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Robb receives the raven at breakfast. Whatever the message is, it makes his face spasm and he has to put his hand over his mouth; Sansa can’t tell at first if he’s furious or he’s trying not to laugh. “We’ll discuss this after supper,” he says under his breath, passing the note to Sansa as he leaves her to her tea. “Make sure Arya sees this, will you?”

He comes into his solar that evening and doesn’t even wait for Jeyne to finish putting the children to bed before starting in on it. “We’re in a precarious position,” he announces, pulling the door shut behind himself.

“What, because our parents have died? Yes, obviously,” Arya says from where she’s lounged by the fireplace. “I don’t understand why that means we have to send them Sansa. I thought this was the whole point of sending them Aunt Lyanna. Why do they need another one?”

Sansa can’t think of any response to this that would not be deeply sarcastic and, therefore, unhelpful. She says nothing, using her thumb to push her darning egg into place.

“Who knows what those entitled bastards think,” Robb says, disgusted, crossing the room in three furious strides. “Regardless of why, they want another Stark lady for their bloodline.”

“It’s because they think he’s the greatest living swordsman,” Arya says. “They want to make another one; they’re obsessed with bloodlines in Dragonstone. So they want us to lob Sansa over the border, and, oh, by the way, then we’ll all be such good friends, can we help them with whatever new Baratheon mess they’ve found themselves mired in?”

“Something like that,” Robb says.

“Pfft!” Arya says, and she spits into the fireplace.

“Arya,” Sansa says, “please don’t spit inside.”

“I have to spit,” Arya says. “Otherwise I’m going to throw up every time I think of those Targaryen idiots. One Stark woman admitted into their precious bloodline and now they’ve got the Young Dragon. Do they think they could have had a whole fleet of them, if Aunt Lyanna had lived? It’s idiotic. Mother had five of us and there’s only a swordsman and a half in the lot.”

“Oi!” Robb says.

“A swordsman and three-quarters, maybe,” Arya allows.

“How did they phrase the request, Robb? Remind me,” Sansa asks, using her thumbs to pull apart two threads and snake her needle between them. “Exactly, from the raven’s correspondence.”

“Something about reaffirming a long-standing friendship--wait, I’ve got it somewhere--ah, here. ‘In these tumultuous times, it is always important to honor long-standing friendships. We invite the Lady Sansa Stark, sister to Robb, King in the North, to be our honored guest in Dragonstone. We believe there will be much here to her taste.’”

Arya says, “Disgusting.”

Don’t spit again,” Sansa tells her hurriedly. “This is an interesting framing of the situation, don’t you think?” She puts down the sock and darning egg for a moment and looks up at Robb. He’s standing over his desk, hair mussed, looking tired and rumpled. “They could have asked for a marriage settlement directly and we would have been hard-pressed to refuse. So why couch it so delicately?”

“Because Varys is physically incapable of being forthright?” Arya says.

“Yes,” Sansa says, “of course, but he’s indirect for a reason. Perhaps they’re having trouble on their end. Perhaps the Young Dragon doesn’t want to marry me .”

“Sounds about right,” Arya says, and Sansa throws her a dirty look.

“You’re the sister of a king. A broken engagement with you would be very expensive for them,” Robb says musingly. “No point in putting their necks out unless they’re sure he would take you. Do you think this is a scheme to get him agreeable?”

“He is supposed to be stubborn,” Sansa says.

“Oh, he’s an asshole,” Arya agrees. “Stubborn doesn’t begin to cover it. But he’s honorable. They manage to get him to compromise you, he’d agree to marriage.”

“The question is why he would refuse me,” Sansa says. “Squeamishness?”

“From a Targaryen ?” Arya barks out a laugh. “No.” She leans back against the fireplace and folds her arms over her chest, frowning into space. She’s the only one of them to have met the Targaryen’s Young Dragon, and even then it was a short battlefield acquaintance when the Ironborn had tried to take the Rock and a hasty alliance had been formed to push them back. Arya had come back from the south covered in blood and filth and said, he’s adequate, I suppose , which meant he probably was the greatest living swordsman. “He could fancy himself in love with someone. He seems the type.”

Sansa makes a face.

“They’re at peace,” Robb says. “They’ve wiped out most of the Baratheon forces and Robert is dead. Were there any time to let a Targaryen prince marry whom he wished, it would be now.” This is exactly the sort of naive thinking that lead Robb to marry whom he wished, but he’s right--what would have been devastating in war time has proven minimally distracting during peace. And Jeyne has had a child a year since the wedding, which has endeared her to everyone.

“Peace is a process, not an endpoint,” Sansa says. “We must always be striving towards it.” She lifts the sock and darning egg out of her lap and then, struck with a thought, puts them down. “That said, it would do us no harm to adjust our agreement with the Targaryens. A Stark princess, jilted from a rumored engagement? It would put them on the back foot, wouldn’t it? And winter will be here in two or three years--we can’t keep paying their tariffs on barley, it would beggar us.”

“So, what, you’ll swan around Dragonstone in silk dresses looking innocent and fertile for a few months and then let yourself be jilted?” Arya snorts.

“You can survive without me for a few months,” Sansa tells her.

“Obviously!” Arya says. “That’s not the point. We can’t be sure that Varys was this vague because the Young Dragon doesn’t want you--it could be some other reason.”

“I’m very adaptable,” Sansa reminds her.

“You’re going to adapt yourself right into a handfasting with that idiot,” Arya says.

“A marriage settlement would also enable us to renegotiate the barley tariffs,” Sansa says.

“You’d leave Winterfell for barley ?” Arya demands.

“I’ve been prepared to leave Winterfell for ten years, Arya,” Sansa says. “There simply hasn’t been an appropriate offer until now. If I decide I do not wish to marry the Young Dragon, I will find a way out of it.”

“I suppose you would,” Arya says. “More of that snake’s trickery?”

“Arya!” Sansa says sharply, and Arya looks back at Robb, who is studiously looking into the fireplace to avoid both of their eyes.

“Think on it for a week or two, Sansa,” Robb says. “I needn’t answer right away. We aren’t in so precarious a trading position that I need to acquiesce to every whim flown on a raven out of Dragonstone.”

“I will,” Sansa says, picking up her darning, although she already knows that she will go south to the Stormlands. The Targaryens are the North’s strongest southron allies. If they are harboring some kind of weakness--especially if that weakness lies in the heart of the Young Dragon, their formidable general--then the North must know.

~

A day and a half from the border, Sansa’s caravan is stopped. She is sitting on the floor of the carriage, trimming Lady’s nails, when she hears the raised voice of the captain of her guards. “Thank you, my darling,” she has just said to Lady, who is resting her chin on Beth Cassel’s knees and allowing her ears to be rubbed as Sansa uses a sharp knife on a few recalcitrant nails. Lady opens one eye and woofs at Sansa gently as Sansa places her left front paw back onto her lap and lifts the right.

“Lady Sansa,” says a guard, and Sansa says, “Lift the curtain, Beth.”

“My lady, we’re being hailed by Targaryen soldiers,” says Jor Mullen, peering into the carriage and looking confused for a moment.

