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you took all my fears and wrapped them in wonders

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When Robb gets downstairs to the stables, Arya is there already along with Clegane and she looks fairly impatient.

“What took you that long?” She asks, urgently.

Robb can’t tell her I couldn’t go meet Sansa - if they really found her - with clothes stained in come now, could I, so he mutters something about not having been dressed when Clegane found him and leaves it there. The kid who apparently brought the message looks completely awed, but then again Robb is still wearing a blasted crown, is he?

“Your Grace?” He asks, his voice trembling.

Of course he would. Robb misses the time when people didn’t look at him as if he was some kind of completely different entity from them.

“Indeed,” Robb replies, putting the hood of his cloak over his head. “No need for this much formality,” he sighs. “So, he said a woman gave you that message?”

“Yes. Your Grace.”

“Can you tell me how she looked?” He wants to be sure of this, even if he doubts that it can be anyone else.

“Tall, Your Grace. Blonde. She had long hair, a blue armor and a huge sword and she was – kind, I guess? She said I was to bring you someplace if you’d come with –”

“We’re coming with,” Robb tells him. That definitely sounds like Brienne of Tarth and if it’s a trap of some kind, well, he’s bringing Clegane with for a reason, isn’t he? “How far is it?”

“On horse? Not much at all. I came on foot and took me less than an hour.”

“Very well. Can you ride?”

“A bit, Your Grace.”

“Fine. Arya, you’re coming with me, he can have his own horse and same goes for Clegane over here. Better that we don’t take too many.” He had warned his uncle before leaving, of course, but he doesn’t want the entire castle to know before the deed is done, never mind that if Lannister really made good of his word Robb couldn’t really imprison him or anything and he can’t exactly shout to the winds that he’s going to meet the guy out of everyone.

Arya nods and mounts on Robb’s horse; Robb goes behind her.

“Very well,” he says as the kid mounts on his, Clegane was ready a while ago. “Lead the way.”

The kid nods and does - Arya pulls up her hood as well as they ride out of the castle. Their messenger obviously meant it when he said a bit - he’d not going too fast and he’s riding very cautiously, but then again better like this than having him fall down.

“Robb?” Arya asks, her voice barely audible.

“Yes?”

“Do – do you really think she’ll be there?”

It’s obvious that she doesn’t trust anything that might have someone named Lannister behind it, not that Robb doesn’t understand that.

“I don’t think Lady Brienne would lie about it,” he finally says. “I – when we met, she didn’t really look capable of it. And as far as Lannister’s concerned, he did give me that sword.” He doesn’t bring up that he was behind Bran’s falling as well – he figures they will have to talk about it in depth, but if he’s really trying to make up for it –

He’s forgiven Theon when he thought he had killed Bran, hasn’t he?

“It could be all a trap, though,” Arya reasons.

“It could, but who’d turn their cloak on their family, hand me a priceless Valyrian sword made out of my father’s steel and run off with someone who has honestly some honor that reminded me of Father’s at points… just to stab me in the back?”

“Isn’t that what his father has done?”

“Yes, but you should have seen his face when he said he did his own killing,” Robb sighs. “I don’t think he was lying. And – actually, it makes all the sense in the world. Just don’t try to stab him the moment you see him or anything like that, if he really turned his cloak and if he’s willing to stick with us, I think his sister wouldn’t like that at all.”

Arya gives him a nod – she mutters something about Mycah (who even is Mycah? Robb has no clue) and Father and a list which Robb really doesn’t want to know anything about.

“Fine. We’ll see,” she says, and then doesn’t add anything to it. Robb decides it’s better not to pry and leaves it there. Instead he glances over at Clegane, who looks – pensive? If it was anyone else, he’d have said there’s something nervous about the way he’s holding himself together but maybe he’s just seeing things. Given his current state of mind it’s entirely plausible that he is.

Anyway, nothing eventful happens as they follow the kid out of the castle and circumventing the village – he heads straight for the river and follows it until they’ve left the village and the castle behind, and then goes a bit further and further down the road. They ride until they find a small inn, not too far from the village but far enough that it might intercept travelers who want to stop for the night; at that point the kid dismounts.

“Your Grace,” he says, keeping his voice low, “she said to bring you here and that they’d take notice when you arrived. It’s been a honor –”

“That’s quite all right,” Robb says as he dismounts. He searches his pockets for some money – the kid could use something for his effort – and then realizes he has none. Of course, why would he –

“Here,” Clegane says, throwing the kid a couple gold dragons. “Go buy your mother food or something.”

“Ser. Your Grace. That’s too kind of you. The Seven bless you,” he blurts out in response before running away back to the village.

“I need to start carrying some of it,” Robb sighs, glancing at Clegane’s bag.

“Kings wouldn’t need petty money,” Clegane replies, “but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Always comes useful in these cases.”

“Shouldn’t we just go inside?” Arya asks.

“He said they’d get us, I doubt we want to expose them.”

“Ah, wasn’t that smart thinking.”

Robb almost gasps when he hears the voice coming from behind him – he puts a hand on Arya’s shoulder and another on his sword before he turns to face the newcomer.

He’s entirely not surprised when he sees Lannister’s face peeking from under the hood.

“Clegane,” Lannister says, “nice seeing you here. Not who’d I have thought would accompany them, but I can’t fault you over that.”

What?” Clegane asks.

“Hey, you’ve obviously turned your cloak. Didn’t you miss the news where I did the exact same thing? Anyway, nice seeing that meanwhile you’ve found the other one.”

“Lannister –“ Arya starts, and Robb squeezes her shoulder tighter.

“Well, thanks for telling me where to not look for her,” Robb says, as diplomatically as he can. “Can we get to the point? Is Sansa here?”

“No,” Lannister says, raising up his whole hand a moment later. “Because - let’s say that we might have caused a bit of a diplomatic incident that you probably don’t still know about for reasons that will be clear to you the moment I tell you, and you should hear it before you see her again.”

Diplomatic incident? And why?”

“Because the moment you all have your touching reunion you won’t be thinking about how to be smart about it and unless you’re quenching some suicidal instinct, you will want to know. The moment you do I’m bringing you to where our gracious Lady Brienne and your sister are, but I haven’t turned my cloak and pretty much assured for myself a disownment from my entire family to have you act without some basic reasoning behind it. As far as the diplomatic incident goes, I’m amenable to discuss it inside. They have good ale. And a few corners where someone can speak without interruptions. Surely we’d attract less attention.”

“Robb, this is ridiculous –” Arya starts, but Robb shakes his head.

Thing is – he doesn’t want to trust Lannister as far as he can throw him, but looking at his face, well… he’s tired, he looks weary, he also doesn’t seem like he’s making fun of them and most of all he’s really seemed to have aged fifteen years between now and when he arrived in Winterfell with King Robert. There’s also a certain urgency to his tone and Robb doesn’t know anyone named Lannister to talk like that unless they’re sincere. His brother had done the same thing a long time ago, hadn’t he?

“Clegane, what do you think?”

“I think that he doesn’t sound like he’s lying, but if he is I can keep him at bay.”

Lannister snorts and lifts up his cloak, showing the fake hand on his right side. Clegane hisses at seeing it in what’s probably involuntary sympathy, but then again they’re both swordsmen, Clegane would automatically sympathize with that kind of injury. “Clegane, I think that you could probably kill me without trying that hard if you wanted.”

“Fine,” Robb cuts them. “We’re going in.”

“But –“

“Arya, I want to see Sansa as badly as you do but if he thinks we need to know then I guess we do. Come on, the sooner we’re done the sooner we’re seeing her.”

Arya huffs and follows them in. Lannister chooses a table in the corner where four people might sit comfortably and doesn’t take down his hood – Robb figures he might have a reason, so he follows the example and the others do as well. Clegane asks for some wine, Lannister for ale, Robb says to just bring him the same and Arya gets nothing but keeps on staring murderously at the man. Robb decides that putting Clegane next to Lannister and in front of Arya was probably a very good idea.

Robb waits until the owner brings them their orders and until Lannister has taken a good long drink – he does too. It’s not bad ale. And honestly, he thinks he needed it after yesterday night.

“So,” he says, “what’s your diplomatic incident about?”

Lannister sighs. “I suppose you should know the circumstances. So, as we told you the last time, we had two possible leads when it came to your sister. One – well, people said that they saw the Hound going around the Riverlands with a young girl, and now I’m starting to think it was the wrong Stark sister, as far as we were concerned.”

“It was,” Clegane tells him as he takes a drink.

“Right. So, that was how we ended up running into – your lady mother.” Lannister shudders and takes another sip. “After that we decided that the Riverlands lead wasn’t worth pursuing and that it might have been a rumor.”

“Reasonable,” Robb agrees. “Wasn’t the other the Vale?”

“That was more guesswork than anything else,” Lannister says, “but after asking around in King’s Landing we did find out that some ship apparently departed from the harbor the night after Joffrey died, and after some bribing, a few fishermen who work there said that from what they heard they were headed for Saltpans but they weren’t registered. That sounded like something we might want to look into, but then we heard the Hound rumor and – well, you know how that went. At that point we figured out that a ship going to Saltpans most likely had cargo to be the delivered in the Vale, and we decided that trying to see how the situation fared over there couldn’t hurt. Of course, there was the problem that our illustrious Lord Baelish would have recognized at least me at first glance, but we didn’t think we would have to deal with him directly.” He shakes his head, takes another drink and Robb notices that he’s taking care of hiding his hand under the table. “So we go to the Vale, charming trip, and the moment we arrive in Saltpans we start hearing some interesting gossip.”

Interesting?”

“Indeed. Some about Lady Lysa’s death, which I am sure you heard about.”

“Of course we did.” Admittedly, Robb could do little more than taking it into account and let Baelish go about his business, since the Vale is still neutral and remained as such and if he had wanted to look into it, his hands would have been tied. Never mind that when it happened he had more pressing matters to worry about, as horrible as it sounds.

“Well, the other was about Lord Baelish’s beautiful bastard daughter who had come with him from King’s Landing.”

“But Lord Baelish doesn’t have –” Robb starts, and then stops abruptly.

He can’t mean that –

“Indeed, Lord Baelish does not have any bastard daughters he’d care to recognize as far as all of us know,” Jaime agrees. “And given that from what my sister once told me he had a very prominent role in your father’s demise, well, we started getting much more suspicious. Sadly, I couldn’t pretend to be there on some kind of diplomatic mission, since I suppose news of where I currently stand might have reached the Vale as well. And as far as Brienne was concerned… we didn’t know if King’s Landing saw fit to warn the rest of the Seven Realms that we ran off together.”

“They didn’t,” Robb says. “I mean, we knew because my uncle has a few spies in King’s Landing and Stannis does as well but it wasn’t – said in an actual raven or anything of the kind. That I know of at least.”

“If only we had known. Anyway, we figured that it was better to play it safe. We asked around and found out that our current Lord Arryn, the Lord Protector and the entire court had just moved to the Gates of the Moon for the incoming winter and so we headed there. Still trying to keep a low profile and everything. We asked some more around and turns out this beautiful bastard daughter is around four and ten, with astonishing blue eyes and dark hair. The dark hair didn’t quite add up, but the rest did, so we tried to come up with a plan to at least see her in the flesh. Since I couldn’t expose myself, we figured that Brienne would go ask for an audience with the Lord Protector. She’d tell him that she swore a vow to Lady Catelyn and that she wanted to keep on protecting her family, but given that no one would probably hear her side of the story in the Stark camp, she was hoping to pass on her vows to Lady Lysa. And given that the poor woman was dead, well, she’d be glad to be of service to the young lord. Meanwhile I’d linger in the village and keep an eye on the situation outside.”

“Did – did it work?”

“Sort of. The first day she comes by to tell me that the Lord Protector has agreed to an audience and she’ll let me know how it goes. The second day she doesn’t come to meet me at the agreed time, but I figured that it meant she succeeded. The third day she doesn’t either, but then I hear frantic knocking on my door in the night, I open it and here she is with your sister next to her.”

