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Not A Breath Too Soon

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When he calls her name, she is already striding through the smoke-blackened corridor towards the Great Keep.

It doesn’t take much to stop. She is the Lady of Winterfell and careful and courteous still.

The lions have long ceased their roaring, with throats slit and skins now dried. The cold winter that fell at the Trident has retreated to the farthest north: sliding back, far away from the hot breath of dragon fire that warms the southern airs.

In the north, now is the time for wolves.

Jon has been circling her, over and over the course of the past few days. Sansa pretended not to notice, but she kept an eye on him all the same. You may be a friend of wolves - you may be a wolf yourself - and still know to watch out for a bite from the restless beast in the pack.

He came home with honours. He came home in good health, but for the fresh scars that she shouldn’t have seen. She’d followed him into his chambers the first night after his return, intent on pursuing an argument about the taxes which they now owe the south. It had been the only way he’d found to put an end to their argument.

Angrily pulling off his jerkin and then his shirt, turning to her with furrowed brows. Will you help me out of my boots, or would you rather leave?

She retreated so fast her dress got caught on the leg of a nearby chair. Momentarily he’d smiled, as if he relished this retreat, unless it was her distress and the blush upon her cheeks.

A chink in the armour.

And since then he’s been circling her, as if he was waiting for her to trip and fall.

In a way, Sansa understands him. He threw away a crown to return to them, to return home - only to realise that Winterfell no longer quite fits him. Whatever welcome he expected, whatever spurred him on as he rode through a ruined kingdom, it wasn’t what he got when he walked through the gates.

If any family member had been as cold towards her as she’s been towards him, she’d be trying to fight back as well.

This cousin of hers is imposing. The brooding he once was teased for has darkened into something more twisted; his presence is a cloud of discontent as his troubled eyes flick and swim over bodies, always watching but never seeing.

Unless they’re on her. Then those eyes see too much.

She had been trying to keep some semblance of order when she’d insisted a decrowned Targaryen prince sit by her side to hear the complaints and requests of her people. She had carefully, quietly, asked his perspective on matters that could still be safely guided by her hand, regardless of a dragon’s opinion. And yet he had not been grateful, had sat there half-slumped in his great wooden seat, playing with the embroidered edge of her sleeve, eyes stroking the side of her neck. Why do you insist me take part in this mummer’s farce?

She stopped asking him to sit in on the petitions.

It hasn’t been too hard. She’d heard them by herself while he was gone fighting north and later, when he was wrestling the dragon upon her sheets of southern silk.

So she goes about her duties while he fights in the training yard and broods in her solar and spends hours in the wolfswood.

And she uses her duties to avoid any time alone with him.

Perhaps he simply chanced upon her in this dark, empty corridor.

Perhaps this is an ambush.

“I have seen it.”

He catches up with her in three long strides.

“You have seen… What?” she asks, ever polite, head cocked in puzzlement.

“Your message to Daenerys.”

He is seething, and isn’t this what she wanted? Why else would she have worded her letter so?

“Will you deny writing it?” he asks.

“I did write to the queen this morning,” Sansa replies, with a gentle shrug of her fur-clad shoulders. “There were matters to be settled, regarding the fur trade and the cost of…”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it,” Jon snaps. For a moment she thinks he’ll seize her by the arm - oh, he’s never violent, but they have resorted to such gestures, of late, when it seems like words won’t be enough. His hand snatching hers before she can step too far, or her palm flat upon his breast, holding him back from whatever dangerous words he’d been about to utter, to her or to anyone else. This new, war-weary Jon is a diplomatic incident in the making.

“What are you talking about, then?” she asks with feigned patience, eyes wandering towards the gap between their bodies; this empty, glaring space that he will not breach.

You may have him back. As if I were some… ornament, that you no longer needed.”

“Yes, it does seem like something Daenerys and I might do,” Sansa muses. “Trade ornaments. I would have thought there were more urgent things to trade. Such as furs for livestock and…”

“Sansa.”

“I added it as an afterthought,” she says. “You can’t begrudge me this one mark of spite, when I have been so patient with you.”

“You call it patience. I would call it…”

“What?” Her eyes narrow. “What would you call it?”

He takes a step towards her. “Coddling,” he snaps. “Cosseting me like a child. You arrange my day for me, make appointments with the staff and expect me to attend them? It is not your place to do that, my lady.”

Her indignance burns her throat, acidic as it rises. “How dare you,” she hisses. “I have done nothing but try to make you welcome here... make you-”

“Make me what?” he interrupts, one eyebrow cocked in challenge.

