Spring crept up from the south and kicked the hive. Winterfell came alive with buzzing, starting low, and growing into a drone.
There was so much to be done. Winter went begrudgingly; it left marks of tooth and claw.
Still, the sight of it heartened Jon as he approached; seated on the gray horse, whose posture he mirrored, slumped and listless. His body swayed to balance on top of the shifting beast. They were both tired, riding for a day and a half from the Wall. Though Jon's weariness recessed far and in, to places light nor air could reach.
Ghost stiffened and lifted his head before bolting into a nearby copse. Jon didn't call him back; the wolf would do as he wished.
The raven from Bran ordering Jon home came not long after Sansa's. Jon didn't need to be told that it was the first thing Sansa did after she was made queen. To her stern but insistent summons, Bran's was an afterthought, an echo. That wolf woman was a force of nature. She had brought armies down to the very doors of hell for his sake. She was never going to leave it. Bran must have known. But, he allowed their enemies to be appeased for a time while he adjusted to the throneless rule of the Six Kingdoms.
Jon needed to settle the Wildlings first. He scrawled off a brief and evasive response, because somewhere between his hesitant affirmation and her good-natured annoyance was Jon and Sansa's rhythm. He did not rush things. Like Ghost, he came back when it was time.
The clamour of the courtyard aided a discreet entrance; builders and surveyors went in and out, throwing orders over their shoulders. Smiths emerged, smudged and sweaty, handling their rakes and spades and even ploughs, tools of peacetime. Jon dismounted to go on foot, leading the horse in through the open gates. A child ducked into his path, and Jon staggered a bit to keep from stepping on her. She took no notice of him, taunting her playmate to come and get her. A smile flickered across his lips.
He saw to his horse. After he stood for several minutes surveying the castle, its open wounds and healed over scars speaking to him. Then he entered the main keep in search of Sansa.
A few people looked at him, recognition kindling behind their eyes, but soon absorbed back into their work and play. He cut through the kitchens, sidling by sweat-pressed bodies, the smell of broth simmering and bread rising. A great-girthed woman yelled at him and went back to slapping dough.
He came into the council room, for the door was open, unguarded, and the air of informality invited him in. At the end of the room a group of people stood, speaking, interrupting each other, nodding and gesturing toward the papers laid flat on the table.
In their midst stood Sansa. Or rather, she stood out from them, a good inch taller than most, and a great deal redder.
He stopped then, hanging back, content to watch for a while. She pressed her lips together in a formal smile, nodded, spoke to the maester. Leaned her head to the side to better hear his response. Her dress, practical but elegant; her bright braids her only crown.
His study drew her; her gaze flickered from the table's surface upward and landed on him as surely as if he'd called out her name. She stilled, and her lips parted. Jon tried a smile, but it cracked a little, and died like a spent flame.
Sansa's face betrayed nothing. She moved slowly, rounding her men, who only noticed in increments; some paid no heed and went on talking; some followed her gaze and trajectory to where Jon stood, a shaggy wolf of a man in his Night's Watch black and wild furs.
Halfway to him, she broke composure; she flew at him, an arrow from a bow, and he opened to receive her, lifting her, clutching her to the soft, neglected animal of his body.
She buried her face in his neck, and Jon shut his eyes against everything and everyone else. She drew in a long breath against him: in, out. She took him into her, wholly, and exhaled him again, himself--no more, no less.
He set her down, and his arms fell away. She loosened her hold around his neck and shoulders and dropped her hands to his forearms, smiling at last.
When he looked at her it was sad and sweet. "Well," he said, "I'm back."
Air moved through the open windows of the bedchamber, mingling with the smoky fire, determined to steal its breath away. Jon bent over the table eating quietly but with great appetite. Sansa, sitting across from him, watched with upturned brows; noted every tear of teeth in bread.
"What took you so long?" The question was plaintive, not accusing.
His chewing slowed. He swallowed. "I had things I needed to do first."
"I needed you here."
He looked at her from beneath his brow. "Am I your subject, then?"
She glared, but he did not withdraw. Their familiar stalemate.
She sighed, deflating. Looked about the room as she spoke, as if help could come from the rushes and the rafters. "You're no more my subject than I was yours when you were king."
His brief laugh knocked loose some of the tension, and she smiled.
"But I do need you. I was never meant to do this alone."
Jon took a deep swig of ale. "You look like you've done fine to me."
She scoffed. "I had to make do. That doesn't assuage the fact that my kinsman--and the person I trust most in the world--was holed up at the forsaken wall all winter for crimes for which he should not even be held accountable, while I had to fumble my way through ruling."
"I'm your most trusted adviser now, am I?" The glint in his eyes was not from the fire.
She huffed, a typical response to this type of banter. "Don't be stupid...of course you are."
Jon sunk into his chair, his plate now clean. Sansa took notice of this and jerked into motion, going to to refill it. "Eat more."
He sat up again, and touched her wrist to leave off. "Sansa, I'm not sure how long I'm staying here."
Her manner plummeted. "What are you saying? This is your home. This is where you belong."
Jon put his face into his hands and leaned into them. When he came away, he said, "I'm tired, Sansa." They were back in Castle Black again, with the old wounds fresh and bleeding. "I've fought and died and fought some more. I'm not a Stark, not a Targaryen. I'm not alive, but I'm not dead. I don't belong anywhere any more. I never really did."
Her lip trembled. It hurt worse that she tried to bite it away. He put his hand out and reached for hers where it rested on the table. Her palm turned upward to grasp his. "You can do as you wish," she said, quietly. "You've more than earned it, Jon. But don't say that it is because you are not a Stark -- because you are -- and do not say that you do not belong -- because you belong with me."
He heaved a sigh, closed his eyes, and nodded. She squeezed his hand. Standing, Sansa leaned over the table, planting a dry, lingering kiss below the line of his hair. "Rest now. No harm will befall you here."
She stepped out of the room shutting the door behind her; he knew she would make it true.