He takes another drink, clearing his throat. “Long story short, the moment Brienne finally manages to talk to Alayne Stone, as in, Baelish’s supposed daughter, turns out that she’s indeed Sansa Stark and that she’s feeling guilty as hell because her charming would-be father is poisoning the young Lord Arryn.”

“What the hell?” Robb blurts out.

“Baelish apparently had a very charming plan that would have worked great in the wake of your death,” Lannister shrugs. “He’d have married your sister to Harold Harrying, what a match, before young Lord Arryn drew his last breath. At that point young Harrying inherits the Vale, he uncovers her identity and hey, Sansa Stark has an entire army at her orders ready to conquer back the North.”

“Shit. But –”

“Since you didn’t die, he merely changed it around a bit. As in, Sansa Stark marries Harrying and has an entire army that she might join with yours and you’re plenty thankful for Petyr Baelish’s existence for the rest of your days, and possibly give him some very favorable position in your court, should you win the war.”

Robb downs a good part of his ale at once, but what else can he do?

“And maybe,” Lannister says, “should her husband meet his demise too soon, you might have been swayed enough to marry her to him.”

Excuse me?”

“Brienne walked in on a scene where Baelish seemed insistent when it came to ask for a kiss from your sister.”

Robb doesn’t miss how Clegane slams his glass down on the table hard enough that it rattles. “That little bastard –” He starts.

“Don’t draw attention,” Robb says. He glances at Arya – she’s gone so pale he’s worried she might faint but he can’t go and ask her now. He needs to know how this actually went down. “So, I imagine nothing of that happened?”

“No, because then Brienne, who might have felt a touch insulted at how Littlefinger had pretty much brushed her offer off without even thinking about it and had understood enough of what was going on, asked Sansa if she wanted to run right then. She also told her that we were ready to bring her to you. I don’t think she even pondered that many other options, and that’s why she showed up with Sansa in tow without a plan or anything. At that point I figured staying there to witness the fallout would be a very bad idea, so we left that night, we bought a new horse for your sister, found her some commoner clothes and ran away as fast as we could until we were out of the Vale. At that point we just took it slow and tried to take the least trodden roads and so on, and it did work out because after all we did get here, but fact is, we figured asking around when it came to Lord Baelish was not a good idea if we didn’t want to attract attention. So we have absolutely no idea of the fallout of smuggling your sister out.”

“How – how long ago was that?” Robb asks.

“Two weeks? Three?”

“We didn’t receive a single raven,” Robb says. “But I don’t think anyone else did or my uncle would have known.”

“Hm,” Lannister muses, “then Baelish is laying low. I mean, his bastard daughter disappearing isn’t something he should flaunt unless he wants to draw attention to her, and I’m sure he didn’t want to at this point. Anyway, point is, you really need to ponder your next move.”

“What? Why?” Arya asks after a long silence. “I mean, can’t he just say he found Sansa and be done with it?”

“No,” Robb sighs before Lannister can answer. “He’s right. I could, but maybe it’s not the best idea.”

“Why?”

“Because, young lady,” Lannister says, “your sister is wanted for Joffrey’s murder. The fact that we all know that she had nothing to do with it – she told us that Baelish was behind it along with Olenna Tyrell, by the way – doesn’t mean my sweet sister would hear it out.”

Baelish and the Tyrells? This is getting even more complicated.

“On top of that,” Lannister keeps on, “she’s still technically married to my brother. Who’s currently - well, I don’t know where he is even if I was the one freeing him, which would be enough of a good cause for Cersei to attack you now even if it’s a completely stupid idea. I know she would.” He sighs. “And since from what I hear Stannis Baratheon is gathering troops in his lands, and you all might want to sneak up on King’s Landing quietly and without previous warning, having Cersei notice you wouldn’t exactly help out. Never mind that you don’t want all of the Vale getting rid of Baelish now and possibly siding with her or someone that isn’t you. What I’m saying is that flaunting it wouldn’t help you at all.”

Damn him, he’s completely right, Robb has to admit to himself. He needs to find a way to get around this mess smartly and Lannister was probably right in not bringing them to his sister as soon as they arrived here.

“Very well,” he says, “I think maybe I have a solution.”

“Let’s hear it,” Lannister tells him.

“First of all, we don’t flaunt it, as you said. We go back to Riverrun and sneak Sansa in quietly without anyone noticing. After she’s settled and we’ve talked it out, you and Lady Brienne come to the castle saying that you have news about her. Possibly, you only let her talk and you don’t show yourself until I put together a small council with the most important people in the army and you’re both in front of it. At that point we tell them your charming story and we tell them that Sansa is actually in the castle and I tell them to not breathe a word of it to anyone. When Stannis arrives – which should be shortly – we do the same. I’m sure they will agree on keeping it down, and at this point we might also try to find a way to draw Baelish into the field and have him out of the way. But we’re not letting anyone know she’s with us until we actually march on King’s Landing, because at that point hopefully we’ll have managed to annul her marriage to your brother and your sister won’t be able to worry about it. There’s just one thing I’m not sure of.”

“As in?”

“What is it that you and Lady Brienne want to do now? Because if you openly side with us your sister is definitely going to notice, and I’m not going to ask it of you given that you’ve – well. Delivered on your promises.”

“Ah, I knew it would come to this.” Lannister takes a weary sigh, then finishes his ale and puts the glass on the side. “Let’s put it like this. The lady Brienne will want to be where your sister is, or at least she’ll want to serve Lady Catelyn’s family. As in, you. And you could use her – she’s worth a hundred men if not more, and she’d be more loyal than all of them put together. As far as I am concerned, what if I told you that I would quite like to be where she is?”

Arya gasps, Clegane almost spits his wine and Robb is the only one who’s not surprised. “I’d say I suspected you’d say that,” he says. “Given what I know of your, uhm, proclivities, it’s not what anyone would have expected.”

“I wouldn’t have expected it two years ago,” Lannister sighs. “I could tell you that the farther I am from my sister the better I feel, these days. It’s – complicated. And you probably aren’t interested in any of it. But I am sure enough that she loved me when I had that,” he says, glancing at his missing hand, “or anyway she thought she did. Now – well, I didn’t turn my cloak just out of absolutely honorable intentions, Stark. But let’s say that when someone is willing to get hanged for you, maybe you’d rather be around them.”

“What?”

“It happened when we met your mother. Never mind. Meanwhile I’m sure I haven’t suffered other maimings just because I had the presence of mind to duck the last time my sweet sister threw a plate in my face. Now, if you don’t want me around for the reasons I can imagine –“

“Stop there,” Robb says. “I just have one question for you.”

“Fine. Ask it.”

“I know you told my mother. I want to hear it from you. Why did you push my brother from that darned window?”

Arya goes rigid next to him all over again and Robb grabs her by the arm. No need to have the man dead before he can answer.

Lannister shrugs and looks straight at him. “He saw me and Cersei and he could have told others. Which would have meant my death, hers, and her children’s.”

“Yours, too,” Arya blurts out.

“Maybe in fact,” Jaime says, “I never actually fathered them in the proper sense of the word. She never even let me close just in case someone found out. Anyway, in that specific moment, it looked like the only course of action that would have made sure neither me or Cersei would have died for it. I didn’t relish it. I didn’t like it. I didn’t particularly want to, but it seemed like the one thing I could do and so I did it. I wouldn’t do it again if I went back in time, which I suppose you don’t care for. I can’t undo it, though. If you accept my service I’ll try to make up for it, if not I’ll live, I guess, but – I did a lot of wrong things in my life. Some that I don’t regret, though trying to push your brother isn’t one of them. I’d like to die doing some right ones.”

Robb shrugs and nods – that sounded sincere. He glances at Clegane, who also nods ever so slightly.

Arya is staring at Jaime as if she can’t decide what to make of him, but all things considered Robb figures that if he could give a second chance to – everyone he’s given a second chance to in the last year, Jaime Lannister can be another.

“Let’s say I let you stay wherever Lady Brienne decides to stay and that if you try to turn your cloak on me I’m having you killed without a trial, would that be enough for you?”

Lannister smiles slightly, but does he look relieved?

“Plenty enough,” he says. “Who’d have thought I’d end up thanking you out of everyone. Very well then – let Clegane finish his wine and if you’re sure of your course of action we can leave already. I can see that we postponed it well enough.”

Arya doesn’t look too happy at the prospect of letting Sandor Clegane finish his drink but the man finishes the rest of his drink in one go the moment Lannister says it before slamming it back down on the table.

“I’m done,” he says. Robb has a feeling that he’s in a hurry to get to where Sansa is as much as they are, and one day he’ll get to the bottom of it, though it won’t be this day, he supposes.

Lannister raises an eyebrow as if he’s somewhat slightly impressed and not at all surprised, and then he nods and stands up.

“Follow me then.”

He goes to pay the innkeeper and then Robb expects him to leave the room and bring them outside - And instead he heads for the stairs.

“What?” Arya hisses, “you said she was somewhere else!”

“Are there any other places I might successfully hide comfortably a girl the entire realm is looking for? I lied. But if I had told you she was here you’d have rushed upstairs. And before you try to throttle me for that, your sister actually agreed, because as bad as you think I am, I actually did ask for her opinion. And Lady Brienne’s. I mean, I didn’t turn my cloak for you to lose this war and ruin my life even further, if it’s even possible.”

Arya for a moment looks utterly betrayed at the suggestion that Sansa might have agreed with putting off their reunion, but then again Robb has a feeling that Sansa might have learned a lot of the same things he himself has learned. Specifically, that sometime you can’t just do what you want to because there’s higher stakes than that. He knows that even too well. There’s a reason why he hasn’t personally gone back to White Harbor to bring Rickon here already even if he wishes he could. He wishes, but no point in actually putting his brother in real danger by moving him to Riverrun when he knows he’s going to have to go to King’s Landing sooner rather than later. He’s definitely not going to harbor any ill will towards her when he can understand even too well where she comes from.

“Very well, let’s go,” he says. Lannister goes up the stairs to the first floor, takes a quick look around and grabs a key from his pouch, then he opens one of the few doors in the corridor and ushers them in.

“That’s where I am staying,” he says, “and it’s bigger than where your sister and Brienne are. Stay here, I’ll get them to come here in a moment.”

Then he closes the door.

“Are we really trusting him?” Arya asks a moment later.

“I worked for his family long enough to know if they’re faking it,” Clegane says. “He’s not lying.”

“How would you know?”

“He has nothin’ to gain out of deceiving us, never mind that if he turned his cloak for real no one who’s related to him except maybe his brother would want anything to do with him. ‘Sides, I’ve only ever heard him talking about his sister the way he talked about whoever this lady knight of yours is.”

Arya sort of blanches but Robb thinks he understood the deal.

“You mean that he –”

“He’s not the kind of person who betrays the people he cares about, he has that much going for him. And he definitely cared for his sister. If you get my meaning.”

Good gods. Robb barely knows what to make of this entire mess, but he figures they’ll sort it out soon enough. Then the door’s handle goes down.

He breathes in – shit, shit, he hopes that this really isn’t some kind of ploy after all – and he takes a step forward.

The door opens.

“Come on,” Lannister says from behind, “quick. We’ll be there shortly.”

Someone stumbles in, the door closing quickly behind them, and - And it wasn’t a ploy.

The girl who’s just walked in takes down her hood at once and while her hair is dark – just some red peeks under the dye – her eyes are definitely his sister’s and for a moment Robb is completely fucking floored. She was two and ten when she left home and now she’s almost as tall as he is, her face is slightly thinner, she’s – she’s grown up and for a moment he thinks that he wants to apologize for not having seen it happen, and then he thinks, is she thinking the same for me as well?

He’s fairly sure that he does not look like he did when she left Winterfell.

