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A Violence Done Most Kindly

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A Violence Done Most Kindly

Chapter One: Hunger

"There is an old sort of magic to sacrifice, after all." - Jon and Sansa. Stark is a house of many winters.

* * *

It would be a lie to say that Sansa understands Cersei now – here at the end.

Here where she warms her brother's bed.

Sansa imagines Cersei looked at Ser Jamie like this once, watching him in his sleep beside her. Or perhaps not. Perhaps theirs was always a quick, furtive fuck. A blinding instant of lust and need, smothered in dark alcoves and behind garish tapestries, a secret, silent thing – clawing at them from the inside.

Perhaps they've never slept the night through beside each other.

Perhaps she regretted it – gurgling out his name while she choked on her own blood.

Sansa reaches up to trace a hand down the side of Jon's face, trailing past his jaw, along the cords of muscle flexing in his throat beneath her touch, whispering down his chest as he groans to wakefulness. She slips her hand to his growing hardness with a surety that might have been foreign to the little dove Cersei once knew.

But then, maybe that is also a lie.

"Sansa," he groans, head thrown back along the pillow, voice rough with sleep and desire.

She braces her lips to his neck, imagines the rush of blood just beneath her mouth – pulls him from slumber with a selfish, desperate yearning she does not regret. "I need you," she breathes into his skin, teeth sinking down.

Jon growls his answer, grabbing her by the hair, yanking her head back and kissing her hungrily. He turns her easily, bracing her back along the bed as he covers her with his weight, already hard and ready in her hand.

Some small part of her wishes Cersei had been her kill. A different, equally intense part of her, is relieved beyond words that she isn't – that she would never be, now.

But more than that – more than a vengeful wrath she's spent too long feeding to ever be free of hunger, to ever be satisfied with a mere raven scroll and the somber, even way Bran announces the news – more than that –

She just needs Jon.

"Come back to me," she whispers against his mouth, moving with him in the dark.

No, she doesn't think she'll ever understand Cersei.

But as she feels Jon slip inside her, as she cradles his groan in the hollow of her throat, as she catches her lips at his temple – she thinks she doesn't need to.

It's a different hunger she feeds now, after all.

Sansa recognizes the sound of Baelish's footsteps well before he's made it to her side. He slinks like shadow easily enough across stone and wood and dirt, but here in the godswood, trudging through snow in the womb of winter, his steps are almost awkward, clunky.

He does not belong here. She knows this now with a certainty she hasn't felt in years.

"My lady, I had hoped to find you here."

Sansa only sighs, glancing away from the red weirwood leaves to meet his gaze over her shoulder. She offers a silent nod in greeting.

Baelish makes his way toward her, smoothing his hands over his robe when he settles beside her. "You have not forgotten what we spoke of when last I found you here, I should hope."

Sansa tugs her furs tighter around her shoulders, eyes drifting back to the weirwood branches. "How could one forget?"

"Yes," he murmurs, eyes drifting down her face and trailing the length of her throat.

She tries not to swallow, not to give notice of her discomfort. He takes a step closer. She resolutely does not take one back.

"This is a very crucial time for us, Sansa, you must know that."

"Cersei is dead," she says in answer, and she thinks maybe it should feel different along her tongue. Lighter, perhaps. Sweeter. Instead, it's nothing but a stringent tartness.

"Yes, and by whose hand? None of my people seem to know the answer to that, except for whispers of faceless girls. Dead end gossip." He looks at her out of the corner of his eye, appraising.

Sansa gives him nothing to appraise. "Is that what matters right now?"

He stays quiet a moment, and then, "It is, until we can ascertain whose side her murderer is on."

Another silence. Sansa stretches a gloved hand out to catch the faint flecks of snow falling from the branches.

"We can't let this opportunity pass us by. Cersei's death has lead to infighting amongst the houses. King's Landing is in near shambles with no discernible sovereign. Qyburn has fled without the support of his queen. The Mountain hasn't been seen since reports of Cersei's death. Citizens are fleeing to the other kingdoms as we speak, and even Daenerys Targaryen has seen the uselessness in conquering King's Landing at this point."

