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.
- english is not my first language, so please point out to me any mistakes. (also, if someone wants to beta-read the other chapters, i'd be so happy?)
- to understand Sansa's feelings for Jon you need to read hope, sorry!
The sun was west when she saw them arrive. Jon was not subtle about the kind of relationship they shared, letting it out there without even setting foot in Winterfell; he treated her with gallantry, a special care that was rare in him. He was kind but rough on the edges, a northerner in all his might. He had held her hand, guiding her to the ground with extreme care and Sansa knew, she just knew what Jon had done. Lord Baelish’s words had come to her mind in a rush at the moment, I've heard gossip that the Dragon Queen is quite beautiful; she hadn't understood at the time, not because she didn't know the way life worked, but because she had wanted to believe in Jon's political intelligence more than what his cock had to say about it.
As they had walked in her direction, a party specially arranged for the arrival of the future sovereign, she felt a maddening rage that not even the freezing weather was able to calm. She had wanted to yell at him, kick him in the shin and send the Targaryen to her castle. She did neither of that, Sansa was a lady –Winterfell’s lady–, so she gave her greetings, served them food and sent everyone to their prepared rooms.
She didn't ponder on the bitterness in the back of her throat, a nauseating feeling coming up from the pit of her stomach, she thought there was nothing else to it than the fact that he had given their home to Daenerys, that he didn't even ask her about it even though she had fought for it, killed for it. Previous the Battle of the Bastards, Sansa had kept hearing voices in her head telling her not to trust anyone, but Jon had stepped out of her way and gave her Ramsay, he said they had won because of her and that they should trust each other; she believed in him, she trusted him, she fought for his throne when he walked away and he betrayed her in return.
“Don’t do this, Jon, Winterfell is ours,” she murmured.
"She will not take it from us, she’s good, Sansa, trust in me," he had answered to her, barely a whisper over the food; only explaining, not finding the need to apologize. She couldn’t do that anymore.
It hurt like the seven hells and she didn’t understand it until Tyrion pointed it out –and now she knew Arya had seen it too–, wine in one hand, a small sympathetic smile over his lips. He compared her to whom she had come to know as Jorah Mormont, see the sadness in those old eyes? he questioned, only yours seem to equal his in this room. What an awful thought. Still, her attention never left Ser Jorah, she followed his trembling fingers, the defeated curve on his back, his face so true to his feelings and yet never leaving Daenerys side. It only made her want to kick Jon even harder.
When she saw Jon at the Wall, the terrors she had gone through still painting her skin with yellow, green and purple colors, she had felt safe. In King’s Landing, she thought it would’ve been enough to set a foot in Winterfell, but Ramsay had taken that from her. She learned that her kin was truly her home, Jon was; even in their discussions, his stubbornness, she felt a calmness almost forgotten and her heart relied on that emotion. She had embroidered him a cloak like the one their father used to wear, wanting nothing more but to amend what an awful person she had been, what a failure of a sister she once was. She should’ve seen the truth, how it was only at that time that she felt him close to her and how, after all her suffering, her heart could mistake those moments at his side for something more, because humans were that foolish.
"Life has taught me better, lord Tyrion," she said, a hard touch in her voice and something in the dwarf’s eyes lit as if he could recognize who she was trying to be. "I've known what a man can do to a woman and I assure you I will do everything in my power to never succumb to their claws ever again."
She knew that statement was hard to fulfill, this world was made for lords and kings, men who didn’t validate the strength of a woman, but it was still possible. Cersei and Daenerys had overcome the men that once held them back, they were powerful, strong and capable. Sansa had had her fair share: Joffrey, Ramsay, Petyr, and she had overcome them, she was still standing, who’d say she was not as powerful, strong and capable as them?
When dinner was over and they walked to the Great Hall, seeing Daenerys sit on her chair, in front of her people, helped her confirm that love was not what she wanted to pursue, it was too unpredictable, treacherous, a weakener; she only wanted to be safe and that was not going to be possible if another queen decided over her life. No one could protect her, much less Jon, so she had to fight for this, fight for what it had belonged to her father and her brothers: the legacy of her family, a kingdom under the rule of the Stark family. Before she could reach Jon once again and ask him to reconsider, Bran and Samwell spoke, all breaths were held, he is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. It eventually became her opportunity.
That is a night she tries not to remember, the war helped for a while, keeping her mind occupied, but as the menace of a new battle neared, it became a difficult task. It was a night of truths that, given the opportunity, she would’ve turned her face away from so that she could keep herself in ignorance. Ignorance is bliss, some say.
There was something to rescue from it, something that in the present peaceful days always brings her to the past where she was still a little girl, enamored with love stories of knights and princesses. Bran’s not a storyteller, but Sansa has asked him for the tale of Rhaegar Targaryen and her aunt Lyanna so many times by now that he has started to add more details to it, making it even better every time.
He tells her about the smell of the flowers, the rhythm of the river, the heated air, the shine in Lyanna’s eyes and how handsome Rhaegar Targaryen was; he tells her about the soft touch of their lips, their heads bumping after it with a tenderness that only true love could bring to a moment like that, their hands holding each other, how his covered hers completely; how in love they were, it makes her heart beat fast and her breath agitated. She imagines everything behind her eyelids, every little detail, happiness washing over her every time because nothing ever saddened her more as a child than the terrible death her aunt falsely had.
Arya had given up accompanying them in these constant reunions a while ago, she still complains each time Sansa returns with a glow in her face that only appears after hearing it.
This time, the magic it spells over her is even more soothing, the day before was exhausting, it drew circles under her eyes that made her look hideous in the morning. Sansa curls herself against a tree in the Godswood, surrounded still by snow –though now there are more green areas than the day before–, loving each word that comes from Bran’s mouth. She holds a sigh, her body relaxes and she drifts to slumber slowly, the dreams behind her eyelids calming her senses. Unfortunately, the story ends too soon and suddenly she’s very well aware of Bran's stare and silence. She opens her eyes slowly, blinking repeatedly to push away the drowsiness. He parts his lips and the words that follow do a lot to wake her up.
"You want to protect our family," he states. She waits for him to continue, but he doesn't.
"Of course I do, Bran. Wha--"
"But you can't," he looks at the space in front of him after interrupting her.
Sansa doesn't react to his words, she’s stunned. Her tongue darts to lick her dry lips, the cold biting all her body as night starts to unfold in the sky.
"What do you mean, Bran? Did you see something?"
"You can’t protect what doesn’t exist. I am the Three Eyed Raven," he says after a pause and Sansa feels some kind of irritation because he has said it so many times, just as much as she has denied it in her head. "I cannot produce an heir and the children Arya or you might have will inherit their father's last name. There will be no Stark left to keep Winterfell in the years to come."
Her heart sinks. Not even in her worst nightmare, she saw that her family’s fate was doomed with Rickon’s and Robb’s death. She stands abruptly, not sure of what to do, she wanted to fight Bran, make him retract his words, but he was right, he always was. She starts walking away, each step faster than the other, until she leaves the Godswood and Bran and the inevitable truth behind.
She thinks about everything she has done, the future she had imagined for her family and how proud her father would’ve been when seeing the future lords and ladies of the Stark house. It had been for nothing, everything she has done will mean nothing, Winterfell will eventually belong to another family and the Starks will become mere history. It breaks her heart even more than anything else she could’ve suffered before.
Brienne is the first to see her come into the courtyard and Sansa must look as frightened as she feels because the lady knight rapidly strides in her direction, a frantic expression on her features. There’s a surge of overwhelming fear, her heart pounds and she can't breathe anymore, she thinks she's losing her mind when her legs give out, making her fall over Brienne's arm. Ser Jaime is there in a moment, one hand under her legs and the other over her shoulders, lifting her up without a second thought. Sansa wants to scream, but nothing comes out of her mouth, only desperate breaths that don't reach to her lungs and her whole chest starts hurting so much that tears fall from her eyes. Everything turns to a blur, even the noises: Arya's voice, then Sam's and, finally, she can't hear nor think anything anymore.
Sansa wakes up with the rising sun. She feels heavy, physically and emotionally, but remains calm as she finds Arya sleeping over a chair next to her. She discovers how right it is to see her there, all the irritation and resentment she felt against her in their younger years forgotten with the time they spent apart and the hardships they had gone through.
The memory of Bran’s words makes her try to imagine her sister’s round belly and it almost seems wrong, Arya's undoubtedly a free spirit and if she ever finds the inclination to become the lady of Winterfell, she will surely prevent anyone using that title- warrior queen resembles her more. The one who always wanted to be a mother was her, the always proper and naive Sansa. There was still some hope in her, but, yes, life had damn well taught her better.
Outside her room, Winterfell is full of noise, so alive it makes her ache because she should be there too, commanding and demanding, helping her people, dealing with their concerns. Even if her mind was still running wild, trying to think how to survive this new threat, it didn't feel right having Brienne giving excuses for her as she had done before when Jon was absent.
For a brief moment, she considers dressing in silence and leaving Arya to sleep inside her bedchambers, but the position in which her sister sleeps doesn't look comfortable at all. Sansa extends her right hand, doubting only for a second before tenderly brushing her sister's hair, the softness of it bringing to her memory her father’s own locks, not because she knew what it felt like, but because she wanted to know. Sansa can't remember a time in which she was bold enough to touch Ned Stark's hair, there were many conventionalities that, after all this time, appeared simply ridiculous, like the inability of a daughter to touch her father's hair. Arya stirs almost immediately, her tired eyes searching for her and some kind of relief takes up her face. For a blink, it looks like she’s the old Arya and Sansa's glad for it.
"How do you feel?" she asks.
"Better. I don't really remember what happened."
"You couldn't breathe," she explains, standing as Sansa takes a seat. "The Lannister took you in his arms and brought you to Sam, but you lost consciousness soon after."
The Lannister, the sound of it makes Sansa smile. Arya couldn’t stand him from the moment he reached Winterfell; she has stated freely that it is simply his existence that disgusts her, so she doesn't address him unless it is necessary, and even then she only uses his last name with a tone revealing nothing but hatred.
Either way, this is indeed the second time Jaime Lannister has helped her. It still surprises her, even if he is her sworn shield. It would have been easier to simply ignore her, to slip away in the middle of the commotion she must have caused, pretend he was busy somewhere else and pray to the Seven she died quickly; yet, he had come to her rescue, just as it happened the night a soldier died in front of her and returned like a Wight, he had jumped out of nowhere and protected her risking his own life. To this day, it was hard to believe.
She nods in understanding, she remembers choking and the pain in her chest, the dizziness and weakness. It seems like a terrible dream.
"I'll call you a maid so they can prepare you a bath," Arya says, watching her carefully. It is her way of asking if she's alright.
"Thank you," she murmurs sincerely. She wants it desperately, the warm water will surely help her feel better.
"I’ll see you later then."
That's a promise or maybe a demand, she can't tell but hopes it's true either way. She moves until her feet touch the floor and stays there, trying to see if there’s any kind of sickness left from yesterday’s episode, she walks without a problem to the window and opens it slightly. It’s a warm day. The door of her room sounds at the same time and she gives permission to the maid Arya has sent to ready her bath. It helps her, relaxing every knot in her body that the long hours of sleep didn’t help with and soon enough she's dressed in her usual attire, making her way out.
Ser Jaime stands in front of her bedchamber door, so Sansa has to pause in front of him with an uncomfortable feeling settling in her insides. She knows what is right and she’s truly thankful to him, but to thank him, a Lannister, is still gruelling. The fact that he saw her in such a vulnerable state the day before makes it even worse; it’s been a long time since Sansa found herself in such a situation –not taking into account the night she undressed in front of Jon–, it’s even longer since the last time it happened in front of a Lannister. It brings the memory of Joffrey's pleased eyes as his knight ripped her clothes in front of the whole court.
"Thank you for what you did, Ser Jaime."
"It was my duty to My Queen."
She can hear a sadness in his words, it’s not hard to imagine where it comes from, calling another woman His Queen, perhaps the memories that brings. She doesn't address it though, and instead, she inquires, "where's Lady Brienne?"
"She has taken upon your duties, Your Grace. I believe she’s in the Great Hall."
Sansa leads the way to said direction without another word, not really knowing what else to say, much less wanting to stay in the hall alone with him any longer.
The journey is a short one- they find Brienne's desperate and irritated features by the big table in the Great Hall’s council room. She looks out of place with her armor, her whole person not at all compatible with the works of a lady and Queen of Winterfell, just like Arya: they are women who belong fighting armies at the front of a battlefield, not staying behind to prepare the strategies and command them.
"I am glad to see you up and around, my lady," she says after Ser Jaime makes their presence known.
"I can tell," she jokes, taking her place in her chair when the woman moves to stand in front of the table, a few steps closer than Jaime. "Thank you for your work, Lady Brienne. I believe Arya is in great need of a training session at the moment."
There's a tension in her face that doesn't let the relief completely reach her eyes. After a moment of silence, she asks. "May I have a word with you alone, my lady?"
Sansa can tell Jaime is taken aback for a moment, but he recovers rapidly and exits the room after Sansa dismisses him with a tilt of her chin. Brienne walks closer and moves a few rolls over the table until she finds one particular letter. Sansa doesn't doubt from where and whom it comes from. She hesitates before taking it, something that she wouldn't have dared to do in front of anyone else, but Brienne knows what she's been through, she knows what this means to her and that's why her lady knight didn't open it, waiting for Sansa. The tremor that leaves her body slowly, she is a queen now, she's not the same stupid little girl Cersei manipulated in King's Landing. She opens it and reads rapidly the neat calligraphy that she knows doesn't belong to Cersei, but those are her words, of that she’s sure.
"She congratulates me, says I will be a very thoughtful ruler indeed by my decision of not participating in the war to come. She has promised peace for the North as she knows of our precarious situation."
Her free hand becomes a fist against her lips. She almost wants to pledge herself under Daenerys's army if that will erase from her mind Cersei's satisfied smile, but going to war only on her selfish wish to avenge everything that woman did to her and her family will not do any good. Cersei doesn't really care about the North, not when she has two dragons going around, to her there's more satisfaction in the fact that Sansa has turned her back over the Targaryen –including Jon– than in trying to conquer the few men left in the North.
She looks to the fire and wills herself to be done with this, to feel some level of satisfaction. There are three queens now, she will not enter the game the other two are playing.
"Thank you, lady Brienne," she finally says. The woman had kept silent, knowing only about protecting her from physical threats and not ghosts from the past. "You can go now."
Jaime is for sure outside the door that leads to the courtyard, keeping guard, so Brienne exists from the one inside, as if avoiding him. She doesn’t dwell on the rare behavior as she would’ve usually done, sometimes invested in finding the truth behind her sworn shield’s story. She has many things in her mind at the moment.
She finds herself alone in the room, silence her only company, such a contrast to each meeting held these lasts months in this same spot. She marvels in the fact that today life has not changed—not because her brothers are the last Starks in this world; not because Cersei Lannister has communicated with her after years of not seeing each other, answering through, most likely, a maester to the letter she spent almost a day trying to write correctly. Everything is the same and yet so different.
She once told Jon he was good at this: ruling. She misses him and the fact that in other circumstances he would’ve been the one to take care of this. He was not the most assertive when it came down to surviving this game, the gods knew about this and the wound over his heart, but he still gave Sansa the feeling of safety she was missing right now.
Fortune is on her side, solitude doesn't last much longer, her thoughts were turning a dangerous direction when Sam entered the room after being announced by Ser Jaime, a sheepish smile on his lips. His presence always makes her believe there's still hope in humanity.
"I am happy to see you up, Lady Sansa. I mean--Your Grace."
"Thank you, Sam, for helping me," she answers him, smiling with sincerity.
"I believe I didn't do much. Sometimes is hard to react correctly when I feel pressure and, well," he tilts his head to the right, shrugging, "a case of fear as the one you had--"
"I think we all do not react correctly when we feel the pressure," she interrupts him, trying to ignore the word he just used. Fear sounds very short to what she felt yesterday: a raging panic and sadness.
She looks at her hands, then over the table. She wonders if Sam’s only there to make sure she’s better; perhaps, there’s a letter from Jon somewhere from the few left unattended by Lady Brienne, one where he declares her a traitor or that she will not see him ever again.
Fear takes the best from her and soon the question leaves her lips without her conscent. "Have you spoken already with Jon?"
Sam shakes his head, “I believe he will return to settle anything that’s needed to be settled. That is, of course, if you see it fit, Your Grace.”
She gets up, trying to shake the uncomfortable sensation his words leave. “It will be fine with me. As I said before, I don’t want to be his enemy, he’s my--,” she stops, clears her throat, “he’s my cousin.” Not her brother. “Jon saved me and protected me and I will not forget that.”
Sam smiles, “the North remembers, right?” He parts his lips and moves from one side to the other, nervousness creeping out of him suddenly, “he really is stubborn, but he’s good.”
“I know that, you don’t have to worry.”
“I don’t,” he looks to the floor. “I know you tried to talk him out of it and that’s something you and him will surely find a solution to. I--I actually worry about you, Lady Sansa.”
