Margaery Tyrell has become quite the horsewoman in her later years. Making her way across half of Westeros on horseback has forced her to become one, and riding through the Barrowlands she thought herself half a horse herself, the way she’s always heard that the Ryswells boast. Winterfell is now finally in sight, and she’s gotten lucky enough to catch Sansa out riding. She was worried she would have to go through a host of servants, trying to convince each of them in turn that she, a bedraggled woman in fraying, stained hand-me-down gowns from a serving girl at a tavern in the Crownlands was actually Margaery Tyrell, a woman who was three times a queen and one time dead. Thankfully, she does not have to do this, as she catches sight of Sansa herself riding around the castle grounds.
Sansa Stark looks every bit a northern queen atop her mount, furs streaming across her shoulders. Her hair is done in a single, plait braid down her back. Margaery has never seen her hair styled so simply. When Sansa lived in King’s Landing, she had always done her hair in ornate, Southron styles. She always assumed that the girl liked those styles, but now she’s not so sure. It might have been simply to blend in and avoid harm as a hostage.
“That’s a familiar way to address your queen,” Sansa says. Margaery has never lacked for words before, but now, she can’t think of any to say. What can she tell Sansa to get her to remember their tender nights spent together. What would the girl’s feelings be towards her, after Margaery plotted to get Winterfell through her, left her to rot in marriage to the Imp, and then let her take the fall for murder. She wants Sansa to remember the good times, but she does not know if she’ll remember the bad ones more.
“I used to be queen too,” she says absently. Sansa looks confused for a moment, but then she truly examines her face. Margaery can see the moment that realization dawns on her.
“Margaery?” Sansa asks.
“The one and only,” Margaery says, managing a wry smile. She hopes that maintaining her charm will help Sansa remember the flirting- the kissing. Anything that was pleasant instead of the bits that weren’t.
“I thought that you died,” Sansa says. To be honest, Margaery probably should have. When Cersei set the entire sept aflame, she lost everyone that she ever held dear. She stole a horse and rode as far and as fast as she could, seeking refuge at different inns across the Crownlands and later the Riverlands as the realm fell apart.
“So did everyone else,” Margaery says. There’s a long, awkward pause. Margaery does not say anything, but Sansa does not either. She looks far away, almost.
“Your Grace?” Margaery asks. Sansa does not even seem to have heard her.
“It is Your Grace now, is it not?” Margaery asks gently. That breaks Sansa out of her stupor.
“I’m sorry,” Sansa says, “what was it that you said?”
“I asked if your form of address is Your Grace,” Margaery says, “I do not know enough about the old Kings of Winter to know if they had a different term.” Sansa shakes her head.
“The Starks started ruling when we still spoke the Old Tongue,” Sansa says, “but we adopted Your Grace when we started speaking common, just like everyone else.”
“Just like everyone else,” Margaery says wryly, “an odd thing to say about the way to address kings.”
“I have the blood of kings,” Sansa says, “but so does half of Westeros. Just about everyone is descended from some petty king or another.” What good is a crown when a crow can feast on a king? Margaery thinks. Margaery's worn a crown thrice, but Margaery’s become nothing but a refugee just like the smallfolk fearing the wrath of nobles. A crown is just a piece of metal in the end, and anyone can claim it if they have the resources. Renly had little claim, but they backed him all the same. Rules mean little when people do not follow them.
“Fair point, Your Grace,” Margaery says. Sansa shifts her reins and turns her horse’s head towards the castle.
“Come,” Sansa says, gesturing towards the castle, “you must be cold. We’ll have dinner and a pot of tea.” Margaery hears her stomach growl.
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Margaery says, “I appreciate that.”
They eat together in the Stark solar. Margaery regales the Queen in the North with the tale of her escape from King’s Landing and her trek through the Riverlands and up North.
“Why did you come here?” Sansa asks. It’s not suspicious the way that Margaery expected, simply curious.
“We were close, once,” Margaery says, “I thought that you were more likely to show me leniency than anyone else.”
“Leniency?” Sansa asks.
