Chapter 1: Homesick
The castle of Winterfell had seemed so cold, so empty.
Wandering the mountain in the Vale, Sansa stopped and looked around, her breath forming mist in front of her. Snow was dusted over everything, and not even a bird sang in the gnarled trees. Pulling her cloak tight around her body, she let out a long breath and continued her walk back to the Eyrie. She had left Winterfell, longing for a taste of some sort of adventure, so she had gone to stay with her aunt in the Vale... and found herself longing to go home, more than anything else. She blinked back tears at the thought of her mother and her siblings.
The moment she arrived at the huge, magnificent building, Sansa paused and watched people scurrying around, whispering. Her aunt was in the middle of it all, haggard and withdrawn.
Shaking the ice from her hair, she wandered through the small crowd and made her way to the woman’s side. “What’s going on?”
Sighing, her aunt gave her a forced smile. “The king is visiting for a couple days; Jon wrote and said that the queen suggested a family vacation. He is on his way to Winterfell, but will be stopping here to say hello and stock up. We’re to meet him at one of the inns out near the borders. Would you like to come with, Sansa?”
“Could I?” Sansa asked, her eyes brightening. The royal family! She knew her father and the king used to be friends, and her father once said that the king had visited when she had been born, but she remembered nothing of the man. “I’ll behave myself, I promise.”
“I’m sure you will. Go on, then. We leave at the first light of dawn.”
With a happy squeak, Sansa rushed off to pack her things. There wasn’t much to pack-- clothes, books, the little music box she had gotten from her mother on her thirteenth birthday-- but she wanted to be ready. It would be easy enough, she thought as she folded her handmade dresses and put them in a small case, to go with her aunt to meet the king and the royal family. And maybe, then, just maybe, she could ask to ride with them. They were going to Winterfell anyhow, to see her own family. Surely they would find a way to bring her along. Of course, her father had given her a little money before she had left; she could always pay her way.
Flopping on the bed, Sansa stared at the ceiling, a smile making her face hurt. The gods had heard her; she would be able to go home.
Chapter 2: When First We Met
It was an interesting meeting.
The hall of the inn was decorated as lavishly as Lady Arynn’s position could allow. It wasn’t a large hall, but it was warm and comfortable, and Sansa thought it was quite lovely, with gold and red banners draped along the walls. There was food on the tables, and drink; there was music playing softly in the corner of the room. Their guests had yet to arrive, but it wouldn’t be too long. Their small party had arrived three night ago, and word had it that the king would be arriving that night. With him would be his wife, children, and a handful of others.
She checked her hair in a mirror as she passed it, smoothing out one red, unruly lock. Her aunt had brushed it, put a bit of something in it to make it shine and then done it up in a fancy style that Sansa thought was entirely too formal. She then eyed the blue dress she had chosen to wear. It was one of the few things her mother had bought her; it was silky, accentuating her growing curves without looking cheap. Sansa smiled at her reflection, satisfied with her appearance. It was far more preparation than she usually did, but it felt nice to be ready for royalty... and not look like one of the commoners.
It was then that someone from the front of the hall shouted, announcing that the king was coming. Picking up the skirt of her dress, Sansa made her way down the stairs and shuffled to stand by her aunt; there was the sound of hooves drawing closer, and soon, the doors flung open. A massive, burly man came in, his laugh booming through the hall when he saw Sansa’s aunt. They both went to kneel, but the king waved his hand at them.
“Enough with the formalities, Lysa! It’s been too long!” the king grinned, coming in and giving the woman a surprisingly delicate hug. Then he turned his gaze to Sansa, and his grin turned a bit more lusty. “And who is this ravishing beauty with you?”
“This young lady is my niece, Sansa Stark, the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady Stark. She is here on vacation,” her aunt said with a half-smile; the look on Robert’s face shifted immediately from interested to politely distant. “It’s good to see you, Robert. I hope your trip was pleasant.”
The king scratched his beard. “Ah, well. A month on the road, you know how it is. Jon is looking after things while I’m gone, of course, so it’s no bother. I think my children are getting a bit on each other’s nerves.”
As if on cue, there was a wail from outside. A tall, young woman with flowing blond hair swept into the inn, her face set in a scowl and a young child slung over her shoulder. “I swear, you will all be the end of me,” she growled. Patting the plump boy on the back and setting him down, the woman rubbed her temple. “Robert, please go get your son. He nearly ran over Tom with one of the horses.”