The statement surprises her, but she only grimaces slightly. She wants to make him see he’s mistaken, but after what happened the day before, she can’t do that. She looks at the papers she has to go through and clears her throat.
“I have things to do, my lord. If you--”
“Ah, yes, of course--”
“But,” she calls, stopping Sam as he turned on his way to the door. “If Jon returns I want to ask you not to tell him what happened and I want this to be kept inside Winterfell. Please, make sure maester Wolkan knows about this too.”
She’s hoping for too much, by now most lords must have heard about it, but only Sam, the unofficial maester of the queen and former king, will be heard as the only truth. So he understands what she means: he has to go and make up a lie, tell that she was fine, only a problem with the weather or maybe something rotten in her food. He nods and makes his way outside.
She sits again and starts dealing with the many problems she has to at the moment. There are still things to be done in the North and she can’t afford herself any kind of distraction, including her family, she needs to rebuilt the North from it's ashes for them. Ignorance is bliss.
- big, huge thanks to Iqqs, who helped proof reading this chapter. (and hopefully all the ones to come).
The journey takes him three days and by the time he walks along the shore of Dragonstone, the news has already reached them: the North has a queen to command and protect them, no king by her side. Daenerys sits on her throne, just as he remembers her doing so the first time they met, yet, nothing is as it was. The obvious part is there, he knows for sure there’s no threat at the Wall to make him stand under her eyes, there’s just him and his mistakes. He doesn't feel either the instant attraction a beautiful woman like her provokes in men, there’s no wonder left in him. This time, her last name and blood mean nothing but a nightmare he wants to forget.
As soon as his shadow crosses the doors of her palace, her voice echoes in the room. "A letter of your cousin has arrived, she claims herself the new queen in the North."
He doesn't get to have a moment of peace, her eyes are cold, her tone scolding. Her act of owning him is not new, she had been the same as soon as he set foot on her castle all those moon turns ago, it had been the queen in her; now, he can see a tilt in her shoulders, a curve on the line of her mouth and he knows she’s not talking to a king, but to her nephew, it’s as if their shared blood actually gives her a claim. Jon lets the out the air he’s holding as he fists his hands.
Tyrion is a few steps by Daenerys's side, holding what he suspects is said letter; Missandei is close to the queen too, her sad eyes seeming to judge him just like Dany's. Jorah, on the other hand, looks simply uncomfortable and he can certainly relate to that. Jon looks to his hands and then to Ser Davos, who's at his right side. He didn't dare to mention anything about Sansa's decision to anyone, there was nothing to discuss, so the news takes the old man by surprise.
"You didn't know, Ser Davos," Daenerys says, not surprised. She only wants to point out the fact that Jon did.
"No, my lady, I did not."
Daenerys lifts both eyebrows when Jon doesn't say anything. Even knowing the answer, she still asks, "and did you?"
"No," he murmurs, the sound a tired rasp of his throat. "Didn’t know the bannermen had given Sansa the North, but I knew she wanted to take it.”
He was glad she did.
"So she has betrayed you."
He scoffs, "Sansa's my sister--"
"Cousin," she corrects him loud and clear.
He stays quiet, looking at the same eyes he stared once under the dim light of a sailing ship. He hadn't known what was he doing, Jon was not very dexterous when it came to women, but he had wondered if maybe he could give in to a selfish desire after everything he had gone through: the Night's Watch, Ygritte, death. He had been mistaken, of course, Ygritte always said so: he knew nothing, but he had come a long way and thought it was possible to wish certain things. He never imagined he could be Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, even less the king in the North, but it happened and hope was a dangerous feeling for a bastard. No, not a bastard. It's hard to grasp the knowledge that Sansa is, indeed, his cousin and Daenerys his aunt.
When he landed in Winterfell, not so many moons ago, the Dragon Queen by his side, and Bran had come alongside Sam and told him who his father was, the news of Viserion and the fall of the Wall had reached them too. He saw some kind of wariness in her eyes, the same that keeps her expression guarded right now, as if she expects him to betray her, but then there was no time to really discuss what this meant. As for him, he still felt haunted some night by the knowledge that he had laid with his father’s sister. That had changed things between them. Jon is sure of something, though, he doesn't want the Iron Throne nor any throne, he never has and never will.
"Well, she certainly has grown to be a fine woman," Tyrion interrupts their silent stare, eyes glued to Sansa's letter with a smirk on his lips. Daenerys glares at him, but he’s more satisfied reading the content of the roll without a care than paying attention to her. "... I expect nothing more but peace between the South and the North. Sincerely, Sansa Stark, Lady of Winterfell, Warden and Queen in the North."
Jon changes the weight of his body from one leg to the other to calm the need of wiping off that smile on Tyrion's face. Sansa's not his entertainment.
"I will help you take back the North," Daenerys says almost immediately, her tone more sour than before. Jon’s left speechless for a second. "You will march with the Unsullied and take it back."
"My queen--" Tyrion sounds alarmed, there's no cockiness left in his tone.
"The Hand will remain out of this discussion since his previous marriage to the traitor seems to affect his judgment with feelings misplaced," she says, looking at Tyrion.
Jon steps forward. "Your grace, this is madness, she's asking peace. The North--"
"Your men said they would follow you, they were going to fight for me. I lost thousands of men in the Great War, I will not lose the northern houses."
“What’s left of them,” Jon says, extending a hand as if he could point it out. “The North was the most affected, that’s what Sansa’s trying to protect.”
"It is unnecessary," Tyrion follows her as she stands. "Cersei lost many houses too, Your Grace, you can still win without starting a war against the North."
She looks at Tyrion over her shoulder and then in his direction with disdain. “So you two believe I should just let her do what she wants.”
“Winterfell’s her birthright,” Jon says.
“Westeros is mine,” she folds her hands in front of her. She doesn’t wait for his reply. "Is there a way you can talk to your cousin and fix this?"
Fix this, what's there to fix? He never wanted to be king, never has, he knows Sansa’s doing the right thing. The thought only brings the image of Robb’s face beside Ned Stark and how disappointed they would be. It's even harder to picture Sansa’s sad eyes over him. He almost had prayed to the gods that his bannermen didn’t follow him, but they did, because the North always remembers, even if their leader is the grandson of the king who murderer Rickard and Brandon Stark, they had followed him because he fought for them or so he assumed –Sansa would scoff–, but this had been his choice, this was his mistake and he had hoped to face it alone.
"I will fight with your army, I gave you my word. The North should be left out of this, it was I who swore an oath to you."
Her expression changes, an anger he has seen before: her eyes wide, her plump lips a thin line, her shoulders tense. Jon tries to remember what kind of feeling –gratitude, maybe desire– made him decide to bend the knee. Nothing of that calms the irritation that burns the tips of his fingers. The truth about his origins, more than the war, changed everything he could've ever felt for her. Coming here was a mistake, he should've stayed home, perhaps that way he wouldn't have to feel unsure of his right to call it like that. He regrets bending the knee too, having to serve Daenerys demands as it pleases her. Seven hells, he wants to go back and beg Sansa for forgiveness, ask her to hit him hard, maybe hold her as close as he did the night she undressed in front of him, tell her how proud he’s of her and how sorry he feels.
"Fix it,” she says through gritted teeth, “or I will have to ride myself and claim the North."
She leaves the room soon after, Missandei and Jorah trailing after her. He knows she's not through with him yet. He finds Ser Davos looking back at him, the expression of a worried father gathering more wrinkles on his countenance.
Tyrion comes down from the steps as soon as Daenerys steps die in the distance, a tired expression on his face. "Each day it becomes harder to calm her temper. She’s eager for war I believe."
Jon sighs. "Can you talk to her?"
"I will try."
"Perhaps this time you can try and hide your satisfaction," Jon grunts, starting to walk with Davos by his right side and Tyrion by the left. The latter let out a snort.
"My former wife has made herself a queen, I cannot celebrate?" Jon frowns, fire burning in his eyes. Tyrion smiles. "It seems you are a Targaryen after all. Don't be mad, as I told you before, it was not consummated."
Jon stops abruptly, glaring at him, his hands fisted. He was losing his patience.
Tyrion tilts his head. "I'm not saying anything wrong. You always seem ready to pounce on anyone who dares speak anything about Sansa."
"She's my sister--"
"Is she?" he resumes his walk, Jon following after a second. "And, anyway, if I do recall correctly, so are Cersei and Jaime. It never stopped them."
"Do not compare us to them," Jon stops again, raising his voice.
"But you don't deny it."
"I do deny it, I would never see her like that."
"Then you must be blind and a liar too."
Jon knows what Tyrion's trying to do, during the Great War, Jon suspected it was his way of protecting Cersei from his alliance with Daenerys: making him see things that were not there, think of Sansa as he shouldn't.
The truth is that Sansa and him never truly had a sibling relationship, not like it had been with Arya, Robb, Rickon and Bran. She was always something unattainable, so far away, following the skirts and writ of Lady Catelyn, looking at him from above like he was some stable boy and her the Queen of Winterfell. There was some truth in that statement and he learned to see her somewhat differently.
Yes, Jon's a man, weak to the flesh and too carried by his emotions, but he's an honorable man and if he once saw Sansa that way, his father's –uncle– voice was there to remind him who he was thinking of. When Sansa found him at the Wall, dirt all over her face, he thought many things like she was a woman now, so different from the little girl he remembered, still the most beautiful creature in this world and that her thin body against his felt like home. Many things, except that she was his sister, because he was a man like any other, who had suffered so much and she looked like an angel on earth, destined to save him—but he knew his place, he said it out loud to be sure of it, if I don't watch over you, father's ghost will come back and murder him. He had believed in that to keep his sanity.
"Jon,” Tyrion sighs. “You're her nephew, you're her family: marry Sansa, she will keep Winterfell, you'd stay in the North and Daenerys will be happy."
Sansa's scars flash in front of his eyes, her sweet curves a temptation he can’t picture under the rough touch of his calloused hands. "She will never accept that and I wouldn't do that to her either. Winterfell is hers to keep and not by marrying another man."
Tyrion half smiles. "Yes, you really are a liar."
He knows that.
He thanks the gods as the sun comes down sooner than he expected, he wanted to leave from the moment he landed and if time passed by soon enough he would. He watches the twilight from the shore, Drogon and Rhaegal catching his attention now and then as they fly the sky of Dragonstone. It gives him the sensation that there’s still a Night King to fight, the possibility of being smarter, just like Sansa had asked him, like Arya had told him too once.
Daenerys asks him to meet at her council room after dinner. He finds her watching Westeros’s map, her eyes reflecting the fire of the chimney, the same distant expression Sansa would use when talking to their lords and never with him, he wishes she was there to give him advice. He feels unsure of what Daenerys will tell him, so he keeps quiet until she decides otherwise.
It doesn’t take much longer. “I never thought I was alone after Viserys death, I let him die, he deserved it. It was sad, but all I had in my mind was this,” her hand extends over the table, “to come here, take back what’s mine, do justice. My family’s tales were of fire and blood and madness, I never needed another Targaryen in this world. But then you came along, I felt that we were alike,” she smiles, “who would’ve thought how much of that was true.”
She looks at him for the first time, “I wanted to believe that you and I could have a future.” There’s a pause, he wants to say he did that too, but things had changed. Both of them had. “I could still marry you, my father was married to his sister, but to them,” Daenerys eyes fall again over the map, her expression turning colder, “you are the rightful heir. You come from the union of two great houses, born and raised in this land. Even Cersei said so: Ned Stark's son, true to his word.”
Jon frowns. “I don’t want the throne.”
He doesn’t know how many times he has declared that: to Bran, Sam, to Sansa, Tyrion, anyone who wanted or needed to hear it. He has never been a king, not even for the North, he did what he had to do in order to unite them to fight against the dead. It had been the right thing to do, nothing more, nothing less; the man who raised him taught him to always do what was right.
“I know,” her voice is soft and he knows what’s about to come, she always does this when she’s about to send a threat. “But I still will make it clear: you are my nephew, that’s something neither of us can change and if you ever succeed me, it will be only after my death.”
He says nothing, there’s nothing to complain about. Daenerys seems satisfied with it.
She walks the distance that separates them. “Prove yourself to me, Jon, take the North back.”
“I will fight with your army,” he tries to be firm, though it sounds almost as if he’s begging. He doesn’t want to do this to Sansa, “there’s no need to involve the North.”
“No, you will not fight up the front,” she says, folding her hands in front of her, her eyes on the fire. “They have made sure, the red woman told me, I will not bear a child ever again, I can not. But you do, you will pass on our family’s name, you will produce an heir and the Targaryens will reign Westeros again, as they always have,” she looks at him only then. He opens his mouth, tries to speak, but she interrupts him. “Tyrion says you can marry her. She’s beautiful, is she not? She will make a good queen.”
He tries to read her eyes, searching in her for some of the untold possibilities –not promises, because they hadn’t been there yet– they held when they weren’t related. There was nothing left, not anymore and he was sure she had erased all of it when she found out who he was and what it meant, just like he had.
“What will happen if I say no?”
“I have fought for this all my life. I will not stop today, not for you, not for anyone. Go back,” her hand extends to his, grasping his fingers. The touch is incommodious. “I am giving you this opportunity, Jon, do not waste it.”
She’s reading lady Mormont’s letter when Ser Jaime enters her bedchambers with the announcement of his arrival. Six days have come and gone since the last time she saw him. Sansa lifts her face, trying to hide the surprise, the fear, but it’s hard to conceal her emotions when Jon's the subject. Sam was awfully right, even more than what they thought he would be. She had been trying to avoid anything but her duties as a ruler, so the possibility of him coming back to haunt her sooner than later was only at the back of her mind. It was stupid of her, after all, Jon was not the kind of man who ran away from what he had to do.
Jaime's questioning her with his stare, waiting for her to make a decision, he tried to remind her with the rise in his voice when he pronounced the Targaryen name how different things were now that she was a reigning queen, but knowing doesn’t mean anything. She's certainly not ready for this meeting, not yet, not so soon, not when she’s so drained, tired of keeping up her walls; not when she has missed him so badly, needed him just to bicker about minimal things; not when she’s so scared of what he will have to say and many other things, but avoiding him was not an option.
She tries to be her mother, back upright, hands on the table, chin tilted up. Holding a breath, she motions for Ser Jaime to let him in, not daring her voice to answer at the moment.
It’s almost pathetic and poetic the way the room illuminates with his presence at the same time, it makes her look down briefly to collect herself again. Catelyn speaks in her ears, but the song playing in her heart is louder, just like the old times when it was not a crime to be an innocent girl, not inside her home, kept safely under the soft and relentless stare of her father. Jon's home and she can't help but go back to the past.
If her tiredness wasn’t assuredly worsening the delirious state of her mind and if she didn't need to hide these feelings from him, she would’ve smiled for sure. The fact that she has missed him terribly doesn't help control her thoughts either. She was closely acquainted with such emotions, she had learned how to live with it while he was out there, looking for valyrian steel or fighting against the dead, this time, the wait had been excruciating, the chance of hating him was there, slowly fading now, and Sansa had feared it more than anything else.
He’s exhausted, he must’ve traveled without a pause if he actually reached Winterfell with the sun disappearing in the horizon, but a day of sleep and he shall recover completely. That would've made a proper greeting, however, she says nothing and neither does he. The silence is peaceful, they’ve never felt anything but comfortable with each other’s presence, even at the worst times.
It won’t last long, Jon’s searching for what to say and she can read the struggle in his face. She’s scared of what he’ll find.
She lets her hands fall to her skirts, the fire casting shadows over them, her bed four steps away. Only a few have been inside of her bedchambers, her mother’s voice tells her that it’s improper for a lady to receive this kind of visit here. She doesn't know what to expect, and as much as she wants to Jon will never be just anyone. He’s part of her family, he became her only home before Bran and Arya came to the picture. She didn't want that to change.
"I’m glad the North has proclaimed you queen, Sansa."
Relief washes over her with a force she didn’t expect –perhaps is just the sweet happiness his voice brings to her chest. Maybe both of them–, Sansa doesn't even think of doubting him. Jon has never been very articulate in the art of lying and the sincerity is recognizable above everything else. Her fear of hurting him, of him hating her, seems ridiculous now that she sees his face, so much caring for her slipping in the way he locks eyes with her. Jon is Jon, she told lady Brienne once, he will protect me. She knows this to be always true.
"Thank you,” she answers, not sounding as regal and mighty as she intended, but more like her old shy and silly self, still scared of him leaving her behind in the Night’s Watch. “Did you just arrive?"
"Aye,” he stops, doubt making him change his weight to the other foot. “But I needed to speak with you before I could settle."
Most are good at reading Jon Snow, he doesn't try to hide many things, but Sansa can be the best among them, she can easily tell a weight has been left on his shoulders. She remembers seeing it before, this same expression on his face, they had just found each other and she had told him she wanted to take Winterfell back, he had looked into her eyes and said that he had fought, and he had lost.
"I don’t want to argue.” She’s tired too, she has been barely sleeping since the day she spoke with Bran, nightmares chasing her down each time she rested on her bed. “I just want peace, for me and for Winterfell.”