“Down here, Jor,” Sansa says, and he finally thinks to look down at the floor.

“Oh!” he says.

“Have they stated their intention, ser?” Sansa asks, using the tip of her knife to clean a piece of straw from between the pads of Lady’s foot.

“To provide escort for your ladyship,” Jor says. “Their captain wishes to speak with you.”

“Do they seem credible?” Sansa asks. She holds Lady’s right paw with both hands, knife blade carefully pointed away, and looks up at Jor. He looks down at her for a moment, mouth slightly parted, and then he says, “I will speak to Captain Cassel, my lady, and seek his opinion.”

“My thanks, Jor,” Sansa says.

Beth lets the curtain fall. “You didn’t have to do that, you know,” she says to Sansa. “Turn the big eyes on him. Jor is a bit thick but he’s not a bad sort.”

Sansa lifts Lady’s right paw and trims the edge of a nail gone ragged. “I need to get in a bit of practice before we reach Dragonstone. I haven’t had to do this in a long time.”

“Weapons like those, you don’t forget how to use,” Beth says quietly.

Sansa finishes with Lady’s front paw and places it back on the floor of the carriage. She carefully sheaths her knife and stashes it in the knitting basket at Beth’s feet, within arm’s reach, before brushing straw off of her skirt and checking with the tips of her fingers that her hair is neat. “How’s my color?” she asks Beth.

“Not too high, but pretty,” Beth says. “Do you want the little one?”

“Yes,” Sansa says, and she lets her voice go soft and high as Beth scoops the puppy off of the cushion next to her and hands him to Sansa. “Hello, my sleepy little darling. How was your nap?” The puppy blinks at Sansa and then opens his eyes wider, as if he recognizes her face. If this show of adoration hurts Sansa’s chest, there’s no one to notice.

“My lady?” Captain Cassel calls.

Sansa nods at Beth to lift the curtain again as she cuddles the puppy against her chest. Ghost will be a proper albino when he’s grown, threatening red eyes and all, but in the dim light of the carriage he should look harmless, adorable. “Ser?” she says.

There are two men on horseback that Sansa can see out of the carriage window. One is the captain of her personal guard, his greying moustache quivering frantically with some emotion that Sansa can’t quite parse. The other man is significantly younger--perhaps a few years older than Sansa--with dark, curling hair and a neatly trimmed beard. What she can see of his clothing is well-made but worn. He has the look of a knight--well-built, with the air of something a little dangerous.

“My lady,” Captain Cassel says, “the Targaryen captain wished to speak with you.”

“Yes, of course,” Sansa says. Ghost is beginning to wake up; he sniffs at Sansa’s hair and then tries to eat some of it. “Ghost, darling, be good. I am Lady Sansa, ser.”

“My lady,” says the Targaryen captain, inclining his head. “We will escort you to Dragonstone.”

Sansa lifts an eyebrow; he has the clear, precise diction of a nobleman, but there is no house sigil stitched on the breast of his tunic. “Did we require an escort through the Riverlands, ser?”

“There have been sightings, my lady,” the Targaryen captain says with zero inflection. “Baratheon insurgents in the area.”

Ghost is now pawing at Sansa’s hair, letting out a few sharp yips as he fails to climb onto Sansa’s shoulder. “Shh, shh,” Sansa soothes and she picks Ghost off of her chest, disentangling his claws, and places him onto her lap where he can better smell his mother. “I appreciate your diligence.” She looks up at him through her lashes, resting a hand against Ghost’s back and rubbing gently.

It’s impossible to tell from his expression if her mooning eyes have done anything. Perhaps Sansa does need a bit of practice.

“My lady,” he says. “We will not disturb you for the remainder of the journey.”

“Oh, there’s no need for that,” Sansa says.

“My lady,” he says, inclining his head to her again, and then he rides off towards the back of the caravan. That flirted very closely with being outright rude , Sansa thinks, and she knows instantly, sigil or no, that he’s from a noble family.

“I did not catch a name, Captain Cassel,” Sansa says once he has gone out of her sight.

“Captain Snow, he said,” Captain Cassel replies.

“A northman?” Sansa replies. She is not very surprised; that color of eye, pure grey, is not common in the south.

“There were a few who traveled with the Lady Lyanna when she married Rhaegar. None bastards, as far as I know, but it were nearly thirty years ago, now. Could be a maid’s child.”

“And risen to rank of captain? With that accent?” Beth says.

“I can ask around, my lady,” Captain Cassel offers.

“If you would be so kind, ser,” Sansa replies absently, and Beth lets the curtain fall. After a few minutes, the carriage begins to roll again. Ghost has calmed down and oozes off of Sansa’s lap to curl up next to his mother.

“Do you think it’s him?” Beth asks after they have traveled in silence for a while.

“Perhaps,” Sansa says. “He looked a little like Father, don’t you think? But then, I suppose I think that of every stern-faced man with a beard.”

Beth thoughtfully strokes Lady’s ears. “I don’t think you’re wrong, my lady. Odd for him to be playing at a bastard soldier, though.”

“It’s exactly the sort of thing Arya would do,” Sansa replies, and Beth laughs.

“He was handsome,” she says when she’s calmed down. “Everyone says the Targaryen line has grown weak but he looks well.”

“Well, thank the Crone for small mercies,” Sansa says drily.

~

Sansa keeps Lady and Ghost close by as camp is established for the night. She and Beth haven’t been bothering with the tent--it takes forever to put up and the weather has been beautiful, clear and warm--but now there are Targaryen witnesses to impress with Sansa’s delicacy so she asks for it to be put up. Captain Snow himself appears from out of nowhere to hammer in a few tent poles.

Beth looks at him and then at Sansa, pointedly but subtly, her eyebrows twitching up.

“Shut it,” Sansa says softly, and Beth grins at her.

“My lady appreciates your efforts, ser,” Beth says, more loudly, turning to address the nearest Targaryen soldier. He’s sunburned and tow-headed, which is an unfortunate combination on anyone but especially terrible on someone who seems to only have recently grown into his ears.

“Oh,” squeaks the soldier, sketching a bob of a bow in Sansa’s general direction. “Our pleasure, m-my lady.”

Sansa smiles at him, running her fingers through the fur along Lady’s ears. He turns red and white in splotches and goes back to tying the tent canvas onto the poles. Sansa gestures for Beth to come closer and, under the guise of discussing what Sansa will wear tomorrow, pinches her in the side. “Don’t be cruel to them,” she hiss-whispers, and Beth says, “I don’t think you need any more practice, my lady. Have you noticed that all his knights are smallfolk?”

“Yes,” Sansa says quietly. “Interesting, isn’t it?”

“Father says they’re well-trained, he can tell by the riding. But putting a prince at the head of a cohort of smallfolk--that’s odd. Doesn’t seem to be a very prestigious appointment.”

“Not all fathers and sons get on,” Sansa says. She notices that the sunburned soldier is lingering nearby and says, slightly more loudly, “I’ll wear the rose tomorrow. I suspect we won’t make it to Dragonstone for another three days after we cross the border. It’s inhospitable land, the riding will be slow going.”

