Sansa stared wide-eyed at Sandor. “We have to find him and explain!”
Sandor pushed away from the wall and came to her.
“Aye, we will. Just give him some time.” He pulled her against his chest, soothing her. His big hands stroked her hair, but for once Sansa was not comforted by his attentions and she gently pushed him away. As she did so, she caught sight of Sandor’s face and saw grief stamped on it. For me…or for Jaime? This was not the way they had imagined breaking the news to their companion.
Sansa’s mind raced. She wasn’t worried about their secret; she trusted Jaime’s discretion. What troubled her was Jaime’s stunned expression, changing into anguished in front of her eyes. She could guess how hurt Jaime had felt at that moment. Not because of any perceived betrayal - as no promises had been made or received - but for breaking their pack.
Sansa sighed. She and Sandor had concluded that they had to be honest and tell Jaime about their relationship. The man who had flouted customs and broken conventional rules of society in his own quest for love would surely understand. Or would he?
She knew it was not only a matter of Jaime feeling like an outsider, but also about the feelings he clearly had for Sandor…and she had taken him away. She appreciated how important it was to maintain even an illusion that something good could happen, despite all indications to the contrary. Whether it was the hope of seeing a loved family member again, or a wish that the object of one’s affection returned those feelings… If even the possibility was taken away, that was a harsh blow indeed.
Sandor left for his duties as Sansa got ready to enter the role of a gracious hostess for the army that was to save the realm. She dressed more finely than usual, donning the dove-grey dress with hound and bird motifs. The commanders from the South and across the sea had been curious to see the Warden of the North, the famous Stark who had escaped. Well, she’d show them.
She stared at her image in the looking glass. What she saw was a slender face, high cheekbones and a straight nose. Dark eyebrows arched gracefully above her bright blue eyes, the expression in them having lost the innocence of youth a long, long time ago. She knew that her luscious long hair had always been considered one of her best assets. She was proud of it and the way it shone and cascaded all the way down to her waist. Yet as much as Sandor loved to bury his face in it and stroke it, he often told her that her eyes were what he treasured the most. “There is wisdom in them beyond your years, little bird,” he said. The wisdom I will need now, if I am to truly rule.
She took a deep breath and got up. The day was going to be busy, meeting the army commanders and the men of the Night’s Watch, sorting out what provisions Winterfell could supply to the troops, showing the new Maester Weimar what precious little Maester Luwin had left behind…
After Sansa entered the Great Hall, she sent enquiries after Jaime and heard that he had been seen riding out. She requested to be informed as soon as he was back and went on with her day. There was so much to do, after all.
It was several hours later when word came in the form of a snotty-nosed squire that Ser Jaime had returned. She requested Jaime be asked to attend her in her rooms for a private audience and hurried back herself. Suddenly she found herself anxious. What can I tell him? He knows, but does he understand why?
Jaime arrived, still sweaty from the ride. He was fully composed and there was real warmth in his voice as he greeted Sansa. The wind had blown his hair into a mess, the golden curls tangled and pasted against his forehead. He looked older, Sansa realised. Not necessarily aged, but more…settled. The long trip back had exposed his handsome face to the sun and it was bronzed, the straw-coloured stubble of his beard pale against his skin. His eyes were as bright as before, shining brilliant green in the late morning light flooding through her windows.
The way he was looking at Sansa made her conscious of the compromising situation he had seen her in that morning. She blushed when she thought about it; she semi-naked, Jaime staring at her in shock. I am surely glad that at least I was under the covers! She counted her blessings that the morning had been chilly. Then another realisation startled her. Had Jaime burst through that door only a short while earlier, he would have witnessed something even more indecent. Gods! The thought of Jaime beholding her naked in Sandor’s arms was altogether too disconcerting to contemplate.
“Sansa, I am so sorry for my inexcusable behaviour this morning. You must think me a wildling, barging into your bedchamber like that!” Jaime’s smile was open, but there was an undercurrent of uneasiness in his demeanour.
Sansa gestured for him to sit next to her. She bit her lip, nervous about how to approach the subject. Jaime was not supposed to have seen her that way, and she was not supposed to think of his reaction, had he seen more… Eventually she concluded that the best way was to get straight to the heart of the matter.
“Jaime, we were going to tell you today. Yesterday was too difficult, with so many things happening, too many people, all the chaos…”
“So it is true then? You have taken Sandor into your bed?” Jaime’s expression changed to serious.
“That is one way to describe it. Oh Jaime, you must have known there was always something between us!”
“I did, I only thought it would stay as it was. That it would manifest itself in more traditional ways, in some other form than…this.” Jaime gestured towards her bedchamber, a faint smile returning to his face. “I remember you saying you were going to take care of him, but I never imagined you meant this.”
Despite Jaime’s amicable countenance, Sansa sensed he didn’t feel quite as light-hearted about the situation as he made it sound.
“Jaime, I love him. It is as simple as that.” Sansa realised only after the words had left her lips that she hadn’t even said them to Sandor yet. She had avoided sentimental words, fearing Sandor would feel obliged to say something similar back, and find it hard. Sansa tasted the words in her mouth. Yes, that’s it. I love him.
