Jaime Lannister had little talent for sleeping soundly. Years of training, first as a squire and then as a knight, taught him to rise early, rise often, and keep one ear alert at all times. Therefore, the light rustling in the antechamber proved more than enough to rouse him from his sleep and pique his vigilance. More out of habit than actual concern, Jaime reached for the dagger he kept by his bed- but when he turned his head and noticed the traces of light entering from the opening in the wall, he placed the blade back down. A smirk ghosted across his face as he slipped on a pair of breeches and quietly stepped to the open passageway leading to the tiny solar.
Dim as the chamber was, he caught sight only of a pale ankle and foot resting atop a settee. He moved closer and found her wedged behind a large shelving unit, wispy little fingers reaching for a dust-covered leatherbound book in the corner. He momentarily considered moving the shelf out of the way to help her gain access, but instead leaned against the doorframe, his voice loud and bracingly cheerful: "Well met, Lady Alayne."
A shriek and a bump, and Sansa crawled out, dark hair coated with dust, hands clutching the ratty old tome. She sat up on her heels and lifted a hand to rub the lump growing on her forehead, glowering at him all the while. He replied by stretching his smile even wider. "What brings you here at this hour, my lady?"
"It's morning," she replied curtly. Bracing a hand on the settee, she slowly rose to her feet. "Besides, I'm the lady of this house. I may go where I like."
"Of course." Her shoulders tensed when he sauntered toward her and sat on the little velveteen pouf, his finger running down the spine of the book she held. "And what's this?"
"A book." He rolled his eyes at that, reaching out to lightly pinch the skin at the back of her knee. She jumped, gave an indignant little squeak, but he saw her smile a bit, too. As Sansa seemed disinclined to elaborate, Jaime gripped the edge of the book with his left hand. Sansa only held it tighter, so he pulled her until she fell nearly on his lap, then swatted her hands out of the way to open the front cover.
He squinted hard in an effort to read the faded script on yellowing pages- Gods, I'm getting old. To add to the challenge, the book was old enough that much of the text had been written in High Valyrian, of which he possessed only a passing knowledge. Still, he managed to decipher a key phrase in the title that proved enlightening: "Marriage Law," he read aloud, his eyebrows darting upward when he caught sight of the subtitle: "Plural Marriage."
Startled green eyes glanced upward at Sansa, who would have very successfully sold him on her obstinacy if not for the little twitch just under her left eye. She still grasped the edge of the book loosely in one hand; she tightened her grip and pulled, but even with his weaker hand, Jaime had no trouble keeping his hold.
"And here I thought you intended to annul the marriage to Tyrion." When she failed to reply, he lifted his shoulders, sharpened his gaze. "What exactly are you plotting?" he inquired in a tone of far greater gravity than usual.
"Why do you think it any concern of yours?" she snapped back. Even in the faint light of early morning, he could see a vermilion flush erupting on her cheeks. Her voice grew shriller with each syllable when she continued: "Why must you plague me with these questions? I've tried to do right by you, tried to keep you comfortable, and all you do is bother me! What does it matter to you, who I marry or how it comes to be?"
Jaime didn't rise from the settee, but he leaned his shoulders toward her, eyes narrowing, his hushed voice nearly menacing. "Whether you choose to acknowledge it or no, you are a member of my family, wedded to my brother. Any dishonor you bring upon him reflects on me as well."
"Dishonor?" She laughed, a hard, grating sound that reminded him of his more recent encounters with Cersei. "What have you to say about honor, Ser Kingslayer? And my marriage to Tyrion...after Joffrey died, after we parted ways-"
"After you abandoned him." Jaime uttered the words through gritted teeth. Sansa gave a sharp gasp of horrified astonishment, punctuated by a distinctly unladylike smack on his bare shoulder.
"What would you have done? What choice did I have? Should I have stayed, let your bloody sister put my head on a spike for something I never did?" She followed the last phrase with another hit to his arm; he caught both her wrists in his left hand, squeezed tightly enough that the bones ground together.
"Calm yourself, girl," he hissed. She struggled in his grasp, breaths coming in heavy pants, the flush creeping down from her cheeks to spread over her collarbone and the soft curvature at the neckline of her shift. He realized he was staring, reminded himself to look back up at her face. The outrage was fading, replaced with a troubling combination of shame and anxiety. Jaime found himself suddenly regretting the harshness of his words; he loosened his grip on her wrists and spoke with something resembling true contrition. "I'm sorry."
She nodded, and the motion caused a few specks of dust to float down from her hair and settle on his. He slid over on the duvet, guided her to sit beside him, and handed her the book, which she placed upon her lap. She kept her eyes focused downward, rubbing her wrists as she murmured: "I'm to be married tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" The sharp surprise in his voice caused a startled little lift of her shoulders. Sansa nodded, still avoiding his eyes, and Jaime felt a heavy pressure in his head, a combination of confusion, frustration, and a strange little twinge of regret. There was so much to ask, he could hardly decide where to begin. Does Harry know who she is? Do the Vale Lords? And the marriage to Tyrion, she couldn't have had it annulled already..."Plural Marriage", oh Gods...