“Maybe his lordship will find us a short-cut,” Beth suggests in an undertone, and she can’t quite squelch the giggle.

“You’re disgusting,” Sansa tells her and Beth outright laughs.

“He’s even more handsome close up,” she says. “Are you sure you want to wiggle out of this? There are worse ones to warm that icy bed of yours.”

“Oh yes,” Sansa says. “Because the handsome ones are always so kind and trustworthy.”

Beth says, “You’ve become cynical in your old age, my lady. The little one needs a good walk, I think. Shall I take him?”

Sansa looks to Ghost, who is trying to attack his mother’s tail with minimal success. “I will take him. Ask Captain Snow to join me, would you? And ask Jor to follow a discrete distance behind, it wouldn’t do to give your father apoplexy.”

“You’re all heart, my lady,” Beth says, and she scuttles off to corner Captain Snow, who does not look terribly pleased at being asked to escort Sansa on a walk. He takes a while to finish his business before he finally drags himself over to Sansa, who is distracting Ghost with a bit string and a ribbon rosette. Lady, long-suffering, has draped herself over Sansa’s feet and is pretending to sleep.

“My lady?” Captain Snow says. “Your lady said you wanted to stretch your legs before retiring for the evening. Might I suggest that you wait to exercise until morning? The Baratheons--”

“Oh, of course, the Baratheons,” Sansa says, nudging Lady with her knee until Lady huffs and rolls off. “If you provide me with an escort, ser, I don’t know how bothered by Baratheons I might be. And the dogs need a walk--the little one especially, he’s only recently trained.” She looks down at Ghost, who is concentrating so fiercely on the string, and then up through her lashes at Captain Snow.

Captain Snow makes a noise in the back of his throat. It’s not quite the punched-out noise that Sansa is aiming for; it’s more of an annoyed huff, like Arya being told she has to put on a dress and play nice with the Karstarks. “Ah,” he says after a moment. “As my lady wishes.”

“Thank you, ser,” Sansa says, and she waits for him to offer his arm.

They stare at each other for a good thirty seconds, Sansa with a placidly good-natured expression on her face, Captain Snow looking increasingly irritated, before he jerkily offers her his left arm and she smiles at him sunnily. “Come, Ghost,” she says, and little Ghost takes off into the underbrush, Lady following closely behind.

“How long have you served the Targaryens, ser?” Sansa asks Captain Snow as she leads him out into the forest, only a few yards from their camp, well within the watch radius. Ghost has found something already worth his inspection; there is a furious rustling coming from ahead of them.

“A long time, my lady,” Captain Snow says stiffly. His arm is tense under her hand; he has very correct posture that is further exacerbated by obvious discomfort.

“Such loyalty is to be praised,” Sansa says sweetly, trying to soften him a bit. “But surely it cannot have been very long--you seem young, captain?”

“I have spent much of my life in service,” Captain Snow says.

“Indeed?” Sansa says. The first reports of the swordsman who would become known as the Young Dragon had been brought to Winterfell nearly fifteen years ago, when pirates had tried to take Tarth and cut off the Dornish supply routes to the north. The pirates had been soundly routed and people had begun almost immediately to whisper of a sword with a grip of dragon’s talons. Sansa had been seven, nearly eight, and her father had said, thank the gods for that young man, or you’d have no lemons for your birthday, my girl .

Sansa looks down at Captain Snow’s sword, buckled to his left hip. It has a bulky handle that has been wrapped in leather to improve its grip. Nothing of the shape suggests dragon talons--but then, what would Sansa know of dragons?

Time to try again. “Were you born in Dragonstone?” Sansa asks. “Snow is not an uncommon surname in the north.”

“Yes,” Captain Snow says. He’s not looking at Sansa, which is irritating; his focus seems to be on the distance, his head on a swivel as he takes in their surroundings. “My mother was northern.”

“Have you been north?” Sansa asks.

“No,” he says. “Where are those dogs, my lady?”

“Lady and Ghost are quite capable, ser,” Sansa says, although she knows the answer; she can feel Lady itching at the base of her skull and there is an invisible string that links that feeling to Lady herself, twenty yards away, teaching Ghost how to rip the entrails out of a rabbit she has just caught for them.

“I would prefer no one run off,” Captain Snow says, tightly. Sansa feels a flare of irritation that she does not allow to show on her face.

“Indeed?” she says breezily. “They will be back when they wish to do so, I’m sure. Have you never wanted to see the north?”

He pauses for a moment before saying, “No,” and it’s clear that he is lying.

Sansa sighs, letting herself shift against him, holding his arm with both hands. “When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to leave the north. The south seems so very exciting. It must have been wonderful to grow up here and call it home.”

Captain Snow’s head slows its swiveling. He’s staring straight ahead now, at nothing, as he stiffly escorts Sansa in a circle around the camp. Is he uncomfortable because she’s pressing the side of her breast against his arm, or is it this talk of homes? Sansa is close enough now to tell that he smells like smoke and beeswax, the scent of leather armor and long days outdoors.

“I suppose,” he says, finally.

It’s time to retire the field. Lady and Ghost have finished their impromptu feast and Sansa knows that she’s gotten under Captain Snow’s skin, that she’s convinced him she’s a brainless idiot who nevertheless has managed to touch a nerve. Even idiots can get lucky, jabbing about in the dark for a tender spot.

“Lady!” she calls, and she hears the direwolves respond to her summons. “Thank you for the wonderful walk, ser, but I wish to retire now. I’m quite exhausted.” She presses the back of her left hand to her mouth and fakes a quiet yawn. Lady Sansa is a delicate creature, after all.

“Of course, my lady,” says Captain Snow, and he silently takes her back to camp and deposits her at her tent.

“Well?” Beth says after she’s whisked Sansa inside. Ghost and Lady arrange themselves across the entrance to the tent, Lady lazily licking a few stray smears of blood from Ghost’s fur.

“Something is wrong,” Sansa says quietly, unlacing her sash and beginning to tug it off. “We’ll need to send a raven to Robb. The situation with the Baratheons is worse than we thought, and they’re causing more havoc along the Riverlands border than we’d realized.” She steps out of the sash and then pulls the overdress over her head, leaving on her shift for sleeping.

Beth steps forward and begins to pluck pins out of Sansa’s hair as Sansa folds her overdress. “Are we in danger?”

“I don’t believe so,” Sansa says, “but I don’t have enough information to say for certain.” She holds the folded dress against her midsection for a moment and stares into space, thinking over Captain Snow’s words, his alert expression, the way he’d heard the rabbit’s neck snap under Lady’s jaws and had instantly turned to look. “Are you done with those pins? Thank you. Please bring me my traveling desk.”

~

Sansa has not spoken to Captain Snow--nor, indeed, seen more of him than the back of his head, disappearing into the distance--for three days when she is shaken awake out of a midafternoon nap by the door to her carriage being ripped open. Captain Snow hisses, “My lady!”

“Ser?” Sansa says, groggy for half a breath, and then she hears the yelling. Beth is nowhere to be seen. “What’s happening?” She reaches to twitch the curtain facing the road and Captain Snow makes a slashing motion with his hand.