"Peace for Winterfell," he says, almost wistfully. "Sometimes I think that’s something impossible."
Her chest rises with rage as she stands, "I will make it happen, Jon."
"How?" he steps in her direction. She hates the way he’s doubting her. "Sansa, I’ve spoken with Daenerys, she will come here and take the North if I don't. I don’t want that, but I know we can’t fight her. We both do.”
Gods, her eyes grow and her lips form a thin line, but she doesn’t let out the fear his words cause in her. She had suspected it, but hearing it out loud is another thing altogether. Sansa had taken something that Jon gave to the Dragon Queen and she wanted it back.
Jon’s here, he has chosen them above her and she’s glad for it, but it’s hard to ignore the need in her to slap him right across the face, blame him for everything, blame his pure heart and his last-name too. She closes her eyes instead, fisting her hands, trying to resist the urge of screaming.
“This is your fault. All of this is your fault.”
“Aye, it is my fault, but don’t you think I’ve tried to fix it?” he gestures to nothing, the furs on his cloak moving with him. He’s hurt and pissed off, so is she.
“You should’ve never bent the knee, you never should’ve gone like I said. I told you a thousand times, was it so hard to listen?”
“I did what I thought it was right,” he repeats. “Sansa, I would do anything to keep you safe,” his tone pleads her to believe in him. She feels her heart jump inside her chest, “to keep Bran and Arya safe.”
Jon's right, peace sounds almost impossible. The truth is that nothing will keep them safe, her family will disappear someday and not even Sansa can prevent that, there's nothing she can do to change reality. It makes her angry and she ends up taking it out on him.
“You haven’t done a great job at that,” she says through gritted teeth.
The corner of his lips tilting down even further. He's once again the same brooding and sulking boy and she truly becomes her mother, blaming him for something that's not really his fault. “No, I haven't, but I’m trying now.”
“And how will you do that? Will you start a war against me to keep your queen happy?”
He looks at her, judging her with his silence. She knows that’s the last thing he wants to do, but at this point, Sansa only wants to damage him the same way he did with her. It’s ridiculous, she thinks as she looks to the ground, defeated, tired of fighting him.
“What else did she say?”
She sounds as broken and tired as she feels and his whole body reacts to that, reaching closer to her. It’s as if she has physically hurt him again. He cares about her, he always has and she knows it, it makes her want to leave the room, run away as she did with Bran before she regrets any of her words or actions, she wants to keep pretending things are alright, that she’s alright.
“Apart from having to fix this, nothing,” he fists his hands, pausing for a moment. “She suggested we get married."
“What?” her eyes travel fast to his, finding some kind of apologetic sadness there. "What did you say?"
"I am already married, Jon," she raises her voice, this time she’s the one who eliminates the distance, finding a strength in herself she hadn’t known of. "I am married to the North and no man will come to my bed to fuck me and then leave to reign what is rightfully my family's, I swear it!"
Her words are true, not her family’s curse or her own feelings for him will change that fact. She had enough dreams of marriage and having a child when she was eleven, and she had paid for it. Even if some part of her was fool enough to keep those thoughts around, ire feels like fire burning everything with flashing images of Ramsay Bolton and his filthy hands over her, making her feel as an object that could be used to carry an heir. She was not going to be seen as some womb, a weak woman who would stay indoors nursing a child.
Sansa's a wolf, with claws and teeth; she forgets that Jon's a dragon. Lightning illuminates his eyes as soon as she stops talking and it makes her remember. "I’d never do that to you, Sansa. Ever.”
Fool, fool, fool, she chants inside her head –maybe for him, maybe for her–, trying to calm the fast beating of her heart. No, Jon would never do that to her, but it’s still the wrong answer, there's no place to consider what not to do if married to her, he has to deny the option as a whole just as she does. Suddenly her father’s voice comes alive in the room, when you’re old enough, I will make you a match with a high lord who’s worthy of you, someone brave and gentle and strong. It’s too late for that.
The anger becomes something else she can’t understand. She’s overwhelmed and it becomes obvious as she talks again, her body rigid while her voice reaches all kinds of levels. "But you did! You did cast me aside, you didn't ask for my opinion about bending the knee to Daenerys, you decided the future of house Stark as if it was yours to decide!"
Jon's expression changes, pain contorts his face, making her take a step back with surprise. Those eyes will break the loose grip she has on her emotions. She's scared of that, of what he says next.
"You said I was a Stark too.”
A shiver runs through her body and there’s nothing but the need to ask him for forgiveness. She walks the distance between them and cradles his face in her hands. It’s a mistake, she hardly ever lets anyone touch her, it's even more rarely she dares to touch another person, but Jon is Jon and no matter what he does she will always trust him. Still, it is a mistake because if he’s this close, she won’t be able to hold herself together.
"You are, you will always be to me, you are the son of my aunt Lyanna and you were raised by my father; but, to the world, your children will be born as Targaryen’s. If the North belongs to them, father's death, my mother’s, Robb’s and Rickon’s, will be for nothing. I need to do better for them, for their memory."
He sees her the same way he did when they met at the Wall after years of distance, suffering and solitude. She understands now what it meant at the time: surprise, love, relief. Sansa found hope that day, the same she feels now as he holds the back of her neck and brings her forehead to his lips, the warmth emanating from his body bathing her with the safety and peace she longs for. Longing is a dangerous feeling, she thinks.
“You are, Sansa, you’ve always been.”
That's what it takes him to break the string that keeps her under control, stoic as the queen she's supposed to be. (She won't accept it happened from the same moment he entered the room). Is that blink of an eye, it's a spark, a tilt of the head, an inch dying in their closeness, a change in the air they’re breathing. It’s how Jon’s holding her and the way she clings to him. It's the gods interceding between them or maybe the feeling has always been there. Sansa closes the distance, Jon’s body becomes tense, but she still presses her lips to the corner of his mouth.
A knock on her door startles them. They step away a little too fast. When their eyes find each other in the new distance, there's nothing but naked need. It’s a foreign look in Jon’s eyes and Sansa feels a rush of pleasure that leaves her dizzy because she is the one that he wants. Another knock, a bit harder this time, is what brings her to reality. Without her immediate reply, Ser Jaime pushes aside the maid who called before and claims dinner is ready again, wariness and concern painting his voice. She wants to come closer again, but the spell is broken, so even if is a hard task, she opens the door to let her sworn shield know she’s alright.
They don’t say a word as he leaves for his chambers before coming to the Great Hall, but there's a shine in his eyes that persist as they sit one across the other during their meal. He talks with Arya, promising to practice archery with her in the morrow just like old times and shares a few words with Bran too. It's like they’ve traveled back in time and soon the rest of the family will enter the room and have dinner with them, and this is it: without Jon, her home’s not complete.
Daenerys's threat comes to her mind in a rush, a sinking feeling replacing the giddiness that followed her from her time alone with him until then, she knows her heart is something she needs to leave aside.
After dinner, they depart to their rooms, not even glancing at each other again. He doesn't come to her door and she can't even fathom the possibility of going to his. To her surprise, she rests that night as she hadn’t been able before, it is a dreamless sleep and she’s grateful for that, she doesn't need the warmth emanating from Jon's lips so close to hers replacing the nightmares—that's something she won't be able to recover from.
She wakes up when the morning meal is served, the rest of the Starks almost finished with theirs as she takes a seat on the table. Jon straightens when she enters the room. His eyes follow her carefully, trying to decipher the reason behind this uncommon behavior in her: Sansa Stark never sleeps past sunrise.
What he finds odd is only worsened when Sam asks how she feels and then babbles nervously as if the question is prohibited.
"I'm fine, thank you," she says, trying to stop his apprehensive reaction. "How's Gilly?"
"Oh, very well, yes, she's feeding little Sam," he moves over his chair, eyes traveling from her to Jon, back to his plate and then to Bran and Arya.
She sighs, concentrating in her plate to avoid Jon's frown. Sansa's not surprised, she should've foreseen how difficult it would be for Sam lying to him, either way, the damage is done, but the gods are merciful and there's no more food in both Arya's and his plate to keep them from going out and doing what they promised the night before. Soon, she’s left alone with Sam, who had come to the meal late as he usually does.
"Lady Sansa," he whispers, "I'm so sorry..."
"It's alright, Sam," she says, standing. He looks at her barely eaten food with surprise and then he follows her with worry written all over his face. "You will have to excuse me, I really have things to do."
She's not angry at him, just slightly irritated with herself and how conscious she is about Jon's eyes over her. She turns on her heels, not giving him the opportunity to point out that this is the third morning meal she leaves intact. Right now there are more important things and she’s late for most of them.
Despite this –though she won't admit it, not even to herself–, she takes the long route to her destination because this way she can see Jon and Arya from the same spot her father used to keep a watchful eye on her brothers. She even dares to stop for a second, admiring the closeness they share, but soon enough Jon pupils find her in the crowd and she has to walk away to stop the warmth rising from her feet to the top of her head.
Ser Jaime's on her heels and when she finally reaches the council room, she turns to him. “If you be so kind, my lord, as soon as my cousin is finished with his training, please, make him come to the Great Hall.”
“Yes, my queen,” he says, tilting in front of her. She watches him walk to the same direction they have come from.
After he's gone, she takes a breath and enters the room, the swaying of her hips accentuating slightly as she tries to put some weight on each stride she gives. It was the way her mother used to walk when she wanted something to be done and her father would know he was going to make it happen, no matter what.
“My lords, lady Brienne,” she calls, “forgive my tardiness. What do we have to discuss first?”
These morning meetings have become a sort of routine. She tends to her people later on, but she has learned that it's better to get ahead of problems than to wait seated for them. Both men rise as soon as her voice sounds, they curtsy and after she has come to her seat, they follow to theirs in front of her.
“There has been another complaint about the wildings, my queen. I believe we must find a solution to this problem. Perhaps now that your cousin is here...”
“That’s not Jon’s responsibility, Maester Wolkan” she interrupts. “I will be the one to decide what is going to happen with the people who are living in the lands of the North," she lifts her chin, daring them to say otherwise. When they don't, she keeps talking. “Luckily for all of us, I have found a solution. This morning I received a letter from Lady Mormont, she has accepted a specific number of the Free Folk in her lands, she can do with the help and their abilities hunting. As for the rest, I've decided they will stay in Sea Dragon Point.”
“But, your grace, that’s impossible,” Lord Ben says.
He's a man whose military knowledge has served her well, but the rest of the time she can barely stand him. Still, she smiles to him. “Why’s that, my lord? I believe it's quite possible. I have written to Theon Greyjoy and he has accepted to help the Free Folk, teaching them to live from what the sea can give them, in return, we shall make an alliance with the Iron Islands. Part of their production will be sold to the families of the North and I hope that's enough to silence any complaints.”
“The Iron Islands, my lady? And you believe in that treacherous people?” he insists.
“Lord Ben, I shall remind you Theon Greyjoy saved my life once. He proved himself worthy during the Great War too, so yes, I will believe in his word.” Quietness settles within them, they’re not happy, but she won’t change her mind. “I will send Ser Jaime Lannister to see this issue done. I hope Maester Wolkan will help with the letters to all the houses in the North, letting them know about my final decision.”
“Of course, My Queen.”
“Thank you, now--”
The door opens abruptly and Jon's there, his breath still agitated probably from all the sparring, he came sooner than she expected, but the timing is priceless. With his hair loose, he looks younger, just like the boy she barely remembers sulking over in a corner as the Stark children played. He straightens immediately, seemingly surprised to find her with company. She has to bite the inside of her cheek to erase the feeling of his body against hers. This is not the place for that.
"Ser Jaime," she calls as the man tries to close the door behind Jon, "please, come inside too.”
He's surprised, nonetheless, he walks in with a strength unique to him. The room's air turns heavy as soon as Jon steps aside and the door closes behind them. Sansa extends one hand, signaling Jon to a chair next to Maester Wolkan.
“My lords, you already know my cousin and Ser Jaime Lannister,” she continues, folding her hands in front of her. “I was hoping we could speak about Daenerys Targaryen's threat to the North," she declares. "She has stated that she will take it from me if I don’t give it back, is that correct?”
The men turn their heads from her to Jon. He looks uncomfortable and she almost feels bad for doing this, but she has to, they both know it. “Aye.”
“I want you to be here because I'm sure nobody knows her as you do, and Ser Jaime fought against her before, so I am asking you two for your advice. I have made myself clear already: I will not come to war with her, the North can't afford it after years of war, but I can’t remain in silence, waiting for an attack from her army.”
Jaime comes closer too but remains standing as Brienne does. He then speaks, "fighting her army is madness.” She knows it's an affirmation made from experience.
“Aye," Jon nods, "only with one dragon she will be able to destroy what’s left of us.”
“So you have pledged to our queen,” says lord Ben.
That's a question needed. She hadn't made it herself at her chambers, so she waits for an answer. Jon only looks at her when he gives it.
"I've always been loyal to House Stark."
That's all she needs to hear, but the man pries. "It didn't seem like that boy."
“Lord Ben, the matter is settled. I want to know what can we do to protect ourselves."
Jon looks to the floor as he shakes his head. “You could write to the Hand of the Queen. I spoke to him there, lord Tyrion doesn’t think it is the right call.”
"But will that help?" she asks. Jon doesn't look convinced.
“You being here will give us time?” Ser Jaime questions instead. Jon sends him a confused look. “She sent you here, didn't she: to take back the North. You can write to her, explain you’re negotiating, keep her satisfied without giving in completely. That will give us time, maybe enough for her to find other concerns.”
It's a risky move, the other concerns has a mind of its own and is not fool enough to attack Daenerys's dragons. But people speak, they say the queen has become mad after losing her child. Sansa can only rely on it as for now.
“Jon, can you do that?”
He falls silent, she knows he doesn’t want to lie and yet, after a short pause, he nods. Sansa parts her lips but closes them again. The easiness that washes over her shows in the way her shoulders relax.
Maester Wolkan asks then, “should we mention this to the lords?”
“No with so many details. Make sure to let them know that she has not replied, it will keep them worried enough.”
He's the one to walk out of the room first, Lord Ben soon following him. Sansa dismisses Jaime and Brienne with a few words and with her eyes she asks him to stay. Jon keeps standing as they watch them leave. It feels like an eternity.
She’s the first one to speak, unlike the other night. “I’m sorry I didn't warn you before all this.”
He simply nods, “I know it was something that needed to be done.”
She hasn't told him about many things; she wants to, though, and the silence that comes upon them only helps to increase the pressure in her throat. Still, the only thing that blurts out of her mouth is the less important one. She damn well knows about priorities, one may say.
“I want to learn too.”
He turns his head slightly, hesitating before asking. “What?”
“Archery. Teach me too."
He half smiles to her and she returns the gesture. The importance of the previous subject long forgotten, they're just Jon and Sansa in that room.
“Not sparring?" he ventures and laughs when she makes a face. "Alright, want to go now?”
“What? Now?” she repeats.
“Aye,” he gets up, extending a hand to her. “Let’s go.”
He takes her to the Godswood, claiming it won’t be good to fail in front of the men under her service. She scoffs at his certainty about her failing but accepts nonetheless because deep inside she knows he will probably be right. The snow is not high at all, but he holds her hand to help her until they’re far into it. He points to one of the trees and gives her the bow and arrow.
“Let go of the air when you strike, pull the bow closer to your face and keep your back straight. Don't take your eyes from where you're aiming.”
One of his hands holds her waist while the other helps with her right arm. Her first try fails miserably and she feels her cheeks turn red from embarrassment. He laughs at her, more amused about her expression than anything else.
“Don’t laugh or next time I will fail in your direction.”
“Alright,” he says, bringing up his hands as if he was giving up, a big smile on his lips. But then he's closer than before and she can't think straight anymore. “Here, look,” Jon’s body flushes against hers, his hands resting over her own. “Keep your stomach tight. Breathe and let go.”
The arrow hits the tree, is mostly Jon’s doing, but the pride still rises in her chest and makes her turn to face him, wanting to scream, jump and celebrate in a not-so-proper way. He’s too close to do any of that and suddenly the closeness is suffocating. Her smile falls slowly, but she doesn't take a step back.
He stares at her, drawing imaginary lines around her face, down to her lips. She looks back at him, almost begging silently for him to dare. He lifts a cautious hand to the side of her face, he’s trying to understand her, but not even Sansa can do that.
"Can you forgive me," he whispers, taking her by surprise, but it shouldn’t, she knows they're too tired to keep on fighting. Her eyes close as she leans into the roughness of his palm.
“Yes,” she whispers, not doubting for a second.
Sansa can blame the guttural sound of his voice or the sweet smell of his skin, she can blame anyone or anything, but the truth is that, as she opens her eyes without changing her position and she finds doubt in the thin line of his mouth and the frown on his face, there’s a need that’s making him powerless in front of her and she enjoys it. She enjoys this dark feeling that grows slowly, how she’d like to stain him a little, to see the always honorable Jon Snow come undone in her hands as she does under his stare, to hurt him with need, give in only to pull away. She presses her lips against his thumb and Jon lets his eyelids fall. Something like a curse dies in his throat.
