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Once again, Sansa dreads her wedding night. She has seen what the Bolton Bastard has done to Theon, who is completely unrecognisable now, and she has heard and seen even more since then. The servants are awfully quiet, which worries her. Servants who talk are easy and predictable, a sign of a household with good lords. Not only are the servants here quiet and skittish, some of them are missing limbs; often fingers, some tongues. She thinks the latter are the servants who used to talk, before.

Lord Baelish assured her she would be able to manipulate Ramsay, easily; she had learned so much. Now, she can only scoff. With what she has seen of Ramsay, she has entered a hornet’s nest, and Baelish has left her. Joffrey, petty and arrogant, was nothing but a cruel boy with not enough oversight and too much power and entitlement. Ramsay, on the other hand, is a sadist, from a House known for its bloodlust, and encouraged to be the worst he can be. He, unlike Joffrey, has something to prove, prove he is worthy of his father’s House’s name.

Lord Tyrion, despite how much she dreaded their wedding night, has never done anything to her that she didn’t agree to, has even taught her about the court’s machinations, how to deal with his sister and nephew. She doubts that she will be as lucky now.

She follows Reek into the godswood, sees the assembled party. Her gaze falls on the man who has killed her brother, and that man’s son, with that horrible, sweet smile on his face, next to him. She keeps her head down during the ceremony, kneels, accepts the blue bride’s cloak with their horrid sigil on it and quietly follows Reek into her girlhood chambers, Ramsay on their heels. It seems to happen too quickly and seeming to last an eternity, both at once. Everybody seems to be too intimidated to insist on the traditional bedding, at least – Sansa has never attended a wedding feast so subdued, including her first. Not that that has stopped Ramsay from enjoying himself at her – and Reek’s – expense.

As Sansa enters the chambers, her eyes go from the back of Reek’s head, to the room, brightly illuminated by candles on every surface. It’s a sham at romance. No, she will not be as lucky as she was with Tyrion, not tonight. She tries to steel herself, takes tentative steps further into the room, when her eyes fall on the bed. Gods. Margaery’s kind, soft touch feels so far away now; a continent away, a lifetime ago.

Her husband follows her as she walks the room, trying to waste the time she can feel slipping through her fingers. He is ever-present at her back.

“Are you pleased, my lady?” he asks. What can she do but nod? So she does, trying her best not to let herself tremble. “Good. I want you to be happy.” Her mind is reeling. “My father says you are still a virgin,” he continues, calmly, as if this is as pleasant a conversation as any. For all she knows, it is, to him.

What is he playing at? Sansa looks at Reek, who hurriedly lowers his gaze. She wants to scream at him, tell him to do something, anything, please. That she thinks for even a second that Theon Turncloak, of all people, could, would help her, is an unsettling thought. He, too, is a traitor, after all. It’s hard to remember that, looking at him now. What she does instead is to quietly reply, “Yes.” She wants to scream at herself. She sounds like the girl she used to be, that meek silly little thing that let herself be tormented by Joffrey. The little dove she swore to never be again.

“Why?” Ramsay closes the distance between them. His breath is hot on her neck, too hot. Too close. He is shorter than her, but everything about his presence seems imposing, as if he were towering over her, like the Hound used to. He smells of wine and charred meat. She doesn’t reply, keeping her gaze low. “Why are you still a virgin? Afraid of dwarves?” He laughs at his own joke.

A stab of fury runs through her, clutches around her heart. Sansa raises her head, looks down her nose at him, for just a moment. This monster does not get to make fun of someone who is more man than he ever will be. “Lord Tyrion was kind. And he was gentle. He never touched me.” At least her voice isn’t shaking, she thinks, a little relieved.

“You’re not lying to me?” His voice, already raspy to start with, goes even lower. He’s trying to intimidate her, show her he’s in control.

Sadly, it’s working. All thought of manipulating him, making him hers, goes out of her head. Now, she just wants to survive this with her sanity intact, if not her dignity. She swallows before she trusts herself to reply. “No, my lord.” She feels her voice quaver.