For a long moment, they just stare at each other; Sansa’s obviously not paying attention to her surroundings, but then her face breaks into a small smile and fuck it, he’s taken the last few steps separating them and clutching her to his chest – he feels her head fall on his shoulder as she grasps back just as strongly.

“Gods,” he blurts out, “you got taller.” He can’t honestly come up with anything more meaningful, but then she bursts out laughing against his shoulder and while she leans back just a bit she keeps on clutching at his shoulders.

“Yes,” she sobs, “and – you got older. Taller would have been more polite, wouldn’t it?”

“Please, it’s entirely true,” he agrees, and gods he would happily stay here for the next hour or so but he can’t exactly keep her all to himself, can he? He lifts up a hand and wipes his eyes, he’s not even trying to conceal that he’s crying. “I trust that your, uh, escort has treated you well?”

“More than I could have imagined, actually,” she replies. “If that was a way to ask me if we can trust Lannister, I think we can. You don’t have to make me run from the window.”

“Good,” he says, “because two of us would have been complicated enough to disguise, but more –”

“More?”

“Ah, yes, I didn’t come alone,” he says, and moves out of the way. Clegane is standing in the only darkened corner of the room and watching the scene, so Robb doesn’t point out his presence since he figures he has a reason to do it, and anyway Sansa wouldn’t notice him right now.

She gasps out loud the moment she sees Arya standing behind him, and Arya’s sending her a look that screams - Robb doesn’t know what but she definitely looks halfway thrilled and halfway worried as if this might not turn out the way she hopes to, and why’s that? Then again, she wasn’t too chatty when it came to how they fared in King’s Landing so he has no idea of what’s going on with the two of them, but before Arya can say a word Sansa has pretty much ran across the room and clutched her to his chest the same way Robb did with her and she’s –

Apologizing?

Robb takes a few steps back, whatever’s going on with them is obviously private and if they want to tell him then he’ll listen, but for now… for now he’ll move closer to where Clegane is and breathe out in relief at seeing Arya finally grabbing Sansa’s shoulders back and closing her eyes.

Gods, at least she doesn’t look like she’s on guard all the time anymore.

“You know,” he whispers, low enough that only Clegane can hear him, “you could come out.”

“Not just now,” he replies brusquely.

“I can’t believe you’re afraid of facing my sister,” Robb tries to joke, but the look Clegane sends him after makes him drop that topic. He has no idea of what’s happened between them either, so he figures he’ll wait and see.

He waits it out until his sister finish talking in hushed terms and Sansa moves back slightly, and then he smirks just a bit as he clears his throat. “It’s not just her, either.”

“What? Who else?”

“Where was the room you were staying in before?” He asks.

“The one at the bottom of the hallway. Why?”

“Because I think that while Arya and I might go and have a talk with your escort, you might want to have a talk with him,” he says, and then –

“Damn you, Stark,” Clegane says, and comes out of his shadowy corner.

Sansa gasps openly when she sees him, but – Robb wanted to see her first reaction. And she looks… delighted?

Right. He definitely wasn’t guessing wrong when he thought Clegane could come into his service just with the promise of being his sister’s sworn shield or something, giving how they’re looking at each other. Arya is also looking at them as if she expected anything but him looking fondly at her even if he’s holding himself kind of aloof, while she’s doing the exact same.

“Ser?” Sansa asks, sounding out of breath.

“Little bird, how many fucking times did I tell you I’m not one?”

Little bird?

Robb might want to know about this, but it sounds private and –

Not just now.

“Arya, come on.”

“What?”

“We really need to have a talk with Lannister and Lady Brienne. They’ll join us later,” he says, raising his voice - he’s barely acknowledged, and before he shuts the door he can see Sansa’s hand gently reaching up to touch the scarred half of Clegane’s face while he looked absolutely like he wasn’t expecting it.

Well then. That was a very interesting development, wasn’t it?

“Robb, did we really leave her alone with –”

“Arya, when he asked for compensation for bringing you back, his terms were a pardon and working for me. When I told him that if we ever were reunited with Sansa he might be her guard if she agreed with it he looked like I just offered him a lordship. I’m sure she’s safe. Come on, let’s not attract attention here.” He drags her to the last room and knocks on the door – Lannister opens it and lets them in.

“I imagine your sister is with the man formerly known as the Hound?”

“She is,” Robb agrees. “They can be left alone for a bit, I guess. And what of –”

“Your Grace,” Lady Brienne says, standing up from the bed she was sitting on – she also was polishing her sword, and she puts it aside at once.

“My lady,” he says, “given what I owe the two of you but I suspect especially you, I think you’re forever dispensed from calling me like that. At least not in public.”

“I am sorry for the deception,” she adds, “but when he pointed out that it wouldn’t have been the smartest way of going about it –”

Thank you, wench, I’m moved.”

“– When he did, I figured it was the best course of action and Lady Sansa also agreed. But –”

“Please, I understand it even too well.”

“What is that?” Arya asks, looking in awe at the sword.

“Oh,” Brienne replies, “that’s – that’s Valyrian steel. It’s the other half of the one your brother has. Half of your father’s.”

“And you can use that?” Arya asks with complete admiration, and when she looks at Brienne in utter awe Robb decides that fuck this, he’s going to play dirty if it means getting Lady Brienne to stick around court and maybe teach Arya a thing or two about it, if it makes her sister look like that and not like she’s expecting to have to kill someone most of the time.

And if it means keeping bloody Jaime Lannister in his own guard, be it.

“Of course,” she says.

“And they let you?”

“My father was fairly understanding,” Brienne replies. “That said – uh, my lord, that’s actually yours by right. I would only be too glad to –”

“Does it have a name?” Robb interrupts her.

“Uh. Yes,” she says.

“I named it,” Lannister snorts. “It’s Oathkeeper. I thought it’d fit her sword.”

Robb nods and takes the offer into consideration. Sure, it would be tempting to accept it, but where is he going to find a smith that can handle Valyrian steel enough to reforge Ice? Nowhere, given the current times and shortage of good smiths, never mind that good. It’ll be enough if he ever manages to reforge the blade of his own. Also, Ice was… heavy. He might have been able to lift it one day, but right now he couldn’t and Oathkeeper really is a proper name for it. Also, this woman has fulfilled all her vows to his mother down to killing her when she obviously didn’t want to, got Jaime Lannister to turn his cloak in their favor or at least not against them, she’s found his sister and delivered her to him safely and has asked for absolutely nothing in return until now.

“My lady,” he says, “you paid my family a great service. Are you planning on keeping it? You swore an oath to my mother, not to me.”

“Well,” she says, blushing ever so slightly, “I might have sworn the same to your sister when we left the Vale. Of course, if you’d rather not have me –”

“Lady Brienne, I think just a complete bloody fool would not have you on their side. As Ser Jaime here told us before, you might be worth well more than a hundred men. If you want to stay then I have nothing against it, and if it means he comes along with you then I think it’s a price I’m very much willing to pay.”

“Thanks, Stark, I’m humbled,” Lannister says.

“And,” Robb keeps on, ignoring him, “your offer is fair and I appreciate it, but I have the other half of that sword, so – well, it still counts as having my father’s steel. I could never find a smith good enough to reforge Ice, and on top of that I couldn’t even handle it as it is right now. And I need to be able to handle my sword. Never mind that it seems like Oathkeeper did its job and you’re a great fit for it, and – I think my father would have liked you.”

“My lord –”

“Let’s say he appreciated… honorable people. Such as you are. Thank you, but you can keep it. As long as you are in my service and beyond it. I don’t think my father would have disapproved.”

If Robb isn’t wrong here, she looks about to cry at that, but instead she nods once, twice and then her eyes look as determined as they were when she swore him that she’d find his sister and bring her to him.

“I – I will not make you regret it,” she finally says.

“My lady, I wouldn’t be regretting it if you told me that after performing this service you’d rather go back to Tarth and wash your hands off this war,” Robb sighs. “Very well then. Has Lannister informed you of our plans?”

“Yes,” she replies. “It sounds reasonable to me. And it should work out, if your allies don’t decide to kill us on sight.”

“They won’t,” Robb says. “I’ll make sure of that. There’s just one thing I want to ask you, though.”

“Yes?”

“You know that I have an alliance with Stannis and that I’m planning on ceding to him the moment this entire war is over, right? Because – my mother did tell me about how you met and –”

“My lord,” Brienne interrupts him, “I made peace with – that. Whatever happened, I – given the current situation, I couldn’t afford to put my personal feelings before the good of the realm. And if I’m sworn to Lady Catelyn’s family I can’t put them before making your best interests.”

“Very well,” Robb concedes, “then we are all in agreement. If my bannermen don’t think I’ve gone mad for trusting him, but if Sansa vouches for you they’ll probably agree.” Good gods, he still hasn’t managed to have people around him understand why he’d pardon Theon, now having Jaime Lannister out of everyone in their midst will be even more complicated to explain. Well, they’ll deal with it. It’s not as if pardoning Theon has caused anything bad to happen, all the contrary, so – they’ll have to make peace with that.

“So what do we do now?” Arya asks, still sending awed looks at Brienne.

“We go get Sansa and come back with Clegane, they go through the back and we go through the front and say nothing of what transpired, we keep her hidden until lady Brienne and Ser Jaime here arrive tomorrow and we can go through the charade we came up with before. And before then we have a long talk with Maester Vyman to see if there’s a chance in the seven hells we can at least annul Sansa’s marriage and we can stop worrying about that. Meanwhile let’s just try to not attract too much attention. Lady Brienne, if I go downstairs with my sister and we get the horses ready would you send Sansa and Clegane after us after a fashionable time?”

“Of course,” she replies. “You can get ready. We’ll deal with it.”

“Good. I’m looking forward to seeing you in the morning,” he replies, and then he pulls his cloak upwards as he grabs Arya’s arm and rushes outside the room and down the stairs.

Arya says nothing until they’re back where they left their horses and the one their messenger used. “Do you really trust them?” She finally asks.

“Do they not look trustworthy to you?” He replies, shrugging. “I mean, maybe he wouldn’t be, on his own, but I think he wasn’t lying when he said he didn’t care what side he was on as long as he was where… the lady also was, so I don’t think we should worry. She definitely is trustworthy. I wouldn’t have gifted her that sword for good if I didn’t think so.”

Arya almost looks like she’s about to ask him if he’s sure he can trust his instincts, but then thinks better of it and doesn’t. Not long later two other hooded people hurry outside the door and up to where they are. Sansa has changed into an outfit looking a bit like Arya’s – trousers and commoner clothes. It’s so strange seeing her without a gown, Robb thinks, but then again she definitely wouldn’t attract as much attention, dressed like this.

“We have a spare horse,” he tells her. “Do you think you can ride it?”

“Yes,” she replies at once. “The plan is still – what he told me?” She cocks her head towards Clegane. Robb can’t see his face since it’s hidden under the hood, but maybe it’s better like this.

“Yes,” he says. “The moment we get close enough to Riverrun go with him on his horse and he’ll ride into the castle from the back, then he brings you upstairs to my rooms and you’ll stay there until the council tomorrow. Sorry about it, but –”

“Robb, I agreed with it. Let’s go.”

She really grew up, Robb thinks as she mounts the horse without any of the carefulness she’d have had years ago.

He helps Arya up on his own horse, waits for Clegane to do the same and then he rides out of the inn’s yard.

No one talks on the way back, but then again he’s sure they all want to be in Riverrun as soon as possible. When the castle is in sight, Clegane nods at them and stops his horse. Sansa leaves hers to mount in front of him on his own, Robb helps Arya up on Sansa’s and watches them ride in the opposite direction.

“Well,” he says, “they’ll probably be there before us. In case someone asks, we just went out for a ride because we felt like it.”

“Who’s even going to believe it?”

“Who’s going to question it?”