“For being a Lannister loyalist,” Margaery says.
“Cersei intended to kill you when she blew up the Sept of Baelor, did she not?” Sansa says, “I could not imagine anyone would assume you loyal to the Lannisters.”
“You’d be surprised what people will think,” Margaery says.
“I am not surprised by much anymore,” Sansa says, “I have lived through too much to allow myself that emotion.” Sansa does not show much emotion these days, but Margaery can see the pain in her eyes. She looks away then.
“Your life has not been easy,” Margaery says.
“It hasn’t. But neither has yours.” Margaery does not respond to that, and instead takes another bite of her food. Northern food is bland compared to the Dornish influenced food she grew up eating in the Reach, but Margaery doesn’t mind much. Any food is a scrumptious feast to a starving woman.
“But yours,” Margaery finally says, “to come back and rule a kingdom all by yourself after all you’ve been through, and with only half a household still putting the place back together? Surely you could move your court to another holdfast until the restoration is complete.”
“There must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” Sansa says firmly, “and I have been used far too many times when I left my home. I do not trust anyone who tries to lead me away.” And that includes you goes unsaid.
“I understand,” Margaery says. Winterfell imbues Sansa with an almost supernatural sense of power, and even if she had no emotional attachments, it would be difficult to give up a place that seems to love her like its own child. Highgarden held no such love for the Tyrells. Their castle existed before them when they were stewards to the Gardener kings, and it will exist after them. The Garden has its choice of flowers, and it need not be a rose to smell as sweet. The Tyrells were always cloying, ambitious things. They wrapped their rosy tendrils around every bit of power and prestige that they could get, but they were always just stewards, in the end. The castle never forgot it, and neither did anyone else.
“I can send you back to Highgarden, if you’d like,” Sansa says, and Margaery cannot tell if it’s a kind offer made from a place of friendship or a bid to send her far away, “I am sure that gifting the castle to you would make my brother’s life easier. There are about seven different factions vying for it now, but you are the rightful heir. I'm sure it would end the squabbles if he gave it to you.”
“And what would you have me do, Your Grace?” Margaery asks, “rule the castle alone? My family is dead and gone. That castle’s full of nothing but ghosts now.” Sansa stiffens at that. It must come off like an insult, to refuse that generous offer for reasons that would imply Sansa should leave Winterfell. Sansa’s family might not all be dead, but it’s scattered. There’s Jon the kinfucker kinslayer back at the Wall, Arya the assassin off somewhere West, and Bran the emotionless, all-knowing raven king sitting the Iron Throne. It must sound as though Margaery has just thrown Sansa’s own loneliness in her face.
“A castle full of ghosts,” Sansa says wryly, “I think that I know something of that.” There’s a bit of humor creeping into her cold countenance, and Margaery can see a bit of the girl Sansa once was in her.
“Forgive me for asking, Your Grace,” Margaery says, “but, well. Would you stay if you did not fear betrayal elsewhere?” Sansa doesn’t speak immediately. Margaery thinks that she must be mulling it over.
“Yes,” Sansa finally says, “I would. This world is cold, and it is lonely. Winterfell isn’t warm, perhaps, but it’s familiar. Familiarity is all I can depend on now.” Highgarden was warm and it was familiar, but Margaery doesn’t dare say that. This Sansa is not the little girl clinging to hope when Margaery had promised her Loras and Highgarden. This is a Sansa who’s survived devils made men. There are rumors that she killed Petyr Baelish herself, and there are more… substantiated claims that Sansa was the one that loosed Ramsay Bolton’s dogs on him.
“I cannot bring my family back to me, but I can hold my ancestral lands. I can uphold their legacy.” Sansa’s smile is as icy as the lands that she rules. “I am the Queen of Winter, and I find all the warmth that I need here with it.” Margaery had wanted a crown, once, but she lost the things that she loved to get it. Her brother, her grandmother- her entire family and her homeland. Margaery lost everything because she reached too far. Maybe Sansa’s motives are purer, holding onto this power and this castle because it’s the only thing that she has left; upholding the family legacy. But in the end, she’s ended up empty too.
