It rains every day of their two-week journey to Winterfell. Sansa rides inside the traveling coach with Jeyne, but Arya and Jon insist on making the trip on horseback and Rickon goes most days up in front of Jon. Although they stop twice a day--once for lunch and a second time in the evening for supper, warm beds, and a change of horses--Sansa sees very little of her husband and siblings for most of the journey. She and Jeyne take turns reading aloud from Mrs. Sand’s latest novel as the other attends to her needlework. Sansa longs to be home at Winterfell so deeply that she feels the ache of it in her bones, but her heart lurches when she thinks on what awaits her once they arrive: Arya married in a month and gone to Storm Abbey and Jeyne to Sunspear Hall at the end of October.
Jeyne will not speak of any understanding she has or has not come to with Arianne. Sansa, who is still so incandescently happy with Jon that it feels like a dream from which she will soon have to wake, understands the fear that keeps Jeyne from being able to be truly, openly joyful.
It is enough to share the old Stark traveling coach and look upon Jeyne’s face, the dark circles nearly banished in entirety from under her eyes. It is enough to hear Jeyne’s warm, steady voice narrate the increasingly ridiculous situations in which Mrs. Sand’s heroine finds herself.
It is enough to think upon the future and know that, for once, Sansa will part from someone impermanently. Everyone who has left her recently has done so into death, but Jeyne and Arya will only go a distance of a few hundred miles.
They stop in Wintertown for a late luncheon, rather than push on to the castle, because Rickon’s little-boy ravenousness cannot be contained a moment longer. The rain has died down into a slow, persistent drizzle and she and Jeyne don’t have to dash into and out of the carriage like they have for the previous fortnight.
It turns out to have been particularly prescient on Rickon’s part to insist upon their stopping, because the courtyard and stables at Winterfell are flooded from the recent rains and the house is in chaos as the staff attempts to find somewhere to stick Arya’s horses until their hay can be dried. Arya spares about half a second’s look at the situation and then takes off down the road to the Mormonts’, where Alysane’s half-empty stables might be dry enough to take a few guests. Sansa has a quick consultation with Cassel the elder, butler at Winterfell for thirty years and uncle to Cassel the younger, who oversees the managing of Stark House in London. His implaccable facade, firmly affixed since Sansa was a child, is not perturbed by having to consult with his lady while standing in close to two feet of muddy water. Sansa remains in the traveling carriage as she dispenses orders.
She doesn’t see where Jon goes off to, but he comes back after Sansa has only just finished discussing how they might clear out the stables with Mr. Hullen. Jon has dispensed with his greatcoat since last she saw him and is wearing only his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. Sansa, who had until this moment considered herself to be quite good in a crisis, literally forgets the next word in her sentence. Jon’s muslin shirt has turned transparent in the rain and his hair is completely wild. Somehow it is more arousing to see the damp film of his shirt clinging to his arms than it has been to see them bare in the privacy of a bedchamber. Sansa makes a horrible croaking noise and then has to swallow.
Mr. Hullen coughs. “Aye, that’ll do,” he says, and then he scarpers off, as swiftly as a man can do in two feet of water, leaving Sansa to blink at Jon like she’s recently suffered a blow to the head.
“I’m sorry,” Jon is saying once he’s close enough to be heard. “I hadn’t realized you were still in here--come, let’s get you inside,” and he reaches up into the carriage and offers his hand.
Sansa takes it blindly and then, at the hot press of his bare hand, marshals enough sense to say, “Oh, but Jeyne--”
“Mrs. Poole, will you be all right for a moment?” Jon asks, leaning into the carriage. “I will return for you once I see Lady Targaryen safely to the house.”
“That is unnecessary, my lord,” Jeyne replies from behind Sansa.
“Have you got your cloak?” Jon asks Sansa. “There’s still a bit of rain coming down.” Sansa nods, dumbly. She says nothing as Jon squeezes her hand and then brings it around his neck so that it is resting on his shoulder, her elbow behind his head. He puts his hands under her knees and across her back and then lifts her out of the carriage into his arms. Sansa assists him in doing this by having zero control over her own limbs.
Jon takes two steps out into the courtyard and then pauses a moment to adjust his grip. This minor jostling sends an acute wave of heat from Sansa’s knees up her spine and she suddenly comes to her senses, throwing her arms around Jon’s neck and clinging to him. She can feel his pulse hammering in his neck against her fingers.
“I’m not too--” she says, and Jon says, gruffly, “No.”
The courtyard is a mess, all full of furiously bustling people, barking dogs, shouted orders, and so Sansa nestles a little closer to her husband, closing her eyes for a moment so she can savor the sensation. Sansa has always thought Jon’s little courtesies to be a mark of his fine manners, beaten into him by her mother. It has never occurred to her that they might be something precious; a private gesture of tenderness.
“Jon,” she murmurs.
“Are you cold?” he asks her softly, tightening his grip. She feels the press of his fingertips into the soft flesh of her knees. “We’re almost inside.”
“I love you,” she says, eyes squeezed shut. She has to say it; she feels as though if she does not, the words will burn their way out of her.
Jon stops walking. “Are you--” he says, and then he falls silent.
“I have loved you for so many years, Jon,” she says, like a coward, whispering into his skin without opening her eyes. “But what I thought I felt, when you were gone and I had only my memories--it is nothing to how I feel now.”
After another second, Jon starts walking again, more swiftly this time; Sansa hears the water sloshing around his legs as he carries her through the courtyard and then up five of the fourteen steps that lead to the front door of the house. He stops there, on the sixth step, and lowers Sansa to her feet. She has to open her eyes so she doesn’t fall.
He is still silent. Sansa, her arms around his neck, would look elsewhere if she could. But they are of a height, and she can look nowhere but into his eyes. They are very bright, glittering at her, that beautiful clear grey color that greets Sansa every morning when she wakes and in the evening as she falls to sleep.
“Sansa,” he says, ragged, “you have no idea how much I love you,” and then he crushes her to him, hands around her waist, and kisses her on the steps of Winterfell, in front of everyone. Perhaps they are too busy with the flood to notice; perhaps not. Sansa cannot think of them at all. She can only think of her husband and his soft, warm mouth open under hers. She will remember the shape it had made around the words I love you for the rest of her life.
They share the same air for a long moment after their kiss ends, their foreheads pressed together. I loved this man as a boy and now he is my husband , Sansa thinks, dazed. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
“Welcome home, Jon,” she says.
“I have missed it fiercely,” he tells her, voice rough. One of his hands is cradling the back of her head; it is a warm, comforting weight.
“Yes,” she says. “But no longer. Now you are home.”