Her eyes dart from the ink bottle to the window, the gray sky of Winterfell greets her gloomily. One elbow rests on the wooden table in her chambers, her back crouched slightly against the support of the chair. She repeats the motion of her eyes, this time from the door to her gloved fingers in front of her as she curls and uncurls them.
If her mother saw her in this position, she would have probably looked at her with disapproving irritation, the light of her eyes enough threat for her to respond obediently; but Sansa is tired of being the proper lady—properness had done anything for her. Even so, she still relies on it to be herself, perhaps stronger than she really is. Listening to her mother's voice lecturing her in the back of her hair on how to be a proper Lady of Winterfell –chin high, back perfectly straight, a calm demeanor–, usually gives her soul some kind of peace. But not today, in this moment she feels restless, with no strength to waste a thought in anything else but what she is about to do.
Brienne announces herself or at least she tries, almost faltering in her knightly ways as Arya enters without a care, not waiting for her to finish the knock at her door. Sansa doesn’t mind, she has come to accept the way her sister storms into every room, a deadly silence and confident gesture following her always. Sometimes she even finds herself admiring it.
"It's alright,” she tells to the woman still standing in front of the door, not as accustomed as she is. “Please come in, lady Brienne."
Brienne doubts for a moment, she wasn't expecting for her presence to be required, but Sansa needs her here too, she wants to hear what a person of honor and might as her, will have to say to her resolution. After a pause, she walks in and closes the door behind her. Sansa looks to the window once again, feeling Arya’s eyes over her, studying her. She must know what she’s about to say, the fact that she doesn't say it out loud first gives her some kind of reassurance.
"I want to take the North," she pauses, watching them, letting her sudden words to fall in. "I want to become the queen and warden of the North."
She searches for her sister, wanting to show her how true her next pledge is.
"But I won't do it if you ask me not to. We must look after each other and I don't want to start a war between us."
"But you will against Jon?"
The question takes the air from her lungs, she had feared that statement, it hurts listening to it. She looks at the ink bottle for a brief moment and then returns to her eyes.
"I will speak to him first, as I will to Bran. Our brother should be the Lord of Winterfell, the rightful king, but we both know what he thinks about it. Then I will tell Jon what I want and I hope we can reach some kind of peaceful end."
Brienne looks at Arya, her eyebrows knit. When silence is the only thing filling the room, she steps forward. “Are you sure about this, my lady?”
Sansa nods without hesitation. “I love Jon,” she looks at Arya, “he is my brother. I am not doing this because he now is a Targaryen. This has to do with him giving the North to the Queen of Dragons. I respect his choice, I know he has done it because he truly believes in her and I shall let them both know that I don’t want to start a war against the South. I do believe that the North needs a king of its own, that will not be a part of this war between Cersei and Daenerys--whose name should be Stark. If it is for Bran, if it is for you,” Arya frowns at her, “I will still fight with everything I have.”
Brienne straightens then and nods, approving her decision. Sansa shakes underneath her cloak and feels relief wash over her. She had feared this was the wrong thing to do, that she was being selfish all over again. She told Jon once what an awful person she had been to him, to everyone, always believing she was more just because of a title; back at King’s Landing, she thought repeatedly of those times and how maybe all the things that were happening to her had to do with it, a lesson from the gods to cure her of her arrogance. She didn’t want to be like that anymore, but sometimes she feared she didn’t know how to avoid it.
Sansa waited for Arya’s response.
“We have to look after each other, right?” she says. Sansa breathed again, though her emotions were carefully concealed inside.
Sansa stands and Brienne leaves the door not long after. She walks to the window, finding some kind of pleasure in the snow that is starting to melt away. Winter came and has now gone, but peace has not blessed them yet.
“Are you sure about this?”
Her stare falls to her sister. She doesn’t return it.
“Something changed that night,” Sansa frowns. “The night you met this… Dragon Queen. It was something small, something in your eyes. Day by day it became a little bit bigger, Sansa--”
She knows all too well what Arya is talking about. Her hope. That’s something she doesn’t want to acknowledge; not now, not ever. There are far more important things in her mind
“It is nothing to be concerned about. I shall go and talk to Bran now.”
