The King had died on the day Jon had been sworn into service. If he were a superstitious man – and he is, somewhat, as Northmen tend to be – he would have perhaps trusted his instincts enough to realise that the rest of the lifetime he had promised away to the crown wouldn’t be the easiest in history.
What had followed had been a whirlwind of accusations and anger and death, all of it happening so quickly that he’d hardly had the time to process any of it. As a result, he had given up on trying to do so and had instead resorted to reminding himself of what he knew for certain when he woke up each morning.
One: his father is dead at Joffrey Baratheon’s command. Two: Arya is gone and not likely to be found soon. All for the best, he supposes. Three: the rest of his family would have gone into outright war already and taken it all the way to King’s Landing if it hadn’t been for his sisters and the fact that to their knowledge, they are both still trapped in the Red Keep.
Four: his sister is going to be wed to the newly crowned prince this morning.
The part of it that stings the most, Jon thinks – past the grief and shock and pain and betrayal – is that he’d failed. It’s precisely this that his father had tried to avoid when he had convinced him to don a white cloak instead of a black one and when he’d convinced King Robert to take him into his Kingsguard in the first place – he had been meant to protect her. As happy as Sansa had looked to be betrothed to Joffrey, Lord Stark had never fully let go of his suspicions towards the prince’s family enough to leave his firstborn daughter alone in their hands. When he had finally been proven right, he had paid for it with his life shortly after the King had left this world as well, Arya had disappeared, Joffrey had been crowned and the proceedings around the wedding had become even more rushed as the Lannisters had scrambled to chain their final remaining Stark to themselves before Robb could attack. They’ve yet to see whether it would work or not, but then again, their new king is yet to take her as his wife.
He had failed. He’d failed his father and all his warnings, he had failed Robb and Arya and the rest of his siblings and, worst of all, he had failed her. Sansa had never seen him as her protector before – had never thought she would need protection from her husband-to-be to begin with – but she had been left with no one else now, and he had failed her. It’s a terrible thought, born out of a responsibility he had never thought he would be given, and it’s all Jon can do to stay within the confines of his room lest he do something that would plunge them even deeper into loss and suffering than what they had already been served. It’s a self-imposed imprisonment and, as such, it’s not bound to last.
The knock on the door is sudden and harsh enough for him to know that it’s one of them and Jon gets to his feet, the feeble attempt to make himself presentable not entirely successful if his quick glance in the mirror is anything to go by. His hair is still a chaotic tangle from when he had woken up at sunrise and his eyes are bloodshot from the lack of sleep, but it shouldn’t matter too much – chances are, their newly appointed Lord Commander is the one coming to visit. The fact that Lord Tyrion would have already greeted him from the other side of the door and the Queen’s unfortunate habit of announcing herself by barging into any place she’d taken fancy to with no prior warning don’t leave him with many options and, sure enough, Jaime Lannister’s voice floats into the room a moment later.
“Snow?” More knocking, lacking even the scarce patience from before. “Snow? Are you ready? You’re needed.”
“What for?” When he opens the door, more forceful than what is acceptable given his place in the hierarchy, the sight of the man’s bored expression serves to infuriate him even further. “I’m not on duty today, you said.”
“No, but in the absence of her father, I thought you might want to walk your sister to the King.” He does look somewhat uncomfortable now, but what little it does to quell Jon’s anger is undone the moment he opens his mouth again, as per usual. “She would appreciate it, I assume, given her circumstances. And if it’s not you, it’s going to be me. And if it is me, you’re going to regret leaving her on her own at a time like this.”
What would you know about giving your own blood away to a stranger who’s half a beast already, he wants to ask, but of course he knows. He had doubtlessly been in the sept when his sister had been wed to King Robert, had watched Lord Tywin tug her by the arm until she had followed, but this is different. If it’s sympathy Lannister wants to show him, then it feels more like mockery than anything else they have done so far.
Before he can think of something to say, the man pushes him back into the room, decisive if not rough. “Get dressed. She’s waiting for you.”
It’s as much of a warning as he’s going to get and Jon grasps it with both hands, gratefully slamming the door shut once his Lord Commander retreats. There’s no peace to be found in his life, not ever since the day he had rode into King’s Landing, but solitude is a close second and really, in the weeks after their arrival, refusing what he’s been handed had quickly ceased to be an option.
When he finds his sister – hidden away in a room just outside the hall, eyes focused sightlessly on the opposite wall only for her to get to her feet the moment he enters – she’s nearly bright enough to blind him, with the sight they’d made of her. Sansa is drowning in gold, from the elaborate shape that her hair is twisted into, held in place by a thousand pins, to the gown she’s wearing – a heavy, creamy thing made out of far too much fabric, with a lion’s head sewn into the back. It’s there on the front as well, in the necklace that her betrothed had given her just weeks ago, just like the one the Queen wears, and Jon’s heart stutters painfully in his chest. She had been ecstatic when she’d received the gift, just as she had been about the wedding, incorporating bits and pieces of the royal family into herself as time progressed. Now that the Lannisters had shown their true colours, they’d showered her in the ones of their house until they’d managed to scrub away any bit of the North out of her. It’s the Stark name they want for their alliance, but not House Stark, and he had been a fool to not see it for what it is before.