Sansa sends her a look that is neither cold nor kind as she says, “You should return South and find your own.”
“Your Grace,” Margaery says, “I cannot leave. I have nowhere else to go.”
“You could find a marriage somewhere, I’m sure. A rich, powerful lord would be happy to have The Thrice Times Queen on his arm.”
“I do not wish to wed any more lords, Your Grace,” Margaery says, “I am done feigning attraction in that manner, and I have no wish for status or children.” She does not want to have children in a world where all they can do is claw their way to power, sure to get trampled even if they get it. Her family married into royalty, and they were all killed for their trouble. She does not trust anywhere in this world to be safe for children of hers.
“I want to stay here in the North, Your Grace.” Sansa does not look excited by the prospect, but she does not glare either. The smallfolk call her “The Red Wolf” but Margaery wonders if “The Cold Wolf” might not be more fitting.
“I will be frank. The North does not need mouths to feed who do not contribute, Lady Margaery,” Sansa says, “I cannot take you in if you do not contribute.” She finds the idea of being cast out, forced to return South to empty Highgarden where the servants will whisper how she got her family killed for a crown revolting . She cannot do that. She refuses to. There must be some job that Margaery can do.
“Are you in need of a steward?” Margaery asks. If there’s any job that she knows how to do, it’s that one. It’s a Tyrell family tradition, after all. They’re all just stewards who rose above their station.
“Actually, yes,” Sansa says, “I am. My father’s steward and his daughter were both murdered along with my father. There’s no one else in the castle that has such skills.”
“I will be your steward gladly, Your Grace,” Margaery says, “just say the word and I will be yours.” Margaery never assumed that she would mean something like this, when she said a vow. None of her wedding vows were said in earnest, but she means this when she says it. If Sansa will have her, Margaery will be her woman- through and through. She will serve her faithfully in heart and mind. All she wants is an opportunity to do so.
“You do not need to swear me fealty,” Sansa says, “I am sure that you will want to return South one day, and if you are my subject instead of Bran’s, you will not have as many rights and privileges there.” Margaery shakes her head.
“I will not want to return, Your Grace,” Margaery says, “I won’t have anywhere to go. I want to make a home here. A life.” Her plotting has brought her nothing but suffering and dead family. She won’t lose her spot beside the only living person she cares about just for a chance to return South and gain back power. Sansa almost smiles at that, and she nods slowly.
“Alright, Lady Margaery,” Sansa says, “swear me fealty, and I will take you on as steward of Winterfell.” Sansa stands at the table and bids Margaery to stand as well. Then she glances down at the floor. Margaery takes the hint. She kneels down right beside Sansa’s feet, her own skirts getting all caught up on the ground. Considering the cold of the stones on her hand, she’s glad that she has so many layers between her knees and the rock below them. She bows her head to complete the pose.
“I swear my life to you, Your Grace,” Margaery says, not daring to lift her head. Sansa puts a hand on her shoulder, and then kneels in front of her.
“Your Grace,” Margaery whispers. Sansa draws her into a hug, firm and warm and desperate. She’s holding Margaery so tightly that she can barely breath, but Margaery hugs back just as tightly. She hasn’t touched another person in so long that she forgot how wonderful it felt. She scarfs down Sansa’s hug as readily as she scarfed down her feast- starving for warm and touch and maybe even love.
“Call me Sansa again,” Sansa begs, “I just- I want to hear my name.” Margaery hugs her tighter, hoping that some of her body heat seeps into Sansa from the contact. She wants to thaw some of the ice the other girl has made of her heart.
“Sansa, Sansa,” Margaery says, “Sansa.”
Margaery gets to know the castle quickly. The job of steward requires her to traverse almost every hallway, and the ones that she isn’t required to travel she explores out of curiosity. When she was little, she and Loras had explored every corner of Highgarden and the grounds. She had explored King’s Landing too, half to charm the smallfolk, but half just for fun. If she didn’t know King’s Landing and the buildings as well as she did, she never would have been able to escape the sept and later the city the way that she did.
