Author's Note: Written for the LiveJournal community GameOfShips Shipwrecks Angst-a-Thon. Thank you to my most excellent beta, MrsTater!
The serving women sop up the blood, wipe her thighs, replace the bedclothes. There is every shade of blood, from a peculiar watery pinkness like apricot wine to thick gobbets of purple-red like a man's innards once his belly has been sliced open, and an unfamiliar odor emits from all of it, though the servants have been good about removing the soaked bedclothes as quickly as they can. Who knew a woman could bleed so much, especially Jaime's little bride, who is so tiny? He has tried to remain mildly but steadily drunk for the past several hours, after the baby's birth, when the bleeding began. He knows he should be fully present; but how can he be here now, in the midst of this terror, when it's Sansa, and when it's the first child he can call his own and say it out loud? He's seen blood, that's nothing new, but this … this …
I'm on the battlefield and blood is in my eyes as I slice across a stranger's face and then he's dead. I am the angel of death. Everyone I hate and everyone I love will die.
There's a word he cannot bear to think. A man needs his woman; perhaps he needs his more than most. Sansa cannot die. She cannot abandon him, because a woman deserting a man shouldn't happen to a Lannister even once. But twice, three times counting his mother, would be unfathomable. Jaime again scolds himself to pull himself together because Sansa needs him more than he needs her for once, and the tiny babe is with the servants, somewhere else close by in the castle, crying for her mother …
They dashed out the brains of that Targaryen baby and I felt next to nothing when I heard of it, no pang of sympathy, no fear by proxy. Later, I didn't have nightmares of it happening to Cersei's – my – children. What kind of monster am I? One who shoves a child through a window and hopes he will die. Am I even fit to be a father? For that matter, Sansa's husband?
"Come back," Sansa would say, if she weren't drifting in and out of consciousness. "Come back, my love," she would whisper in the night when he was torturing himself, when the past loomed larger than the present. He's gone again, he knows it, and he must come back. He hurls the drained goblet into the fireplace, and the flames sputter and rage as if offended by his childish offering. The midwife is still crouched between Sansa's crimson thighs with her dark leathern satchel full of remedies, and Jaime hovers, not knowing what to do. The bloodstain between Sansa's legs threatens to drown him again so he calls to mind something happier …
Sansa on our wedding day. Crimson and gold. Red braids and ringlets framing porcelain skin, blushing cheeks, such ruby lips, and the ever-downcast eyes. She never looks directly at me. The ones who titter behind their fingers think they know her, particularly the ones who know her least. She's a child, she's an idiot, a pawn, a traitor's daughter; she's a Stark, she's a Tully. No. She's a Lannister now, and she's mine, for once, for the gods and all to see, and I cannot tell anyone that I think I'm already falling in love with her, because at last someone truly belongs to me, even if she cost me all the other things that I thought were mine.
Sansa's face is waxen now, a deathly pallor with deep purple shadows under her gold-red lashes. Jaime moistens another clean rag in the basin next to the fireplace and presses the cloth to her cheeks and forehead. She sighs, but her eyes do not open. The thundering of the Sunset Sea under the castle echoes across the stone walls and down the corridors, and the lamps gutter even though there should be no draft in the bedchamber. Jaime shudders. He must do something more, so he crouches next to the dour old midwife – what is her name? Meryle? Merriwyn? – who still huddles at the foot of the bed. He begins his urgent whispering again. Squatting right on the floor, the healer crushes strange herbs and roots in a mortar, and she glares at him to give her space. He stands and paces from the mantel to the closed window, and in the glass he catches a glimpse of his own gaunt face. Suddenly he wonders where they took the child, the girl. His girl, his. She is his, he cannot forget that …
But Cersei never let me hold it, I mean him, him, her, that was always forbidden. Was that how she wanted it? So the children would be hers alone? They were practically strangers to me, and I to them.
The Stark clan were strangers all, the ones Sansa lost, and the ones Jaime wanted to kill, but somehow, and more desperately than he thinks possible, he wants them to be here for her now because she needs someone and Jaime is not enough, has never been enough, even though she tells him and shows him a hundred different ways that she thinks he is.
Whatever I did was never enough for Cersei, or father, even when I decided everything for our family by forevermore underlining my name in the blood of Aerys.
"Come back," Sansa would say. Are all his memories horrors? No. Not since Sansa.
We have just begun our journey from King's Landing heading northwest to Casterly Rock when I see the direwolf prowling in the night. At dawn I draw Sansa toward the top of the hillock where I last saw the animal, and we crouch down, hands in the dry, white grass. It is cold, but anticipation makes me feel almost warm. We wait, and wait, and wait, downwind of a copse of trees below us in a shallow valley. Then, miraculously, the she-wolf saunters out and sits on her haunches, licking her chops and sniffing the air. "Nymeria!" Sansa breathes, standing at once, and I am euphoric that my hunch was correct, that it was her sister's wolf; what other direwolf would have wandered this far south? Sansa clutches my shoulder, the first time she's touched me without thinking about it first, and I cannot tear my eyes from her face. But the direwolf bounds away, back into the forest. Sansa looks at me and breaks into a smile, her first real smile at me, and it's like clouds have parted to allow the sun's rays to flood the desolate earth. I grin back, grab her hand, and we run after the direwolf together.
They never caught up to Nymeria, but Sansa was certain the fact that the direwolf lived meant that Arya still lived, somewhere. Sansa's Lady died years ago, yet another casualty of coming too close to Lannisters. What does that death mean for Sansa, if Arya lives because Nymeria does?
I am the angel of death.
