title: the lightning strike
summary: And in her dreams, she dismantles the past and rearranges it to her liking. Five things Sansa Stark would have done differently, and one she never would.
the lightning strike
When they drag her before the King and Queen, and ask her to tell the truth, Sansa does not choke on her words and her cowardice. Mother always told her that it is a Lady's duty to support her Lord husband, but she's not married to Joffrey yet and Arya has been missing for days.
Arya hit him, hit the prince of Westeros and if she doesn't step in – in the days of old, one could lose a hand for that and her sister is wilful and unladylike but she doesn't deserve that. No matter how wide the gap has grown between them recently, no matter how they differ, she does not deserve that and Mother is no longer here to smooth over her sister's wildness, her impulsive breaks of decorum.
"It's a crime to lie to your King, child," Robert Baratheon says. The Queen's face is cold, emerald eyes still and furious. Even her mother, in the depths of her shame, never looked at Jon Snow like that. It is not the look of a Lady.
(It is not the look of a Queen).
Sansa tells the truth.
"I'm sorry," Arya whispers at night, after days of frigid silence between them. Sansa is still crying herself to sleep, muffled sobs leaking into her pillows. She cannot forget the Queen's face as she said, "We have another wolf," and the heart wrenching tug that followed – that snap of a thin line that left her spinning alone in the darkness. Lady is gone and Sansa thinks she might drown in the emptiness of her own mind, her mauled heart. She feels like half of her own self has been torn away by the cold knife her father used to split her direwolf's throat.
When she doesn't respond, Arya climbs carefully into the bed beside her and she knows, even in the depths of her grief, the effort it takes for her sister to lie with her like this, to be still and silent. She feels her hair being stroked gently by small hands, delicate fingers, and it's not – it's not Arya's fault, not really, but Sansa cannot help but blame her anyway.
But when she rolls over, intending on telling her to go away and leave her alone, she sees her sister's face in the moonlight, and it is just as miserable as her own.
"I thought the Queen liked me," she whispers brokenly instead, and more tears come out. She can't help it; Lady is gone and she was good. She didn't do anything wrong, but that didn't matter to anyone, anyone at all, except for herself and Arya. Even her father obeyed the Queen.
"The only person she likes is Joffrey and he's no true prince. A real prince wouldn't have – wouldn't have hurt Mycah."
And that is what stings – that her prince smiled as she screamed at them, as she pleaded and begged, as if it pleased him, her pain, her terror. She remembers the strange little smile on his face as he cut the butcher boy's face open, excitement in his green eyes which she had thought so pretty.
That is not how the songs that she loves – has always loved – go. In songs, the prince is supposed to be the hero. The Queen is supposed to be beautiful and kind, loved by all.
Sansa doesn't know how to make her broken heart into a song she can understand, so she accepts Arya's embrace, and folds her sister's love into the gaping emptiness Lady has left behind. It's all she knows how to do.
The next morning, Jeyne Poole tells horror stories about Arya's butcher boy, how the Hound cut him up into so many pieces the butches thought he was another slaughtered pig. Sansa cuts her short, cuts her dead and beckons for her sister to sit by her side.
The Stark girls enter Kings Landing as confidants, as allies, rather than as enemies.
"We're going home," her father says. He still looks ill, drawn and Sansa wishes her mother was here to soothe away his hurts, both the pain in his leg and his grief for the King.
Part of Sansa is in love with the South – with the tourney's and the knights and the pretty summer silks. It is everything she dreamed of as a child.
But there is another part of her, newer and uncertain, which quietly rejoices at the thought of going home – home where it is safe and there are no Queen's trying to make her spill her father's doings and forget the cruelty she displayed, no golden princes smiling and flattering as though he didn't lie and order the death of her dearest companion.
Arya hates Joffrey – hates the Lannisters - probably more than she's ever hated anyone, and in her presence it is hard to pretend that hatred is not justified. It is hard to smile at Joffrey and Cersei, when there is a part of her, deep down, that fears their every word is a lie, every smile back at her a mask concealing something underneath. She doesn't want to find out what that something is.
"Tomorrow. I've bought a ship down by the harbour; I want you girls to pack your things tonight."