The sparkle left the king’s eyes. He sighed, putting a hand on Lysa’s shoulder. “Thank you for being such a welcoming hostess. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go stop the future king from maiming his siblings.” It would have been funny, had Robert’s face not been a cold mask as he’d said it. Giving Sansa a shadow of a smile, he bowed. “Well met, Miss Stark.”
Sansa dipped in a curtsey, but the king was already halfway out the door. Instead, the woman... the queen... was staring at her. A crawling feeling snaked it’s way through Sansa’s flesh, but she smiled as the queen approached, and knelt properly. The queen did not tell her to rise, unlike the king. The queen stood there for a moment, then gave a quiet laugh.
“Child, you may rise. Come, let me have a look at you. Ned has spoken so much of you over the years.” Rising, Sansa held still as the queen grabbed her chin and tilted it up. Blue eyes met green eyes, and the creeping feeling got worse. “You are quite tall for a lady. How old are you?”
“Thirteen, my queen.”
“And still growing, too! Tell me, have you bled yet?”
Blinking, Sansa stared at the queen for a moment, then look away. “No, my queen.”
“Ah. Well, still a child then I suppose,” the queen replied. She released Sansa’s chin and turned to Lysa as an equally tall, blond man came into the inn, a young girl and an older boy following him. “Lysa, I’m sure you remember Jaime. He’s part of the Kingsguard now, you know. Ah, all my children here together. This here is my child youngest boy, Tommen.” Motioning to the other two children, the queen smiled. “And here is my middle child, Myrcella, and my oldest, Prince Joffrey.”
Lysa bowed, the eldest boy waltzing up to stand next to his mother. “My Prince. I am honored.”
Following her aunt’s lead, Sansa bowed, but she tilted her head a bit to look at the boy. He seemed about her age, maybe a year younger; he had the same golden hair as his mother, and the same vibrant green eyes. He was thinner than his youngest brother and about as tall as Sansa, but built with the same refined bone structure as Myrcella. She felt her fash flush a bit as Joffrey nodded to her aunt, but then turned those eyes on her. Turning her head back down, she kept her gaze on the floor. For a moment, she could feel that gaze on her; her skin reacted again, though more a tingle than the spider-like sensation his mother caused. But then it was gone, and Joffrey had left their presence to take a seat at one of the tables. The king came in a mere second later, fixing his crown on his head and looking surlier than he had before; he paid no attention to Sansa or her aunt, barking at Jaime instead and getting everyone settled in.
Sansa followed her aunt into the hall, her mind thinking too much at once... and her heart beating a little faster.
Chapter 3: A Journey Starts
“You would have us escort you back to Winterfell?” the king asked, taking another swig of wine. “I suppose that’s possible. We are heading there, after all, and you’re Ned’s daughter. Yes, that would be quite alright. Cersei, we could have her ride in the back with the children, don’t you suppose?”
“As you wish,” the queen replied. She smiled at Sansa, and immediately Sansa felt her stomach clench. “Surely a Stark can handle a week on the road, even a girl child.”
The king grunted and chewed a mouthful of bread. “That settles it, then,” he said between bites. “When we leave tomorrow, you may come with us. I’m sure your father will be happy to see you.”
“Thank you, my king. My queen.” Sansa kneeled, then departed as fast as she could without looking rude.
... And as she turned a corner, ran headlong into two of the king’s children. All three squeaked, and Sansa quickly uttered as many apologies as she could. Both of the younger children looked pleased, however, glancing at each other before looking back at Sansa.
“I heard you’re coming with us,” Tommen started. Myrcella nodded vigorously. “Are you really? Why?”
Sansa smiled. “Yes. I’ve been away from my mother and father for about a month. I miss them, and since your mother and father are going there, I asked if I could come along. Is that okay with you two?”
“Oh yes,” Myrcella said with cheer. “You’re older than our brother! You can bop him if he teases Tommen.”
The color left her face at that mental image. “Er. Well...” she trailed off, unable to spoil the hopeful looks on their little faces. “I suppose you’re right. I could... keep him distracted, at least.”
They glanced at each other again; the knowing look on their faces was disconcerting. What were they thinking, that they had such expressions? Sansa felt her face heating, and opened her mouth to say goodnight, when a weary voice called out from down the hall.
“Aren’t you urchins supposed to be in bed?”
Tommen let out a shriek and turned, scurrying to the room he and his sister were using. Myrcella also let out a noise, but clung to Sansa’s leg as Joffrey glided down the hall towards them. He glanced at his little sister, then rolled his eyes and tried... unsuccessfully... to pull her off of Sansa. Chuckling, Sansa bent down and scooped up the girl; she handed Myrcella over to Joffrey, keeping her eyes averted as she did so. The prince muttered something to Myrcella, who pouted but didn’t struggle.