She walks the distance to the door, every step she takes made as her mother tells her so in the back of her mind, but Arya’s voice sends the death to a rest. “You don’t have to be a martyr, you have a duty to yourself too.”
The North was not what it had been, its lands were still filled with blood, dead bodies, sorrow. Many lords were left without a home after the Wight had come, a few houses had disappeared completely. Jon stood in front of them when the Great War came to an end and told them that he had given his word to Queen Daenerys, but still, he was not going to ask them to follow him, for he knew what it meant, but they were at lost, they needed guidance and the only who would provide that was their king in the North, so they had stood for him, with him. Some wanted only the gold they believed it would come after the battle, others aimed for more: Jon, a northerner, as the King of the Seven Kingdoms. A few truly believed in him and followed his commands because of the honor he had shown when times of need had come.
Whatever Jon decided, the North was going to change, the lords would end up fighting amongst them. Hunger and destruction were capable of changing an honourable man, but she knew that only a Stark, a true ruler, would be their salvation, her duty laid there. Jon was good at it, but he was far too good to be the king they needed, he was far too in love to be it. She was not going to commit the same mistakes.
She knocks on Bran’s door and walks in as he tells her so. His room is dark, the fire in the chimney the only source of light. His blank face stares at it until she comes closer and sits in his bed.
She has now come to terms with his new way of being. He tells her she is lying to herself when she thinks something like the old Bran has sparked when the speak, but she keeps on trying to reach him, bring memories of the past or, at least, get to know this new self. They do that a lot, long talks under the snow after he has been out there, his eyes rolled back. She now understands what he is, she trusts in him as nobody else.
“You know already my answer,” he says as she opens her mouth.
“I still need to hear it.”
“I am the Three Eyed Raven, Sansa, I am not a lord, nor will I ever be.”
She lets go of a breath. “Do you think I should stop?” she bites her lip, suspecting what will be his answer. “Is it the right thing to do?”
He looks at the fire again. “I cannot interfere.”
“When I killed Lord Baelish you helped me, you supported me. You also told Jon who he was, you told him he was the heir to the iron throne.”
“Yes, the first one was for me; a mistake, but still necessary justice. The second was something that needed to happen. He is to be the rightful king.”
“He has bent the knee,” she doesn’t intend to sound so sour, but the words are out there before she can stop them. He follows her with his eyes and this time she is the one who avoids him. “He doesn’t want to be king.”
“It will happen.” She looks at her hands, “and you will be queen.”
She lifts her face, her heart pounds in her chest. She knows this is as much as she will get out of him, so she stands and leans in his direction, leaving a kiss on his forehead.
She starts to walk away when he calls her name once again. “You will do right, you are a good person.”
She smiles at him, something small, barely there. It has been a long time since Sansa –this Sansa, not the girl she was when she left him on a bed, unconscious– showed an expression much truer, wider. Even the phrase is meant to make her good, even if it wakes something warm inside of her, Sansa can’t help but doubt. She sees there, at that moment, the spark of the old Bran, his little brother trying to console her; nothing more, nothing less. She knows that maybe if she hadn't left the room immediately, he would’ve corrected her, but it is fine like this because she wants to believe that it is her Bran who is trying to be there for her.
It is true she worries about such things, but his reassurance, or the lack thereof, only helps to make up her mind: she will do what she must for her family. It won’t matter if she is good or bad, for the darkness will fall upon her, but not over her people.
His room is warm, she notices with relief. She had stood outside way too long, trying to calm her nerves, and the nights are still as cold as the days had been when winter was here. The oak feels heavy as she presses her hand against it to close it or maybe is just the memory of the previous night and what she did in this same room, in front of the same man, what makes her weak. She folds her hands, willing herself to keep them like that, to as stoic as she learned to be from Cersei Lannister: always unaffected, but ready to attack. They don't even try to find each other's faces.
He pretends he is busy, moving letters and other things around his table unnecessarily. It doesn't help her nervousness and she reprimands herself for it all, she should've known this would happen, for the gods, she surely thought about it, but she had hoped to be stronger than this, she had promised herself not to let a man affect her and Jon had done enough of that, she was not going to let him keep doing this to her.
“Will you leave soon?” her voice sounds steady and she thanks the gods for that.