“Baratheons,” Captain Snow says grimly. “Come on, we need you out of there.” He reaches into the carriage, grips her by the waist, and lifts her bodily out onto the ground. It happens in approximately half a second but Sansa is annoyingly out of breath for significantly longer than that. His smoky beeswax smell is stronger up close. He doesn’t seem winded at all from hauling Sansa bodily out of her carriage and she knows she’s taller than he is. Lady and Ghost tear after her, little Ghost flopping uselessly until he’s rescued by his mother. “The priority here is to get you to safety, so I don’t want a word out of you about anyone else. It’s you they want, and it’s Gendry, so they’re not going to kill everyone.”

“Who? What?” Sansa says and Captain Snow shushes her, dragging her to the edge of the carriage so he can peer around the side. He’s got the pack that’s normally tied to his saddle draped over his shoulder, a full water skein over the other. The yelling, now that Sansa can hear it more clearly, is one voice: Where is the lady? Don’t fucking--stop getting distracted! Where’s the lady?

“Can you leave the dogs?” Captain Snow says tersely and Sansa says, “Don’t be an idiot. Lady, give me Ghost.” Lady picks up the puppy, throws him into Sansa’s open arms, and then takes off. “She’ll be fine,” Sansa says before Captain Snow can open his mouth. “What are we going to do?”

“Out of the road, first, and then we’ll sort it out,” he says. Sansa thinks, Oh, exactly the kind of detailed plan I’d expect from the pride of the Targaryens , but she says nothing. She’s wearing her half boots, at least, so her feet won’t be shredded by this impromptu trek, but she’s got on a grey silk overdress that her mother had embroidered. She doesn’t want it ruined.

Little Ghost rubs his head against Sansa’s chin and tries to lick her face. Sansa tells herself that there are more important things in life than grey silk dresses one’s dead mother had embroidered and she nearly believes it, such is the mystical power of puppies.

“Come on,” Captain Snow says. “I don’t know how long that companion of yours is going to be able to provide a distraction.”

Sansa involuntarily says, “ What ?” in a tone of voice anyone with sense would be afraid of and instead of answering Captain Snow grabs one of her wrists and yanks her off of the road into the forest. The trees have been thinning steadily for the last few days, most of the landscape cleared for farming; they’re lucky that there’s enough of a tree cover left to hide them. Although she’s sure he hasn’t thought of it, Captain Snow is also lucky that Sansa had grown up in a forest and knows how to move through one swiftly and quietly. The princess of any other kingdom in Westeros would be at a loss.

Twenty minutes of tromping through undergrowth and Sansa has no idea where they are but she can feel Lady, covering their flank, and she can’t hear the shouting any more. “Are we far enough off of the road?” she asks Captain Snow, who says, “No. Please be quiet, my lady.”

Sansa briefly considers throwing a tantrum, but it’s only been twenty minutes of walking. Instead she stops walking. “Ser, I would like you to take a moment to consider this from my perspective, as I was just kidnapped out of my carriage by the vassal knight of a foreign king and I only have your word that we were under attack.”

Captain Snow jerks to a halt two or three yards away, once he’s realized that she’s not following him. “I’m sorry?” he says, whirling around on Sansa. “You were kidnapped ?”

“I have a few questions,” Sansa says. “If you answer them, we can proceed.”

“If!” Captain Snow sputters. His unflappable calm appears to have sorely tested by the day’s events; his hair is coming out of its tie and he looks a little wild-eyed. “My lady, we have to find shelter somewhere that is not so obviously exposed. I need to send a raven to Dragonstone. You need--food, and such things. Questions can wait.”

“Who is Gendry?” Sansa asks. Ghost is falling asleep; she adjusts her hold, letting him go limp in her arms.

Captain Snow gives her a hard look. “The name is not familiar?” he says.

“No,” Sansa says.

“Gendry Waters,” he finally bites out. “One of Robert Baratheon’s bastards.”

“Which faction does he support?” Sansa asks.

There’s a long pause and then, sounding frustrated, Captain Snow says, “I don’t--I don’t know. He hates all of Robert’s brothers. He doesn’t like lords.”

Sansa knows of most of Robert Baratheon’s prominent bastards--the few that had been legitimized before his death, who had tried to entice Robert’s men away from the living brothers--but she hasn’t heard of Gendry Waters. “How do you know him?” she asks.

“We served together,” Captain Snow says. “Before he knew who his father was. I don’t know what’s happened to him since then, but he is--was--honorable enough. I don’t think he’ll hurt your companion, and your men will probably be ransomed.” The introspective, frustrated look on Captain Snow’s face fades away and he turns his gaze back to Sansa, look haughtier by the second. “If that satisfies your ladyship’s curiosity, we need to go. Now.” He turns on his heel and stalks off into, as far as Sansa can tell, a direction chosen almost completely at random.

Curiosity , Sansa mouths to herself, mockingly, and then she kicks the front of her skirts to get the mass of them moving and follows Captain Snow. Sansa is not entirely without resources--she has Lady, and once they are together she will be able to see what Lady had seen and determine if Captain Snow is telling the truth about their attackers; she has a knife in the pocket of her shift. She also has the advantage over Captain Snow, who thinks she’s an idiot. Sansa’s greatest weapon is that she never has to rely on violence to protect herself.

~

Sansa spends the hours following her kidnapping entertaining herself by trying to imagine what sort of shelter Captain Snow is going to find for them in the inhospitable landscape. While they’re still in the forest, she pictures some kind of treehouse in a godswood, but that only makes her homesick for Winterfell and doesn’t seem quite so funny. After they lose the tree cover, the land gets craggier, full of brush, and the air takes on a subtle, crisp smell. Sansa begins to imagine a hole in the ground.

Ghost wakes up eventually and pesters Sansa until she allows him down. It only takes him about twenty minutes to exhaust himself, frenetically sniffing every scraggly bit of greenery they pass and urinating on each of them. He’s actively drooping after they find a place to rest and drink a bit of water, but before Sansa can pick him up again, Captain Snow has him by the scruff and is draping the puppy over his shoulder. He says nothing, so Sansa says nothing; she’s getting tired and it’s easier to pretend to be stupid when she doesn’t have to say anything.

Sansa is waiting for Captain Snow to find them some sort of ramshackle barn or perhaps a disreputable-looking abandoned farmhouse, but after about four hours of walking he marches them over a hill and straight into a proper village before Sansa can even realize that they’ve stumbled across one.

“Most of the villages in this part of the Stormlands are entirely loyal to the Targaryens,” Captain Snow says. “You will be safe here while I find a maester with ravens.” He’s slowed down his brisk pace, dropping back until he and Sansa are walking abreast on the road. “We’re about half a day’s ride from the coast, and I can get us a boat to Dragonstone from anywhere along here.”

“And if you can’t find horses?” Sansa asks.

Captain Snow looks at her blankly for a moment, and then he says, “Oh. Perhaps another full day’s walk. Can you--that is, are you--er.”

Sansa lets him fumble for a little bit before she says, lightly, “I think with some rest I could manage another day of walking.” There’s pretending to be delicate and then there’s putting them in outright physical danger. “Do you know this village?”

