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Howl When We're Apart (This One's For the The Girls Remix)

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When the girl returns to Westeros, she arrives on a Braavosi ship that sails into White Harbor late in the day, when the setting sun has washed the city in reds and golds, and there's a crisp edge to the wind that makes her whisper the word home.

She's silent and unnoticed upon disembarking, and even if anyone did notice her, they would never be able to tell what this moment is to her.

But when the girl steps onto land for the first time in weeks, she is herself again, truly herself, not just a dream of a girl she used to be. She knows who she is and where she must go, because she is in the North, and the North is in her bones, and there are winds and wolves howling, calling her home.

She stays in White Harbor just long enough to lift several purses, acquire a horse and some supplies, overhear a surprising conversation, and kill a man.

The man she kills is not a man she knows, not a man who was on her list. But she's gotten into the habit of listening to conversations around her, as she slinks by unnoticed. And in the marketplace, she overhears him speaking to his companions, and learns his last name is Frey. It doesn't matter to her what his first name is.

She spends the rest of her time in White Harbor — and it doesn't take very long, only a few hours at most — following the man and his companions, learning just what she needs to know about Frey, to know the best way to do her job.

She kills him that night, as he stumbles out of a brothel, and leaves his body by the fountain in Fishfoot Yard. She doesn't care about being caught. She's never been caught yet; she never will be. By morning she'll be long gone, in any case.

She rides away from the city walls on a white horse whose name, she was told by his old master, is Snow. Really, that's the reason she took the horse – there were other horses, the seller told her, younger, swifter, stronger, but a horse named Snow is a horse for a girl from the North.

The girl thinks of her list — not the only reason she returned to Westeros, but really the most important one, if she's being honest with herself. But then her thoughts turn to the conversation she overheard between Frey and his companions, and she realizes her plans have changed. The list will wait — it has before. She's not going South. She's going North to see if what she heard is true.

Because what she overheard was that there's a Stark in Winterfell again, just as there should be. Lady Sansa Stark, betrothed to Gendry, son of King Robert Baratheon, and soon to be crowned Queen of the North.

The girl guides Snow towards the Kingsroad, to take her to Winterfell, and her lips curve into a grin. It's not a happy smile, but a wolfish one — she's seeking her pack, and they are waiting for her.

~~

The direwolf returns to Winterfell first. Sansa's in the Small Hall with her Steward, looking over the plans for rebuilding the Library Tower — much work has been done already, but it seems that there will always be more to do — when Gendry enters to tell her the news.

She's surprised to see him at first. Gendry hasn't spoken more than two words to her in as many weeks. He's sullen and angry — she heard he's blackened a boy's eye for speaking out of turn — and avoids her at every turn. She thinks he's regretting this plan of King Stannis' to marry them off, and ensure that there's both a Stark and a Baratheon in Winterfell. Sansa can't regret it — she is a Stark, and Winterfell is hers by right, and if she has to marry Gendry to have it, then she will do just that.

The news he brings is even more surprising. There's been a direwolf spotted prowling through the Wolfswood. Not just once, several times now, getting closer and closer to Winterfell with each sighting.

For a moment, a quick foolish moment, Sansa's heart leaps and she thinks of Lady. But no, just because she's returned to Winterfell doesn't mean her direwolf, gone so long now, would return as well. She knows that kind of happy ending is nothing but a childish dream. Still, she's curious about whether it's a true direwolf, or just a wolf, and decides she'll ride out with a few men, to see what they can find.

Gendry protests this, as does her Steward, both following her and chattering away as she makes her way to the stables and has her horse made ready. "It's too dangerous, my lady, you need to stay here and stay safe."

She almost laughs at them, but manages, with the grace bred into her, not to. Safe. She'd not been safe for so long, but she is now. She's home, she's a Stark again, and she's Lady of Winterfell. She's safer than she's been in years.

Still, she agrees to let the guards King Stannis has stationed at the castle accompany her. She doesn't intend to hunt the creature — she just wants to see it with her own eyes. Maybe the gossip she overhears is correct: the wolves are returning to Winterfell. Maybe Sansa's only the first Stark to come home. And then she scolds herself for being foolish again. Jon's at the Wall, and her other brothers dead, and Arya has been lost for so long. No one else is coming home.

She glances over her shoulder as she rides out the gate, with the guards flanking her, and she catches Gendry watching her go, eyes dark and face unreadable. She wonders for a moment if he hopes she doesn't return, so he'll never have to wed her.

She knows that she's not the Stark girl he dreams of — he told her of knowing Arya on the first day they met — and she thinks if he had his choice, if he had his chance, if Arya were to turn up alive and well, that she would be the Stark he takes to wed. But Gendry doesn't have a choice, nor does Sansa.

