Chapter 1: the innocence in your face bled out without a trace
Warnings: This chapter starts with THAT scene from ep 5.06 taken directly from the show, so be aware of that. It stops before the rape happens, though, and goes in a completely different direction. BUT it's still a far cry from being healthy and includes power play with a non-consenting (/unaware) participant. That will get addressed in the next chapter.
Right, that should be all the necessary warnings, I hope. If I've missed something/should be more clear, please let me know.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
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.”
Chapter title from If I Say by Mumford & Sons.
Sansa considers Ramsay’s words carefully. There is something to be said for his honesty. If it is indeed that. But she now has to believe he is telling the truth, otherwise she will have no idea what to do next. So she gives them her honest opinion.
“That’s not a plan. It isn’t even the start of a plan.” Her eyes land on Theon again, who is now standing by Ramsay’s side, who in turn is watching the rabbit on the fire, like there is nothing more important in this room. It’s not a cooking fire, but it seems to do its job well enough. Theon is stood next to him and despite towering over the crouched man, he looks like he is about to jump at his very word. “Will you please sit down?” she sighs.
He gapes at her. “Sansa, I don’t—”
“It’s not about what you want or think. Your hovering unsettles me and I need to think.” She fixes him with her gaze, but he doesn’t move. She sighs and looks at Ramsay instead, moving her head towards Theon.
And there is that smirk again. Ramsay turns to Theon, barely glancing at him, before telling him, “do as the lady says,” and then immediately turns back to the rabbit again.
“Gods, this is the worst. Now I have two people ordering me around,” Theon protests, but he does sit down on the chair opposite Sansa’s.
Sansa narrows her eyes at him in response, while Ramsay snorts, rolling his eyes. “Right, because you don’t get off on it.” He sounds genuinely fond, as though discussing an endearing habit instead of some bedroom game that appears to stretch far beyond its boundaries.
She tries not to picture it too vividly and fails spectacularly. “How have you two managed to conceal you’re lovers for so long? You’re doing a terrible job of it right now.”
Ramsay shrugs, comfortably leaning back against Theon’s leg. “First, we’re currently not trying to. After all, as we already established, one should be honest with each other on their wedding night. Second, you bought the whole insane Bolton Bastard and his poor Reek act hook, line and sinker, too.”
“So, I ask you again, Lady Stark.” He emphasises her name, possibly acknowledging that she is more than his wife, possibly still trying to lure her into a sense of security. “What do you want? Aside from the death of my entire House, of course, and possibly Theon’s here.” Theon grunts, as though he’s trying to say not to put any ideas into her head. “Oh, be quiet. As if she hasn’t pictured it more times than you can imagine.” Ramsay looks up at her, still comfortably sitting on the floor. “Or do I have it wrong?” His expression clearly says that he doesn’t think he does.
Visions of Theon’s head mounted on a spike – just like her father’s – above the gates of Winterfell, Theon’s body hacked into a million pieces on a battlefield, Theon mutilated beyond recognition, Theon’s body dashed on a rock, Theon drowned in the hot springs in the Godswood, Theon’s body burned beyond recognition, Theon’s body soaked full of saltwater in the sea, rush through her head. They have been a comfort, before she got here. Seeing Theon brought low, being Reek, had softened her feelings on the matter, if only somewhat. She forces her lips into a sweet, innocent smile. “Not everyone is like you, Lord Ramsay.”
Theon snorts, as does Ramsay. “I’d agree with that, hardly anyone is like me. But I don’t have you wrong here, my lady.” He touches his index finger to his own nose, wrinkling it at her. “It takes one to know one. You want revenge. Don’t deny it – I won’t believe you. So, think about what you want aside from that.”
In truth, her thoughts had rarely gone beyond getting her home back, taking back Winterfell. But, seeing it full of the flayed man of Bolton, she realises she wants more than just revenge, or even her home. The Boltons are only the first rung on the ladder; the Red Wedding wasn’t their doing, nor the Freys’, not in truth. It takes a traitor, yes, but it also takes someone to legitimise the traitor’s actions. A plan practically forms by itself in her mind’s eye. Ramsay watches her face in unconcealed fascination as it does.
“If Walda’s child is indeed a son,” Sansa begins slowly, as though she is thinking out loud. The flames from the hearth illuminate Ramsay’s face in an unsettling way, making it seem even more angular. He remains quiet, just nods at her to continue. “If Walda’s child is a son, your position is forfeit. Your legitimisation only holds true for as long as the North is a part of the Seven Kingdoms.” He looks at her with what she assumes is interest. “I intend to take the kingdom back, and with it, my brother’s crown.” Ramsay’s lip twitches up in a half-smile. Theon, on the other hand, winces audibly at the mention of Robb. “That makes you a bastard again, who has only been legitimised by another bastard, whose word will hold no sway here.”
“Presuming you take your brother’s crown,” Ramsay drawls, making a show of considering her words, “that would make you Queen in the North.” She nods assent. He continues, “You could legitimise me when you’re Queen. No Southron bastard kings required.”
She smiles at him, her sweetest smile, the one she used on Lord Baelish, and Cersei, and, seldomly, Joffrey. Before she realised it was wasted on him. “But I won’t.”
His mouth drops open, in what seems to be genuine astonishment. “You would rather be married to a bastard than the heir of Bolton? I understand there’s always been enmity between our Houses, but surely—”
“As a bastard, you have no right to inherit your father’s lands,” she interrupts him. “You don’t have a name to supersede mine, which means my children will inherit my name. Winterfell will be ruled by a Stark, not a Bolton. And, as you already pointed out, I do want the death of your entire House. But your House is small, almost as small as mine, and you will not even bear its name. That leaves only Walda’s child, who is innocent. And with Roose gone, that child can be raised as a decent and loyal person.”