Suddenly grateful for Sansa's refusal to look him in the face, Jaime took a moment to adjust his stricken expression, replacing it with a sneer. Rather than ask any of the questions swirling in his mind, he broke the silence thus: "I believe that congratulations are in order, my lady. Not only for your upcoming marriage, but for the masterful execution of your plan. You're as clever a strategist as Littlefinger could have hoped."
"If that were true, I would have waited until it was done to tell you." Her cheeks grew bright, and she hastily pulled her hair over her shoulder to conceal the blush.
Jaime felt the ridiculous urge to brush her hair back behind her ears, but restrained himself from acting on it. Instead, he leaned slightly in her direction, his upper arm bumping against her shoulder. "Then why didn't you?"
"Petyr once said that nothing brings people together like mutual necessity," she replied before tilting her head upward, fixing her blue eyes on his green ones. "And I suppose we quite need each other, do we not?"
He laughed hoarsely. "As your hostage" - Sansa glowered, and his leonine smile only
grew brighter- "I suppose I am rather at your mercy, yes." She started to shake her head, but she proved unable to control the grin teasing at her lips. Jaime laughed again, draping his arm around her shoulders and drawing her toward him. "Ah, I knew it. You've grown fond of the power, haven't you?"
"I don't think I ever claimed otherwise." She shifted a bit, but made no effort to remove herself from his hold. "So now you know. I can't stop you from trying to ruin everything, if that's what you're bent on doing. But you're not a fool, Jaime. If this marriage happens, we'll both have what we want. I'll get Winterfell back, and once that's done, you'll have all the men and horses you need to take you wherever you wish to go."
"Is that right?"
"Would you have me swear it?" Jaime felt quite taken aback by the earnestness of her expression- he'd only before encountered such forthright conviction from Brienne. And, of course, from Eddard Stark.
"Well, Sansa, this may sound hopelessly naive- but I actually believe you." Her eyebrows lifted as she nodded. He continued: "I can't imagine what my family would think of me, taking a Stark at her word...but then, I never was the clever one."
Sansa smiled again. "I think that you underestimate yourself in that respect." She slid from the duvet and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Thank you."
As she stepped toward the passage into his bedroom, the heavy book in her hands, Jaime called out to her: "Will you indulge me in just one question?"
She paused in the doorway, incisors sinking into her lower lip. After a moment of contemplation, she answered in the affirmative.
"How have you managed to put a wedding feast together so quickly?"
Her mouth twisted, and she heaved a little sigh before replying.
"There's to be no feast. Just Harry and me with the septon. And Brienne- I've asked her to be our witness."
"The Lord Protector of the Vale, wedded with no celebration?" Jaime furrowed his brow. "However did you convince him to consent to that?"
"It's the quickest way. He did not require much convincing." The blush returned to her cheeks, neck and chest.
Ordinarily, he might have laughed at that. But the memory of Harry's eyes roving over Sansa's body rankled him, and he frowned instead. "Of course."
She continued to linger in the doorway; he noticed her pigeon-toed stance, her fingers twisting in the skirt of her nightshift. He took stock of her posture, her fidgeting, and he spoke in a tone that he knew she'd find infuriating in its nonchalance: "Don't tell me the little wolf girl is nervous?"
"Nervous?" Sansa tossed her hair and knit her brows together. "About reclaiming Winterfell? Of course I'm nervous about that."
She was being deliberately obtuse, and Jaime immediately clarified. "About your wedding. About Harry."
"Harry?" She laughed, a distant, breathy sound. "Harry's only a boy."
"And what are you but a girl?" He stood and took two small steps in her direction.
Sansa straightened her back and turned her toes out until she faced him fully. With a lift of her chin: "I am a Stark of Winterfell."
He smiled, for once without a trace of derision. "That you are."
The sunlight leaking in from his bedchamber put her in silhouette, but he could sense her returning his smile, even in the shadow. She turned on her heel and walked toward the cedar chest at the foot of his bed, opening the lid and removing a clean tunic.
He'd followed her into the chamber; she turned to hand him the tunic. "You'd best make a habit of covering up. Me conversing with you while you're wearing so little is no longer appropriate, if it ever was to begin with."
Jaime laughed in earnest at that, and Sansa's lips twitched in an effort to keep from giggling herself. He accepted the tunic, swatting her arm with it before pulling it over his shoulders. "Out with you, little minx," he chuckled.
Before pulling the door in the wall shut, Sansa met his eyes once again. "This will be good for us all, Jaime. You'll see."
The hope in her eyes, so bright and fervent- in spite of the sudden ache pressing at his temples, Jaime could do nothing but nod.