She doesn't think about a husband of her choice, gods no. She doesn't think about the first Baratheon she was betrothed to, and how that went. She was a silly young girl then, and now — now she's not. Sansa's learned her lesson about dreaming of love, and chivalry, and songs that promised a knight for every beautiful princess. She was in King's Landing for far too long to think she'll get the happy ending in any of those songs.

She doesn't think about Tyrion Lannister either — she's been assured her husband is dead, and after all, the marriage was never consummated. King Stannis promised he would dissolve it, when he met with her and Gendry to explain this plan. Gendry was reluctant, and Sansa was suspicious, and it was only Jon Snow's presence by the King's side, and his words to her in private, that convinced Sansa to trust Stannis' offer.

If Sansa could have her way, Jon would be in Winterfell as well — she misses her family still, and here in Winterfell, the pain is of their loss is almost as raw as it was in the beginning. And Jon may be a Snow, but she was a Stone, and those names don't matter to her now — they are both Starks, and they both belong to Winterfell, and he is all the family she has left.

But Jon has his place at the Wall, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and Sansa hasn't yet thought of a way to sway him from his post.

She should be happy with what she has, with Winterfell, and with Gendry, soon to be her husband. He's a handsome young man, not that it matters so much to her anymore, but he looks like she remembers Renly, and he's a true Baratheon, by blood if not by name. He's not the one her father planned for her to marry, but she can't help thinking that Eddard Stark would approve of this plan, his daughter finally married to King Robert's son.

~~

They're barely into the Wolfswood when the tracks appear. It's definitely a direwolf, Sansa can see from the size of them. And the guards with her agree — they've come from Castle Black where King Stannis is, and they're familiar with Ghost — it's definitely a direwolf roaming the lands around Winterfell.

Sansa wonders if it's Ghost, if Jon has decided to pay a visit, and his wolf has come ahead of him. But she and the men follow the tracks down to the river, and it's there they catch a glimpse of the direwolf, head bent to the water and drinking as if it has an unquenchable thirst. One of the guards shouts, and the animal looks up, and freezes, staring directly at Sansa.

She's frozen in her saddle herself. It's not Ghost, that's easy to see at once, and although she hasn't seen the animal in years, she recognizes it immediately, and calls out. "Nymeria!"

Whatever she was expecting, it doesn't happen. The direwolf bolts away, disappearing into the woods, and the guards look at her, awaiting her orders — to chase it down, to capture it, to kill it, whatever Lady Stark requests. But all she does is shake her head, and tell them it's time to return home.

~~

Sansa is silent on the ride back, and she's silent for the day after that. It was Nymeria, it was Arya's wolf, she's sure of that. She's just not sure what it means. She wants to think it means Arya is close, but that's another foolish dream, isn't it? That her sister will return home.

That night, she dreams she's flying. She's a finch, flying from Winterfell, and she sees Nymeria, sees her hunting for brothers. In her dream, she knows what Nymeria knows — that once there were six, and now there are four, and they will come together again. She flies further afield, and sees a rider on a white horse, riding along the Kingsroad, and in this dream, she knows the rider is coming to Winterfell, searching for pack, just like the direwolf.

She wakes, startling upright in her bed, and there are tears on her cheeks. The wolves are returning to Winterfell, she thinks, and she hears the winds howling, and the wolves as well. She dresses in the dim morning light, wraps herself in heavy furs, and makes her way to the stables, ordering her horse saddled again.

It's another argument, the stablehands and her steward, the guards and Gendry, all warning her against going out in the snow, with the winds so high, and a direwolf roaming the Wolfswood. But Sansa is the Lady of Winterfell, soon to be crowned Queen in the North, and she is determined and she does not give in. She mounts her horse, and rides off through the gates, to the Kingsroad. She can't bear to sit and wait, not while the rider approaches.

And once she's on the road, it's not long before she sees the rider. Another girl on a horse, riding through the winds and snows of winter as only Northern girls could.

Before she can even see her face, Sansa knows. She knows her sister. Even after so long, she would know her anywhere, and she races off to meet her.

"Arya!" she cries, just like she had called out to Nymeria the day before, and her sister freezes, just like her direwolf did. For a moment Sansa is afraid that her sister will bolt, just like the wolf, but no, Arya is tumbling off her horse and Sansa is tumbling off hers and they're bolting to each other. Then she's holding her sister tight, like she never has before, and Arya is squeezing the breath out of her, and the wolves are returning to Wintefell is all she can think and she thanks all the gods, the old and the new, because it's finally happening, it's true.

~~

The girl has found the first member of her pack, and when they arrive at the gates of Winterfell, there's a wolf there, waiting to greet them both. There are more greetings to be made, reunions to be had, and people remember the girl, even if she's not quite sure she remembers them all.

She sleeps that night in a bed beside her sister, with Nymeria curled up on the foot. The girl dreams, and she remembers her name, and when she wakes, she turns and looks at Sansa sleeping beside her, reaches a hand to tangle in Nymeria's fur. And the girl knows — she is Arya Stark, and she's come home at last.