She knows this. She knows this already and she's tired of hearing it. It only ever ends one way.

Baelish reaches for her, grasping her arms and turning her to face him, his gentleness forced and rushed – a falsity. Sansa blinks up at him.

"We have to consolidate power. If we wait too long, this chaos will be of no help to us."

"Then go."

Baelish furrows his brow at her answer, his fingers flexing along her elbows.

She swallows tightly, face a blank visage. "Go to King's Landing then. Consolidate." She lifts her chin. "Go."

His throat flexes, poison tongue pressing back behind pursed lips.

"You can't, can you?" she asks, not unkindly. "Because your power lies here. With me. And with the Vale. You can't abandon either of us without giving yourself a disadvantage."

"Sansa." It's almost a warning. As much a warning as Baelish ever gives – all smooth tones and invaded intimacy. His head inclines toward hers.

"Jon won't go South. Not for that." She extracts herself from his hold slowly, gently, without offense.

Baelish smacks his lips, a minute flicker of irritation crossing his eyes, but it's all he will allow her to see of his disturbance. "The King can be persuaded."

"Not in this. The dead occupy him on all sides. He won't play the game."

"Not even for you?"

Sansa doesn't think too long on the way his eyes flick to her lips for a fraction of a second. "You overestimate my influence."

"Oh, I think not," he says lowly, a curl to his lip that reminds her of purple-faced boy-kings and hound-fed bastards.

No, he does not belong here. Not in the white and cold and wind of home. Not here where her mother used to brush her hair and her father used to beg her hand to dance and her brothers played their knightly parts in her tales dutifully. Not here where she had wanted to bury Lady those many years ago.

Wanted, and never could.

Sansa realizes suddenly, that Winterfell is not yet free.

And neither is she.

In the wake of Cersei's death, the ensuing vacuum of power nearly cripples the kingdoms, with the remainder of the Lannister forces rallying behind a mourning, vengeful Ser Jaime, intent on securing the Reach and the Stormlands. Dorne wastes no time to declare its independence from the Seven Kingdoms entirely, and shortly after the suspicious slaughter of the Freys by unseen Northern hands both the Riverlands and the Vale swear to the North under the threat of a coming dragon queen.

Jon has no time for such politics.

Sansa rails against him openly in the Hall of Lords, demanding his attention to the ensuing fight for the crown, but the dead take precedence in everything he brings to court, and it's not long before ravens are sent to all corners of Westeros begging aid in the coming fight.

Bran watches placidly, neither arguing for or against either of them. Sansa would call him not unlike a piece of furniture if she hadn't better manners, and most days her pleads for his council lands on deaf ears. She ends most gatherings of the lords rife with frustration and nearly frothing at the mouth.

She doesn't need to glance at Baelish to know the look he gives her.

"You think just because Cersei is dead that we are free from the South? That they will not land their hooks into every inch of the North until we are chained to them once more?" Sansa seethes, shutting her door once Jon is through it.

Jon heaves an unsteady breath, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. "That's not what I think, and you know it," he grits out, sending a dark look her way. "Stop twisting my words."

"Then stop ignoring mine."

"I'm not!" He stalks toward her, stops before he can do anything else. His hands itch at his sides. "Sansa, we can't keep this up – this back-and-forth. We can't afford such a divide, not now."

Sansa takes a purposeful breath, hands folding before her. "I'm with you, Jon, I am but – "

"Are you? Sometimes I wonder." He can't help the scoff that leaves him. He stares at her, keeps her gaze a moment longer, and then he's turning to the far window, a hand raking over his face. He's just so tired, suddenly.

Sansa is deadly still. So still he can't even hear the rustle of her skirts on the cold stone at their feet – can't pick up the scrape of air she pulls through anger-fused lungs.