“Aye,” he says too fast, too soon. “When the sun comes out again I shall part.”
“Jon,” she steps in his direction but stops when Ghost comes closer to her, silently asking her attention. “I am begging you now, Jon. Do not to make us participate in Daenerys’s war.”
Their eyes meet for the first time and even though the memory of the night before is long forgotten now, she is grateful she has an excuse to look down as she rubs Ghost’s ears.
“Sansa, I gave my word to her.”
That’s what he always says, it sounds annoying by now and she can’t help but be harsh when she answers. “You gave your word to the North first. You should not have bent the knee.”
"Sansa, if this is about the marriage, I swear--"
"It is not," she raises her voice as well as her chin, this time not looking away and he adopts a defensive position. "The North doesn't need another war.”
"I gave them a choice, they decided."
"Because they are fools!" she gestures to the door. “They want things you cannot give them and you want things that the North doesn’t need. Can you be more blind?”
“What are those things that they want and that I want? do you know them for sure?” he challenges her, it only pisses her off furthermore.
“Yes, Jon! I do,” she groans. “And the fact that you don’t want to listen to me doesn’t mean I will stop knowing them.”
“Then tell me,” he shortens the distance between the, seeming desperate, but she can’t think straight anymore, she is frustrated, so mad at his behavior. It is too late to keep the wolf in her out. “Say what you have to say instead of not going to the lord's council and--”
“Tell her you won’t support her, tell her you will be left out of this war.”
“That I can not--”
“No, of course not, because you are just thinking of yourself and your needs as a man!”
He’s surprised. Sansa knows her face must show the same expression, but she doesn’t go back on her words. Is not what she wanted to say, not when deep inside she doesn't like the idea of it, even if she is right to be mad about it. She sees him frown, a slow change in his expression, his stand transforms too, she sees the king in him unravel carefully. No, this is not how she wanted things to end, she had told Arya she wanted a peaceful treat, but Jon is Jon and as good man as he is, he is stubborn and true to his word, that means he will not leave the lords to their own as well as he won’t falter to Daenerys. She knew this, all too well.
“Is that what you think I’m doing? Dragging the North to a war because I want Daenerys as a woman?”
She is sure of it, but she also knows he just likes to lie to himself, he is too innocent of man’s incapacities.
“If that is your reason or if it is for your honor, I don’t care. I want you to stop this madness, that’s all.”
“I won’t, Sansa. I am the King and I have made my decision.”
He turns his back to her, dismissing her. The action hurts her even more than what she thought it would, but that doesn’t stop her words.
“I am Sansa Stark, lady of Winterfell, daughter of Ned Stark, Lord and warden of this land. I will declare myself as queen in the North, I will speak to the lords so they can pledge their allegiance, make a new oath if they wish to and I hope, my lord, that you will respect them as you have claimed that you do this night.”
She can’t hear herself above the thundering rhythm of her heart, but sees his expression as he turns to face her once again. There’s no rage left, only pain and fear. She feels the same, but that is not unexpected, she loves him more than what she will ever dare to admit and the knowledge that this might torn them apart is heavy over her shoulders.
“When you leave Winterfell, when you leave your kin, as you have done so many times before and as we both know you will, I shall stay here and serve as the King in the North should’ve. Good night, Jon.”
She walks steadily, but faster than ever before. Her mother talks to her in the back of her head, explaining why a lady should never run in her own house, but once again she can’t hear, she doesn't want to. As soon as she closes the door of her bedchambers, her hands fly to open her dress, tossing and even reaching for something to cut it open. She takes a ragged breath, her hands trembling as she falls to the floor.
Sansa cries with silent whimpers because she has hurt him, even after he saved her; she cries because she has betrayed him, even after all she fought to keep him as her king; she cries because she never wanted to become what she is now—a reminiscent of her worst nightmare.
She has been in this position a thousand times, she has talked to them, listened to them, worked with them, but this time is different and her heart won't simply calm down. Despite her anxiety, her face remains the same, a stoic façade that transmits nothing more but mighty and certitude, because even if she wants to be a good ruler and come clean in front of the people she cares about, Sansa is sure that they will eat her alive if they find in her some kind of weakness. She has come a long way, has learned from the best to play this game, she knows each person in this room: their weakness and the way to please them; that had been her work, to fulfill Jon’s absence. This time, though, she will wear the burden and the crown.