“Well enough,” Captain Snow says. “The innkeeper will take us on credit.”

“How prosperous he must be, to make such allowances!” Sansa says.

“Yes,” Captain Snow says, but he does not share why this little village is so prosperous. Sansa normally has very little difficulty getting men to talk--about themselves, of course, but also about anything else. All you had to do to get a man to talk about himself was say how fascinating and look at him dewily. Sometimes you didn’t have to say anything at all. Yet Captain Snow had spent four hours with Sansa completely silent. Even Robb couldn’t keep his mouth shut for that long; he would’ve wanted Sansa to notice parts of the landscape he found of tactical importance.

Captain Snow silently leads Sansa to the village inn, a neat rectangle on the road at the other end from where they had entered, closer to the sea. There are large stables, half-full, and the yard smells like cooked mutton and peat smoke. Captain Snow ushers Sansa into the building and in the process of holding the door for her manages to drop Ghost, dead to the world, back into her arms.

“Captain Snow, ser, good to see you,” says the man behind the bar. It’s dark inside; Sansa closes her eyes for a second to adjust. “You in for an ale, or after a room for the night?”

“Two, Tommen, if you can manage it,” Captain Snow says. “The ale will have to wait. Have you got something to eat for the lady? She will take a tray in her room.”

“I’ve got two rooms, I do,” the innkeeper says. “Need you to sign the register, Captain, for you and the lady. Good you got here when you did; it’s bound to storm tonight.”

Captain Snow escorts Sansa over to a desk wedged into a corner of the taproom by a staircase, his hand against her back. The taproom is not appreciably clean but it’s not horrific; the straw on the floor has probably been changed in the last few days. Sansa keeps her face serene but stiff; a delicate princess of the north would be horrified by such an establishment but too well-bred to show it.

“Aye,” Captain Snow says. “We’re in for a rough one.” He leans over the register book and scribbles something on the line that the innkeeper indicates. “This’ll be on castle credit, Tommen, I haven’t much with me today.”

“I know you’re good for it,” the innkeeper says. “I’ll fetch herself, Captain, for the lady,” and he disappears into a doorway behind the bar.

While Captain Snow seems content to stand there silently and stare into space, Sansa is frustrated within about half a minute. How hard can it be to crack one man, for the love of the gods.

“How can you tell?” she asks Captain Snow, trying to make herself sound intrigued. “That it’s going to storm?”

“It’s already over the sea,” Captain Snow says. “You can smell the water change.” He finally turns his head to look at Sansa directly--not something he has had much occasion to do since they met four days ago--and she is reminded, again, of the familiar color of his eyes. She tries to look impressed by this bit of weather-telling. “This will be a different calibre of inn than your ladyship is used to patronizing.”

“Yes,” Sansa says, somewhat untruthfully. “Are you sure we’ll be safe here, captain?” She puts a sad little wobble into it.

“Yes,” he says, and he does not comfort Sansa any further, although she’s all but put her head on his shoulder and started to weep. He looks back towards the bar just before Tommen bustles back into view--he must have prodigious hearing--with a woman.

“Have a bath brought up, eat something, and rest,” Captain Snow says. “I will be back soon, once I find the maester and have a few ravens sent.”

Sansa opens her mouth to hiss, you kidnapped me and now you’re going to leave me here without letting me so much as send a raven to my brother , but she eats it back. There is something about Captain Snow that she can’t put her finger on--something that makes him difficult for her to manipulate--and it means she will have to be careful until she figures it out. She will survive this; Sansa knows how to bide her time.

“My dog,” she says instead, shifting her eyes to the innkeeper. “She is back on the road. Will you bring her up to my room when she arrives?”

“Yes, my lady,” the innkeeper says. “A little one, like the other, is she?” He nods at Ghost.

Captain Snow lets out a bark of actual laughter at this, and Sansa is so startled that she stares at him for a long handful of seconds. He’s still grinning when he says, “No,” to the innkeeper. “It’s huge.”

“We’ll keep an eye for her,” the woman says. “Shall I show you to your room, my lady? A warm bath will be just the thing.”

Captain Snow says, “I will see you in the morning, my lady.”

“Give my best to my brother, ser,” she says, and then she follows the innkeeper’s--wife? sister?--up the stairs to her room.

~

Sansa wakes up in the middle of the night to a storm. It sounds like there is lightning cracking down directly on top of the inn and the whole room is illuminated by eerie purplish light. Ghost is asleep in Sansa’s hair; when she groggily looks around, Lady is laying in front of the door, awake, resting her nose on her front paws. “Divine retribution?” she asks Lady, who snorts.

Despite valiant efforts and her deeply aching feet, Sansa does not fall back asleep. She moves Ghost down until he isn’t kicking her in the head and rests her cheek against the soft, downy fur of his back. Lady had showed Sansa what she had seen at the caravan: a few men in dark colors, one with a longbow, one of them with a shock of dark hair who’d gotten into a shouting match with Beth that had enabled Sansa to escape. It’s hard for Sansa to tell if it truly had been an attempt at kidnapping. Either way, Lady had stayed until Beth’s distraction had been enough for Sansa’s guard to get back the upper hand and chase off the men, presumed Baratheons; by then Sansa and Captain Snow had been long gone.

“For someone who hates me, he was quick to whisk me away,” Sansa says quietly to Lady. “Perhaps it’s working after all.”

Lady lets out a long, low huff and closes her eyes.

“No?” Sansa says. “Hmm. Maybe not.”

She chases her own thoughts in circles for a while, until she thinks it’s going to be enough to lull herself back to sleep, and then she hears something outside of her door that brings her instantly awake: a long, heavy sigh and the creak of floorboards.

Fuck , Sansa thinks, sitting up in bed so fast that she rips out a chunk of hair that’s tangled in with Ghost’s back feet. Lady has sat up and is sniffing at the bottom of the door, the hackles on her back slowly rising.

The floorboards creak again. Has someone been out there this entire time, and Sansa’s been sitting in bed fantasizing about wrapping a prince around her finger like a fucking idiot? Sansa thinks at Lady, I’m going to open it, and you’re going to rip out their throat .

She gets out of bed and silently crosses the room on her bare feet, careful to avoid the boards she’d noticed creaking under the feet of the maids during her bath. The thought of capping off this horrible experience with being assaulted at an inn a half-day’s ride from Dragonstone is so awful that Sansa won’t stand for it. She’s been the helpless maiden from a tale before and the whole thing had been incredibly galling in retrospect: one terrible decision after another, culminating in Sansa having to frame her good uncle for murder and escape down a mountain in the middle of the night dressed like a kitchen maid.

On three , Sansa thinks at Lady, who has risen to her full height and has bared her teeth, silent but looking like a creature out of a nightmare, and then Sansa counts to three and jerks the door open.

At her feet, Captain Snow, who had obviously been sitting on the floor and bracing his back against her door, loses his balance and nearly falls over. He just catches himself with his hands when Lady tries to pull back mid-leap and awkwardly crashes into his back; the two of them tumble over in a loud series of squeaking floorboards and thumps, just barely audible over the storm outside. From behind Sansa, Ghost wakes up with an inquisitive bark.