“Thank you,” Joffrey said dryly. “I guess my father was too busy filling up to put them in bed properly.”
“They’re no trouble, your majesty.” Sansa dared to look up at him, and found her heart pounding once more. “Would you like for me to call one of the handmaidens your family brought?”
He sighed, putting his sister down and giving her a slight shove towards the room. “No. I’ll take care of it.” The look in his eyes seemed to say as usual, but he looked at Sansa without saying the words. “So, you are traveling with us, then?”
“Best be getting to bed yourself, then. Goodnight, my lady.”
Sansa nodded, moving past him towards her room. She reached the door and paused, glancing the way she’d come; he had stopped at his door, and was watching her as she was watching him. Sansa, now as red as the banners downstairs, slipped into the room and quickly shut the door. She leaned against the door, closed her eyes and allowed herself one... just one... silly, childish fist-raise of triumph.
Chapter 4: Interim
Tommen was crying for the third time that morning.
The first time, it was because the child had hit his head getting into the carriage. The second time, it was because Joffrey had called him an ‘overstuffed brat’. The third time, it was for no reason other than he was tired from the night before. Sansa sat on the floor of the carriage, on top of her small suitcase, trying to tune out the noise. It was quite useless, as Tommen kept getting louder; this wasn’t helped by the fact that Joffrey was yelling at his little brother.
“What sort of king’s son are you?” Joffrey snarled, his fingers shoved in his ears.
Myrcella copied Joffrey, looking less grumpy and more perplexed. “Yeah.”
“See? Even the girls realize how stupid you’re acting. Now will you knock it the hell--”
“I wanna be with mama!” Tommen wailed. “Lemme alone!”
“Oh, for the love of all the gods.”
Sansa stood up and, a bit wobbly thanks to the bumps in the road, went over to Tommen’s side. “You poor thing. It must be difficult, being away from your mother almost all day, for so long. Would you like a hug?” She smiled when Tommen sniffled, stopped crying and nodded. Leaning over, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him the biggest hug she could muster. “There you go. It’s going to be okay.”
Joffrey took his hands out from his ears, eyeing Sansa with an expression that was somewhere between irritation and awe. “You think coddling him is going to help? He needs to learn that he has to be strong, even if his mother isn’t around. How else is he supposed to toughen up? He’ll never win a war by crying.”
She met his gaze, returning the cold look with a softer one. “We all have a few years left to grow up, and trength takes time to build. I’m sure we will all be tough when it’s needed of us. Until then, and even after then, sometimes people need a little compassion.”
He stared at her, some sort of emotion rolling through those emerald eyes; leaning against the wall of the carriage, he looked out the small window and broke the tension between them. “Let him latch to her tit forever then, for all I care,” he muttered. “When I’m king, I’ll give all the whiners something to complain about.”
Sansa ignored the comment, turning her attention back to Tommen... and to Myrcella, who had scooted over from her shared seat with Joffrey. Scooping Tommen up in her arms, Sansa moved and let the little girl sit next to her. “We’ll be in Winterfell soon enough,” she said. “Until then, shall I tell you some of the stories my father told me?”
The children brightened, and with one on her knee and the other on her hip, Sansa began weaving tales of magic and wild beasts. She started with a story about ancient dragons, which led to stories of princesses and wizards, and... of course... the romance that came along with such adventures. They both sat there with wide eyes, not even interrupting to ask questions. Every so often they’d gasp, or Myrcella would sigh happily over a daring rescue; other than that, they were silent, and Sansa felt her heart lighten when she even caught Joffrey glancing over, interested more than he cared to show. By the time an hour had passed, Tommen had fallen asleep, somewhere in between the unicorns and the giants. Myrcella nodded off soon after, both of them leaning on Sansa like she was a giant pillow. She trailed off in the middle of the story, listening to them softly snore and smiling.
“Your mother is a very lucky woman,” Sansa said quietly, raising her eyes to watch Joffrey. “To have such wonderful children.”
The young prince studied the floor. “I don’t think she’d agree with you.”
“Many people take their blessings for granted.”
“I suppose so.” He shifted in his seat and reclined, his pale eyelids fluttering shut. “You’d make a good mother. Someday.”
She chuckled, leaning back herself and getting comfortable. “Someday. If I can find a man smart enough and kind enough to cherish them as much as I would.”
He snorted, but there was the ghost of a smile on his lips. Soon there were three sleeping children; Sansa stayed awake, watching over them all. For the first time in a long time, her heart felt a little less empty.