But then again, he’s not the only one – they had all been fools, it seems.
“I’m to present you to the King,” he says at last, voice thick with everything he needs to hold back; everything the guard doubtlessly waiting for them on the other side of the door can’t be allowed to hear. “Ser Jaime thought it might be fitting.”
There’s a little hope blossoming in the next bleak look Sansa casts him and as much as he wouldn’t like to offer her an escape he won’t be able to follow through with, it’s impossible not to smile in response. He can’t make a particularly encouraging sight, Jon supposes – his Kingsguard armour is the only clothing ceremonial enough for a royal wedding and it’s yet more salt in the wound. I’m covered in gold, too. He’s never been a Stark, but his father had deemed him a Stark enough to be Sansa’s home now that she has none, and King’s Landing had tried to take that away too. What a picture we make. He offers her a hand all the same, but Sansa shakes her head, the despair from before flooding back in.
“I can’t.” Her eyes are altogether too glassy and there’s so little separating her from bursting into tears that Jon isn’t sure he’d be able to stop it. He had only seen it once before – back in front of the Sept of Baelor in that terrible morning when Father had died – and it’s not something he ever wants to experience again. “I can’t, if Cersei sees— If she sees me cry, she’d kill me. If I embarrass her in front of everyone in there—”
“You won’t.” He dares to try and get closer again and this time, Sansa allows it; sinks gratefully into his arms as he wraps them around her back. It would certainly be better for them all if this wedding would somehow refrain from turning into a spectacle, but there isn’t much that can be done about it now. If the Lannisters had wanted her to be an exemplary bride, they should have given her to someone other than a monster. “You know how to do this. You’ve always known. And it won’t be forever.”
Even Sansa manages a doubtful scoff at the reassurance. It must feel so empty from where she’s standing; as useless as his supposed protection had been so far. No one can protect anyone, she had told him shortly after the execution, when he had sworn to her that he would. It had held true so far in too many ways to count – Arya’s absence alone is enough of a proof.
“Every unhappy wife in the history of the world has said that, hasn’t she?”
“And half of them have murdered their husbands while they slept.” She smiles at that, the expression half-hidden when he cups her cheek. “If Robb marches south—”
“He mustn’t. All it will do—” She’s still terrified, her hands where they’re braced on his shoulders fidgeting as she clings to him, but she’s steadier now, her mind as clear as it always is, scrambling to figure out everyone’s next move five steps ahead. “It doesn’t matter now.” His sister straightens up, carefully disentangling herself from his arms as she squares her shoulders. “We can’t stay here forever. Come.”
It’s her that leads him to the door, then, braver than she had been just yesterday; more determined than Jon had ever seen her. She’s always been collected regardless of the challenge she’d been presented with, but she’s never faced anything quite like this before. It’s impossible to tell how long the boldness will last and he hooks his arm around his sister’s, eyes still carefully fixed on her face. She’s not going to cry – she’s got control over that much – but it’s the prospect of her holding it all back instead that frightens him more. He can do nothing but follow as they leave the room and the front doors swing open in front of them instead, hundreds of eyes fixing on their silhouettes in the morning sunlight as they make their tentative first steps down the stairs.
Jon can see it all, as if he’s standing on the rooftop and looking into this particular piece of his life – the King is waiting on the dais on the other end of the Throne room, surrounded by his guards and family from all sides, the High Septon looks on, still clearly irritated about being made to perform the ceremony in the Red Keep instead of the Sept of Baelor. It’s a symbolic gesture meant to highlight the new king’s supposed birthright, Jon knows, but it’s still a small mercy – the Throne room is smaller, at least, and that makes their ceremonial walk to Sansa’s future husband a little shorter than it would have been otherwise.
It’s only when they reach him that he feels part of his own body once more. He lets go of her, gives his best smile – hollow and braver than he feels, as a Kingsguard’s encouragement tends to be – and steps away to take his place next to his new brothers and the royal family. Here, at least, they stand out – he feels like a dark, curly-haired stain in the midst of Lannister gold and Sansa’s fiery red shines like a torch on the sunlight when she turns her back to him and the crimson cloak of the king’s protection is wrapped around her shoulders. It’s a small comfort, knowing that they don’t belong entirely, but Jon is ready to take what he can get.
Sansa meets his eyes again as soon the ribbon is wrapped around her and Joffrey’s hands and the septon condemns their souls to an eternal union, and only meets her husband’s gaze when he announces his intentions to the realm. It’s grandiose enough to nearly make Jon laugh, though he knows better than to sour the entire affair even further. There’s a lot pledged into that kiss, if he has to guess, and none of it is love, but it’s too late to fret over such things now – all notions of peace and life and a new family had crumbled along with their father’s body in front of the citizens of King’s Landing.
It’s a Stark cloak she must wear, Jon can’t help but think – the silvery lines of her house’s direwolf had always suited her much better than the red, heavy Lannister velvet and the golden roaring beast woven into it. It’s the only protection she’ll ever have.
But she doesn’t; not anymore. What she has is him and as Jon stares down resolutely, one fist clenched around the fine fabric of his own white cloak, the edges of it blur enough to almost shape a silver of their own.