If there's no one else beside you when your soul embarks,
I will follow you into the dark.
-'I Will Follow You Into The Dark' by Death Cab For Cutie.
Ghosts would always haunt Winterfell.
Ghosts of those who had lived there, long before them, whispers and memories and ancestors as old as the stone itself.
Ghosts of Sansa’s family- Father sharpening Ice under the Heart Tree. Mother brushing her hair at night. Robb’s booming laughter still echoing through the halls. The thunder of Rickon’s feet, a blur nearly knocking her over, wolf wild. Ghosts of its inhabitants- Septa’s praise. Maester Luwin’s calming voice. Ser Rodrick in the training yard. The smell of Old Nan’s cooking. Jory’s comforting hand on her shoulder.
These were the ghosts that danced. They were a melody she still found herself humming. They spun her and delighted her and guided her, her memories the only things she had left of them. They twirled through the air like smoke, real and tangible until she tried to grasp them, and her hands came up empty. They lived on in the stone, in the soil, the very foundations of the castle, like they thrummed through her blood, strengthening her in the walls of Winterfell, where she always felt strongest.
Other ghosts haunted Winterfell, unwanted and uninviting. Ghosts that crept like a chill up her spine. Ghosts that bruises her flesh and cut into her skin and ripped screams from her lips, that tore her apart from the inside out. Hounds barking. The smell of rotting flesh. The bite of teeth. Blinding pain. A click of the door. Ghosts that tried to pull the strength her Winterfell provided from her soul, because if the living could not protect her, how could the ghosts of the dead? Ghosts that tried break her and beat her until she was nothing at all. They nearly succeeded.
Sansa had not been haunted by those ghosts in a while. When she had told Ramsay Bolton that all memory of him would disappear, she was hoping it would be true. It was so subtle she hadn’t even noticed it happening. The nightmares became less frequent, the walls once again associated with more happy memories than sad. The ghosts that plagued her nightmares were banished, and she was surrounded by her loved ones at Winterfell once again, the living and the dead.
Sansa had been so occupied, fighting for Winterfell. Recovering her home. Protecting the North. Protecting Jon. Trying to keep a firm grasp on what they had earned- Robb and Mother and Jon and herself and the people of the North, old and new- the North itself, its independence. She had wept for it, lied for it, bled for it, killed for it. They swore they would never bend to anyone again, and no matter what Jon said, she wouldn’t. She had been bent. She had been bowed. She had been broken. And she swore ‘never again’ with such ferocity that she had forgotten that the dead were not the only ghosts that haunted Winterfell.
For so long now she had been strong. The Lady of Winterfell. The person the North and the Knights of the Vale turned to when the night got dark. Her skin had turned from porcelain, to ivory, to steel. She was impenetrable, immovable, unreadable.
She did not crack under the pressure applied by the Targaryen queen.
She was unsurprised by a messenger come to her and the Queen. Northerners had still been arriving. Armies still needed allocations.
And yet, when she arrived in hall to Theon standing before them, she is halted. Shocked. Hit with a truth she tried very hard to forget.
The dead were not the only ghosts that haunt Winterfell.
The ghosts of who they used to be roamed the halls. A young girl with a love of stories and pretty things, dreaming of escaping and princes and princesses and knights. A boy, bitter and angry, a prisoner in a castle he was to call home. Little Dove, paying for every victory her brother had. Prince of Winterfell, paying the Iron price. Ramsay Bolton’s wife, beaten, broken, defiled, a prisoner in the home that was once hers. Theon Greyjoy bled and ripped apart and destroyed until only Reek remained. A girl who hated him. A boy who betrayed her. Both desperate- Theon, to keep alive the only way he knew how. Sansa, to die with some of her still left.
Ramsay had ground them both down until they were nothing more than pieces, shadows of ghosts of who they used to be, echoes of themselves he purposefully put back together wrong so he could control them like puppets on string.
Neither of them was able to save themselves then. So, they saved each other instead.
Her hands on his face, bringing him back to himself, if only for a moment.
You’re Theon Greyjoy.
His hands pushing Myranda off the catwalks. Grasping hers and not letting go as they ran.
Knowing that death would be kinder than facing Ramsay. Clasped together as they jump off the ramparts and into the snow, following each other into the dark.