“What are you doing ?” Sansa hisses at Captain Snow, who is lying half-under Lady. “Don’t you have a room?”

“I’m not going to leave you defenseless in a public inn,” Captain Snow says, sounding scandalized by the very prospect. “Oof, get off,” he says to Lady.

“Lady, to me,” Sansa says, and Lady leaps off of Captain Snow and regally makes her way back to Sansa, eager to pretend nothing has happened. Captain Snow is having a harder time getting his feet under him and he’s immediately knocked back when Ghost jumps off of the bed, races between Sansa’s feet, and jumps on him. Sansa notices, somewhat against her will, that he’s taken off his jerkin and unlaced the top of his linen shirt; he has a neck that looks so attractive Sansa wants to lick it.

“For fuck’s--” Captain Snow bites out. “Down,” he says to Ghost, who climbs up his chest to lick his chin. “Can you call this one?” he says to Sansa, who says, “No,” although she probably could, because she’s too busy staring at the skin revealed by his half-open shirt.

“Why bring such a badly-trained creature on a long trip?” Captain Snow asks irritably. “Ghost, no .” He has to pick the puppy up under his armpits and bodily remove him.

“He’s a gift,” Sansa says. “His new master should finish his training.”

Captain Snow finally manages to lurch to his feet, the puppy tucked under his arm. “What kind of a gift is a puppy?” he says, exasperated. “Are you giving him to a five-year-old?”

“He’s a direwolf,” she says, and Captain Snow does not quite manage to suppress a full-body flinch. He looks at Sansa like she’s insane. “Lady is small enough to pass for a dog, but Ghost will probably get quite large.” After a second, she adds, “I thought it an appropriate gift for a Stark.”

Captain Snow gives Sansa quite a narrow-eyed look at this. She looks back at him placidly, trying to look stupid and innocent and not like the kind of person who would want to lick someone’s neck. “How long have you known?” he finally asks.

“Known what, Captain Snow ?” she asks sweetly.

He scowls at her. “Will you let off with that? We both know better. It’s taking us twice as long as it should to say anything with you like that.”

“I wasn’t aware we were discussing anything of importance, Captain Snow,” Sansa says, partly because she’s not sure if he’s trying to trap her in a lie--Arya gets a similarly petulant look on her face when she’s genuinely irritated by Sansa playing mind-games with her--and partly because she’s found his high-handedness incredibly annoying.

“We won’t while you’re pretending to be vapid,” he says, so bluntly that the stupid expression gets shocked off of Sansa’s face and she glares at him.

“Oh, were you going to answer my questions if I stopped asking them nicely?” she says. “I wasn’t aware that common courtesy was so distasteful to you.” She has to yell the last of this to be heard over the cracks of thunder.

“There’s common courtesy, my lady, and then there’s whatever mummer’s farce you’ve been peddling for the last five days,” he says. He comes two steps closer to her and makes to drop Ghost into her arms; she has to uncross them from beneath her breasts, which she only realizes when he looks down at them and then up at her face, quirking an eyebrow.

Mummer’s farce ?” Sansa says, raising an eyebrow right back. She accepts Ghost, who makes a soft ooph when dropped onto her forearms, and then immediately hands him to Lady, who drags the puppy back into Sansa’s room. “That’s very funny coming from you, Captain Snow . Whom have you ever fooled with that? You’ve got the accent of a noble and all of your clothes are expensive. You ride one of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen and your business is accepted on credit .”

“I’m sure you would have been much more straightforward with me if I rode up to your carriage and introduced myself as Prince Jon Targaryen,” he says. He’s crowding Sansa up against the open door frame to her room; his voice is dropping into a quieter register with every word. There are lamps in the corridor and the light is still purpleish from the storm but Sansa can see his pupils dilating. “The Starks are known for their honesty, but Lady Sansa’s a proper southron viper, so they say.”

Sansa lifts her hand to slap him but manages to stop at nearly the last moment and clenches her hand into a fist at level with his shoulder. She’s furious that his accusation has angered her; Sansa is a proper southron viper, because she had to become one to survive. She’s proud of herself. She shouldn’t be vulnerable to hissed accusations from handsome princes.

“Of course I knew who you were, the moment I saw you,” she says, deliberately, lowering her hand. “You’re exactly like my sister.”

His face is close to Sansa’s; she sees him flinch in the low light.

“Ah,” she says. “So you are squeamish. Arya was convinced you were too much of a Targaryen for that, but I wasn’t quite so sure.”

“You’re a brat,” he says.

“Am I?” she says. “I’m not the one who threw a fit about marrying my cousin.” It’s just a guess, but he narrows his eyes, so Sansa has clearly hit the mark. “Perhaps there’s someone else you fancy, my lord?”

She’s looking into his eyes, waiting to see something in his face to show that she’s sussed out the rest of it--it can’t just be squeamishness, there must be something else--but nothing changes in his expression. “Regrettably,” he says, “I have no other candidates,” and then he steps back. “Tomorrow will be a long day, my lady. You’d best get some sleep.”

Sansa says nothing and he just stands there, the thumb of his left hand lazily looped in the top of his belt, staring levelly back at her. Sansa is horrifyingly aware of her entire body, from the tips of her breasts to her knees to her bare toes, cold on the bare floorboards. It’s impossible for her to tell if he’s similarly impacted by her presence--oh gods, and she’s in her shift , fuck. “Good night, my lord,” she finally says.

“My lady,” he says, inclining his head, and Sansa steps back into her room and slams the door shut. She stands against it for one, three, seven seconds, and then she hears the quiet clanking of his sword and buckles as he settles again on the floor against her door.

~

Sansa does not sleep, but she gets out of bed a few hours after dawn, pulls her dress back on, and laces it up as best she can without a maid. She’s in the process of unknotting her hair with her fingers when she hears a rap of knuckles on the door.

“Yes?” she says.

The Targaryen prince opens the door to her room but does not enter. “My lady,” he says, with zero expression. He looks exactly like Sansa’s father trying not to land himself in the middle of one of Sansa and Arya’s hellish fights; it makes Sansa’s chest hurt for a few seconds. “Some bad news, I’m afraid.”

Sansa says, “No horses?”

“They are needed for urgent work after the storm,” he says. “And it’s too muddy for you to be walking. We’ll have to wait another day.”

“Do you know where your men would have gone?” Sansa asks him. Her hair probably looks a fright and she feels vulnerable but there’s nothing she can do about that.

“They would have continued on the road and eventually reached this village,” the Targaryen prince says. “But it takes longer by the road, not to mention the carriages. I don’t think they would have beaten the storm, and it looks like the river took the bridge in the night.”

Sansa says, “We are stranded, then?”

“Yes,” the Targaryen prince says. It is impossible to tell from his expression how he feels about this, but Sansa suspects that he’s not exactly eager to spend the day in her company. “I had a raven sent to Dragonstone informing my father’s Hand of our stopping. He will have informed your brother.”

“Thank you,” Sansa says, with irony she hopes he can hear.

“Do you require my assistance with anything, my lady?” he asks. The words are meek but something in their inflection makes Sansa’s spine stiffen.