Ramsay falls quiet, fussing at the rabbit. Theon hands him a plate that hasn’t been cleared away from her breakfast, which seems an oversight punishable by loss of limb or something similar under Bolton rulership, considering she is supposed to be having her wedding night right now. She doesn’t point it out. It doesn’t matter that Reek is a charade, when she has seen Ramsay take limbs. He has earned his reputation, even if not everything is true.
“It’s not seasoned but should be fine to eat.” Ramsay offers the plate, along with yet another knife, to her. He looks rather bashful, the way he is still kneeling by the fire, holding a plate of food up to her. She will have to remind herself just how dangerous he is, going forward, if he keeps up this way. It’s easy to underestimate him, when he looks like that, and she knows how dangerous people you underestimate can be.
She declines. “I’m not hungry.” She can’t forget that not even an hour ago the poor animal has been alive and struggling, cut open just to make it seem like she has been properly violated on her wedding night. The thought is ridiculous; she’s had rabbit countless times before, that’s what they are raised for, but seeing the entire process like this has rather put her off. Ramsay shrugs, then he looks up at Theon. “Eat. You need to get some meat back on your bones.” Theon gets that wild look in his eyes, the one that Reek often has, and stares at her, as if she somehow needs to give him permission. “I said eat,” Ramsay repeats.
She wonders if she will understand their interactions with each other once she knows them better. The Theon she has grown up with, the one who had been learning the sword with Robb and Jon, the one who has boasted about his conquests and his whores until her mother shut him up, seems to be an entirely different person than the one that is now reluctantly taking up the plate with charred rabbit. That Theon would not be capable of murdering two little boys he has seen grow up. Could this Theon, the one that has betrayed Robb, have murdered her brothers? Now that she sees him, doubt has set in, even though she has been so sure, before Ramsay told her he hadn’t killed them.
“We can do more than just kill your father,” she continues after a while. “We can win back the North. Walda’s child, if it lives, will inherit the Dreadfort, but your children will inherit the North.”
Theon snorts into the food. “Good luck with that.” The look in Ramsay’s eye as he looks up at Theon screams bloody murder. His hand creeps up on Theon’s thigh and he pinches. Theon winces, but there is no indication of him retaliating. He only shifts his leg a little and then continues eating, as though nothing has happened.
“And once we have won the North, I will execute your father for betraying my brother.” She glances at Theon, who swallows, hard, his eyes not leaving her face. Good. Keep him on his toes. “And after that, the Freys will learn what it means to violate the Guest Right and the Lannisters can finally pay their bloody debts.” She looks down and Ramsay is smiling widely at her. “Think about it. We both have a lot to gain here.” Then she looks at them both. “Good night.”
Ramsay nods at her, and she prays it is a sign that it is the start of respect for her, and not just a part of his plan to break her into pieces clicking into place. He slaps Theon on the thigh. “Come on, we’ve been dismissed.” Theon sets aside the plate and follows Ramsay to the door, his hand brushing Ramsay’s just for a moment.
“Wait,” she calls, two thoughts occurring to her. “Someone needs to clean out the chamber pot,” she says, indicating the rabbit’s guts that have been unceremoniously dumped into it. Ramsay looks at Theon, who rolls his eyes, sighs very loudly and takes it. “And I also need help opening this,” she moves her shoulder in what she hopes is an indication of her dress. The thought of having Ramsay touch her still makes her skin crawl, but she doesn’t know if having Theon do it is worse. He steps closer, opening the ties that hold it together. He averts his gaze as the dress starts to glide off her shoulders, revealing her underdress. She quickly gathers it up and holds it closed. If this is a ruse, he might be the best mummer in all the Kingdoms. She even catches Theon sneaking a peek before he hurriedly looks away. “Thank you. Good night,” she says stiffly, still clasping her dress.
Ramsay inclines his head towards her. Once at the door, he turns around. “I’m glad you’re the opposite of what I’ve been promised. The idea of a simpering wife seems rather dull compared to what you are turning out to be.” He makes a shooing motion at Theon, still clutching the bloody chamber pot, and closes the door behind them, after a last look at her. “Sleep well, my lady.”
Sansa sinks back into the chair and notices there is a little piece of the rabbit left on the plate. She takes it and begins picking at it, not out of true hunger, but just to have something to do, while she considers the bloody mess on her bed. The way it is now, it looks too made up, obviously, since nobody has actually been in it. For their ruse to work, it has to look used but the thought of touching the sheets is too much, let alone lying down and sleeping in them.
She removes her wedding dress, and carefully spreads it over the slowly drying puddle of blood on her bed, using her knees to press the dress further into it. After that is done, she messes the sheets up a bit, hoping it will have the desired effect, and that nobody will look too closely after seeing the blood. She exchanges the dress for a sleeping gown, and carefully removes a layer of blankets and furs from the bed, to curl up in one of the chairs by the fire.
Her eyes fall on her bride’s cloak, which has been discarded on her dresser. It’s a crude thing, even if one doesn’t consider the horrid Bolton sigil; it’s very poorly made, clearly done in haste, the stitches uneven, as if done by a shaking hand. A far cry from the cloak she gained during her wedding to Tyrion Lannister, that one clearly handed down in the family, and well taken care of, lovingly crafted by a mother and sisters, perhaps even cousins. The red thread of the flayed man bleeds into the blue of the cloak, a sign of inferior dye. She hopes her maiden cloak has been saved. It had looked better, and she suspects it’s her mother’s bride’s cloak, that through some miracle survived the burning of Winterfell. She doubts it has, though – if it were up to Roose Bolton, she would be the last Stark, doing nothing but whelping more Boltons. There would be no need for a Stark bride’s cloak anymore, if she is to be the last bearing the Stark name. But she won’t be. If Ramsay’s game turns out to be just that, she will get rid of him, too.
She isn’t just a Stark of Winterfell anymore - no, Sansa is the Stark in Winterfell.