Then she glanced at Jaime and saw the pain behind his façade. Without being able to stop herself she said, “You love him too.” It was not a question, simply a statement.
Jaime’s eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything.
Sansa reached for his good hand and clasped it between her fingers.
“Jaime, this doesn’t have to change anything! We are still a pack, we will still be together. We both care so much about you. Jaime, I love you too. It is just… a different type of love.”
Jaime scrutinised her with his emerald eyes.
“I thought you had outgrown the notion of love. Tell me at least that you are… taking precautions?”
“What precautions?” Sansa blushed when she realised what Jaime was talking about. “Yes, I am taking moon tea. Lenore gives it to me.”
“Lenore? Your maid, Lenore? Who else knows?”
“Nobody. We are very careful.”
“Really? It took me less than half a day to find out.” The corner of Jaime’s mouth twitched and Sansa was relieved to see his sense of humour returning.
“Only because you have no shame and walk into the bedchamber of the lady at dawn. Who else would dare to do that?” she teased him back.
Jaime became serious again. “Tell me at least that you haven’t married him? In some quaint northern ceremony, in front of a tree or something?”
“No, I haven’t. I am not stupid, I know it is not that simple. Yet I can’t deny that it is a matter I don’t know how to solve. I can’t imagine being apart from him, nor can I imagine us being able to continue if – when – I am wedded. Or him being able to accept seeing me with another man as my lord husband,” Sansa lamented.
She noticed Jaime hesitating. It was almost as if he wanted to say something, but then thought better of it.
“Just talk to him, I know he wants to clear this up with you.” Sansa patted his hand in an attempt to encourage him. Jaime’s hand was so strong and graceful, his fingers long and elegant. Unlike Sandor’s, his knuckles were not covered with hair, but it didn’t make them appear any less masculine.
“You know, he cares about you, much more than he may ever say. He’d do things for you he would never do to anyone else.”
Jaime’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? What kind of things? What has he said?”
Sansa was slightly taken aback by the intensity of his questioning. She wavered and withdrew from him slightly.
“Nothing… much. He speaks favourably of you and gives high praise whenever your name is mentioned.”
“Is that so? Has he said anything else?”
“He once applied a treatment to my sore shoulders and told me you taught it to him. Some new maester’s cure. He said you and he healed each other in that way. I am sure he wouldn’t have done that to anyone else,” Sansa continued, more confident. If they were going to be honest with each other, Jaime had to understand that she knew, and didn’t judge.
Jaime exhaled. Sansa noticed it and pressed on.
“Jaime, I know there is something special between you and Sandor, but please believe that I don’t view it badly, nor would I ever want to come between you two!”
“Is it that obvious?” Jaime rubbed his brow wearily.
“Not to everyone. Remember, I shared a long journey with you, and I couldn’t help noticing,” Sansa said softly while stroking his golden mane. “I am also not quite as naïve as you two may think. I did live as a bastard for a while, you may recall. Bastard daughters get to hear things noble maidens may not.” At that Jaime lifted his head. The look he gave her was uncertain.
“Go and talk to him. He thought it better that I speak with you first. He is not always that good with words.” Sansa smiled at him reassuringly.
They stared at each other for a moment and Sansa felt an irresistible urge to laugh, when she saw Jaime’s uncertainty changing to amusement. He must have detected that, as he slowly lifted his eyebrow mockingly, making Sansa giggle helplessly. Soon they both burst out laughing. Sansa’s heart swelled with joy for being able to laugh with him like that. She hated the secrecy that was forced upon them, and sharing her feelings for Sandor with someone who knew him well was as enjoyable as it was liberating.
“I will. And when I do, I will let him know how fortunate he is to have won your favour. Much more than he deserves, mangy dog that he is. But I am sure he is very well aware of that himself, so maybe I don’t need to shove it in his face after all.” Jaime stood up, kissed Sansa’s hand and left.
For a long time afterwards Sansa sat in her solar and wondered what was going to happen to her pack. She knew that the delicate structure of their relationships had been irreversibly changed, but into what? Had they been shattered beyond repair or would they be able to glue the pieces together? Or could they perhaps forge something even stronger together?
Jaime couldn’t help but wonder what Sandor had told Sansa. The story about the maester’s treatment sounded harmless enough – but had Sandor mentioned the kiss?
How could he have expressed to her things they had never articulated even to themselves?
In a strange way Jaime felt better knowing that Sansa was aware of what was between them. How much exactly she knew of such matters, he still couldn’t be sure. Noble ladies or bastards, women were not supposed to know about those things.
Jaime didn’t have to go searching for Sandor as he was already waiting in his room. He was standing next to the window, surprising Jaime when he opened the door. Hearing Jaime enter, Sandor slowly turned around, a dark silhouette against the window-frame. He was garbed in his half-armour wearing the colours of House Stark, undoubtedly to impress the visitors.
“Sandor.” Jaime knew he couldn’t jape at him about the morning as he had done with Sansa. In other circumstances, a commander of the guard who saw a lady’s sworn shield in said lady’s bedchamber would be within his rights - even obliged - to raise the alarm. Yet he couldn’t make fun of it, as delicious as the opportunity otherwise would have been.