When the room is filled to the brim with each of the bannermen left after the Great War, she stands, her eyes traveling around the room. Bran is by her right side, Arya on her left, by the wall. She feels better with them here—her family, her sister and brother. They give her the strength she needs to raise her voice.
"My lords," silence falls upon them. Sansa takes a silent breath. "I have called you today to ask your support. I have proclaimed myself as queen in the North. My cousin, Jon Targaryen, bent the knee to a Southern queen to serve her as she fights in a war that does not concern us. I cannot accept that, not when the North is in great need,"
Her heart hurts. She thought her words over and over again, tossing around in her bed, wondering if there was another way to do this. She had hoped Jon would come to her, accept what she asked of him, avoid this all madness, but he hadn’t and neither did he stay to talk further about it. She hopes the pause has served as some kind of solemnity and that her pain has not shown. Jon, to her, will always be a Stark.
"I beg you to support me, as I am the true born daughter of Ned Stark. Whatever you decide it will be respected and I shall come to terms with you of peace, but my choice has been made and as my cousin has chosen to leave, even after I told him of my decision, you can assume he will stay loyal to Daenerys Targaryen,” another pause and she looks at them, letting that information to sink. “My kin is my home and a Stark must be always in Winterfell, not a southern queen. Those who want to pledge to Jon can leave Winterfell peacefully, I want nothing more but peace and that's all I ask of you, as I have asked my cousin and his queen."
She folds her hands in front of her, she lifts her chin and lets it fall again. The faces in the room show surprise, a few wariness. The wildlings that now live in Winterfell keep quiet, their expression full of rage. Brienne has stepped in front of her, aligning her body so she can cover for Arya as well, but Sansa is confident that even if they see her as a traitor, the lords will protect her.
The first one to stand, as she did when they proclaimed Jon Snow as their king, is Lyanna Mormont. She has turned into a beautiful lady, she seems even more ferocious as her fourteen name day approaches.
"When you and your brother came to my house, you called upon my letter to Stannis Baratheon: Bear Island knows no king, but the king in the North, whose name is Stark. House Mormont has always served to your family. That will not change today either,” her eyes then move to the rest of the men who are watching her. “And I shall know how capable a woman is to uphold a house, you have proven yourself too and I have no doubt that you will be a fair queen,” Sansa wants to cry when she sees the smirk on her lips. "I know no queen but the queen in the North whose name is Stark."
“Thank you for your words, my lady.”
Silence greets them after Sansa has thanked her. The faces of the man are looking at each other, trying to find advice within them. It takes them more time to accept this than what it took them when Jon was by her side, but eventually someone roar from the back of the room the words that lady Mormont just said. I know no queen but the queen in the North whose name is Stark.
Her chest, more than fire, feels the cold breeze of the snow and her throat contracts itself as the wolf when it is about to howl to the moon. She is a Stark, lady of Winterfell, warden and queen of the North.
The meeting does not end there, she tells them she has written a letter to the queen and reads its content before sealing it in front of them. “I will make sure to send to all of you her answer and call upon you if it’s needed. Let's hope not. For now, we are not preparing for another war and you all can go to your lands and help me bring the North back to all its glory.”
Having the title is not the end of it all, she knows there are many things to be settled, the wildings being one of the most important. Jon was the only reason the lords had tolerated them and she had to be careful and intelligent when dealing with them. She was not going to condemn them, not when they had built a life on this side of the Wall, but she could not have them going around in their own free will, with their own free rules as Jon had.
Arya had left with Bran to the Godswood and she had requested Brienne to see their guests needs as they prepared everything to leave Winterfell. She was alone in the room, as she had so many times before, though her peace didn’t use to last very long, lord Baelish husky words of fake proudness and encouragement, always scheming to give her power if only he kept her under his control. He was not here anymore and she almost felt bitter about it.
The letter to Daenerys stares back at her, close to the hand that rests above the desk while she presses the index finger of her free hand against her lips. The door opens, but she doesn't follow the sound, she knows it all too well. There are only two sworn shields in Winterfell: Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. The latter has a way of walking with his armor even lighter than Brienne’s, that’s how she knows it’s him before he even speaks.