“Lying to your husband on his wedding night. That would be a bad way to start a marriage.” He reaches up to touch her cheek. Her heart feels like it’s about to jump out of her chest, but she doesn’t pull away. She takes what comfort she can in the fact that she’s taller than him. “We’re man and wife now. We should be honest with each other, don’t you think?”

Sansa swallows before she trusts herself to reply. “Yes.”

He kisses her. His lips are hot against hers, she can taste the wine he’s had, too sweet. She presses her lips together, tries to imagine Margaery, tries to tell herself that she’s doing this to achieve a goal, to get her home back. It’s little comfort, now.

Ramsay pulls back, smirking again. “Good. Take off your clothes.” His eyes wander from her to Reek, as though he’s waiting for a reaction, then back to her again.

Of course, she’s been expecting this. She knows what is supposed to happen during a wedding night, she’s not stupid. Still, her eyes shoot open in shock, but she doesn’t look at Ramsay. She looks at Reek, still standing by the open door. He looks at the floor and turns to leave. She wants to yell at him, tell him to protect her. Again, she forgets that he is nothing but Ramsay’s pet.

Ramsay grins. The sadistic bastard is enjoying this. “Oh no, no, no. You stay here, Reek.”

Sansa turns back to look at Ramsay. Really, she should have been expecting this, too. She has seen what he does to people. And yet, she hasn’t thought that his sadism might extend to other areas as well and asks herself why she has let herself think this. She’s not a child anymore, she’s not that naive little girl anymore. She feels like crawling out of her own skin, anything but this. But she is a wolf of Winterfell, Sansa reminds herself, and she has survived thus far. She can survive this, him.

“You watch.” Ramsay continues, still smirking at Reek. Reek looks back at Ramsay, horrified. Sansa turns again, to look from Ramsay to Reek, who takes a hesitant step into the room.

Ramsay is addressing her again. “Do I need to ask a second time? I hate asking a second time.”

Time seems to stop. Sansa takes a tentative step towards the bed and starts fiddling with her sleeves. Reek closes the door.

“You’ve known Sansa since she was a girl. Now watch her become a woman.” Bastard. Ramsay takes a step towards her; she feels the hands on her back. She tries to get out of her own head, to be somewhere else, to be someone else. She remembers Alayne Stone. Alayne was comfort, Alayne was easy to escape into. But Alayne was also helpless in the face of the unwanted attentions of her supposed father. She wants to think of a happy memory, but nothing comes to mind. All her happy memories are here and they’ve already been tainted by the flaying men in her home, and those that are not, are of Margaery and she does not want to taint those either.

And then the atmosphere in the room changes. “You’re a cunt, Ramsay,” Reek’s voice says, dripping with scorn, but it clearly isn’t Reek who’s speaking.

The pressure on her back is gone immediately. “That took far longer than expected,” Ramsay replies, sniggering. The feeling of his hands on her lingers, like ants crawling under her skin. She takes the chance to stand back up straight and takes a steadying breath to calm her nerves before turning around to look at the two men now facing each other.

Reek is gone, Theon in his place. There is no sign of Reek’s hunched back, or his gaze which seemed either glued to the floor or wide in panic. In fact, there is nothing left of Reek. Theon stands straight and proud, his hands behind his back, though still at his place by the wall. He’s looking Ramsay Bolton directly in the eye. Ramsay holds his gaze for a moment, and smiles, ducking his head a little, in what could be interpreted as a sheepish gesture, if it hadn’t been the Bastard of the Dreadfort.

He turns back to her, addressing her again. “There have been rumours about you, and the Lady Margaery,” he says, completely out of the blue. “Are they true?”

“That depends on what kind of rumours you have heard. My lord,” she replies, choosing her words carefully, still eyeing Theon. Reek would never dare to speak to his master that way, and the Ramsay she has heard about and got to know would have never accepted the insult so calmly, let alone laughed at it. There is clearly something going on here, something she doesn’t understand. Yet. Unless … “Is this a ruse?” She looks up, suddenly furious, her eyes fixing on Theon. “Is this a game to you?” she demands. Theon ducks his head, avoiding her eyes.