"Can Syrio come?" Arya asks, and her face is animated, pleased. Sansa does not entirely approve of her sister's dancing lessons, but she's found she'd rather sit and watch them than spend another uncomfortable afternoon with the Queen, stumbling over her courtesies and feeling like a foreigner.
Septa Mordane puts a gentle hand on her arm. "I must say I shall be sorry to never see all your golden babes, Sansa, but your father knows best."
Her father's face changes at her Septa's words, as though he's just had some grand revelation she will never be privy to. She remembers the talk he gave them both, all those months ago when they first arrived in Kings Landing; that they had entered a dangerous place.
"Seven hells," he mutters, turning away as though to go, to take some form of action –
"Father..." Speaking for the first time seems to remind him that they are there. Lord Eddard wipes a hand over his brow and moves to sit down with them, looking faded and weary.
"Septa, if you could be so good as to give me a moment with my daughters."
Obediently, the woman dismisses herself and even before he speaks Sansa feels it coming, a thrill in her bones at his next words.
"There is something I must tell you both," her father says. Even Arya is still, watching with wide eyes and chewing on her lip intently. "Something which must not leave this room. Promise me, girls."
"I promise," they chorus together, hardly daring to look at each other.
"It's about Bran's accident," her father begins heavily, and under the table, Sansa reaches for her sister's hand, clutching it like a life line. "He didn't fall from that tower. He was pushed."
Sansa packs up clothes carefully in silence, more frightened than she has ever been in her life. Kings Landing feels like a yawning mouth in which she might be trapped at any moment, swallowed up forever. Her hands tremble as she folds up her silks and dresses.
They pushed Bran out a window.
She thinks of her little brother falling, screaming – the sickening crunch as he hit the ground. She remembers his direwolf crying until someone found him, his broken body lying in the mud, and her mother's face. She remembers crying into Robb's shoulder when he returned from the hunt with their father, how Arya went quiet for days, just holding Rickon close while their mother fell apart.
And then she thinks of the Queen, who made all her pretty apologies for the tragedy.
"I pray to the mother every day, that she might give your child back to you," she'd said to Lady Catelyn.
"Liar," she whispers to no one. "Liar, liar, liar!"
The next day, she lunches with the Queen, with Joffrey and smiles prettily, knowing that her father's household is conveying their things to the docks, ready for a quiet escape. She keeps her mouth shut, save for the courtesies she's been taught.
They will get no loyalty from her.
They sail away under the cover of night, Sansa, Arya and her father. He doesn't stay behind to take Joffrey into custody, to be betrayed, to be executed.
They reach White Harbour in a fortnight and the North closes ranks around them. No lions can reach them in Winterfell and she returns to her mother, to her brother's, all of them safe and whole.
And this time around, when they go to war they win.
The Hound comes to her when the Blackwater is burning. Sansa can smell the battle on him – smoke and blood – along with the stench of wine.
"I could take you with me," he says, after she sings in her frightened little voice. "I could keep you safe. Nobody would hurt you, or I'd kill them."
Sansa thinks of the way he faced the Mountain in that tourney, oh so long ago now, it seems. She thinks of the white cloak he gave her to cover herself in the throne room.
She thinks of Winterfell, blanketed in snow, and the possibility of seeing her mother and brother's again. Stannis will not hurt her, but neither will he set her free.
"Will you take me home?" she whispers, as he towers over her, gruff and impossibly terrifying. But Sandor Clegane has never hurt her, and she does not believe that he ever really will.
"Aye, little bird. I'll take you home."
The run through the Red Keep is terrifying. The night is on fire and Kings Landing is screaming in the dark. The Hound leads her safely through the castle, killing anyone who stumbles across their path, and even drunk he is a brutally efficient killer.
They'll kill me, she thinks, running along in his shadow to the stables. She expects to find Joffrey or the Queen waiting for her, to catch her in the act of running, at any moment. They'll take off my head, too.
Neither Cersei, or Sansa's betrothed appear. Sandor lifts her up onto his fearsome horse as if she weighs little more than a feather, and lifts himself up behind her. She is hidden in the shadow of his massive arms which surround her.
