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To Meet As Wolves

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“Nervous, Prince Jon?” Tyrion asks him while nursing his flagon of wine, with his appraising smirk that always makes Jon sigh tiredly.

“Me? No. I imagined you might be though, you are seeing your ex-wife, after all,” Jon supplies, smirking back at him.

Tyrion rolled his eyes with something like half amusement, half exasperation. “The Lady Sansa was hardly ever my wife, Prince Jon. You well know that. A sham marriage meant to humiliate us both,” a hint of bitterness laced in Tyrion’s voice then.

Jon doesn’t bother correcting him on how his so-called Lady Sansa is actually titled the Queen in the North, since he knows it would be a futile effort at this point. He was lucky to get his aunt to even agree to send Jon as an emissary rather than bringing her dragons here to quash the rebellion. He figures he should do what he can, for the Starks are his kin, strangers though they may be. However, he thinks Tyrion may well ruin this trip with his carelessness.

“I imagine that would be another reason to be nervous, Lord Tyrion, do you think she will be happy to see a reminder of her time in King’s Landing?” He knows he is riling Tyrion up, but sometimes he can’t seem to help himself, especially when Tyrion aims his arrogant teasing at Jon. The man thinks it’s funny, the idea that Jon might be nervous. He can’t help but to needle him back.

“I was good to her. I was kind,” Tyrion says, offense darkening his features.

Jon thinks Tyrion probably was kind, in his own way. But from what he’s learned since Tyrion came to them in Meereen and since they made their way to Westeros, he can’t imagine Tyrion’s kindness was nearly enough for his cousin.

“A reminder, all the same.” Jon tells him, but the bite in his voice is gone, as he veers back to his worries about this trip. He’s not as confident as his aunt that Tyrion will be given a warm welcome. From what he’s heard, Northerners are hard and stubborn, and if that’s true, he thinks the lords and ladies may react badly to the man once wed to their Queen. What’s more, he does not wish to offend his cousins.

And then there are the other worries, the ones that have nothing to do with diplomacy and are more personal in nature. Whether the Starks will despise him for killing his mother to come into the world. Whether they will look at him as an outsider for his Targaryen heritage, just as his aunt and uncle had looked at him as too different, with his dark hair, his grey eyes and long face. Of course, until his looks stood to give his aunt an advantage.

Then, there is the desire within him to learn something of his mother and her home. He didn’t know how one could miss someone they didn’t know, but he missed her all the same.

Perhaps he needn’t worry, he thought bleakly, for the North will kill him, Tyrion, and their party before he has a chance to face the fears plaguing his mind. Perhaps it was foolish to come with only a small party of men and weapons. To come without dragons. But the Queen in the North had accepted the Dragon Queen’s entreaty to send Jon North on her behalf. And guest right was important to the North and to the Starks in particular, if what Ser Jorah had told him was true. The native man from the Northern house Mormont was helping to lead them, teaching Southerners how to survive the cold.

Truthfully, though he would never admit it, he wonders if this cold winter in the North might have killed his aunt’s dragons—if they could survive such frigid temperatures and hunting game different from what they’d known. Of course, the Targaryens had forced the North into submission with dragons before. But Jon doesn’t know if it was winter then. Or if the winter then could compare to now. He can’t remember if he learned it in his lessons and forgot, or simply never had a lesson for it in the first place. Plus, his aunt’s dragons were not as large and formidable as the dragons of old. Powerful creatures, no doubt, but still—not like those that brought the North to its knees.   

And perhaps the North had magic in it too. He’d heard the tales of what happened North, with an army of the dead, a Night King, struck down by the Queen in the North’s elder brother, who died along with the White Walkers. It was fanciful, but Jon didn’t know whether to dismiss it entirely. His aunt brought dragons back, who is to say if the tales were impossible?

He had lied to Tyrion, though the man probably knew that. He was nervous. He didn’t think anyone in his party—himself included—had a true idea of what awaited them. And if Tyrion and his aunt’s final ploy was eventually put forth—to betroth Jon to Sansa Stark, Queen in the North, he didn’t know if any of them would survive it.

---

“You know what they want. You know what they’ll try to do,” Arya mutters to her angrily.

Sansa barely looks up to her furiously pacing sister before returning to the numbers on their grain stores. There’s little point in giving Arya’s disdain further attention, as there will be no resolution to it and they both know it. “And what would you have me do? Refuse their invitation and possibly provoke the new Southern Queen into flying here herself with her children?

Arya snaps her fingers, pauses her steps and juts out her forefinger at Sansa, fully into her rant now. “And that’s another thing,” she says, “they claim she is not mad like her father, but what sane woman would claim to be the Mother of those beasts, Sansa?!”

“Lower your voice,” Sansa reprimands her, feeling as if the ghost of her mother has stepped into her body for a moment, “do you want all of Winterfell to hear you?”

“Maybe I do, Sansa,” she says, but her voice is lower now. She slumps into a chair across from Sansa’s desk, winded by her fury, it seems.

“I wish to ignore the South as much as you do, Arya. But you know that we cannot.”

“We can’t give away our home, Sansa.”

“I know, Arya.”

“Our people would rather burn—”

“I know, Arya!” she snaps. Sansa realizes she is breathing heavily and is surprised at how easily her sister has goaded her. Perhaps she is under too much stress. She pinches the bridge of her nose in frustration. “I will never bend, Arya. You know that. I only hope to prevent us from burning if there is any chance to do so.”

Arya nods, seemingly calm. She is quiet for so long that Sansa begins to think she has slipped out of the room unnoticed, as is her way, when she speaks again. “What do you think father would think?”

“Of bending the knee; the Dragon Queen?”

She huffs, as if it is obvious what she is asking. “No, it’s—what do you think he’d think of our cousin?”

Sansa considers for a moment before answering. “I think he’d withhold judgment until he met him.”

Arya stares at her searchingly. “Is that what you’ll do?”

Sansa knows her father was a good man. Knows how much he loved Lyanna, only a girl when she’d died. She knows her father had wanted to find Jon and bring him North. She feels a tug of tenderness at the thought.

But she also knows her father made mistakes that cost him his head. Mistakes she cannot afford to make. Sansa tells Arya, truthfully, and it is such a gift to have her sister with her again, someone she can be truthful with: “I don’t know.”

---

When Jon sees Winterfell in the distance, he feels some strange pull forward in his chest. He feels he’s seen it before. Maybe in dreams. But perhaps he is romanticizing, as he’d often been accused by his aunt and her Hand.

Jorah looks to the castle in an expression Jon imagines mirrors his own. It must feel strange, like coming home, and also, decidedly not at the same time.

Jon wonders, not for the first time, whether his Stark kin might allow him to visit the crypts with his mother’s remains. He’s heard tales that the North built statues for their past Kings of Winter, and later their Lords and Wardens. Heard that Ned Stark had loved his sister so dearly he’d had a statue of her own commissioned. What would such a man have thought of him, to see him now, with this retinue from the South, here to bring them back into the Seven Kingdoms?

What would she have thought?

“Are you ready, Prince Jon?” Ser Jorah had trotted over to him on his horse. Jon gives him a swift nod. They enter the courtyard.

The lords and ladies give them hard looks. Not a word is said. The silence is eerie, Jon thinks. The wind howls. Snow is on everything.

So familiar and unfamiliar to him at once. He dismounts and his party readies itself, and that’s when he sees them. What could only be the Starks across the courtyard.

His cousins.

He notices the boy first. Well, young man. The crippled boy in his chair, his stare is what brought Jon’s gaze to him first, he’s looking at him in a way that makes Jon uneasy. He sees a tiny young woman, her gaze hard and Jon is struck by their resemblance. He’d always been told he’d had the look of the North but seeing this is another thing entirely.

Then he sees her, standing by what must be her sister. The woman that must be Queen Sansa. Her long auburn hair is only slightly pulled back, flowing around her shoulders, and it’s in contrast to the styles he’s seen in the South. She is tall, stands regally with perfect posture. Her expression not revealing a thing. Her hands clasped in front of her almost daintily.

She is beautiful. In fact, Jon realizes, she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. It momentarily takes his breath away when her deep blue eyes meet his. He tries to shake off the thought—the feeling—it would bring no good for him to approach bewitched and fumbling. On her other side is an even taller woman, with short blond hair, a sword at her hip. He sees an older gentleman with a beard, looking to him wearily, but also studying him, Jon thinks. Jorah clears his throat and Jon hears the message therein and begins to walk toward them, and he hears Tyrion’s steps slightly behind him.

The gray-bearded man approaches then, stepping closer to Jon and the Queen. “May I present, Sansa of House Stark—The Queen in the North,” motioning to the red-haired beauty before him. Jon dips his head in a polite nod, not bowing.

“Your Grace,” he says and swallows thickly. Yes, he is nervous. More nervous than he thought he would be.

Jorah places a hand at Jon’s shoulder, and the slight brown-haired woman that eerily resembles him follows the motion with her eyes, gripping the slim sword at her hip. This is not a good start, he thinks, but she makes no other move. “May I present, Prince Jon of House Targaryen, nephew and heir of Queen Daenerys Targaryen. And the Hand of Queen Daenerys, Lord Tyrion Lannister,” Jorah finishes his introductions.  Jon thanks the Gods for small mercies, that at least his aunt is not here. That they do not have to listen to a long and painfully awkward recitation of her many titles as she always insists.

Tyrion steps forward to Queen Sansa and Jon finds himself holding his breath. He should have stolen the man’s liquor from him. “How lovely to see you again, my former lady wife,” he says, smiling at the woman with fondness. Jon cringes inwardly but tries not to show it.

The Queen looks to him and Jon thinks he’d seen a flicker of something—some discomfort—in her eyes when Tyrion said lady wife, but it is smoothly wiped from her expression. He doesn’t miss the way her sister scowls or the blond woman shifts her feet. Jon knew it was a bad idea to the bring man here, her ex-husband, blood of the people who slaughtered her family.

But Queen Sansa smiles slightly—polite and practiced, Jon thinks—and speaks, “and to see you, Lord Tyrion,” she says, and Jon can’t tell if she means it or not. This woman (this beautiful woman) is enigmatic to him.  

“I don’t believe you have met Ser Jorah of House Mormont,” Tyrion motions to Jorah, and a murmur runs through the crowd around them, though Jon does not know why. He sees the Starks eyeing the man, Ser Jorah holding an expression Jon does not recognize. He has the sinking feeling that something has been kept from him.  

The Queen barely looks to the man, as if it is painful to do so, and nods slightly, “Ser Jorah,” she says quietly. Jon doesn’t know the meaning of this interaction, but he knows he must find out quickly.

“I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Prince Jon,” she says, and it takes Jon a second to realize she is talking to him. Before he has the chance to make any sort of reply, she is speaking again: “May I introduce my sister, Princess Arya Stark,” Princess Arya shifts uncomfortably—seemingly at the title—and nods stiffly at him without speaking. “And my brother, Prince Brandon Stark,” she motions toward the crippled young man in the chair, silent and oddly still until now.

Now he looks at Jon and something small, almost a smile, passes from the man’s lips: “Welcome,” he says, with little of the warmth one would expect from the word.

“My ladies’ maids will show you to your chambers, and we shall then meet in the Great Hall after you have settled,” Queen Sansa says gracefully. She seems to do everything gracefully, Jon observes, and just like that they are being escorted inside.

Jon moves to Ser Jorah as they are led through the corridors. “We must speak,” Jon says, knowing he cannot do it here in the halls of Winterfell.

Jorah nods minutely. He says, regretfully: "Yes, Prince Jon, that we must."

Chapter Text

Jon can hardly believe it, when Jorah tells him. The man had been exiled from the North for selling thieves into slavery and his aunt—Breaker of Chains, Jon thinks derisively—had kept the man by her side. She had known all along, even as she freed the Unsullied and so many Essosi who called her Mhysa for liberating them. And none of them—not a bloody one of them—thought to tell Jon before bringing him North. The man who was supposed to know of the North and help familiarize them, exiled by Ned Stark himself, and Jon’s mind spins at how the Kingdom will react. Surely, they are angry. The Queen must be angry. His cousins must be angry, and Jon cannot blame them. Jon is angry too.

And he struggles to think of how to contain the damage that no one had prepared him for. “Why did you not tell me?” he cornered Tyrion in his solar, and Jon realized he was shaking. Whether from anger or nerves, he wasn’t quite sure. He’d never been given such responsibility from his aunt before. He was a soldier—he fought, that was what he knew. But he’d paid enough attention to his aunt, to Tyrion, and he thought he understood at least a little, that this was not the sort of thing he could go in blind on. Tyrion rubbed his forehead in frustration, setting his wine upon his desk.

“Would you believe that I didn’t know?” he asked.

“Are you telling me you didn’t know, Tyrion?”

Tyrion sighed. “I knew that his father was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. I knew there was something that brought Jorah to Essos. But Jon, I ended up in Essos fleeing punishment for a crime I didn’t commit—”

“This isn’t about you, Tyrion.”

“Seven Hells,” Tyrion groaned and finished his wine before speaking again. “Before you go thinking yourself superior, Jon, just realize that a man like myself may not push for details.”

Jon was skeptical of this reasoning. He had a hard time believing Tyrion hadn’t known, but then, the man had been in his cups every night for who knows how many moons. Perhaps he’d known and forgotten. His aunt was always telling Jon how clever Tyrion was, but it seemed more and more to Jon that whatever sharpness the man once had was worn away from liquor, a constant companion at his side. But Jon wasn’t about to argue with Tyrion about his drinking, so he played along with the man’s excuses.

“It’s your job to push for details and ask questions. You’re the Hand of the Queen.”

“I made a mistake, okay? Just calm down. We will contain the damage. Turning on one another is the last thing we need.” Jon wasn’t reassured. He wasn’t sure they could contain the damage. But he had to try.

They meet in the Great Hall and Jon is more nervous than before, but Queen Sansa is the perfect picture of poise as she welcomes them. She seats them at the front table, as esteemed guests, and it makes his stomach flutter when he looks at her.

Stop it you bloody fool.

Tyrion is by his side, but he insisted to Jorah that he would not sit here with them. He has him at a table in the back of the room, where he would be less noticeable. Of course, he is still noticeable to all, but at least Jon is showing that he will not give him a place of honor, insist that the North grant him such honor. When he informed Jorah, nearly snarling at the man in his anger, Jorah had given him a hard look that softened by degrees as he continued to look at Jon. He then nodded and said: “I understand,” in a soft, defeated voice. At least he’d put together then why Jorah hadn’t told him. The man was ashamed. For a moment, Jon felt bad for him, an exile in his homeland, an outsider, as Jon acutely knew the feeling. But it was only for a moment. The man had sold people into slavery, thieves or not. It was not normal here as it was in Essos, and he can hardly imagine the way Jorah lives with himself. He wonders bitterly if his aunt has informed her loyal Missandei and Grey Worm of Jorah’s past. Somehow, he thinks not.

A girl who looks no older than ten stands from her seat at a table close to their own. Her face is hard, and her presence is imposing, belying the few namedays she’d had in life. She looks to Jon’s cousins.

“Permission to speak freely, My Queen?” she asks, an anger in her voice. Jon has a feeling he can’t put a name to, but it is nothing good.

Queen Sansa breathes, but she looks as if she expected this and nods: “Proceed, Lady Mormont.”

Jon names the feeling settling in his chest now: dread.

Lady Mormont looks back at Jorah, glaring. “Ser Jorah of House Mormont is a stain to the family name,” and the tiny girl commands the room. Jon wonders if she is the head of her House. He wonders at the North and its commanding women. “He dishonored the Mormonts and is no cousin of mine.”

Jorah steps forward haltingly, “My Lady—”

“I am not your Lady,” she bites and turns back to the Queen. “Your Grace, your Lord Father exiled him, and he is not welcome in the North.” Jon’s breath quickens. What is to happen now? Will they make to execute him? Jorah had fled justice and was exiled with the promise of death should he return. Will this be war, made on Jon’s entire party all because of Jorah bloody Mormont?

The Queen lifts her chin in acknowledgement. “I understand, Lady Lyanna,” Queen Sansa says. Jon’s gut twists with an unfamiliar sensation. The Mormonts and the Starks were close, he knew. Lady Mormont. Lyanna. She could only be his mother’s namesake. “But I would exercise a bit of caution here,” she says, not unkindly.

Lady Mormont looks chagrined but as if she expected this too. The Queen continues: “Ser Jorah has come here under the protection of the Dragon Queen, and for that reason, we shall spare him as a guest of Winterfell. However, this stay is temporary, and when you leave, Ser Jorah,” she says and looks to him. Jorah steps forward now in a deferent manner. Jon sees that whatever Jorah’s fierce loyalty to Jon’s aunt, the man recognizes this Queen’s commands as she gives them.

“When you leave, you shall not return to the North, Dragon Queen or otherwise. Am I understood?” she says firmly.

Jorah nods gravely. “Yes, Your Grace, I understand,” Jorah says clearly.

“Very well, then. Lady Mormont?” she asks the Lady in front of her, as if she truly cares what the girl, a girl she rules, thinks. It surprises him.

“I understand Your Grace,” she says, and Jon sees she respects the decision. “However, as its Lady I wish to state that, guest or not, he shall not be permitted travel to Bear Island at any point in his stay.”

The Queen looks at her with a small smile, genuine where the one she’d given Tyrion was practiced. By the Gods, she is even more beautiful when she truly smiles, Jon thinks. “As is your right, my Lady,” she grants with what Jon thinks is pride. A look of understanding passes between the two, and Lady Mormont (Lyanna) returns to her seat, Jorah slinking gratefully to the back of the room once more.

Jon takes a moment to appreciate this—they are not losing their heads, after all. But he also recognizes the Queen’s deft handling of the situation. He notices her seemingly genuine account for Lady Mormont’s thoughts. He notices that when she emphasizes Jorah as a guest, she refers to his aunt as the Dragon Queen rather than Queen Daenerys, signaling the knowledge of what might come upon them if they were to incur his aunt’s wrath, without stating it outright. He even notices—when he thinks on it for a while—the way she’d called Jorah a guest of Winterfell, and he thinks she was subtly giving the opening to Lady Mormont to banish him from Bear Island, a compromise the Lady could accept. Yes, he thinks, Queen Sansa is not just beautiful and graceful; she is an adept politician, respected by her people.

And Jon thinks, not for the first time since his arrival, that he is out of his depth.