“We shouldn’t do this,” Sansa recognizes something there, in the tip of his tongue, a taste of pleasure as she turns her chin a bit more to drop another kiss.
"Yes," she whispers.
“I shouldn't do this.”
Sansa’s breath gets caught in her throat when he eliminates the distance between their lips without a warning. She has given in, but there’s no part of her that wants to pull away, so she tilts her chin up and feels the soft touch of his mouth and the warmth of his breath.
“Yes,” she half pants and whines when he doesn't let her press their mouths together.
“Tell me to stop,” he demands, his voice more deep and gruff.
He lets out a groan. "Let's practice some more," he says, kissing her forehead, her temple, her cheekbone, the tip of her nose. He lingers with an eyebrow pressing to hers.
They don’t kiss again, but their touches linger more than what is necessary. She keeps trying until the cold wind leaves the tip of her fingers purple.
- again, a shout out to Iqqs, who helped me make this chapter better!
big fat warning: this chapter contains mentions of rape that might make you uncomfortable. I'll leave an explanation about it at the end of it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They leave that same night, he can’t stay there any longer and Davos is eager to help him go back home; they don’t feel welcome anymore. He worries for the way he will be received back at Winterfell, for what he will say to Sansa. That doesn't stop him, he's not going to avoid her any longer. He had tried all these moons, he had the war as an excuse to do so before, but now there’s nothing except the need to be home.
He finds Ser Davos at the forecastle deck when the ship comes alive again in the morning. They see the sun rising on the horizon, standing side by side. Jon wishes for the land they can’t yet see. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you what Sansa decided."
Davos looks at him, folding his arms on his back before answering, "I follow you, not because you’re a king, but because you’re a great man. Whatever happens, I am glad I have served you and I will continue to do so."
"You have been nothing but a good friend, Ser Davos," Jon confesses, looking at him.
It somewhat lifts a weight off his shoulders, but he doesn't feel less heavy. Tyrion’s suggestions, Daenerys's threats, everything clouds his mind, hovering over his shoulders. He can’t see a way out of this; if she wins, he won’t ever be free. Sansa had warned him and he didn’t listen, like a bloody idiot, wishing for things he never should have.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t sleep thinking about what I’m going to say to Sansa. She’ll be mad and she has every right to be.”
“She will forgive you still,” Jon looks at him, but the man keeps his eyes on the horizon. “Lady Sansa cares about you, as much as you care about her. You would do right by marrying her.”
Jon straightens his back, “She’s my sister, I grew up with her.”
“That sounds like a good excuse,” Ser Davos faces him. “Here’s another one: her father’s not here, all her remaining siblings are under her care. The only one who can protect her is you. Marrying her is the best way to do so.”
He’s beyond exhausted when he jumps down from his horse, night almost coming over them on the sixth day since he left. He has to blame himself- truthfully he dreads travelling by the Narrow Sea, but it’s the thoughts plaguing his mind and the need to be back soon that worsened the entire odyssey.
Ser Davos sighs, "Home, sweet home.”
Jon grunts approvingly. Winterfell hasn’t changed a bit and he’s almost relieved for it. It doesn’t last long, though. Stupidly enough, when Jaime Lannister announces him with a high tilt to his last name, shame grows in his chest.
Truth be told, the thought had been there before, but this time it’s stronger: how he wishes, for the first time in forever, he could still be just Eddard Stark's bastard son. You may think he can’t fall lower than that, but his life has always been about how things turn for the worse and that’s what happens when he sees her there, her blue eyes shining, almost scared for what he has to say, but still looking so strong, ready to fight him off if she has to. It makes him want for it: marrying her, staying here, forgetting about the world. He curses Tyrion’s voice a thousand times, curses that voice in the back of his head that urges him to be glad he’s no longer her half brother.
Sansa looks tired too, even her voice sounds broken as it never has before, not even when she let her clothes come to the ground, dragging his sanity with them, bearing each one of her scars. He wants to reach to her, hold her, help her. Instead, they fight, they're good at it, bickering like an old married couple; Tyrion had laughed at that and neither of them found within themselves a way to deny it. He still can’t.
In the heat of the moment, she accuses him and he listens what his sulking soul wants to hear: he's not a Stark, never has been, his life was only a lie. It hurts more than it should, but the gods were good to him when they sent her, she’s heaven to him, cracking the distance between them, her soft palm pressing against his cheek, so close and so sweet, her pleading eyes asking for forgiveness even if her lips tell otherwise.
Seven hells, he’s doomed, he knows it. His hand follows the soft curve of her nape, reaching the red hairs that fall from there and he enjoys the warmth and soft skin of her forehead as he presses his lips against it. It’s not the first time he has kissed her like this, it isn’t the first time he feels this way either. Sansa has always been a temptation, but he had been safe because she was too precious, too unattainable, to let his mind wander around her in that way. Now the image had been planted in his mind: marrying her, his own sister. The gods clearly punish him for the thought when he becomes awfully aware of how soft Sansa turns under his touch, he senses the change in her, in the air they’re breathing. He shouldn’t give in to selfish desires, he saw what happened when he did that before, but her breath is like redemption and sin at the same time, and he swears nothing is more worthy of worship than her lips against the border of his own.
When they move apart, he tries to remember his father's face, he tries conjuring his own honor and the fact that he had been pinning like a fool after Daenerys Targaryen barely six full moons ago. None of that works, not after Sansa’s refusal to step away, to put some distance between them, feel disgusted with the closeness of their lips, nothing was ever going to be the same after the possibility of claiming Sansa’s lips was planted in his head. Bloody hell, not even in his dreams he had such luck. As the sun comes up and he lays in bed without sleep being a chance, the thought of denying Sansa’s love to himself feels like dying once again.
His resolve falters when she avoids him or so he thinks, for she has never come down to eat her morning meal so late. He stares at her, not caring that he does so in front of their siblings –cousins, he reminds himself–, but their eyes never meet. Then again, Sam, who had come shortly before her, avoids him too. That, he thinks, is definitely strange.
"She's hiding something from you," Arya says, irritated with him and his drifting attention as they stand in the training field. "She's been acting… weird lately."
Jon frowns. "How so?"
“Lord Snow,” Jaime Lannister is there before Arya can utter another word. She sends an arrow flying, disgust written all over her face. "I’m sorry, I should say Lord Targaryen," he half-smiles, "Lady Sansa has asked for your attendance in the Great Hall after you've finished with your training.”
Before he can say anything, the sworn shield leaves to occupy his place by Sansa’s door. Jon doesn't trust him, hates the fact that he’s the one who spends more time with her. Arya throws a second arrow and Jon’s brought back to her words.
Before he can question her again, she says. "Ask Sam, he will tell you."
It doesn't surprise him, he saw it in the morning. He goes to the Maester’s tower without waiting furthermore, he’s sure his friend will be there and he's proven right as the door opens. Sam's face turns pale when he sees the frown on his face.
"Sam," he demands.
"She asked me not to."
"Sam, I'm asking you to tell me. I won’t be able to help her if you don’t.”
He hates cornering him this way, Sam looks conflicted, but Jon swore he would protect her, he feels even more compelled to do so now, no matter how wrong that might seem. Men are selfish creatures.
"It was, as the maesters call it back in the south, a fear sickness, very rare: the inability to breath, pain in the chest, loss of consciousness. I've also noticed she hasn't been eating well. Fortunately, I think she slept better last night," he admits.
"Can you do something about it?"
"I don't think so, she has not suffered another sickness and I believe it’s her own mind doing things to her. Maybe all she needs is to talk about the things she worries about."
Jon’s not good at talking, much less at expressing his feelings, but he wants to listen to her, every day, and if he can do something about it, for the rest of his life too.
There was no need for a title, even though they never felt as brother and sister, part of this being the reason why he felt a strong attraction to her. Sansa was beautiful and intelligent and everything he could ever want in a woman, but he still loved her as his kin. (When those two sides get together, it's easy for him to give into the emotions she awakens in him). Cousin or lover, it didn’t matter; if Daenerys threatened her and the North, Jon was not about to doubt who held his loyalty.
The voice of the man in front of her seems far away, maybe from another land, even though he’s right there, begging on his knees for forgiveness. Sansa can’t even look at him, the nauseating feeling only increasing every time she tries.
Jon’s there too, shrunk in a corner of the room behind her chair. He must’ve heard at the stables what this man did, after all, when he was dragged in, the commotion had been enough to let the rumors wander. Brienne stood by her side, her face contorted with disgust while Arya waited without giving much away, but Sansa knew she was eager to be the one to kill him, she could see it in the lethal shine her eyes held.
“I’ve heard enough,” the woman’s desperate cries at the back were muffled slightly, Sansa could still hear her sob, she wondered how much her mother would’ve cried for her. “You stand accused of raping a young woman and burning her alive after, how do you answer to these charges.”
“I’m innocent your grace, I swear it.”
Sansa’s eyes fall to his burned hands, rage pooling inside her chest. After letting out a silent breath, she lifts her chin. “Alright, then.”
Sansa stands, her cloak is a warm embrace, but she needs more than that. Arya’s boots sound until the strangled cry of the man replaces them. She walks straight to Jon and he’s there, taking her hand when she extends it. They walk in silence to her solar, where Ghost sleeps soundly.
He asks in a whisper. Sansa nods, but she can’t meet his eyes, the floor is the refuge she needs at the moment. She can feel Ramsay’s hands on her body, his laugh high-pitched, sickening to the ear. It’s in situations like this where she misses Theon, not have someone who could hear her fears. She never dares to speak them out loud, but there’s some kind of silent comfort that only they can share.
“Sansa,” he calls, his voice perhaps an octave lower than usual, “you’re safe.”
False, no one could protect her but herself and even then, fate was a tricky player. Lord Baelish had taught her that too, there's no justice in the world, not unless we make it. His voice sounds clearer this time, it’s a recurrent thing, just like her mother’s. There are nights in which she hears Cersei’s words with it and vice versa, they bring out a darkness in her that sometimes is unbearable, suffocating.
“Jon, please--,” she wants to ask him to leave her alone. She stammers. It's so unlike her and she hates it. Her mother always taught her: better be quiet than mumbling, that's not proper of a lady. Perhaps that’s the reason why she presses her lips tightly, but the suspicion of not wanting him to leave is there, clear as the skies in the summer with her hand clutching Jon’s with all her strength.
She sees the fingers of his left hand tremble slightly before rising to take her chin and make her meet his eyes. “Sansa Stark got nothing to say?”
He mocks her, it’s his lame attempt to make her laugh; he’s never been good with humor, he’s more the sulking type. He looks handsome, though, hopeful, it makes her want to reciprocate.
“I’ve spent too many nights with your brooding mood.”
A laugh leaves his mouth as he looks at the roof, wrinkles drawing in the corner of his eyes. “Aye, you’re not wrong there.”
Last night Sansa thought she had lost a battle, she’s sure of it right now with his boyish face coming alive in the dark room. No, there's no turning back from this, she has tried to avoid the way her heart jumps with worry or care, how she follows him without even noticing, how he became the only man she dared to trust after everything she went through, how he’s the one to keep her feet on the ground. The kindness and humility in him is largely to blame in the impossible task of not loving him.
Lord Baelish had called it the game of thrones; the whole war he started with Jon Arryn's death. She had learnt from the best and she knew how to stay alive in this game. If her heart was not willing to forget him, she was going to make this her own game; she was going to make the rules.
“We shouldn’t do this,” she repeats what he said last night to remind herself she has to be careful about it, that if Ned Stark was alive, this would never happen. Jon looks at her with confusion. “But if you want more –if you want me–, then I am willing.”
Perhaps the extent of her words is not as clear as it should be, what is she willing to do, what can her own fears and nightmares allow her to do? She wants to explore it.
“Are you sure of this, Sansa?” he murmurs when knowledge drowns in him. His hand rests again on her cheek, it is the same movement he made before and she remembers how affected he was by the kiss to his thumb.
Oh, yes, she's very willing to explore this with him; whether she's sure about it though, is a bit harder to say.
“I am,” she lies. He believes her, he always does. Bran's words echo through her head: Jon will be king, he will need an heir. The Starks need one too, but she won't be the one to give it to him or her family. “But you need to understand this: I won’t pry on what you do or who you love, because I can’t give you what you want. I won't, Jon.”
He grimaces, even if he tries to hide it, Sansa’s able to read him like the palm of her hand. Yet, when he speaks again, there’s no doubt. “I would never make you do anything you don’t want to, Sansa.”
The answer is there, written in his eyes. She knows he wouldn’t harm her. “Good.”
Truth and lies, there are two sides of Sansa that always comes out when she’s around Jon, but here, in this moment, the only thing that remains is the bravery she needs to wrap her arms around Jon’s shoulders. They fit perfectly in the soft touch of their lips and the embrace of their bodies. There is softness within the hard junctures of his bones and muscles and she almost wishes he was rid of the leather that protects him from the cold. The song she heard before rings louder this time, voices of the past, images, fears, everything else leaves her mind and there's only Jon's right arm holding her firmly by the waist against his body; Jon's stubble, longer since she last saw it, scratching her chin, her lips, her fingers; Jon's chest breathing heavily against hers.
Jon lets her lead the kiss at first, so every little movement is clumsy and shy. She had no experience to compare it to, the only man who ever kissed her was Petyr, and yet this felt far more perfect than any thing else she has experienced: the night’s sky beauty, the sweet melody of a song, the rumbling of Ghost's chest when he sleeps beside her, the taste of a lemon cake.
He moves away to see her face and make sure she’s alright; she hates it because all he’s seeing is the need he creates in her and there’s no way to protect herself, no way to hide how much she has dreamed of this moment. She promised things to herself, an oath to never give in to her ridiculous dreams again, but when he’s this close and life spins around her, trying to break her will, she can’t help but dip a little bit closer to hell.
She trembles against him and that seems to do the trick as he wraps both arms around her waist, their lips meeting in the middle. His mouth is warm, much bigger than hers, sweeter too. With each movement, he starts to dominate, always careful, breaths fanning over each other whenever they part only to readjust to a different angle and press again. Slowly, each touch turns deeper, wetter, more frantic than the other, his hand over her cheek presses harder for leverage as his tongue darts inside her mouth. Sansa has never seen or felt something like this, she wonders if it's how the wildlings kiss in the night.
He’s wildfire, they never saw it, but he indeed has the blood of the dragon and she feels it as he melts the snow in her. She finds it quite literal, it makes her let out a sinful sound because suddenly she’s warm and wet between the legs with every lick of his tongue. The sensation scares her, it brings memories of the nights with Ramsay and how some times her body would react, betraying her, making her feel disgusted with herself.
She presses her hands against his chest, needing to breathe, to see that this is not Ramsay who’s touching her, that there’s only love and care and there won’t be any pain. Jon doesn't let her go completely, he needs her close and as soon as she sees his gray eyes she knows it’s alright to gie in. The way Jon's holding her, looking at her, makes her feel warm all over again and she has to suppress a sigh of relief.
“Is this alright?” he asks again. She nods slowly as he presses his forehead to hers, not trusting her voice, not when it's about him. “Can I kiss you again?
Gods, yes. She’s the one to take the lead, her mind too far gone to care about hiding her own need.
This time it feels steadier, deeper, barely moving their heads. Now it’s about exploring the insides of their mouths and all the ways they can do so. Sansa can't help but arch against him and Jon's hands are on her back, moving lower until he presses them to the round curve of her arse. They stumble back until she hits the door and Jon hums with pleasure when given the opportunity of locking her with his own body. She never thought it could be so good ‘till the point it could make her moan into his mouth—her experience with men had only been traumatizing and disgusting, but Jon was unlike any other men in her life. He takes a sharp breath at the sounds she makes and suddenly there’s a space between them that she dreads. Maybe he needs to make sure this is really her, that this is real.
His thumb presses her lower lip, opening her mouth to lick his way inside her. "Gods, you're so sweet," he groans.
His voice affected by desire makes her dizzy. "Jon," she whimpers.
There’s no need for words when his lips press on her own, then on her nose, then her neck. He steps back again, chest heaving with each ragged breath he takes. She can only hear him, see him, so much that she’s not aware of how similar her state is.
“Are you sure about this?”
No, she still isn’t, she probably won’t ever be. “Are you?”
“Good,” she whispers, kissing his lips one last time. “It’s better this way.”
Sansa leaves the room after that, not giving him the opportunity to question her.
Back in King's Landing, Sansa learned to lie, she became good at it, perhaps the best- it was how she survived. With Jon, she lies to herself—she lies about Daenerys's existence and how Jon will probably end up marrying her as the books Maester Wolkan keeps in the corner of his library say: pureblood Targaryen alliances, marriage between brother and sister, aunt and nephew; she lies and claims that Jon wants her despite all her scars and fears and pride; she lies about not being scared.
That night, the burns in her skin come alive in her nightmares and once again she smell the stink of Ramsay’s sweat, then she’s in King’s Landing, pinned to the floor with four men surrounding her, laughing, ripping her clothes. She wakes up screaming, sweat all over her body, fearing the shadows where a man can hide, rape her and burn her alive. The light of a candle doesn’t help to calm the frantic beating of her heart, so she walks the distance, two doors to the left until reaching Jon’s chambers. He’s tired enough to fall asleep as soon as the surprise leaves him, so she falls asleep with her back pressed to his chest, surrounded by his strong arms and the sweet friction of his breath against her neck.