The maid that comes the next morning takes one look at her, sat half-awake in the chair by the hearth, covered by her furs, clearly not having slept well, and then the bloody sheet and her wedding dress, covered in dried blood, draped over it, left to soak in the blood. She mutely shakes her head in pity before she begins to strip the sheets.
“Take the dress away, as well,” Sansa says in a voice barely above a whisper. “Please.” She tries to make the pleading in her voice sound convincing.
The maid nods, the heartbreak on her face obvious. After her bed is stripped, her dress wrapped in the stained sheets, the maid turns to her. “Your presence at breakfast has been requested.” So she is not one of the ones whose tongue has been removed. Sansa nods, aware that this supposed request is anything but.
Intending to play her part well, Sansa chooses a dark blue long-sleeved, high-necked dress, to conceal any damage Ramsay would be expected to have inflicted upon her. For a moment, she casts about her wardrobe for something red, to make it blindingly obvious, but she deems that as going a step too far. Roose wouldn’t believe her if she overdid it. Sansa Stark is not Walda Frey. She has seen Walda wearing the Boltons’ flayed man above her breast and wonders whether she truly feels allegiance to her own husband or simply picked the choice she had to live with for the rest of her days between two bad choices.
Sansa wraps herself in her old cloak, comforting dark grey, but takes off the brooch with the leaping direwolf she has worn on the inside. Carefully, she places it in a bedside drawer. She looks around the room before she takes a breath to steel herself and leaves for breakfast, her first battle in this new war she has unexpectedly found herself in. Sansa prays she hasn’t got Ramsay wrong.
Roose is at the head of the table, Ramsay at his right, Walda, heavy with child, at his left. Theon – no, Reek – is standing at Roose’s elbow, holding a pitcher of water.
As she enters, Ramsay stands, the image of a husband respectfully greeting his new lady wife, and, when she takes her place at his side, he holds out his arms to embrace her and presses a kiss to her cheek. “Don’t say a word,” he whispers, his breath hot on her cheek. “My lovely lady wife,” he says louder, for everyone to hear. He takes her cloak, tuts quietly, but loud enough for everyone to hear, and pulls out her chair. The smile on his face is the slightly too wide one, the one she has come to know when he is in public. “I will have to see about getting you a new cloak made. This colour is not good for your complexion,” he says, too loudly, too innocently, while he hands it off to a servant.
“Let’s see if Baelish’s words indeed prove to be true,” Roose says, not acknowledging Ramsay has spoken, his cold eyes moving over her neckline. She feels overwhelmed by the need to scratch her neck where his look lingers.
The maid from earlier brings in her sheets, and dress. Sansa is mortified. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Ramsay look at her. It used to be custom for lords to display their daughters’, or good-daughters’ wedding sheets after, to prove they have indeed come to their wedding beds as maids. It is one not usually practiced anymore, just like the First Night. It seems Roose likes his ancient customs. She is beyond relief to have thought of it.
Roose considers the blood, maybe just the sheer amount of it, on the sheets, then his son, who is idly playing with a knife. It is not the knife he has been eating with. As if noticing he is being watched, he looks up at his father and smiles again, gliding his fingers slowly over the knife’s handle.
“Well, she clearly has not lied about being a maiden,” Roose concludes, with another sidelong glance at Ramsay, and his knife. “Take the sheet and put it up in the courtyard,” he tells the maid. He looks at Sansa’s sleeves, and the high neck of her dress, again. His lips furrow into a thin line.
“Or maybe the Imp has just not managed to penetrate her deeply enough,” Ramsay replies, the response coming too easily – and too quickly – for her taste.
“Don’t insult your wife,” Roose chastises him coldly, then considers her wedding dress. “Burn the dress.”
Once the servants have left with the evidence of her wedding night, Walda smiles at her, dimples in her cheeks, like nothing wrong has just happened. “I hope you will be with child soon. Our children could grow up together, like siblings. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Sansa feels the urge to stab her with her fork first, then tell her they are married to father and son second. Instead, she only stabs a piece of wrinkled fruit with her fork with more force than is strictly necessary and replies, “it would be lovely indeed,” and starts eating.
“Do you think I could have the morning off to acquaint myself with my new wife?” Ramsay asks, his tone idle, possessively taking her hand. He’s barely swallowed his food as he leers. Sansa has to fight down the revulsion. She has to take a lot on faith here, that this is all part of the plan, part of the charade. She has no guarantees that he isn’t going to turn around and do to her what he isn’t doing to Theon.
Again, Roose’s eyes linger on her, then wander over to Reek, before settling on her again. His face is plain as a mask. “You may have today, no more.” He pauses, his cold eyes again tracing along her neck. “Don’t leave marks where it is obvious. Our young Lady Bolton is a lot more important to us in the greater scheme of things than you are,” he adds, disdain in his voice.
Ramsay’s grip on her hand tightens with barely suppressed rage, and he lets go, apparently as soon as he notices. Sansa sneaks a glance at where his hand now rests, on his leg. It’s curled into a tight fist. “Of course,” he says, smile too wide, as he looks at his father.
“The dress was good thinking,” Ramsay tells her later, once they have left the dining hall, and he has escorted her back to her chambers.
“I have learned a couple of things in King’s Landing,” she replies, shrugging off her coat. “Just so we’re on the same page, you will not lay a hand on this coat.”
He nods, watching her place it neatly over her chest of drawers. “Of course not. Out of curiosity, what did you learn in King’s Landing?”
“Survival. King’s Landing is a nest of vipers.”
“So not much different from here.”
She turns around, focusing on him. Right. This will have to go both ways. She has to teach him, as well, if they are to have any chance at diplomacy after they have toppled his father. “No. They are miles apart. Your father is the single lord here and people are too scared of him – of you – to do anything about it. King’s Landing had Queen Cersei, Littlefinger, Varys, Tywin Lannister, Olenna Tyrell, to name just a few,” she says, ticking them off on her hand, before she resumes pacing the room. “They all had their spies and they all had their little games.”