“No, my lord,” Sansa says, although she knows she’s going to go raving mad with boredom in a few hours.

The Targaryen prince bows his head and then pulls the door to the room shut. Although Sansa waits, she does not hear any sound of him departing.

~

It only takes Sansa about an hour to become irritated.

“Do you suppose we could get a cyvasse board from someone?” she says, ripping open the door to her room. The Targaryen prince is, as she suspected, sitting across the hall, sharpening his blade.

He does not look up. “Are you bored, my lady?” he says.

“I am unused to idleness,” Sansa says. She can tell from the pattern of the metal that his sword is Valyrian steel, and it looks sharp. Other than that, she cannot say whether it suits someone considered the greatest living swordsman. It looks very slender, more finely wrought than Ice.

“I somehow doubt that,” the Targaryen prince says under his breath, so softly that Sansa almost doesn’t hear him. “I could ask the maester,” he says, more loudly. “If my lady requires entertainment.”

He finally looks up at Sansa. She can see that, underneath his beard, his mouth is soft-looking, pink, even when pressed by irritation into a hard line.

“I would not want to disturb you in your important work,” Sansa says, sweetly, and she steps back into her room and closes the door, gently, with as little noise as possible.

Then, she begins singing.

~

Twenty-five verses of the Sweet Maiden of Tarth aren’t enough to light a fire under the Targaryen prince, but it only takes seven of the Little Beggar Bird before he’s knocking on her door again. She’d made the initial mistake of picking a song everyone likes--the Sweet Maiden of Tarth has always annoyed Arya, who finds it insipid, but it has a sweet melody and the tale is fun--but few enjoy Little Beggar Bird for very long.

And she tapped on my window, trill-a-lil, trill-eh-lil, trill-a-lil-a-lil ,” Sansa sings, sitting on the floor next to the bed, tickling Ghost’s stomach. “ Trill-a-lil sang the little bird, trill-eh-lil-a-lil, trill-ey-lil, trill-a-li-la-ley .” She stops at the knocking, much to Ghost’s disappointment, and goes to answer the door.

“My lady,” the Targaryen prince says when Sansa opens the door, and he has a cyvasse board. “Tommen sent a boy to the maester.”

“How kind,” Sansa says brightly.

~

Sansa soundly trounces the Targaryen prince their first two games, but the third proves to be trickier and they’re still playing as midday stretches into the late afternoon. They’ve left the door open--the Targaryen prince has proven surprisingly prickly about Sansa’s maidenhead’s reputation for someone who kidnapped her out of a carriage without a maid--so Sansa can hear the yelling almost immediately. It’s impossible not to, at that volume. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” someone is shouting, banging their way up the stairs to the upper floor.

“How was I supposed to know it was your fucking sister?” someone else is shouting back. “I thought it was you!”

“Why would it have been me, idiot?” the first someone, who sounds alarmingly like Sansa’s little sister, says.

“Word was just that it was a Stark princess! It could have been you!”

“No one’s called me a princess since I was an infant, obviously it wasn’t me!”

“Well, I couldn’t have known that!”

Sansa says, “That’s Arya,” at the same time the Targaryen prince says, “Gendry.” They’re both still on the floor when the door is pushed open fully and Arya is standing in the doorframe, muddy from the soles of her boots to the shoulders of her jerkin. Next to her is a very tall man, similarly muddy, with dark hair and a warhammer looped through his belt. The Targaryen prince doesn’t so much rocket to his feet as disappear sitting and reappear standing, three strides away, body between Sansa and Gendry Waters.

“What are you doing here?” Sansa says to Arya, who says, “Rescuing you, obviously.”

“What’s your aim?” the Targaryen prince asks Gendry in a quiet voice.

“I don’t want the princess,” Gendry says, quickly. “She’s all yours, Jon. Just a misunderstanding.”

“A misunderstanding ?” the Targaryen prince says.

“Gendry thought I was marrying you, Targaryen, and asked some of his equally thick friends to help him rescue me. It’s fine, we’ve sorted it,” Arya says dismissively. She steps around the Targaryen prince and says, “Ghost!” as the puppy sleepily wakes up and scampers over to investigate her mud-splattered appearance. “I caught up to the caravan last night and Captain Cassel was foaming at the mouth about your disappearance, Sansa. I got him half a second from sending a raven to Robb asking that he declare war on the Stormlands for stealing you.”

“He’s not normally so quick to panic,” Sansa says. She takes the chance to use a trebuchet to remove one of the prince’s dragons from the cyvasse board. “He was on edge this whole journey.”

“It’s too far south,” Arya says dismissively. “Puts a man out of sorts. Anyway, he calmed down after a bit and agreed to proceed to Dragonstone with all your ridiculous luggage.”

“It’s not ridiculous,” Sansa says. “It’s the proper amount of luggage to bring when visiting for a few months when one is the sister of a king .” She looks to the Targaryen prince and says, “Your move, my lord.”

The Targaryen prince does not look at her. “Was this all a misunderstanding, Gendry?” he asks. “You’re not eager to have a throne?”

“What in the seven hells would I do with one of those?” Gendry says.

“There is a lot of gold in Dragonstone,” the Targaryen prince says.

“He doesn’t need gold,” Arya says. “He’s got good smithing trade in the Riverlands now and I’m going to make him come back to Winterfell, where he’ll do even better and stop accidentally fomenting rebellions. Stop being such an ass, Targaryen, or I’ll decide I’m mad about you kidnapping my sister.” She stops riling up Ghost and comes around the prince to inspect the cyvasse board.

“For the last time ,” the Targaryen prince says, “I did not kidnap her--”

“Didn’t fall for your legendary wiles, did he?” Arya asks Sansa.

Sansa scowls up at her. “Stop calling them that,” she says.

“I told you they’d get you into trouble,” Arya says smugly.

“And yet,” Sansa says, annoyed, “I managed to get myself out of the Vale without having to stab a single person.”

“You’ve got him to do the stabbing now,” Arya says. “Except, oh, wait, you didn’t manage to charm him into marrying you, did you?” She whirls around to look at the Targaryen prince, who no longer has his hand resting on the pommel of his sword but is still standing between Sansa and Gendry. Perhaps in deference to this position, Gendry still has not moved out of the doorway. “Not interested in my sister, Targaryen?”

“How’d you find us?” the Targaryen prince asks Arya.

“I badgered your second-in-command until he told me where you’d be likely to go. Then I waited out the storm, swam across the river, and followed the road. It was hardly tracking a crannogman, was it? Gendry figured it out, too.”

“Aye,” Gendry says.

“Fair enough,” the Targareyn prince says. “This still doesn’t explain why you’re here, Stark.”

The ice in his voice clicks the final piece into place. “ Oh ,” Sansa says.

“I’m here to save my sister, obviously,” Arya says.

Sansa says, “I sent a raven a few days ago, my lord, when it was clear you were worried about specific, incipient Baratheon threats. Except what you’re really worried about isn’t Baratheon threats--it’s Arya bringing the north to Gendry and allying with the Baratheons against the Targaryens.”

The Targaryen prince jerks around to look at Sansa. “Well?” he finally says, looking at her. “Is it true?”