They silently make it a habit. Jon comes to her after the castle has fallen asleep and sinks under her quilt, Ghost by their feet and his hip under her thigh or his chest molded to her back. He’s the one to wake up first each passing day, returning to his chambers before any intrusive eye can see him.
It is at dawn on the third day when she wakes up before he does with the touch of his undeniable desire pressed against her. She stirs and Jon panics. He asks for her forgiveness, but she only replies by pressing a bit harder to him, trying to explore this feeling of satisfaction and pleasure in the pit of her stomach. It’s ridiculous, she thinks, the primal ways of her body, yet there have been so many things taken from her that this time she wants to be the one to take.
“Will you come with me to see Bran this afternoon?" she asks.
"Do you want me to?" his voice sounds thick, hoarse and it makes her tingly. Jon's hand fists her small clothes, trying to stop the slight movement of her hips. “Sansa,” he warns.
"Yes, I want you to come."
He curses under his breath and answers, “then I will.”
His words die against the skin of her neck, a hand venturing over her stomach, but no further than that. It’s the most he ever gives himself permission when caressing her. It’s not the first time they surrender to the pleasure of tasting lips and warm hugs, but he’s been careful all this time and not even in this situation does his thoughtfulness change.
She shouldn't have to be grateful of this, to have his respect in the solitude of their chambers as well as outside them, but she is because she knows few men will treat her as an equal as he does. A man with power is respected and feared, a woman with the same power has no such luck, she has to fight her way to be accepted as a capable leader. It’s what dealing with her bannermen, who tend to spit comments about her skirts even in the letters she receives every day, has taught her. Jon is the exception to the rule, for such a brooding and gruff man, Jon’s soulful. He is the son of Ned Stark in all his glory, honorable and righteous, but also sweet and thoughtful and that makes her love him a little bit more.
She interlaces their fingers and then he brings the palm of her hand to his lips. Sansa turns to face him slowly. "I have to go before everyone wakes up."
She tightens her hold on him, arms circling his torso, but she never says it, that voiceless pray to please, don’t leave me here always sticks in her throat. He kisses her mouth before parting. They don’t speak after he leaves her bed.
Jon finds her again as the morning meal is served, his gaze locked on her. That too has become a habit and even though she tries to ignore it, she fails miserably time after time, becoming a little bit clumsier with every passing second and snicker from Arya. In the beginning she thought he was being reckless, but as he started thrusting plates with food in her direction or taking care of some less important tasks at hand she knew it had nothing to do with their secret affair. One look at Sam's direction and his guilty expression had made it all clear.
She will complain about it as soon as they're alone, as she always does, but their quarrels fit a pattern in which they end up with passionate kisses in the shadows of Winterfell's halls and sometimes she just looks forward to it.
She takes him to the Godswood in the afternoon, making him listen to Bran's vision of Rhaegar and Lyanna's wedding. When she stares at the way his eyes close, maybe dreaming as she does often enough, and something like gratitude shines in his eyes when he opens them again, she can't help but feel a tender happiness.
They sit there until Bran announces he wants to go to his room. It is dark outside and Sansa has been trembling for quite some time but she likes this, the peace and comfort with her family, images of a summer night and Jon’s smile replacing some of her nightmares. He takes Bran inside and when the castle falls to slumber, she comes to him, to his arms. He’s waiting for her, taking care of the fire to keep her warm, he brushes his nose against hers before demanding her mouth. It brings the memory of Bran's words on how Rhaegar and Lyanna had done something similar with a tenderness that only true love could bring to a moment like that; yet, they're not ghosts of them, because Jon doesn't love her and she has pledged her life to the North and not to him.
It’s fine this way, truly, because Sansa’s a woman now and she can’t think of herself as the Queen of Love and Beauty or Jon as her prince in armor, capable of bringing war and destruction to their people just to love her; no, those are dreams of her former self, a stupid little girl with her stupid dreams. She has learned that she doesn't have to be a damsel in distress to fit perfectly in his chest and that properness has nothing to do with loving a man, she's a queen and a lady, strong and willful, but she also welcomes the weakness in her knees every time he holds her against his body, the warmth in her cheeks when he kisses the side of her neck or the wetness between her legs. She's pliable and needy with him, but when she comes to the council room, her bannermen see only a ferocious wolf.
Summer has come to their lands. It had been leaving small traces for a long time now, slowly replacing what the Long Night had left. The wind are cold, as always, but most of the snow has melted away.
They follow the river that crosses the North, the same she had to go through when she ran away from Ramsay with Theon's help. She tells him about that and the things Ramsay did to her that nobody knows about. It’s not an easy task, not when she’s been trying so hard to guard herself against him and the truth about her own feelings, but he’s there, telling her tales about her own father she never knew about, laughing at adventures with Robb that make her heart swell, extending a hand to take a strand of her hair with an adoring look in his eyes. Jon’s always open about his emotions, even when he doesn't want to, sometimes more so than what she’d like for his own good. Despite everything he’s gone through, she constantly finds traces of his old self. He had fought and killed, but Ned Stark had prepared him for that, those things were called honor and bravery, the only thing that brought some darkness to his eyes was the truth behind the blood running through his veins, he always wanted to be a Stark, now he was a Targaryen.
Sansa hadn't been that fortunate—her innocence was ripped from her hands, she had to claw her way into life, learn, lie and mourn when she was barely a child. It was hard to recover from that, it was always there, in the back of her head, painting dark thoughts, making her be the shadow of her worst nightmares.
In exchange for her trust, he talks about Ros, Ygritte, Mance Rayder and Olly. She sees him unfold a part of himself she only suspected of in the sadness of his eyes, the scars on his skin.
She feels his pain through her bones and it helps her lie to herself about things that never happened when they actually did, things she just mentioned to him but that the touch of his hands, as she takes them to support herself while standing up, makes her forget. She becomes brave once more, placing her feet on each side of his thighs, he’s sitting on the cold grass with his back against a tree and when he looks up to find her staring down at him, his eyes have a pitch-black color in them that makes her heart beat wildly inside her chest.
Sansa lifts her skirts slowly, just enough to straddle him with nothing in between them but her small clothes and his breeches. Jon tenses at the image of her skin clad in lace, but his hand moves until circling her ankle and as she comes to sit atop him, crawling up to her thigh and following suit when she gives him permission to touch the round form of her arse. He searches for any kind of discomfort on her part, but this is not the first time they are so intimate with each other. Perhaps they hadn't been as bold, much less in public, but Sansa doesn't care as she closes the distance.
"Did you love her?" she asks.
“Aye,” he never lies, "very much."
"I'm sorry," she murmurs against his lips. He says nothing in return, he doesn't have to, his face shows a sadness still alive in him.
Her lips part, the name of Daenerys wanting to go out, but she doesn't ask. “Do they lay like this?”
Sansa rests her hands on his chest, their noses touching as they whisper against each other lips. “The Free Folk.”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think they’d do this in the woods,” he half smiles. “The cold at the other side of the Wall can--”
“Freeze your balls until they drop,” he looks ashamed for a moment. Of course, Jon Snow would never talk like that in front of a lady. Sansa can’t help the smile that spreads on her lips.
“Ah, yes, and men are pretty attached to those things.”
He laughs, tilting his head away from her before looking back to her eyes. “Aye, we are.”
“Do you think yours would drop in this weather?”
The question’s bold, there’s an intention underneath. He tenses, she can feel it in the muscles of his chest, under the palm of her hands. He grows inside his breeches, she has been feeling him since she found a seat over him, probably since the moment her ankle came to view. “No, I think they’ll be fine.”
“And this is not wrong?” Sansa thinks of the many lessons she heard as a child, how a woman should act and feel and how that’s all foreign when she’s with him.
It’s actually about that, how she loves him and dreads the day he’ll part from her. Jon might not love her, but Sansa did and she wanted to be selfish for the first time, she wanted to have all of him.
“No, I don’t think it is when a man likes a woman.”
“Or when a woman likes a man.”
“Aye,” he tilts his head, kissing her lips.
The air is humid, making her feel damp in the back of her dress, she misses the snow as never before, it would've helped her cool her head and body, or maybe not, nothing could be enough when Jon presses his lips against her throat, grunting at the friction she involuntarily creates when she arches against his body. He doesn't stop caressing her thighs and moves up to the curve of her buttocks pressing her a bit harder. It makes her dizzy.
"You won't hurt me."
It sounds like a promise, a threat, everything but a question because there is no room for doubt on the subject. He still looks straight to her eyes and answers firmly.
"I will never hurt you."
She nods, extending her hands to his chest, she starts undressing him, though he does most of the job because she doesn't understand the art of men's clothing, she learns in muteness, always looking now and then to his eyes and he's there every time, watching her carefully. She wouldn’t dare to do anything like this with anyone else and that’s where she’s selfish: if he was going away with another woman, she wanted to create as many memories as she could, to have each part of his body belonging to her at least for the moment being and hold to them when he was no longer by her side.
His chest comes to view, her hand flies to the scar left by the Night King over his shoulder, her fingers trace the skin there for a few seconds, remembering the fear she felt when she thought he was going to die. Then it falls over his heart, touching the other one that had succeeded to take him before she found him.
"Don't doubt," he says, a sound so deep it makes her want to kiss him. "You can do whatever you want."
Her tongue comes out, she licks his shoulder, a clavicle, his throat, the small hair there. She presses her lips to his stubble as her fingers fall to his breeches where she fumbles for a bit, but then he helps her and finally she frees his cock. He lets out a strangled sound that invites her to look at him, his half naked body, and she vows to have him in even less very soon.
Sansa nudges with her index finger the swelling head of his member and he hisses with painful pleasure. Jon's nervous, she can tell, but that only helps her when she dares to demand.
"Touch yourself." He's caught off guard, his face flustered and doubtful. She presses her lips against his one more time and she almost begs, "touch yourself, Jon."
His right hand holds the hard length and starts pulling and pressing the skin, again and again. Her eyes never leave the movement and how beautiful an act so animalistic can actually be. She moves his hand, taking him with softness, but then his palm is over hers and he makes her press harder, move faster. He grunts, bucking his hips up.
"Love," he sounds out of air, "can I touch you?"
Sansa feels scared for a second, but his glassy eyes show her his naked need and she wants more of this, so her free hand falls at her back and she pulls the laces that keep her dress tightly together. He helps her and then her breasts feel the warm air only to be promptly replaced by Jon's breath, then his lips surrounding her and, as he sucks, his soft tongue.
She remembers the knife edge Ramsay had pressed against the underside of her left breast, how he had played with her fear of cutting her open and making her eat her own tender meat. You won't be needing two tits to feed my son, he had said. Jon licks the marking behind that memory and she cries in pleasure. She never felt anything like this, not even dreamed of it, her body was just a map of painful regrets. Jon takes everything with his mouth on her.
She moves against him, searching for some kind of relief for the fire in her belly, in her thighs, her feet, the tips of her fingers as she grabs Jon's dark locks. His free hand comes to her back and he presses her hard against his sex. He twitches in her palm, the hectic rocking of their hands not having stopped for a second. She marvels with the way it grows hotter, harder, more swollen than before, just like her breasts.
"Sansa," he groans, resting his forehead on her shoulder.
Jon shakes under her and she can't see from her position but she feels it in the way his cock vibrates against the palm of her hand, pulsing in rhythm with his grunts and then a thick, hot liquid washes over her fingers as he finds his release. She's breathing hard, just as him, and then he's kissing her deeply, with a desperate need.
Her mother spoke once of this, the duties of a wife: serving her lord husband, giving birth to a child, things that would make her house proud. She dreads that version of her that would have ended up with some man who thought poorly or her, that would come to her chambers, get her pregnant and then go around to the beds of other women who would not feel ashamed of something like what she had done to Jon, and if she did, if she embraced this passion in her, he would surely feel ashamed of such a vile wife, as many hushed rumors told.
She doesn’t think her parents didn’t love each other, but Catelyn Tully grew up with a sense of pride that came from only fulfilling her duties. Sansa didn’t want that life, she wanted to be the Queen in the North and make Jon come undone in her hands. She wanted him, searching her eyes with a shy smile, his hair messed up by her own hands and the feeling of his beard against her naked breasts in the woods. This version of her, the one who survived what many wouldn't, the wolf queen, the lover of a promised prince—this was something she could be proud of, unlike her silly dreams.
- first of all: as always, thanks to Iqqs, she has been an amazing support and she's the reason why this fanfic is decent, so, thanks a lot.
- about the phrase "how sometimes her body would react, betraying her," I want to clarify that I've never, not even close, experienced something like what Sansa went through, but as I was writing this chapter (and I'm really sorry if it sounds silly), I remembered how in the TV series the Law & Order U.V.E they explain that the body reacts even when it's not consensual and girls feel scared and ashamed because of it, they think it's wrong and sometimes they don't say what happened to them because of that. I wanted to keep it as realistic as I could and those are the references I have: doesn't mean Sansa enjoyed it, it will never be right even if your body reacts to it. No is no.
Adding to this, I want to clarify that I did some research and I was able to find that some women who go through such a terrible experience, can lubricate and even have an orgasm during sexual assault. I found this amazing article that could help you understand it better, it has medical citation (quotes, I don't know how to call it) and I invite you to read it, is really short: westland.academy/rape-myths/
Sansa keeps herself busy as soon as the sun comes up, she declines her morning meal to attend to the arrangement of the provisions Ser Jaime will be taking for the Free Folk in their journey to Sea Dragon Point and Bear Island. She stands tall and proud while planning, giving instructions and taking notes, while maester Wolkan trails hurriedly at her back. She’s a sight for sore eyes, the ghost of her mother and, with the strength of each order, there was enough in her to resemble her father too.
She had been preparing for this day since Lady Mormont replied to her letter, four weeks prior. It took more time than expected, between fighting the lords who didn't agree with her decisions and teaching the Free Folk to live as a part of the North without losing their essence –all the while learning about them herself–, Sansa found herself having to postpone the date more than once. She wanted to do things right, no matter Jon’s insistence on how they were his responsibility since he had led them to this side of the Wall: the wildlings were already a part of this land, they were now her people, just like any powerful house pledged to her.
“My queen,” Jaime Lannister calls her title with his soft voice, interrupting the trail of her thoughts. She turns to face him, of course, but he's dangerously close, so she has to step back with a low growl and a storm at the back of her throat. It's not fear what makes her react, Sansa will not let anyone make her feel unsafe in Winterfell ever again, but he says just as fast, “we’re ready to go now,” and her heart leaps with a mournful sentiment in her chest that seems almost taunting.
She licks her lips, hiding her emotions. “Then I wish you a safe travel, Ser Jaime. I shall see you soon and unharmed.”
Something shines in his eyes, she has seen it before, it's the same light that dies when someone dares to call him the Kingslayer. She used to do the same, but, even if the past they share is heavy on their shoulders, Sansa keeps trying to be a good leader and that means finding allies in her enemies.
He curtseys while taking her hand to kiss the tip of her fingers. “Thank you, my Queen.”
Without knowing him, it would’ve been easier to think he was mocking her, the smirk sent her way making it appear like so, but she has learned that, most times, he likes to hide his true feelings behind sarcastic retorts and the gratefulness shining in his eyes only confirms it. He walks away then, mounts his horse and rides pass Winterfell's open gates, followed by a horde of the wildlings who had been living within the walls of the castle and those who had come these last few days to march together to the outside world.
Men give curt nods in her direction, a few kids she had gotten close to run to hug her skirts and some other women grip to her hands with gratefulness shining in their eyes. It’s a saddening view. She had gotten used to all the shouting, laughs and helping hands; the way the acted, not caring about titles or duty and the tales of the world at the other side of the Wall with a fire in the center of the courtyard, but she’s sure they will have a better life in Sea Dragon Point, a place they will call their own and their children will grow as northerners, as a part of these lands, a place they’ll defend and love.
"Maybe you actually were born for this," Arya says, walking by her side.
"Why do you say that?" she asks, not taking her eyes from the faces in front of her, almost wanting to remember each one of them.
"This was chaos just seconds ago and yet everything's going as you planned."
Sansa turns to watch her with raised eyebrows. "That must be the nicest thing you’ve ever told me, yet I believe this is just your good humor talking. I know you won't be missing Ser Jaime," she jokes, enjoying the closeness that has grown between them that lets her joke about such things.
"Perhaps you're a tad right about that."
The smiles on their faces grow from a grin to the giggles they never shared when they were kids. It fills her chest, makes her want to touch Arya’s hair once again, hold her against her chest, make sure she’ll be safe forever by her side and vice versa. She does none of that, it’s still hard to understand the affection that’s now part of their interaction; it shouldn’t be, but even losing that side of them, the brawls and sarcastic remarks, would be like leaving their past and family behind and Sansa knows Arya thinks the same. It is comfortable enough this way.