“What about Joffrey?” Ramsay asks idly.
Sansa scoffs in reply, then takes a seat. “You knew exactly what Joffrey wanted at any given point in time.” She looks up at him. “I still don’t know what Littlefinger wants. Sit down.”
“I can only teach you what I know,” he says, starting to pace instead.
“Of course,” Sansa smiles.
“My father has men. They call them the Bastard’s Boys. They follow me around, pretend to like me, and report back to him. He thinks I don’t know.”
“Or he knows you know and they are the obvious spies so you don’t look further into others.”
Now, Ramsay does sit down. He actually looks pensive as he’s considering her words. “I hadn’t ... thought of that.”
“I know you hadn’t. Your plans do not go much beyond killing people. You don’t calculate the ramifications, the consequences your actions have.”
Ramsay bares his teeth at her. It is not quite a smile or a grin. It looks more like an animal threatening its prey. “I thought that’s what I married you for.”
Again, Sansa scoffs. “Let’s be honest with each other,” she says, echoing his words from last night. “You married me because your father told you to. You married me because I have the right name. You married me because you can now claim to be the rightful lords of Winterfell, through me. What would you have done if I hadn’t agreed to any of this, if I’d been the person you were told I was? Meek and stupid and scared.”
Ramsay shrugs, like he hasn’t really entertained that possibility. She doesn’t believe him. “Continued to fuck Theon, tried to get an heir on you, I suppose, and waited for the right moment to kill my father.”
“Or become bored and just killed him, right moment be damned,” she corrects him. Ramsay doesn’t strike her as the sort of person who bides his time.
Again, he just shrugs. “We will never know, won’t we?”
“I suppose not. Well, then. Let’s set some rules, shall we?” She pauses, but not long enough to give him time to answer. “If we want this to work – if you want this to work, let’s make one thing very clear: If you ever do something even remotely close to what you did last night again, I will gut you in your sleep.”
That now familiar leer returns to his face. “And how do you propose to do that, my lady?” he asks, sounding genuinely curious.
“I imagine you have enough knives on hand.”
“True, but I also have someone in my bed most nights. He would be opposed to you gutting me. Others wouldn’t be, it’s true. I imagine most wouldn’t be, if we’re being honest here.”
She stares at him mutely. How can someone talk so idly, with such disinterest, about being generally hated, that people wouldn’t mind him getting murdered in his sleep?
“Let me give you some advice. If you threaten someone – make sure you can follow through with the threat.” He looks down at his hands, biting his lip. Sansa follows his gaze. The palms of his hand show indentations where his fingernails have dug into his skin at breakfast. They’re almost deep enough to have drawn blood. Despite what one might think at first glance, Ramsay Bolton does seem to have at least a little self-control. “Although I do apologise for last night. I was playing with Theon, and it went further than I expected, and you didn’t agree to it. That is not how I do things.” He stops and furrows his face in thought. “Well, that is not quite true.” He chuckles. “It’s not how I do things with Theon and it’s not how I want to do things with you.”
She narrows her eyes at him, trying to figure out whether he’s toying with her again. He has been kind, before, right up until he wasn’t. It’s what he does and he hasn’t given her much else to go on, really. How is she supposed to work with him? The part of her mind that has been influenced by Littlefinger, and Cersei, and even Tyrion, tells her not to trust anyone, it’s how you survive. The part of her that has been taught by her mother, and even her father, she supposes – when he hasn’t largely ignored her existence because she hadn’t been one of the boys, or Arya – tells her she needs to trust at least a few people in order to keep her sanity.
Finally, she settles on the one truth she can speak out loud. “I can’t trust you,” she says, carefully.
“No,” he agrees amicably. “I didn’t imagine you could or would. But maybe you can trust that our arrangement would be mutually beneficial.”
“I don’t want you to touch me.”
He laughs, a short, loud bark. “That can be arranged.”
“Then I suppose I will have to trust that our arrangement would be mutually beneficial,” she agrees.
He continues to just look at her. It’s quite unsettling, to have this much of his attention solely on her. And still, she needs to convince herself that this is not a trick. “Well then. Any more rules or demands?”
She holds his gaze. “I don’t want you to lie to me. In any case, under any circumstances. Ever.”
Ramsay licks his lips before he answers. “Agreed.”
She takes a breath, then says, as calmly as she can manage, “I don’t want you to kill, or flay, or torture anyone.”
“No.” He shakes his head decisively and ducks his head. He looks at her from under the hair that’s falling into his face. Bashful, again. He looks much younger when he looks at her like that, vulnerable. “I can’t promise you that.”
She stares at him, not quite believing what she has heard. It isn’t safe, he isn’t safe, she reminds herself again.
He looks back at her, unblinking. “You just asked me not to lie to you. So, I’m not. I could assure you that what is said about me is all lies, and rumour and exaggeration, and some of it is, but not all. So, I can’t and won’t promise you that.”
It would have been so easy to tell her yes. But he hasn’t. It makes her want to believe him, badly. Or is this him trying to lull her into a false sense of security? Again? How is she to know? “Then you will talk to me about it beforehand. I won’t have you kill, or flay, or torture innocents.” She feels a slight panic coming up, as if somehow, if she misses out on naming something he might do, that he might consider it fair game to do.
Again, he grins at her. “Only those that deserve it? And who decides who does and does not? You?”
She takes another breath, deep. Is this her first test? She used to have a clear line dividing right and wrong, one that Father has drilled into her and her siblings, but she’s had to adjust that world view a long time ago. People aren’t as easy as good or evil. “Well, that is the lot of a queen, isn’t it? judging, and ruling, who is and isn’t deserving of punishment.”
The words hang between them and stretch into a silence, longer than is comfortable. Sansa is acutely aware of her own heartbeat, beating against her chest. Ramsay looks at her, with that expression on his face that says he’s thinking about something.