Besides, Sandor could smell a lie and would know immediately if Jaime tried to hide the ire he felt under his smooth exterior. It had unnerved Jaime before; the way Sandor could see right through his polished act and snort about it to his face.
“I gather you have spoken with Sansa?” Sandor grunted and moved to sit on a chair next to a small table.
“I have. I have also apologised to her for entering her rooms and her bedchamber unannounced and without invitation.”
“She told you we planned to tell you today?” Sandor peered at him. Jaime couldn’t read his expression. It didn’t appear angry, nor was it ashamed. If anything, he thought it was sad – but that didn’t make any sense. Jaime sat down opposite him and they glared at each other across the bare table.
“I thought we agreed that her position is too delicate to be threatened with impropriety. You said yourself she is too high above you and that you know your place! Why are you now risking all she has fought for?” Jaime felt the anger that had been growing inside him the whole morning starting to rise. We agreed. Neither of us was supposed to fall for her. For a moment he almost convinced himself that he was outraged only because of Sansa.
Sandor averted his eyes from his gaze. “I didn’t plan it. I know I should have been stronger and not allowed it to happen, but…” He didn’t finish his sentence and there was an unusual meekness in his demeanour, the way he hung his head, his dark hair falling down over his face.
Jaime stared at him, fuming. Part of him understood Sandor; he had encountered a situation none of his previous experiences had prepared him for. Yet another part of Jaime wanted to rage at him, at how stupid he had been, how careless and selfish. He wanted to curse and shout at Sandor, tell him that his inability to control himself might cost the woman they both loved in their own ways everything. Still, the way Sandor accepted his rebuke, not even trying to defend himself, made harsh words die on his lips. After all, he knew what love could do to a man, no matter how tough and strong. Jaime’s rage left him and he found himself empty and deflated.
“I suppose you didn’t have much chance of resisting when your little bird started chirping,” he eventually muttered.
Sandor glanced at him sharply, scowling. “She didn’t ‘chirp’. Fuck, Jaime, you can rant at me all you want, but don’t go insulting Sansa. To tell you the truth, I can’t understand any of this myself – why settle for a scarred dog like me, when she could have any lord of her choosing? That doesn’t make any buggering sense!”
“Women seldom make sense, in these matters anyway.” Jaime shook his head wearily.
“What are you going to do? Tell someone, demand we put an end to it?” Sandor’s eyes glittered in a way that made Jaime doubt it would matter even if he made such an ultimatum.
“Are you mad? Of course I am not going to tell! Do you think I care so little about her…or you? As for the latter, what good would it do? I realise that as long she accepts you into her bed, you are not going to stay away. And for good or ill, she wants you. Hells, you are absolutely correct: it doesn’t make any sense. Despite that, and for reasons only she knows, she does seem to care about you.”
They sat in silence for a long time. Subtly, Jaime felt the balance between them shifting. He mocked himself quietly, ridiculing his earlier fears of making Sandor an outsider in the unlikely case of Sansa accepting his proposal. He was the odd one out now, and it was a bitter feeling that engulfed him.
There was nothing he could do about it. The best he could manage was to maintain his dignity and not let either of them know how deeply he had been hurt.
Eventually he scoffed, “I suppose you have had much more practice in kissing, at least. It is a shame, I was looking forward to being received in the manner I was farewelled.” His intention had been to jape about it, make light of the whole situation and hide his pain. Yet even to his own ears his voice sounded a bit too sad, a bit too bitter.
Sandor stared at him and as his hard grey eyes bored right through Jaime, he knew that his attempts to hide his feelings from Sandor had failed. Then Sandor moved, and before Jaime had time to react, he grasped the front of Jaime’s tunic and brought him forward across the narrow table. One moment Jaime had been sitting on his chair, the next he was pulled against Sandor. He felt Sandor’s other hand pressing against the back of his head while he pressed his mouth against Jaime’s lips, hard and demanding. It was not gentle, as their farewell kiss had been. It was harsh and remorseless, challenging them both.
In his surprise Jaime allowed his mouth to open slightly. The kiss was unlike any he had experienced, as far away from Cersei’s fiery kisses or Meryn’s tender lips as possible. This time it was Sandor’s tongue which swept against his own, his boldness worlds away from the impassiveness of the previous time. Their teeth clashed.
As suddenly as Sandor had grabbed him, he abruptly let him go. Jaime hit his chair hard, gasping for air. They stared each other wordlessly, Jaime stunned, Sandor solemn. Jaime realised it had not been an impulse, Sandor hadn’t lost his control. No, he had been fully in charge of himself, and had given Jaime only as much or as little as he had wanted to give.
“Welcome back, lion,” Sandor simply said, his expression closed while his eyes studied Jaime. Then he stood up and left. No goodbyes, no explanations as to what had just transpired.
Jaime stared at the door he closed behind him for a long time, the image of his broad shoulders and back printed in his mind. He swept his tongue across his lips and tasted blood. His heart thumped in his chest like a battle drum beaten in fury. Why the hells did he do that?