She opens her mouth to say something back, but her attention gets caught by the somber presence she sees from the corner of her eye. She twists to his direction as he makes his way to the horse they prepared for him after having helped with the wildling’s departure, but she can’t bask long in the view, the way he moves or the hair tightly put at the back of his head, because Arya’s there, so she looks back to the closing gates and ignores the pull on her legs that wants to take her to him. Arya finds him too when she notices Sansa’s attention has drifted momentarily, Sansa thinks she'll move away, but instead she goes back to stare at the wildlings still leaving.
“Is everything alright with you two?”
“Why do you ask that?”
Arya tilts towards the left, “well, you’re Queen now. I know you never forgave him, but now you two seem different. Better.”
“I don’t think I will ever forgive him,” she avoids Arya’s inquisitive eyes after she says that. “But at the same time, I do. Does that make any sense?”
“Not really,” Arya smirks, Sansa chuckles, finally turning to her. "But I guess it’s fine."
Sansa believes the same.
When the last wagon leaves, Arya talks again. "Ah, I must go now."
"Where are you going?"
"Jon and I are going to hunt dinner," she announces, failing at hiding her excitement. Sansa would rather she didn’t try at all, it’s enjoyable hearing her this way and not as stoic as the Faceless Man had taught her to be.
"Go on, then,” she nods. “Take care of yourself and him,” she gestures in Jon’s direction, trying to joke once again.
Of course, Arya scoffs; there are things about her that Arya sometimes understood better than her. "You know, whatever’s going on--it’s fine with me."
She hesitates before asking, "What? What do you mean?"
Arya shrugs her small shoulders, faking nonchalance. Sansa could see right through her too. "I told you, you two are different. Better.”
"What do you mean?” she repeats.
"Jon’s too obvious."
Sansa disagrees, even if Winterfell was already brimming with rumors. People were saying what they said, not because they knew about their nightly rendezvous, he keeps his distance from her when they're in public, trying to avoid precisely that; but, because the North remembers what Aerys II did to her family and even if some still respected him as the king who saved them from the dead, he was the Targaryen traitor who mingled more than what they liked around their Queen. To the northern lords, he was only trying to make her his wife to take the North again. Certainly, Jon's not a good liar, his eyes alone give everything away, but he still prefers the shadows of the corners that allow him invisibility. In the past, she supposes he had to do it because he was scared of Catelyn's hateful stare after every breath he took –she never pardon Ned for causing her shame by bringing Jon to Winterfell–, but now there's a different type of fright, a discomfort he feels in his own skin, as if he was ashamed of his newfound last-name. That’s the reason why she dragged him to the Godswood to hear Bran’s vision of Lyanna and Rhaegar's wedding. They could do what any normal brother and sister would do: going out for a ride, share a few words here and there, and that was enough to feed the hate some felt.
However, she suspects that's not where Arya's assumptions come from. If they try to be apart from each other in front of strangers, it's a whole different story when they're with their kin. They don't try to hide it as they could in front of anyone else, after all, to mask something from Bran is ridiculous and she never thought of purposefully casting Arya aside, as if she didn't trust her. Naturally, it was not a truth she wanted the world to know, but neither did she like the idea of keeping secrets from her brothers.
Taking a breath, she searches for Arya’s eyes. "It isn’t weird?"
Her sister folds her hands at her back. "It is weird, but I guess we've come a long way and, to be honest, Jon's the kind of man father would’ve chosen to be your husband."
For a brief moment, she wonders if that's true. Being with Jon would’ve probably never crossed her mind if she hadn’t gone through all she did, because then he wouldn’t have become her support, she probably would've never seen how good and sweet he was; he would’ve died at the Wall, her half-brother, and she would’ve been married off to some lord of a northern house. There was no denying that he really was the type of man her father had wanted for her, but she doubted he would’ve been the one chosen. To some, he was still her blood.
There's a bitterness that cracks her impassive demeanor, it makes Arya stare at her with inquisitive eyes, but Sansa's silence means she won't talk about it and to her relief, she doesn't pry. She strides to the stairs when Arya's horse is brought to her by Podrick, the boy seems scared, but still tries to help Arya climb the saddle, which earns him an irritated push that almost makes Sansa laugh. Her sister rides away without waiting for anyone; she's the epitome of freedom. Ser Davos and Podrick have hurried in her direction and that steals a smile from her lips, but then Jon catches her attention again, he's looking at her and the warmth that is left behind washes through her body in small waves until his return. She hates the effect he has on her.
She composes herself by immersing herself in her duties, going over the notes she had done for the travel of the Free Folk for the hundredth time: the provisions they stacked; the news from those who had been sent in advance to sow the land with seeds: potatoes and other legumes that would soon provide them with the rations they would need; and the route they were going to follow that would be the safest one among all the roads to Sea Dragon Point. Noon falls without her noticing it, the only way for her to stop working is when Brienne enters the room to let her know her sister’s back. Sansa goes to the courtyard, even if it’s not needed. Once again, Jon's the first and the last to catch her eyes, always promising things she doesn’t even understand with that infuriatingly handsome smile of his.
Dinner is served like a feast, the deer Arya had so proudly presented to the kitchen maids in the middle of it all as the main attraction. It’s just Gilly, Sam, Arya, Bran, Jon, Ser Davos, Brienne, Podrick, Maester Wolkan and Bran; strange people who have become part of her home, her kin, because even if there’s a missing part that will always be remembered, Sansa's reign has made her learn to keep looking forward, to fight life for those who alive who need her protection. She prays to the gods to please, please, not take any of them away from her.
After supper, the castle goes to sleep earlier than usual, it feels so unlike after many nights with the noise of the wildlings camping by the gates, close to Winter town or even in the free spaces of the courtyard, it's only her small steps what tames the harsh wind of the growing summer. Jon's almost asleep too when she finds her place under his quilt.
“I’m too tired.”
He groans after trying, unsuccessfully, to extend his right arm around her shoulders. Sansa grins, taking his hand to guide him towards his destination. When they settle, she tries to ignore how intimate and comfortable it feels, how different things are from that cold night when he returned from Dragonstone, how his presence makes everything else seem better.
"Maybe you're getting old," she whispers against his lips, enjoying the softness and the way he tries to correspond each kiss given despite being barely awake.
"Maybe I am," he half jokes. "I didn't remember going to hunt to be so tiring."
"And yet Arya said she did most of the job," she snorts.
He smiles in return to her mocking tone. "Aye, she's right on that."
There's something painfully familiar with this way of being, how he tucks her under his arm, the teasing tones, the placid silences and tempestuous quarrels, always so intimate that sometimes it was hard to avoid the emotions rousing in her. She rests her cheek on his chest, letting the rhythm of his heartbeat erase the bad dreams; this too is part of their nightly rituals: the effect Jon has on her, how he takes away the regrets of the day and horrors of the past, every demon that crawls at night and suffocates her with its long claws. It hurts her all over, but she’s tired too, so it takes no time for her to start drifting away.
In that state of unconsciousness, mindlessly she dares to ask, “Will you train with me again?”
“Archery?” his voice is thick, just as gone as she is. Sansa simply nods, but she doesn’t hear the answer that comes much later or the kiss that follows. “Of course, love.”
He does as promised and for the days to come, with the wildlings gone and her time flowing freely enough; it unfolds as their morning routine. They stay guarded in the Godswood, practicing in front of the same tree until her arms ache or Jon’s lips are too distracting for her own good. When they’re not alone, Arya mocks her, but she tries hard and soon enough –roughly on the fifth day after Ser Jaime left by the Hunter’s gate– she hits her first bird during a hunt. Jon smiles at her with pride in his eyes when she declares it will also be the last, for she can't bear the sight of such cruelty. He gives a kiss to her temple when no one’s watching, their companionship consisting only on Podrick, Ser Davos, Arya and two soldiers, but the gesture it’s so unlike him that it takes her by surprise and she can barely breathe from rage and love as he walks away to his horse.
They enter Winterfell’s gates afterwards, and by that moment she has spent too much time chanting in her head that she’s a queen, she has vowed many times to all the lords who have dared propose marriage for her that she will not have any man taking her throne and Jon will not be the exception, not only because she won’t let him, but because his heart was never to be hers. Everything is fruitless; there, where he kissed her, still burns and Sansa wants to try her aim at him.
Brienne takes the reins of her horse and extends a letter from Ser Jaime. She reads it immediately: he’s sailing for Bear Island, still with plenty food and no lives lost. Brienne simply nods, but Sansa can see the relief on her face, she recognizes it as the same blissfulness in her chest. The news gives her the perfect excuse to prepare some kind of celebration to take her mind off from the giddiness that travels through her veins and makes her wish for his proximity, musing for another hidden kiss. It’s tiresome work, but that's exactly what she needs, so she basks into it with ease.
Unsurprisingly, there are only a few minutes left for the night’s meal when everything gets done. Sansa’s nothing but efficient, a lady of Winterfell without doubt, so even with such a short notice, the feast looks remarkable as it's served at the dining table.
She hurries back to her chambers, where a bath has been set, it makes her glad to have an excuse to avoid Jon for a few more minutes, so she takes her time as she strips, but once under the water, as Sansa starts to wash away the soreness in her muscles with a cloth, he has the unnerving audacity to slip into her thoughts. For someone who brings so much peace to her life, Sansa can’t understand how he’s capable of affecting her so much. It makes her mad, so mad that she starts scrubbing her right arm forcefully until the white skin turns red.
The blood in her ears makes her deaf to the swift pull on her door, but, truthfully, there’s no surprise in the action, it was something bound to happen someday, they had gotten used to these rushed adventures, making them innocent play-times, when it was actually the result of a necessity, almost inhuman. In the end, they were going to have a consequence and this was one of them: Jon thinking he had the right to barge in her room without a warning –maybe worried about her, maybe just needing to kiss her lips after spending the day without seeing each other–, and she's there, completely naked, looking back at his paralyzed figure over her shoulder with both arms clasped around her breasts.
Her mind tells her there's something ridiculous in the fact that she's covering herself even when he has had his mouth over her just a few days ago, it's a whisper of her want, so she lets her arms sink in the water and when his dark orbs fall to the soft skin, something stirs inside. The anger in her is replaced with embarrassment and, oh, how good it would’ve been to just welcome that sentiment, but their wrath, even when held just by her, has always ended in passion and Sansa’s body is deceitful when he’s around. It's that same shameful desire to keep him to herself that gives her the strength she needs to move under the water to face him, it's a silent invitation to which he gives one step by instinct, uncertainty making him stop only for a second and then his hands fly to his clothes, peeling them off with a confidence that she has mastered only by following every motion of his fingers whenever she has the chance to watch him change into his small clothes.
He enters the waters across from her, it's cramped, their knees and legs touch in the small space, but even so it is not remotely enough, so Sansa extends her arms until she's surrounding his neck and he takes her by her waist, pulling her over his hips. Every inch of their skin seems to touch, but she still tries to pull him in, press him harder, not wanting to lose him and at the same time needing him so far away. Her mind is a mess, Jon makes everything a mess with one look and she curses because this is the reason why she tried to avoid him. Now she can't get away.
Jon is bold this time, nails scraping the back of her thighs, close to her cunt, then up her waist, clasping her breasts between his hands, coaxing them together against his face and down all over again, under the water, over her arse. She moans, arching against him, trying to push him a bit more to where she aches for him.
"Seven hells, you're so beautiful," he whispers, his head dipping back to kiss her mouth.
She tries not to listen, but it’s fire and snow, and Sansa is not strong enough in this humid day, summer, year, and Jon knows it. He toys with his luck, pressing his fingers against her clit and she can barely hold a cry at the much needed attention. But he stands up abruptly, bringing her with him, Sansa yelps, bracing her legs and arms around his waist and shoulders as he walks to the bed; she wants to hit him, but he looks carefree and confident, a side of him she hasn't seen in a while, not after the war, so she lets him put her over the quilt, not caring what a mess it will be with both their bodies getting everything wet.
"Sansa," he calls, resting a hand next to her face to steady his weight above her, "will you let me touch you?"
The question surprises her and the same fear she felt back at the river bites the tip of her toes and crawls rapidly. She wants to say no, but then her mind is doing tricks to her, whispering in her ear to let him do what he wants: he will hurt her, for certain, and so she'll know he's not perfect, she'll be glad when he rides back South to Daenerys’ arms, she will be the one to win this game and these memories by his side she so desperately wants to keep, will not be necessary. It's a nauseating thought, but Sansa knows there's something dark in her that sometimes she can't control. We’re all liars here.
After a pause, she nods slowly, parting her legs until her pain and shame are in the open for him. She had wondered if he really saw her that night, Jon was a gentleman after all, now there was no doubt, he was seeing directly to the traces Ramsay had left in her. She barely remembers how it happened, it was after Theon betrayed her for, allegedly, her own good and Ramsay decided that she needed a far more fitting punishment than just a few bruises, so he put his knife into the fire and then pressed it against her soft skin. It was fast, but painful all the same. Now it was just a mark, colored in a furious red, so different from the pale white of her skin that it was too hard to miss, a disgusting reminder of what she had to suffer to be back at her home. Her thoughts almost drift to Jon’s betrayal, but he starts moving away, trailing kisses over her chin, her throat, a nipple, her belly, all the way down until he's facing her cunt and Sansa tries desperately to bring him up. Panic makes her reach for something, anything, but her dress is too far away and the spike of her necklace is too.
"Jon? Oh, gods, Jon, what are you--."
He takes her hands and interlaces his fingers with hers, preventing her from gripping his shoulders and writhing in desperation as she was. He was not backing away and that scared her even more, to the point that she marks his skin with her nails, until his tongue licks her mound and Sansa explodes with a thousand sensations. Her back arches, head falling back, legs parting. She never felt anything like this: a mortifying pleasure that comes from her core and travels to each corner of her body, it’s not what she imagined and the thought of ever needing her spike to defend herself from Jon is as ridiculous as the emotions that are burning –such a different fire– her flesh.
He sets a distance between them again and only then she’s able to take some air back to her lungs. When she seeks for his eyes, there's a hunger shining in them that ignites her whole, washing away any doubt and dread, still, she nods her approval because he seems to be waiting for just that to resume his ministrations once again.
He's passionate, not caring in the least for her ugly scars or the pain she must have caused him by splitting the skin of his hands with her nails. He's gentle but rough, passionate and steady all the same. Sansa never knew a man could kiss a woman's cunt, that he could tongue her, opening and penetrating her as if it was his manhood. Jon utters the filthiest nonsense against her skin, committing to her taste and the wetness that had gathered in her core.
His tongue is relentless, Sansa's sure his jaw will soon feel a painful strain, but he takes his time exploring, fucking her over and over until she cries, desperate for something she can’t describe. She begs him to stop, please, Jon, but he holds her still and then his mouth comes up to suck on her clit with such force that she screams to the gods, gods! Gods.
He thrusts a finger inside her, fast, hard, and with the second one, a hot liquid explodes through her, pulling her sex, making her scream from pain or pleasure—she's not even sure. There's a tightrope in her belly that comes undone, is like acid on her tongue, her nipples, her toes, burning her alive. She remembers how Jon had kissed her after he had peaked, with need and hunger, and she now understands it, because she feels the same when he comes up and she arches against his body, begging for his tongue inside her mouth and his skin flush against hers.
When her trembling has calmed down, he whispers into her ear with a hoarse tone that makes her groan, "That, my love, is what you should feel each time you're with me. That's an orgasm and I'm gonna give you thousands of them."
Yes, she screams inside her mind, feeling his cock against her core, not even pausing on the fact that Jon has never talked to her like that. Yes, she wants more, more, more. He starts rocking against her, Sansa blinks away the tears, praying that this will not get any better or else she will die, but it does, it’s so perfect that she floats away even when her legs are holding him close, tugging him harder every time he rams into her, but never quite where she wants him.
"Jon," she moans, "please, Jon."
Jon deliberately ignores her begging. "My sweet Sansa," he grunts, taking his mouth away from her tits, "remember this, only this."
She can't even fathom ever forgetting it. She's so grateful and at the same time so mad at him and the way he has replaced so many nightmares. He couldn't do this to her.
Her hands fall to his buttocks and she holds him there, pulling harder because the knot is tightening and she knows soon it will be the end of her.
"Gods, I can't--"
He straightens his back and holds her hips with a death-like grip, hips moving faster, almost in an animalistic way, creating a sound that seems so dirty and delicious at the same time that Sansa can't even hear anything else, it makes her voice raise, free and uncaring. She peaks once again, spurred by the touch of her own fingers over her clit when the tension became unbearable and the hard touch of Jon’s cock was not enough. He groans, his eyes focused on her while taking his manhood into his own hand to let his cum all over her flushed sex. It is vulgar and messy, but Sansa wouldn’t have it any other way. She had expected a tale worthy of a mighty princess from her first engagement and properness from her second marriage and nothing but torture came from them, never again was she going to succumb to any conventionality, she didn’t want to be a mighty princess or a proper lady when Jon touched her—she just wanted to be free.
They kiss with need when he rests over her, her thighs following the hard edges of his hips and her hands the softness of his hair. Jon relaxes only for a few seconds. He steps away to take his own undershirt to clean the traces of his pleasure, it's almost endearing, and then they both curl into each other, fitting perfectly like they were born to lay this way, so close to one another.
