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The Folly of Men

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Bran’s speech to the assembled minor lords in the hall of Winterfell was so fine and so full of hope for the future that Meera can’t help but place her hand over his, when he is finished, to show him how very proud of him she is. He doesn’t welcome the intimacy, however. Once he would have—she was sure he loved her—but things have changed. It should come as no surprise to her after last night that he draws his hand back, placing it under the table in his lap, where she doesn’t dare reach to restore the connection between them, but it does. She keeps forgetting how it is between them now.

The war was difficult—a living nightmare—keeping Bran’s energy up for the time he spent warging, controlling the dragons that blasted the wights with fire, while their lives were continually at stake. It was no easy task: there was hardly enough food to go around or firewood to warm their bones, but Bran had to rise to the summons whenever it came, whether he was hungry or cold or tired. It was Meera’s job to see to it that he was as few of those things as possible and to give him comfort after he returned from the battlefield weary from his efforts.

That was her contribution, and she didn’t mind. She would have done more for him if there had been more to do. He needed her and she liked being the one to be closest to him. They shared a tent, since no one thought to object with the world ending, shared a bed sometimes when the winds sliced through the tent, and they’ve shared a kiss. She hoped to share more.

Since they’ve come to Winterfell, there’s been no closeness between them. Yes, his duties keep him busy, but the alteration is of a different kind. He’s been distant and reserved. He’s baulked at any efforts she launched to be useful, insisting he could handle things without aid or call on the servants if need be. And last night, when she confessed everything to him, her hands wrapped around the arms of his chair, he acted as if he hadn’t heard her. He turned to look out the window, instead of bringing himself to answer, and when she couldn’t take his silence any longer, she left.

Her plan was to stay, but there seems to be no cause for that now. The same holds true for tonight’s celebratory feast. When Bran retires before the evening has ended, retreating to his rooms in the chair Tyrion Lannister sent from the South, Meera means to do the same, but Bran’s sister stops him with a soft plea. “Stay with me for a moment.”

Meera finds no handy excuse to refuse Sansa’s request and pushes her chair back up to the table.

“He’s tired, Meera. Don’t judge him too harshly.”

“I don’t.”

Meera saw it too: the tightness around his mouth. Bran won’t readily admit when he is in pain or when he is too exhausted to go on, but in the time they’ve spent together alone, she’s learned the signs. Sansa quietly observes everything that goes on around them, so it stands to reason that she noticed how Bran feels pressure to perform in his new position, one he was not born to perform, one which he insists he failed at as a boy.

“Good. I want you to understand that he’s struggling. Not as the Warden of the North. He simply doesn’t know how to be around you at the moment,” Sansa says, picking a cluster of grapes from the oval server in the center of the long table, where she and Bran and Meera were seated at the head.

“I didn’t think after everything that’d be possible.”

Sansa hums. “He’s a great lord now.”

“And what difference should that make?”

“A great deal of difference to Bran,” Sansa says, holding the cluster out for Meera to take some glossy red grapes for herself. “He doesn’t want to need to depend on you.”

“I didn’t mind.”

Bran’s sister can be intimidating in her coolness, but the smile she gives Meera is gentle and Meera feels properly understood for the first time in a moon, when she says, “I know you didn’t. None of us mind, do we?”

“No,” Meera says, swallowing a grape.

It’s the understanding from Sansa that compels her to make her confession again. “I told him last night that I loved him.”

“And it didn’t go well.”

“He ignored me.”

Sansa raises her brows as she picks up the chalice at her right. “A man’s pride can make him into the worst fool,” she says, taking a sip. “His abilities haven’t made him immune to that weakness.”

The vintage is sour and she frowns, glancing down into the cup. “How long do you think it will be before we can get a decent vintage?”

Sansa sets the chalice down with a sigh. “You’ll have to tell him again, Meera. Maybe a dozen times before he’s ready to hear it.”

“I won’t ever say it again if he thinks I’m not grand enough for him.”

Sansa extends her hand to pat the table between them. “I’ve seen how he looks at you as if you hung the moon in the sky. I expect Bran wants to be good enough for you, not the other way around.”

“We wouldn’t have won the war without him. We’d all be dead. More of us, I mean. And he’s doing his very best here with the place in ruins and a score of problems always awaiting his immediate solution,” Meera says, her words becoming clipped as she feels her cheeks heat with anger that anyone would doubt Bran’s worth—especially Bran himself.

“Unquestionably,” Sansa agrees, “but let me tell you what I think. Our parents were partners. Equals. A rarity as I’ve come to find. Bran would treat you as his partner as well, I’m sure of it, but I suspect Bran doesn’t want to saddle anyone, especially someone for whom he cares so deeply, with a marriage of inequity—he depending on you and with not enough to offer in return. He wants to prove his independence and capability. Of course, he’s going about it all wrongheadedly,” Sansa says with a lift of her shoulders and heavenward glance. “But that is why you will have to tell him again and again until he believes it. Do you think you can stomach it? His pride?”

“I can stomach anything if need be.” Especially if his sister is right and Bran is merely reluctant to marry and not wholly without feeling. She can outwait his pride. She can overcome it.

“Yes,” Sansa says, picking up the rejected chalice. She raises it with a nod towards Meera. “Good. I thought as much.”