She has no answer to that - then again, at least he should be spared being questioned about that for once. They ride into Riverrun without much flare and no one asks where they’ve been. Clegane’s horse is in the stables already, which means they’re upstairs. Good.

“They should be in my rooms or at least in that same hallway,” Robb tells Arya. “Go upstairs, I will join you in a moment.”

“Why?”

“I need to check if anyone has questions about where we went. I’ll be up in a bit.”

She nods and dashes off towards the nearest entrance. Robb does the same and finds his uncle, and he’s really relieved when he hears that no one has looked for him this morning. Good. One less worry. He’s about to dash off upstairs when his hand finds his pouch and he realizes that he still has in his pocket those two letters he was given yesterday – the one from his uncle and the one from Jon - and that in all this haste he still hasn’t managed to read them.

Well, at this point he might as well. He moves towards one shadowed corner near the stairs and takes out his uncle’s first. It’s not even sealed – he opens it at once.

Robb, it reads, while I haven’t come for reasons that you probably could imagine, I have noticed that the few times we’ve spoken to each other you have seemed in obvious distress. I can only imagine why and since I imagine this would make for a very awkward conversation, should we have it, I will say it here. I’m not harboring any ill will towards you for what happened same as I don’t when it comes to my wife - you couldn’t have known and I do know what it means to make well-meaning mistakes. I’ve done it a fair amount of times in my life. My sister - your mother - wouldn’t have blamed you for it and neither do I. I don’t know if we can put it behind us shortly, but as far as I’m concerned I hope we can as soon as possible. Meanwhile, do not blame yourself for how it went - I don’t.

Oh.

Oh.

Robb almost feels like crumpling down in relief as he reads it, but then again he was just worried that his uncle might not want to even speak to him outside forma occasions again and he’d have been in the right to do so.

Good. Next time they meet he’ll try to take this into account regardless of how… awkward it gets.

He carefully folds the letter and puts it in his pocket, then breaks the seal on Jon’s. This one is longer, or maybe it’s just written more thickly, but then again Robb figures they have no paper to spare at the Wall these days.

He swallows and reads it.

Dear Robb, hopefully this still finds you in Riverrun when it reaches you – Arya wrote me and said they were planning to celebrate your nameday somewhat if you didn’t leave for King’s Landing first. If it does, I hope it’s halfway as good a time as you deserve – I can imagine the last few years haven’t been much of a celebration for you same as they haven’t for me. The moment I got the news about the Red Wedding… I’ll admit I was relieved to hear you hadn’t attended. No one would have deserved that death but most of all not you. Also, I don’t know how you’ve done it this long – I’ve been a Lord Commander not half of the time that you have been a king and I feel like the responsibilities will end up crushing me before I ever accomplish anything, and I haven’t taken one single decision that didn’t make me feel completely miserable in a long time. Hopefully both our wars will be over before long and we can move on with our lives, but – for now, I’m just sad I can’t be there. When I came here I had thought I could do what Uncle Benjen used to and ride down to Winterfell for special occasions or something of the kind – I knew nothing, did I? I don’t want to say that I hope we might meet to celebrate next year, because who knows if we’ll both be alive next year, but you know I do. For now, I wish you all the best and I hope to see you soon in person – I miss you all the bloody time, same as the others, but sometimes I wish I could talk to you directly just because you would understand what this all business about being in charge is more of a curse than anything else. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy now and I’m sorry it fell on you even if you’re doing fairly well from what I hear. I hope I can do half as well as you. Also – well, there’s a lot of talk around our vows and what it means when it comes to renouncing your family but I just want you to know what whatever it is that I swore, you’re my brother and I love you and it’s not going to change anytime soon.

Jon

He’s really glad that no one is around, because it’s probably not befitting of a king to drop sitting down on the ground wiping at his eyes and trying to not cry out loud. He had tried to not break down in tears but by the time he read halfway through the letter it had started and there was no point in trying not to. He carefully folds it and puts it back in his pocket, trying to not stain it, and then puts his hands to his face and tries to get it out.

Shit, he wishes Jon was actually here and he could tell him that no, he hasn’t done great at all, and yes, he understands how it feels to be in charge and thinking you’re absolutely inadequate, and who knew that they’d both end up in this kind of position and regret it sorely? He remembers how Jon used to long to prove himself honorable and capable and so on, and how sometimes it was obvious he envied Robb his position. Robb, on the other side, had thought being Lord of Winterfell would have been easy because his father made it look easy, but -

He’s sure that right now the both of them would give an arm to go back in time and avoid doing what they did that brought them to this point.

As if. It can’t be done, can it?

“Thank you,” he whispers to the empty air, and swears to himself that as soon as he can he’s going to the Wall and he’s going to have a long, long talk to his brother. (In which he might tell him that he had designated him as his heir should he have died.) For now, though, he just tries to compose himself before standing up and heading upstairs - he has to talk to Sansa before anything else and he hopes they manage to get some time alone. There are things he can’t tell her in front of other people and the sooner, the better.

He goes upstairs and hopes that he looks presentable enough - he’s not surprised to find Clegane outside the door of the room he had told Sansa should be in. It’s in the same hallway as his own room, Arya’s and Theon’s but farther down - he figured she might want some privacy.

“How is she?” Robb asks.

“Well,” Clegane replies dryly. “I imagined you might have wanted to talk to her alone. Go ahead. Should I let anyone in just if we’re being attacked?”

“That’d be ideal. Thank you.” He walks in and closes the door - Sansa is still wearing her travel clothes and staring out of the window. She’s so intent on whatever’s going on outside that she doesn’t notice him until he clears his throat and she gasps when he does, but then her shoulders slump down in relief when she notices that it’s him.

“Sansa? Is - is everything all right?” He asks, moving on towards the window.

“Oh. Yes, I just – wasn’t expecting you,” she says, shrugging, and then she looks back up at him as if she still can’t believe he’s actually there. He puts a hand on her shoulder.

“Hells, you really are taller. It’s – strange.”

“And you really look older, but I guess I fared better in that sense.”

He laughs – she has a point. “It’s not –” he starts. “It’s not that you’re taller. It’s that I know I should have been there to see it happen and I wasn’t.”

“Robb, I really don’t think you could be blamed for that under any circumstance.” She laughs at that, though she really sounds tired.

Robb shakes his head and nods towards the bed.

When they’re sitting down on it, he takes a very deep breath. “When Clegane arrived here with Arya he told me a lot of interesting things, but one of them was that he was so bent on coming here when he found her because you talked a lot about me and he got the idea I’d be nice enough to accept his service. And I feel like I’ve just been the hugest disappointment in existence.”

What?”

“Come on, he said that at some point Joffrey told me that he’d gift you my head and you said that maybe I’d give you his, I don’t see myself having delivered on that. I mean, the more I thought about it the more I knew maybe I should have just gone for King’s Landing to get you both and I didn’t –”

“Gods, Arya did say that you were worrying about too many things too much,” Sansa says before he can finish.

“Wait, what?”

“Robb, it’s – it’s obvious that you were trying. I can’t fault you for having done what wouldn’t get you killed or others killed, which would have just – made things worse. I knew you’d want to come. And I hoped you would but it’s not like you personally promised me or anything. Considering that I wrote a letter telling you to surrender –”

“About that, it was strange, but –”

“The queen convinced me,” Sansa sighs. “It all… seemed very reasonable, the way she put it. And she said that if I did it I’d save Father’s life and you’d be safe. I had no idea –” She bites down on her tongue, obviously, and Robb doesn’t even stop one moment to think of whether it’d be appropriate in case someone walks in. He puts an arm around her shoulders and drags her forward so that her head is on his shoulders – she breathes out in relief, her black hair with red roots falling all over his chest.

“None of us had any idea,” Robb sighs, “it wasn’t your fault.”

“No. It was - it was Lord Baelish’s, actually.”

What?”

Sansa breathes in and tells him about what Baelish had told her - by the time she’s arrived at Joffrey’s wedding and at how she actually arrived at the Eyre, Robb is fuming.

“You mean that he schemed for the entire thing?”

“He convinced Aunt Lysa,” Sansa confirms. “Before pushing her from the Moon Door, of course.” She sounds like she’s about to cry.

“You saw it?”

“I did,” she confirms.

Robb thinks about what Brienne had told him. “He – he didn’t – Lady Brienne told me of how she found you before you left, but –”

Sansa shakes her head. “That - that did not come to pass. She shudders and moves back enough that she can look at him. “After all, if I was supposed to marry Lord Harrying, I couldn’t be… not a maiden.”

“Not a –”

“Oh. You probably couldn’t have known. I’m still one.”

“But – aren’t you – married to –”

“Yes. But – actually, that was one of the reasons I trusted our resident Lannister. Lord Tyrion, he – I was terrified of marrying him, but he never – he didn’t force himself on me. He said he would only bed me if or when I wanted to. And he seemed to have fond enough memories of his brother, which – well, Tyrion wasn’t all bad. And if he thought there was some good in his brother, then – then maybe I could trust him,” Sansa says, the last few words barely audible. “In truth, I am awfully sorry that he ended up framed for Joffrey’s murder. I mean, both of us were but I wasn’t arrested, was I?”

Robb doesn’t tell her of how both he and their mother were sure that Tyrion Lannister would have done unspeakable things do her. There’s one thing he can say, though.

“Seems like I misjudged him at least twice,” he sighs. Damn it. And Jon had trusted him. Maybe he should have trusted his brother’s judgment some more. “Then again, our Lannister let him escape. Wherever he is, he’s probably going to be fine, he was resourceful. If he ever shows up again I’m not going to kill him, then.”

“Please, I’ve seen enough deaths to last me a lifetime,” Sansa says. “But – Robb, I – can I ask you something?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I – Sandor, I mean –”

“You can call him by his given name, I’m not going to murder him for it.”

“Very amusing. Anyway, he told me a bit of what went on while I was away. It’s not as if I ever was given information about what you were exactly up to, especially in the Vale. I know that you could fare better than you are now even if it’s not bad. And I know that if I’m, well, a maiden, it means my hand is still valuable. But – I don’t think I can –”

Oh, shit. What happened that would make her worry that –

Well. Hadn’t he and their mother promised Arya’s hand to a son of Lord Walder? Admittedly, Robb had hoped to somehow weasel out of it when it came to pass, and maybe she knows that as a king he has duties, but –

“Sansa, as far as I’m concerned you can tell everyone that you wish to stay married to Lannister and we don’t divulge any other information. I’m not going to make you marry someone you don’t want. Or marry altogether. I don’t exactly need more alliances now. What’s done is done and we’ll go to King’s Landing with the men we have. And if we ever go back home I’m not going to force you to do anything, all right? I – you know how I actually met my wife.”

“That, I do.”

“After that - I mean, I love Jeyne and I wouldn’t change her for anyone else but after I made a mess out of my own marriage pacts when it came to using someone’s hand in order to win an alliance, and after what happened when we tried to have our uncle fix my mistake… I’d be glad to never attend another wedding in my entire life.”

Sansa laughs weakly. “That – that’d be a sound reason not to,” she agrees. “I – I’m sorry I even thought to ask, but it’s been – a long time since I could actually trust anyone around me.”

Robb isn’t stopping to feel horribly about this anytime soon. “About that, uh, is that the reason why you and Clegane seem this – familiar?”

“It’s complicated,” she says. “But – let’s say that he tried to warn me from the beginning about how I was deluding myself about being a queen or courtly life. He wasn’t kind or nice about it, but I think he was the only one in court who never lied to me once. Or who didn’t go out of their way to hurt me. Lord Tyrion was forced, same as me, but he hadn’t exactly paid notice of me before.”

“Clegane did?”

“He tried. He offered to smuggle me out during the siege. Maybe I should have said yes but I couldn’t, I was too afraid, and – I might have regretted it, at times.”