Useful,” Sansa hisses.

She goes to turn away. She will not sink to his level.

It’s an iron grip that halts her, his hand unforgiving on her upper arm and she doesn’t think, just raises her own to slap-

“Don’t,” he grunts, elbowing her arm away and her pride bruises at how little effort it takes.

The distant thud of a heavy door makes them freeze, both their heads turning towards the dark end of the hallway. Her breath catches in her chest. Gods, how stupid to act like malcontent children in public… her lady mother would be ashamed.

If Sansa thought that the risk of being caught would have her released, she was mistaken.

He pulls her two paces towards the old parchment store.

“What are you-” she starts.

His laugh is like a bark. “Our conversation is not finished.” He pushes her inside and crowds her against the far wall. Which isn’t far at all really. There’s barely enough room for the two of them.

It doesn’t stop her from pushing against him and the grip he still has on her.

“No need to act the wildcat,” he mocks, warm breath making her shiver.

Gods, he’s infuriating.

She stills. Raises her chin. “You live up to your name, Jon,” she says lightly, although she’s sure her anger burns in her eyes. “A Targaryen taking a northern woman captive…”

She should have grown accustomed by now to his distrustful stare and to the angry curve of his mouth. It makes her want to reach out and cover his eyes with her hand. Reach out and cover his mouth with…

“Am I no longer a Stark, then?” Jon whispers. He lets go of her arm, one hand coming up to seize her by the chin, forcing her to meet his eye. “That you’d wish to get rid of me.”

“Close the door,” she snaps. “What reason is there for us to hide in here, if anyone might walk past and see us?”

What she thinks, but does not say, is that the closed door will plunge them into darkness, and thus deliver her from his haunted gaze.

“Will you answer me if I do?” he asks.

“What manner of bargain is that? It was you who dragged me here.”

And yet he does push the door closed, letting the lock fall into place, and she does answer him, drawing comfort from the darkness that has settled around her like a warm, heavy rug.

“Of course you’re still a Stark. I’d rather you weren’t. You betrayed me. But I’d as soon cut you open to draw every Stark drop of blood out than disavow you.”

“How did I betray you?”

He keeps whispering, as if this sudden gentleness of manners might help his cause.

Sansa sustains a haughty silence, standing tall against the shelves. She doesn’t answer when he repeats his question against her cheek, or when his lips move to her neck, or when his fingers curl over her hips to loosen the ties of her woollen dress.

“If I kneel before you,” Jon murmurs, “and swear to die for you, whether by serving you or by your very hand, will it loosen your tongue?”

The heat of his mouth makes her skin riot in gooseflesh, and it can’t be just his lips on her, but the build up to this point (all those spite-laced words and burning glares) that sends a shudder down her spine.

Sansa swallows. She wonders whether he can feel it.

“You only court trouble when you kneel,” she breathes. “I’d advise against it.”

“Gods, you’re stubborn,” he mutters, and she hisses at the nip of teeth he gives her. “Tell me… tell me how I deceived you, how I was disloyal. Surely you’ll enjoy laying out all my failings in front of me?”

Her dress is now loose enough to reveal her shift, and he noses it out of the way to lay a hot kiss against the top of her breast while he gathers her skirts in his hands.

There’s no light to see, but the top of his hair tickles her chin, making her press her thighs together as she tries to banish the thought of those curls between her legs.

“There are whispers that say she pledged herself to our fight without demanding fealty… and you fell to your knees anyway.” In her head, the words had retained some bite, but out loud, in the cool air of the store, they’re breathless.

His hands pause on her thighs and he raises his head. In the pitch black she blushes… there’s a weight to his stare, she can feel it.

“And who does this whispering?” he goads.

“That-” she gives him a glare that he cannot possibly see and begins to tie her laces. “That is all you have to say? Who has my ear? Get out of my way.”

He’s unbending, and has the audacity to inch closer. “Not until we are done.” And with that, he moves one hand to cover her, thumb stroking firmly over her smallclothes.

“Is this… Is this the only way you know?”

She would go on, but another press of his fingers has her closing her mouth on a surprised hiccup. In the dark her hand wanders into his hair and she leaves it there, willing to pretend for a moment at least that it is trapped, the soft curls twisting like rope around her fingers - like iron bands around her wrists.

“Is there a way my lady would prefer?” Jon asks.

Without his face to read, it is difficult to tell whether his tone is one of humour, or of self-deprecation.

