Tyrion entered Sansa’s chamber gingerly, not wanting to make her uneasy by his presence. He simply wanted to see if she was getting along alright. Their conversation earlier that day about her murdered family had ended with her running away to find seclusion. Perhaps, he thought, his efforts to console her had done more harm than good.
But now he just wanted to be sure…she was safe. That she was not contemplating doing any harm to herself. That she was not too terribly angry with him. It was true he was a Lannister, and she a Stark, and there would forever be bad blood between them on that account. For many years he had been involved in forwarding his family’s interests, and now each killing separated them a little further. But still…they were man and wife, even if they had been forced to wed and had never shared the same bed. It was still his duty to look after her.
Inside her chamber, he found her seated in front of a mirror, with her long auburn hair flowing down her swan-white neck freely. Judging from the brush lying in her lap, it seemed it might have been her original intention to use it. But now she seemed absorbed in her own thoughts, studying her face in the reflection. Only a girl of 14, she appeared so much older now, worn down by the horrors surrounding her. Some vital phase in her life seemed to have been skipped altogether, and she had passed instantly from maiden to crone. But she was still beautiful to Tyrion.
Yes, beautiful. He felt his throat constrict. Beauty had always been a thing beyond his grasp. For all his intelligence and cunning, for all his oft-times ruthless survival instincts, he could not change the malformed body that held him prisoner. His high birth could not change the fact that he was born a half-man, a dwarf doomed to be tormented and rejected and treated as something less than human.
But he had learned to deal with his condition. He had learned that cynicism was his only refuge in a world of cruelty, and the sharpness of his wits would have to get him through the dizzying array of court intrigues in which he found himself enmeshed. There was an unquenchable power in the mind of man, and he intended to use it for all it was worth. He could numb whatever pain he might feel by grounding himself in this reality.
And yet…she was still beautiful. And this was not simply limited to appearance, he had discovered. There was some spark of flame deep within her that blazed with beauty. Though he had trained himself to be insensible to such things in anything but the most shallow of ways, he found himself wanting so very much to make things right with her. As right as they could be in surroundings that were so very wrong, that is.
Tyrion cleared his throat. She made no gesture to indicate that she had heard. He sighed. “Are you…feeling better, m’lady?”
She remained silent for a long time. Then rather absent-mindedly she muttered, “I was told tomorrow is your name day, my lord.”
“My name is Tyrion,” he chided her softly.
“And mine is Sansa,” she returned in kind, gazing at him over her shoulder. He could not read the expression on her face. Indeed, she was growing more and more adept at masking her emotions.
Good girl, he thought to himself. She was learning the art of survival. Her youthful innocence was fast becoming a thing of the past. She was turning into a strong and formidable woman, just like her mother had been. This kitten was growing claws. And yet somehow…it still hurt him that she would wear the mask in his presence. He wanted to understand her so much more than he did, even if he was the only one able to do so.
“So then,” she continued placidly, “will you be celebrating with your wine and harlots tomorrow?”
He laughed…or forced himself to laugh. He had acquired quite the reputation for himself among women he could pay to be his lovers. The wine would flow then, until his mind became blurred, and he could, for singular moments in the midst of sensory experience, imagine himself to truly be “making love”.
Of course, his cynicism would return before the effects of the wine had even worn off, and he would mock the whole sordid affair for what it was. Indeed, no woman would touch a “demon monkey” unless they sought to gain something, whether that something was payment or power. He had learned that long ago, even as he satiated himself with imitations of that which he hungered for so desperately.
“I would be happy to indulge in the former,” he responded, in an effort to be spritely. “As for the latter…” He paused to collect himself. “I believe you know I have taken something of a respite from my toils on that account.”
“Why?” she queried.
“Because you are my wife.”
She turned around fully and eyed him. “We are play-acting as husband and wife.”
“No,” he whispered, and it burned his throat. “You are my wife.”
“Do you intend that we should bed together then?”
“I swore to you on my honor as a Lannister that I never would force you to share your bed with me…unless you yourself wanted it.”
“And I said that day might never come.”
Her words stung him with a fiercer intensity than when she had first spoken them on their wedding night. He had been drunk then…indeed, raving drunk. Looking back, he was amazed that he had managed to control his passions at the time and dared to defy his father’s command that the marriage be consummated, whether or not she was enthused at the prospect. But there was no alcohol dulling his senses now. This night he was sober, and the pain of rejection was acute.
