"How could you have known?" Sansa demanded angrily, "I lay with Harold nearly every night after we had married, and you only the once."
"Well, well," Petyr, apparently finished, handed Grayson back to her, "You aren't the only one who can slip things into another person's wine, sweetest."
Sansa only looked at him. Petyr laughed, "Oh, don't look at me like that. Harold's men want it to be his child, so they will see his child. They will see your child. And it is Grayson Hardyng who they shall put upon the throne—though I think by that time, he will have taken on the Stark name or even return to the Vale. Don't you see, Sansa? Only the son of a great house could hold the iron throne. The one thing I could never manage."
She wondered if she imagined the touch of bitterness in his voice. But it disappeared beneath a wave of satisfaction in the next instance, "But now, I have a son of a great house. My beautiful Sansa, you may make any man your king and husband, but you and I shall know that it is my son who commands holds Westeros."
Sansa held Grayson close to her breast, silent as she watched Petyr walk away. He would leave now, she knew, to find her another husband. She looked down, into the damning green eyes. Lighter than Petyr's, she told herself. A shade away from blue.
"You're my son, too," she whispered.
Stannis Baratheon demanded an audience.
The irritation Sansa had harbored towards the fallen king wavered as she entered the hall, and saw the two boys at his side. One was carried by a giant. It was the giant she recognized first, made unique by his size, then the thin boy on his back, and the littlest at his side.
"Bran," Sansa said numbly, "Rickon."
And then she was running for them, her arms flung wide, and little Rickon was up to her waist now, not a baby anymore but a solid child, and Bran by contrast seemed smaller than she remembered, but he reached down to grasp her curls, and she laughed outright.
"The heirs to Winterfell," Stannis announced, clapping his hand on a tired-looking man's back, "Well done, Davos."
The heirs to Winterfell.
Before she could think of something to say, Bran overrode her, "Not anymore. I renounce my claim to Winterfell."
Rickon smiled at her, "I name my sister Sansa as the lady regent, until I am of a sittable age to command my lord father's home."
"Suitable," Bran corrected. Rickon frowned. There came a low, horrifying growl from the back of the room, and Sansa spun in time to see an enormous black wolf creeping amongst the rushes.
She felt sick.
Stannis was blustering something she couldn't be bothered to hear, and Bran was leaving for the wall, for Jon, and Rickon was staying here, and Sansa was considering the horror she had felt upon hearing her brothers named heir. The furious, desperate need she'd felt to have them gone.
The old Sansa Stark had loved her family more than power.
Of course, she was still that same girl. The same Sansa. Of course.
Outside of Winterfell, the world was in chaos. Bran and Stannis left again for the wall that shuddered and quaked against the hoards of white-walkers and other monsters Sansa didn't care to think of. The Martells and Lannisters ripped their kingdoms apart to kill the other, while the Tyrells sunk their roots ever deeper into King's Landing. The Ironmen filled the shores with the corpses of their ships, the surviving Freys had to buy out more land for the family members that needed burying, and there were dragons across the sea. Targaryan dragons.
In Winterfell, Grayson and Quella took their first steps, and with the help of Harold's military commanders, Sansa set about systematically conquering the lesser northern houses who had dared turn their backs on Robb. She kept Rickon close to her as she did so.
She began with Karstark, and as the houses fell, sent the conquered men out in batches with Asha and Theon to storm the Iron Islands.
It was three years before Petyr returned, and he did so without warning or notice, only a silent figure in the night, a gentle hand against her sleeping shoulder. "Hello, sweet."
Sansa breathed in slowly, and sat upright. "I hadn't heard you would be rejoining me," she demurred.
He laughed softly, "Good. I've been busy in King's Landing, juggling monarchs. I've heard favorable things. Too favorable. They're about to march on you, or they would be, if it wasn't for me."
Sansa wanted to laugh. Let them come. Let them break their armies against the cold, she wanted to say, but chose instead, "You were gone a long time."
He laughed again, almost gentle, and kissed her just below the jaw. "Where's the boy?"
"Asleep," Sansa murmured, suddenly desperate to keep him distracted, to keep him with her, to keep him away from her son. She reached upwards and told herself that she was eighteen now, that it had been four years, and she would be in control this time, she was a woman now, and she knew how to play. To build empires of skin.
"I have found for you," he told her neck, her breastbone, "A dragon."
"Aegon Targaryan," her wrist, the inner crease of her elbow, "Alive and ready to conquer the kingdom that was stolen from him."
Sansa felt numb, "He died twenty years ago."
"No," Petyr corrected, "Nor are your brothers dead. House Stark grows more powerful by the day."
Sansa pressed her lips together, and turned her head to the side when he tried to kiss her. He withdrew, "Have I made you angry?"
"I want Rickon to be the Lord of Winterfell, when I am queen of Westeros," Sansa ordered, "There must always be a Stark in Winterfell."
"Then you'll marry Aegon?"
"I should imagine he wants to marry his aunt over the sea. The one with the dragons. They're of a like age."