“You’re not nearly as stupid as people say you are,” Ramsay says, sounding impressed. “My father underestimates you. He thinks you’re a meek little girl, that he can legitimise his rule through you and that you will go along with it, just because you’re back in your childhood home. But you’re not a meek little girl at all, aren’t you?”

You underestimate me, too, if you think you need to explain things that I already know to me,” she replies, trying her best to imitate Cersei at her haughtiest. She’s not trying to watch her words anymore, straightening her back proudly. She wants, need to know what this is and then she needs to figure out how she can use it to her advantage. Maybe she will regret that, later, but she is still looking at Theon, who has changed his stance ever so slightly, and she doesn’t think she will. Things are not as they seem, clearly. Theon’s hands are folded in front now, his weight just slightly favouring his right leg. His face is still, though; she can’t read him. It’s still a far cry from the Theon who could never keep his mouth shut, the Theon she knew before.

Ramsay bows his head, a smile playing around his lips again. There is no cruelty there now, it seems to be genuine amusement. “Of course, my lady.”

“What is this then?” she asks, gesturing between them.

Ramsay inhales, then casts a sideways glance at Theon. Sansa follows the movement just fast enough to see Theon nod agreement. Curious. “You are correct in thinking this is a ruse. We both thought it would be much …” He hesitates. “Safer for Theon if I used my reputation to protect him from people such as my father, his father … your family. To do so, we had to get a little more … creative. To make it convincing, you see.” He’s still not telling her everything, she knows that, she can hear it in the way he speaks, haltingly. He has rehearsed this speech, that much is obvious, but she can’t quite put her finger on what is off. And Theon still offers nothing.

The question of why dies on her lips. Instead, she focuses on Theon’s hands, always gloved, always carefully held in such a way to make it seem like Ramsay has taken fingers. He still holds them in front of himself, the left covering his right. “Show me,” she demands.

They both follow her gaze. Theon has shock writ clear on his face, while an amused smirk widens on Ramsay’s. “Sansa,” Theon beings to say, weakly, before he gives Ramsay an exasperated look. “This is all your fault, Ram. Why’d you have to go around telling everyone you’d cut off my cock?”

Language!” Ramsay’s voice booms. He makes a quick flicking motion with his hand.

Sansa expects him to flinch and cower, become Reek, but Theon just looks annoyed. Something isn’t right.

“It’s a little late to be worried about my delicate womanly mind, isn’t it?” she says calmly, looking at Ramsay, before turning back to Theon. “I want to see your hand, Theon. Gods.” The last word comes out in a frustrated huff.

“Oh,” he says, blushing. He pulls the glove off his right hand, straightening the two fingers that have been curled into his palm to give the illusion of missing fingers to someone not looking too closely. He wiggles them a little, presumably to get the blood flowing again. As he does so, his sleeve slips up his arm, showing scars and welts that have not been there when she last saw him, in another life. Following her gaze, he assures her, “this isn’t as bad as it looks,” and pulls the sleeve back further, revealing a motley collection of mostly purple, some yellow, bruising. “These are all surface level damage, just for show.” He locks eyes with Ramsay again, an unreadable expression on his face.

“But why?” she asks, curiosity getting the better of her.

Ramsay shrugs. “We had to make it seem believable. The Bolton Bastard’s poor abused servant, the former Prince of the Iron Islands, can’t very well walk around with unmarred skin. I have a reputation, after all.” There is more to this, she can tell by the way one corner of his mouth quirks up, enjoying a private joke she isn’t partial to. She looks to Theon again, but he still isn’t letting anything show, just calmly rolling his sleeve down again, as though this, too, was practiced, talked about beforehand.

She decides to drop it, for now. “So, what was the point of this charade before?” she demands, focusing on Ramsay again. It looks like he has a twitch in his eye. “If you didn’t really intend to hurt me, what was the point?

“I just wanted to see when Theon would intervene.” He chuckles. “It took a lot longer than I anticipated. I expected him to lose his composure when I kissed you. And then, when I told him to watch. Really, I had to escalate the whole thing a lot more than I intended.” Theon groans, covering his face with his hand.