He, too, seems to settle on the truth he can speak aloud. “Lady Stark,” he says, nodding at her. There’s a small smile tugging at his lips. Gods. She’s made a huge mistake. “I believe I can accept those terms.”
“You’re not going to demand anything?” she asks, watching him suspiciously.
“Honestly, I’m just astonished you’re going along with this so easily. I half-expected you to try and kill me as soon as we were alone together. It makes me believe you just might be successful.”
Sansa blinks at him. Time for another lesson in thinking ahead, then. “And what would I gain from that? There are guards in the corridor, and my home is full of your father’s men. Do you think I would be long for this world, even if I succeeded in killing you? Revenge sometimes takes time and survival means being smart and waiting for the right moment and then seizing the opportunity. I need you to think about your actions and not do anything rash. Do you think you can do that?”
“I don’t know. But I do have two people who will tell me not to do anything rash now, so that’s two more than most people have.”
Sansa can’t quite suppress the snort. Theon Greyjoy, telling people not to do anything rash. What has the world come to? She swallows down the lump in her throat, ignores her nervous heartbeat that wants to tell her she’s making the biggest mistake of her life. “The terms are agreed, then.” She holds out her hand.
Ramsay looks at her face, then her hand, still with that miniscule smile on his face. He takes her hand and gives it a firm shake. “To revenge then, my lady.”
Chapter title from Wolves Without Teeth by Of Monsters and Men.
Chapter 3: if you’re still bleeding, you’re the lucky ones
Warnings for emotional manipulation, discussion of emotional and physical abuse and also general Ramsay Bolton-typical unpleasantness. Also, book character names thrown in haphazardly.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sansa gets undeniable proof of who Ramsay really is not long after. They have settled into an uncomfortable routine, watching Walda’s belly swell with nervous anticipation, counting the days by her pregnancy, until Roose gets a more convenient heir than Ramsay is. They still don’t have a reliable plan on what to do after Walda’s child is born. Sansa doesn’t trust Ramsay to keep his temper in check once his little brother has found his way into this world kicking and screaming, and, it seems to her at least, neither does Theon.
But Ramsay’s word holds true, so far. He takes her where he can, so she can observe, take in the people, see them for who and what they are. She is barred from the privacy of Roose’s meetings though. Ramsay absolutely refuses her those. Protests that she needs to attend these meetings herself and not rely on his reports have fallen on deaf ears so far and she has only tried to gain entry by herself once.
For her troubles, she ended up with a tighter guard and Ramsay with a firm word to keep his wife in check. She would have preferred Ramsay yelling at her to the white-hot rage burbling just under the surface when he told her that she needed to be careful, that Roose wouldn’t tolerate her bursting into places a woman (a hostage, she adds for herself) didn’t belong. That calm rage, the bleeding palms where his nails had dug into his skin as he stopped himself from laying hands on her reminded her above else that he is still, deservedly, the Bastard of The Dreadfort.
And so Sansa spends many of her days watching. Watching the new inhabitants of Winterfell, watching the castle be rebuilt, stone by stone, watching Roose’s spies watch Ramsay, and watching Ramsay watch them watch him in return. Watching Ramsay, most of all.
Today, she's standing by the archery range, leaning on the fence in a more casual manner than she would have when she watched her brothers train. The closest she came to the range then was up on the battlements, straight-backed, with only a casual glance into the yard. If even that, she had dismissed training and war as none of a lady’s business. Now, she curses herself for her lack of foresight. She curses herself for a great many of things these days, but the fact that she consciously dismissed knowledge, something that she could have used to her advantage, irks her most.
Ramsay takes his stance, checks the wind, and nocks his arrow. There is a certain beauty in his straight back, the confidence with which he holds himself, the way he adjusts his stance, corrects the lift of his elbow. Itʼs also an act. Confidence doesnʼt come to him naturally, even though he knows he is skilled. Itʼs obvious in the little things, in the way he overcompensates. To gain approval, maybe, when he still thought there was approval to gain from his father. Not anymore, though. Now heʼs seeking something else.
Ramsay only aims for a second before he looses. It hits its target just slightly off centre. He huffs in frustration and starts examining his bow, seeking blame in the weapon, not himself, first. Sansa squirrels that piece of information away before her gaze wanders over to Theon, who is at the other end of the yard, at work mucking out the horses’ stables. She has to admit, the lengths they go to to keep up this charade is impressive. The Theon she has grown up with wouldn’t have ever deigned to clean his own horse’s stable, let alone others’.
“Theon is an archer,” she mentions, trying to sound casual, as though this has just slipped into her mind. In truth, she has been wondering whether there was any thought put behind the charade of removing Theon’s right middle and ring finger. Had he really lost them, he wouldn’t be able to nock an arrow. But now, itʼs not like he can practice.
“I know. We went hunting once,” Ramsay says, taking up another arrow and nocking it. He aims, more carefully this time, releases a breath and the arrow with it. “Just the two of us, I mean.” The arrow hits the target to the right of the first. Privately, Sansa thinks that they probably didn’t get much hunting done then, but keeps the thought to herself.
One of the Bastard’s Boys, all of Roose’s spies, as far as she could gather, wanders up to them, trying to seem casual and failing utterly. He leers at her. Ramsay pulls the arrow out of the target and stalks back towards them, pointing it at the man. “Don’t look at my wife like that, you disgusting little man. She is a highborn lady, not some tavern whore.”
“My apologies, Lord Ramsay. Lord Bolton wishes for you – both of you – to join him at dinner.” With a last glance at Sansa, travelling over the curve of her bust under her cloak, he takes his leave.
Ramsay nocks and looses the arrow with little more than a glance in the man’s direction. It hits him directly above the heel. There is a pained shout and the man crumples in on himself, clutching his leg.
“What are you doing?” Sansa gasps in shock.
Ramsay shrugs nonchalantly. “I warned him.”