"I've heard you have taken your cousins throne, lady Sansa."
He was certainly charming, blond hair, sharp jaw, tall, strong and a gentleman from a good house. Cersei was a cruel, sick; Jaime was just a man who had done anything to please and protect her, a great deal of those things had been terrible mistakes. Sansa knew that one can not always decide for the heart who to love.
He left Cersei before the Great War begun, he had fought with Jon when the time came and even saved her and Brienne's life during a time of crisis. His proven loyalty and the word of Brienne had convinced her to accept him as her sworn shield. Some times, most of the times, as she had said to Arya, she enjoyed the fact that Cersei knew who his brother and former lover would give his life for, that gave her great pleasure.
"Word travels fast, Ser Jaime."
Of course it does, even more so if she had just discussed it with the bannermen who were rambling outside.
“I am glad for you,” he says and it sounds sincere.
Sansa pauses, searching in his eyes if it is real, but he has the demeanor of a Lannister, always concealing their feelings. “Thank you,” she says, nonetheless. Her arm then reaches for the letter. “Please, make sure this is sent to Dragonstone, it is addressed for Daenerys Targaryen.”
He seems impressed, but that’s just a brief tilt to his eyebrow and then he tilts with respect and leaves the room. She stays behind only a few seconds more, then she stands and makes her way to the west side of Winterfell.
She notes the news has really reached every corner of her house, for as those who get in her way, appear to try a little bit harder in their curtsies. Soon, as each lord finds its way to their own home, it will be all around the North. She wonders when will Jon find out that all the bannermen have proclaimed her their rightful queen, she wonders what will he feel. She fears the look of pain he gave her the night before and that thought makes her walk a little bit faster to her destination. She knocks slowly on the door, almost fearing what will come. Muffled sounds come from inside the room and she realizes she truly is scared. That is until Samwell opens the door and his kind and nervous smile greet her. Gilly stands from her seat over the bed, their son oblivious as he plays by her feet; there's a sad smile in her lips that Sansa returns equally.
Gilly had become her friends rather easily, both had been trapped in Winterfell as the war was held meters away, time passing agonizingly slowly as they waited for news of those who they loved and what it could mean if they perished in the front. Sansa had even taught Gilly the art of embroidery, trying to calm the nerves with busy hands, and she had been an amazing student, a good listener too and an even better shoulder when she found herself crying, overwhelmed by the spur of victory.
“Lady Sansa,” Sam say’s, then his smile falters. “I mean, that is…, queen--”
"You are packing," she says, looking at the room almost empty by now, not quite at all alright with Jon’s friend calling her that way.
"Jon is, I--"
“Sam,” she interrupts him again, her lips are dry. With precaution, she extends a hand until finding his. "I know, he is your friend and I did not expect anything else from you. I'm glad he has you," her voice is firm, her expression showing for the first time her true feelings. "I suppose you will follow him to Dragonstone."
"We don't know yet, your grace."
She inclines her head, trying to ignore the weird sensation it gives to her the way he has called her.
"You can stay as long as you need to. Jon is not my enemy, not unless he decides otherwise," her voice becomes smaller by the end of it. Her eyes fall to Gilly. "And even then you are my friends too and you are welcome in Winterfell no matter what."
Sam closes his mouth after the surprise her words cause in him. Then his shy smile shows.
She returns the small gesture. "Wait until Jon tells you what to do, you cannot drag little Sam around."
Her eyes fall on the child, then Gilly walks to her and wraps her in a motherly embrace. Sansa wonders if this is something only mothers can do: show such tenderness, make the other feel as cherish. She remembers the way she felt when Jon held her and she can’t help but hide against Gilly’s shoulder. She needed this, after such a long day, she needed her mother’s arms around her and not only her lecturing voice pulling her out of her fears.
"Thank you, Sansa," Gilly says, brushing her hair slightly. She just nods, fearing it will be obvious she is crying.
Gilly doesn’t let go until she has calmed down and even then Sam invites her in, asking permission to prepare her a tea that he has wanted to try for far too long. In the end, it soothes her nerves and as she leaves to take a nap, eyes heavy with tiredness, Sansa shares a hug with both of them, promising to see them when dinner is served.