“So this is a game to you.” She looks from one to the other again. Theon at least has the decency to look ashamed.

Ramsay, however, looks completely unapologetic. “I didn’t get my reputation undeserved,” he says, arms spread wide. “But in truth, I have no interest in lying with you.”

“Neither do I,” she spits. This whole affair disgusts her.

“Then we are in agreement.” He looks different now, smaller, as though the persona he puts on in public is as much armour as hers. He is worse than just a murderer, she reminds herself. Just because he seems so affable now doesn’t mean he is not dangerous, is not still toying with her. The opposite is much more likely, in fact. Littlefinger, too, always seemed affable and look where he had got her. And Littlefinger, at least, isn’t known for skinning people alive.

Another thought occurs to her and won’t leave the front of her mind as soon as she thinks of it. “Your father will expect me to bleed tonight, for one reason or another. It doesn’t matter,” Sansa says, looking at Ramsay, who is halfway between her and Theon now. Fitting. “I imagine you have a way of getting blood for the sheets.”

Ramsay looks at Theon, a silent question seeming to pass between them, because after a second, Theon looks genuinely startled. “Fuck, no,” he says. “I’m not some pig you get to cut open because it’s convenient.”

And suddenly, the way they interact with each other clicks into place. “Gods, you’re lovers, aren’t you.” It isn’t a question. She stares at Theon again, a boy she has grown up with, just another man who has betrayed Robb, the man who killed Bran and Rickon, a man she doesn’t recognise. “You enjoy this.” She shakes her head in disbelief.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Theon says, quietly, but other than that, he doesn’t contradict her. He seems to finally have realised that he has let whatever game Ramsay has been playing with Sansa before go on too long and will have to pay the price sooner rather than later.

Ramsay addresses Theon. “Go fetch something from the kitchens. A rabbit, maybe. Reek,” he adds. And just as soon as the word has left his mouth, Theon is hunched in on himself again, affecting that limp.

“You disgust me,” Sansa says as she watches Theon leave. Whether she means Theon or Ramsay or both, she isn’t sure of anymore.

“I don’t need you to understand or accept this, but it works for us. He’s still alive.” He sounds fond. The vulnerability he shows her, it has to be more than an act. But then, she has been fooled before. She still doesn’t know what he would get from gaining her trust, however. His father works this way, through cunning and trickery, but he doesn’t. Not for long, at least. He’s brute force and a flaying knife.

“He killed my brothers, just like your father has. I don’t want him to be alive,” she says instead, looking him in the eye. They’re too pale, almost watery.

“But he hasn’t,” Ramsay protests, genuine surprise in his words. “They escaped Winterfell, with the Maester’s and the wildling woman’s help. He tracked them to a farm but lost their trail there. He killed two other boys in their stead. I don’t know where they are now, or if they’re even still alive, but Theon hasn’t killed your brothers.” He looks at her, and there is something like warmth there. Maybe. “I don’t think he could have. He still calls them his brothers.”

Her stomach drops and it feels like a weight she didn’t know was there has been taken off her shoulders. Tears threaten to fill her eyes and she has to concentrate to keep them down. She has given up hope long ago, but now. They could still be alive. Now there is more to fight for than revenge. If he isn’t trying to trick her. So instead, she focuses on Theon’s first crime. She takes a steadying breath, before she dares to speak again. “He betrayed Robb,” she insists. “They were close as brothers growing up and he betrayed him still.”

“Which he also regrets, for what it’s worth,” Ramsay admits, quietly. “He still calls Robb his brother.” The words, that maybe he still would call Sansa sister, remain unspoken. They hadn’t been close as children, her mother had always tried to keep her away from Theon and Sansa has never sought his company. Ramsay lifts a hand but seems to think better of it than to touch her and lets it drop, twisting his fingers, like he is itching to hold onto something. They wait in silence for Theon’s return. Ramsay goes around the room, blowing out the excess candles, leaving the room much dimmer, but more honest.