There is barely any disruption in the courtyard, a couple of people watching with barely concealed interest, a lot more desperately trying to look away. Ramsay takes off and grabs the man’s arm, helping him stand. “Next time I catch you looking at her, I will take a finger or two,” she hears him say, steadying the man, then letting go of him as soon as he seems to have caught his footing, and he collapses back in on himself immediately with another scream of pain. Ramsay kneels und pulls out the arrow with a hard yank. Sansa faintly recalls it’s the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do with a wound like that. The movement is followed by a fountain of blood shooting out of the wound. “If you ever look at her again after that, you will have the honour to be my next Reek.” The words are said casually but Sansa can practically hear the menacing smile that seems to be spreading over his face.
The blood soaks the ground, the man’s hand clasped desperately over his heel, the colour slowly draining out of his face. Ramsay returns to her, still stood rooted at the archery range, where her brothers practiced once, Theon outshooting them both, a lifetime ago, with a saunter in his step.
“What in seven hells was that for?” Sansa watches the blood seeping into the ground, the wailing man still clutching at his wound. And still, nobody seems to want to help him. They’re all watching them – she tells herself they’re watching just Ramsay – like there will be more, a lesson perhaps.
“They – and you – need to remember I’m not a nice man, my lady. I don’t like people touching what’s mine,” he murmurs. He looks up at her out of hooded eyes. Thereʼs something there, something primal, just under the surface.
“He didn’t touch me,” Sansa protests, then, after a second, “and I’m not yours.”
He pulls her close to him, in a half-embrace that she has to force herself to accept, his hand on her hip, above her cloak. Still, she is rigid in his grasp. His breath is hot on her ear, when he says quietly, “They need to think you are. They need to see others being punished for the slightest transgression, publically. They need to be more afraid of me than they are of Roose. I can’t protect you otherwise.” He takes a breath, before he continues, even quieter. “Now, I’m going to touch you and then I’m going to make a grandstanding speech and I need you to look afraid and meek, like I’m telling you the worst depravities you can imagine right now.” He pauses, maybe to let the words sink in, before he asks, “Is that alright with you?”
Sansa hesitates, wondering what he will do if she doesn’t agree here and now. But then she nods her agreement, just slightly, sure that he will feel the movement. She should get used to Ramsay in his element sooner rather than later. Without further ado, he pulls her even closer, arm snaking around her back, hand resting above her spine, where it curls into her possessively, still above the cloak, where it’s on display for people to see. He moves to look into her eyes, head tilted back ever so slightly, like he’s giving her another chance to back out.
She doesn’t move, which he seems to take as assent, and kisses her, his lips moving possessively against hers, almost hungrily, and she doubts it’s her he’s thinking of. His other hand is at her neck, but thankfully he pulls back then, to observe the courtyard with a calculated glare, his pale eyes narrowed. Nobody is moving, but all eyes are on them. He’s still too close, his hand still on her back.
“We’ve all been here before, so I will make this short for the dim-witted among you, of which there seem to be too many as of late.” He glances at the still bleeding man on the ground. “Nobody touches what is mine. Nobody looks at what is mine. That obviously includes my lady wife. You will show her respect or you will end up much worse than this fool. I will not warn any of you again. Remember Yellow Dick.” He takes her arm then, slightly rougher than is strictly necessary, and leaves the courtyard with her.
While they do, she turns around, to look at the people watching them, who still have not moved to help the wounded man. She can hardly believe this place has turned into a den of wolves when she is the only wolf who has any right to be here.
Sansa has already settled in for the night, a pillow at her back, her knees drawn up to balance a book, when someone knocks on her door, hesitantly. “Lady Sansa,” Reek calls softly, voice raised a little at the end of her name, not quite making it sound like a question.
She puts down the book and looks at the ceiling above her before she calls, “Come in.”
Theon enters, his eyes going to the chair by the hearth where she usually sits with her needlework, then to the bed. He looks as if he’s struggling with himself, maybe trying to think on whether he should be here when she is already in bed. She decides to be merciful and waves him over. “Come here, we can’t speak too loudly.”
Theon drags a chair over to her bed and sits down. He bows his head, idly pulling at the empty fingers of his glove. It's a nervous habit he shares with Reek. “Ramsay told me about what happened today,” he starts slowly. “I thought it might be … a good idea. To, you know, talk about it. If you want.”
She looks up at him questioningly. “Why?”
“Because he does the same thing when people get too close for comfort with me.”
Sansa releases a breath she hasnʼt been aware she was holding. “He called me his. He doesn’t own me.” She looks at him. “I don’t belong to him,” she repeats, like she's trying to convince herself of the fact.
“It’s not about possession, I don’t think. Not with you, at least.” He shrugs. “Remember that I chose this. He’s weird that way. I think it’s how he shows affection, in public. And, you know, it works. When we …” He gulps, clearly struggling to tell her. “When this first started, one of the men thought that if it was alright for Ramsay to hit me and … use me, it would be alright for him, too.” He stops, taking a breath. It sounds ragged. “He …”
He shakes his head vehemently before she can form her sentence. “No. I don’t want you to feel sorry, I don’t need you to feel sorry. It happened and he was punished, and nobody ever touched me again. They tried, but it never happened again. Claiming you as his – it draws the same line.”
“So, what. He’s looking out for me?”
Theon looks up at her, a thundercloud in his eyes. “Yes.”
“This doesn’t make sense.”
“He often doesn’t make sense, but believe me, it all serves the same purpose.” He rolls up his sleeve, to show her a band of bruising that matches a rope cutting into his wrist. “I let him do this to me, because I enjoy it. He enjoys it, too, but if I tell him to stop, he does, without question. And if I don’t want him to continue, we don’t. He hurts me because I want him to, but he won’t let others do it, because I don’t want them to. It’s that simple. He cares for you, not in the same way, but he does care for you. He thinks you’re the most interesting person he has ever met, and he will protect you, the same way he protects me. You just have to get used to his methods of doing so. I know that’s hard.”