---

The first thing Sansa notices (and she cannot help but notice) is that Prince Jon has the look of the North, not of the silver haired Targaryens. In fact, he looks a good deal (don’t think it) like her own father. But when he comes closer and she looks from him to Arya, she thinks the resemblance between them is even stronger. She thinks (don’t think it) that Prince Jon and Arya look more like siblings than she and Arya. It is a bitter thought, borne from those years when Arya preferred their brothers and Sansa had felt that Arya barely considered her a sister; and when she and Arya fought over their differences. She dismisses the thought immediately. They are women grown now, not just sisters but friends. The past is done, and she will not hold on to old resentments.

And she certainly cannot afford to let such things as Prince Jon’s resemblance disconcert her. She needs her wits about her now more than ever. The Dragon Queen may not be in Sansa’s home, her dragons may be South, but she knows what this party is here for. She knows that since the Walkers (Robb, her heart lurches), this is the biggest threat the North has faced. And now, unlike then, she is Queen. The first Queen in the North to rule. Unmarried. Her position, she knows, is tenuous. Despite the North’s support of her now, she still remembers how she and Robb struggled to win back their home once he emerged alive and they’d reunited in the Vale, after everyone thought him dead at the Red Wedding. How the Umbers handed Rickon to Ramsay Bolton—how she and Robb won Winterfell, and even as Robb was King in the North once more, they still failed to save the youngest of their pack. The North was still far more loyal than the South, but she needed to be careful.

And she knew the North would never bend. Sansa knew that if she tried to bend the people of the North would rise up against her. No, the Dragon Queen could not hold the North. Arya had the right of it when she said they would rather burn. And Sansa was the same. She would rather die than allow herself and her home be left to the whims of yet another Southern ruler who knew nothing of the North. Compromising the safety of her home and family. No, better to die than to constantly live in fear.

And clearly this Dragon Queen knew nothing of the North since she had foolishly sent Jorah Mormont here, as if his heritage would make him welcome after he had been exiled. And from the look of Prince Jon when the lords and ladies reacted, she was starting to think he was never told of Jorah’s exile. His aunt had sent him here, Sansa was sure, because of his blood, and it was quite an advantage that he had the look of the North, but she bungled her own efforts with Jorah Mormont and most likely leaving her nephew in the dark. While Sansa could almost take pleasure at the thought of the Dragon Queen’s incompetence, she knew that incompetence did not make her less dangerous, certainly not with dragons. It might, Sansa feared, make her even more dangerous if she felt she had to use brute force because she did not know any other way to claim her power.

She needed to meet with her council and quickly. She knew it would not be easy. Ser Davos, her Hand, was angry that Tyrion was there, as he remembered the wildfire that killed his son. Arya was angry much like Lady Lyanna about Jorah, much like Ser Davos about Tyrion, angry that any emissaries were sent by the Dragon Queen in the first place, and that Prince Jon should resemble her and their father.

“How dare he come here looking like that. Thinking he’s one of us,” Arya says to her. Sansa knew her anger at Prince Jon’s appearance was irrational, but Sansa also understood, it had thrown her as well, if not angered her.

The rest of her council, Davos, Lord Royce, Brienne, Meera Reed, Bran, and Maester Samwell Tarly entered the chambers as Sansa replied to her, diplomatically: “it isn’t as if he can change his face, Arya. Not like you, anyway,” she said, smirking, knowing this would settle Arya at least a little. Arya tried to scowl, but Sansa could see the faint smile underneath it.

Most took their seats while Brienne stood to Sansa’s back, as if she needed to guard her closely, even here. Davos sighed, and looked to her, “You’ve handled Jorah Mormont well, Your Grace,” he said. Davos, the Gods bless him, tried to start every meeting with something positive.

“Thank you, Ser Davos,” she said and seated herself while Arya paced about the room. Usually, Arya would sit down with the rest. Her wild spirit was still about her, but since she had become Sansa’s Master of Whisperers, Arya had gained an ability to sit still and have discussions, whereas before she preferred to handle things with Needle. She was learning, slowly, as Sansa had done herself, the importance of subtler ways of influence. Of course, she was still the fearsome warrior, but she was more measured than before. Watching her sister pace about now, she found herself growing worried that, with recent developments, Arya’s anger may get the best of her.

But Sansa decided for the moment to leave it be. Arya might process her feelings better that way, without Sansa interfering and acting, as Arya claimed, like Mother. She couldn’t help it sometimes, Arya was her little sister and she wanted to protect her; maybe she couldn’t do it as Arya would protect her, but Sansa could care for her. Could help her. After thinking she was alone for so long, she wanted to cling to Arya and Bran, but she knew that she must restrain herself at times. Just as Arya was learning to restrain her anger and its resulting impulses.

“And Prince Jon, what are your impressions?” she asks the group before her. She has her own, of course, but she hopes that soliciting their opinions first will make them more honest, instead of feeling they had to agree with her.

“Well, he’s a Gods-damned Targaryen for one,” Arya mutters.

“Very astute, Arya,” Meera said, smirking as she looks at her.

Arya narrowed her eyes briefly but said nothing further. “He’s—I don’t know, Your Grace,” Ser Davos said, shaking his head. “He seemed not to know of Ser Jorah,” he said.

Sansa smiled. “Yes, I thought that as well.”

“It makes you wonder exactly how much sway he has with his Queen, how capable she finds him,” Ser Davos said.

“And remember that he was a bastard until Daenerys legitimized him,” Samwell pointed out. “And she didn’t legitimize him until she took the Throne and named him her heir—it could be that she has considered him less than legitimate in practice until now. Neglecting to tell him may suggest a lack of faith.”

“I suppose it could, but she still sent him here as an emissary, that cannot be taken lightly,” Meera says.

“I agree with Meera,” Lord Royce says. “Prince Jon, whatever he may be personally, is here for one reason: to bring the North into the fold.” Sansa nods. They all make good points.

“Bran, what do you think?” she asked. Bran is…whatever Bran is now. He is still her brother, and she knows he’s more than just the Three Eyed Raven (Meera’s presence helped with that) but he’s also more detached. She can easily become frustrated with him when he speaks in riddles. Yet, she always looks to him for insights. His abilities had helped them defeat the Night King, after all.

“The Dragon Queen is a threat,” he says, instead of offering thoughts on their cousin.

“Yes?” she prompts him.

Bran is quiet for a moment. He can’t read minds (she doesn’t think, anyway) but he can see into peoples’ histories, as she knew all too well. He contemplated his next words, she could tell. “However, I don’t get the sense that Prince Jon is a sycophant, as many of her followers are.”

Sansa inhales sharply at that, thinking of how the sycophants enabled Joffrey. (Meryn Trant is dead—Arya killed him; she reminds herself). “And Lord Tyrion?” she asks. Sansa is wary of her former husband. He was kind to her, and for that she was grateful, and she did feel some fondness for him, even as he also caused her discomfort as she remembered their time as man and wife. However, she could see that Tyrion had continued his copious drinking, and she had the sense that it was starting to compromise his judgment. And whatever his kindnesses, he still supported his family, helping to secure Joffrey’s power with his strategizing and wildfire in the Blackwater; only turning from them when he had no choice, when they had both been blamed for Joffrey’s murder.

“He’s more of a sycophant,” Bran says, and she thinks something about his expression echoes her own disappointment. Disappointed, but not surprised, ultimately.

“And what of marriage?” Davos asks and Sansa turns her head toward him. She knew it was a possibility, that the Dragon Queen would want to renew her marriage to Tyrion, but somehow Sansa still feels disturbed to discuss it.

“Marriage?” she asks, expecting Davos to say more. She knows he doesn’t want her to marry Tyrion, but she wonders what his thoughts are on how they can avoid it without insult.

“Lord Tyrion may want to renew the marriage, but we can easily argue such a marriage would be untenable. As Hand of the Dragon Queen, the two of you will not even live in the same kingdoms,” he said.

“Some might say that’s an advantage,” she says, smiling. She can’t help but joke a little and Davos gives her an indulgent grin, one that reminds her of her father.

“That may be Your Grace, but I worry more on how we refuse an offer of marriage from Prince Jon,” Davos said.

“He is her heir,” Sansa said, thinking surely the Queen must mean to eventually make him her Consort. Yes, he is her nephew, but they are Targaryens. Would she not want children with Prince Jon, keeping their bloodlines purer? She thinks with distaste. The Targaryens always believed they were above all other nobles and smallfolk alike with their blood of Old Valyria.

“And if Prince Jon were to have children with you, they would inherit the Iron Throne, bringing the North back into the fold,” he said.

“Well, that is one way of subjugating the North, yes,” she reasons, “but I have a hard time imagining she would want even more Stark blood in her direct heirs, why not make Jon her Consort and have his children—”

“She can’t have children,” Bran said suddenly, cutting Sansa off.

She felt a sinking sensation in her stomach. “What?” she asks.

“She can’t have children. I’ve seen it, she was cursed by a witch after she used her for her blood magic,” Bran says flatly.

“And you’re just telling us this now?” Arya snaps at Bran.

“You’re the Master of Whisperers Arya, why didn’t you already know?” Meera snaps. Sansa suspects this is coming from her love and defense of Bran—but she’s a bit worried she might have to pull Meera and her sister apart one day.

“How long has she been here?” Arya says just as defensively. “Two moons? You can’t expect me to—”

Lord Royce tries to interrupt “maybe we should take a break—”

Meera interrupts his interruption: “And you couldn’t get information from Essos? You lived there—”

“Tyrion had to have known,” Davos spat.

“I made enemies in Essos—” said Arya.

“Enemies are everywhere—”

“Enough!” Sansa says and the room quiets instantly. She really doesn’t mean to snap, but she finds it can be effective. Such a behavior would have seemed unladylike to her in the past. Now, perhaps it would be… unqueenly? Yet, just as she’s seen there’s more than one way to be a Lady, perhaps there is more than one way to be a Queen.

She is frustrated by this development, but she evens out her breaths before looking to Bran and asking plainly: “Bran, why didn’t you tell us this before?” she keeps the accusation out of her tone. She wants to understand her brother. She really does.

Bran looks down at his lap for a moment, and Sansa wonders if he is actually feeling ashamed. And if so, why? He looks back up at her.

“I…I couldn’t see it, not at first. Essos… it isn’t Westeros, and the power the Raven draws from is deeply rooted to the land. At first, I caught glimpses of things that I couldn’t make sense of,” he pauses and looks off into the distance, contemplating. “It was like when I was first training with the Three Eyed Raven, and I needed guidance for understanding what I saw. But…I did see it clearly once she reached Dragonstone. I wanted to tell you,” he looks at Sansa, hesitantly, “but it wasn’t the right time.”

Sansa closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose, quelling back her words of frustration. It is maddening, when he says things like this. She hears Arya snort. But she forces herself to consider that Bran has reasons for doing what he does, however flippant he comes across. They never would have defeated the dead and the Night King without him, and she cannot dismiss him.

She looks back at her baby brother. “So now it is the right time?”

She thinks she sees a hint of relief in his eyes. The tiny expressions, they give her hope. He nods. “Yes, it’s the right time.”

Arya huffs and finally seats herself at the table for the first time in the meeting. “Now what, then?”

Sansa feels a claw of terror in her throat, as if threatening to cut off her air. She will not be chained. She will not. She shakes her head and sighs. “This changes everything.”

Chapter Text

Now Sansa was the one pacing. Not because she was angry. And not because she was nervous, or so she told herself. That initial shock and fear were subsiding as she paced about the room, thinking. Walking helped her think, whether it was going to inspect the glass gardens, crossing the courtyard with Ghost at her side as she checked on repairs, or even stopping to watch the odd sparring match or training between Brienne and those who would be her fighters if they went to war.

If.

She hoped to avoid that outcome, if she could help it. But the revelation that the Dragon Queen could not have children was a new, complicating factor.

“I say we send word to all the kingdoms,” Lord Royce said. “The lords and ladies of each kingdom should know that their new Queen cannot secure an heir.”

Sansa stopped mid-stride to look at her other advisers’ reactions. Arya looked at Sansa, concern and possibly even fear in her eyes. Meera raised a brow as she turned to Lord Royce, “it’s risky,” she said.

“Don’t you think the people have the right to know?” he asked.

“We could provoke her,” Davos said. He studied Sansa now. “What are you thinking, Your Grace?”

Sometimes when people addressed her in such a way, Sansa felt that Robb was in the room. That Robb, somehow, was still there. But he was not here anymore to protect her, as he’d done when he found her in the Vale, and in all the time he spent after proving to her he would not make the same mistakes, would not abandon her as he’d left her in King’s Landing. He’d refused any requests for Sansa’s hand, and in moments like this, she couldn’t help but think maybe being Lady of Winterfell kept her in more control of her life than being Queen. A Queen would have to marry eventually. She had to think through all of the possibilities, all of the implications.

She took a deep breath before answering her Hand. “If we were to send word to the Kingdoms, then it could cause greater political pressure for Prince Jon to make a match. If the Dragon Queen and her advisers see me as a prospect, that could create more pressure for us. However, it might also inspire houses throughout the Six Kingdoms to pursue a betrothal to Prince Jon.”

“How many noble houses in the Six Kingdoms have viable matches? Women of marriageable and childbearing age?” Samwell asked.

“Not many,” Sansa breathed. “The War of the Five Kings took from nearly every kingdom in one way or another. No, I don’t think there are many whom the Dragon Queen would accept.”

They cannot force her into a marriage, Sansa thought. She was a Queen and she had to marry, but that didn’t mean this new Targaryen Queen would choose. Sansa anticipated that she would eventually marry a man from a lesser Northern house who would take the Stark name and serve as her Consort. And crucially, it was what the North anticipated.

But there were too many factors here to consider before Sansa could reveal this to the lower Six Kingdoms. “We will keep this among ourselves for now. If they pursue a match between myself and Prince Jon, then they will be forced to confront the matter one way or another. We wait and we learn what we can. Arya?”

Her sister was at her side in an instant. “You will need to get as much information on Prince Jon, Tyrion, and what they’re planning as you can. Can you follow them around discreetly?”

Arya raised a brow at her. “Do you doubt me?”

Despite everything, Sansa finds herself smiling. “Of course not.” She turned to look at her council. “We meet with Prince Jon and Lord Tyrion later today—”

“No Jorah?” Meera asked.

“No Jorah. At least on this, the Prince has been clear. We should all take a rest and prepare.”

As she dismissed her council, Davos lingered. “Yes?” she looked up at him. He had a thoughtful look on his face. Sansa knew well enough that Davos had a good mind for politics, and that people often underestimated him due to his plainspoken ways and gruff demeanor in the South. On that, they had something in common. Her courtesies had allowed people to think her frivolous. Perhaps at one point it was true. But no longer.

Davos studied her a moment longer before speaking. “Do you think they will pursue a betrothal first or demand you bend the knee?”

Sansa sighed. “I doubt the Mother of Dragons is the subtle type. I expect they will demand the North bend.”

“If I may, Your Grace, I have seen the way Prince Jon looks at you. Perhaps his desire will lead him to pursue betrothal first—whatever his aunt’s plans.”

Sansa shook her head. “Desire and marriage have little to do with each other, wouldn’t you say?” She’d lost romantic fantasies long ago. It was easy enough for a man to find a woman to sate his desires without marriage, especially one as comely as Prince Jon.

“Perhaps not. In any case, will you have an answer prepared?” he asked.

Of course, she knew her answer. “The same one I’ll give them when they demand I bend the knee—I will refuse.”

---

Jon notices Ser Davos, the Hand of Queen Sansa, is glaring at Tyrion. As the two chief diplomats for the Queens, Jon knows this is not good. But when he looks over at Tyrion, kindly smiling to everyone, either acting or for true oblivious, Jon considers that the man is not the chief diplomat. Not here, anyway. Jon is the emissary, after all. Somehow, after always being by the wayside as the Northern bastard, as Viserys used to say, he is supposed to be in charge, and he has to keep reminding himself of it. He needs to make the best of all his years observing silently. Meetings such as these were always tense with his aunt. She always had a very particular idea of how things were supposed to go, and voicing alternatives was not often appreciated. It had only gotten worse since she’d taken the Throne in King’s Landing. Her victory had given her the confidence that she had everything under control—but she and Jon had not been in the Realm since they were babes. Everything was foreign to them. It felt as if Jon was just beginning to understand how things worked in the South before he was sent North. He’d known all along that the North was supposedly different from everywhere else. He wasn’t sure how to approach this meeting.

And then the Queen in the North arrives. Practically floats in from his perspective, as if her feet never touch the ground. His throat feels dry and his heart beats a little faster as he rises to his feet at her entrance along with everyone else. She looks about the room with a soft smile and Jon tries to return it when her eyes flit to him. That damn flutter in his stomach is back.

He doesn’t know what’s wrong with him. It isn’t as if he’s never seen a beautiful woman before (though none as beautiful as Sansa) and yet, he doesn’t remember feeling this besotted by a woman ever in his life. This curiosity to know her, this infatuation that makes him wish he could make her laugh, this attraction he can feel shoot through his body instantly the moment she enters the room. It’s unsettling. And exciting. It makes him want to run away. It makes him want to lean closer.

Sansa and the rest of the group is seated, and Sansa has begun talking. But Jon, Gods help him, can barely follow what she’s saying because he keeps staring at her mouth. Her rosy pink lips, lips he wants to sink his teeth into. A mouth he wants to learn the taste of. It is only when he feels the tightening in his breeches that he remembers to reprimand himself.

Get ahold of yourself!

Sansa clears her throat. He thinks she is signaling to him to get his head out of his arse and listen to what she’s saying. He coughs, hoping to pass his depravity off as some momentary congestion. He is new to the Northern climate after all.  

“As I was saying,” Sansa continues, “we are honored to receive you here in the North. As a fellow sovereign, I can appreciate Queen Daenerys’s efforts to remove Cersei Lannister from power. I hope this will mark the beginning of a long friendship between the North and the lower Six Kingdoms.” There are murmurs of agreement from her side. She’d gotten right to the point, Jon thought. Yes, the North was different in its politics. And there is no mistaking the implication. Sansa is stating that she will not bend the knee, before they’ve had the chance to ask.

Ask, Jon? Really?

Okay, he knows his aunt means to command it. But the situation they find themselves in is delicate. The North had declared its independence long before Daenerys arrived in Westeros. Taking the Iron Throne did not automatically cede the North.

Try telling my aunt that, though.

Tyrion clears his throat from beside him and leans forward, looking to Sansa. “My Lady,” he begins.

And immediately Northerners are jumping from their seats, voices raising. Jon looks over at the man and glares. He is going to have seclude him the same as Jorah, Jon thinks. Tyrion winces, but he also seems a bit taken aback by the reaction.

Sansa raises a commanding hand to her people, and without her utterance of a single word they begin to sit themselves back down, albeit with some grumbling. Princess Arya scowls and Jon thinks if looks could kill, this would surely do it.