"Sweet Daenerys is halfway mad, and too ambitious for her own good. She builds an empire of grass, for all that she is the queen of fire. Let her keep the eastern continent. Even for a Targaryan, two continents in one lifetime is folly."
Sansa bit her lip, "If I should have children by him, they would take the throne from Grayson."
"Then don't have children. Drink the tea. You've proven yourself fertile enough, I think. Let the kingdom laugh at their impotent king. Let the common man laugh him off the throne."
A plan was slowly forming in Sansa mind as she lay there in the dark. She rolled onto her side and dug her nose into the pillows, "He may not want to marry me. I have been widowed once already, and have little enough to offer him. We hold the northern kingdom, but only just."
"And the Iron Islands."
He knew. Sansa smiled at him to stall for time, "I wasn't counting them. We can't be certain that Theon will defeat his uncles."
"Of course," there was no alarm or suspicion in Petyr's voice, though Sansa knew better than to trust a man's words. "Well, my darling, I can assure you that he'll want to marry you with one look at that face of yours...but it would be good of you to help convince him with more than your face.
Aegon was more beautiful than she had expected, with shining hair and deep indigo eyes. Sansa's breath hitched just to look at him. In other regards, he was much as a prince should be. Intelligent, strong, and well aware of both. She was reminded a little of her brother Robb, back when he had been allowed to be a child.
"I haven't much time," Aegon said upon their introduction. He bent to one knee and looked up at her through thick, beautiful eyelashes, "Will you consent to be my lady wife?"
Sansa pretended to flush, angry that he should presume to rush her in front of Harold's men, who loved her in mourning, and loved even more to think of her out of mourning's clothes. "Please, ser, you've put your knee in horse dung. Things such as these should not be done in the yard."
Aegon's hand tightened very briefly around her own, and then he laughed loudly. "Very well. Then I shall commission you to find me another pair of trousers."
Sansa put on her most demure smile, "Would you like to remove the ones you have on, first?"
This time, Aegon was not the only one to laugh. As Sansa led his procession towards the castle, a shadow flicked in the corner of her vision, and she turned her head, just quick enough to glimpse the shade of a winter-thing, watching her from the shadows.
"Lying whore," Asha Greyjoy stormed into Sansa's tent, throwing the canvas door aside with inescapable rage. The gaurdsmen rushed forwards to block her as Sansa rose. Asha looked ready to bare her teeth that them.
"You shouldn't be here," Sansa said, softly. "You should have sent your brother."
"Theon is busy finishing Euron. The islands are as good as ours."
"Then I don't see why you have reason to complain."
Asha laughed nastily, "It would appear that Old King Torrhen is not the only Stark who learned to bend over. You were supposed to marry my brother."
Sansa smoothed down her skirt, "That would take him nicely out of your way, wouldn't it?"
Asha grew very still, watching Sansa with enormous, unblinking eyes.
"I don't think the Ironborn will follow you," Sansa said quietly, "Not because you are a woman. You have proved whatever was required of you...but because you are here, with me. Where I shall keep you, until Theon has finished with Euron. When he has paid your iron price for kingship."
Asha's face tilted low and furious. Her hand kneaded at the axe at her hip. "I should kill you right now, you cowardly bitch. This is not well done."
"It was not well done when your brother left mine to die," Sansa said quietly, and walked out of the tent, her heart pounding.
She knew what to look for, after she began taking Aegon to her bed. Sansa slid a hand down her stomach, and swallowed. She had time. But not much.
The northern men had marched past the bridge that had confounded her brother's army, and stormed on to that cesspool of lies, King's Landing. Sansa had gasped when she saw it, and what it had become. Even if Cersei had still commanded the Tyrells and Freys, the city would still have collapsed from beneath the bodies she piled atop it.
Just one day from King's Landing, Petyr slipped into her tent. Sansa froze when she saw him. He would know. He would know when he saw her naked.
She set her brush down carefully.
"Did you really think," Sansa panted, "That I would grow to love you?"
"But you have."
"I do not!" she cried, the wind whipping long red curls into her face and eyes. She pushed them away, noting with distaste the wetness of her cheeks. Ice. She was the daughter of water and ice and kings, an old thing. "I do not feel anything for you, Ser."
"I think you are lying, sweetling," Petyr murmured, watching her still with restless, nearly-gray eyes. "Though you always were good at that, Alayne."
"I am not your Alayne," Sansa snarled, "And I am not Catelyn either, though she was never yours."
His eyes hooded, "You should be careful, darling."
"No," Sansa shook her head, and then repeated again, "I am not my mother."
Petyr smiled slightly, "Is that what this is about? My sweet Sansa, I would be foolish to think so. It is true enough that you resembled her as a child, but Cat was never as beautiful as you. Nor, I think, was she as served to rule."
Sansa laughed breathlessly, "I have seen the like of queens."
"You have seen the like of pretenders and fools."
"You would have me believe such stories? You, generous enough to help the daughter of the woman who scorned you?" Sansa shook her head, still laughing a little, still bubbling over and terrified and oh, maybe he would kill her too. Lord Baelish was so good at destroying the things he claimed to love.