Jaime shakes his head and comes back to his wife's side, taking her limp white hand in his good one. The midwife brings a noxious-smelling concoction to Sansa's lips and tilts the horn. Some of it dribbles darkly down Sansa's chin and she coughs, but then her lips pucker to take another sip as the midwife mutters encouragement. Jaime grips Sansa's hand tightly as she takes another sip, then another, and another. She begins to moan in pain. Jaime looks to the midwife, who sets the horn aside on a table and begins to massage Sansa's belly roughly. Sansa groans, and her eyes flutter open for a moment, but then they close again.
Sansa's legs lie limply around the bloodstain. Does Casterly Rock even have enough bedclothes for this river of blood? He cannot dare to hope, but they haven't brought new ones to the bedchamber in what seems quite a while. The other serving women must be with the babe now, for it has only been the midwife and himself with Sansa for the past hour. His heart contracts in horror. Have they given up on the mother and decided to spend their energies only on the infant? Would servants dare to decide this without speaking to their lord? He begins to spin out punishments in his mind. But no, he cannot, he must be here now for the child, and for his little bride.
Even though you wouldn't for Joffrey and Myrcella and Tommen. For Cersei. For Tyrion and Tysha. For Brienne. For Mother.
Stop it, he thinks. Now is what matters. Sansa, his Sansa, so fierce inside her small and quiet habitus, is a mother now, and there is one thing she needs. Shaking his head to try to clear the fogginess of the wine, he stalks from the bedchamber.
"WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER?" he bellows into the empty corridor.
There is a quick scuffling, and a brown-haired girl peers from the doorway to the guest rooms at the end of the hall. "Just in here, m'lord," the mousy servant replies. She steps into the corridor, wringing a cloth around her hands. "We were washing her. I'll go and fetch her."
But in long strides he is already there. Two other servants bending over the child's cot back away as he lunges toward them.
The baby is swaddled already, and Jaime looks her over. She is pink and wrinkled, with faint traces of blood and some fatty substance still clinging to her lashes and in the folds around her tiny nose. She is roaring and growling with gusto, her eyes screwed up tight, perhaps trying to shut out this mad new world already; and Jaime actually laughs, feeling strange for doing so, but there's nothing else he can do when he looks at her and sees her tiny, brave perfection. Without thinking, he picks up the infant in his mismatched hands, marveling for a moment that she weighs nothing, and begins to shush her, pressing his nose to hers. The girl quiets and opens eyes that are the deep metal blue of the sea that rages outside the open window.
An open window in the dead of winter? "Close that," Jaime orders, and a servant obeys. It's too cold for a newborn babe, shouldn't these women know?
He can't tear his gaze from the baby because it's Sansa in miniature, in his awkward arms, her head aflame and her tiny fists grasping. He offers her his good pinky, which she squeezes at once. Then he turns from the cot and pads softly down the corridor back to his wife.
What was he thinking? What was all that nonsense about Sansa and the child being his? He is theirs.
Back in their bedchamber, the midwife is still massaging Sansa's abdomen. Jaime deposits the infant on her mother's breast and holds her there with his left hand. The baby starts rooting immediately, trying to find nourishment through the sweat-drenched dressing gown. The midwife moves to Sansa's feet again. Jaime looks into Sansa's pallid face, listens to her breathing. At a loss for anything else to do, he leans forward and kisses her pale lips.
"Come back," he says. He kisses her again. "Come back, my love." Another kiss. "Come back to me, Sansa."
Then Sansa's lips meet his, though her eyes are still closed, and she returns his kiss once, twice, three times. Jaime sobs for a moment into her kisses, then kisses her more firmly; he must be strong for her now. Her eyes flutter open and one weak hand reaches up slowly to caress his jaw. "Where have I been?" she whispers. Jaime smiles and kisses her once more.
The midwife stands, knees cracking, and tells them, "Lady Lannister is no longer bleeding. Praise the Mother for providing herbs for a young mother in her time of need. Dorcas," she says, speaking to the mousy servant who is now lingering in the doorway, "ask the kitchen to prepare meat and lentils and greens. Milk and mead for drink. My lady needs all her strength for the little one." Dorcas hurries away.
"Thank you, Merriwyn," Sansa says. Cradling the baby, she tries to sit up, but she blanches and falls back onto the pillow. Jaime touches her shoulder with his golden hand, still holding the baby with his left, and raises his eyebrows at her: Lie still. Sansa nods. "You were most kind," she says, ever courteous as she turns her gaze toward the woman. The healer smiles at her lord and lady, curtsies stiffly, and goes to wash her hands in the basin of clean water. Jaime notices she keeps her eyes on her charge, and once her hands and forearms are clean, she sits on the wooden stool next to the fire. She isn't leaving.
"Thank you," Jaime says to the midwife. "I will not forget this." The woman nods once more and rests her hands on the bloodstained folds of her skirts.
"Oh," says Sansa as she stares at their baby. "She's … she's perfect." Sansa looks at Jaime and smiles, and his heart thuds in response. He wants to shout and weep and thank all the gods he knows and even the ones he doesn't, so he kisses his bride's forehead and presses the baby closer. Sansa unlaces her dressing gown and the baby noses nearer to her breast. She and Jaime both watch in awe as the baby, with a little steering by Sansa, begins to nurse. They all are quiet for several minutes, except for the tiny satisfied noises from the feeding infant.
"Little Cate," Sansa whispers.
Her mother's name was the least he could allow, given that Sansa had relinquished Winterfell to the Iron Throne, become a stranger in a new home here at Casterly Rock, and lost her family. And, in an odd way, he owes today to Catelyn Stark. She'd given him a chance.
Jaime watches Sansa cooing over the child. Does she have any idea of how badly she'd frightened him? Probably not; she's had other things on her mind for the past day and a half.
"She's finally here," says Sansa, breathless.
"Yes," says Jaime, kissing the back of the nursing baby's head and peering up at his wife. "Welcome home."