It is Davos who first speaks, voice grave, face drawn in a kind of weathered disapproval. “You will speak to the Queen in the North with respect and as befitting her title, my lord. Guests should not be discourteous.”

Tyrion almost looks chagrined—almost. “Forgive me, my lord.”

“Do not apologize to me,” Davos smacks a fist on the table, startling nearly all. Sansa leans toward the man, placing a hand to his forearm, and he thinks he hears her whisper his name softly. Her face softens too, concern alighting her features. Davos calms slightly, nodding to Sansa, but his eyes harden once again when he looks at Tyrion. “Not unless it is for what you did to my son.”

“Your son? I’m afraid I don’t follow—”

“Apologize to the Queen,” Davos cuts him off. Tyrion straightens in his chair.

He looks to Sansa then. “I apologize, Your Grace,” he says.

Sansa does not let herself show satisfaction, but Jon suspects she feels it. Honestly, he hates to admit it, because Tyrion is only making his job more difficult, but even he feels some measure of satisfaction at seeing Tyrion held to account for his impertinence. He’s never beheld such a thing before. “Thank you, my lord,” she says.

Jon feels the need to redirect. Yet, most of his worst fears seem to be coming true. There is no way his aunt will be happy. And he thinks the Starks may kick him out of the North, before he gets to learn anything of his mother. “We greatly appreciate the North’s hospitality and welcome on this visit,” he says.

Sansa looks over to him and nods. Gods, but those eyes.

“I imagine my aunt would admire you, Your Grace,” he says. He doubts flattery will work with her. He can see how clearly different Sansa and the rest of them are from his aunt, or the Southerners in general. But he also thinks this is the truth, she’d admire her (even if she wanted to burn Sansa alive) and it may establish some common ground.

“How kind of you to say, Prince Jon,” she says, looking at him. He thinks she may see right through him, and he can’t tell if it’s because of his undeniable attraction to her or the calm steadiness of her gaze. Maybe both. Princess Arya snorts. Sansa turns to her sister and gives her a look that has her straightening in her seat. It’s quite impressive, he thinks, the way she carries such power even without speaking.

And he doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t want to be so damned tongue-tied that he’s putting a lot of people in danger, but that seems to be the way it’s working out.

And then Tyrion starts talking. “Prince Jon is right, Your Grace. She would greatly admire you and your survival. Your leadership. You speak of friendship, and of course, we are grateful for it. But we believe that a stronger Westeros, a stronger North, can be achieved by reuniting the Seven Kingdoms as one. As it was for hundreds of years.”

“The North was independent for thousands of years before that, my lord,” Sansa says courteously but with clear authority.

“Before dragons, Your Grace,” Tyrion says. Jon’s shoulders slump. It isn’t even a subtle threat. How did they get here? And why is Jon letting it happen? But truthfully, what can he do, really? This is what his aunt sent him here for, and even as he’s tried to assume leadership on this trip, he’s really serving as his aunt’s mouthpiece, and she would have threatened the North much more forcefully than Tyrion had.

Sansa tilts her head curiously at Tyrion, ignoring the murmurs of the Northmen around her. “Are you suggesting, Lord Tyrion, that if we do not bend the knee to your Queen, she will burn us with dragon fire?”

Tyrion’s mouth hangs open slightly. It’s a good question, forcing Tyrion to either admit the threat outright or retract his implication. “I can’t speak for the Queen, Your Grace—”

“Except that is why you are here, Lord Tyrion. You are here to send a message on behalf of your Queen,” she says as she studies him with narrowed eyes. Her voice is smooth but there’s no mistaking its bite. She is a wolf, after all, Jon thought. She leans forward, her forearms resting on the table as she clasps her hands together. He hasn’t seen her quite like this before, forceful, a little angry. Strong. He likes it far more than he should admit. “Well, I have received your message, so allow me to respond, Lord Tyrion, Prince Jon,” she says and turns her gaze on him. He can’t figure out what it is he feels, to see her anger directed at him. “We will not bend. We will not kneel,” she says. “You may tell your Queen as much.”

The Northmen behind her, only a small gathering of lords and ladies compared to the Great Hall banquet, still manage a boisterous chant: “The Queen in the North! The Queen in the North! The Queen in the North!”

Sansa stands, her posture denoting finality. She looks at them with a hard and resolute gaze, and Jon feels himself shrinking back slightly. If this is what they want, she is making clear in no uncertain terms that they will not receive the North’s submission. And Jon is trying to figure out how this all went so wrong, so quickly. She makes her exit; the Northerners stop their chanting reluctantly to follow her. Jon and Tyrion remain seated, Jon feels his legs have grown too heavy to stand. This is not good. This is dangerous. Tyrion sighs.

“I thought she could be reasonable,” he says, as if confiding a deep secret to Jon. “But it seems she has inherited the Stark stubbornness.” Jon bristles at that, glancing over at Tyrion with a frown. “I mean no offense, Prince Jon. You have Stark blood, but you are not of the North. You don’t know much about their damn Northern pride.” Tyrion says with frustration in his voice.

And Jon suddenly feels angry too. Angry with Tyrion and his aunt. Granted, that isn’t exactly new, but it certainly feels like there’s a new element to it for him. Tyrion’s words, his aunt’s plans—it’s all just so presumptuous and he can’t help but think it is all self-defeating. Why couldn’t they just accept the North’s independence? Why risk war now that Daenerys had the Throne? Jon remembers one of the first strategy war councils they’d had when they reached Dragonstone. Before they’d taken King’s Landing.

---

We have the Reach and Dorne, as well as the Iron Islands’ support through Yara Greyjoy, it’s a solid base of support from within Westeros,” Tyrion said.

“Cersei is unpopular, it benefits us to highlight all of those whom she has made enemies and given enough time we should be able to turn more of the Kingdoms against her,” Varys said.

“We do not have a great deal of time, Lord Varys,” Daenerys had said, her hands on the table before her, looking up from the map to gaze at him quizzically. “Not after all the work I’ve put in to get here, not after reclaiming my ancestral seat. No, we will need to move quickly.”

Varys sighed. “I am merely stating that alliances take time.”

“Then let us speak of alliances,” Daenerys said curtly. “What of the North? It is the largest of the Seven Kingdoms, is it not?”

Tyrion and Varys shared a look between one another, a glance telling of discomfort that Jon could recognize from the men. Jon sat silently; the North had belonged to the Starks. To his mother’s family. And yet he knew so little of it.

“Your Grace,” Tyrion began hesitantly, “the North has declared its independence.”

Daenerys narrowed her eyes as she looked to her Hand. “The last King in the North, Torrhen Stark, bent the knee to my ancestor Aegon Targaryen.”

“Actually, Your Grace,” Varys said, stepping forward. “The last King in the North was Robb Stark. He was named King after his father Eddard Stark was ordered beheaded by Joffrey Baratheon.”

Daenerys furrowed her brow. “I was under the impression the Boltons held the North.”

“They did,” Varys continued. “Everyone thought Robb Stark died at the Red Wedding, but he survived, Your Grace.”

“So you are telling me there is a so-called King holding the North, now?” she snapped, looking from Tyrion to Varys and back again.

“Well, no,” Tyrion began, “it’s…” he halted for a moment before looking back to Varys. Jon was sitting up in his seat now. Robb Stark—his cousin. And his uncle had been killed by the pretender Joffrey?

“He died in another battle, Your Grace,” Varys finished for Tyrion. “His heir, his sister, Sansa Stark, has now taken the crown.”

Daenerys fixed her gaze back on Tyrion. “Your wife?”

“Ex-wife. Well, we were never truly—it wasn’t consummated.” Tyrion looked away from Jon’s aunt. Jon didn’t think he’d ever seen the man look so uncomfortable.

Daenerys looked back to Varys. “So, you mean to tell me that there is yet another so-called Queen in Westeros? A Stark?” Jon couldn’t miss the bite in her voice when the name Stark left her lips. She’d never been fond of his mother’s family. She had grown up learning how the romance of Lyanna and Rhaegar had been the downfall of their family. She loved Jon and trusted him only in so far that he embraced his Targaryen side and shunned the Stark one. He’d learned long ago to stuff his yearning down where no one would see it. It was only in his quiet moments, in his bed at night, or training alone, releasing his frustration on straw dummies, that he allowed himself to wonder of his mother, the Starks, and the North.

“Our focus now should be Cersei, Your Grace. She is the threat,” Varys said. The man had not been with them long. He still seemed not to heed the practiced lessons the rest of his aunt’s council had—to refrain from challenging Daenerys too much. “I believe the North will keep to itself if we do not pursue them.”

“It is my birthright to rule the Seven Kingdoms, Lord Varys,” Daenerys said, as if it were the most obvious truth she’d ever known. Jon supposed it was.

“It’s worth noting that the North is more isolationist, more loyal to its own, if we were to consider recognizing the North’s independence—”

“Absolutely not,” Daenerys cut Varys off. “There will only be one Queen in Westeros and her name is Daenerys Targaryen.” Her glare at Varys almost dared him to challenge her. Varys did not look away, but he said nothing further.

“For now, we focus on Cersei and taking King’s Landing. We will deal with the North after. Is that clear?” she asked him.

Jon watched Varys study his aunt’s face, and he felt that ominous churning in his gut that had become all too familiar over the years. “Yes, Your Grace,” Varys said.

“Good,” Daenerys said, but she stepped closer to him. “And remember, Lord Varys, if you ever betray me, I’ll burn you alive.” She said it so casually, Jon thought. His stomach twisted and twisted.

Varys looked at her and the ghost of a smile passed his lips. “I would expect nothing less from the Mother of Dragons.”

And that had been the end of the discussion, to Jon’s relief. They never got to speak with Varys on the North again, however.

Because only a fortnight later, Varys was dead, as Jon’s aunt made good on her threat.

---

He hadn’t forgotten the conversation. He couldn’t have, even if he tried. Was it all about titles, in the end? His aunt could not be ruler of Six Kingdoms, it had to be Seven? After all they’d done and all they’d been through—after all the death and destruction, Jon felt such a distinction paled in comparison to the things that really mattered. He was so tired of fighting. And he didn’t want to fight his cousins. How many more lives might this endeavor cost?

He’s starting to realize what he felt when Sansa directed her anger at him. He felt ashamed.

“You know what I think, Tyrion?” He brings himself to stand now, looking down at the dwarf. “I don’t think you know nearly as much as you act like you do.”

Tyrion looks offended. “Daenerys made me Hand for a reason, Jon,” he says. He grabs liquor from one of his pockets. Of course, Jon thinks bitterly.

“Yes, she did. Because you were Westerosi,” Jon says. “But you’re not of the North. Ser Jorah is exiled, which Daenerys knew but for some reason neglected to tell me—”

“Now Jon, you know how Daenerys feels about Jorah, she won’t have a bad word said about him,” Tyrion says defensively.

Jon laughs humorlessly. “You’re right, she cares for Jorah and so, what? I didn’t need to know? Despite the fact Jorah’s cousin wanted him dead, I didn’t need to know. Tyrion, if this Queen says she will not kneel even with the threat of dragon fire and her people cheer her on, I think there’s something more than just stubbornness and pride at play.”

“And what would that be, Jon?” he asks curtly, his gaze sharp as he steps away from the table.

“It clearly means a lot to them to maintain independence.”  

“Exactly, proud and stubborn,” Tyrion says. He can’t help but think Tyrion is embodying those words at the moment.

“Or perhaps, they consider it freedom,” Jon ventures. It was what his aunt supposedly stood for. He’d thought she’d meant it at one point, but he’s not sure she ever fully grasped the concept of freedom for others, not if that didn’t include loyalty to her.

Tyrion halts his steps and looks back at him, his gaze dark and meaningful. “You’re going to get yourself killed, Jon. Your aunt would consider your words treason,” he warns him. “We’re here not even a fortnight and you’re ready to give up the North?”

It isn’t mine to give, he thinks but doesn’t say. It would be too far for Tyrion. “If my aunt were here, what do you think she’d do after that conversation?” he asks. Jon suspects he already knows, but he genuinely wonders what Tyrion’s thoughts are. He’s pretty sure the man worships her like all of her followers. But warning Jon as he just did, surely Tyrion must know something of her nature just as Jon does.

“Burn them all,” he says darkly, his eyes glazing in a way they often do when he’s drunk, but now there is something clearly sober about it.

Jon knows it, too. But he has to think strategically—has to give Tyrion some reason not to immediately tell his aunt. “Do you think burning an entire kingdom to the ground a few moons into her reign will help her image with the other kingdoms?” Pragmatism. Tyrion always responds to it.

Tyrion sighs. “No,” he says. He looks back at Jon. “So, what do you propose we do? Are you ready to ask for her hand?”

Truthfully, Jon has been trying not to think about that scheme Tyrion and his aunt plotted. It rankled him, the idea of marrying a woman who was a stranger. He didn’t know whether he would like her, or she would like him, if they could grow to love one another. He also didn’t want to force a woman to marry him. His aunt hadn’t been happy when it happened to her, but she was somehow okay with forcing it on another woman. And Jon knew she’d already been forced into a marriage with Tyrion.

But—meeting Sansa, seeing not only her beauty but her intelligence, her care for her people and her leadership—the idea of marrying her was incredibly tempting. He still had all the reasons to oppose it as he did before. He just hadn’t anticipated reasons that made him want to marry her. He wanted it—wanted her, far too much. It wouldn’t be about politics for him. But it would still have political consequences; ones he didn’t know how to reconcile. And surely, Sansa would know why the offer had been made. She and her council likely already anticipated it.

He shakes his head. “I think we both know that wouldn’t be easy to get her to agree with,” he says. He holds back all his other feelings about it—he needs to think clearly.

Tyrion sighs again, takes a drink of his wine. “I suppose you’re right.” He looks at Jon and studies him for a moment, and Jon feels uncomfortable at the way Tyrion appraises him. “You know, maybe we don’t have to go there just yet,” he says. “Maybe we can take a little time, you get to know your cousins, show an interest in the North and learning about your mother, and perhaps the people and most importantly, the Queen, will warm to you.”

Jon knows those interests are already true for him. But he supposes Tyrion doesn’t necessarily know that. It still feels wrong to him, mixing his personal troubles with all of the political implications. But at the very least, this buys him time before Tyrion sends word to his aunt. And maybe he really will get that chance to know more about his mother, her home, and her family. Jon nods. “We can take some time,” he agrees.

Chapter Text

After the disaster of the meeting, Jon counted it as a blessing (and he would count all the blessings he could get if it kept him from despair at his failures so far) that Tyrion agreed to let Jon take the lead and would not pursue further discussion save basic courtesies with the Queen, Starks, and her Hand, Ser Davos. Jon was still angry at the man as well as his aunt. For so long his Northern heritage was held against him, and now he was exploited for it. But he’d decided not to dwell on his resentments, because he knew if he kept fanning those flames, they’d never die, and his tendency to contemplate (Daenerys called it brooding) might lead him to isolate himself completely.

He couldn’t afford to do that. But he’d decided, whatever Tyrion’s advice, while he would seek to learn about the North, he would not seek out the Queen or his other two cousins about it right away. He knew they were already weary of him. Better to learn a bit on his own before seeking them out, at least on those matters. And so, he’d made his way to the castle’s library, hoping to find something worthwhile to read on the North.

There he’d found Winterfell’s Maester, a portly young fellow with a kind face. Jon didn’t think they’d been properly introduced, so he approached him.

“Hello, Maester--?”

“Oh, that’s alright,” he said, waving his hand, “just call me Sam, none of this Maester business.”

Jon chuckled lightly. “Then none of this Prince business, either, Sam,” he told him. No one ever called him Prince until he arrived in Westeros, and it still made him a bit uncomfortable when people did.

Sam smiled: “very well, Jon.”

Jon looked around the room, in which Sam seemed right at home. “Do you spend a lot of time here?” he asked. Jon hadn’t meant to engage in much conversation, but there was something about Sam he liked.

“Oh yes,” he said shyly, glancing about the room. “Always with my nose in a book, as my father would say.”

“Then perhaps you could assist me in finding something to read?”

Jon didn’t miss the way Sam’s eyes seemed to light up at the question. “Of course, what sort of book would you wish to read?”

“Anything good on the history of the North?” Jon asked hesitantly.

Sam shared a sort of secret smile with him. “An outsider feeling confused?” he asked with a knowing tilt of his head.

Jon laughed self-deprecatingly. “You could say that,” he admitted.

To his surprise, Sam reached forward and slapped him on the shoulder in camaraderie. “I know that feeling,” he said, and motioned for Jon to follow him.

“You do?” Jon asked. “Are you not from the North?”

“No, actually. I’m from the South—the Reach, specifically.”

The Reach, Jon thought and shuddered before forcing it away. He tried to keep his tone casual. “Oh? How did you end up here, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Not at all,” he said, looking at one shelf where he began sorting through tomes. “I actually came North to go to the Wall.”

“Oh—”

“Not because I’m a criminal, mind you,” Sam said. He looked back at Jon and smiled before continuing. “Far too boring for that, really.” He said, but Jon could see something in the man’s eyes. He figured there was a story there, but decided it was better not to push. “Anyway, I was scared and miserable when I first joined the Night’s Watch, but in time I made a few friends. I got on well there with Maester Aemon, he actually was the one who inspired me to go to the Citadel.”

“And how did you end up in Winterfell serving the Queen?” he asked as conversationally as possible. He figured a man such as Sam, a Southerner who’d made his own way in the North, could help him in more than just finding reading material.

Sam sighed. “That’s a bit of a long story.”

“I wouldn’t mind hearing it,” Jon said.

Sam studied him curiously for a moment, and Jon thought perhaps he’d overstepped, even if Sam appeared amiable. But then he continued. “Well, I was stationed at Castle Black, and despite the fact I was utterly terrified, I went on a ranging mission north of the Wall.” Sam shook his head, some strange combination of amusement and a haunted expression on his face. “You’ve heard of the Army of the Dead?”

Jon nodded.

“Yes, well. The stories are true, even if people don’t believe them. Stannis Baratheon came North because of it—on the word of his Red Woman.”

Jon’s brow furrowed. “A Red Priestess?” he asked. The Lord of Light had followers throughout Essos, but he hadn’t imagined a man like Stannis Baratheon to be one.

Sam nodded. “Anyway, he saw that the Dead were real. He was planning to fight them, but first he meant to take Winterfell,” he said.

“And he died in the snow?” That was how Jon had heard it.