The bitter, freezing cold seeping into their veins. The icy shock of the river. Hounds barking. Self-sacrifice.
‘I’ll never make it without you.’
It was an impossible choice. If he left her, she would be alone in the world, no one to understand her brokenness. If he stayed, they would both be broken beyond repair.
They were saved by Brienne and Podrick, but when Theon told her
‘I would have died to get you there.’
She knew he meant it.
She couldn’t convince him to stay with her, to come with her, that she could protect him. That he could atone. That he could be forgiven. That all that she could forgive- Robb, Ser Rodrick, taking Winterfell, their time with Ramsay- she did. But the ghosts screamed louder in his head than they did hers, and he didn’t want them to stop. When he left them, left her, she wondered if she would ever see Theon again, or if he would become another ghost roaming the crevasses of her mind.
But he was there. Theon, purely Theon when he told her “I’ve come to fight for Winterfell, Lady Sansa. If you’ll have me.”
Her mask was chipped, gone, despite the Dragon Queen, despite the Ironborn, despite the fact they would likely be dead tomorrow. Seeing him here in Winterfell was all the Winterfell’s of old at once. All she could do was nod, fly into his arms and let her tears fall, thinking she would never let go of him again.
You came back here?
I came back to you.
They didn’t talk much of the past. They didn’t talk of what they had been through together, being in each other’s presence at Winterfell alone was enough. All Theon asked was,
“How did he die?”
His eyes flitted just enough, and he hid a shudder, but Sansa knew he needed the answer, the satisfaction, the justice just as much as she had. For all Sansa had managed to forget about her time with Ramsay, she could never forget that.
They didn’t ask how the other was. It could be seen in the clearness of his eyes, how they steadily held her gaze, something in them she could describe. It was regret and happiness and sadness and wistfulness all rolled into one. It could be seen in how she held herself, tall, strong, no longer trying to make herself small. Reek and Sansa Bolton were nothing more than shadows to them now.
She didn’t ask of Yara. Yara was of a tomorrow that may not come for them. Instead they eat soup and she told him how Arya had been spending her time in the forge, and how Bran had been unnerving all he stared at, and how badly they missed Robb. Theon was Robb’s best friend, and Robb had always been Sansa’s favourite sibling, even if she wasn’t his.
“He loved you, you know,” Sansa told him, and his eyes closed briefly against the wave of grief, against the self-loathing that would surely come as it always had. “He would be happy you were defending Bran when he couldn’t.”
There was no bitterness in her voice, but there was something. A young girl, trapped in Kings Landing, waiting for a brother that would never come. “He loved you, until the end,” Theon told her gently. “He tried his best. He was torn.”
“I loved him. But he made foolish mistakes and he died for it,” Sansa said sadly, because her brother was never going to be allowed to be happy. They lost that chance when Bran fell off the Broken Tower.
“He did,” Theon admitted.
Sansa’s eyes sparkled with dry humour. “I suspect that we will soon be joining him.”
Theon looked at her in surprise at her admission. Since he had arrived, he had seen nothing but her trying. Her fighting. Her checking in with the children and speaking with Yohn Royce and encouraging those come to Winterfell. But she had already been her most broken with him. Admitting defeat, admitting fear, would not make him think less of her. Both tried to forget and were constantly reminded they would die tomorrow.
“Not yet,” he said instead.
Sansa nodded, a small smile on her face. “Not yet.”
Her eyes got sad as she heard faint echoes of Podrick singing Jenny of Oldstones in the Hall, a song she used to hold dear as a child but only now understood. Kings who were gone, loved ones lost and found, of ones gone so long and yearning to be able to stay. She’s so consumed, lost in her memories that she jumped when Theon’s gloved hand appeared in front of her.
“May I have this dance, Lady Sansa?” he asked quietly. It’s the last piece of normality they may ever have. It was something she would have bullied him into doing when they played at children. It’s something they were both robbed of. It’s something.
So, despite the yard full of people, the enemies nearly on their doorstep and the fact that they were dancing on what would soon be a graveyard. Despite the fact they were too early and too late and never on time. Despite it all, she let herself be pulled to her feet and goes into his arms, like Jenny dancing with her ghosts one last time.