Jon comes in soaking wet, in the middle of a downpour at the height of the spring rains. His wolf tracks mud into the Great Hall.
But he is her brother, whatever their blood, and Sansa is glad he is home, and glad too, to put her arms around him again. He smells like wet wolf, like Ghost, like home. His presence brings something warm back to Winterfell.
After they’ve gotten him dry and fed, they retreat to her father’s solar where they can talk together, for the first time in more than a year.
It’s not often Jon leaves exile.
“I missed you," she says.
Seated, Sansa looks him over fondly.
He looks good-- strong and healthy, with color in his cheeks. She remembers him only too well from the end of the wars-- the wild beard, the drawn face. All of that is gone now. The far north has been kind to him. Kinder than she would have expected.
"I missed you too." Jon smiles, another sweet sight to Sansa. “How are you, sister?”
“Me? I brought you all this way to talk to you .”
Jon has been evasive as of late in his letters, and it worries Sansa.
“I am well, but I’m not the one running a kingdom.”
Flustered, Sansa gets up to stoke the fire in the hearth.
“I am also well. I am occupied by my duties as queen, and by the repairs to this castle.”
She sits down and takes out a pair of knitting needles so she can work on one of her less pressing projects as they talk.
“That all sounds-- very dutiful,” says Jon.
“Oh, you know how it is. The lords have their usual complaints. Someone stole a head of sheep from the Glovers and the Flints, and we think we may have a bandit on the loose.”
“A sheep bandit.” Jon’s eyes light with laughter. “I’ll have Ghost look for the culprit.”
“Thank you, that is kind of you to offer.”
It is kind of him-- but Sansa can’t abide his deflection any longer. “Well?”
“You didn’t even tell me how you are yet.”
Sansa throws him an exasperated look. “I just did.”
“That’s politics. I want to know about you .”
Then Jon gets a keen look.
“I don’t see any husbands or children, so I imagine you have no news on that front.”
This is a delicate subject. Sansa wishes she hadn’t just stoked the fire so she could get up now and stoke it again.
“No, I -- I haven’t married yet.”
“I thought you told me in a letter that you were getting all sorts of offers of marriage.”
“I was,” Sansa allows. “However, I declined them all.”
“You don’t want to marry any of them?” Jon gets that line between his brows he gets when something confuses him. “I hear the Prince of Dorne is quite handsome--”
Sansa realizes, a moment too late, that she may have sounded a bit too vehement.
“I just thought--” Her brother lowers his head, not wanting to offend. “I just want you to be happy, Sansa. I don’t want you to be lonely.”
He means it, she knows. Jon is one of the kindest people Sansa has ever met, and not just because he’s her brother.
“I’m not lonely,” she says, smiling to reassure him.
“What about you, though?” She takes his hand in hers. “Any women in the north to your liking?”
Jon looks, if possible, even more flustered than she had.
“No-- no women in the north.”
“No, of course-- there are women. There. In the north,” Jon says, a flush spreading over his cheeks and neck. “I mean-- none I am bedding.”
Now Sansa is beginning to understand his concern for her-- she doesn’t like the thought of him, alone up there in the frozen north, with only a wolf and the sound of the rain on the roof for company.
“Even just to talk to, without the bedding part?”
Jon’s face is a shocking shade of red now.
“I-- I am with Tormund most of the time.”
Sansa feels a certain amount of relief at that-- even if it’s not a woman and children and a family, her brother does not lack for friendship.
“I hope you are not lonely either, Jon,” she says, pulling a loop of her work through in her lap.
Jon gets a strange look. “I am not lonely.”
“You know you can always come home.”
“I have a home up there -- in the north. We-- I have a cottage up there.”
Sansa sets down her work, frowning.
“That’s not Winterfell.”
“Well, of course it’s not,” says Jon. “But I--”
His expression is so pained, Sansa wonders for a moment if he’s about to confess something terrible.
“Sansa, can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” she says, disturbed by his obvious anxiety.
“Have you ever -- have you ever loved anyone?”
Sansa stares at him, feeling her heart thud in her chest.
Brown curls, a smile full of mischief--
Her absence still hurts, even after all these years.
“Yes,” Sansa says carefully. “A very long time ago.”
“Well, I--” Jon’s gaze darts to the door, the hearth-- anywhere but Sansa’s face. “I do love someone.”
Sansa waits for an explanation but Jon offers none, swallowing and nodding at her like a nervous boy.
“Tormund,” Jon blurts out. “It’s Tormund. I love him.”
Sansa feels her eyebrows go up involuntarily as the truth washes over her. For a moment she can’t speak at all, or think of what to say.
“Say something, Sansa, please.”
Sansa takes a deep breath to steady herself.
“You love Tormund-- like that? Like a woman?”
“No, no, not like that. Well-- I-- Like that. But not like a woman, like--”
“Like a man loves another man,” Sansa says, understanding him fully at last.
Relief comes into Jon’s face.
“Yes.” Then, his brow furrowing again--
“Please don’t tell anyone, Sansa.”
“I won’t, I--”
Sansa is almost light-headed for a moment, giddy as a girl.
“Now I understand why you won’t ever leave exile.”
Jon looks sheepish. “I will visit more often, I promise.”
“As long as you’re happy, Jon,” Sansa says, and she means it, feeling tears tickling in her throat.
Tormund Giantsbane, then. Sansa can’t imagine what Jon sees in the man, a huge broad-shouldered wildling who once boasted of suckling at a giant’s breast. But the joy in Jon’s voice when he says the man’s name is undeniable, and it means so much to Sansa to see happiness in Jon, now, after everything.
“Jon-- I have to tell you--”
Sansa wasn’t ever planning on telling Jon this, but it comes out, unbidden.
Jon looks confused.
“You love him too?”
“No,” says Sansa. “I love women. The way-- the way you, a man, might love another man.”
Comprehension dawns in Jon’s face all at once.
“You love-- you love women, as a woman.”
There is no point in hiding it now.
This time it’s Jon who throws his arms around Sansa and, picking her up an inch or two off the solar floor, spins her around, laughing breathlessly.
“Six of the one, half a dozen of the other,” Sansa says, wiping her eyes. “We’re the same.”
In more ways than one now.
Brother and sister, Jon and Sansa look at each other with new eyes.
“You should have told me,” Jon says. “I wouldn’t have been so afraid to tell you then.”
“Well, you should have asked.”
Jon leans forward eagerly.
“You’re right, I should have. So-- who is this woman?”
Sansa sighs. “Who was she.”
Jon bites his lip. “There is a story there.”
“A long one, yes,” she says. “A sad one.”
“I’m sorry,” Jon says softly. “I hope you can tell me about her some time.”
“Well, I’d say we have some time now.”
Jon gets Sansa a mug of hot water with lemon from the kitchen, and with it in her hands-- warm and comforting, much like Jon himself-- Sansa begins to tell him the story of Margaery Tyrell.