She only opens her eyes once they've left the Keep behind. They charge through one of the smaller gates, out into the night and it feels like flying.
"I'm free," she whispers, her voice swallowed up by the wind, by the galloping horse beneath her.
Sansa allows herself to cry silently, the first tears she's shed since her father died.
The Riverlands are crowded with Lannister and Stark armies. Somehow, Sandor manages to evade them all, cutting down those who accost them whenever they have to chance the road. It takes a month to reach her brother's camp, where a scout accosts them.
"No further, dog," the boy says, contempt in his voice. "The King will have your head for stepping into Stark territory."
"I have no quarrel with your King," Sandor growls, and she can hear the longing for wine in his voice. "In fact, I've brought him a little gift."
"Unless it is the pretender's head, your gifts mean nothing, Clegane," a new voice. Sansa freezes, heart beating in her chest faster and faster – it's been so long but she knows him, she would know him anywhere and she cannot move, cannot pull the hood down –
"I've brought you something better," Sandor replies. "Though I doubt I'll get your thanks for it. Pull your hood down, little bird."
They seem to become aware of her at last. A crowd has gathered, swords drawn and the air crackles with tension.
Sansa raises her hands numbly to reveal herself. Red hair swings loose across her face, before the wind blows it behind her. She's imagined this moment so many times, so why is she so scared?
For a moment there is silence, and then someone lets loose a strangled sound – a half gasp, half sob.
She cannot speak. Robb seizes her in his arms, crushing her to him and in all the times she's pictured seeing him again, she's never once thought that the Young Wolf, the King in the North, would cry.
His hands are in her hair, on her face and she knows then that she was missed. That she is loved.
She knows now that she is home.
Joffrey dies horribly and Sansa lingers only long enough to see his face turn purple, fingers bloody where he's clawed at his throat. She is the only one to look at Margaery, whose eyes are a mix of satisfied and apologetic.
Sorry, they seem to say, in those precious seconds before Sansa flees. It's not as poetic as a beheading.
It is the only honest expression she has seen since her father died and yet Margaery knows how to play the game of thrones.
Before she is whisked away to the Vale, she pockets the hairnet and doesn't forget about it. She doesn't forget about it when Lord Baelish kills Ser Dontos, when he takes her name and identity away, when Sweetrobin grows increasingly sicker.
A slip of paper makes its way into Bronze Yohn's hand as she passes him in the hall. She needs to start playing the game, too.
The Blackfish comes for her before Riverrun falls, but not before Sansa has slipped the Strangler into Littlefinger's wine.
He does not claim her maidenhead. Her cousin does not die.
"Sorry," she says, holding Sweetrobin by the hand as the man before them chokes, "it's not a fall from the Moon Door."
Jaime Lannister does not look the way she recalls from her time in Kings Landing. For one, he's missing a hand.
So? the voice in her head that sounds like Arya scorns. Our father and brother are both missing their heads.
"That's Queen in the North, to you, Lannister," her mother's uncle corrects him. Robb's crown has vanished, but she will reclaim it along with her brother's and mother's bones.
"If I recall, Her Grace is a Lannister now, too."
Her marriage to Tyrion was a sham, one which chills her blood to this day. "A marriage which is forced upon one at knife point, is no true marriage at all," she responds quietly. "I am no Lannister, Ser Jaime."
The look in his eyes – green, always green, she thinks and feels ill – is surprised. "You didn't call me Kingslayer."
She ignores him and leans back into her throne – her grandfather's chair. Riverrun is hers, as it was Robb's, and she will not let the Lannister's take it.
"Why are you here?" she asks instead. "Why are you not on the other side of the siege lines?"
He looks up at her with an expression that is almost pained, as if she is his saving grace. The Hound looked at her like that once, she remembers. She didn't know how to use that, then, when she was small and frightened and alone.
Now she is Queen and frightened. And lonely.
But not helpless. Never helpless.
If I ever get to be Queen I will make them love me, she remembers, letting her vulnerability show.
"Because," Jaime Lannister replies. "You are my last chance at honour."
They do not trust him, her men. Sansa is not sure she completely trusts him either, turncloak that he is, but she is willing to give him the chance to prove himself.