Margaery does not expect an invasion any time soon, but it’s always better to be prepared. Robb Stark had not expected an invasion from Theon Greyjoy, and his old friend still stole his castle right out from under him. Curiosity and practicality help her become as familiar with Winterfell as she was with King’s Landing rather quickly.
The place that she becomes the most familiar with is Sansa’s bed. She refamiliarizes herself with Sansa’s body easily enough as well. She kisses her way through every inch of her, and remembers exactly how Sansa likes her to rub when she sticks her fingers inside of her. Margaery’s chambers are close to Sansa’s, as she’s the steward, but she finds that she almost never visits them at night. One night when they’re curled up together and it seems that it will be a night of cuddling instead of kissing, Margaery asks the question that’s been burning a whole in the back of her brain.
“Why me?” she asks.
Margaery knows why, superficially. Margaery is attractive. She’s good at sex. She’s a willing participant and there’s no risk of Sansa ending up pregnant if she sleeps with her. Sansa already knew that she was a willing participant the moment that she walked through the doors of Winterfell. But Margaery doesn’t know why Sansa wouldn’t prefer one of her own people. There must be serving girls and noble girls who would line up for a chance to get into bed with the queen. If the lords knew how she swung, it’s certain that some of the would try to curry her favor by sending the loveliest, most willing girls to her court. Taking one of them up on that would be better for Northern unities and alliances than bedding her Southron flower.
Sansa looks confused as she asks, “What do you mean?”
“You could have any woman that you wanted in this bed,” Margaery says, “why would you want me?”
Sansa says, “I want to feel like someone knows me. The person behind the crown.”
“Familiarity,” Margaery says. Sansa said that was the only thing that she could depend on now. Sansa nods.
“I want to feel close to someone, and you’re the only one I feel like I can risk it with. You don’t have any ulterior motives this time,” Sansa says, “if you had, you would have taken me up on one of my other offers.”
“Does that mean that you trust me?” Margaery asks cautiously.
“I don’t know if I do, not really,” Sansa says, “but I know that care about you.”
“I care about you too,” Margaery says, squeezing Sansa’s hand in hers. Nothing else is said that night as they fall asleep together, curled up under the warm furs in Sansa’s queens sized bed.
Kisses and hugs and Margaery whispering Sansa, nothing but Sansa every time that they’re in private. She likes that. Margaery knows it.
Sansa hugs her tightly, takes in every bit of warmth that she can get from her.
“It’s alright,” Margaery says, “I’m not going anywhere.” She can feel Sansa smiling into her back.
“I know,” she says, softly, “you’re not going anywhere.” Even if Margaery had somewhere that she could go, she wouldn’t leave. There’s no place that she’d rather be than right here in Sansa’s arms.
“I love you,” Margaery says. Maybe it means nothing- maybe it means everything. Either way, Margaery knows that she wants her to know.
“I love you too,” Sansa says, “it’s not wise. I don’t even get why. But I do.”
“Familiarity,” Margaery says, “we like things that we already know.” Especially when we’re lonesome for things that we can never get back, Margaery thinks. Sansa smiles softly at her.
“Are you saying that I’m nostalgic for the days where I was the Lannisters’ hostage?” Sansa asks.
“Well,” Margaery says, “perhaps. When we were two little girls kissing in the gardens, you certainly had more hope about you. It was before everything went to shit.” That was pre-Baelish. Pre-Ramsay. Before her younger brother came back to her an emotionless husk- before her sister came back an assassin who seemed as though there was nothing left in her but bitterness and rage- before her brother-cousin handed the kingdom of the North over to a mad woman just for a bit of that good old Targaryen kin-fucking.
That Sansa had a brother on a throne, a mother who was still living and loved her enough to release Jaime Lannister as a bargaining chip for Sansa and Arya. That Sansa had hopes of being smuggled to Highgarden where things were soft and flowery and wonderful. Above all else, that Sansa had hoped. This Sansa is hard and cold. She rules with justice and grace, but it seems more duty-bound than passion-bound. The only passion that Margaery glimpses from her is for lemon cakes or kissing.