“Yes. We thought whatever chance we might have had was gone with Stannis. My friend Ed became Lord Commander, and then we heard that Robb Stark was alive and had retaken Winterfell. There were rumors that Prince Brandon was beyond the Wall, and Ed sent a raven to the King in the North asking for an audience. King Robb and at the time, the Lady of Winterfell, Sansa, came looking to find word on Bran. Ed offered some men to look for him. It wasn’t the kind of thing the Night’s Watch typically does, but Ed knew we needed the Starks. We managed to get a wight just past the Wall for King Robb. After that, everything changed. Robb knew it was everyone’s fight, but he knew he couldn’t get all the kingdoms’ support, and the North would fall first. By the time I went to the Citadel, I was looking for any information I could on how to defeat the Dead—I was sending ravens to Ed and Robb with whatever I could find—we’d already learned dragon glass could kill them, and when we discovered there was dragon glass on Dragonstone, Davos led a party there on Robb’s orders. Before you arrived, of course,” Sam said and smiled.

“I didn’t get back North before the fight reached us. I never got to see Robb before—” Sam cut off for a moment, and he could see the man had tears in his eyes he held back and then forced away. Clearly, Robb was more than a King, but a friend to Sam.

“He was a good man,” he said, voice thick with emotion.

“I’m sure he was,” Jon said shakily, surprised to find his own voice sounding much like Sam. Somehow, he knew it to be true.

“When Sansa was named Queen, she asked if I would become her Maester. Since the Night’s Watch hardly exists anymore, and the Wall is more of a trading post between us and the free folk—it wasn’t a tough choice. I might be from the South, but this place,” Sam paused and looked around the room, gazed at the window out into the courtyard with a fond smile, “this place is home now.”

Jon can’t put words to what he feels in that moment. Home. Envious, perhaps. He’s never felt at home anywhere, not truly. Dany had always said it was because they grew up in exile. That things would be different once they’d reached Dragonstone and retook the Throne and King’s Landing. But as satisfied as his aunt was to sit on that chair, Jon didn’t find that he felt more at home. In fact, in King’s Landing, Jon had felt more lost than ever before. He doesn’t like to think there’s a bit of hope inside him at Sam’s words. Sam finds a book on the Kings of Winter and Jon holds it in his hands. He finds Sam is still looking at him, and he thinks he wants to say something but has not decided whether to do it. Jon waits. He just keeps looking at him, and Jon struggles not to squirm.

A moment later he seemed to finish deliberating and spoke. “You know, Jon, people always say the North is different, and it’s true. But people in the South, they don’t understand it, really. I didn’t. Not at first.” He shook his head. “The reason the North is different is because it had to be to survive. Winters are harsh, and so is the land. The North looks after its own because it’d fall apart otherwise, and whenever the North fails to do that, its people suffer. The North remembers because it can’t afford to forget. And now, after the North has defeated the Dead, with only the Riverlands and the Vale as help? There’s no way the North will bend to anyone outside of it. Queen Sansa understands that, and she looks after her people.”

Sam looks at him solemnly and Jon nods, swallowing thickly. “You don’t seem like a bad guy, Jon,” Sam said, studying him.

“I hope I’m not,” Jon said, feeling oddly vulnerable. As he thought over Sam’s words, he felt more like an invader than ever.

Sam shrugs. “Then don’t be a bad guy,” he said, as if it were simple. “Anyway, I need to get back to some things. I hope you enjoy it,” Sam said, motioning to the book.

Jon looked down at the tome and back to Sam. “Thanks for the help, Sam,” he said, feeling a bit awkward, but Sam merely smiled at him and left.

Jon found a chair and sat down, opening the book. Yet, he’d gotten the sense he’d learned more from Sam than whatever words he would read.

---

A few days later, Jon screws up the courage to approach Queen Sansa. Things had begun so poorly, and he knew she’d needed time before he’d be able to speak with her and it not turn out disastrous. And he’d needed to clear his head too. Funnily enough, Tyrion’s turning his attention to boozing has made things easier for him. He’s less stressed and he feels like he’s getting the lay of the castle and Winterfell now. And yes, he still feels nervous around Sansa, but without Tyrion at his side, he’s found himself growing a little more confident. He figures he can carry on a conversation, at least.

When he meets her in her solar, only she and her sworn shield Brienne are there. “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” Jon said as he sat in a chair across from her desk.

“Of course, you are my guest,” Sansa said. She was formal but not cold, exactly. Polite. Of course, she would try to be polite, but he’s hopeful that maybe she doesn’t hold Tyrion’s blunders against him too much.

“I wanted to apologize, Your Grace,” he ventured.

“For what, Prince Jon?” she asked. He wondered if she was trying to lay a trap for him.

“Lord Tyrion was unpardonably rude to you and by extension, your people, in that meeting.”

She looked at him, slightly narrowing her eyes. “Lord Tyrion already apologized.”

“Well, yes. But I really should have run him out of the meeting the second he opened his mouth,” Jon said bluntly. If the North could be straightforward, then he figured he could too. He thought he saw Sansa biting back a smile.

“Lord Tyrion has a habit of saying things other people find appalling,” she said. “I remember that. A habit of other things, too.”

Jon nodded, knowing she meant his drinking. He thought she was possibly a little saddened by it. Perhaps she did hold a certain fondness for her former husband.

“Did he tell you much of our time together in King’s Landing?” she asked. Now he was sure she was trying to make him uncomfortable, possibly to get the measure of him.

He tried not to show any discomfort. “Not much, no.” Her eyes meet his, and he felt his heartbeat quickening. Her eyes weren’t just beautiful, he realized. They were expressive, even when she worked to keep her face neutral. They were intelligent too, as if she watched things more closely than most. He found that desire to learn more about her cropping up again.

“Yes, well, I suppose it wasn’t a good time for either of us,” she said plainly, and stood up from her desk and went to her window. He wondered then if he had perhaps offended her in some way, that she wanted to put greater distance between them. “Was there anything else you needed, Prince Jon?” she said, turning back to look at him. He realized he hadn’t offended her, but that the conversation had made her uncomfortable too.

He stood from the chair and cleared his throat. “I just wanted to say,” he paused. What he wanted to say was the truth, but that truth would be undermining his aunt. However, he knew that there was no way to build a relationship with Queen Sansa or the North if he didn’t show he understood their perspective. “It was presumptuous of Lord Tyrion to ask you to bend the knee.”

She raised a brow at him but said nothing, so he continued. “After all, you’ve never even met my aunt. A ruler must look after her people, so I can understand,” he said. He thought of Varys. “Alliances take time.”

She looked at him for what felt like an interminably long time. He felt the fluttering in his stomach. Finally, she spoke. “Yes, they do,” she said. “They must be built rather than formed out of thin air.”

He nodded. Something they could agree on. That was progress, at least, wasn’t it? “Perhaps, then,” he said cautiously, “we might start over in building a relationship?” He couldn’t help but feel he was talking about more than the relationship between the North and the Six Kingdoms.

She smiled slightly, and remarkably, he thought it reached her eyes. “Yes, I believe we can.”

---

“They haven’t sent word to the Dragon Queen?” Sansa asks her sister. Arya stalks the halls wearing her many faces, and she hasn’t seen anything suggesting Prince Jon and Tyrion have communicated with the Dragon Queen through secret couriers. And Maester Tarly, whom Sansa trusts, states that he has not received any ravens from the Dragon Queen’s party to send south.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Arya says, twirling her dagger in her hand.

Sansa has to admit it’s not what she expected, and she feels nervous as she doesn’t know what it means. She had been anticipating a visit from the Dragon Queen herself and knew that her dragons would likely be with her. It filled her with an anxiety she struggled to mask in her meeting with Tyrion and Prince Jon. She couldn’t give up the North. The people wouldn’t want her to do it, threat of dragon fire be damned. She knows as much from the reception of the lords and ladies. And the word spread amongst smallfolk of the fierce Wolf Queen who would not bend—their people have become more devoted.

But she doesn’t look forward to being burnt alive; or worse yet, imagining her family, her people, and her home returned to ruin—after all the time they’d spent rebuilding. It was not her life she feared for most, but that of everyone else, and that nearly makes her second guess the choice not to bend. But if she were to do so, undoubtedly the North would look to dispose her, may try to crown Arya or Bran. It was a strange thing to realize, now that she was a Queen, just how powerless she could be over the matters that concerned her people.

But the truth is, she wants the people of the North to have their right to self-determination. They chose Robb. Then, they chose her. She couldn’t betray that trust. Still, she didn’t know what to make of the fact that Prince Jon and Tyrion’s party had remained without sending word of the North’s refusal to bend.

“We should throw them out,” Arya says. “There’s nothing left to negotiate. Leave them to the winter.”

Sansa had considered it, and strange as it was to exist in this in-between, waiting for them to leave of their own accord or summon their Queen to burn them all, she did grant them guest right. And with the winter grown more frigid since their arrival, banishment could be a death sentence. “If they die in the snow, Daenerys will come anyway, and our exiling them likely considered an act of war.”

Arya huffs in aggravation. “But I already told you Prince Jon is looking to appeal to us as a Stark. Tyrion told him he should show an interest in the North.”

“It would be unwise to throw them out now,” Bran says, sitting by the hearth in his chair.

Sansa looks over at her little brother and waits for him to say more. When he doesn’t, she decides she will try to coax more from him. Sometimes, it works, though just as often, it doesn’t. “What would you say is the wise course of action?” she asks him. She feels Arya’s eyes flitting back and forth between her and Bran.

“Prince Jon,” Bran pauses, looks to the fire and then back at her. “He’s a potential ally.”

“He’s her nephew,” Arya says skeptically.

“And our cousin,” Bran says with a small smile. Sansa doesn’t know what to make of it. She knows Jon came here to bring the North under his aunt’s control. However, she knows that Tyrion was the one who actually brought up dragons. She’d gotten the sense from that meeting that Tyrion was the one truly driving threats to the North on behalf of Daenerys. Prince Jon was oddly quiet in the meeting and in most settings she’d seen. When she considered that he may not have known of Jorah, she knew that could say something about his relationship with his aunt, but what exactly it meant was hard to discern. Did she distrust Jon? Or did she merely disregard Jorah’s liability because she was unfamiliar with Westerosi custom? Sansa couldn’t say. He’d seemed kind and genuine in his overtures to her when they met with only Brienne for company. But she knew she couldn’t simply rely on how he seemed. She had thought his meeting would involve asking for her hand, and she had been a bit testy at first with him. The fact that Prince Jon said nothing of marriage was a relief, but it also left her more confused. If Bran thought Jon could be of use, she knew she needed to hear him out.

“A potential ally? What do you mean?” Sansa asks.

Bran looks at her evenly. “The only real leadership he’s seen is his aunt, and you’re quite different.”

“And what does that mean for us Bran?” Arya asks, her patience clearly wearing thin.

Sansa looks at Bran a moment longer. “It means if he wants to learn more of the North and the Starks we should let him.” Sansa says. She looks to Bran and he nods in confirmation.

“I still say it’s risky to let them stay.” Arya cuts in. “They could be plotting right under our noses.” She crosses her arms defensively, as if she needs to prepare for an imminent fight.

“It’s safest to assume they are plotting at any point in time,” Sansa says. She looks over to her sister, whose lips have formed a snarl at the thought. “He seems to have dismissed Tyrion.” She observes. Her ex-husband was not the man he once was, and he didn’t have the mind he once possessed either. Sansa had seen the way Prince Jon looked at Tyrion, in frustration. If Tyrion was the one responsible for the threats, and Bran thought Jon was a potential ally…

“They could be lulling us into a false sense of security,” Arya says.

“That’s why you have to keep your focus now and learn what you can,” Sansa says.

“I’d rather run them through,” she says, but Sansa knows Arya is heeding her instruction, as there is something resigned in her tone.

“This is what I need you to do, Arya,” she says. Her sister meets her gaze and nods. Sansa feels a little bit of the tension she carried in her shoulders flow out of her at the sight. Arya leaves the room without another word. It is abrupt, but that is something she has come to expect from Arya now, as she devotes herself to a mission. Her sister is much changed from when they were children, and Sansa suspects much of it is due to her time in Braavos with the Faceless Men, but she doesn’t press for more detail than Arya is willing to give. It isn’t easy for Sansa to share her stories, either.

“There’s more,” Bran says, calling her attention back to him.

“More?” she raises her brow. She honestly can’t remember a time since their reunion that Bran has been this forthcoming. She knows it must mean something.

He nods and sighs, running a hand tiredly down his face. The motion of it is so human, so unlike his detached Raven mannerisms that it takes her aback. She doesn’t know whether to be happy for it or to be frightened. “You need to spend time with him. Answer some of his questions. Make him feel like he can belong here,” Bran tells her, shifting in his chair. He is uncomfortable, Sansa realizes, to be giving her such instruction.

“Me?” Sansa asks and Bran nods. She hadn’t expected this. But her mind goes back to the potential for a marriage proposal. It hadn’t come up, but she suspected it still could, especially as it appeared Prince Jon had not alerted his aunt to their refusal to bend the knee. “Belong here? Bran, you’re not suggesting—”

“That you marry him? No. Not for the time being, anyway,” he says, and she sees the slightest quirk of his lips.

Ah, so he had seen the way Prince Jon had looked at Sansa in that meeting before Tyrion had repeatedly put his foot in his mouth. For her part, she had tried not to look at him at all, really. But Gods, she wasn’t sure if any man had ever looked at her the way he did. With desire, yes, of which she was quite familiar in a man’s gaze—but something else, something more that she couldn’t name. And she couldn’t deny the man was quite handsome. The way he looked at her stirred something in her that was foreign and unsettling.

“But if we show him the North and the Starks, he will understand us better. We can use that,” he tells her.

Something about the way he says it bothers her. She knows he’s right. Of course, she didn’t relish playing the game, but she knew she had to. Prince Jon—she can’t quite figure him out. And now Bran has made it more confusing than ever. A potential ally? An enemy or a possible friend? Indisputably, he is their kin. She will have to follow Bran’s word—and perhaps she will have a better opportunity to read him.

---

When Jon asks to see the crypts, something hesitant and hopeful in his eyes, Sansa does not like the unfurling sensation she has in her stomach—a fear of the ghosts that haunt her. But she remembers what Bran had told her. A potential ally. And even if her brother hadn’t, she looks at Prince Jon, her cousin, and thinks she could not deny him the opportunity to see his mother’s statue.

What do you think father would think? Arya’s words come back to her. She knows she cannot afford to follow her father’s footsteps in everything. But she knows without a doubt what he would do here, and she can’t bring herself to choose differently.

So, she escorts Prince Jon to the crypts. They both carry torches. She’s grateful for only dim lighting here, because this trip with another Stark, not in name but in blood, and a virtual stranger to her, stirs emotions she cannot fully comprehend. She doesn’t wish to look upon the Prince for too long or have him look upon her. She leads him to her aunt’s statue; some blue winter roses are laid at her feet from Sansa’s last visit. She hears his sharp inhale of breath as he looks upon the stone visage of his mother.

Neither of them speaks for a while. He continues to stare at Lyanna’s statue and Sansa finds herself moving away from him—from them—slightly, to grant some privacy, and his yearning expression drawing her to her own father’s statue. She’s become so used to the quiet here in the crypts that she jumps a little when he speaks.

“I’ve never known much about her,” he says. He turns and looks to where she stands, but does not move closer, remaining by his mother’s statue. She looks over at him. His eyes are too earnest. His longing laid too bare. She feels a twinge of sympathy.

“Did your father speak much about her?” he asks, now inching closer to her and her father’s statue, eyes scanning the man’s likeness. She’s always found the statue lacking, in truth. But it also feels to her that she’s almost forgotten his face, whether she could commission a more accurate rendering is not something she knows for certain after all this time. It still nauseates her to think of that last image of him, his head on a spike as she was forced to look. (As long as it pleases me). She knows his features didn’t look the same then.

She clears her throat. “He spoke of her sometimes,” she says cautiously. She thinks he will be disappointed and turns back to her father’s statue, so she doesn’t have to look upon it. “It was hard for him to speak of her—painful,” she admits. “He loved her quite dearly,” she says.

She feels him move to stand beside her, looking at her father’s visage. His posture is stiff, and she has to refrain from recoiling at his closeness.

“Do you remember anything he told you?” he asks. She looks over at him, but he still looks upon her father, and in fact, she thinks he is decidedly avoiding looking at her as he asks. She looks away from him.

She breathes in deep, letting some of the memories she normally avoided come back to her. “He said she was a real spitfire,” she says, a slight smile coming to her face. “No one could tell her what to do; how to be a proper lady. She had no interest in it. Apparently, she once posed as a man so she could compete in a tourney,” she says, a slight giggle falling from her lips. Her father’s joy, when not overshadowed with grief, as he reminisced seems to flow through her.

“Really?” he asks, in something like wonderment. She looks over at him and this time, he’s looking at her. His face is so open and curious.

“Yes,” she says. “My father said that in many ways Arya reminded him of her. But in other ways, I was like her too.”

She hadn’t thought through what she’d said until the words had already left her. It scares her.

“How so?” he inquires, turning his body toward her and she instinctively takes a step back. His eyes follow the motion before he meets her gaze again. He doesn’t step closer, and for that she is grateful.

She sticks to what feels safest: “Well, Arya never really liked to do as told either. She always hated it whenever anyone called her a lady. She was much more interested in training with bows and arrows and swords with our brothers than learning embroidery or how to run a keep in our lessons.”

His eyes are soft and warm as he studies her. “And you?” he asks.

She was hoping he wouldn’t ask. She sighs and looks away from him. “It was a long time ago.” She can tell he wants to ask more, but he doesn’t.

When they begin to walk back from the crypts, and extinguish their torches, he looks at her and smiles.

(She will not acknowledge the way her stomach flips at the sight of it).

“Thank you, Sansa, for letting me see it,” he tells her. His voice is warm, and his words are sincere. Bran was right, she realizes, not that she ever really doubted him. Jon wants to belong. It makes her wonder of his life, and his relationship with his father’s family. Had they ever made him feel like he belonged?

“Of course, Jon, you have Stark blood—and every right to be there,” she tells him. And Sansa doesn’t know if she’s saying it for his benefit or if she is merely following Bran’s advice. This man confuses her. He smiles at her again.

It is only after he has left her that she realizes it. They’d said each other’s first names without titles or formalities of any kind.

---

Jon is watching Princess Arya training in the courtyard with the Lady Brienne. He almost thinks about challenging her to a spar, seeing how deftly she moves, and especially noting how some of her style looks more Essosi. He wonders what training she’s received, if she’d even been to Essos. But he knows better than to ask and knows he shouldn’t challenge her to a spar. It’s clear to him that Princess Arya hates him. Frankly, he thinks if he were to spar with her, she might use the opportunity to kill him. Still, he remembers Sansa’s words about how his uncle compared her to his mother, in her nontraditional pursuits, and so he watches just a little longer, trying to imagine a time his mother may have stood on the same ground and sparred just as his cousin does now.