“If you recall, I drank to the day that would never come,” he reminded her quietly, “and said there were other beds to sleep in.” He forced himself to smile a little, just to hide what he was feeling inside. “But you are still…part of me now, on a broader scale. It is my duty to care for you, and not to bring you any more shame than you have already experienced at the hands of others.”
He perceived a new shade of sentiment emanating from her eyes before she turned her head down. “When I was a little girl, I used to obsess over the old stories about honorable knights fighting for their ladies with kerchiefs tied to their lances.” She started playing with her hands in her lap. “My nurse would read them to me before I went to sleep, and whenever the players came to entertain us at Winterfell, I would have them sing their ballads of romance. I suppose it was natural for me to believe that I would have a knight of my own someday. He would be handsome, and kind, and he would never hurt me…ever…” She swallowed something back…something like tears. “And then there was Joffrey.”
Tyrion stepped towards her slowly. He wanted to do something to comfort her; he did not know exactly what. She looked back up at him, and their eyes latched onto each other. “And then there was you,” she finished.
He closed his eyes tight. “Not Joffrey at least,” he rasped. Surely she could bear up with him better than she would have with his masochistic king-of-a-nephew? Surely…after he had saved her from the evil boy’s lash and cruel tortures. Even up to their wedding night, he had saved her from Joffrey’s vile hands crawling over her body. But still…he wondered…
“I made something for you,” she stated, breaking the long silence between them.
Tyrion was taken aback. “You…did?”
She nodded, and pulled something from her bureau. “Surely you know one of my greatest talents has been with needle and thread.”
It was a sash…a beautiful sash, hand embroidered. It struck him as being somewhat ironic that she should make him a gift such as this, after she had hesitated to let him put the Lannister mantle over her at their wedding ceremony. He had burned red with the shame of his own short stature, and her unwillingness to bend her knee to him. But ultimately, something had taken the place of her pride and persuaded her to kneel down to his height. He assumed it was pity. That was the most he could hope for under the circumstances.
“It is truly a lovely present…if unexpected,” he remarked courteously, taking the sash from her. Then he noticed several drops of crimson amidst the embroidered design. “What is this?”
“I pricked myself with the needle.” She gestured with her left hand slightly. “I am not usually so clumsy, but as you know, I have not slept.”
It seemed that blood would always stand like a bright scarlet barrier between them.
Rather instinctively, he touched her hand with his own. Seeing the difference between the two – hers slender and delicate, his small and misshapen – he pulled his own away.
“I am sorry it caused you pain,” he mumbled. “You know…I have never wished to bring you pain. Even on that night…had we bedded, I would have tried my best…not to hurt you. I would never hurt you deliberately, Sansa. You know this, yes?”
She nodded. Then she inquired hesitantly, “Would you be pleased if I were to give you an embrace?”
He looked down awkwardly. “Not if it would repulse you.”
“What if I wanted to do so? Would you…embrace me in return?”
He nodded, but kept his eyes down.
“Would you mean it?”
“Of course I would. As I said, you are my wife. We are supposed to…take care of each other.” He cleared his throat once more. “I mean in a general sense.”
She got down from her chair and, just as at their wedding, knelt upright on the stony floor. It was the only way she could match his height. She looked so comical he could not help but smirk. “We make quite the pair, do we not?”
She smiled shyly, sadly. “I’m used to having smaller siblings.”
“Much obliged for the comparison,” he twitted.
“I suppose I meant to say…we are supposed to be…family in some sense now.”
He rolled his eyes. “Are you sure you’re not preparing to impale me with a concealed dagger?”
Her smile faded and her face went white.
“My apologies,” he blurted, suddenly realizing his words were too close to home and to the murder of her own family. “It was truly in bad taste. Can you forgive me?”
She nodded slowly, and then very gingerly wrapped her arms around his neck. He felt the warmth of her body up against his own and his heart quickened. He cursed his short arms as he struggled to wrap them all the way around her waist. It was a strange feeling. He knew she was smiling teasingly. He didn’t mind really…as long as she was smiling.
Then somehow a slight giggle from her broke down into a sob…and soon she was crying against his shoulder. Yes, crying out everything, all the loss and blood and death and pain that she had learned to keep so tightly concealed within.
