"Arya, I need you to try this on," Sansa breaks the silence that has settled between her and her sister.
Nights have fallen into a simple pattern now that all the living Starks are back at Winterfell. Sansa and Arya spend nights in Sansa's solar, occasionally joined by Bran and Jon. Sansa will set aside figures or notes from the castle workings to sew. Mending for her brothers; warm clothes for the men from the South. Arya will go through her dancing exercises—and the bruises she had as a child after her dancing lessons make so much more sense to Sansa now—and she will sharpen her blades with a gentle focus that was always lacking in her stitches.
They both attend to their needles, Sansa thinks with a smile.
"Why? What is it?"
"Oh, honestly. Just try it on, Arya."
Arya sets aside her Needle and stares at Sansa with murder in her eyes.
Sansa stares back, a different sort of murder in her eyes.
It is Arya who breaks with a sigh, and Sansa sees a smile flit across her sister's features before her face is schooled back into impassivity.
She feels a small flicker of pride as Arya slips on the butter-soft leathers and they fit almost perfectly. A small stitch at the waist to take them in, a trim at the ankles to make the length perfect.
"You made me breeches." Arya sounds surprised.
"You don't like dresses," Sansa looks up from pinning the waist. "Here. This over."
The overdress is, in Sansa's opinion, practical and beautiful enough for its intended purpose as well as further use. Soft grey wool lined with softer fur, because winter is here. Close-fitting sleeves to stay out of Arya's way as she trains the smallfolk in swordplay. It's too long, she'll have to take it up—Arya is so short it's a bit ridiculous, she thinks.
"Do you like it?" Sansa feels a hint of anxiety as she adjusts the collar, as she tugs the front to see if it needs to be taken in as well. "Queen Daenerys and her advisor allowed me to look at their fashions. They both wear riding leathers almost all the time, I thought the way they styled themselves would suit you."
Missandei had been kind enough to give her one of the Queen's outfits, to pick apart and recreate on her own. As far as Sansa knows, this isn't typical queen behavior. It disconcerts and intrigues her.
A few more pins, here and there.
"Stop fussing," Sansa chides, voice gentle to still Arya's hands that keep running over the fabric. "Do you not like it?"
"It's—it's--" Arya chokes on the words and Sansa finally looks at her little sister.
Arya is furiously blinking back tears. "I don't know."
Sansa might. "When was the last time you had something made for you? You, not—not whoever it is you had to be so you wouldn't be killed."
Sansa doesn't even think as she pulls Arya close. She can feel her sister tuck her face against her shoulder and her deep, shuddering breaths.
"You'll look a proper Lady of Winterfell in it—but your version of the Lady of Winterfell, not mine, or even mother's."
Later, as she curls up in her bed, Sansa thinks of the white and gold thread in her sewing box, and falls asleep with designs in her head. Bulls and stags and direwolves and Needle; fish and water, hounds and masks.
"What do you think of Gendry?" Sansa poses the question to Jon as they take breakfast in her solar, going over grain stores and the winter towns around Winterfell.
"He's a good smith. Got a strong arm. I'd be proud to fight by his side."
Sansa suppresses a sigh. "As a person, Jon."
"Why?" Jon's hackles are up, immediately suspicious.
"Because if he's going to marry Arya, I want to know what you think of him."
Whatever Jon had been expecting her to say, that wasn't it.
"He's going to—Arya?"
"Jon, surely you've seen the way they look at one another."
His wide eyes inform her that, no, he has not seen the way Arya and Gendry look at one another. No matter.
"Is it true he's King Robert's bastard?"
"Far as I can tell. What do you mean the way--"
"Could you legitimize him? Or would that be something Queen Daenerys would have to do, as Baratheon is a Southron house?"
"A Baratheon and a Stark would be a good union, don't you think?"
"Well, yes, but shouldn't it be you?"
Sansa goes very, very still.