“Of course it’s not true,” Arya says. “Gendry hates those assholes.”

“Aye, that I do,” Gendry says, but the Targaryen prince does not appear interested in their answers; he’s looking at Sansa, with those chilly, burning eyes.

“The Starks are friends of long-standing ,” Sansa says, slowly. “Were you going to trick me into revealing some kind of secret alliance, or merely disrupt it by marrying me first?”

“The invitation was not my idea,” the Targaryen prince says. “It was extended by the queen, my step-mother.”

“So this was merely a convenient opportunity,” Sansa says. “How long have you suspected that the north would join with the Baratheons?”

“Everyone fighting the Ironborn knew that the Lady Wolf shared her bed with a Baratheon bastard,” the Targaryen prince says. “After Robert’s death, there was speculation about who would win the loyalty of his men. Gendry’s name was mentioned, as he has the look of Robert and knows the warhammer.”

“For fuck’s sake, Jon,” Gendry says. “I haven’t had anything to do with rebellions or the like. And even if I did--and I don’t --Arya would kick me in the head before bringing me aid for that kind of idiot venture.”

“I would,” Arya says.

“I didn’t think it likely of you,” the Targaryen prince finally says. “But I couldn’t be sure. I hadn’t seen you in years. And her ladyship...” He trails off.

“Her ladyship, what?” Sansa says sourly.

“You were obviously hiding something,” he says.

“Yes,” Sansa says, “my intelligence and capacity for reason, as men find it so wildly unattractive. This is quite a conspiracy you imagined, my lord.”

Sounding as sanctimonious as a septa, Arya says, “This is what happens when you’re not forthright.”

“What do you want me to have done?” Sansa shouts at Arya, feeling her self-control snap like the noise of it is audible. “I couldn’t stab him! He was a grown man and I was being fostered, alone, worried every day Father was going to be killed fighting pirates and I’d be left with Aunt Lysa forever. And I had no training in combat!”

“You take a dagger and then you put the pointy end into his eye!” Arya says. “There, you’re trained!”

“And then I would have been tried for murder and the gods alone know what might have happened,” Sansa says. “Who would have believed me? It was all--whispers of things. He was very careful. I know it’s not quite the honorable solution you would have prefered, but I was alone and I did what I had to do and if you continue to bring it up every time you disagree with me, I’m going to do something extremely horrible to your beloved possessions.”

“If you go anywhere near my knives--” Arya says, and Sansa yells, “Then stop bringing up Petyr every time you want to win an argument!”

“Fine!” Arya says.

“Good!” Sansa says.

They stare at each other in furious silence for fifteen long seconds, and then the Targaryen prince says, “You two can take the other room.”

“What?” Arya says.

“We’ll leave for Dragonstone in the morning,” the Targaryen prince says. “You and Gendry, take the room next door. It’s paid for already.”

“And you’re what, sleeping here with my sister, whom you hate?” Arya says. “I don’t think so, Targaryen.”

“I’ll sleep in the corridor,” he says, patiently, the way that everyone sounds talking to Arya at one point or another.

Arya lets the silence go on for a bit, and then she says, “Fine,” and on her way out of the room stops to pick up Ghost and carry him with her. “Where can I get decent ale around here?” she asks Gendry, who says, “Downstairs. Who’s this, then?”

“Ghost,” Arya tells him as they disappear around the corner. “One of Lady’s litter, the rest of them went to Robb’s brats. Sansa brought him for Targaryen.”

“He looks a right little devil,” Gendry says, but he sounds tender.

As soon as Gendry and Arya have loudly tromped their way down the stairs, Sansa leans back against the bed and sighs, putting her hand over her eyes. She hopes that the cool touch of her own skin will calm her eyelids, which feel inflamed. On the bed above Sansa, Lady snuffles closer and noses against Sansa’s shoulder.

“She’s not changed much,” the Targaryen prince says eventually.

“Arya’s personality was set in the cradle,” Sansa says. “It has only become firmer with time. How loudly do you think I was shouting? Only the gods know who else might be here--I hope there aren’t any other noble families, this is exactly the sort of gossip I’ve been trying to avoid--”

“No nobles,” the Targaryen prince says. “Merchant families, maybe, but the registry had no names I recognized.”

“Oh, thank the Crone for that,” Sansa says, and she squeezes her temples with her thumb and forefinger. When she finally opens her eyes, the Targaryen prince is standing over the cyvasse board, looking down at it with a small frown.

“You’ll have beaten me again,” he says. “In three moves.”

“Yes,” Sansa says. “Were you actually trying, this time? I could tell the first two matches that you couldn’t be bothered.”

“You’re skilled,” he says instead of answering. He looks at Sansa’s face and some of the tightness around his eyes loosens. “You’re skilled at that--the other thing, as well.” Sansa looks at him blankly for a moment before she realizes that he means her playacting as vapid. “My men certainly couldn’t tell.”

“But you did,” Sansa points out.

“I was suspicious already,” he says. “If I hadn’t been on my guard--it might have worked on me.” He pauses, and then he rolls his eyes in an aborted motion. “It probably would have worked on me. That damsel thing, it gets everyone, doesn’t it?”

Sansa says, “Men? Yes.”

The Targaryen prince has fine shoulders and beautiful arms that Sansa has been doing her best to ignore all day, since they are shown to good effect in the linen shirt that he’s been wearing--sans jerkin--for most of the day. He looks like a statue version of himself, all finely wrought in golden marble. Sansa’s been beating him at cyvasse because she can’t concentrate enough to fake a convincing loss. She’s looking at those shoulders now, instead of his face, which is why she’s startled when he drops into a flawless courtly bow, pushing his sword behind him as he does so in a deft, practiced movement.

“Jon Targaryen, heir of the Storm King, at your service, my lady,” he says.

Sansa blinks up at him once, and then she catches what he’s doing. She bites back a smile and offers him her hand, which he has to bow, again, to kiss. “Lady Sansa Stark, my prince,” she says. His lips are as soft as they look.

“A pleasure to meet you, my lady,” he says, and his voice has a little rasp to it that scrapes over the words.

“Thank you for the kind invitation, my prince,” Sansa says. “I have never been to Dragonstone.”

“There is no other castle like it in Westeros, my lady,” Jon says. “I hope it will prove to be to your liking.” He’s still holding her hand.

“I am sure it will,” Sansa says. “I’ve heard there is much to admire about dragons.”

In one deft movement, he turns over her hand and kisses it again, this time on the exposed skin of her inner wrist. It’s good that Sansa is sitting down, because it feels like all of the blood in her body races towards her hand. “And I of wolves, my lady,” he says, and he slowly releases her hand. His face has gone red; perhaps he is not as practiced in lover-like gestures as he is in courtly ones. “Sleep well, Lady Sansa. If you need me, I will be in the corridor.”

“Yes,” Sansa says, a little strangled. “Ah, good night, my prince.”

The last she sees of Jon as he shuts the door is the tiny smirk in the corner of his mouth, nearly hidden by his beard. She has to sit on the floor for a few minutes after he leaves, remembering how her body works.

“See?” she finally says in a low whisper to Lady, who licks her ear. “I told you he liked me.”