Jun. 29th, 2013

ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Jaime

The voyage back to the North was slow, the large warhost reducing their speed considerably. Often Jaime thought enviously of the trip Daenerys, Aegon and Jon would take on the backs of the mighty dragons. Yet on further consideration, he had to admit he preferred horseback after all. The few times he had seen the dragons up close they had petrified him with their huge size, piercing eyes and shimmering scales, as well as the heat they emanated even without opening their fiery jaws.

The army crossed the Riverlands, bypassed Harrenhal and the Twins. Everywhere Jaime saw signs of recovery, although many homesteads and burned-out ruins still stood as a silent testimony to the madness of the last few years.

Howland Reed left the company near Greywater Watch, promising to come to Winterfell soon. Jaime stopped for a few days in Moat Cailin to examine local conditions and discuss the region’s specific needs on behalf of Lady Sansa. He was eager to move quicker, but he had to curb his impatience and once he caught up with the main army, adjust to its pace once again. Nobody knew the real reason why he was so keen to be back in Winterfell, although his closest traveling companions, Ser Jorah and the two young maesters, seemed to be in as much of a hurry as he was. Jaime wanted to be back with Sandor and Sansa, the only people who mattered to him – the others had their own reasons.

After the night he had shared with Meryn, Jaime had half-expected to be more observant of the men in the war host. He still couldn’t shake the raw passion of being so consumed, so wholly used and enjoying it… He had assumed that after experiencing what it was to yield to another man, he might want to do that again.

Yet none of the soldiers or knights he travelled with provoked his desire. Yes, the camp was filled with men radiating easily discernible masculinity, and Jaime knew there were bound to be also those who preferred the company of other men over that of the camp followers. Still he wasn’t stirred by any of them. What he needed was a connection. He had had that first with Cersei, and later with Sandor – and also with Meryn, no matter how fleeting it had been.

So Jaime was content to keep his cravings to himself, permitting small allowances in the darkness of the night when he let his hand make its way to his cock. When he stroked its hardness and his mind filled with images of objects of his desires, he wasn’t quite sure who he was truly longing for; Meryn, Sandor or Sansa. None of that mattered though; after the shudders of his release had subsided, he was still alone. A lonely figure in the middle of a heaving pit of humanity, where even the lowliest squire was assured of human company - but not the leader of the Northern forces, the Lion of Lannister.

Jaime wasn’t any more certain about the prospects of his proposal than he had been when Tyrion had first suggested it. During the weeks of travel he had become ever more captivated by the idea. A wife. Children of my own. Sansa. He could imagine having Sansa by his side, and the sons and daughters he could sire with her. If that was to be…he could hold them in his arms and love them as their father, openly. Would he be able to guarantee Sansa the happiness she deserved, when his own desires were elsewhere? Even so, if not him, who could? None of her known suitors impressed Jaime as a suitable husband for her. Jaime knew Sansa well enough to realise that she would not meekly settle for a political marriage of convenience; no, she wanted more.

As usual, Jaime concluded his considerations by shrugging his shoulders and recognising that whatever he wished didn’t matter a jot, as the decision was ultimately Sansa’s. He hoped he might be acceptable to her – but he didn’t count on it. He snorted at the thought, appreciating the irony. Ser Jaime Lannister, the jewel of an ancient house, the lion who roars, not good enough for the she-wolf of the North?

----------

Finally the plains near Winterfell came into sight. Jaime recalled the last time he had approached them, when it had been just the three of them. Would their pack be affected should Sansa agree to his proposal? Sandor was bound to stay as her sworn shield, as he had indicated when promising his services to her rather than to her house. Yet he might turn away in disgust, offended by Jaime breaking the agreement they had made concerning Sansa. If so, what was to happen to their companionship?

He had sent outriders ahead of the troops to alert the folk in Winterfell of their imminent arrival. When they were still a good distance away, Jaime saw riders approaching. As the distant moving specks got closer, Jaime recognised the unmistakable figure of Sandor on Stranger. Next to him he saw a smaller, red-headed figure; Sansa with her hair streaming behind her in the wind, her cheeks flushed from the ride and her eyes sparkling in excitement.

Sandor’s cloak flapped in the breeze as he rode alongside her, subtly holding Stranger to prevent him charging ahead of Sansa’s mare. He looked like one of the First Men personified; dark, strong, dignified and damn it, so manly. Seeing him again felt like a punch to Jaime’s gut. His thoughts of a pleasant life with a wife and children vanished from his head at that moment, replaced by his raw need of him.