"And how is your show of the dead going with the other kingdoms, hmm?" she bites out.

Jon snaps his head to her, his eyes narrowing so quickly she might have missed it.

Sansa takes a step toward him. "Are they simply jumping to aid us? Are they gathering the entire might of their forces, marching the sum of their armies North, all on your word?" Something sharp glints in her gaze and Jon swallows his reply back instantly. She scoffs, head thrown back. And then her eyes are eerily blue on his – instantly staggering him. "And have I ever demanded evidence? Have I ever once denounced your claims of the rising dead before the lords?"

Jon has no answer. None that would satisfy, at least.

Something in her softens at his silence, another step taken toward him. "I've never asked you to prove anything to me, Jon."

Jon, she calls him – always.

(There was never anything to prove between them, after all.)

Jon closes his eyes, takes a long, deep breath, exhales just as evenly. When he opens his eyes, she's still there. Still copper-crowned and winter-poised. Still every inch his sister.

And every inch not.

He thinks maybe it's a sickness – this craving of his.

Jon steps into her, the stiff silence descending upon them like a cloak. He's so close. He's so unbearably close, and even though he has yet to touch her, the heat suffuses him – a stifled winter, a burrowing need.

He can see the way her chest heaves at the sudden proximity.

(She's always been his, even when she won't admit to it.)

Jon thrums a tentative hand along her side, fingers grazing the line of her hip.

Her tongue darts out to wet her lips.

It's a lost cause, he knows. Since the moment she opened her door to him, this was only ever going to end one way.

"I know you're with me," he tells her on an exhale, roiled in heat.

She arches a single, fine brow. "Do you? Sometimes I wonder." She almost smacks her lips with self-satisfaction.

A low snarl eases from his lips, his hand bunching in her dress, dragging her to him. She lets him, hands alighting on his chest. He leans into her, nuzzling his temple to hers, breath ragged already.

She makes it so easy.

He's already panting for her.

(She makes it so hard.)

"Sansa," he groans out, fingers trembling as they reach for her laces.

She takes his face in her hands, pulls him back until his eyes are locked with hers. He doesn't still his unlacing of her. He couldn't even if he tried.

So unbearably close.

(He just needs to touch her.)

"You lose one war, you lose them all," she tells him, arching against him.

She's right, he knows. She's right, and yet –

She comes undone so easily in his hands – they need to stop ending their arguments this way.

Because this – the splendid way she hisses beneath his tongue and the subtle way she arches into his hands and the ragged pant of his name (his name) along her bruising lips –is a war they can't afford to lose.

(This is a war they haven't even begun to fight, not truly – not by the light of day.)

"I'm with you," she whispers against his mouth, and he knows.

He knows, he knows, he knows.

And even still –

Some wars aren't about who's right. They're only about who's left.

Arya returns to Winterfell in the dead of night. Ghost clambers to wakefulness at the foot of Jon's bed, the sharp rap on his door jolting him from sleep.

It's Davos at his door. "In the hall, Your Grace," he says, and nothing more.

Jon rushes from the room, following his Hand and the faint shadows Davos' torch casts along the walls. When he turns the next corridor, he sees Sansa emerging from her own chambers, Brienne at her side. Her sworn shield tugs the fallen slip of Sansa's robe over her lady's bared shoulder at Jon's presence, and the motion does not go unnoticed.

"What is it?" Sansa hisses in the night.

He shakes his head, throat parched.

It happens moments later.

It happens when they breach the shadowed hall. It happens when Arya turns from her appraisal of the room, eyes a slate grey that should be comforting, familiar – but are only haunting. She is perfectly still in the filtering moonlight through the tall windows. She is perfectly winter-poised (an eerie reflection of the sister beside him, and distantly, he wonders if either of them knew they'd ever grow to be thus).

It's a crack, a fissure – a lung-scraping quake that sunders through the silent hall.