He's still curious about what ways Sansa is similar to his mother. She’d evaded his questions about it, so he dropped it despite wanting to know more. What did his mother and Sansa have in common? And there were other questions he’d wanted to ask. Questions he couldn’t ask, either because they were inappropriate, or because he was terrified of the answers. Perhaps it was both.

Did your father hate me for killing his little sister? Did the Starks ever want to know me? Did your father know if my mother wanted me? If my mother truly loved my father?

He isn’t sure Sansa would have the answers to these questions anyway, but he found that he wanted to confide in her his doubts and fears. He remembers how she looked in that meeting, when she was angry with him and Tyrion. (Mostly Tyrion, he hopes). But she’d been kind when he asked if he could visit the crypts. When she told him a little of his mother, when she’d seemed a little less guarded, in that moment, he wanted to hold her and kiss her so much that it physically ached when he looked upon her. He still doesn’t understand how he could feel so strongly about her when they barely know each other, but he can’t deny those feelings are there.

Tyrion asks him for a report in the evening in the solar of his guest chambers. He wants to know how Jon is progressing in his efforts to win over the Starks and Sansa in particular. How open she might be to bending the knee if given certain concessions. He’d floated the idea of giving the North an arrangement similar to Dorne, with some degree of independence. Sansa would no longer be Queen, but she would still be a Princess. Perhaps they could present it to Daenerys, but Jon doubted his aunt would go for such an arrangement and told Tyrion as much.

“If she considers such a thing for the North, she surely will think of the other kingdoms desiring the same. Do you think she could be persuaded to name all wardens of the kingdoms Princes and Princesses—to grant them that much power?” he asks. Truthfully, he thinks it would be better if his aunt were open to such compromises, because she wasn’t very interested in the minutia of ruling. But he’d known her from the time they were children and he knew granting that much independence would feel like weakness to her. She never wanted to be weak. He understood it to some extent, he knows they both had suffered and while he may not personally know the experience, he does understand that being a woman in power is complicated.

But then he finds himself thinking of Sansa. She certainly came across as strong when she was ruling, but he’d also seen her kindness and consideration of her people. Genuine interest in their wellbeing. The way she truly solicited feedback from lower nobles and smallfolk alike. There was in fact a way, he’d found, that a woman in power could be both strong and generous. Maybe he realizes it because he’s spent far too long observing Sansa and thinking about why that is certainly complicates things.

Tyrion merely shook his head and sighed, reaching for his drink. “And what of marriage?” he asks.

Jon bites his lip. He does not want to have this conversation. “You are a handsome young man, Jon,” Tyrion says.

Jon smirks. “Is this a proposal?” he asks, hoping to deflect Tyrion.

But Tyrion chuckles and returns to the topic. “You might appeal to her, Jon. Seduce her. If she falls in love with you, she may well give up the North so you may marry.” He drinks from his tankard.

Jon clenches his fist. Tyrion’s words make him angry, but he doesn’t want the man to see it. He looks away from the man, so he won’t see Jon’s scowl. It makes him angrier than it should, Jon thinks. But listening to Tyrion—if she falls in love with you—knowing he means for Jon to use her emotions to subjugate the North, has him seeing red. He can’t do that.

Especially because—if she falls in love with you—he would want it to be for real, not because he was manipulating her. He would want it to be because she is falling for him in the way he is falling for her. And the realization of how much he wants that sinks deeper into his skin. Is he already falling in love with her? He couldn’t possibly be so quickly, could he? No, he’s not in love with Sansa, but he can imagine it happening very easily—in a way he hadn’t with anyone before.

“She wouldn’t give up the North even if she fell in love,” he says instead.

“You seem quite sure of that,” Tyrion says, eyeing him in a way that leaves Jon uneasy, but he says nothing in response. Better to say nothing, he thinks, than to give himself away further. Tyrion rolls his eyes and steps from his chair on unsteady feet, seemingly bored with the conversation. He grabs his tankard and makes for the door. “Sometimes you are too honorable for your own good,” Tyrion tells him. Jon narrows his eyes at the dwarf’s retreating form.

Lying in bed that night, he realizes there may be no safe solution to this predicament. Because the more he thinks on it, the more he feels not only that he is falling or could fall for Sansa, but that he doesn’t want to see her, or her people, bend. That would make him, at least in his aunt’s eyes, a traitor, if only in his heart.

And he knows what his aunt does to traitors.

Chapter Text

Arya bursts into her solar unceremoniously in the morning, when Sansa has decided to break her fast here, as she looks over the grain shipments to be sent to other holdfasts throughout the North. The winter has hit everyone hard. Brienne is up and out of her seat, clutching her sword before she sees it is only Arya.

“Seven Hells,” Brienne says and sighs. “Do not do that, Princess.”

“I’ll stop bursting in when you stop calling me Princess,” Arya says and smirks at her. She closes the door behind her and latches it. When she turns back to Sansa, her face is more serious.

“News?” Sansa asks. Arya nods and sits in front of Sansa’s desk.

“I listened to Tyrion and the Prince speaking last night.” Arya looks angry, her hands balling into fists in her lap.

“And?” she asks.

“And Tyrion wants Prince Jon to seduce you,” she spits, her disgust apparent in her scowl. “The imp thinks if you fall in love you might marry him and bend the knee.”

Sansa stiffens in her chair. It is not surprising, but it hits her sharply. Is that why Jon looked at her the way he did? She tries not to think about what this is making her feel. But, oh, it is making her feel something. Something tight gripping in her chest and twisting. She’s not sure what it is, but she doesn’t like it. Not at all. She shakes her head. What she feels is irrelevant. What matters is protecting the North. “And what did Prince Jon say? Have they already begun such efforts?”

“As far as I can tell, no. It sounds like Tyrion had brought it up for the first time.” And she can identify a new feeling now—relief. But it twists around inside her again because why would she feel relief to think the way Jon looked at her was genuine? Suddenly feeling like a girl again; foolish. She tried to push it away. She focused on Arya’s words.

 “And Prince Jon didn’t say much. All he said was you wouldn’t give up the North even if you were in love,” she says.

Sansa doesn’t know what to make of that. It is true, certainly, but how is it that Jon could know that? He doesn’t know her well at all. It is disconcerting, to think what she has revealed of herself. But hadn’t Bran said this is what she needed to do? To show Jon who she was as a ruler? She was not a naïve little girl anymore. She certainly wouldn’t give up her home and people because she fell in love.

“Do you think they intend to follow through with these plans, if Prince Jon said they wouldn’t work?” she asks.

Arya considers for a moment. “I think Tyrion will look for ways to push you together. But Jon—I don’t know…”

“What?” Sansa asks, seeing a flicker in Arya’s eyes. Her little sister looks back to her, and for a moment Sansa sees just how young she really is, Arya’s big eyes concentrating on Sansa as she looks like she has discovered something unexpected.

“I don’t trust him,” she says and pauses. “And I don’t like him. He seems to hate Tyrion, and that shouldn’t win him any favor with me but…”

“But?”

Arya sighed in annoyance and rolled her eyes. “Maybe Bran had a point. Maybe.”

Sansa bites back her smile, knowing how hard it is for Arya to admit such a thing. And she feels a strange sort of pride—she’s proud of her sister for recognizing there can be a use for allies even when you don’t fully trust or like them. Then, she feels saddened that Arya should have to learn such a thing. “But you have to be careful, Sansa,” she says.

“I am careful,” Sansa says, something in her bristling at Arya’s tone. Old hurts bubbling up. “You don’t truly believe I would lose my head over a man and give up the North, do you? That I would throw it away like the child I once was?” She tries to sound strong, even, unaffected. But Sansa can hear the vulnerability in her words, the tremble in her voice.

Arya leans forward and grasps her hand across the desk. She looks at her straight-on. “Of course not, Sansa. I know we’re not who we used to be. I know you’d never give up the North. It’s just…”

Arya pauses and looks about the room, as if searching for the right words. Then she looks back to Sansa. “It’s just that I don’t want to see you get hurt,” she says, squeezing Sansa’s hand for emphasis. Sansa feels guilty then, for doubting Arya when she just accused her sister of the same.

“I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair of me,” Sansa says and squeezes back, emotion clogging her throat. She feels almost as if she could cry, to see Arya caring for her in such a way. She loves her little sister so much sometimes it hurts. She nods and pushes back any tears threatening to spill. “Thank you, Arya,” she says.

Sansa tries not to think about why Arya would be worried she would get hurt.

---

Jon spots Tyrion and Ser Davos in conversation at a table in the Great Hall as they break fast. Their heads are hunched and while Jon cannot hear the words they’re speaking in hushed tones, he can tell from the looks on their faces that it is not a good conversation. Ser Davos looks angry, and Tyrion looks by turns offended and baffled. He’d almost forgotten Davos’s outburst in the meeting given the way it ended. But he remembers it had something to do with Tyrion and Davos’s son. He walks over to them, hoping to defuse the situation.

“Ser Davos,” he greets warmly, and looks to Tyrion, “Lord Tyrion. Might I join you? Lovely morning, isn’t it?” Jon has never been one for small talk, but he has to try something, he figures.

Ser Davos nods to him as he stands up from his seat. “Forgive me, Prince Jon, but I was just leaving to meet with my Queen,” he says politely and leaves quickly.

Jon looks at Tyrion with an arched brow as he sits down. “I thought we agreed you wouldn’t engage with Ser Davos at length.”

“He approached me.” Tyrion sighs. “Don’t ask,” he mutters.

Jon snorts. “I’m afraid I have to, after Ser Jorah,” he says. “What was that about? What did you do to his son?”

Tyrion’s eyes flash with something Jon can’t name—anger or regret, maybe—and he straightens in his seat. “His son died in the Battle of Blackwater Bay.” He doesn’t further elaborate, and Jon works to piece together the puzzle.

“Ser Davos, he used to fight for Stannis Baratheon, correct?” Jon asks.

Tyrion nods. “Yes, Davos and his son fought alongside Stannis to invade King’s Landing when Joffrey was still on the throne.”

“So, you fought against them?” he asks.

Tyrion looks at him sharply. “I was defending my family,” he says.

Jon had not meant to be accusatory, he merely meant to understand. But he sees now it must be a sore spot for Tyrion. He certainly stopped defending his family after he was accused of Joffrey’s murder. Jon changes tactics. “Daenerys said you were instrumental in the defense,” he says. Flattery works on Tyrion too, he’s found.

A small smile crosses Tyrion’s face. “Yes, I was.” His face darkens after a moment. “Wildfire,” he says quietly. “I’d never seen anything like it. Not until your aunt, that is.”

Jon winces at that. Fire and Blood were the family’s House words, and while Daenerys was fond of them, Jon always felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine when he thought of it.

Jon never allowed himself to think on it too much. But now, here in the North, with his Stark kin (with Sansa) he’s thinking about how his Targaryen grandfather killed his Stark grandfather and uncle. It is such a strange lineage that Jon can’t help but feel rudderless. As if he is without a place to call home.

“It’s hardly fair,” Tyrion says, pulling Jon out of his thoughts. “It was war, we were on opposite sides, it was nothing personal. And yet, Ser Davos seems to hold it against me.”

Jon sighs. In some ways, he can understand what Tyrion means and how it wasn’t personal. But still, it was the man’s son, so he feels he can understand Davos too. Jon couldn’t imagine the kind of pain that would feel like. And to be burned alive by wildfire, Jon feels the shiver run through him again. “You need to make peace with him. Be cordial, at least,” he tells Tyrion.

Tyrion nods. “I’ll be cordial. But you can’t expect me to apologize,” he says.

“I wouldn’t,” Jon says, and that much is true. He was surprised to see the man apologize to Sansa in that meeting, and he doesn’t expect another such incident to occur.

“You should spend time with Queen Sansa today,” Tyrion says quietly. Jon narrows his eyes. “Fine, I’m not saying you must seduce her,” he whispers, holding his hands up in surrender, “but work on persuading her at least.”

Jon doesn’t know what else to do, so he nods at Tyrion and eats his food. All the while knowing he won’t try to persuade Sansa to bend. He doesn’t know how (or how long) he can play this with Tyrion. He doesn’t know if they’ll all be killed for it.

But he knows he’s tired of pretending to back his aunt without question. He knows he can’t do it anymore. He hadn’t truly wanted to come here to subjugate the North. He can admit that to himself now.

Because he can’t forget the smell of burning flesh when she burned the prisoners of war in the Reach. He can’t forget the way she had said maybe she’d let her dragons decide the guilt of the nobles when Barristan was killed, and how one of them was fed to the dragons. Can’t forget the fear on Varys’s face before she’d said that deadly word. Can’t forget that he and Tyrion just barely kept her from burning King’s Landing to the ground or his suspicion that she had mostly refrained to protect that ugly chair she decided had to be hers.

No, Jon just can’t do it anymore. He can’t lie to himself anymore—tell himself that Daenerys is saving people. Can’t make himself believe that what she—what they—have done was right, even if he can’t pinpoint when it all went so wrong. She is his kin, they grew up together, but he just can’t. And he needs to find a way to warn Sansa without alerting Tyrion.

---

When Jon approaches the Queen’s chambers, a nervous weight churns in his stomach. He has already decided what he will do but following through is far from simple. It is fortunate that Tyrion expects him to spend time with Sansa. But he knows he must be careful, and Sansa is not likely to trust him immediately. She’d have every reason not to.

He knocks on the door. “Enter,” a voice calls from the other side. But it isn’t Sansa’s. It’s a man’s voice. The immediate spark of jealousy he feels surprises him. Does Sansa have a lover? He opens the door only to find his cousin Bran. He’d only heard him speak the once, he realizes. Relief that it is only Sansa’s brother gives way to confusion. Bran is in her solar, seemingly alone.

“I was hoping to speak with Queen Sansa, Prince Brandon,” he says stiffly. Bran motions for him to close the door and Jon does so.

“Call me Bran,” he says. “And Sansa isn’t here.”

“Oh um, okay. I can come back later—”

“Please sit,” Bran says, motioning to a chair across from him. The order is abrupt, and Jon finds himself obeying it without much thought. Bran studies him for a moment, and he shifts in his seat a bit uncomfortably.

Bran smiles at him. It’s a small smile, like all of his expressions, Jon realizes. There is something muted about him. Detached. “I’ve been hoping to speak with you,” he tells Jon.

“You have?”

Bran nods. “My sister, she rules the North well,” he says.

Jon nods, uncertain of what to say. Bran just smiles at him again. Jon thinks there is something eerie about it. “I realize, Prince Jon, that you might have questions about the North that my sister may not have time to answer, as she always puts her people first,” Bran says pointedly. As if daring Jon to compare the two Queens of Westeros. Something gives him the distinct feeling Bran already knows that’s what Jon has been doing. “So, I thought I might offer to help with any questions you might have.”

Jon clears his throat. “Please, if I’m to call you Bran you should call me Jon.”

That tiny smile reappears. “Very well, Jon.”

There is a beat of silence. Jon has so many questions, but he can’t think of how to ask them. And he isn’t sure it’s the best time, when he’s hoping to warn Sansa of just how dangerous his aunt truly is.

Bran looks at him. “What do you know of Northern magic? The Old Gods?” he asks.

Jon is flummoxed by the shift in conversation. “Um, not much, really. I know you worship Weirwood trees,” he says.

“Well, that depends on who you ask.” Bran’s lips quirk. “The Children believed them to be the Gods themselves. But most in the North see the Weirwood trees as sacred to the Old Gods. The Gods see through the eyes of the faces on Heart Trees.”

Jon nods; he can’t think of anything else to do but indicate he’s listening. There’s no doubt that Bran is an odd young man.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the Army of the Dead?” he asks.

Jon’s brow furrows. “I have,” he says.

“And how my brother died to defeat the Night King?”

Jon nods. Everyone had heard the stories.

“Do you believe it? The stories?” Bran asks, his eyes which seemed so inexpressive suddenly appearing to appraise him.

“I don’t know,” he tells him. He’d found Sam convincing, but it was still hard to believe without seeing it himself.

“That’s honest,” Bran observes, without indicating further what he thinks of it. He looks to the hearth beside him. “We all had our roles to play,” he says. He eventually looks back at Jon. “I had to become the Three-Eyed Raven,” he says.

“The what?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Bran says and pauses thoughtfully. Jon waits.

“It comes from the power of the Children of the Forest and the Old Gods. The former Three-Eyed Raven passed it onto me. I’ve had to learn how to see with a thousand eyes and one. I can see things from the past, things happening in the present,” he says.

“Not the future?” Jon finds himself asking. He’s not even sure if he believes him, but he’s somehow drawn to ask anyway.

“I can see…potential futures. Depending on the choices people make.” Bran tells him. His expression is so flat, Jon wonders why he is telling him this.

“I had to use my powers in the War against the Dead, my brother Robb died along with the Night King. But all of us in the North had to work together. Now, I know my powers will continue to be needed to defeat other potential foes.”

Jon shifts in his chair. He is uncertain on whether he is being threatened. It sounds like one from the words, but the delivery, however muted, makes Jon think differently. So, he asks only what he can think to ask: “Why are you telling me all this?”

Bran’s lips quirk minutely again. “A few reasons. One is practical—because the North needs your help. Another is more personal. If you’d like to know about your mother, I can tell you what I’ve seen.”

Jon’s throat feels as if it is closing up. The mention of his mother—of questions being answered—dangles before him but he can’t bring himself to grasp it. It feels like too much. “How does the North need my help?”

“You don’t trust your aunt,” Bran states.

Jon swallows thickly but says nothing.

“I know it is asking a lot, Jon. But you need to help the North maintain its independence. You know it’s important, after you’ve seen the way she fed a Meereenese noble to one of her dragons when Ser Barristan was killed—even though she had no idea if the man was guilty. After you saw her burn surrendered soldiers in the Reach. You know it, Jon.” Bran’s gaze is steady and unwavering.

Jon feels a chill run down his spine, sitting back in his seat. Bran couldn’t possibly know these details unless he spoke true of his abilities. He shouldn’t feel as disturbed as he does, his aunt’s dragons are one kind of magic, Bran’s powers another. But the vivid way he recounts Jon’s memories makes him feel violated. “The Reach…” Jon mumbles. Clearly Bran hadn’t told anyone.

“You must speak with Sansa,” Bran says. As if on cue, the door to the chambers opens behind them and Jon sees Sansa. Gods, but does she look beautiful. She is wearing a soft gray dress that appears almost blue, and her eyes are shining with mirth as she whispers with Lady Brienne, the smile wide on her face. He’s never seen her look so happy. As she turns to take in her guests, her smile falls slightly, and something about it gives him a crushing feeling in his chest, even though he imagines she’s reacting to his surprise presence and their grim expressions.