Theon returns with the rabbit, still alive and struggling against the grip at its neck, and as soon as the door is closed behind him, he straightens his back again, becomes Theon in full. Or at least, as much Theon as he can be nowadays.

“Why did you bring a live one?” Sansa asks, disturbed, her eyes focusing on the back paws which make a terrible impression of a hop to freedom. Ramsay has already produced a knife from gods know where.

“Blood congeals, it won’t look convincing if I’d brought a dead one,” Theon replies absentmindedly, like he hasn’t even realised he’s talking to her, while handing the rabbit to Ramsay. As he walks over to the bed with it and cuts it open in one fluid motion, stomach to neck, Sansa stares in horrified fascination.

The blood splatters over the bed, a spray of red staining the white wool. Ramsay’s breath hitches as he lets the animal bleed out. She has her answer here then. The stories are definitely true – he enjoys this. And whatever this thing with him and Theon is, she is in the middle of it now, whether she wants to be or not. She might as well use this.

“You have to put it in one spot,” Theon says, grabbing at Ramsay’s hand. “Roose will not appreciate it if it looks like you cut your pretty wife open.” Sansa notices how easily Theon interacts with Ramsay, while he has mostly avoided interacting with her. Guilt?

She watches them bicker like this is just a harmless game. “Do you even realise how dangerous what you’re doing is?”

Ramsay produces yet another knife, kneels down by the hearth, and begins skinning the animal in precise, deft movements. “Hungry, my lady? It would be a shame to let this go to waste.” She watches as the pelt part from the flesh oh so easily.

“Answer me.”

Ramsay bows his head. “Yes, we are. Intimately, one might even say. But there is no other way.” He looks up at her then, the dead rabbit half-skinned on his knees. “You must know what it’s like to have your every step watched.” She nods in quiet agreement. Ramsay continues, bitterness in his voice, “Just having people wait for you to make a mistake,” she nods again, “especially now that he has a legitimate heir on the way. My own father has spies set on me. I’m rather fond of Theon, so I’d like to keep him alive, but that would not be possible in other circumstances.”

“You still could have held him hostage. Normally, I mean.”

“The way your family has?” Ramsay grins. “Look at how well that has turned out.”

“Ramsay,” Theon says sharply. He still hasn’t moved further towards them, is still lingering by the bed, with its now bloody sheets. He wrings his hands.

“My apologies,” Ramsay concedes, a mock smile on his face. “I had a hostage and needed to get some information. I fully intended to get them the usual way.” His words are accompanied by a flick of the wrist, separating the last bit of pelt from the rabbit’s flesh. “It was a happy coincidence that Theon turned out to be a lot more interesting alive and intact than whatever I could torture out of or into him. Still, appearances had to be kept. By the point my father returned home to decide what to do with the Greyjoy heir, the ruse had already gone too far and we had to stick it out.” He shrugs, like he doesn’t really regret the way things turned out.

He sets aside the knife, taking up the other again. With the blade between his fingers, he pulls the killing wound open more and starts pulling out the rabbit’s guts with his bare hands. “At least this way, nobody dares to question why he stays in my rooms.” Sansa suspects that nobody here does much questioning anyway. “Theon, get me the chamber pot.” Theon obeys mutely, putting down the empty chamber pot next to Ramsay, who unceremoniously drops the rabbit’s guts in there. Their relationship clearly isn’t balanced equally, despite what they’re telling her.

She still doesn’t understand what Ramsay gets out of this, if he isn’t planning on getting any children on her as soon as possible to cement his position as his father’s heir. “So what is the point? What is your plan here? You must have some plan. You’re not stupid.” She sinks into a chair by the fire.

“Thank you, my lady. That means more than you can imagine.” Ramsay smiles at her, that sardonic, mocking smile, the one that reaches his eyes. He holds up his bloody hands. “My plan is to fuck Theon here raw until my dying day, and to kill my father. I think you have a passing interest in the latter as well. It seemed as good a match as any.” He sets the rabbit to roast over the fire and looks up at her, his too light eyes watching her with barely concealed interest, as if he can’t wait for her next step.

“Your move, Lady Stark.”