But Sansa runs from this too as soon as the weakness in her legs let her; the new proximity is too hard to handle when she feels this vulnerable. She claims it’s her duty to be at the feast and Jon believes her. They dress in silence; no words are necessary when there’s something lingering in the air that makes things easy even through the shyness and constricted desire. Jon traces the palm of her hand with his calloused fingers before leaving the room; she spends a few more minutes trying to compose herself. When Sansa comes to the Great Hall, it is him she finds first. They sit side by side, hands reaching under the table because this is easier for Sansa, giving in to the hidden version of her that comes out solely with him, the little girl who was promised a brave, gentle and strong man like Jon Snow, but never forgetting who she chose to be: Sansa, the Queen in the North.
She was not allowed to be both of them, love no one but your children—Sansa's love was only meant for her kin and her people.
She asks him to stay in his chambers; she needs the distance to control her own feelings. Jon’s lips fall into a frown, his eyebrows meeting with concern at the top of his forehead and she can see pain transform into anguish and then into dread. He’s scared he hurt her somehow. She doesn’t correct him because maybe they need to be more wary of each other.
His absence turns her fright loose, which is why it takes her some time to understand that the shouting and cries of terror are not a part of her nightmares. She doubts after sitting in her bed, silence being the only thing that greets her after waking up completely, she almost falls back to her pillow when reality appears as a horrifying screech: fire.
There’s no time to dress, it doesn’t even cross her mind, there’s only space for a cold fury and the quiver of her fingers while trying to find the pelt to cover her small clothes. She should’ve known sending a few letters was not enough, that's what kings do: they prepare for the worst, Littlefinger had taught her that much. Now, Daenerys Targaryen is here and her dragons are destroying her home without Sansa being able to prevent it. It must be the gods punishing her for having all these doubts, for bracing her pleasure by his side.
She runs out of the door and as soon as she crosses the hall to Jon’s chambers direction, his dressed form comes out of the door frame. She straightens herself, trying hard to not cry when she sees the same emotions dancing inside her chest reflecting in his face: wariness, worry, alarm. This is not simply a dream, she realizes.
“Sansa,” he takes her upper arms, shaking her slightly. She didn’t see him take the steps that had kept them away until then. “Listen to me, find Arya and Bran, take them to a safe place and let me work this through."
"No." she declares, but there's a fear in her voice she can’t suppress, she doesn't want to lose her home, to be a prisoner again; she made the decision the day she tried to run from Ramsay: she’d rather die, it didn't matter who she had to fight off. “There's nothing you can do, Jon. I am the--.”
“Trust me,” he sounds demanding, but his eyes are pleading her. She wishes she could.
“You can’t protect me.”
Jon takes her lips, a soaring kiss and she damns this life because suddenly she wants more time by his side, she deserved this after everything she had suffered. She begs to the gods, please, she will be brave, she will stay with him until her heart loses the battle, she was a strong woman, she was going to recover, but for that she needed more time.
"Let me try," he begs, his voice barely there. She looks at his eyes and sees guilt and pain.
“I am the Queen, Jon,” she rests her forehead against his, “but I will look for Arya and Bran first--, until they’re safe, that’s all I can give you. Don't do anything stupid.”
He kisses her forehead, thumb against her cheek. "I promise. Now go."
She wishes Ser Jaime were there, he’d help her, but now she’s alone, there's no Theon or Jon, only her to make this work. Sansa runs to Arya’s chambers even if they're on the far end and after pouncing on her door, she barges in without waiting for an answer. Her sister’s already covering her small clothes, the fire on her chimney barely illuminating the room.
“What’s going on?” she asks, fully awake, always on alert. She sometimes forgets Arya had been trained to be a killer by the Faceless Men; it was more than she could ever be.
“We’re under attack,” Arya looks over the closed window and she seems to finally recognize the rising commotion outside. “I need you to help me take Bran somewhere safe.”
Arya nods, reaching for needle and Sansa takes her sister’s bow and arrow, she’ll protect them both, she has sworn it to the old gods and the new ones. Sansa was not a killer, she was not a fighter, but Daenerys Targaryen was going to know what it meant to feel winter coming for her if she ever touched her kin.
When they enter Bran’s chambers, they find him waiting for them seated in his chair. Sansa is surprised for a fleeting moment, she’s a slow learner, but if someone was to know what would happen on this day, it was her brother. Understanding drowns in her and she soon steps in his direction, holding to the soft fabric of her small clothes as to avoid crossing his face with a slap. Her anger is thick, hot blood in her veins.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Bran dead eyes travel slowly from the fire to hers. “There’s nothing you can do.”
“We could’ve been prepared--.”
“Did you know about this?” Arya asks, stepping closer as she finally sees what Sansa's words mean. Bran only acknowledges her presence with a glance, but doesn’t answer. “Bran, did you bloody know about this?”
“Hundreds will die and--.”
“Yes, hundreds will die, Sansa, but not for the reason you think,” he looks back at the fire.
Properness be damned, Sansa grabs with both hands the armrest of his chair and drags him away from the chimney, making him face her and nothing else. “Seven hells, Bran, talk to me!"
Bran's face is as unreadable as ever, his tone flat as if he were talking about the weather, "it was a soldier in the armory, the fire has been growing slowly, it has taken part of the halls and soon it will reach us in the Great Keep. Fire runs free in the wood.”
Sansa frowns. "What?"
"It's not Daenerys, Sansa."
She opens her lips to deny his words, there’s a part of her that clings to the adrenaline bumping her body because she has to fight every battle, think of every possible series of events, she made the mistake of not doing it before, she doesn’t want to repeat it. Yet, her knees give in and she falls to the ground, the strength she felt before draining from her body, the storm calming in her chest. There’s a whisper in the back of her head that sounds like her mother telling her to stand up, she’s a queen, the lady of this castle, but everything is blurred in her mind, her sight blurry as the tears she had kept inside start to fall out. Arya speaks to her, urging her to get out of here before the fire comes, but everything is too far away until Bran’s hand comes to hers.
“But you haven’t fought the final battle, Sansa. Things will only worsen,” his voice penetrates her soul, “and it’s not the fire and blood that you should be afraid of.”
Arya’s fruitless attempts to make her stand are interrupted then. Jon talks to her, but she can’t hear his voice, only Bran’s echoes in the chaos, in a swift movement of his strong arms, he yanks her up by her waist and then she’s trusted into Brienne’s arms while he takes Bran to safety. The courtyard is filled with smoke, but she’s able to see as the fire consumes everything in its way. It feels like a premonition of what will come. She can’t believe there’s anything worse than this. In the end, the armory is left in ashes by the time the fire is extinguished.
“We need to find out soon how many armaments were lost, how many can be fixed and how fast we can replace those which can’t. We can’t be unarmed,” not when there's a queen who wants her throne to fight for another one.
Maester Wolkan nods, trailing behind her as she surveys the soldiers removing the ruins left, “Yes, My Queen, right away.”
“And we need to replace the wood damaged in the fire, clean those which can be kept. We can’t rebuild all this side of Winterfell, not when we're still recovering from two wars.”
“Yes, my queen, I’ll see to that too.”
Sansa stops when two men start to pull what seems to be the body of the soldier who made the fire. She has to press her gloved hand to her nose to prevent the smell of burned flesh reach her.
“Your grace, perhaps you should go inside--.”
“Yes,” she looks to the ground before walking away from the blackened body that’s dragged to the other side, there’s something inside her that makes it hard to tear away her gaze. “Yes, let’s go inside.”
Dwelling on a dead man was a luxury she couldn’t afford, not when she had to be prepared for an unknown threat. It had been just a terrible accident. But then it’s said man’s wife and a whore from town who fall ill with a fever, just like it was said about that poor man: how it had been the rising temperature what made him lose conscience and trip over the candlelight that set everything on fire. At dawn it’s a boy who plays with the cooker’s child too, his father and sisters, the neighbors and a few fighting men from Winterfell. It spreads like wildfire in less than two days, too fast to be unnoticed.
Sansa has to sit through the crying and pleadings of the closest relatives who take care of the sick, she hears every description of what the fever makes them say, how they can’t move from the muscle aches, the smell and color of their vomit and diarrhea. It’s hard to endure, but it makes her feel she’s able to help them somehow. Maester Wolkan treats them all with what he can after each meeting, different remedies for each disease, but soon the same people that came to see her end up just as sick and that’s only with a day added to the disaster. Soon, dead bodies start to pile up in the outskirts of Winter town.
“Panic is starting to spread, My Queen,” Lord Bran says as they sit in the council room. “And we’re losing too many men.”
The implications are clear: they won’t be able to keep the whole town under control; they don’t even have weapons to defend themselves. Sansa cradles her hands above her skirts, suppressing a sigh, she can’t show her tiredness. Weakness is not allowed of her at this moment of crisis.
“We’ll have to ask help from our lords. I’ll write to them myself.”
“My lady,” Sam steps from the shadows, “I could write to the Maesters in the Citadel, maybe they’ll know what to do.”
“Do you think it would help?” Arya asks, her arms crossed over her chest.
"I hope so,” he tilts his head, “but the answer will take three or four more days and by that time it's probably that we will have lost too many lives, your grace. At this rate, it could even travel to the whole North."
Sam looks apologetic for the news he gives, Arya can’t contain the defeated expression that crosses her features when she searches for her as if trying to make sure her sister is alright. “Yes, please, write to them, three letters at least and send the fastest ravens we have.”
She stands up with a solemnity premeditatedly prepared to not let anything betray her; they were the careful movements Cersei Lannister used to execute to hide her true feelings. It has been a long time since she felt this way: a shadow of the lion queen. It had been before Jon and the way he made her feel more like a better version of herself, a direwolf as big as the wall and as strong as a winter storm. This time, though, she’s not sure being herself will make her survive.
She exits the room and walks to the Godswood, she knows Bran will be there, he always is. She hasn’t seen him in three days, she misses him, but as soon as his form comes to view, she feels that same painful fury that struck her the night of the fire and that hadn't let her come to him before.
“Bran,” she calls, standing by his side. Her brother takes his time before looking at her. “Can you help them?”
Her chest rises, “why? You can’t because you are the Three Eyed Raven and you shouldn't interfere with fate?” her voice grows in irritation, rage. “You saw it; you can see how to stop it, can you not?”
“Even if I wanted to, I can’t see the future.”
“But you knew I was going to be queen!”
“I knew because it’s you, Sansa. You are good, strong, just like father and mother. No one was going to be a better queen.”
Tears fill her eyes. Gods, she’s so tired. Maybe that’s what makes her walk the distance that still separates them, what makes her rest on her knees in front of him, both hands over his legs.
"Please, tell me what to do," she begs, "tell me how to stop this."
"You can't put an end to it, Sansa."
"Bran, people are dying!"
Sansa opens her mouth to reply, but there's nothing she can say, nothing will bring back those who have already died. Shame warms her face even against the cold trace of her tears; she doesn’t want to be this frail.
She’s suffocating again, so she walks away from Bran and it feels all too familiar. She did the same before, at that moment she had doubted if it was worthy to save the North, make it rise again because there would be nothing left of her kin in the future, no Stark would reign in Winterfell, but now she's sure of this: she’s not a monster, she’s not Cersei Lannister or Petyr Baelish shadow, she can’t simply ignore the suffering of her people. Ned Stark taught her better than that.
Sansa doesn't even realize when she left behind the Godswood, but Jon's there, he recognizes something's wrong, how she's barely holding herself together, so he runs to her, just like Brienne had done at that time. There’s terror in his eyes as he cradled her face and she loves him for that, for caring and not thinking of it as a weakness. She rests against his body, holding him for dear life as she cries hard against his chest. They're in the middle of the courtyard, but most certainly nobody will care about them, not when you can hear the laments coming from town all the way here. However, she could be seen like this and it's not right, she's their Queen, she can't crumble even if her worst fear has come true: not being able to protect her people, her family, the North, a whole kingdom that trusts in her, her realm. It drives her mad.
"Sansa," he calls, "what is it? Tell me."
"Take me inside," she begs.
He does what she asks, hiding her against his chest. They stay like that when they reach her chambers, always in silence. Jon tries to measures her temperature without being obvious, but he is, he's too rough to hide anything.
“I’m not sick,” she whispers. She’s tired of lying to him, “I’m just tired of not being good enough, that’s all.”
“Sansa,” he takes her face between her hands again and makes her look up to him.
“What’s a queen worth if she can’t save her people?” she bites back, irritated, before he can say anything absurd.
“A queen that mourns for them is more than worthy. You’ve done everything you can.”
“It’s not enough.”
“Aye, but it’s plenty.”
She’s the one to close the distance between their lips. He’s air in her lungs and she can’t help but cling to him a bit more. “I need to write to the lords.”
“I’ll stay with you here.”
He's a man of his word and so he stays, mingling by the fire, brushing Ghost ears from time to time. It’s not long after when they hear a knock on her door, and by that moment Sansa has finished the last letter. She hopes it’s a maid so she can send them immediately, and not another soldier to let her know of the few who have perished while she was crying like an idiot. Instead, when Jon opens the door, it is Jaime’s tired frame that comes to view. He looks older than she remembers and when his eyes land on her, she thinks he sees the same. She gives him a tired but sincere smile, somehow, watching Jaime in a perfect state, aside from his fatigue, makes her feel useful.
"Ser Jaime," she murmurs. Her voice won't come out properly, no matter how hard she tries. "I am glad you're back safe and sound. I hope everything went well?"
"My Queen, Lord Jon," he says, doing a curtsey. "Yes, the Free Folk were left in the best conditions." He pauses before adding, "I've heard the news.”
She can’t bring herself to answer him, there’s nothing to say and if she tries, she might end up sobbing, she doesn’t want to go through that embarrassment again, it’s enough with the redness in her eyes that she's sure is showing. Jon shifts his weight from one leg to the other.
"Perhaps," Jaime adds when he comprehends she won’t say anything else. After pausing for a second more, he continues "I can be of help."
That’s the last thing they expect him to say, Jon appears suspicious, he has never trusted her sworn shield, but the possibility of this sickness killing half the North terrifies her, so she simply nods willing to do anything.
Jaime doesn't ask for more than a roll and ink, he writes to a Maester in King's Landing, which will take a day and a half and he's sure they’ll respond within just the same amount of time.
The reply comes sooner than that and the instructions are followed, despite the discomfort of many for listening to a chainless Maester under the control of Cersei Lannister. Truthfully, Sansa has her own doubts, but half the town is already sick and Maester Wolkan raves in his bed, she has no other option but to trusts what Jaime tells her, how this Qyburn is good at his doing. So she follows what the letter says; the people who are sick ought to be isolated, a brothel is taken for that. They receive water taken from the river, not from the storage they kept until then, mixed with salt or sugar; the dead bodies are taken to a common pit and there shall be no mourning for them, no matter how hard that seemed.
Those who defy her are silenced by Brienne as she unclasps her sword, though Sansa suspects it has to do more with Ghost’s presence –Jon had requested her to keep him close all day and it actually helped her go through these dark days–, the direwolf had grown to be a majestic beast, barely making it through any door. Few men dared to even throw a second glance at the Queen.
The gods take pity on them; they are able to control the disease within two weeks, almost twenty days after it all started. Too many people perish along the way.
“You need to rest,” Jon says at her back. Oh, how she longs for that.
Images of her people as White Walkers plagues her mind, keeping her awake at night, making sure Jon's breathing is even and his temperature just about right. The long nights spent in vigil, doubting each decision made, extends even when Sam tells her the sickness has stopped claiming lives, those who are kept at the brothel are recovering and there have been no new victims. She’s glad, she really is, but happiness seems too far away.
She watches the men sent by her lords leave the castle from the same spot she saw Jon ride away to the Dragon Queen. Winterfell submerges in a quiet slumber as soon as they disappear and it makes it seem as the end of a battle she has been fighting all these days, but it certainly isn’t a victory.
“I can’t, no matter how hard I try.”
He takes her right hand and pulls out the glove that keeps her warm, she looks at every movement and then to his eyes as he interlaces their fingers. She feels as if it has been a long time since the last they did something like this.
“Let’s go to bed, My Queen.” Jon keeps his gaze on her as he presses a kiss to the soft skin at the back of her hand.
They don’t let go of each other, there’s no one out here or in the halls, and even if there were, Sansa wouldn’t care, not when he is her home, a safe place to come to after every struggle. He kisses her thoroughly, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes and Sansa allows it. She lets him love her; he says so repeatedly, how much he wants to love her, and she cries for the pain of letting him inside her body, the fear, the sadness in her heart, but it’s happiness too, and pleasure, because she loves him too, so much that’s almost unbearable as she peaks over and over again, claiming his name, trembling under his touch.
She lies to herself once again, she believes the gods are good to her, they take, but they also give; because Bran surely isn’t right about him, maybe his words were based on the belief that Jon was a good man –he is– and so he could be a good king, just like he had thought of her. Maybe, she prays, Jon will stay with her until they grow old.