He let his hand stroke her shoulder gently. She was still a little girl really, only a child struggling to grow like a delicate flower in poisoned earth. “Now, now, m’lady…Sansa,” he whispered. “It is safe to cry here. Outside, when other eyes may see, you must steel yourself to never shed tears unless they may gain you some point in their game. But you may always feel free to cry in front of me…”
Suddenly he felt her lips lightly touch his cheek…the ugly, scarred cheek that only added to his other physical unpleasantries.
“What was that?” he queried hoarsely.
“I kissed you goodnight,” she answered, leaning away from him. “Haven’t you ever been kissed goodnight before?”
“Rarely,” he admitted, “like that. Have you?”
“My parents used to kiss me goodnight,” she reminisced wistfully. “Sometimes my nurse and my siblings would.” She swallowed back more tears. “I think they’re all gone now.”
Tyrion searched his mind for something that might be appropriate to say. “Not all, perhaps,” he countered hopefully. “You mustn’t give up hope on the youngest two.”
“Strange thing for me to be told by a Lannister,” she remarked, carrying with her words a touch of her inner bitterness.
“Yes, a Lannister,” he conceded. “But also a man…in spite of appearances.”
They looked at each other for a long time again.
“You needn’t go out drinking tomorrow,” she offered. “We could…find something to do together. We could…go out to the garden and have lemon cakes and devise clever plans for paying back all the people who have terrorized us over the years.”
He grinned now. “Think about this for a moment,” he started, rekindling his acerbic wit. “Perhaps all the worst people we have to contend with will save us the trouble and destroy each other on an epic scale, and we will have missed the whole misadventure whilst dallying away in the garden eating lemon cakes.” Her amused chuckle encouraged him to continue. “And then we might have the Iron Throne all to ourselves, and we could start a new ruling house of two…the Lannistarks!” He knew he was being somewhat ridiculous now, but he added in a slightly more serious tone, “And one of the first acts of that royal house, after putting down the random insurrection and stifling a few assassination attempts, would be to locate the Queen’s small siblings.”
She tilted her head. “You know I think you are the only Lannister who actually tries to be…kind.”
“I will do my best to take that compliment, although it is not always true,” he disclaimed with a twinge of regret in his voice. “I can be savage sometimes when I have to be, or when the drink is in me,” he admitted. “I can be cruel, even, if provoked to extremes.”
“But you do not…wish to be cruel, do you?”
No, it was true. He hated cruelty, even within his own self. He felt it was the ugliest part of him, far beyond his face and form. If only kindness was not so likely to get one killed…
“Tyrion,” she whispered.
“Would you…kiss me goodnight?”
He swallowed hard. “You want me to do that?”
“I did a lot of…thinking today, when I was alone. You…you’re the only family I have left, who would care about me at all. And it would be foolish to push that away.” Her eyes danced with a mix of sorrow and starlit epiphany. And it was beautiful.
He drew close to her and kissed her cheek tenderly, yearning with all his heart to make her feel loved, and cherished, and needed. Then he stepped away and bowed ceremoniously, like any courtly knight would do. “Goodnight, m’lady.”
“Goodnight, my lord,” she returned.
Stepping outside her chamber, Tyrion found himself breathing hard. He did not know why. Nothing had happened to explain such a sense of being poured out like water from a vase. Indeed, it was the least activity he had ever undertaken in a lady’s chamber. But again he felt…strange. It was a good sort of strange, as if he was truly breathing for the first time. Had he forgotten even how to draw breath somewhere between politics and parties, or gambled away the very air at some point in the Great Game?
She could have been pretending, been leading someone on yet again. He knew that well enough. She’s learned how to lie, the little she-wolf. She may well survive us all in the end…
And yet somehow…he did not believe her actions were part of any larger ruse. Not this time. He had seen many false tears, felt many false embraces, heard many false words…the last coming from her own lips often enough. But tonight…it was different. If there was such a thing as reality, it was real.
Perhaps tomorrow she might go back to lying for survival’s sake. The dice would be thrown once more into the chasm of untouchables. The Game would start again with all its shrewdness and sport. He would put back on his armor worn in the mind. He would be so very clever again, and perhaps even cruel if he had no alternative. He would play his part with the vigor he had always exerted…
But right now…he could breathe. That was all that mattered. For an insignificant span of moments, the Game had stopped and Life had taken its place. He knew what it meant to be alive at long last, a glimpse of some small light flickering like the Crone’s lantern in the dead of night that might somehow guide them through the winter’s dark. And it felt so very good.