"I would have you believe in the man who has been nothing but a friend to you these past nine years," he raised his eyebrows. Sansa gripped the edge of her bed.
"You were not just a friend to me."
"Are you talking about the boy?" Petyr laughed. Sansa ground her teeth, the truth suddenly bursting out of her.
"It was wrong."
"And why was it wrong? Why not me?" Petyr asked softly, touching the the ridge of her cheekbone. Sansa's teeth locked together. He wasn't smiling now, but looking straight at her with an odd, almost frightening hunger. He could not have been more than a few inches taller than her, so their eyes were nearly level, and much too close.
"You're too old," Sansa blurted out, "You're in love with my mother."
He clucked his tongue. "Not so old. And I did love your mother once, yes, and still. But Cat is dead."
It still hurt. Sansa squared her jaw. "You do not love me, then," she accused, though she was only half-sure of it. Petyr chuckled, twirling one long strand of auburn hair around his finger.
"Would you like me to?"
Sansa stared at him for a long moment, her smiling man.
"I would like for you to trust me," she said instead, and meant every word.
"There's a man I need you to find," Sansa began.
The winter-thing looked up, waiting.
"You know him," Sansa said, softly, "His mark was nearly ours."
The thing laughed, and shook its head, "He's dead."
It laughed again, "Stupid Sansa."
Sansa looked up, her hands trembling, into the winter-thing's face.
"You understand, don't you?" she whispered.
Arya Stark frowned, and set a rough hand to pushing back her short brown hair. "You cry too much," she made a face as Sansa offered her Grayson, but took him just the same, and hoisted him higher upon her shoulder. "He's fat."
"He's a toddler."
"A fat baby. A fat king." Arya studied her nephew, then made an approving noise, "He looks like you. How fortunate for the father."
Sansa pressed her lips together, "Stop it."
Arya grinned with all her wicked, wild teeth, and gently passed the boy back into Sansa's arms. "If he's alive, I'll find him for you."
"Wait!" Sansa cried, but Arya was already bounding to the window, silent and quick as a cat as she leapt out into the dark night. Sansa stood a moment, clutching her son to her breast, and let out a long, slow breath.
It had been a long time since she had gone out without a male guard. She kept her hair covered with her maid's cloak and held Grayson tight against her chest. He was a solid sleeper, though he was nearly six and too old to be held by his mother.
She followed Arya through back streets and grungy puddles until her sister abruptly stopped, throwing a cool glance down the alley before turning towards Sansa and crossing her arms.
"He'll be in there."
"Thank you," Sansa breathed, her arms shaking from holding her son for so long. Arya frowned, looked quickly to the side, and then back. Before she lost her nerve, Sansa stepped forward and wrapped a loose arm around Arya's neck, pressing her brow into her sister's neck.
"I've one more name on my list," the girl who had once been Arya Stark muttered. Sansa closed her eyes, and breathed in the rough, clean smell of her sister's hair.
"Tell him it was me who sent you," Sansa whispered, "Tell him, he shouldn't have trusted me."
She could feel Arya's smile, the metal hidden beneath her clothes, as her sister whispered back, "I like you better when you're mean."
Sansa watched as Arya slid back into the night, and then made her way into the inn, her heart pounding.
She found him immediately, though it took her a moment longer to consciously recognize him.
He was old now, nearly forty and still a broken thing. But his arms were still strong and his eyes were still mean, and when he saw her he laughed a low, horrible laugh that she old enough now to understand.
"The little bird flew back."
Sansa fought back the sudden urge to fidget. She hadn't done so since she was a child. Since him. She settled for smoothing down Grayson's hair, tucking his sleeping face more securely into her shoulder. Sandor's eyes fell vengefully upon the sleeping boy. "Who's the boy?"
Sandor's eyes flicked up to her own, furious and mocking and sad, "But who is he really?"
Her throat tightened and closed. Light green eyes and a pretty smile and Petyr had been right, Grayson would never be a tall man, but he would be taller at least than his father. He was half wolf.
"My son," Sansa whispered.
Sandor took another hard drink, "No."
"Please," Sansa begged, "Please, take him to the vale. It's his, three times over. King's Landing is about to fall. They'll make me queen of Westeros. He isn't Aegon's child. You know what will happen to him. Please. Please, he's my boy."
"I'm done," Sandor snarled, lunging halfway over the table at her, "Damn it, I'm done with it all!"
Sansa threw herself at him as he made to leave, grabbing his hand and bringing it to her face, "I will do anything. Anything you ask. Just, please. Please don't let them have my son."
"You stupid little girl!" the hound shouted, "He won't be your only son! You've got another in you already, I bet!"
"He is the only one I will be allowed to love," she retorted, "You know. You've been there. Please. I can't ask anyone else."
"Why?" Sandor hissed, his frustration all despair, "Why do you do this to me?"
"Because I will never trust anyone as I trust you," Sansa admitted, and knew as she said it that it was true.
There was a very long pause as the Hound considered her, his face half in shadow, breathing rough.
"You pretty little liar," he said, and lifted her son carefully out of her arms, leaving them cold and heavy and grieving, "You perfect little queen."