Ghost is the first to break the stillness, trotting up to Arya with an ease that staggers Jon's heart in his chest. But Arya smiles – smiles – and it's a faint curl of her lips, before she's bending like reeds in the wind, reaching for the direwolf's great maw and threading her fingers through his thick fur, hands gliding over Ghost's face and ears and neck. Something of sorrow and fondness sweeps over her face then. "Hey, boy. You've been keeping watch for me?"

Jon is breaking toward her then, something splintering inside him he hasn't a name for, and then she's in his arms, and he's lifting her up, up, and up, her feet off the ground, her arms around his neck, his broken gasp of her name smothered in her hair, and he's trembling, absolutely shaking against her, absolutely shattered – here, to be here – with his little sister in his arms. He holds her for an immeasurable amount of time, for eons and epochs and yet he'd hold her still, if only he could. It never seems enough.

Jon dips her back to the floor, breathless, glancing back at Sansa, and he stills suddenly at the way she stares at them.

Arya keeps a hand at Jon's elbow, her smile receding. A soft, keen quiet overtakes her. Her eyes shine with tears. "Hello, Sansa."

Sansa takes a step, hand outreaching, and then stops herself. She takes a sudden breath, and Jon is too overcome to think much of it, so he braces a hand at the small of Sansa's back, urging her toward their sister.

He doesn't catch the way Arya's eyes trail the intimate motion of his hand.

"Arya." Sansa's voice catches, and then she's stumbling into her, arms wide, drawing her little sister to her chest.

Arya's eyes shutter closed for a moment, breathing something of relief against Sansa's breast, her hands fisting in her robe at her back, but then she's blinking those grey, haunting eyes open to Jon.

He feels cracked open. Bloody and bare. Jon swallows the trepidation back.

Their sister is returned.

His hand burns beneath the memory of Sansa's heat at his fingertips.

Arya knows.

She knows, Sansa thinks when she catches the derision in her little sister's eyes from across the courtyard. Somehow, she knows.

Sansa steps purposely away from Jon as they walk together below the ramparts.

He furrows his brows at the motion, a hand going to her elbow. "Sansa," he begins.

She huffs her frustration, staying his hand.

He's always been terrible at pretenses.

"Our sister is watching," she mutters beneath her breath pointedly, and she can see the way his spine straightens, the way his shoulders stiffen.

She is Sansa Stark. And he is Jon Snow. And not for the first time has she lamented this – though perhaps not so much as now.

Now when he is close enough to touch and yet the chasm widens ever farther.

This chasm called honor.

(But there is nothing honorable about the ways in which he touches her in the dark of night.)

Jon is silent for long moments, before he comes to an abrupt halt at the edge of the courtyard. Sansa turns to find him staring at his boots, brows furrowed. He heaves a sigh, a calloused hand wiping down his face, and then he's turning swiftly, walking back the way they came. Sansa watches him go, something constricting in her chest not unlike grief. She looks back across the courtyard to see Arya still watching her. Her jaw locks, her barred teeth caught behind perfectly poised lips.

There are some things Arya will never know, she reminds herself.

She will never know the way Jon's eyes grow dark by candlelight, or the way his throat flexes beneath the press of her tongue, or the tremble that racks through him when she slips to her knees at the edge of his bed, bracketed by his thighs.

And perhaps there is something secret and selfish still living in her. Perhaps there is a part of her that revels in the knowledge that while she may not be the favorite sister, she is the only sister who can drag such whines from his throat, who can reduce him to pleading, who can have him panting and desperate as he throws his head back, hand curling in her copper tresses as he pushes her mouth down on his length, hips thrusting shallowing up to meet her.

No, Sansa reminds herself. Arya will never know the dark visage of Jon when the last of his control snaps, when he's pouring filth from his mouth too base even for brothels, when he's rutting into her mouth like something feral, spilling hot and frenzied down her throat as he growls her name through clenched teeth, over and over and over again.

No. Arya will never know the way he looks at her in the aftermath, the way he curls a quaking hand along the curve of her jaw, thumb brushing over her mouth in something perhaps too feverish to be called tender, but just as searing.