“Well, I’m not going to – I mean, when he asked to be employed here, I told him that he could guard Jeyne and the babe until we found you… if we did. And if we did and you agreed then he could guard you. He seemed very eager to agree to that, so if that’s what you both want –”

“I’m sure I can share with your wife, since from what I gather she also might be in dire need of a guard, but – if you would –”

“Sansa, I would do anything you think might make you happy, so –”

“Then yes, I would like that very much,” she replies softly. “Gods, I can’t believe I’m actually here.”

“Mostly, now I’m going to need people to talk a lot of good sense into me so that I don’t go to the Vale and kill Baelish instead of heading for King’s Landing.”

“Don’t,” Sansa replies seriously. “He can’t make a fuss about my disappearance unless he wanted to admit that I was posing as his daughter. There’s nothing he can do to actually ruin things for you. Deal with Cersei Lannister first and then you can worry about him. I’m just sorry that it’s very likely that our cousin will die before we can help him, but –”

“If you’re not there does he have any reason to poison him, though?”

“In theory, no,” Sansa agrees. “Hopefully he’ll see reason. So, should I stay here until tomorrow?”

“Yes, but I’d like to actually introduce you to my wife and daughter, at least.”

“Gods, I can’t believe you actually have a daughter,” Sansa says, sounding awed.

“Arya said the exact same thing.”

“I also need to apologize to her,” Sansa says. “Properly.”

“Wait, apologize?”

“Let’s say that in King’s Landing we weren’t exactly… being reasonable about a lot of things, but I was to blame for a lot of it.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t –”

“That’s very kind of you to suppose, but we really need to talk even if it’s obvious she doesn’t want to.”

Robb is about to ask Clegane to call for Jeyne, but maybe - maybe he just should go over the whole status of things now.

“What else did Clegane tell you?”

Sansa smiles ever so slightly as she stares at him in the eyes. “Is this some way to ask me what I think of you having apparently forgiven Theon Greyjoy? Because that’s the one other relevant thing Sandor has told me.”

“… That was it,” Robb agrees. “Arya didn’t take it too well.”

“I can imagine that. And – while I should like to have at least a talk to him, I don’t think I’m going to begrudge you anything.”

… For a moment, it seems too good to be true.

“You – you won’t?”

Sansa shrugs. “Well, he betrayed you, not us. I barely even talked to him. Most of us barely did, except for you. If you think he deserved your forgiveness, it’s your problem. But most of that - I know Father always used to say he was a ward. He never – he never was though, wasn’t he?”

“No,” Robb agrees.

Sansa stares at the ground as she speaks. “I’ve been a hostage too,” she says. “And while maybe my situation was – more immediately dangerous, they were enough to make me wish I never even wanted to see King’s Landing from afar, never mind living there. It was barely two years. He was in that situation for ten. And – he had you, I suppose, and I sort of had him,” she nods towards the outer door, “but it wasn’t the same thing. There were exactly two people who never did a thing to hurt me in there, and I’ve told you the names. Everyone else paid me no favors, never mind the Tyrells. They stopped caring about my… my situation the moment I was married to Lord Tyrion and then framed the both of us. I know how it feels to be in that situation and feeling like no one will help you. I want to talk to him, but I don’t feel like I can judge him after having tried how it feels for myself. And if you think that he should be forgiven then I’m not going to tell you not to.”

“There’s the part where he actually almost died to save my life, so I might be a bit lenient, but –”

What?”

Robb tells her the entire story – he doubts that Clegane had shared that particular bit with Sansa, never mind that he wouldn’t know about their mother. By the end she’s clutching his hand in both of hers and she’s looking completely distraught, but how else should she be feeling?

“That’s – that’s horrible,” she breathes out by the end.

“Well, you arrived in time for the funeral at least. If Lord Reed gets here soon, we could – do it for them both our parents.”

“It – it would be nice,” Sansa agrees, and reaches up to wipe at her eyes. “Gods, I’d have thought we’d wait a long time before burying them both.”

“I know,” Robb agrees. Gods, doesn’t he know. “Anyway, I suppose that we’ll wait for both Stannis and Lord Reed to get here, do the funerals and then I will have to leave for King’s Landing. I wish I didn’t have to, damn it, but what can I do. While I’m away, I guess my uncle will look after things, so maybe you will want to talk to him at some point soon. Well. After we settle this with the council and so on. Meanwhile I just – please talk Arya out of joining the army.”

“… She’d want to?”

“I’m entirely sure she’d try.” He ponders whether he should tell her about Gendry Waters and his ancestry, but then he decides that there’ll be time for it later. He’s so tired, he can’t waste this entire conversation discussing fucking politics.

“So,” he says after one moment, “should I call for my lady wife or –”

“Please,” Sansa replies. “I would be delighted.”

Robb doesn’t try to resist the impulse to kiss her temple before standing up and going for the door - he tells Clegane to please fetch his wife and daughter without making too much fuss, Clegane hums something under his breath and heads for the other side of the hallway. Robb stands there and waits until he hears him coming back – Jeyne gets there a moment later, the baby in her arms and looking like she had been ready to be in public for a long time.

“Robb,” she says, “how did it go? We expected you to come from the front, though.”

“Long story,” he says. “We can’t tell anyone that she’s here yet. I’ll explain you later. Come in, though.”

“Wait, you mean your sister –”

“Is in this room, yes.”

He moves so that she can get in and Jeyne does, taking care to not trip into her dress, and isn’t it weird that a life ago Sansa would have probably worn a similar one to such a meeting.

For a moment, it’s kind of awkward because Sansa stands up at once and they look at each other as if they don’t exactly know but to say, and then –

“My lady,” they both say at once, and then Sansa doesn’t even try to not break in giggle fits, and Jeyne follows, and Robb just breathes out in relief – that went well, didn’t it?

“I – I wish I had the pleasure before this moment,” Sansa says, and she’s still a perfect figure of politeness, bless her.

“It’s the same for me,” Jeyne agrees. “I wish there were better circumstances for most things, these days.”

“Don’t I know it. And she is –”

“Catelyn,” Jeyne replies, and one can hear how proud she is just by the way she speaks - she moves over so that Sansa can see the baby better and Robb can see the way Sansa’s eyes light up the moment she sees them reflected down in his daughter. After all, she has their eyes, hasn’t she?

“Robb,” she says without looking at him, “I thought it was weird that you’d have children but looks like you both outdid yourselves here.”

Jeyne shrugs but looks obviously pleased at that. “Do you want to –” She starts, making a motion as if to hand the baby over.

“Oh. Yes, thank you.”

For a moment, as he watches Sansa hold the baby, Robb thinks she looks like Mother when she had Bran, and then banishes that line of thought from his head at once. It’s not the right moment. And he doesn’t need more reasons to feel sad right now when instead he has every reason in the world to feel happy for once.

He should probably go talk to Arya and try to organize the rest of the day so that no one finds out about it before it’s time to, but - he’ll do it later.

Chapter Text

Theon had expected Robb and Clegane and everyone else to show up at the main gates the way it’d be befitted to such an occasion, but when Jeyne had declared that too much time had passed so they probably should go back in and wait there, he had followed. Mostly because while right now walking and standing hurts a lot less, he still doesn’t want to push it too much until he’s entirely adjusted to the feeling. So he had gone back to his room, figuring that he would show up at the entrance as he promised when it was time, but no one had come for a while and he figured that the whole rouse ended up being – well, not what Robb was expecting. So he figured that when Robb would show up again, he’d look sad at least.

Instead, when he knocks on Theon’s door way later than anyone had thought he’d be, he looks… ecstatic, instead.

“Did – did it go over well?” Theon asks cautiously.

“Pretty much,” Robb replies, and it’s good to see him this happy. “Well, there’s the part where she was in the Vale and Tarth and Lannister had to snatch her from under Littlefinger’s nose, which means her presence has to stay hidden for now and that’s why we didn’t come back boasting it, but she’s at the bottom of the hallway for the moment.”

Theon hopes it’s far enough that she doesn’t hear him when he has nightmares, at least.

“That’s – that’s great,” he replies, and he means it. “Anything else?”

Robb downright smirks. “Well, she’s entirely too tall and she’s enamored with her niece, and given that I think she doesn’t want to marry anytime soon that baby will be the most spoiled in existence. Oh, and she wants to talk to you.”

“… Talk to me?”

“Yes, but if it consoles you she said she’s not judging me on my bad life decisions or anything.”

What?”

“She has nothing against my decisions. But she said she wants to talk to you. Over shared experience, or so she said. Anyway, whenever you want, I think she’s done doting on her niece. For the moment.”

Theon wonders if he can postpone it, but – what would be the point? He will have to. Might as well make it now.

“I need to get ready, but –”

“She can come here,” Robb says. “She probably would rather not be coped up in that room all the time.”

“I should –”

“She said it’d be no problem. Just wait there, I’ll send for her.”

“All - all right. I’ll be waiting.”

The moment Robb leaves he scrambles for both fake toes and shoes – he’s not going to talk to Sansa Stark with bare feet, damn it - but he’s still not as practiced handling them as he’d have liked and while he does manage to put one set on and then slip on his shoe before she gets in, he has barely tied up the second set before Sansa walks in.

Well, at this point he can’t exactly hide it so he scrambles up to his feet without hiding a wince as he blurts out a my lady that he’s never used in her presence before.

Sansa just stares at him for a long moment, and then -

“Theon, I think there’s really no need,” she says, and he hadn’t thought she’d sound halfway kind but she does and he can’t really compute it.

“Right. Sansa. Uh, please, sit wherever –”

“You, too,” she says, and he falls back on the bed while she takes one of the chairs and moves it closer. Well, she is indeed taller. She’s also as beautiful as she was shaping up to look when she was a child, not that he’s surprised. She glances down at his feet and –

“Sorry about that,” he says, “I would have put on both shoes but –”

“Don’t. I mean, that’s – I don’t think that’s your fault or anything.” She swallows - she’s obviously disturbed. And who would not be, Theon thinks wearily.

“Robb said you wanted to talk to me,” he says, “but before you do – I just, I told him already and I told Arya, but I just wanted you to know I am really sorry for what I ended up doing to all of you. I know it’s not much of an apology.”

“Maybe, but it was sincere. And it’s more than I had when I was in King’s Landing from – just about most people,” she sighs.

“He – he said you wanted to talk about – … shared experience?”

She breathes in, then looks up at him. “Given that I just spent two years in King’s Landing being what you were in Winterfell, I think I do.”

Oh. Oh. This can either go very well or be the most awkward conversation of his life not counting the one with Robb’s the other night.

She doesn’t let him reply before going on. “And – I don’t think any of us who wasn’t Robb realized how bad it had to be since we all assumed you were Father’s ward and that was it, or well – we knew, but I don’t think any of us put that much thought into it. But then, I was definitely not a ward when I was in King’s Landing. I didn’t think they’d kill me if Robb… displeased them or anything, but I thought they’d marry me to Joffrey.” She laughs. “Then they married me to someone else, but - I know how it feels when you think you don’t have a choice when it comes to your life. And I did it for two years. How did you manage for ten?”

Theon wishes he had a good answer for that. He really wishes he would. He takes a deep breath and tries to give her the most honest he can. “I don’t know,” he says. “At the beginning I didn’t think my father would cause me harm, not after losing my brothers, and I convinced myself he never would because I was the only son he had left. But at the same time… I knew I was there as some kind of guarantee that my father would not do anything stupid. I knew that if my father stepped out of line I would have ended up losing my head. It wasn’t – nice. The thing was that your father knew and so he never exactly tried to get close or anything – then again, he might have had to kill me one day, right? I just – at some point I figured that behaving as if nothing was important to me would have given people the impression I didn’t really care. I guess. At the same time, I’d dream of the moment I’d go back home, but what else could I do? Especially when Robb was about the only one who’d talk to me about it.” He sighs. “When I did come back, well, it was obvious my father didn’t give a damn. Everything I did after then, I did to impress him. It was the worst thing I could have done since, well, since he didn’t care, but I wasn’t thinking straight at that point. If I ever did. I just tried to not think about it too much even if I really was thinking about it most of the time.”