She is willing to use him, whether he betrays her in the end, or not.
"The men do not like it," the Blackfish tells her one night, when they eat in her solar. Sansa thinks of a Red Wedding, of her brother's bones and a girl named 'Arya Stark' wed to the Bastard of Bolton. She thinks of her uncle standing out there with a noose around his neck, day after day.
"A tame lion is easier to kill than one that still has claws," she replies. "They don't have to like it. They simply have to obey."
Jeyne, her brother's widow, stares at her plate with watering eyes, hand ghosting over her empty womb. Sansa does not let sympathy for her good-sister push her into executing a valuable piece before she's put him on the board.
In a week, Riverrun is free and Edmure Tully is restored to his rightful place as Lord.
He is the only one of her blood that she has managed to save.
She doesn't kill Cersei Lannister. As much as she'd love to make her stand before the realm and slice her head off, as payment for her dead, Sansa restrains herself. Instead, she locks the former Queen in one of White Harbour's cells and lets her rot for a while.
She always hated feeling unimportant, which is why she saves it until the last moment to visit. She wears her finest dress, wraps herself up in furs of white and grey and combs her hair until it shines. The golden crown on her head is heavy, but she wears it with indifference – as though it was always meant for her.
I will make you feel like nothing, she thinks, and smiles at her reflection in the mirror before walking to the cells. Her handmaidens fuss, as she takes the steps, as though a little dirt and darkness is enough to discourage her, to frighten her.
"Leave me," she orders and takes the candle in one hand, her skirts in the other.
In the dungeons it is cold and Cersei Lannister is stinking, wild thing. A caged beast of gold.
"So you finally deigned to visit," she says, and though her posture in indolent, Sansa is pleased to see the chaffs on her wrists, the thinness of her face and the way her hair hangs limp and greasy. She is pleased, too, by the fire in the mad Queen's eyes. It wouldn't do to break her completely.
"My apologies," Sansa greets her with a small smile, as though they are old friends. "I've been rather busy running my Kingdom. I trust you've been well looked after? These are our finest rooms. I think you'll find they're fit for a Lannister of Casterly Rock."
Cersei's eyes are outraged, but nonetheless she smiles back, just as prettily. "Yes. Indeed, I've been quiet the comfortable guest. You are to be commended for your generous hospitality."
The words are meant to put her in her place, to cow her. Sansa sets the candle down, tilts her head. "I learned the meaning of hospitality from your own hands. I think that it would not be an exaggeration to claim you've by far been my most…effective teacher."
"Everything you are, you owe to me," the fallen Queen hisses suddenly, lunging towards the bars. The chains yank her back, makes her skin break and bleed. "But it will not last. They will come for me, you stupid little idiot, and then I will show you the true wrath of a lion!"
"All the lions are dead," Sansa replies sweetly. "You're just the shadow of a cat, Cersei Lannister and tomorrow, you'll be even less than that."
The look Cersei gives her is unhinged, as if she has been proven right at last and that is more important than the fact her world has already fallen down around her. "Going to kill me, at last?"
"The realm is crying out for your execution, but it will not be by my hand. I thought of locking you away forever in a gilded cage, where the world would forget about you as you wasted away and the ruin of your house tormented you to death. I know how much you would hate that."
Cersei licks her cracked lips. "I see you've decided on the gift of mercy. How like your father you are, little dove."
Sansa smiles one last time, a gleam of steel in the dark. "You will find no mercy in a truly just man," she murmurs and is rewarded with the briefest flash of fear in the mad Queen's eyes.
The day she gives up Cersei Lannister to Stannis Baratheon, a small ship pulls up in the harbour. As the rope is thrown, she hurries down the steps in her slippers, the crown resting precariously on her head.
The plank is lowered and a young boy walks towards her, clinging to the hand of an unfamiliar woman, a direwolf by his side.
"The pack survives."
Somewhere, Sansa thinks, her father is watching over her. She'd like to think she's made him proud.
notes: I don't know where this came from
notes2: definitely should have been revising instead of writing this, whoops.
notes3: this is longer than the essay I'm supposed to be working on.