“I meant to say,” Sansa stammers, making a valiant attempt at gathering her scattered wits, “ is this the only way you know how to kneel. Is this how you knelt for…”

“That hardly matters now.”

“Moons spent in her bed and you say it does not matter…” she tries to taunt, but the effect is ruined as his hand slips into her smallclothes and her words end on a gasp as she bends against him.

“It does not,” he grunts, as she pulls on the curls at his neck. “You think I would have stayed in that cesspit for as long as I did if I’d known you were this hot for me… this wet?” He punctuates his words with a firm push of his fingers into her.

He fills her up. And he’s unforgiving as he crooks those fingers, beckoning her to him. Her mouth drops open at the feeling, and there’s no thought behind her hand that flies up to fist his doublet.

Did he do this with her? A voice whispers… Did he push her up against a wall? Or did he love her amongst fine oils and expensive fabrics...

Jon’s hand moves steadily, as if he has all the time in the world, and he adds a thumb to circle her. Her gasp pushes her off the wall, curling into him, shock coursing through her. What...

Her reaction softens something in him. She feels him sigh against her neck and his hand gentles, still coaxing her to some brink. She could swear she hears him mutter, “Like that… it should only be like that…”

Sansa feels his breath on her cheek, feels his lips move towards her mouth…

No… he won’t get that part of her…

She turns her head away before he takes her lips.

Jon stills in surprise.

Then he resumes stroking her, head bowed against her shoulder, his hand moving with single-minded determination.

And he would have succeeded - she would have fallen into whatever trap, whatever chasm his dexterous hands had readied for her.

But she makes the mistake of touching his face. Eyes shut tight, jaw clenched so hard that it is a wonder it hasn’t broken yet.

“Jon,” she whispers. “When you said you were leaving me…”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

His hand withdraws and the reality of the scene imposes itself upon her. The musty smell of hundreds of scrolls kept in a small room of a damp castle. Her skirts pushed high up on her waist, her laces hanging loose, the North a door away, expecting to be ruled by a steady hand.

And her hands are shaking.

“Must you interrupt me at every turn?” she whispers. “I was about to say, when you said you were leaving the north to me. When you gave me proof that you trusted me… And I looked at you and I knew… And I let you go.”

He’s barely touching her, just his chest grazing her own with each harried breath.

“You didn’t let me go,” he says finally, voice gruff. “I fled.”

“What?” she breathes, heart pounding in her ears.

“You heard me.”

He brings a hand up to her jaw, thumbing her bottom lip open. If she were less craven, she’d lean into his hand, kissing the thumb that smells of her.

Instead she stands frozen, like the ice of the north has grown through the cracks of these walls and seeped into her bones.

“No matter,” he mumbles, thumb brushing against her mouth. “Now I’ll know you.” And with that he’s prising open her jaw so that he can lick deep inside, hot tongue sliding against hers as he swallows her moan.

Her hands fly up to his hair, pulling him to her, using him to reach up to his mouth, as every hair on her body rises up under his attention. She’s drowning in him, in his smell of leather and cold, as his teeth drag against her lips so that he can get at her further.

Suddenly, his hands are between them, fabric rustling, and when she thinks he’s yanking her smallclothes down to palm her once more, she’s met instead with a thick burn as he pushes inside her.

Oh,” she says.

He stills when he reaches the bottom of her, one hand stroking her hair back from her face as he gives her time to adjust to the aching pinch... and it’s cold walls at her back, warm breath to her front and a hot stretch deep in her belly that has her fidgeting because she just wants him to move

“Yes?” he murmurs.

Sansa nods, incapable of much else, until he pulls away only to push back, jolting her up against the wall. The gasp she makes is so audible she thinks it would alert any unsuspecting scullery maid walking the hallway.

He shakes under her hands, and she wonders whether he’s holding back for her, a last grab at courtesy. The thought makes her melt against him even as his cock thrusts into her, stealing the breath from her lungs.

Slipping one arm behind her back, he holds her waist as the other pulls her thigh up onto his hip. If she thought she’d felt crowded before… now she feels iron held, hot strength all around her and this angle… oh, it lets him hit somewhere delicious inside her, lets her rub up against him when he pushes forward.

“I’m staying here,” Jon grunts into her ear, hot breath fanning across her neck. “With you. I won’t be sent away... even if it is you that gives the order.”

She cries out as he gives a sharp thrust, pushing her into his arm and up the wall and she wonders whether it’s gabble that falls from her lips, because she can’t stem the words that come.