Sansa openly swallows and she looks ready to say something, but he shakes his head and raises a hand. “Still – the thing is that looking back at it, Winterfell is still – the nicest place I’ve ever been in. All things considered.”

“But – didn’t you just say –”

He shrugs. “I didn’t like to think about that either, but before I left, life on Pyke wasn’t that – great.” He doesn’t think telling her about how his brothers were when he grew up would make this discussion any less painful. “Winterfell wasn’t ideal. But – your family looked ideal in comparison to mine. People weren’t as cold as in the islands. The person I was closest to, over there, wasn’t even a relative. It wasn’t – it would have been better if I really had been a ward. I mean, if I had been one then I could have… let myself like it. But I wasn’t, so… it’s complicated.” It’s a fairly lame way to end it, but how else should he? Sansa has a slightly pained look to her face. He hadn’t expected anything less.

“Sounds pathetic, I know,” he says when the awkward silence becomes too much for him to bear.

“Not really,” she replies. “How pathetic it is that thanks to me Arya had to let her wolf loose, mine died and a kid who had nothing to do with it also died, and that was because I wanted to look good in front of Joffrey and the queen? Back then it seemed obvious. That’s why I need to apologize to my sister properly, among other things. And until Father died I just didn’t want to see it. I wanted to be a queen and to marry Joffrey more than I thought I wanted anything else. Turns out I was wrong about everything, but from what I see you made the exact same mistake and… got it worse.”

“Worse?”

She shrugs. “Can I – not be courteous?”

“Please. There’s really no need and I’m not sure I’d deserve it anyway.”

“I thought about what actually was on me a lot of time. Most of what went down since Jon Arryn died is probably on P – on Lord Baelish. Some things are on me, I think. But whatever brought me to be a hostage, well, I think you’d have rather married Lord Tyrion than gone through what obviously happened to you, or am I wrong?”

He laughs. He has to. “Without a doubt,” he replies, without even trying to pretend he considered the other option. In comparison to what Ramsay’s turned him into, marrying Tyrion Lannister seems like an entirely preferable option. “But I don’t think this is some kind of competition to see who got it worse between the two of us.”

“It’s not,” Sansa agrees. “But seems to me like you paid for your mistakes. And who knows how would have I been if I spent ten years in King’s Landing?” She shakes her head. “Robb seems very convinced that you want to make up for your wrongdoings.”

“I swear –”

“I can hear it. Then – well, as far as I’m concerned I have no issue with you being here or anything of the kind, if you had doubts about it.”

Theon can’t fucking believe it.

“I – that’s – I wasn’t expecting it.”

“And why’s that?”

“… Can I not be courteous?”

She smirks ever so slightly. “Please.”

“Every time I’m in the same room as your sister I feel like she wants to murder me.” He figures there’s no point in trying to sweeten it.

“… I can imagine why,” Sansa says. “Well, I don’t know how I’m not on her bad side apparently, too, and I’d deserve it.”

“I’m sure that –”

“No, I would deserve it. Same as I’d deserve to be on Jeyne Poole’s bad one if we ever meet again. I completely forgot about her and by the time I noticed she was gone no one ever told me where she ended up.”

“What? She - she disappeared?”

“Around the time of Father’s imprisonment,” Sansa confirms.

“Sansa, you were two and ten, I doubt you’re at fault for any of that.”

“Maybe, but – that’s not the point. Anyway, Arya will come around. I’m sure she will. After all, if you’re the reason Robb’s not dead at this point, that has to count for something.”

“I wish. But – well. Thank you. I still wasn’t expecting it.”

“I’d like to think that if I’m back where I’m supposed to be, I don’t want to have bad feelings in between me and anyone else either.”

“That’s… a good way of approaching things,” Theon agrees.

“Good. Well, it’s – listen, this might sound like an inappropriate question, but – I don’t know how many people would understand if I wanted to talk about how it felt in King’s Landing.”

To be a hostage, she means.

“Maybe your uncle,” he says. After all, he had his sweet time of that, too.

“We barely know each other,” Sansa says. “I don’t even remember ever meeting him properly. And other than him – there’s no one else. Would you mind terribly if – in case I wanted to talk about it, if I asked you?”

That is not what he was expecting. But he’d be an idiot if he refused, never mind that he thinks he has the exact same problem himself.

“Of course not,” he says. “I wouldn’t.”

“Good. Then – we will see each other again soon, I guess.”

“Whenever you want.” He doesn’t add my lady out of pure self-control – she motions for him to stand down when he tries to get back on his feet as she stands up to leave, and then she closes the door behind her and he lets out a deep, deep breath he hadn’t thought he had been holding.

He’s not even sure that conversation actually fucking happened – it was almost too easy, wasn’t it? Then again, maybe he shouldn’t second guess everything. Maybe it’s fine if for once he just takes it as it is – after all, isn’t he telling Robb to do the same thing over and over again, lately?

He has taken off the one shoe he had on, no point in suffering if he doesn’t have to go anywhere, when Robb walks inside the room instead.

“I gather it went well?”

“I still don’t know how it did,” Theon replies. “But – I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Me neither, but if I don’t have to defend my choices to one of my relatives then I won’t be the one complaining. Listen, I just – given that this all happened very quickly, I haven’t –” He shakes his head and then sits down next to him on the bed. “I think we should talk about what happened yesterday some more.”

“Robb, there’s no need –”

“Theon, you were drunk, and this morning we didn’t exactly have time to go into it as much as I’d have liked, and given what was said, uh, I really think we need to. When we’re both sober. And we are right now, and I don’t want to wait too long because if we do it’s just going to get even more awkward when it comes up again and – really. Please. Can we?”

His first instinct is refusing, and he’ll feel thankful later for the fact that it does not feel wrong to refuse as a first reaction.

But then he thinks about it and realizes that he definitely cannot avoid that conversation forever and all things considered maybe Robb’s right.

So, he says the one thing he is sure about.

“Fine, but if you think I figured out what was going on this morning, I haven’t.”

Robb clears his throat. “It’s not what happened this morning. That was fairly obvious. It’s – gods, all right, let’s just – can you please tell me why you thought that getting drunk in order to tell me to fuck you or whatever it was that you were implying was a good idea?”

Damn it, he had to ask the hard question first, didn’t he? Damn it.

“Robb, I need you to not interrupt while I say this because I don’t think I could start again if you did.”

“Fine. I’m not.”

“It’s not about… getting drunk. Gods, it’s going to sound really fucking dumb but all right, fine. Before – before a few weeks ago, I thought I couldn’t do it. I mean. I thought I was done forever with fucking as a whole because Ramsay fucking Bolton convinced me that having skinned me below my fucking waist line meant the same as – as gelding. Or something like that. And I hadn’t been – shit, well, I hadn’t been hard since then, I figured – never mind. Then I found out it wasn’t the case and as I told you I couldn’t do anything about it. I threw up the first time I woke up hard, all right? Fuck. And – I think I told you yesterday already. So. I couldn’t do anything about it. But – one of those times you slept over I noticed that you obviously wanted me on some level, even if I don’t get how could you, and I thought that – that – that if that was what you wanted then giving it to you was the least I owed you. And given that your nameday was coming up and I had put together what happened on that same day last year I was feeling even worse about it. It just sounded like a really good idea at the time.” He stops, takes a breath and goes on before Robb can assume he’s done. He’s not looking at Robb now, just staring at his own hands, but if he looks at him he can’t say this out loud. “That said, yesterday morning I realized I could never come to you and actually tell you all of that without – without some help, I guess, which is why I thought a drink or two might help loosening the tongue and the likes. Except that I had more than I had thought I’d have, and it probably showed, but then again it did work when it came to actually asking you, and – and then I guess you know that. That was what was going on the other night and that was why I thought it was a good idea.”

Shit. Well, he said it. He breathes in again and looks at Robb even if he’s terrified to, and he hadn’t known what to expect but it surely was not Robb’s face twisting in a grimace as if he wants to throw up. But he doesn’t look disgusted at Theon himself, at least.

“All – all right. Before I actually answer – I need to know. This morning.”

“Yes?”

“Did – did anything bad happen after whatever it was that we did? I mean – did you hate it? Or did you go with it because you thought I would want to?”

That’s – that’s slightly easier to answer, at least.

“No,” he says. “I mean, the most relieving thing about it was having the proof that I could, and I’d have never managed if you hadn’t been there, but – when you proposed it, for a moment I was terrified.”

“And then?” Robb prompts when he doesn’t go on.

“Then I thought that if I wanted to get that bastard out of my system maybe it wasn’t that bad an idea,” Theon says. Well, the original thought had been fuck him, too, but Robb doesn’t need to know that. “It was – it was fine.”

“Good, but would you have gone through with it if you hadn’t wanted to? Just because I asked?”

Fuck that. He was hoping Robb wouldn’t ask that question specifically. And now Robb’s looking at him so earnestly with those damned large fucking blue Tully eyes and he can’t lie to him, can he?

“I don’t know,” he finally says. “I’d like to say that I wouldn’t have, but I have no idea.”

Robb’s face goes even paler but he seems to take it in stride. “Fine. Fine. Can – can I make something very clear, again?”

“What are we having this discussion for?”

“All right. Never mind how could I want to – to bed you or whatever. I do, and if you think looks were the one reason I ever cared about you you’re wrong, but I don’t want to do anything about it until you can tell me for sure that if I asked for it and you didn’t want to, you’d refuse me.”

What? It makes no sense.”

“It does.”

“Why would you want to do it when I don’t want to?”

“No, I mean that when you know you would refuse me if you didn’t want to fuck, then that’s when I’ll agree to it. I can’t do this if I’m not sure that you really want it.”

… And that’s actually very much something Robb would say. And it does make sense, entirely, and Theon knows it, and shit, when did things get so tangled up in his head?

Better that he doesn’t ponder that question for the moment.

“What if I never know that?”

“Then I can live without it. What I want isn’t the matter. But – didn’t you say that –”

“That I dreamed about the two of us doing that? I did.”

“Then I don’t think I shall go without as long as I live.” That was a very poor attempt at joking, Theon can hear it, but he can’t help it – he laughs some, too, because what else should he do?

“I – I sincerely hope you don’t,” Theon finally says. And as he does, he realizes that it’s not just concerning Robb – it’s that he used to enjoy bedding people, hells, and he hates that Ramsay tried and apparently succeeded in taking that from him along with more teeth and body parts than he’d have ever liked, and he doesn’t want to let him win that particular battle. Or any of them that he can still fight.

“Good. Let me know. As far as I’m concerned, I doubt I won’t be always willing, but really, don’t ask me until you know for sure. Please. I’d – I couldn’t.”

“Fine,” Theon agrees. “Fine, I’m not going to. But just to let you rest in peace, I was fine with – with what happened this morning. Even if it wasn’t very dignified.”

“I’m not going to disagree with you on that, but good to know that. It could have been worse, could it?”

At least the tension’s gone, Theon thinks. He doesn’t even know how he hasn’t died of embarrassment since this conversation started, but he’ll be very relieved when it’s over for good.

“Definitely,” he says with a shudder. “Gods, the more I think about it the more embarrassed I feel.”

“Don’t. I mean, it was the both of us. Right. Well, I’m glad we made that clear. Other than that – I should go and see for dinner arrangements, and then tomorrow morning I have to try and convince my entire council to not murder Jaime Lannister at first sight. I’d stay longer, but –”

“Just go,” Theon interrupts. “I can hear it. And you have obligations. If you can’t arrange for me to be in the dinner arrangements I won’t take it personally.”

“As if, I need people to not know Sansa’s here yet. Right. I will see you as soon as I can,” Robb says, and stands up. He looks as if he’s about to go but then he turns back, leans down, puts a hand behind his head and gives him a brief but very firm kiss before breaking it and moving away.