That just gives her more questions than answers, but there is one thing she has to know before all others, the name floating around her mind since she’d heard it. It hadn’t been mentioned before today, not in her presence. “Who is Yellow Dick?”
Theon’s face turns sour immediately. “The man who hurt me.”
“What happened to him?”
“Do you want to hear the whole story?” His voice sounds like a warning in itself. “Be sure.”
She considers. Sansa is sure that she doesn’t, but she nods anyway. She has to know. Just because Ramsay has chosen to be kind – in his own way, as far as he is able to and she hates herself that sheʼs already making excuses – to her, to make her part of his life, because she is convenient and her goals overlap with his own, doesn’t mean that he isn’t still able to commit the atrocities he is known for. The events in the courtyards have shown her this much. It’s been a wake-up call. She hasn’t changed him and he isn’t changing. Certainly not for her.
“Yellow Dick was the one who … took me.” He clenches his fists as he talks, releasing them slowly on exhales. “Ramsay found bruises on me that weren’t his. He knows which are his, he’s careful about them.” He looks at her, eyes shadowed, as if he expects her to judge him. She tries her very hardest not to and she almost succeeds. He doesn’t need her to judge him. They’re all sinners in someone’s eyes, and Sansa doesn’t need to add to his pain, not needlessly.
“He was furious. I told him it was alright, I liked being hurt after all, but he wouldn’t have it, told me that it was only alright if I agreed to it and no other way. Told me that I was his.” He stops again. “It was comforting. I’ve never felt like I … belonged to someone. Not my family, not yours.”
The words sting more than she’s expected them to. “I’m sorry, Theon.”
“I told you, I don’t need you to apologise. I’ve been an entitled shit.” He takes off his glove, the one that conceals he still has the usual number of fingers. He flexes his fingers again, then continues. “He told me to take a bath, and then he stormed down into the hall, where everybody was having dinner. He called for Yellow Dick and ordered everyone outside.
"He had the saltire hauled up from the dungeons, put Dick up onto it in the main courtyard, in full view of the main gate and flayed him, telling everyone that this was what happened to people who dared to lay their hands on what’s his. When he was done, he left him there for all to see, as a reminder. It took three days for him to die. He stopped screaming on the second. Then the crows came.”
Silence stretches between them while Sansa considers his words, trying to imagine a living man flayed so expertly to keep him alive, to extend his suffering. She feels sick to her stomach. “And … you love him?” Sansa asks, not quite managing to keep the horror out of her voice.
“By the gods, I do.” Theon shakes his head. “You know how he is with people he cares about. You’ve seen him. He just … has a very clear set of rules in place for people he thinks of as his and another for people who are not.”
“And … you’re alright with that?”
“I try not to think about it too much. I like the protectiveness,” he admits, avoiding eye contact. “It makes me feel wanted in a way I never have before. I told you, it’s complicated.” He spreads his hands, like he lacks the words to explain it better.
Sansa waits, perhaps for him to say more, to give her some sort of reassurance, but he seems to be done talking. Maybe he’s waiting for her to make up her mind, pass judgement herself perhaps. She breathes in slowly, loudly enough for Theon to look up at her. “I know that you never asked for any of this, to be involved in this.” He gestures to himself. “Maybe you’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop, for everything to turn out like you expected when you got here.”
She snorts, an undignified sound, one that Septa Mordane would quickly have struck her knuckles for. “What I expected when I came here was … not this. Any of this. Littlefinger led me to believe that it would be easy to manipulate Ramsay into doing what I wanted, that he was hardly more dangerous than Joffrey Baratheon and he is not. They don't even play the same game.” She surpresses a hysterical giggle that wants to make its way out of her mouth. To think she used to believe Joffrey was her biggest problem.
Theon looks at her, drawing his legs up, wrapping his arms around them. He rests his chin on his knees, blue eyes watching her attentively. “What was he like? I didn’t really get to see much of him, when the King was here. King Robert,” he quickly adds.
“A sadistic little shit,” Sansa says, calmly, primly. “Compared to Ramsay, though … not nearly as dangerous. He enjoyed inflicting pain, but he let others do it for him. He claimed that it wasn’t … suited for a king to strike his future wife when really, he just enjoyed watching people … me get hurt at his word. If he hadn’t been a king, with people catering to his whims, well. I don’t think he would have had the guts to do it himself. Still.” She pauses, trying to make sense of the thoughts that battle in her head, as she’s trying to sort out the different lives she’s led, of what Joffrey had truly been. Instead, she thinks of Cersei. “Considering that Cersei likely still thinks I had something to do with his death, well … it makes me wish I did.”
She breathes out and closes her eyes briefly before she continues speaking. “Joffrey was just a hammer, unrefined, smashing everything that didn’t bend to his will. It might be the only trait that he picked up from King Robert. Ramsay is …” Again, she pauses, while trying to think of a fitting metaphor, before it crystallises, clear as day and she wonders how she hasn’t seen it before. “Ramsay is a stiletto knife, freshly sharpened, to the point. He's calmer about it, more calculated, not afraid to get his own hands dirty.” She glances at what she can see of Theon’s arms again. “He knows how to inflict pain without doing real damage, doesn’t he?”
Theon nods mutely, keeping his head steady, not taking his eyes off of her.
“See, that’s the difference. That’s someone who truly enjoys what he does, and he’s practiced it, perfected it, and that is terrifying. Much more so than a little boy who is in over his head and lashes out because he feels nobody is listening to him. Not that I knew that at the time. That’s what Father’s death comes down to. An entitled little boy’s temper tantrum.” She tries hard to suppress a sob.
Theon lifts his hand and rests it on her arm before she can move away. She fights the urge to pull away out of some falsely placed sense of pride and just lets him do it. The warmth of his touch is nice, an unexpected source of comfort. “I know it’s terrifying, that he can be … a bit much.”