“Sister,” Bran calls fondly.

Sansa looks between her brother and him, as she glides toward Bran. “Brother,” she says, leaning in to press a kiss to his forehead. Brienne has closed the door behind them. Sansa looks over to Jon. “Prince Jon,” she says, and her smile is polite, if a bit stiff.

“Your Grace,” he says as evenly as he can manage, standing up from his chair.

“The Prince wished to speak with you, sister,” Bran says, and Sansa looks between the two of them with a bit of surprise that she smooths from her features a moment later.

“I see. What did you wish to speak on, Prince Jon?” she asks.

“Well, I—”

“You should speak alone,” Bran interrupts. Both Jon and Sansa snap their gazes to him. Truly, Jon is not sure what the young man—or the Raven—is playing at. From the way Sansa looks to him, Jon suspects she is much the same.

“Bran,” Sansa says, and the looks exchanged between brother and sister are a conversation that Jon is not privy to.

“Lady Brienne, would you mind escorting me to the Godswood?” Bran asks.

Brienne stiffens and looks at Jon before looking back to the Starks. “I will not leave Her Grace unattended—”

“I’m sure Jon would be happy to turn over his sword,” Bran says, not even looking to Jon.

Truthfully, Jon hadn’t even thought about the sword on his hip. The conversation nearly horrifies him at the implication that he might use it on Sansa. But then, he had wanted to speak with her alone, and Brienne was her sworn shield. Jon clears his throat. “Yes, um, happy to do it.” He smiles and hopes it is not too forced as he removes the sword from his hip and hands it to Brienne, who holds it carefully. “As long as it is in safe hands,” he says with a small laugh. He doesn’t like handing it over, but he understands why, at least.

“I will keep it safe and return it to you once your private meeting with the Queen is over,” Brienne says, holding his gaze for a moment before looking to Sansa.

Sansa nods to Brienne. “Thank you, Brienne, that will be all. You may escort my brother,” she says. After Brienne affixes Jon’s sword to her other hip, she begins to push Bran’s chair toward the door, before giving one last warning glance to Jon. He smiles at her, hoping she can see he means Sansa no harm. The door clicks behind her with finality, and Sansa moves forward to latch it.

Jon feels his face heating. He knows it doesn’t mean anything—stop thinking what you’re thinking—that it is merely because she does not wish for a private meeting to be interrupted. But he finds he can’t help but blush, especially as she looks back to him. Her eyes—it just isn’t fair, those deep blues. “You wished to speak with me?”

Jon takes a deep breath in and exhales. He steps forward just slightly. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Jon is nervous and doesn’t know how to begin, especially when she is looking at him so attentively. And they are alone in her solar. Her bedchambers a mere room away. He shouldn’t be thinking about it, but he finds himself unable to completely forget as she looks at him expectantly. He realizes she is in Queen mode, as she should be, really. Still kind, still somehow warm, but not as soft as it felt in the crypts. He starts only where he knows to begin.

“I’m sure you know why my aunt sent me here,” he says.

“Yes,” Sansa says, her gaze scrutinizes him, but she gives nothing more.

“She expects you to bend the knee,” he says, and he feels foolish because they both already know this, but he simply must start somewhere.

She narrows her eyes as she regards him. “I am aware of that, just as I stated clearly in our meeting. I will not bend. My people, the North, will not bend.” Her voice is firm and uncompromising. He thinks now he should have found another way to begin, because she eyes him as if he plans to fight her on this.

He swallows and looks to his feet for a moment before meeting her eyes once more. “I don’t expect you to,” he says softly, trying to show in his voice and his eyes that he means it.

She arches a brow at him. “You don’t?”

“No,” he says. “But you should know that my aunt won’t accept rebellion.”

Sansa bristles and steps toward him, and he feels as if he is frozen to the floor. “Yes, I believe you and Lord Tyrion have made that quite clear. Of course, the North was independent before your aunt arrived, so we aren’t really in rebellion against her—we’re merely fellow sovereigns. But I am sure your aunt does not see it that way. I have no wish to challenge your aunt for the Throne. If she cannot accept freedom for the people of the North, then she is no different than those who came before her.”

“You’re right,” he concedes. The steel in her voice and her expression somehow manages to intimidate and excite him all at once.

“Why is it that you have not sent word to your Queen, Prince Jon?” she asks, her eyes penetrating whatever shield he hopes to hold up.

“Because I do not wish to see the North burn, as I fear would likely happen if I had sent word,” he says. It is the truth. He doesn’t think he will get anywhere with lies or manipulation. Not with Sansa, the Starks, or the North in general.  

She steps back from him just slightly. “Then what exactly do you plan to do?”

“I wish to help you maintain independence,” he says hesitantly, fearful she will find his offer ridiculous.

She looks at him for a moment before speaking. “How?”

“Honestly?” he says, sighing, running a hand through his hair nervously. “I’m not sure.”

He sees her purse her lips in such a way that he thinks she’s hiding a smile. He wants to kiss those lips. Wants to feel her smile against his own. “Well, I’m not sure how helpful that is, Prince Jon,” she says.

“Please, just Jon, Your Grace,” he says. He thinks for a second her eyes flicker down to his lips before meeting his eyes again. But it may be wishful thinking.

“Then I suppose you may call me Sansa, at least in private,” she says. After a moment she seems to realize what she’s said and the prettiest blush he’s ever seen dusts her cheeks as she averts her eyes away from him, suddenly looking shy.

He smiles softly. Gods, he is gone for this woman. Finally, she looks back to him. “What might you offer us, Jon?” she asks. He likes hearing her say his name without a title.

“I suppose I could offer you information.”

She studies him but says nothing, waiting for him to take the lead. He thinks to offer her some information more immediate than his aunt. “Tyrion is giving me time to try and persuade you,” he says. “That is why we haven’t sent word. Or at least, why he hasn’t. He’s hoping you’ll come around because he knows my aunt burning the North will not be good for her reign.”

“And you are to persuade me?” she says, arching a brow again. This time, he feels like there is something suggestive about it—as if she can guess just how her former husband wants Jon to change her mind. He supposes it makes sense since she was his wife.

Jon now finds he is the one blushing furiously, and she lets out a soft giggle that instantly loosens his muscles. “Um, that’s what he wants. I’ve let him believe that I will try to persuade you,” he stammers, torn between embarrassment and delight at her laugh.

“But you’re not trying to persuade me? How do I know you’re not just saying that, so I let my guard down when you actually try to persuade me?” She is watching him carefully, but he gets the feeling she is open to the idea that he’s sincere. Perhaps because of her brother.

(Perhaps because of me, he thinks, maybe she feels a connection too).

“I guess I’ll have to prove it to you,” he says, in an unconsciously lower voice. Something about it feels bold to him.

From the way her eyes momentarily darken, he thinks it may seem bold to her too. “I guess you will.”

He clears his throat and suddenly the room feels too warm. “In any case, your brother was just telling me we all have our roles to play.”

She blinked, as if surprised, but a slight smile curls her lips. “Ah, has he been telling you riddles?” she asks, a fondness for her little brother coloring her voice.

“Something along those lines, yes.”

“And have you been able to make sense of any of them?”

He laughs gently. “Maybe a little. He said that the North needs my help to maintain independence.”

“I see,” she says. “What do you propose we do, Jon?”

He feels out of his depth again—unsure how to operate in this game with such high stakes. “I think I can hold off Tyrion a little longer.”

“And your aunt, when will she expect word?”

“I don’t think she has a set time,” he tells her.

Her brow furrows in confusion. They had all discussed it before Jon and his party left King’s Landing. Jorah had explained to Daenerys that winter’s harsh weather may make it difficult for them to travel without her dragons—another point that nearly had he and Dany coming to blows before she relented at Jorah and Tyrion’s urgings. It may also make it difficult to send letters back and forth, so they’d agreed only essential communications should be prepared.

“She expects that we’ll need some time,” he explains.

“And do you think she accepts that? Will she be angry?”

He sighed. “I suppose it depends on whether she believes I’m getting anywhere,” he says. Sansa looks at him curiously, and he wishes he could know what she’s thinking.

“Might I ask the nature of your relationship with your aunt, Jon?” she asks delicately.

It’s a loaded question, he knows. When Daenerys named him her heir, many seemed to think he would be her Consort, and as Targaryens, especially. She is his aunt, and with generations of brothers wedding sisters in their family line, they are even more closely related than most aunts and nephews. That meant he could never see her romantically. He knows it doesn’t bother Daenerys as it was how their family behaved, but she’d looked to Viserys as her match, not Jon, since he was a purer Targaryen, and then she fell in love with Drogo. Once she’d learned the dragons were all the children she would have, she always expected Jon would have to provide her heirs once she took the throne. But he also knows that whatever wife Jon may take, Daenerys would still expect Jon to make her his priority, even over his wife.

When they were younger, any affection he had was all familial, and he still loves his aunt, but his affection has waned since her dragons were born—or perhaps after she had Drogo kill Viserys. Not that he had been fond of his uncle, he had despised him, and the feeling was mutual. But Jon had somehow expected there would be a more peaceful life once Viserys could no longer abuse them, but she became just as set on conquest as he. The relationship is mostly a strained one. They have stayed together as the only family the other had, but Daenerys oscillates between relying on Jon and distrusting him for his less pure blood. But she’s entrusted him with this mission. He realizes that means she trusts him more than she should, at least in this respect. He sighs, leaning against her desk, suddenly feeling tired. “Our relationship is complicated,” he says.

Sansa looks at him expectantly. He realizes he hasn’t given her any information. “People always ask, but there’s nothing romantic between us.” He wants to believe he sees relief in Sansa’s eyes, but he’s unsure. “As children we got along, but she’s dangerous, Sansa.”

“I gathered that,” Sansa says quietly.

“Yes, well, I have found it harder and harder to support her actions. I used to argue more with her, but I’ve mostly stopped now because I know I won’t get anywhere. Plus, arguing with her has only gotten more dangerous.”

She folds her hands in front of her and looks at him, saddened, in a way that makes his chest hurt. “I’m sorry.”

His brow furrows. “What are you sorry for?”

“It’s just—” she cuts off for a moment and looks away toward a window facing the courtyard. When she looks back at him, her eyes shine with grief. “For a long time,” she says quietly, looking down to her hands as if studying them, “I thought I was alone. The only Stark alive. When I reunited with Robb, and later Arya and Bran, it was like…well, it was like I had a safe place again. Gods, Robb and I fought so much when we took back Winterfell and readied for the Army of the Dead,” she says with a sad smile. “Mind you, we’d always gotten along as children, but we knew how important the fight was, and we had different ideas on how to keep our people safe. And then there was the stress too, the fear of possibly losing each other,” she says, shaking her head as if to will away her memories, the pain in her eyes still present. He wants to reach for her, but he doesn’t. It feels like it’s the most open she’s been with him, and he doesn’t want to scare her away from him.

He thinks of the kind of sacrifice she and her brother made. How Sam had said the fight made them even more resolved to maintain independence. He almost wonders if he could appeal to Daenerys this way, because she thought of all the sacrifices they’d made as entitling her to the Throne. The difference he saw, was that he and Daenerys didn’t know the land she expected to rule, and she’d not been made Queen by the people. But he worried that those differences were fundamental enough that Daenerys would be even angrier over the similarities.

“Anyway,” Sansa said, clearing her throat. “It was safe to argue. Because we had a home with each other, after so long not having it.” Her eyes drift off a little in contemplation. “I’m just—I’m sorry that you didn’t have that with the only family you had for so long.”

Jon inhales shakily, and she’s looking at him with such compassion. And he feels so seen, unlike anything he’s ever felt before. Something about it makes him realize how lonely he’s been through much of his life. And he knows now without a shadow of a doubt. He is not just falling. He is in love with her completely and irrevocably. This woman who opened up to him, made herself vulnerable, and somehow ended up showing him his own heart in the process. “Thank you, Sansa,” he rasps, feeling overwhelmed.

She gives him a small smile and makes to sit down by the hearth, and he finds himself sitting near her, trying not to say the wrong thing. He needs to get his own emotions in check if he means to really help Sansa and the North, ideally without getting them all killed. “Sansa, there’s something else you should know,” he says softly. He doesn’t want to tell her. But he knows he has to.

“Yes?” she leans forward, looking to him.

“My aunt, she can’t bear children. As her heir, I am meant to carry on the Targaryen line. And one thing my aunt and Tyrion discussed was arranging a betrothal between the two of us, to bring the North back into the Kingdoms.” He can hardly look at her as he says it.

She inhales sharply. He turns more toward her, wanting to touch her but unsure it would be welcome. “Sansa, I would never do that to you. I would never force you into a marriage, and…especially knowing how it would take away your freedom. If nothing else, please believe me on that.”

She looks down to her lap, smoothing imaginary wrinkles in her skirts. “I believe you,” she says quietly, without looking up at him. He lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.

“I will need to speak with my council,” she tells him. “And then, we might meet—you and I, Arya, and Bran.”

His chest tightens. All of his Stark cousins. Almost like they are truly family. How he’s wanted that. To belong somewhere. It may be too much to hope for though. “I’m not sure your sister will like that,” he tries to say in jest, but he thinks his anxiety bleeds through a little.

“I will restrain Arya from killing you. Just don’t make any sudden movements,” she says, and he knows she is jesting to try and make him more comfortable as she senses his worries.

“Aye, that’s good advice,” he says and they both laugh together softly. He wonders if this is what home feels like.

---                                                             

“I don’t like this at all,” Lord Royce huffs, after Sansa has called together her council to speak with them about a tentative alliance with Jon.

Prince Jon, she tries to tell herself. He’d asked her to call him just Jon, and she’d felt a flutter in her chest at the intimacy. Still, she needs to refer to him formally in front of others—whatever her feelings.

“Your Grace, do you believe we can trust him?” Davos asks her. She turns to her Hand. She has grown to truly love this man, first as Robb’s adviser and now her own, and he’d proven to her time and again how he believed in her. In some ways, he reminds her of her father, and he’d confided to her that in many ways, she felt like a daughter to him. But it is when he looks to her and values her judgment, that she knows she has something she’d never had (or gotten the opportunity for) with her own father, a respect for her mind, an understanding of who she is as a leader.

“I believe that we can tentatively approach this alliance, putting some degree of trust but exercising caution as well. He revealed to me, without any prompting, the fact that his aunt cannot bear children. It suggests some amount of good faith,” she says.

“And marriage?” Davos asks with soft eyes, aware of the sensitivity of the question.

Sansa inhales deeply. “He did speak of it, yes. That his aunt and Lord Tyrion had discussed arranging a betrothal so the North would be part of the Seven Kingdoms again, which would also mean Jon and I would produce an heir for the Iron Throne,” she says. She thinks she can feel the beginnings of a blush just from discussing producing an heir with Jon. “But he also made clear that he would never participate in their schemes.”

She sees the way Arya is sitting tensely, wringing her hands in front of her. Even as Arya admitted Bran may have been right, Sansa knows this is still really hard for her sister. It is hard for all of them. Sansa cannot let her feelings for Jon cloud her judgment. She is afraid, though, because she wants to trust him completely. Being alone with him in her solar, she would have thought she would be afraid. The look Bran had given her had told her it would be safe, and he’d handed over his sword to Brienne, but she thought that even without those things, she would have felt safe with him. And that was another thing that confused her—that level of comfort she felt. When he said he’d never try to force her into a marriage, she honestly believed him. It didn’t make sense, and she couldn’t understand how she got here, after so many years in which she’d given up dreams for love, she now felt dangerously close to falling for Jon. But marrying him was out of the question—it was just what the Dragon Queen wanted, and Sansa would not give up the North for anything.

(Somehow, her mind or traitorous heart replays Bran’s words about marrying Jon—not for the time being, anyway).

Don’t be such a ninny, Sansa! She chided herself. You are a Queen.

“He will help us,” Bran says, and all eyes in the room go to him. Sansa wonders sometimes what the toll on her little brother must be like, to have so much knowledge, to lose so much of himself, and to have others look to him as they all do now. She sees Meera clutch his hand, and she is grateful he has her love. It helps ground him.

What would that be like for me? She finds now that she cannot help thinking about it a little bit.

“And you’re absolutely certain?” Lord Royce asks stiffly, crossing his arms and eyeing Bran skeptically.

“I am,” Bran says, and looks over to her, “now that Sansa has spoken with him.” And the eyes in the room turn to her now. She supposes she does understand her little brother in this respect, at least.

She ignores the heat she feels in her face from Bran’s words. “Any suggestions on how he could help us?” she asks Bran, keeping her voice as neutral as possible.

Bran looks to her and then to Arya, and then he looks to the room. “It is more of a family matter,” he apologetically tells the rest of the council.

Arya narrows her eyes. “He’s a Targaryen,” she states.

“And he’s a Stark too.” Bran says in a tone that brooks no argument.

“Bran,” Sansa says, trying to convey some admonishment she doesn’t quite understand. It makes her nervous that he seems to be dismissing the council. “What are you saying?”

He studies her for a moment. “I can’t say more until we meet with him.”

“We are the Queen’s council, not him,” Lord Royce tells her brother.

“You are,” Bran says with that lack of inflection that so riles her advisers. “But this is more of a family matter,” he repeats, and Sansa realizes that on this he is unmovable. He looks at her expectantly.

She clears her throat before speaking: “Lord Royce, everyone, you must know that I always heed your voices—your concerns, your opinions, your worries, and your advice—even if we do not always agree. I do not disregard the crucial role you continue to occupy in service to me and the North. You do so faithfully, and I am forever grateful. However, I trust my brother, and if he says this is a family matter and we should meet with him before reconvening, I am willing to do so and will update you all as soon as possible. Is that agreeable?” She looks to her advisers, trying to gauge their reactions.

Davos nods. “As you wish, Your Grace,” he says. Brienne, Samwell, and Meera voice their agreement. Sansa looks to Lord Royce. He is one of her oldest advisers, and had he not been in the Vale with her cousin Robin when she took the throne, mayhap he would be her Hand instead of Davos (though she values both men deeply). She feels she can understand his worries, as the man had known her father when he was fostered in the Vale, had been there when Jon Arryn refused to turn her father and Robert over to Mad King Aerys. She understands how Jon’s Targaryen lineage may strike him deeper. But she also knows he defers to her. “Lord Royce?” she prompts, not unkindly. He looks at her and nods. “I understand, Your Grace,” he says.

“Thank you,” she tells them all warmly, and dismisses her council.