She thinks this when she departs from the courtyard.

She thinks this when she feels Arya's gaze following along her back.

She thinks this when she closes the latch behind her to Jon's door that night.

"You're our brother," Arya says like a demand. "You're her brother." It comes out slightly searing this time.

Jon grips at the mantle over the hearth, his back to her. "I still am."

"How could you be?" Her scoff is lined with something faintly like disgust.

Jon closes his eyes at the sound. He draws a deep breath in, lets it to air.

Arya shifts somewhere behind him. "Robb would never have touched her so."

"Aye, and Robb isn't the brother she begs for at night, is he?" he spits just as harshly, whirling on her. He realizes what he says a moment before he catches the look that passes over her face.

It's not a look she's ever directed at him before.

Jon swallows thickly, the words dying in his throat.

Arya looks away, lips pursed tight. She's so utterly still. This whole while, her entire time at Winterfell, she's been nothing but stillness.

Jon wants to shake her suddenly, just to know she's still there. Just to know he isn't the only one missing what they used to be.

He has to tear his gaze from her – has to focus on the lick of flames in the hearth, the flare of copper too familiar to cool this rancid heat in him. "But I'm not Robb, am I?" he whispers, almost like regret, almost like penitence.

(Almost, but not quite.)

"No," Arya answers, so low he might have imagined it. "No, you're not."

He isn't sure what it is he hears in her voice, and he doesn't have the heart to turn to her then, to see for himself, to know the damning censure of her gaze, even when her voice is indiscernible.

She leaves him then, the heavy door of his solar sliding shut with a nauseating finality.

She doesn't even leave a shadow.

(But he thinks he should have expected this. He thinks he should have expected a lot of things.)

Jon has known the permanence of betrayal, the way it sinks into your marrow until you are rife with it, until the sharp tang of it has festered long and sour beneath your tongue, until it is behind every look over the shoulder and every false greeting.

Jon sneaks a glance at Sansa beside him, catches the upturn of her chin while she listens to Lord Glover in the Hall of Lords, the resolute crispness of her blue gaze as she sits regally at the head table.

His hand strays to the ends of her furs hanging over the arm rest. He catches the material between his thumb and forefinger, a small comfort. An anchor in the storm.

He glances back out across the hall. All eyes are on Sansa. All but a lone, accusing pair.

Jon catches Arya's glare from across the hall, nearly missing her lithe frame amidst the shrouding shadows of the Stark banners. The flicker of torchlight is not enough to obscure her frown.

His hand slips from the edge of Sansa's furs beneath the table, his throat dry with an apprehension he's never felt before.

They sit staring at each other for long moments – everything and nothing passing between them – the lords airing their complaints and their needs like a fog around him.

"Do you agree, Your Grace?"

Sansa's voice comes to him like a gale.

Jon snaps his gaze to her, blinking rapidly.

He suddenly remembers.

He remembers that Sansa has seen the evidence of betrayal marring his skin. She's seen the gashes along his chest and not withheld her touch. She's smothered his sobs of recollection to her breast when he's recounted the nooses – the way their feet swayed in the wind like a condemnation.

Sansa has never been party to his betrayal.

Sansa will never be his betrayal.

His fingers search for the ends of her furs once more, gripping tightly beneath the cover of the table – no longer an anchor, but the thing that drowns him.

"Aye," he agrees, never needing to know what he agrees to.

Sansa eyes him with something of sharpness.

Jon looks back across the hall. Arya is gone.

He does not relinquish his hold.

{"Why did you bring her here?"

Bran looks up at Sansa's question. It is a face she used to know once – but not anymore. She holds tight to this image of her brother like sand sifting through her fingers. She wonders if it is not perhaps easier to simply let him fall.

She looks away finally, her hands gripping at her skirts.

The hearth spits another log to cinders before them, and she thinks he means to keep this damn silence always, until, "Because she is needed."}