Jaime urged Honor on to reach them.

“Dog!”

“Lion!”

“Sansa!”

“Jaime!”

They stopped and rushed down from their mounts and embraced each other laughing. The pure happiness and joy of reunion was palpable to them all.

“Jaime, finally you are back! And you accomplished all you set to achieve! How can I ever thank you enough?” gushed Sansa, hanging on to Jaime’s neck. He had forgotten how slight she was, yet so strong. Her grip on him was informal and Jaime hugged her tightly, ignoring her status as his lady and the head of her house. Sansa didn’t seem to mind, returning his embrace willingly.

“Please don’t think I did it all. Your ex-husband did most of it, and Jon and his new connections took care of the rest!” Jaime held Sansa and squeezed her tight, beaming down at her.

“Well done, lion. Who would have believed that the Dragons had it in them to be sensible?” grunted Sandor. Jaime could see that he strived to be serious, but couldn’t help the grin on his face. He looked exactly as Jaime remembered, his misshapen features softened by the welcoming glow on his face. Jaime couldn’t take his eyes away from him. Gods, he looks like the Warrior himself…Seven take me!

When Jaime turned to Sansa, suggesting he introduce her to Ser Jorah and the new maester of Winterfell, who were some distance away, she looked at him guiltily.

“Can we leave that for later? I am happy to receive them in Winterfell, I truly am, but for now I would just like us to ride back together! Only the three of us.” She looked at him pleadingly and it wasn’t difficult for Jaime to accede to her wishes. He readied himself to help Sansa mount her horse, but Sandor already had her in his grip, lifting her up as if she weighed nothing at all. Sansa beamed at him but didn’t thank him formally. Jaime thought it odd, Sansa usually being mindful of her manners and matters of courtesy.

They left the main host behind and rode together all the way to Winterfell. For that brief time, as they cantered towards the keep, side by side, Jaime felt as if they were back on their journey to the North. Things had been simpler then; no reputations to be guarded, no passions awakened, or future prospects to be considered.

----------

As Jaime was led to his old room, he was slightly disappointed to see that Sandor had moved. He understood it, of course; Sandor had to be where his lady was. In light of the disturbing news from Tyrion, the more protection Sansa received, the better.

That evening there was a big reception in the Great Hall. For most of the troops this was not the end of their travels, as they were expected to continue on to the Wall in a day or two. However, it was a welcome break from a monotonous trek, and everybody enjoyed the northern hospitality and allowed themselves to relax for a moment.

Jaime sat on the dais with Sansa and Sandor, but the continuous stream of congratulators and well-wishers didn’t give them opportunities to exchange more than the most superficial news. The bread on the table was dark and coarse as opposed to the white and fluffy Southern style, the beer was strong and the meat lacked the exotic spices so abundant in the capital. Yet the fare tasted sweeter in his mouth than any at the court. Jaime scanned the room, looking at the sharp faces of the Northern people and felt right at home. 

As the evening progressed and people started to nod off and leave, Jaime caught Sandor’s eye. He lifted his flagon and raised his eyebrow questioningly, pointing his head in the direction of his room. Sandor caught his meaning and nodded.

They bade goodnight to Sansa and the remaining revellers.

“Come and see me in the morning, we will talk then. Just you and me.” Sansa smiled to Jaime as he bowed to her.

“I will, at first light, and tell you everything that didn’t fit into my dispatches.” Jaime kissed her hand. “Especially I will update you on what an excellent husband you have just left. He is doing such a good job as the Hand, and you would have made a fine Lady of the Hand!” Sansa laughed at that and playfully swatted Jaime’s hand.

Jaime was still chortling as he and Sandor reached their – his – room. They took comfortable positions on opposite pallets and started to share the flagon of wine and their recent experiences. Jaime filled Sandor in with the news of the people he had known in King’s Landing, and how the city had changed. Sandor updated Jaime about the progress of Winterfell’s men-at-arms and about small skirmishes they had had with the remaining dregs of Ironborn and Bolton men. They didn’t discuss anything too serious or too personal – time for that would come later. For the moment they were just two companions who had been long apart and were now catching up.

Jaime shot glances at Sandor as they talked, trying not to be too obvious. Every now and then Sandor lifted the flagon they shared to his lips and drank deep. After, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Once Jaime saw some wine spill over when he was laughing at some witty comment Jaime made about the knights in King’s Landing. It trickled down his chin, disappearing  into his dark beard. Jaime wanted to reach over and wipe it away, but held himself in check.