“Just to make it clear, the fact that I don’t want to take off any clothes unless you’re entirely sure of where you’re standing doesn’t mean that’s off limits. Clear?”

“Clear,” Theon answers, and he doesn’t even try to stop himself from smiling as he says it – after all, who’s there to see it happen?

Robb leaves the room and he feels somewhat lighter than before, and it’s really no matter that he also feels absolutely exhausted at the same time. It makes sense he would be, all things considered. He decides that he’s going to try and sleep for a bit and hopefully it’s going to turn out fine, and when he wakes up with darkness outside his window he realizes that he actually did sleep without interruption for the entire afternoon.

He ponders standing up and searching for some dinner – he should eat, damn it, but he’s tired and if no one’s called yet then Robb couldn’t organize the mentioned proper dinner arrangements, and if he’s sleeping decently for once maybe he should just take advantage of it and make up for it tomorrow. He puts on proper night wear, gets back under the covers and falls asleep at once – is it exhaustion? Maybe. What he knows is that when he wakes up all over again there’s a pale sun shining outside his window, he feels actually rested, his body isn’t playing tricks on him for once and he’s not feeling too nauseous or as if he’ll throw up as it happened yesterday morning before –

Before.

He doesn’t want to hope that this means he actually got over some of his plight, but he’s not going to go and question it now. Especially now that he’s noticing that he’s actually hungry for once. He dresses, washes his face, puts on his shoes still marveling at the difference between how it feels to walk now compared to before, and heads downstairs. There are only maids in the kitchen, it’s too early for anyone else, but they know him by now – one of them nods at him and then glances at a table full of food that they will have to bring to the main hall in a bit. He grabs a plate, serves himself, finds himself a seat in a corner where he’s not disturbing anyone and for the first time in weeks he finishes everything on the plate without feeling like he has to or like he’s forcing himself to.

He does not cry out in relief in front of a bunch of maids because now that would be too much, but when no one is paying attention he gets himself a second helping and actually takes the time to taste the food instead of just swallowing it down as soon as he can and decides that he can allow himself to assume that maybe, maybe things might be looking up.

He hopes they are looking up as well for Robb, whatever it is that he’s dealing with right now.

Chapter Text

“Your Grace, how are you not throwing him in a dungeon?”

Right. Robb had not been relishing the prospect of going through this fucking council and it’s been proving him exactly right. He should have imagined it, but still, given that for once things had gone actually smoothly, he had dared to hope that his bannermen wouldn’t prove themselves too stubborn.

He wishes.

Everything had gone as planned – Brienne and Lannister showed up at Riverrun’s gate early in the morning, Lannister had said nothing and no one was wiser about his identity, Robb had called for the council saying that someone had come with news of his sister and he had gathered it all together, and at that point the identities of their guests had to be revealed.

He’s entirely not surprised that that was the first reaction, and from the expression on Lannister’s face, he had expected it as well.

The only good thing is that the moment the room had erupted in chaos when Lannister took off his cloak, Robb had seen his great-uncle quietly leave it and head upstairs – he’s probably going to bring Sansa down here. Good, because he’ll need her soon.

“Because,” Robb says, raising his voice as loud as he can without openly shouting, “I have very good reasons to think he’s not here to betray me. Or you, for that matter.”

“As if?” Lady Mormont asks without sounding too convinced.

“As if, that Lady Brienne and him were the ones who told me about my mother, and – you shall see shortly, I think, but how do you think I came in possession of half of my father’s steel?” Damn, he doesn’t have the sword with him because he left it to Gendry so he could change the handle, and he’d have sorely needed it now, but – well, he’ll do without.

“And who has the other half, Cersei Lannister?”

Gods, he can’t afford to have Greatjon Umber on his bad side. Especially since it’s not as if he can solve situations concerning Umber with Grey Wind now, can he? He tries to not wince and tells himself that if he just gives his uncle some time to come back this will get sorted out.

“No,” he replies. “She has. Lady Brienne, can you show them?”

She does, taking the sword out of the sheath just enough for everyone to see that it’s indeed Valyrian steel.

“If any of you is wondering how in the seven hells she has it,” Lannister suddenly says, “I gave it to her. Before deciding that going with her on a quest to find your precious princess was a better idea than doing my sister’s bidding. Not that I think this will get your lordships and ladyships to trust me in any way, shape or form, but I figured that if you want me to go back to my old cell, I should make my case known.”

No one laughs at that. Obviously. Robb’s not surprised about that either.

“Lannister, if you think this is somewhat hilarious, you’re having it very wrong,” Lady Mormont tells him.

“Given that I have a feeling my head might be what’s at stake here, I can assure you I’m not finding this circumstance hilarious.”

Robb glances at Brienne for a moment and he’s sure her look of utter helplessness is reflected on his face, but it won’t do to let this conversation go on the way it has. Where in the seven hells is his uncle?

“Oh, for –” he starts, and then he decides that there’s no point left in stalling. He’s going to have to just say it and they can deal with it. “I think something here is not clear. It’s not that he should go to his cell already. It’s that this conversation is happening because I’m communicating a decision I already took.”

“I beg your pardon, Your Grace?”

“I mean that as far as I’m concerned, he’s not going into a dungeon and that was decided long before this council was called. Wait.” He can see people clamoring to ask questions. “They already came here yesterday and they already had smuggled my sister out of the Vale, but given the circumstances, on which you will be briefed shortly, everyone decided that bringing her here for all to see what a bad idea. Which is why she’s been hiding in a room upstairs until – well, right this moment. Lord Brynden just went to fetch her.”

That at least causes everyone to stop whispering already. Good.

“And she will tell you her story presently, when she arrives here. Meanwhile, I have had ample proof that Lady Brienne has taken her oaths to my lady mother very seriously and while I was loath to believing it myself, I also had ample proof that Ser Jaime here has no ill-intentions towards us. Which is why he is not going in a dungeon. And that’s final.”

If someone had told him he’d be defending Jaime Lannister in front of his entire war council he’d have laughed in their face.

The Greatjon, though, does not seem very convinced. “Your Grace, if that is true, and I still haven’t seen your sister so I will believe it when I do, are you forgetting that his family was behind the Red Wedding and almost murdering you?”

“Excuse me,” Lannister says, and gods, Robb can understand that the man wants to defend himself, but can’t he just shut his mouth for once? “I think that if there was one thing everyone agrees on when it concerns me, is that I do my own bloody killing myself. If my father decided to take you all out treacherously while I was busy trying to not die out of getting a hand cut and vomiting horse piss along the road I could have hardly changed his mind, but I also can hardly be blamed now, can I?”

Robb almost hopes that it might shut people up, but of course it just means that everyone starts talking at once.

“Quiet!”

Good thing he can still get people to shut up. He can’t wait for the moment he dumps this responsibility on Stannis and moves on with his life and stops having to deal with this entire mess.

“I don’t think the terms are very clear here. Again, he’s not going in a dungeon. If you are against having him being involved in the campaign we can discuss it, but I’m not imprisoning someone who has turned their cloak on the crown to support my cause, however much they are supporting it.”

Not what he was hoping for, but –

“And I would appreciate it if my lords considered his help,” his sister’s voice says from the other side of the room.

Thank the gods. The moment she walks up to his side, her face uncovered and their uncle flanking her, no one breathes a word. Someone does whisper, so they weren’t lying, and Robb just wants to breathe out in relief but he should try to look as if he has everything under control here, and so he doesn’t. Sansa walks up to his side after he gives her a small nod – she has put on some old dress that might have been their aunt’s and is obviously not the latest fashion, but it’s presentable. She also braided her hair to perfection and has obviously put thought into the way she’s dressed - if she wanted to impress the council, she’s doing good already.

He clears his throat. “And since she’s here,” Robb says, “I would like you to hear the entire story from my sister herself.”

She thanks him and recounts the salient points of her staying in King’s Landing with a firmness that Robb envies her, and no one seems surprised about much of it until she finally goes into Joffrey Baratheon’s death and how she was smuggled out of the city. Robb is sure Lannister is fuming on behalf of his brother, but there’s not much to be done about that now, is it?

She tells them about the Vale and how Littlefinger murdered her aunt in front of him – Robb sees his great-uncle wince openly, even if no one else seems to take notice.

“And – well, that was his plan,” Sansa says after having told the details of how Littlefinger had planned to get her back to Winterfell. “That was when they showed up. Well, when Lady Brienne did. She said she’d bring me back here and she has. Along with Ser Jaime. I wasn’t too convinced of him in the beginning, either, but I have traveled with the both of them long enough to see that he actually does mean to support our cause, to whichever degree he might. If there was some ploy going on I’d have noticed, and I know Lady Brienne wouldn’t have let it pass. I know how it might sound and I am aware it’s not what anyone would have expected, but he does deserve one chance, I think. And he did bring me here and has risked his life more than once for it. Same as Lady Brienne. I – I would consider it, my lords. Thank you.”

For a long, long moment no one says anything.

Then the Greatjon actually points out what Robb had been expecting someone to for a while.

“Regardless of Lannister,” he says, “if that’s the situation, no one other than us can know she’s here, can they?”

“No,” Robb sighs. “I don’t know how Littlefinger would take it, but let’s say that right now he can’t complain openly about his bastard daughter being missing, because I guess the point of hiding her in plain sight was for no one to notice. That would make people outside the Vale notice and it would give out that she actually had more value than he made it seem. Never mind that – Uncle, do you have any news from your man in King’s Landing that I don’t know of?”

“No,” the Blackfish says. “Well, it seems like the queen thinks that we’re stalling and that we’re not going to move anytime soon, and I doubt that she knows the details of our alliance with Stannis.”

“Then she’s not paying attention to us. That would make her pay attention and it cannot happen.”

“Fine,” Lady Mormont says, “but then her brother being on our side would make her pay attention even faster.”

Someone laughs and Lannister doesn’t even try to deny it.

“No one said it had to be public either,” Robb says before this conversation can degenerate into something worse. “He can give advice when it comes to planning the campaign and no one needs to know he’s actually with us until we get to King’s Landing.”

Lady Mormont stares at Lannister first and at Robb later. “Very well, Your Grace. My only question is, do you think you could get Stannis Baratheon to agree to your plan? I don’t see him as the kind of man who would be swayed that easily.”

Lord Davos, who has said nothing until now but had been sitting in the council, clears his throat very loudly.

“My lord?” Robb says, hoping that he wants to help out rather than not.

“I think,” he says, “that in between me and His Grace, King Stannis might be swayed. I convinced him of things you wouldn’t believe and since it’s, I think, a very sound course of action, he would agree eventually.”

Lannister looks about to say something, but Lady Brienne not so subtly throws her elbow in his side and he doesn’t. Robb almost wants to laugh.

“And what does the lady say about it?” That was Lady Mormont, again. “I mean, given that it seems like she is also behind half of this rescue mission and we hardly had the pleasure to talk in depth back when she was serving Lady Catelyn, I should like to hear her opinion about this. As she hasn’t given us any of it yet.”

Lady Brienne, who until now has said nothing and hasn’t tried to overstep her boundaries, straightens up some – she had been slightly hunched before – and for a moment Robb marvels again at how tall she is. She’s slightly taller than Lannister himself, and knowing what Robb thinks he’s understood about how things are between the two of them, it just… looks weird, but who is he to judge? He hears someone snickering in the background but the moment Robb glances in the direction it came from, it stops.

“My lords,” she says, and he doesn’t know how she sounds this calm but more praise to her for that, “I understand why you might not trust me, either. If I tell you that the one thing I wanted most since I was old enough to want something was being a knight you would probably laugh, as I know I am not… what people imagine when thinking of one, I suppose. But it was the truth. That’s why I left Tarth in the first place and why I joined this war. As far as my alliances are concerned, well, the first person I swore myself to died, and when I knelt for Lady Catelyn I meant it the same way I meant it for Renly Baratheon. I brought Ser Jaime to King’s Landing because she asked, and when I swore an oath to her, I was swearing it also to all of her family. I know Ser Jaime had nothing to do with the Red Wedding because he was – indisposed throughout the entire ordeal, and we only ever spoke to Lord Bolton twice and at the same time. If I had known, I would have done my best to stop it, and I would not accompany myself with someone who agreed with that massacre.”