---

Jon is nervous as he meets with his Stark cousins. He does not think he has been alone in a room with just Sansa, Bran, and Arya before now. A part of him, too, feels a spark of hope.

(Home. Family).

Arya eyes him a bit skeptically, but he thinks it is less so than in the past. She will not kill him at least (he doesn’t think). He will take that as progress. Sansa sits regally in a chair beside her desk rather than behind it; she is closer to her siblings, he sees, when they join together in private. Bran is in his usual spot by the hearth. He notices that Arya continues to move about the room, with an energy that seems to prevent her sitting still. Perhaps it is more restlessness, he wonders. He cautiously sits in a comfortable chair when Sansa motions an invitation. He is close enough to smell her sweet scent, something floral, and reminiscent of lemons too. It is strange, he thinks, how calming he finds it as she smiles at him reassuringly. He likes to think her smiles for him are special, even if he feels foolish for it. He smiles back.

“Bran,” Sansa begins, “you said that this was a more of a family matter, could you elaborate for us?”

Jon’s heart clenches at the thought. Will they accept him? As family? Would Sansa want him? Would her siblings think him worthy of her? He’s not even certain he is worthy. But maybe, he thinks, someday—when being together wouldn’t compromise her or her people’s freedom—he might be able to become worthy. He certainly hopes so.

“Yes, please,” Arya says lowly, turning her gaze to her brother.

Bran looks to Jon. “I’ve already informed you a little about my abilities.”

“You have,” Jon nods.

“And do you believe me?” he asks, eyeing Jon closely.

“I do,” Jon confirms. That much was obvious from what he’d shared with Jon when they spoke before.

“And the Dead? The Night King?” Bran asks.

Jon can feel Sansa’s eyes on him as she turns toward him at that. He thinks how sensitive a question this must be for her. How she’d reminisced about preparing for fighting the Dead with Robb. How clear her grief had been over his loss. And suddenly Jon knows his answer now. “Aye, I believe it,” he says. Bran smiles at him, a hint of mischief in his eyes, and Jon thinks Bran must know Sansa is the reason why.

Bran begins: “I haven’t told you of our direwolves.”

“Bran,” Arya says, more emotion in her voice than he’s ever heard. Her expression is some mixture of surprise, warning, and vulnerability.

Sansa’s head is snapped to her brother too. But other than the slight catch of her breath (which he hears far too acutely) she reveals nothing else. He isn’t sure the reasons behind their reactions. The direwolf is the Stark sigil, he knows. But there is something more here.

Bran continues: “When we were younger, our father and Robb came across a littler of pups, their mother dead. It was rare to see the wolves South of the Wall, and father had thought to kill them out of mercy. But Robb convinced father that mayhap they were meant for us. At first, we thought there five direwolves, for each of the five Stark children. A little after my father changed his mind, they found a sixth pup—a little ways from the rest, so quiet we almost missed him—an albino. Each of the original five were given to one of us, but the sixth, Ghost, kept close to us all. Now, he’s practically Sansa’s.”

Sansa smiles softly at that. He remembers seeing the giant white wolf walking beside her sometimes in the courtyard, and he’d mostly avoided the creature, if he was being honest—he was large, and Jon found it a bit intimidating, though he seemed to love Sansa. Ghost, he thinks, something he doesn’t recognize stirring in his chest.

“The Starks have the blood of the First Men in our veins. It carries its own bit of power,” he says. Sansa looks to her brother quizzically. Bran takes a deep breath and looks to her sympathetically before continuing.

“We were each bonded to our direwolves. Not quite the same as your aunt and her dragons, we never considered ourselves their keepers, exactly. But they were part of us, and we part of them.” Jon sees Sansa is looking to the floor, as if avoiding everyone’s gaze.

“Bran,” Arya warns him again, her voice cutting sharper. Bran ignores her.

“The Starks are wargs,” Bran says. Sansa looks to Bran. Arya’s lips part.

“Wargs?” Jon asks.

Bran nods. “It means we have the ability to enter the minds of animals, our direwolves, in particular. Sometimes in dreams, but not always.”

“Bran,” Sansa chokes out, and when Jon looks to her, he sees tears in her eyes, and it shatters his heart. It actually knocks the wind out of him.

Bran looks at her with pain and regret. “You never had the chance for your bond with Lady to fully develop and warg into her,” he says quietly. And Jon understands now. Lady, Sansa’s direwolf, must have died long ago. Perhaps it was why Ghost had taken to her. Arya glances at her sister worriedly and moves to stand by her seat, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

“You’ve done this with Nymeria?” Sansa asks her sister.

Arya nods. “She’s out in the wild now, but I have warged into her. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes not.”

“Bran?” Sansa asks.

“Before Summer died, yes,” he says. Jon somehow thinks he feels the loss of their wolves in his own chest. “And I can warg into other things more easily,” Bran turns to Jon, “entire flocks of ravens, even people.” Jon feels a chill go down his spine at that. “But I never use that power anymore, I have learned my lesson on it,” he says, a haunted look on his face. Jon decides he doesn’t want to ask about it.

“Neither of you told me,” Sansa breathes in a small voice.

“I’m sorry Sansa, I didn’t wish to cause you pain, with Lady…” Arya worriedly bit at her lip. For the first time, Jon thinks, Arya actually looks her small size.

Sansa covers the hand Arya still holds at her shoulder. “I understand. It’s okay,” she tells her, voice heavy, but Jon can tell she means it. He feels as if he is intruding on their intimate moment—that he should not be here.

“Sansa, the reason I’m telling all of you this is, you still have the ability, it is just latent. You can develop it with Ghost,” Bran says and Sansa gasps. “And Jon, you have the Stark blood, the blood of the First Men as well.”

Jon is taken aback. “So you’re saying—”

“You may learn to warg too. You and Sansa can help each other. Sansa, you have bonded with Ghost, so you can practice with him, and you can help him bond with Jon, so Jon may practice too.”

“Practice?” Sansa asks before Jon has the chance. “For what?”

Bran looks to Jon. Somehow his face holds caution and certainty all at once. “You’re also a Targaryen with the blood of Old Valyria. Once you have learned to warg, the power of the wolf may overtake the power of the dragon, Jon.”

“What?” Jon asks, confused.

Sansa’s jaw drops and her face alights with understanding. “You mean for him to warg into the dragons?” she whispers in astonishment. But it is less a question and more a statement.

Jon looks back to Bran for confirmation. But he can already feel it in his bones.

Brans nods. “Yes.”

                                  

Chapter Text

Jon is confused and overwhelmed. Warging. Dragons. Wolves.

It’s a lot to take in at once. He’d known that helping the North (helping the Starks and Sansa) involved rebelling against Daenerys. But he’d not been able to picture it in practice—and whatever he had pictured hadn’t involved going into the minds of his aunt’s dragons.

“What am I to do with the dragons? If I can warg into them, that is?” he asks.

“You will keep them from burning the North,” Bran says.

That thought makes Jon’s stomach twist. Because it means that Daenerys sending her dragons must be a potential future Bran sees. Maybe it is in all the futures he sees. “I’ll need to do that? There’s no other way to persuade my aunt?” he asks his cousin.

Bran looks at him and there’s a flicker of something in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Jon. But there’s little room for error here, if we wish to protect the North.” He pauses, and Jon can tell he’s thinking—trying to decide whether to speak more. He waits, and he can sense the same attentiveness from Sansa and her sister. Bran leans forward and looks at Jon. “Tell me the truth—do you think there is any way to convince your aunt to accept the North’s independence?”  

Jon thinks on it. He tries to remember what he’s learned of his aunt over the years—good and bad. But the bad has been outweighing the good for a long time now. He wishes it weren’t true. But he knows the answer. “No,” he sighs, sinking back into his seat in resignation.

“Jon,” Sansa says, hesitantly, softly, and reaches out to grasp his hand. She seems to do it without thinking and starts to pull away when she realizes, but Jon tugs her hand back to his instead. He runs his thumb across her warm palm. It is such an intimate thing, but it feels so right to him. He imagines Bran and Arya are watching them, but he only has eyes for Sansa. “If you feel like you can’t do this—”

“Sansa,” he says, and his eyes meet hers, “I need to do this.” He squeezes her hand and she squeezes back. Something heavy and significant passes between them then. He cannot look away from her. He knows there is no going back.

Sansa nods. “If you’re certain,” she says. She looks at their joined hands. He thinks she is speaking of more than just this rebellion.

“I am,” he says with conviction and she looks back at him. I’m more certain that I love you than I have ever been about anything else in my life.

It should scare him, he thinks. But somehow, it just doesn’t.

Arya coughs, breaking the spell. He reluctantly releases his grip on Sansa’s hand, and they look back to her siblings. He clears his throat; unsure he could speak without his voice quavering after the moment that passed between them. “And what of my aunt? Will she…can she—” he can’t finish his question. He doesn’t want to ask. Doesn’t want to know truly. As much as he’s made his choice, and as much as he knows he will need to stop Daenerys as she grows more dangerous, not just for the North but for all of Westeros, he still has love for his aunt. He’d rather her not lose her life if it can be avoided.

Bran knows what he means, whether because of his abilities or simply because it is obvious, Jon cannot tell. “It depends on her, and the choices she makes,” Bran tells him, and though his voice is typically flat, he thinks he can hear how Bran is trying to sound sympathetic. It’s not particularly reassuring, when he thinks of the choices his aunt usually makes. But if he can’t persuade her to let the North go free, mayhap he can persuade her to save her life if they manage to neutralize her dragons.

Jon nods. “I will do it,” he says, looking to Bran, Arya, and finally to Sansa, who gives him a small, cautious smile. He cannot help but smile back. He thinks he’s never smiled as much in his life as he has since arriving in Winterfell.

Bran begins to move his chair, and Arya reaches to help him. “Good,” he says. “You and Sansa should begin practicing tomorrow.” They both nod and look to each other.

He wishes he could hold her hand again.

---

Arya comes to her the next morning. “I need to talk to you,” she says and turns to Brienne, “alone.” Brienne looks between the sisters and excuses herself when Sansa nods.

“What is it?” Sansa asks. But she imagines she already has an idea. Arya is her sister, and now, truly her best friend.

Arya gets to the point immediately: “Jon is in love with you.”

Sansa sputters for a moment. Thank the Gods only Arya is here to see it, she thinks. She had expected Arya wished to speak on Jon, and whatever it is that seems to be happening between her and Jon. But she hadn’t expected Arya to state it quite so bluntly. She is surprised that Arya claims his feelings run so deep. How could she possibly know such a thing? Sansa looks down, feeling her cheeks flush.

“And that makes you happy,” Arya says. Sansa looks up at her sister then. Arya doesn’t look condemning or angry. Sansa thinks Arya looks more curious—her brow furrowing just slightly, and her head tilted a little to the side.

“I…” Sansa starts, but she doesn’t know how to finish. Truthfully, she doesn’t even know what exactly it is that is happening between her and Jon. “I don’t know how I feel,” she tells her sister honestly.

“But you care for him,” Arya observes. Her sister’s gaze is far more knowing now than it used to be, and she understands Sansa, perhaps more than anyone else.

Sansa sees little reason to pretend when it is just the two of them. She is sure Arya wouldn’t believe her denials anyway. “I do,” she breathes lowly. She doesn’t think she’s admitted it fully until now. But she does care for him. It is more confusing than she ever could have imagined, feeling this way about a man. She had reached for his hand the night before—where had that come from? And he hadn’t let her go when she tried to pull back. Of course, Arya had seen that moment. But she couldn’t afford to let her feelings get in the way. Not when she had a Dragon Queen to deal with and that Queen’s nephew offering his help. Could she trust him? (Oh, but she wanted to). Her feelings complicated things. “But my focus is the North,” she says.

“I know that,” Arya says, as if Sansa is missing her point. Sansa does not know what that point is. Arya moves to Sansa’s side of the desk and perches herself atop it. “But you’re scared,” she says, not unkindly. She looks at her sister and nods. Arya sighs. “Look—I don’t want you to get hurt. But if you care for him and he loves you—”

“You don’t know he loves me. He could still be seducing me for all we know,” she protests. She doesn’t believe he’s manipulating her—but some part of her needs to say it. And if he has true feelings for her, that doesn’t necessarily mean he loves her.

Arya looks at her somewhat impatiently, cocking her head to the side. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you.” They’re both quiet for a moment, and Sansa thinks Arya must be mourning all the lessons they’d been forced to learn, why neither of them could fully trust the sincerity of others, as Sansa knows she is.

Then her sister speaks again. “You know I’m not good at this stuff—feelings. So, let me just say what I want to say so we can be done with it,” Arya looks down at Sansa, and from this angle she thinks her sister looks more authoritative. Sansa nods. “I know that someday you will have to marry, eventually. I don’t want you to be with some husband you hate or can’t stand. If, after we deal with this Mad Dragon Queen business, you want to marry Jon,” she heaves a breath, as if struggling to finish what she wants to say, “then I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world. But if it turns out I’m wrong—bloody unlikely and we both know it—and he’s been playing you this whole time? Just know I’ll kill him. Slowly and painfully.”

Her face is deadly serious, and Sansa can’t help but smile anyway. To know her sister is so protective of her. She reaches for her hand. “Thank you, Arya.”

Arya squeezes her hand and pushes herself off the desk. “Yeah, yeah. Enough of this mushy crap. What do you need me to do?” Just like that, Arya has shifted from sister mode to spy mode.

“I need you to watch Tyrion and Ser Jorah closely. Especially Tyrion. We don’t want him learning about this, and he should be under the impression the time Jon and I spend together is working to persuade me,” she tells her. She doesn’t miss Arya’s faint grimace at the mention of persuading, but she nods.

“I’ll take care of Tyrion,” she says and makes her way to the door.

“That doesn’t mean killing him, Arya,” Sansa warns.

“You’re never any fun anymore,” Arya smirks at her and exits.  

---

“He won’t hurt you,” Sansa tells him with a small (adorable) smile when she motions him to come closer to Ghost at her side. Jon isn’t so sure of that. He has the blood of the wolf and the dragon, but he’s only a man. He cautiously moves toward them but finds himself stopping. He’d be embarrassed if Sansa’s light laughter didn’t warm him from the inside out.

“Oh, that’s funny, aye?” he asks, unable to stop his smile.

“A little,” Sansa admits.

They are in the Godswood. Another sacred Stark place. They should be waiting for Bran, but Sansa had figured it wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and formally introduce Jon to Ghost as they waited. Plus, Sansa told him that meeting in the Godswood would be a good place—it is generally private, belonging to the Starks. It is closer to the spirits of the Old Gods at the Weirwood tree. In the past, Jon might have rolled his eyes, thinking of his aunt and the Red Priestesses who spoke of prophecies of their Lord of Light—how Daenerys was the chosen one. Yet, when they stepped into the Godswood, he felt a strange sense of peace—of belonging—as if this were his space too, as if there may indeed be something of the Old Gods smiling upon them. Then again, he may just feel that way because of Sansa.

“As long as you mean me no harm, he will not hurt you,” she tells him. It is enough to get him to move to them, because he knows he would never hurt Sansa. If Ghost is protective of her, Jon imagines they may be able to get along. He stops right in front of the direwolf and looks to Sansa, uncertain on how to proceed. “Ghost, this is Jon, my cousin. Aunt Lyanna’s son,” she says, scratching the wolf behind his ears. He turns his red eyes on Jon.

Jon holds his hand up hesitantly, looks to Sansa who nods encouragingly, and reaches out to pet Ghost on the head. Ghost lowers his head, giving Jon more room to pet him, and Sansa does her little laugh again. Ghost moves toward Jon and nuzzles around his waistline. “He likes you,” Sansa says. His eyes meet hers, the deep blues shining as she smiles at him. He smiles back at her, that warm feeling unfurling in his chest as he continues to give Ghost affection. It’s strange, he thinks, the connection he feels here. To Sansa, no doubt. But he thinks he can also feel some connection beginning with Ghost. Bran had said their direwolves weren’t quite like his aunt’s dragons, and he wondered how different it might be. Daenerys was fiercely protective of her dragons, as she considered them her children. Jon had always been accepted by the beasts, but that didn’t mean he was unafraid around them. He’d rode Rhaegal at times, always at Dany’s behest, and could feel inklings of a bond. But Daenerys never wanted him to get too close to her children. And what Jon feels now—it’s strangely deeper than any connection he had with his father’s namesake, perhaps because his aunt preferred it that way and Sansa was encouraging a connection. He didn’t feel fearful of Ghost.

“I like him too,” he says quietly, afraid to break the spell of Ghost’s affection. He started tugging back and forth at Jon’s hand. He feels an almost childlike enjoyment at Ghost’s play. When had he ever felt like this before?

“I knew he would,” Sansa says. He looks up at her, but she is intently watching Ghost. He knows he shouldn’t read too much into it. But part of him hopes it’s because maybe—just maybe—she has feelings for him too. Maybe she knew Ghost would like him because Sansa cares for him. He thinks that surely, their moments together mean something, but what if he’s wrong? Sansa holds herself more inward than most.

“Looks like you’re already off to a good start,” Bran’s voice calls from behind them and Jon turns to see Meera wheeling him into the Godswood.

“Looks like it,” Jon says, feeling just slightly awkward at the interruption. Once Meera has moved him close to the Weirwood tree, she leans down to kiss Bran before making her exit. Jon is a bit surprised at the apparent romance between the two, but he supposes there is still much he has yet to understand about the man and the raven—what, if anything, distinguishes them.

“We’ll make a wolf of you yet, Jon,” Bran says as he looks up at him. Jon cannot help but smile, and he thinks he sees Sansa blush.

It has to mean something, he thinks.

She cleared her throat. “How do we begin?” she asked.

Bran looked to his sister and smiled. “Sit here, close to the Heart Tree, Sansa.” He motioned to a small tree stump next to the Weirwood. “Call Ghost,” Bran instructed.

“Ghost—to me,” Sansa said, and Ghost approached her, resting on her lap. She smiled and petted him. Jon watched her and Ghost and felt the smile forming on his lips.

“Jon,” Bran said, and it was harder than Jon cared to admit to look away from Sansa to her brother. “You and I will watch over Sansa.”

“Is it dangerous?” Jon asked worriedly.

“Not especially,” Bran said. Jon did not feel reassured.

“I don’t know, Sansa, maybe we shouldn’t do this today,” Jon said.

Sansa smiled and reached for his hand. Again. It had to mean something. “It will be fine, Jon. I trust Bran,” she said. She paused. “I trust you,” she said.

Jon thought his heart may actually burst with the love he felt for her in that moment. She trusted him. She trusted him. He vowed to never do anything to break that trust. He nodded, grasped her hand and ran his thumb over her knuckles. “We’ll watch over you,” Jon said, voice thick.