They laughed a bit, japed a bit; too tired for rowdy bantering, but comfortable in each other’s company. Sandor seemed less serious than before. Somehow there was a lightness in him that hadn’t been there before. He smiled easily, and although it still twisted his burned features into anything but jolly, his eyes were warm. As Jaime took the measure of him, he recognised he hadn’t seen anyone of his strength and size in the capital, nor anyone so well-muscled. Even Meryn, who had been powerfully built, came second in comparison. 

There was no awkwardness between them, and if Sandor remembered with disquiet how they had parted, he showed none of it. Eventually he stirred and muttered something about having to get up early. Jaime was also pleasantly tired, so they wished each other a good sleep and Sandor stood up, heading towards the door. A curt nod, a muttered “See you on the morrow, lion,” and Jaime saw Sandor’s wide back disappearing into the corridor.

Despite the pleasantness of the evening, something had been different, and Jaime couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. What was that about having to get up early? They had stayed up many a night sharing stories and drinking. Duties waiting the next morning had never slowed them down, and after all, this was Jaime’s first evening back. Jaime shrugged his shoulders. The next day was bound to be busy with the visitors. That was all, surely.

He fell back into his bed and burrowed inside the furs, content with finally being back where he wanted to be.

----------

Jaime woke up early in the morning, feeling refreshed despite having had only a few hours of rest. He got up, dressed, and stepped outside his room, moving about the keep quietly.

He directed his steps to the kitchens, the household around him only starting to wake. On a whim he asked the servants to prepare him a platter of bread, cheese and fruit. He took it and started towards the rooms of the Lady of the Keep. He wanted to surprise Sansa; wanted to be there to see her first thing in the morning. He knew how busy she would be during the day with all the guests, and wanted to steal a few quiet moments with her first. Besides, she had asked him to come to her.

Jaime tapped softly on the door and not hearing an answer wondered what he should do. They had done this before, he and Sandor. Especially when they had first settled in Winterfell, they had often met Sansa in her rooms to discuss the actions of the day before facing the rest of the keep. Jaime pressed the doorknob cautiously and it opened. Well then! He stepped into the solar and placed the platter on the side table, taking a comfortable position on the couch. He might as well wait for a while and see if Sansa was getting up anytime soon.

Under any other circumstances he would not have dreamt of entering a lady’s solar without an invitation, but matters between the three of them had been less informal since their journey, at least in private. In public it was a different matter, both Jaime and Sandor deferring to Sansa as Lady Sansa, and not taking any liberties in their behaviour towards her.

Jaime was chewing a piece of bread when he heard noises behind the door leading to Sansa’s bedchamber. He froze, trying to discern them; was Sansa awake? Maybe he should make some noise of his own to let her know he was here?

He heard shuffling and then something that sounded like voices. Was she talking to herself, or was that maid of hers already there, Jaime wondered. Emboldened, he stood up and was just about to call out his greetings through the door when it opened.

Sandor stepped into the solar.

He stiffened when he saw Jaime and pulled the door closed behind him. Jaime greeted him in good cheer.

“Up this early as well? Your lady does keep you on a tight leash!” he chuckled to himself, amused at how domesticated the dog seemed to have become in his absence. Sandor didn’t respond in kind and something in his eyes caught Jaime. As he took a better look at the tall figure facing him, Jaime realised that something was not quite right.

He took in Sandor’s attire; he was dressed merely in his homespun breeches and a light brown tunic that was only partially laced, with no boots. His hair looked dishevelled, not combed to cover his burns as it usually was. He was certainly not adhering to the standards one would expect from a guard for a noble lady. As Jaime grasped these details, something in Sandor’s expression alerted him further. He didn’t return Jaime’s greeting but just looked at him warily.

A tight knot formed in Jaime’s stomach. There must be a good rationale for this. Sansa must have had an emergency of sorts and called for him. Even as his mind scrambled for an explanation, he registered that Sandor carried no weapons; no broad sword in his hand, not even a dagger. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even wear a swordbelt. In truth he looked remarkable as he had done in the mornings when they still had shared the room – not quite ready to face the world.

Jaime felt his heart pause for a moment. Words died on his lips before he could utter them, not that he had known what to say anyway. As a terrible suspicion raised its head in his mind, he knew he had to find out the truth. Before Sandor had time to react, Jaime dashed to the door, threw it open and stepped inside. He knew that to be an unforgivable lapse of protocol, but for once he set his polished nobleman’s manners aside and simply didn’t care.