She takes a small pause and Robb hopes that everyone else has heard the same sincerity he does – unless she’s the greatest actress that ever took part in a mummer’s farce in Westeros, and something tells him she’s not, she wears her feelings on her face and in her eyes, it’s obvious that she means every word she says.

“When we arrived in King’s Landing, Lady Sansa had disappeared already. I had in mind to go after her myself if I couldn’t find a better option, and he was the one who came up with the proposal to do it before I could share my plans. He was the one giving me that sword and he was the one proposing that he should come with. He said that Lady Sansa was his last chance of honor –”

“I never said you could share that –” Lannister starts, and she goes on ignoring him.

“– And given everything that’s happened since then, I have no reason to doubt him. I have done my best to keep my oath to Lady Catelyn, he did his best to keep his own, and I know because he also swore one to her, back before she let us go. I would only be glad to stay in His Grace’s service if he so decided, or his sister’s. That was as far as I am concerned. As far as he is concerned, he hasn’t done one thing that might make me doubt his intentions and if you give him a chance to, I know he will prove himself to be a much better man than you take him for, same as he did for me. Thank you.”

Sansa is smiling ever so slightly, Robb notices, and he hopes that everyone is too busy staring at Brienne to notice that Lannister is looking at her in a way that Robb would have maybe imagined him looking at his sister, knowing the story.

“That was quite a speech,” Lady Mormont says in reply after a short silence. “And I always like meeting… unusual knights. I’m not entirely sure about Lannister but then again I doubt he could do much damage, if he’s trying to cross us. And Stannis should be able to figure him out, if we haven’t.”

“I’ll believe that you care for honor the day I kneel for your sister,” the Greatjon says, glancing at Lannister, “but she makes a convincing case. As far as I’m concerned he can be spared the dungeon, at least until Stannis gets here.”

Given that those two have been swayed, everyone else follows – the others all agree to keep things quiet when it concerns Sansa and thankfully no one comes forward with marriage proposals. By the time the council is disbanded, Robb feels completely fucking exhausted. Lannister looks more exhausted than he is, at least. They agreed to meet again in the afternoon to discuss Littlefinger in details, but for now everyone is going back to their business and Robb longs for some rest.

“You’d better make it worth this effort, Lannister,” Robb says. “Gods, if someone had told me I’d spend the best part of my evening defending you to my bannermen – never mind. If someone had told me in advance of everything that happened in this last year I would have thought them insane. There is just one question left I have for the both of you, and then I think we may all go and get our well-deserved rest because I am exhausted and it’s been a tiring two days.”

“What would that be?” Lannister asks.

“Would you two like different rooms or would you rather share your accommodations? Don’t look at me like that, Lannister, you pretty much admitted it openly back in the tavern, and even someone blind would notice.”

Lannister’s mouth opens and closes twice before Brienne lets out a very unladylike laugh and answers for the both of them. “Your Grace, just the fact that you have successfully left him without words makes me very sure of my choices when it comes to picking a side. That said…” Her cheeks suddenly blush slightly, making her freckles stand even more, and for a moment Robb remembers that she’s actually two years older than he is.

Gods, it’s so fucking strange.

“That said, I think I should like sharing. If he agrees, of course.”

“If – wench, seven hells, don’t be ridiculous. Have you seen me disagreeing yet?”

“No, but you never know.”

“Tell my uncle,” Robb says, “I’m sure he will find you properly suited rooms. If you have any belongings –”

“I think they’re all in the Vale. We might have left in a haste,” Brienne says.

“Then ask one of the maids if she can find you something suited to wear, if you’re both serving this cause I’m not going to have you treated less than any other in my service. I should like to see you both at the council this afternoon. Other than that – you’re free to go. Don’t let me keep you from your shared accommodations.”

Brienne blushes even harder and Lannister thanks him fairly mockingly before the two of them leave the room and he’s left with Sansa only.

“That was a bit mean,” she tells him a moment later.

“Maybe, but I couldn’t resist. Also, I can’t believe that she could use that sword as well as any man and then the moment I suggested the shared room –”

“She’s interesting,” Sansa agrees, “and you look the same when you stare at your wife.”

What?”

“Maybe no one sees you blush, but she doesn’t have a beard to cover it.” Sansa looks as if she’s about to burst out laughing and Robb sort of wishes she would if only to hear it again, but all in good time. She will when she wants to.

“Point taken. So, can I have the honor to walk you back, my lady, unless you have better ideas?”

“No,” she replies, “I’d be delighted.”

She takes his arm and they walk back towards her room.

They say nothing for a short while, and Robb takes notice of the awed expressions on the face of every maid they run into – he’s going to have to take the serving staff aside and recommend them to keep their silence, but it can wait. He’s just relieved that he has both of his sisters back – now if only they knew where Bran is, but it’s good enough that as far as they all know he’s still alive.

“I was wondering,” Sansa says after they’re already climbing up the stairs, “when were you planning to – host the funerals?”

“When Father’s bones get here, I suppose. How, I don’t know but I doubt Tully funerals can even be done, and I doubt Father would have liked to float down a river as what’s left of him burns. We can bring them both back when we go home, if we ever do, but I should think that it’s more likely than not at this point.”

Sansa nods, and then she lets out a sad laugh. “I was thinking - maybe we could all dine together the way we used to in Winterfell after the funerals, but from what I gather it would be complicated.”

“For now? I think it was a miracle the people who were dining with me for my blasted nameday celebrations managed to get along nicely for that much time, and I don’t know how much Arya can handle spending time with Theon right this moment, but I can swear you that if we ever get back from King’s Landing in one piece I am making it happen.”

“Your – oh. It was two days ago, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Robb says, “but I think everyone else remembered it before I did. The last few years haven’t been good on that side, I guess I decided forgetting about it altogether was a better course of action.”

“Don’t you tell me,” she says quietly. They’re in front of her room now – Clegane’s nowhere to be seen so he obviously is with Jeyne.

“I doubt Arya has had a great time of it either,” Robb snorts. Either he laughs about this or - he doesn’t know what, but it’s better that he doesn’t find out.

“I doubt Theon has, for that matter.”

Fuck, definitely not the case. “So what, as soon as we’re back in Winterfell we’re hosting a huge feast so that all of us can make up for it?”

“That’s not half a bad idea,” Sansa agrees. “Gods, I missed all of you so much,” she says, her hands grasping Robb’s. “I really don’t like knowing you will have to leave so soon.”

“I wish I could avoid it,” he sighs, “but I can’t. Anyway, I should go get some rest for now or I won’t be able to stand up at the next council. Let me know if you need anything, all right?”

“I will, but I think I have everything I need.” She smiles before kissing his cheek and disappearing into her room, and Robb is so damned relieved he could faint from it.

He heads back to his own room figuring he should get Jeyne up to date but it’s empty. She’s probably dining or taking a stroll in the gardens with the baby then – on another day he’d have joined her, but this one he really is exhausted. He heads for Theon’s room, and he’s not surprised that he doesn’t find it empty. Theon had been sitting on the bed, turning some book over in his hands, but he drops it on the bed covers the moment Robb walks in. He looks rested, Robb thinks – good. At least one of them is.

“So, how did it go?” Theon asks before Robb can do the same.

“For now, not too badly,” Robb says. “Lannister’s head is staying where he is, they agreed to have him advising us if Stannis agrees to it and Lord Davos said he would make him in the worst of cases, and they haven’t decided I lost my mind already. Of course, I have to meet them again in the afternoon so we can decide how to handle fucking Baelish, but I’m just glad this part of it is over. I’m going to be ecstatic when Stannis arrives and takes over already.”

“Being in charge really is overrated, isn’t it?”

“More than,” Robb sighs. “Am I wrong or have you slept better than usual?” He asks, figuring it’s better to change the subject.

“Maybe I have,” Theon agrees. “I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but I’m not trying to jinx it.”

“Good. And what’s that?” He reaches down – there was another book lying on the bed already. Robb grabs them both – one is some transcription of ballads from all over the Seven Kingdoms from what he gathers, the other –

“Uhm,” Robb says, “not to pry, but isn’t this what you’d find in a maester’s library?” He flips through the pages as he says it. It’s definitely not what he’d have taken for Theon’s usual reading back in Winterfell – it looks fairly boring and fairly detailed and it’s about nutritional qualities of various foods all over the seven realms.

“I might have asked Vyman,” he says. “I mean, I - if I ever want to get any better I guess I need to know something about this.” He’s not quite looking at Robb as he says it.

Robb nods, figuring that it makes sense. “Well, it’s commendable,” he replies, shutting the book off and handing it over. He’s just relieved that at least it looks like Theon is actively trying to move on, somehow.

“Considering all the meat I should eat, according to this, I don’t see it ending too well, but trying can’t hurt,” Theon says, putting the book aside.

“Yeah, and this other one?”

“Ah, that.” He shrugs. “I was putting the clothes you brought in the wardrobe over there. I had nothing to do and I figured I’d put them in order. It was in one of the drawers. I don’t know, I thought your sister might have liked it, but she used to like this stuff back in the day, so… I knew she wouldn’t be in her room while you were holding that council, so I was taking a look at it while waiting for you to be back.”

Robb is honestly moved that he’d even take the time to think about something his sister might like. “I will tell her to come over then.” He’d have offered to bring it back to Sansa but maybe it’s better if they work it out in between themselves if he wants Theon to mend his relationship with his family as well as Robb himself.

“I’m sure it’s nothing she doesn’t know already, but –”

“Stop that, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it. And – listen, I don’t know if I can even sleep, but do you mind if –”

“Are you serious?” Theon is almost laughing at the way Robb asked that question. “Robb, I think that after yesterday’s – whatever it was, if you decided that it means I don’t want to share a bed with you, you’re wrong.”

“Oh. Fine. Well, I’m kind of stealing your bed, truth to be told, but –” But I’d rather not be on my own? It’s not exactly what a man grown would say, but can he be blamed for that?

“Lie down already.”

At least he’s sounding more like his old self. Slightly. They’re nowhere near there yet, but still better than a few months ago.

Robb kicks off his shoes and takes off all clothes that aren’t his breeches or shirt and then moves under the covers - he’s not even sure that he can sleep, but resting would be enough.

“You know,” he says, “if you don’t want to go to sleep just because I am, you can go on reading that. I don’t mind.”

“But –”

“It’s obvious you got some rest and I didn’t.” He moves closer, his head pressed against Theon’s side. Shit, he’s still way too bony, but it’ll do for now. “I’m fine.”

“Are you?” Theon asks, his voice slightly shaking.

“Yes. Stop doubting me and go on with it, I’ll just stay here.”

“All - all right.” Robb closes his eyes as Theon takes back the book he had been reading, and he’s about to just doze off when he feels three fingers tentatively brushing against his scalp.

Well, now that’s interesting. He doesn’t move and waits a bit – Theon stops being tentative and runs his fingers through his hair once, twice, and damn, now he thinks he understands why Theon seems to like it a fair amount when Robb does it to him. He hums a bit in approval and moves slightly closer and when the movement doesn’t stop, he smiles to himself and decides that whatever waits for him at the council, he’s not dreading it too much for the moment.

After all, he has almost all of his family back together, things are looking up for the first time in a long while, he did live until his seventeenth birthday and he’s not having to do anything or handle things or take royal decisions. He thinks he’s going to let himself enjoy the moment and not worry just right now.

He doesn’t want to think that the both of them are on the mend just in case it goes badly for the umpteenth time, but – but it looks like it, for now, and it’s enough.

 

End.