“You wouldn’t keep me around if you weren’t,” Margaery says.
“I suppose you’re right,” Sansa says. Sansa buries her face into her neck, and then she kisses her. It doesn’t take long before they’re back into it again.
Even though Margaery knows that the gardens have been repaired, she does not visit them. She knows that they’re supposedly the most beautiful place in all of Winterfell, and she knows that she would love visiting them. But she also knows how playing in the gardens in Highgarden with her brother or her cousins or her lady companions made her feel, and she does not know how she would respond to that feeling here in Winterfell. It hurts enough remembering here and now- but adding a place memory, somewhere close to right but still dreadfully wrong into the mix- Margaery does not want to think about what that might do to her heart.
“Please,” Sansa says, holding out her hand, “just let me show you.” Margaery bites her lip. She hesitates for a moment. Going to the gardens will hurt her and she knows it. But if this is important to Sansa, she knows that she needs to. Sansa is the only person she values in the world anymore, and she isn’t going to disappoint her. Margaery grabs her hand.
“Alright,” Margaery says, “lead the way, Your Grace.” Sansa rolls her eyes at the sudden return to titles, but leads her to the gardens anyway. The moment that Margaery crosses the threshold into the gardens, she can smell the difference. The scent of fresh flowers hits immediately. The entire room is green, from the trees growing tall to the shorter plants closer to the ground. There are plants that Margaery has seen before, but also some that look unfamiliar. Bright, tropical flowers that would look more at home in Dorne than here in the North are nestled right beside a bush of winter roses. A fly buzzes by her face and goes to sit on a bright purple flower right beside a Nymerian Fly Trap. Margaery hopes, spitefully, that it will land right where the fly trap will reach up to eat it alive.
“I have something to show you,” Sansa says, and Margaery follows her through the greenery, batting away vines and leaves that block her way. At the end of the corner, Sansa points to a bush of Tyrell yellow roses. Margaery’s heart nearly jumps out of her chest as she’s drawn back into memories of her childhood.
“Sansa,” she says, and her lover-queen’s name gets caught up in her throat. Sansa grabs her hand again, and squeezes it tightly. Comfortingly.
“Familiarity,” Sansa says, smiling softly at the yellow roses growing in the gardens. Margaery has never felt more conflicted before. There’s a certain joy to remembering her childhood at Highgarden, spent picking her family roses and running around with her brother and cousins, but there’s a sadness too. Her family is dead and buried- gone to a place where Margaery can never reach again. She’s as happy as she is sad, but she thinks that she's glad for the feeling. Sansa’s brought a piece of home that she can actually reach right to her, just to make her feel familiar the way that Sansa does every day. It’s a bittersweet feeling, remembering a home she can't ever truly return to, but Margaery would never trade it. If anyone understands that, it’s Sansa Stark. Remembering is better than not remembering. Knowing is better than not knowing. Sansa with her crypts full of dead Starks and her statues of her dead loved ones has to agree.
“Thank you,” she manages to force out, her throat catching around the sound. The tears are flowing freely now, grateful and mournful. Margaery was married thrice, but has never had a romantic gesture like this; never had a romantic gesture at all. Renly liked men, Joffrey liked torture, and Tommen was still a child. But perhaps Sansa, her frosty queen, still has a bit of her softness in her.
Margaery plucks one of the roses and places it gently behind Sansa’s ear.
“Now you’re Jenny of Oldstones with the flowers in her hair,” Margaery says, “dancing with her ghosts.” She thinks that Sansa might look sad at that, maybe even get angry with her. Instead, she smiles. There’s an understanding of sort in the curl of her lips.
“And she never wanted to leave,” Sansa says softly.
“And she never wanted to leave,” Margaery echoes, like a promise. Like a prayer. The line echoing back and forth, over and over again until it’s just a whisper in the wind- a ghost. Just like Jenny’s. Just like theirs.
They’re here, and they’re living, and in some ways their ghosts live right along with them. They never, ever want to leave.