"Gendry is kind and he's handsome. He would be a good match for you." Jon takes a deep breath, clearly reluctant to continue the conversation. "You're the oldest Stark. If you have to make a diplomatic match, you could do worse than Gendry."
"Except that he loves Arya." Sansa presses her lips into a hard line, shuffling words around in her head to create the most forceful and least offensive way to say what she needs to say. "I'm not leaving Winterfell, Jon. Not after it took so much to get it back. If I marry again, I will choose my husband."
Jon's eyes are hard. "I am your king."
"And if my king tells me to marry, it will turn out poorly for my intended, I assure you, Your Grace." Sansa rises, no appetite for the porridge in front of her any longer. "I take my leave, Your Grace. I must treat with my lady sister."
Arya is doing her water dancing exercises in the yard, her Needle singing through the air.
Sansa occasionally glimpses Gendry's dark head at the door, at a window, of the armory, peering out at Arya.
It's as if Jon doesn't have eyes in his head.
"Arya," Sansa is loathe to interrupt the grace and elegance of her sister's practice, but they need to speak. "Walk with me before you start training."
Arya looks at her, curiosity passing over her face before that blank look settles back over her features.
They are silent as they walk through the castle, until they reach a lonely battlement.
"Arya, if I asked you to kill a man, would you?" No sense in dawdling about it.
"Of course." Arya doesn't even hesitate. "Is it Littlefinger? Please tell me it's Littlefinger."
"No!" Sansa can't choke back her laughter. "Not yet, anyway."
"No one. Yet. Jon and I were talking of marriage and I refuse to marry for political reasons again. If I were to wed, it has to be someone I choose."
"And I would be killing your intended?"
"If Jon is stupid enough to try and marry you off again, then I'd be more than happy to prevent your marriage, if you asked."
Something curiously like fear tangles around Sansa's throat and she grips her sister's hand. "Do you swear it?"
"I do." Arya squeezes her hand. "I swear it by the old gods and the new, by the Many-Faced god."
"Lady Sansa," Gendry looks up from the dragonglass he is examining. "How may I serve?"
"Do you keep the Faith of the Seven, Gendry?"
"Can't say as that I do, m'lady. Only been to a sept a few times." His gaze goes distant, something dark entering his features, unfathomable and sad. "I used to pray to—to any god that would listen—I used to pray for your sister's safety."
Sansa's heart catches in her throat.
"I don't think she needs help from the gods, but I still pray for her, every now and then." Gendry finally looks back at Sansa, color rising in his cheeks. "I'm sorry, my lady. That's probably not proper."
It takes Sansa a moment to find her voice, her heart aching for this man and his obvious love for her sister, with a sweetness so profound.
"By all means, continue praying for Arya's health and safety. After so many years believing she was dead, I welcome any help keeping her alive and well." She smiles at Gendry. "Even if she probably doesn't need that help."
"Gendry doesn’t hold to the Seven," Sansa tells Jon when they break their fast the next morning. "You could officiate in the godswood, unless you wanted to give her away."
Jon puts his knife down and stares at her before his shoulders sag with a sigh. "He's asked her, then?"
"Of course he hasn't. He wants to. He's in love with her, but he won't. He sees himself as lowborn. You need to legitimize him. How long do you think that will take? I need at least a month to finish the embroidery on her wedding outfit. I suppose I'll need to make something for him as well."
"I'll send a raven to Daenerys today," he says heavily. "If she says no, I'll do it anyway, but it would be better to have her approval." His head tilts and a strange expression crosses his face. "You said he hasn't asked for her hand? He hasn't spoken to you of it?"
"Of course not, Jon. I'm her lady sister, and you, her brother, are a king. Of course he hasn't spoken to me of it."
"Sansa," Jon interrupts with the air of a man facing his inevitable doom, "are you planning a wedding for them without their knowledge?"
"If it's going to happen, why not prepare for it? Winter is coming."
Jon rests his head in his hand and might mutter weddings are coming, but Sansa can't be certain.