Yes, please, stay with me, please Jon

She feels him smile against her cheek, and she does not need to see his face to know that this smile is far from being happy - that it is vindictive, at best. He must have been planning this offensive for days, waiting for a crack in the facade.

And so to the victor, the spoils.

“Don’t you dare,” he says, as he stills inside her, cock buried deep, “don’t you ever dare think you’re unwanted… Don’t you dare make me…” And with this he pushes her up the wall again, the breath leaving his lungs in a choked-off groan, “...feel unwanted.”

“What shall I write, then?” Sansa asks in a tenuous whisper. “I must… I must ask that you… cease asking after him? With all due respect, he belongs to me now, and if I have to… bind him to me… to make sure he no longer wanders too far south from my bed... I will. I’ll tie a ribbon or rope around your wrist, and I’ll give the length a tug when you…”

“When I leave your chambers?” He’s out of breath, hot pants burst against her neck. “No fear… I’ll not be leaving your bed now I’ve had you… you’ll not be leaving it either.”

And isn’t that the most inviting threat- to be loved so brutally into the thick of her bedfurs.

“You best call off your petitioners, my lady,” he continues, the tone of his voice even as he fucks her harder. “Your time will be otherwise occupied for the rest of the day.”

Sansa holds on tight to his shoulders, hips rising to meet him with every thrust, and already she wonders to whom she might entrust the affairs of the castle, the pleas of the entitled highborn and those of the afflicted smallfolk. Under other circumstances the answer might have been Jon, for despite his reluctance, he has done his part well, whenever need required it of him.

“Jon, you know we can’t… Duty commands that we…”

“Damn duty,” Jon swears, though she can tell that she’s struck a nerve, and already he’s mumbling against her hair, “I know, don’t you think I know it?”

She tries to scramble some words together, but her head feels thick and her ears are ringing. It seems that all she’s capable of doing is gripping his jerkin and holding on, and the rhythm of them suddenly goes off kilter… heat blooms in her lower belly when Jon stills after a firm thrust, keeping their bodies together and when he presses his hand between them… oh- she cries out as her world falls in on her…

She suddenly feels so hot in her dress and she falls limp against the wall. Through the thick haze and the boneless aftermath, she feels that half smile again her neck again. Yet he barely gives her a moment’s pause for her breathing to lighten before he’s fisting her hair as his hips snap quickly… and it doesn’t take too long as he begins to falter.

He bites down on her shoulder as he jerks against her, pushing further into her, like he could smooth her into the walls, into Winterfell.

He shouldn’t have… not inside… her thoughts dance within her head.

Jon withdraws slowly, taking a step back though his hand remains on her hip to hold her up. His other hand brushes against her, knuckles briefly stroking her stomach, and she couldn’t say if the gesture is conscious or not; if he means for it to mean something.

She finds it difficult to form a coherent thought.

“Do you,” she manages, at last, striving to speak above the sound of his broken pants against her ear. “Do you feel wanted, now?”

His only answer is a shuddering breath, perhaps a laugh. She chooses to think that it is.

“Up,” she whispers, carding her hands through his hair. Pulling and tugging until they’re face to face and she can press a timid kiss to his burning lips.

The urge to chide him is too strong.

“Did you mean to do that?” His breath falls upon her face and her eyes flutter as a shudder goes through her. “Contrary to popular belief, moon tea is quite difficult to come by.”

“No,” he says, voice gruff, as he squeezes her waist. “You won’t be needing it.”

A gentle scoff escapes her. “So self-deprecating, Jon.”

He doesn’t smile back. “You won’t be needing it because you’ll marry me now.”

“Now?”

“Tomorrow, then,” he huffs in frustration. “In the Sept, the godswood, I do not care. But you’ll marry me, I know that much.”

“And that will solve our problems?”

He smiles as he presses against her belly. “It will solve this problem.” He drops a kiss to her jaw. “This will solve the rest.”

She halts the downwards progress of his hand.

“You are a fool if you think so,” she whispers, and nuzzles his cheek. “You’ll have to talk to me, too.”

“And what is it that you wish me to say?” He brings her hand to his lips. “That your touch soothes me? That I breathe more easily in your presence. That it is you who reminds me to breathe at all?”

She remembers his sullen sprawl at her side in the hall, his hand idly playing with the embroidery on her sleeve. How she had wanted almost to hurt him, then. To wrench a smile from his lips, or at least a startled cry.

She would make him happy. But it is a victory that he is alive.

There remains something to be salvaged, after all, from the ruins of her brother and king.