It’s only just beginning to snow in Winterfell. The flakes are falling soft and gentle, melting in the hair. The party is almost ready to leave for Dragonstone. Jon’s horse is being saddled. It’s time to say his goodbyes, so Jon leaves his horse to the groom and heads across the courtyard to the crypts. Halfway there Jon sees Lady Sansa exit onto the covered walkway above the open courtyard. She’s always Lady Sansa during the day. When her gloves and mask are on. She’s only Sansa late at night, by the fire. When they talk and smile and laugh and argue heatedly. When they’re warm. When they’re alone. He veers right and climbs the wood stairs to his Lady.
When he reaches her he hesitates. “Sansa.” he says, and pauses.
“Jon.” Her voice is cold to him. She’s usually bemused by his awkwardness, his gruff manner of speaking. But clearly she’s still angry. She’s kept her mask on.
“Will you at least say goodbye?” He strains. Then he cringes, wishing not to have sounded so desperate.
She stands statuesque a moment more before relenting and opening her arms to him. He exhales and steps into her body, wrapping his arms around her waist under her heavy cloak. She’s warm and strong, her red hair soft against his nose. Her rose petal perfume is barely perceptible until this close. He breathes deep, eyes closed tight, wanting to remember this.
“I don’t want you to go.” says Sansa, tugging him to her fiercely, her face curled into the fur on his shoulder. “People who leave Winterfell never come back.”
“You did.” Jon whispers. “I’ll just have to learn from your example. You’re always telling me to listen to you.”
“Don’t push your luck.” She huffs.
He chuckles. “With you or the south?”
He feels the smile in her cheek next to his neck. “Neither, brother, if you’re wise.”
A deep breath, then ruefully, “I never claimed to be that.”
“Then listen to me.” She presses her hands tighter against his back, as if she only holds him tight enough he’ll never leave her. This was a bad idea. He should’ve left without saying goodbye.
“Stay.” Sansa murmurs into the bearded curve of his neck, her breath warm. “Let’s make our stand here, together. No dragons, no southern armies, no poison promises and no knives in our backs. Stay here with me. Live.”
Jon unclasps his hands at her back to grab his forearms instead, pulling Sansa’s warm body even tighter to his. Then he pulls away from her, enough to look at her face. He has too, now, before she changes his mind. “I can’t. I won’t. You know that Sansa. Stop asking me, please.”
“Why can’t you?” She demands.
“We need dragonglass. Or we don’t stand a chance.”
Sansa shakes her head. “You’ll never get it. Not from her. She’ll only want your bended knee or your head. Nothing more. We’re in rebellion, remember?”
Jon looks away from her desperate eyes. “If I don’t try we all die.”
Sansa grabs his face in her gloved hands and pulls it back to her. Her eyes are so blue. “If you try, you’ll die.”
Jon’s mouth is dry. He swallows. “So be it.”
Sansa’s face hardens. “How dare you.” she says, gripping his face tighter. “How dare you say that to me.”
Jon swallows again. It’s getting harder. “The North doesn’t need me to survive.” He smiles softly at her. “They’ll have you.”
“...And if I need you?” she asks, hands sliding from his cheeks to the planes of his chest.
Jon laughs at that. “You don’t. Your job will be much easier without me.”
“But if I want you?” She insists, eyes blazing into his. Jon doesn’t breathe, then he does, shuddering with the depths the cold air reaches into his lungs. “To stay, here with me.” Sansa finishes, lowering her head to watch her fingers trace the direwolf she stamped over his heart.
Jon clenches his fingers into her hips. Then brings up his palms to cradle the back of her head. “Sansa. There’s nothing in this world I want more than to stay by your side. Forever. But there’s one thing I need more. I need you to be as safe as I can make you. So I have to go. I will go.”
She’s silent for a while. Eyes closed, thinking. Snowflakes fall gently from the sky to brush her cheeks, rest on her lashes. Then she opens them again, reserved once more. “I cannot change your mind.” She says.
“No.” Jon lies, stroking her hair, while his heart constricts in his chest, burning with pain.
“Then this is goodbye.” Her face is passive, but her voice cracks on the last word.
“Yes, Sansa.” He chokes out. He kisses her hairline at her temple desperately, and again at the soft skin of her jaw as he makes his way down to hide his face in her hair again. He holds one hand over the back of her head and curls the other around her waist, pulling her into him. She pulls him into her just as tightly, hands on his upper back.
For a long moment they stand that way, gripping each other tightly under their cloaks to stay warm. Breathing in each other’s hair. Tasting the snowflakes that gently float down on them. Not saying goodbye.
“Come back.” She says finally. “Just… come back, Jon. Just do that. Come back to me.”
Jon swallows and says nothing for a long time. “Yes, my Lady.” He whispers into the shell of her ear. “I will do whatever you ask of me.”
“Liar.” Sansa says. And it’s true but not in the way she thinks it is. She pushes back from him, gathering herself. “It’s time to go Jon Snow.” She’s right, of course. She’s always right. Jon backs away from her, feeling bereft and cold with a rock in his throat.
He looks at her. Standing slender and tall, pale face curtained by long red hair and blue eyes wet. She’s so beautiful. So precious. His sister. He swallows his goodbye and turns abruptly to head to the crypts.
There Littlefinger finds him. There, in the crypts, amongst the bones of the Kings of Winter, Jon’s forefathers. Before Ned Stark himself, Littlefinger has the gall to speak of Sansa. Jon doesn’t kill him. But if he so much as touches Sansa again, Jon will not restrain himself the next time.
Jon storms from the crypts. The party has been waiting for him, his horse is saddled. Davos is mounted already. Jon mounts up and settles in place. Then he can’t help but turn to look at her. See if she’s still waiting to see him off. She is and Jon’s heart stutters. The breath leaves his body. He raises a single hand in final farewell. She smiles wryly back and raises her own hand. There’s no more time, he must go, has to leave her. It hurts. He clenches his jaw, turns and rides away.
On the walkway Sansa slowly lowers her hand, and watches for a long time. Until Jon is just a dot in the snow. Until he disappears entirely. She waits until watching the empty world of swirling snow feels too cold without him, before she turns to go back into the castle. She never saw Littlefinger watching her.