She's deep in sleep, an arm around Jon's naked torso, her body molded to his back, when a pounce on her door startles them both awake. He's fast as he reaches for his sword while Sansa shrinks, dragging the quilt around her nakedness. They keep quiet, letting the silence tell what menace was waiting for them outside the door. It’s Ser Jaime’s voice that breaks the cold air after a few seconds of dread.
"Lord Jon, you are needed at the front gates with urgency."
Their eyes meet, confused, but relieved nonetheless. The only light in the room comes from under the door, surely the candlelight her sworn shield is carrying; that's how Sansa sees Jon run a hand through his locks, pressing them back, making his face look as handsome as ever with the shadows deepening the hard edges of his face.
Four moon turns have slipped away, the summer finally painting green everywhere, the sowing had flourished with the settlement of the weather, as the commercial trade, led by the Wildlings at Sea Dragon Point with the help of the Greyjoys had picked up overseas, helping with the poor economy the wars had left behind. The North was growing slowly, but the greatness they once held could be seen on the horizon at last. Life seemed to finally improve and that's what makes her keep her back straight, fists holding to the quilt, trapped over the bed under the pressure of a growing fear, she was well aware that nothing ever lasts and this must be it for them: having Ser Jaime visit Jon's chambers when the sun wasn't even up, held nothing good.
Sansa had been stupid enough to fall into some kind of comfortable pace under Jon's protection, she still needed it. The nightmares after the sickness –now called by the Maesters in the Citadel as cholera– were still common in the nights Jon didn't share her bed. The disease had taken many lives in the South soon after it happened in Winter town, and even within the Dothraki army. The latter were held as guilty, claiming they had brought this plague from Essos. King's Landing was a crowded place, so the spread, despite Qyburn efforts, was faster than it had been anywhere else. People commented that even after two full moons, the smell of rotten bodies still persisted.
By the time she draws away from the stupor of her thoughts and worries, and starts dressing, Jon's almost finished; still, it takes her less time to be ready, the silk sliding swiftly over her soft skin, contrary to the leather and garments for his weapons he has to put over his body, so Sansa's the first one to reach for the door as there is no need to hide from her sworn shield, not anymore, she had recognized the way his eyes shine with a knowing light every time she comes down to take her morning meal and, after all, it was a secret she held proudly. Not under these circumstances was she about to act as an embarrassed maiden—she was a woman with carnal needs and no one could shame her for that.
When she steps out, Jaime holds her cloak of furs in his right arm and he extends it over her shoulders. His expression letting nothing out but the gravity of the situation they’re affronting.
"Thank you, Ser Jaime," she murmurs, looking to his eyes, trying to see if he's thinking anything about this.
He isn't, he's not the type of man who judges anyone for bracing their own happiness or so she had heard him say once. She didn't trust that information completely, she'll be a fool to trust a Lannister, but it wasn't a surprise when she found nothing but the strength of a knight who was driven by his honor and duty.
He nods, pressing his lips slightly. When she starts to walk, he prevents it by holding her arm. "You need to get Lord Jon, Your Grace."
Sansa frowns, almost flinching away from the touch of his hand, but she conceals any reaction and turns almost immediately. "What is it?"
"They say it's a dragon approaching. No army in sight, yet."
As if called by the gods, Jon opens the door with a harsh pull. His attention rapidly drifts to the hand that's holding her arm and a frown replaces the previous surprise for finding them still standing in front of his chambers. He looks ready to pounce on Jaime; he actually searches her own eyes to question her if he needs to kill him right then and there, but he must understand something's terribly wrong by the way concern pools in his expression after facing her.
"Sansa?" he calls, but she can't utter a word just yet.
Ser Jaime turns at that moment and starts to walk away in the direction they'll have to follow soon, trying to give them some privacy and she's thankful for that, she needs to have this last moment to find strength in him. Not because she's lacking it, but because this means there's a strong possibility that he will have to leave her, it's their best chance: him, going with Daenerys to calm her wrath.
"What happened?" he repeats, reaching timidly for her hand. She feels warmth spread inside her chest, because even after all this time being intimate with each other, Jon always waits for her to make the first move, to decide what she can accept and what she cannot. "Sansa, seven hells--"
"Let's go," she interrupts him. "You have to go."
There's an erratic movement in his pupils before his eyelids fall closed. He understands, there might be many things to fear out there, but only one could give her so much sorrow.
"I'm here," he says.
"I know," but this might be the last time, she thinks, as he leaves a kiss on her forehead before making his way outside.
The sky is gray, painted with clouds, the sun barely awakening in the East, but she can hear it loud and clear as soon as she sets foot outside the thick walls of Winterfell: the cry of a dragon in the distance. Jon's at the threshold, waiting for her to catch up to him, but as soon as the sound ripples through the sky, he walks past her, as if his Targaryen blood was calling him. She almost extends her hand in his direction trying to catch him, trying to prevent him from leaving her, but she can't do that, to herself or to him. They were never meant to be, she knew it since the beginning and she promised she would survive this moment with the same regalia her mother always carried. She sees him trot to the middle of the courtyard, his face tilted upwards and she can't help but keep her eyes on him, remembering each one of his features.
The guards and soldiers keep looking in the same direction, each one of them in their battle post under Brienne's and Lord Bran's commands, waiting to see what the skies were hiding. Their wishes become true, soon fire opens the clouds and two dragons appear in the distance. She had forgotten how frightening they could be.
"Something's wrong," Jon says when Drogon, if she remembers correctly, wavers in the air, struggling to keep up high. He's too low when he flies over them and they can see it: blood coming from his monumental form. "Bring my horse!"
Brienne's now by her side as she stands a few steps away from Jon, she looks for her approval to open the North gates and when Sansa nods to the silent question, her voice roars the command with a deafening strength. It helps her keep numb as she sees Jon jumping to the saddle and riding past from her to the direction the dragons have taken. He doesn't even cast a side glance at her, but she's foolish enough to look for Jaime's eyes, a pleading look taking upon the request she can't voice out –for pride, for duty, she doesn't care at the moment. He simply nods and calls for his own horse and a few soldiers and quickly he's gone from her sight too.
She stays behind –it's her duty as a Queen– but also her wish as a woman to keep herself from seeing the first encounter between them after all these months. She rather hides under the first option, of course, so she starts giving commands: prepare the ravens, bring her ink and paper, she has to call upon her bannermen, send a soldier of her house to ride to summon them all; she has to unite the North for anything that's about to come.
It feels like an eternity, but she barely has the time to start walking towards the Great Hall when the sentinel announces Ser Jaime and Lord Jon's approach. Her heart hammers in her chest when over Jon's horse is no one but Ser Jorah Mormont, bathed in blood. Air leaves her lungs, thinking the worst, but then she recognizes the person in his arms, she can see white hair painted with the same red color in his clothes. He gets down as soon as he reaches her, his movement only slightly delayed by the years on his flesh and bones and not for a lack of practice. Brienne's fast, unfolding her sword, ready to defend her, but she knows there's nothing to fear, so she moves forward as if by instinct and when his right knee gives under the pressure of both bodies, Sansa catches Daenerys Targaryen thin frame.
"Ser Jorah," she breathes, panic clawing at her throat. She's seen this much blood before but never felt how warm it could be, how fast it could drench her skirts.
"Please," he sounds as broken as he looks, "help her."
Her men have gathered by that time, most likely to kill Ser Jorah, so Sansa has only to throw at them a steely stare and her command is quickly comprehend. "Take her to the Maester's tower," she says. They comply without any word back.
Sansa helps Ser Jorah get up, Brienne takes most of his weight, but both of them walk under each of his arms, following the two men who now carry Daenerys to the tower. She's the one who pushes the books over a table when they enter the lugubrious keep, signaling for the soldiers to leave her there as she climbs the stairs to Sam's chambers. Maester Wolkan perished by the fever of cholera, and they haven't asked for another Maester from the Citadel, but she trusts Sam more than anyone else. She bangs on the door, not caring about properness, not even thinking about little Sam who, thankfully, doesn't wake up despite the commotion. She hits the door a second time, almost catching Sam's chest as he comes out hurriedly, trying to tie his nightgown.
"Quickly," she says. He looks over her shoulder when she turns to make their way to Daenerys. Surprise is written all over his face, but there's no time for that so when Sansa gets next to the table with him still petrified at the second floor, she roars his name. "Samwell Tarly!"
Some kind of conviction shines in his round face after hearing her. He comes down the stairs as fast as he can, short and clumsy steps, but as soon as he gets to them, he starts giving instruction. Sansa doesn't doubt for a moment to push away her furs and to lift her sleeves to help him tend the wounds. There are a few cuts on her arms and cheeks, but the biggest one is by her stomach. Sam instructs her to press the wound and as she does it, she feels a cold hand holding to her wrist. Daenerys is awake, her eyes filled with tears. Sansa almost wants to back away, but she can't.
The day the Mother of Dragons reached Winterfell for the first time, Sansa hated her. She was jealous of her beauty, of what she had obtained from Jon, the inhibited sensuality she exuded and the strength in each movement she made, but never, not even once, it occurred to her that it was best for Daenerys to be dead. She was not a killer, even if she had avenged all the pain Ramsay made her go through, even if she admired Cersei's overcoming of her enemies, even if she gave the sentence to kill Littlefinger or a few other men who deserved it. Sansa didn't do it because she had the power to get away with each kill: it's what honor demands, that she defends her family from those who'd harm them, that she defends the North from those who'd betray them. And did Daenerys’ death mean? It’s not peace, Cersei will come after her if she wins, but Daenerys had wanted to do the same. Sansa acts on instinct, she could let her die, they can fight Cersei's army, but that is just a selfish wish, more of Cersei's voice whispering in her ear.
"Missan--," she tries to say, but Sam quickly tries to hush her. Then she coughs some blood and Sansa has to fight to keep her hands in her stomach.
She searches for Sam's eyes and he's already waiting for her; there's panic, but also a painful truth: there's nothing to do. Ser Jorah moves forward when he stops moving.
"What's happening? Why aren’t you doing anything?"
"She has lost too much blood."
"Ser Jorah," Sansa raises her voice, lifting her hands from the wound to take Daenerys hand. She licks her lips. "Do you need us to leave you alone with her?"
His lips form a thin line; he's shaken, she can tell, but he nods anyway and soon he takes Sansa's place by Daenerys side. As she leaves the room, she sees the way the queen smiles to the old man and she thinks it's a terrible day.
Bran is the one who says the words she feared the most. "You are King now, Jon, you have to ride and defeat Cersei."
They sit in the Great Hall, Arya's by her side and Jon across from her, his face wears a tired expression. Jorah is present too, even when she insisted he go and rest, but there's no time for that, he answered, there's a war he has to fight in the honor of his queen.
"They ambushed us, Dragonstone is a fortress, it was going to hold, we were confident, but they were after the dragons, they took advantage of her fear of losing them after Viserion. They hit Drogon, they hit her with a spear," he looks at his fists, still trembling. "The Unsullied and Dothraki will avenge their queen, they will go with you. We have to strike now, she's not waiting for it."
"I can assure you, Ser Jorah, Cersei is waiting for this. She knows who Jon is and coming all the way here with dragons was not exactly subtle. She will be ready, don’t underestimate her," Jaime says. She can tell there's a strained pain in the back of his throat.
"She did an ambush because she knew it was impossible to defeat us, not when we still have a dragon and the Dothraki. An upfront attack would’ve been a lost battle."
"Aye, but Drogon is dead and who will command Rhaegal?"
"You," Lord Mormont looks at Jon.
"You are a Targaryen," Bran interrupts. "You can."
"She would've wanted you on the throne," Jorah says.
"You have to, Jon," Arya stands. "Cersei cannot be queen. All of us know that."
Jon searches for something in her, but she can’t give it to him, she doesn't even know what he wants, he’s too far away at this point even if he's standing by her side, so she simply she nods once, everything he decides will be alright. Jon will be king, said Bran and he was always right.
They decide to ride Rhaegal hidden in the night; it's just a few hours away for him to go away, so she waits in front of the fire, the cold breeze that comes from the open window fighting off the warmth. Sansa extends a hand, thin fingers playing with the flames that have started to die and she reflects on how fitting the moment is: Targaryen and Stark, fire and snow. One of them had to lose and it always had been her.
"Sansa," she jumps, startled by his voice, not having heard him enter the room.
He closes the door as she had done the same night she presented herself to him, as naked as her name-day. This time, they don't fit into each other's arms in a warm hug, the world is too heavy and it's pulling them apart. She turns away, not able yet to face him, so Jon walks to her table, touching the letters she tried to prepare while waiting for him to provide her lords with the news of the Dragon Queen's death and the marching of her cousin to win the Iron Throne, the ones she couldn't finish because everything was too much.
He doesn't speak, there's nothing they can say, not really. She damns the gods, she should've kept on fighting off these feelings, bury them away, to lie again: she didn't love him, she didn't give him everything, she had some pride left in her so she should stand there, not cry, send him away to his duties while she took care of hers. But what if he dies? She'd have more in common with Jorah Mormont than ever before. Her nails dig in her palms; he had replaced so many memories with his crinkled eyes, his dark hair, the softness of his lips and the rough touch of his hands.
Seven hells, she thinks, turning to him with furious tears in her eyes; seven hells, she can't lie anymore, not to him, not to her, so she walks in his direction and he finds her in the middle, arms surrounding her with a bruising force.
"Jon," she whispers, there's frustration in her voice, hate for this damn world and their fates.
He kisses her mouth, a hand on her cheek and the other around her thin waist, Sansa's arms come to his neck, pressing him to her, if there was something to bury it must be him inside her chest, her belly, her thighs—she wants to keep him close until their skins become one, melting like steel in the fire.
She was going to miss this so much, the feeling of his stubble tickling her chin and her lips, his tongue, savoring her, exploring every inch of her mouth and so many parts of her that she would dare to share with no one else, the nape of his neck against her hand and his ears under her fingertips, his broad shoulders and firm chest.
"Sansa," he groans when he feels her bite his lip. She doesn't want to hear it, not yet.
He tries to speak again, but she's eager against his mouth and he stumbles backward, falling to the chair. Sansa takes her skirts out of the way and straddles his hips; he holds her still with his right hand, helping her to keep her balance. A grunt escapes his lips when she arches against him, trying to drag him to this madness that burns in the back of her throat and comes out as endless tears.
"Seven hells, Sansa," he murmurs brokenly against her lips as his hands take hers, stopping her from tearing apart his breeches.
"I need you," she sobs, angry, almost fighting him in the process. She wants to blame him.
"Come with me."
"Don't say it."
"Marry me, Sansa. I love you."
For how long she wanted to hear him say those three words, how she dreamed of him choosing her and not Daenerys. Now, when it was not one of her lies, it didn’t feel right; they were not meant to have a happy ending like in her songs. If she rode with him to King’s Landing, she’d be betraying the memory of her mother, her father, Robb, the whole North that she cared so much about—but if Jon stayed, if he chose her, she’d be taking the king Westeros needed. Tyrion had said he chose Daenerys because he believed in her and the possibility of making a better world with a fair ruler, but now she was dead, there was no one left but him and no man was nobler than Jon Snow, no one was going to make these lands rise like him with Tyrion’s help.
"Jon," she begs. He rests his face against her chest, hiding from the world and she lets him, she holds him close, so close to her heart like a mother to his child. She kisses the top of his head like maybe Lyanna would've done if she was alive and they stay like that for a while, it feels like forever and she thinks this could be enough, but then he says it again and her whole world falls to the ground.
"Please, love, come with me, marry me."
Her hands stretch over his cheeks, lifting his face and holding him there as she gets lost in his eyes. She kisses him once, twice, three times and then she gasps her answer. "We can't."
He kisses her again, this time there's desperation in the way he holds her. She realizes he lost too, they both did—there are no winners when you play this game.
Sansa tries to grip the leather of his cloak when he lifts her from her waist, he stands, so close to her that she thinks he's going to kiss her again, but he moves away and from the corner of her eyes she sees the pained expression on his face. She never thought her heart could break twice, but it happens there as he leaves the room.
She watches him disappear into the forest, riding his horse to the hill where Rhaegal was still resting by Drogon's side. Sansa stands awfully still, gripping her gloved hands in front of her body, letting the cold air calm the pain in her chest, freeze the tears in her eyes.
“You don’t have to keep us safe, you know? Bran and I… we’re fine. The North won’t fall because you choose to be happy, Sansa,” Arya says, looking to his fading form too.
She knew from the beginning, even if her family's future is lost, she still wants to fight for the North, she owes it to her father’s memory and she will give her life for this, but at least tonight she'll mourn for her lost love and in the morning she'll be strong enough to accept that in her solitude, her heart will always be kept for something else that's not duty. Not her realm, nor Arya nor Bran, but his.
FIRST OF ALL: a big, big, big thanks to Iqqs. i'm not lying when i say she made this fanfic better, she always made me see plot holes that i just couldn't. also, i want to say i'm sorry for such a long chapter with so many things, so rushed, but i think that, since it's the last one, you'll forgive me? thank you for all your comments and for reading this... whatever this is.