Sansa was still sprawled on the bed with her hair spread around her face, tousled. Her bare shoulders were visible above the covers, suggesting she was not wearing a shift. The bed was a tangled mess of knotted sheets, and as Jaime’s eyes darted across the room, he noticed Sandor’s boots at the end of the bed and his jerkin hanging from the bedpost. No, please, no!

Sansa startled at the sight of him. Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth, then closed it without emitting a sound. Her face turned pink, but eventually she recovered her composure and smiled at Jaime. She looked tantalizing, having risen slightly and leaning on her elbow. In other circumstances Jaime would have been arrested by the sight of her; her eyes heavy-lidded, hair ruffled and surrounding her delicate face in wanton disarray. What he could see of her body was all soft and delicate; the rounded shoulders, slender collarbones and the graceful line of her neck. Her pale, soft skin was in stark contrast with the rough-hewn cover.

“Jaime! You really meant at first light, didn’t you?”

Jaime stared at her and although his mind registered with utter certainty what he was witnessing, his heart refused to believe it. There has to be another reason for this, Sansa couldn’t have, Sandor wouldn’t …

Sandor had entered the room and was standing in the corner, leaning on the wall. He had folded his arms across his chest and seemed content to allow Sansa to handle the situation. His expression was inscrutable, but the corner of his mouth twitched in a manner familiar to Jaime. He was perturbed, despite his apparent nonchalance.

Jaime was speechless and his gaze shot from Sansa to Sandor, and back to Sansa again. He closed his eyes and willed the situation to go away. Once he opened his eyes again, he would see Sandor in full gear, an exemplary sworn shield attending to his lady - and Sansa, sitting by her dresser, fully clothed and dignified. All this would have been only a creation of his tired mind…Yet when he did that, all he could see was Sansa’s questioning look and how she had pulled the covers further up to better protect her modesty. Her expression had changed from pleased to something akin to embarrassed. Sandor hadn’t bothered to adjust his attire, rocking on his bare feet and watching Jaime with narrowed eyes. Jaime’s throat felt horribly dry and he had an unalloyed urge to escape.

“I…I am sorry, I should have waited for your invitation,” he muttered. Although he felt something inside him shatter, he did all he could to pull himself together and attempted a faint smile.

“How terribly ungallant of me. I do apologise, my lady.” He turned and, not waiting for a dismissal, hastened out of the room, walking briskly and stiffly straight into the corridor. He heard Sansa calling after him but didn’t stop. He continued all the way to his room, not registering how he got there. Finally alone, he let go of the iron control that had kept him upright and sank onto his bed.

There was only one explanation for what he had seen. There could be no other reason why Sandor would have stepped out of Sansa’s bedchamber at this time of morning, with Sansa in the state she had been. As much as Jaime wanted to reject the evidence of his own eyes, he knew he couldn’t. He felt a throbbing pain deep inside him, a hurt so intense that soon he had to get up again and pace around the room just to distract himself from it. They have each other, was all his mind could register as he strode back and forth, helplessly clenching his fists.

Why it hurt so much, he couldn’t fathom - all he knew was that it did. One by one he felt pieces of his heart breaking and crumbling into dust. Sandor…and Sansa…

Eventually Jaime started to settle down. The man of the world took over; the part of him that had seen everything the human condition could conjure. He forced himself to think about what he had faced, ignoring his anguish. So. What he had seen meant that Sansa had taken Sandor into her bed. Not completely unheard of, although unusual for a single young highborn lady. Jaime had written in his dispatches from King’s Landing about Queen Daenerys and Ser Jorah, and without going into too many details had make sarcastic comments about new customs sweeping across the realm. Had that encouraged Sansa?

It didn’t even occur to him that the situation was not Sansa’s doing. No, he knew both of them better.

Yet Sandor had vowed not to disgrace her. An irrational thought formed in Jaime’s head. Could they be married? He almost laughed out loud at that, bitterly. That would surely show both the Iron Throne and Northern lords that their lady had a mind of her own. At the same time he couldn’t believe Sansa being so irrational and not taking into consideration political realities.

Jaime guessed that Sansa or Sandor - or both - wanted to talk with him, but he wasn’t ready to face them just yet. His pain was too raw. He needed more time to reconstruct his veneer of sophistication, that of a trusted companion who didn’t flinch from an encounter such as he had just witnessed. No need for either or them to see how deeply he was wounded. It had all been in his head anyway; his foolish dreams of reaching for something that clearly had never been his to attain.

Jaime went to the stables, saddled Honor and went for a long ride into the woods to clear his head.

Suddenly the long awaited homecoming had turned to ashes in his mouth.
 

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