She laughs, just once, and it almost comes out as a sob. “You don’t say. Theon, you’ve got so used to this, you don’t even know what you sound like.”
“Maybe. But see it my way and consider this: I’ve been here for years, and I’m still myself and, more importantly, I’m still alive. I'm worthless as a hostage. Roose and Ramsay, they don’t gain anything from my presence.”
“You’re not worthless,” she insists. “You're still the heir to the Iron Islands.”
“I’m not. When I went there, when … Robb sent me for an alliance, my father all but told me that he had given me up for dead. He raised my sister as his heir and me going back hasn’t changed that. I don’t know what it’s like to be Ironborn, not truly. I left too young. And, as far as my usefulness as a hostage goes, they had already begun building a fleet. Balon just took the opportunity then because it was convenient, but they had been planning more than a raid for a long time beforehand. Ships aren’t built that quickly.”
Sansa quietly looks at him. “But that would mean …”
He removes his hand from her arm again and she misses its calming presence almost immediately. He wraps his arms around himself again, tightly. “Lord Stark taking my head? Or Robb, by that time, I suppose. Aye.”
“Robb couldn’t have taken your head. You were his brother.” Her protest sounds feeble, even to her own ears. She doesn’t know what Robb would or would not have done, especially after he got word of Theon’s betrayal. She didn’t know Robb as the King in the North and King of the Trident, she only remembers Robb as her older brother who cared too much about everything and everyone, who let his younger siblings sleep in his bed when they were terrified of the monster under their beds, who’d played princesses and knights with her. She doesn’t know, can’t know, what Robb the King in the North would have done. Because Robb was also their father’s son, always trying to do the right thing, despite his own feelings. He failed, in the end, just like Father.
Theon shakes his head. “I was still a hostage to ensure my father’s good behaviour. He wasn’t behaving anymore. Anyway, the point is moot. I’m dead to my father now, since Ramsay so conveniently convinced him I couldn’t produce any heirs anymore. So, if Lord Bolton still had any illusions that I was a good hostage, they would have died then.” He shrugs. “Yara, she came for me, when my father had given me up for dead. She saw through the whole thing almost immediately. She called me a pervert, but wished me luck. So, I’m still here. Lucky me.” He sounds bitter, but only a little. He seems to have made what peace he could with his lot.
“You could have gone with her. You could have gone home.”
The smile that tugs on his lips is sad. “I don’t have a home, Sansa. Not on Pyke. My home was Winterfell as soon as Robb, that little shit, set his mind to befriending the hostage. Stupid, really.” He smiles at the thought of Robb as a little boy, so eager to get along with everyone, but the smile vanishes almost as quickly. Sansa can hardly remember when Theon came to them. She knows there was a time before him, but he’d been there for such a big chunk of her life that she can’t recall what Winterfell had been like without him. “Even more stupid of me to throw all that away, thinking my word would mean anything to my father. The only letters from home I ever got were from my mother and she’s … not well. That part of my life is over. This is now, and there’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
“So,” she says, slowly. “You’re telling me to trust Ramsay because he is a sadistic, terrifying bastard but that for some reason he has chosen me as one of his … what, people? Despite the fact that I don’t want to lay with him, or do … other things with him?” She flaps her hand, helplessly, trying to encompass Theon’s and Ramsay’s arrangement. “Why? What keeps him from going back on his word?”
“I told you. He thinks you’re fascinating. When we were growing up, I thought you were just a stupid little girl who never grew out of her girlhood fantasy world. And when you went off, betrothed to a future king, it looked like you would never be proven wrong. Robb was so sure that the Lannisters would break you.” He pauses, Robb’s ghost lingering between them. “But you not only survived King’s Landing, you learned and you thrived. Not many can do that, take everything that’s been thrown at them and turn it back on those who have hurt them. I certainly couldn’t, I just broke. I honestly believe that if anyone can reunite the North, it’s you, and so does Ramsay. So, he’s not going to go back on his word, just because he wants to see how this will all play out.” He falls quiet.
Sansa ponders his words, mulling them over in her head.
“And for the other part, he’s not going to touch you or hurt you because heʼs not interested in women.”
Sansa lets out another undignified laugh. “That’s little relief when I know he likes skinning people alive.”
Theon shrugs, offhandedly, like the matter is of little importance. “Most of them deserve it, in some way, and most of the time, it’s just business. He only really enjoys it when it’s someone who’s personally offended him. But you’ve obviously already decided to trust him. On your wedding night. We wouldn’t be talking right now if you hadn’t.”
Trust. No, she doesn’t. Wants to yell at Theon that she doesn’t, that she can’t. Instead she says, “And I don’t know why.” The frustration almost leaks out of her.
“Because you don’t have any other choice,” he says. “And …” He drifts off, looking at her questioningly. “You know why. You don’t need me to tell you.”
“I don’t know,” she insists, trying to convince herself more than Theon, perhaps.
“Yes, you do. Think about it, it will come to you.” He gets up, cracking his knee joints as he does. “I’m going to leave you to it. People will wonder what I’m doing in your chambers for such a long time anyway.”
“Is anyone really going ask questions?” she asks, doubtful.
“They won’t ask questions, they will just tell Roose,” he replies. He turns his back on her and before she can think on it, she is on her feet and calls after him.
She already has her arms around him, in an awkward hug, before he fully turned around. She can feel his ribs. This whole Reek thing is taking its toll on Theon’s body. “Thank you,” she whispers in his ear. “I don’t think I could do this without you.”
His arms tentatively reach around her, not quite touching her properly. “Of course you could,” he replies. “If anyone could, it’s you.”
Chapter title from Youth by Daughter.
Full disclosure: I sort of forgot Stannis existed/was kinda sorta relevant and am now hastily adding in a chapter or two to deal with him (plus, exam season is approaching), so the next update might take me a bit longer.