“You know what they say, Sansa, a man can’t lie before a Heart Tree,” Bran said, smiling. Jon found himself blushing. Sometimes he thought Bran was trying to embarrass him and Sansa both.

Sansa smiled and pulled her hand away to rest it in Ghost’s fur once again. Strange, he thought, to be jealous of a direwolf. She looked at Bran.

“Concentrate on your bond with Ghost, think about how he’s been there for you. How you’ve cared for him,” Bran instructed. Sansa nodded, scratching Ghost behind his ears.

“Do I need to close my eyes?” she asked.

“You don’t have to, but you can if you want,” Bran said.

“Very well,” Sansa said and nodded, straightening her posture. Jon couldn’t help but be charmed that, even as she tried to enter the mind of a wild animal, Sansa was still so proper. She closed her eyes. Bran and Jon waited.

---

One minute, she was sitting on the tree stump. The next, somehow, she was resting her head in her own lap. She, or Ghost, snapped their head up. She looked at herself, eyes closed. Ghost shook his head, or Sansa did, she wasn’t sure how to think of it. Sansa tried to orient herself in Ghost’s body. She could feel his strength, the clamp of his jaws. She could smell things like she never had before.

But there was something familiar too. She turned Ghost’s head to face Bran. Her brother. Pack, she thought. And she realized she and Ghost were sharing thoughts between one another. She leaned Ghost’s body into Bran’s lap, nuzzling him. “Very good,” Bran said, and Sansa wagged Ghost’s tail at the praise. How odd, she thought.

“You mean she…?” Sansa heard his voice and turned Ghost’s head to look at Jon.

He was looking from her to Bran and back in astonishment, his eyes briefly flicked to her body before landing back on Sansa/Ghost. She didn’t know what sort of look Bran gave Jon, but it must have indicated to Jon that Sansa had indeed warged into Ghost, because he looked at Sansa/Ghost and smiled. Oh, Jon was proud of her! She wagged Ghost’s tail again.

“Sansa,” Jon called cautiously, and Sansa/Ghost went to him. She nudged him with Ghost’s muzzle and felt him scratch behind Ghost’s ears lovingly. Jon laughed, and it was the sweetest sound. “Sansa,” he said again. Sansa lifted Ghost’s head to look at him and he smiled. She could smell him, and he continued petting her. She preened under his attentions. He smelled so good, so right. So familiar. He smelled like home, she thought. Winterfell? She wondered. No, well, a little. But there was another smell, something that was just distinctly Jon and she and Ghost thought together again…

Mate.

Sansa jolted back into her body, gasping as if she had just come up for air. Jon was immediately in front of her. His brow furrowed with worry. “Sansa?” he called her name a few times, but it was faint to her ears, as if she was slowly coming back to her senses. She felt his hand cupping her cheek and before she could think better of it, she leaned into his gentle touch.

Mate.

Her eyes shot open again. She hadn’t realized she’d closed them when Jon touched her. “Sansa?” he said worriedly. Then he was looking to her brother. “Bran? Is she okay? Is she going to be okay?” Sansa blinked a few times and she felt as if she was slowly coming back to herself.

She looked at her brother. “She’s okay, Jon. It can be a little disorienting, the first time. You may not warg for very long before something severs the connection. It’s normal for her first try,” Bran said.

“So that was real?” Sansa asked. “I really did it?”

Bran raised a brow at her. “You remember seeing through Ghost’s eyes?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I’m just surprised, I guess. That I did it on the first try.”

“Well, you always were an overachiever,” Bran said. And Sansa laughed. Not because it was particularly funny, but because her little brother was actually joking again.

“It wasn’t what I expected. Not that I knew what to expect,” she said, rubbing her forehead.

Jon’s hands were on her elbows now. Had he been touching her this whole time? And she’d been completely comfortable with that? “You should rest for the rest of the day,” he told her, looking her over as if for injury.

“I’m fine, Jon,” she said as he helped her to her feet. And she was, mostly. Sansa felt a little overwhelmed. Mate? She thought. How much was me and how much was Ghost?

“Jon is right, sister. You may feel a little more tired, and lying down could help,” Bran told her.

“I can’t take the rest of the day off, Bran,” Sansa said.

Her little brother smiled wryly up at her. “Fine, take an hour. Jon can get you after you’ve rested.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary—”

“I’d like to, Sansa,” Jon said. Gods, the way he looked at her. Like she was the answer to all his prayers. No man, she was certain now, had ever looked at her like that. And now, she could see the worry for her written plainly on his face. He wanted to care for her. Like a mate would, she thought, and tried to push it away. “May I escort you to your chambers?” he asked. Something about the nervousness and hopefulness on his face was so utterly endearing to her.

“Yes, you may, Jon,” she said and smiled at him. He held out his arm and she grasped it. “But what about you Bran?”

“I’ll remain here for a while,” he said, looking from her to the weeping face of red sap. “Meera will come for me when I’m ready.” Bran looked back at her for a moment. An almost secretive smile was on his face when he gave her a last sidelong glance.

She kept thinking about that secret smile as Jon walked her to her chambers, the smell of him calming her. Mate, she thought again. Bran’s smile had been too knowing, she decided. She leaned into Jon as they made their way through the halls.

Perhaps, she thought, her little brother could read minds after all.

Chapter Text

Something had changed since Sansa warged into Ghost. Jon’s not sure what it is, exactly, but he knows something is different. She is a bit skittish around him in a way he hadn’t seen from her before. It worried him. He tried to think of what happened to cause her to suddenly become more nervous around him. He wondered if, when she was within Ghost, she’d sensed his feelings for her. Had it scared her?

But he could also swear he would catch her looking at him more. Furtively. Attentively. Maybe, just maybe, she was a little nervous around him because she wanted him too.

And oh, how he wanted her. Each day with her he fell more in love. Each night he dreamt of her. Dreams he certainly couldn’t talk to anyone about—for surely, he’d turn as red as her hair.

(Sansa—with her head thrown back in ecstasy as she mounted him. Her long neck, supple skin, that soft as silk hair brushing against his thighs. The perfect curve of her breasts bouncing with her thrusts. And the sweet sounds she’d make as she came on his cock. She was fierce—his Wolf Queen. And he supposed he was a bit of a wolf too—for he dreamed of taking her from behind like one, right there in the Godswood. He dreamed of her writhing beneath him, her long legs wrapped around his hips, dreamed of the way she’d moan his name as he gave her pleasure, Jon, Jon….).

And surely each morning he had to take himself in hand before he could leave his chambers to break his fast. Before he could be around Sansa. It was making it quite difficult to concentrate whenever they spoke of warging, Ghost, and sometimes, even—haltingly, their pasts.

Sansa hadn’t revealed much to him—not compared to how he ached to know and understand her. But, in an effort to improve her warging abilities with Ghost and help Jon to form a bond with the direwolf, she had told him of Lady. The direwolf she had as a girl, Ghost’s sister—how perfectly behaved and poised Lady was. Jon could believe it—a wolf raised from a pup under Sansa’s tutelage. How her father Ned had killed Lady himself on Cersei’s cruel order that King Robert abided, though Nymeria was the one who’d bitten Joffrey. Jon knew some of Joffrey, from what he’d heard from Tyrion and he tried not to think of the stories he’d heard before he met Sansa. How she’d been stripped and beaten before the Court as punishment whenever her brother Robb had won a battle. She’d merely been a stranger then—his blood, yes, but a stranger. Now, she was Sansa. And those were her stories to tell, so he tried not to think of them.

Jon remembered Cersei. Had seen the woman she’d become when Daenerys had taken King’s Landing. She’d nearly escaped the city, but the Lannister Queen had gone half-mad by then. Stopping strangers and asking for coin as she ambled about the smallfolk after fleeing the Red Keep. Her twin brother—and lover—if the rumors and Tyrion were to be believed, dying right before her eyes had taken the last bits of her mind, or so Jon thought. Jaime Lannister had jumped from the Keep much like his son Tommen.  Still, Cersei had lunged for Tyrion when she’d seen him. She’d spit about the Northern whore who conspired with Tyrion to kill her eldest son. At the time, Jon knew the woman to be vile, after the Sept of Baelor wildfire. Still, so broken down and frail, he’d had the smallest amount of pity for her. Now he thought of how she spoke of Sansa and his fists clenched involuntarily and he had to remind himself Cersei was dead.

Jon had told her of some things in his life. How Viserys had always called him the Northern bastard. How Daenerys had been kinder, but she’d always taught Jon to strive toward his Targaryen side—to the stronger in his bloodline. He’d seen the frown on Sansa’s face then, knew the offense she must have felt to the Stark name. He’d told her of some of the things Daenerys had done that bothered him. How she crucified people and he wasn’t sure if all of them were slave masters though he hoped to all the Gods they were. How she’d left Meereenese noblemen to her dragons. But he feared telling her other things, how he’d stood by and said nothing as she burned the surrendered soldiers in the Reach. He didn’t want her to look at him differently. It wasn’t right of him to omit such things—but he couldn’t tell her all. And Sansa didn’t push.

For nearly a sennight he’d sat and watched her warg into Ghost. She’d taken to holding his hand as she closed her eyes, ran her other hand through Ghost’s fur. He’d feel a strange, warm sensation then, as if Sansa and Ghost’s bond was touching something inside him. Bran told them this was getting closer.

And things were different today in particular, as Bran suggested Jon and Sansa meet in her solar this time. The Godswood was a good location, but if Sansa wanted to have more time to settle into Ghost, she needed to be more comfortable. Keeping by a fire instead of the cold. Jon liked the Godswood, but there was also something intimate about being in Sansa’s solar. He hadn’t been alone with her in here since the day he’d told her he wanted to help the North. Brienne was out in the hallway, but at least she seemed not to narrow her eyes at him that morning, not giving him some warning glance like before.

It was so easy, here, in her solar, working on something important. It was almost as if they were together. As if she were his and he was hers. He tried not to let himself get too pulled into such daydreams. He didn’t think the distraction would help him now.

When Sansa warged into Ghost this time, it felt different too. She’d held his hand, and oh how he had grown to love the feel of her soft, delicate hand in his, how he thought he’d have a touch memory of it forever, and when her other hand started scratching behind Ghost’s ears, he swore it was almost as if he could feel the wolf’s fur beneath his own fingertips. “We’re getting closer,” Sansa murmured, as if she knew of what he’d been thinking. That idea made him nervous, but he warned himself not to panic. If he panicked, he would likely bring forth unbidden the images that swam beneath his eyelids at night.

“Aye, we are,” he agreed, and he tried to sound as neutral as possible. Sansa closed her eyes, and in another minute, he felt her hand go slack, and knew she’d warged. He lightly placed her hand on her lap and smiled as Sansa/Ghost trotted to his seat.

“Hi Sansa,” he said and smiled, and she approached him, nuzzling his knee. It was strange, but Jon could even see manifestations of Sansa’s personality within Ghost. The wolf had never been so graceful in his movements, for one. And the touch was softer rather than the rougher play of Ghost on his own. But she was affectionate, in a way that felt freer, as if she was getting in touch with parts of herself she wasn’t fully comfortable with in her own body. He wanted her to feel comfortable, and Bran had suggested comfort was important for her now, to learn how to remain within Ghost for longer periods of time. He reached for a comb Sansa had on her desk. “May I brush your coat, Sansa?” he asked. She nuzzled him again and he laughed softly.

He brushed Sansa/Ghost’s hair and she settled at his feet, relaxing into his hairbrush strokes. Maybe it wasn’t what an animal like Ghost would typically receive, but it made sense for Sansa at least. And he’d known she used to brush Lady’s hair like this. “You’re doing very well,” he praised her and noticed her tail wagged. He liked the thought that his praise made her happy. All of this, he knew, had to mean something. How else could she transfer some of her bond with Ghost into him? How else could it be that he felt Ghost’s fur beneath her fingertips? When he finished brushing Sansa/Ghost’s coat, he noticed her eyes beginning to droop until it looked as if the direwolf was falling asleep. Then Sansa’s eyes were opening, and she sat a little forward in her chair. It wasn’t so much like the first time, more as if she were waking up from a nap.

“Hey,” Jon said quietly, somehow afraid of speaking too loudly as she came fully back into herself. “You feeling okay?”

She looked at him, eyes clear and warm, and nodded. “Yes, um, thank you—for the hair brushing,” she said, a rosy blush tinting her cheeks.

He felt himself smiling. “Any time, Sansa.” Jon wondered if she knew he meant it when she was in her own body, too. But perhaps it was too suggestive and familiar.

When she stood up from her chair her posture seemed more relaxed than earlier. He liked to believe he’d relaxed her. She worked so hard for her people, and he couldn’t imagine the weight she carried on her shoulders. “I think,” she said, looking at him but then averting her eyes, “I think next time we’ll be ready to try.”

“Try?” he asked. He thought he knew what she meant, but he wanted to be sure about it.

“You will be ready to try with Ghost?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he said, feeling a mix of excitement and trepidation at the prospect.

---

The first time Jon tries to warg into Ghost, it is only for a matter of seconds. Sansa had not lasted long, but Jon lasted even less. He’d only just begun to orient himself to the fact that he was in Ghost’s body before he’d jolted out. He’d felt the muscles of Ghost’s body, always kind with Sansa but a predator, no doubt. Felt how he was seeing through Ghost’s eyes. There was a curious warmth to it—as if he were in fact meant to be a wolf, not a dragon. But still—all his senses were keener, so much more than he was used to, the sights and the sounds and the smells, it overwhelmed him, and he’d suddenly been back in his own body. It frustrated him more than he cared to admit.

“I did not last very long either, Jon,” Sansa tried to comfort him, but something about it just made him feel worse. He didn’t want to let her or his other cousins down.

“Do you remember what severed your connection?” Jon asked her, thinking he might get some perspective on how to prolong his time in Ghost. But then Sansa had blushed and looked away from him.

“I’m not certain it was anything in particular,” she said, rubbing a thumb across her hand in what he recognized as a self-soothing gesture of hers. It made him think she wasn’t telling him the full truth. But why? If it was something she was embarrassed to share, he supposed he could understand though. So, he decided not to push.

“It is because you doubt yourself,” Bran told him. Jon could not help but huff a little at that.

“How can I not doubt myself?” he asked, perhaps a little harsher than he’d intended.

If Bran was bothered by Jon’s impatience, he didn’t show it. “You doubt yourself, but you are a Stark Jon, as much as any of us. You have to remember that.” Jon shifted uncomfortably. He went to bed that night frustrated and exhausted.

But that night, he did not dream of Sansa. He dreamed of Ghost, or that he was Ghost running through the Wolfswood, hunting and howling at the moon.

He told Sansa and Bran of his dream the next day, uncertain of whether this was a wolf dream, as Bran had called it. Bran and Sansa looked at each other in surprise, before Bran looked back to him. “It sounds like you warged into Ghost in your sleep. Unless, where was Ghost last night, Sansa?” Bran asked her.

Sansa straightened in her seat. “He was out hunting I believe, he wasn’t in my bedchambers,” she said quietly. And Jon felt an odd mixture of gratitude and regret that he had not warged into Ghost spending the night in Sansa’s chambers. She looked back to her brother. “I haven’t had wolf dreams,” she said, and Jon thought he heard a hint of sadness in her voice; and he hated to imagine he might have had something to do with it.

“It can express itself differently, Sansa,” Bran said, consoling. “It may be that Jon did it in his dreams because he was less self-conscious,” he said, looking to Jon now. Jon coughed, uncertain of what to say. He still felt like a pretender more than anything. He supposed he always had, in a way.  And yet, in his dream the night before. With Ghost, running and wild and free. He wanted to find a way to hold onto the feeling; wanted to carry it with him.

After Bran had left them, Sansa hovered about the room awkwardly once Ghost entered her solar, following her anxious movements. “Sansa,” Jon said gently. As gentle as he tried to be, she nearly seemed to jump at his voice. “Sorry,” he said quietly, taking a step toward her but stopping himself from moving forward further.

“No, Jon, it is fine,” Sansa tried to assure him, stepping a little closer but still keeping a distance between them.

“If you need to take the day off from practicing, I’ll understand,” he told her. The last thing he wanted to do was add to her stress.

“We don’t have to do that,” she said, locking her eyes to his. She sighed and sat down. He followed her without thought, sitting next to her, but she didn’t seem bothered by his proximity. For a few moments they sat in companionable silence before she spoke again. “You know, I didn’t always feel like a Stark either,” she glanced to him on her right.

“Really?” he asked. Jon couldn’t help but be surprised by that. In his time in Winterfell, Jon thought he’d seen plenty of evidence of just how much Sansa Stark belonged to the North, to her people and family. He couldn’t imagine otherwise.

“Really,” she said. “I was always said to take after my mother—that I looked so much like her. A Tully with red hair and blue eyes—nothing of the look of the North, of my father and Arya and …you,” she looked at him with a gentle smile and it warmed something inside of him. “And my father, well, he loved me, and I loved him, but as I grew older, it got harder for him to understand me. I told you before how Arya took after our brothers more and though it drove my mother mad, I know it made my father proud, even if he knew she needed to restrain herself at times,” she said quietly. “I knew I couldn’t make him proud in the same way, so I suppose I leaned to the Tully, the Southern side of things, clung to my mother and the New Gods. Family, duty, honor, those were the Tully House words,” she said. “A trout, not a wolf,” she said, shaking her head thoughtfully.

He watched her closely, because she was so beautiful in these unguarded moments and he wished to commit it all to memory. “I only ever wanted to make them proud,” she said, her breath catching. Jon caught her palm in his. She looked at him.

“You did. You do. I’m sure of it, Sansa,” he told her, willing her to believe him.

“Thank you, Jon,” she breathed. Sansa laughed softly. “If my father could see me now, the Queen in the North,” she said mirthfully.

“He’d be proud, I’m sure,” Jon reassured her.

Sansa sighed. “He was a good man,” she said.

Jon felt a pinprick in his chest at her words. He had avoided the subject for a long time now. But if he was supposed to be remembering he was a Stark, just as Bran said, maybe it was time he broached it. “Sansa, can I ask you something, about Ned?” he said cautiously.

She looked at him curiously. “Of course.”

Jon took a deep breath to steady himself. “Well, you mentioned how your father loved my mother dearly…” he was almost whispering.

“Yes?” Sansa prompted him.

“What did he think of me?” he asked and watched Sansa’s brow furrow. “I mean—did he hate me, for killing his sister?”

Sansa’s jaw nearly dropped as he finished. “What? Jon, no,” she said urgently, placing a comforting hand on his forearm. Her touch sparked within him. “No. Did you honestly think that?” she studied him.

“I thought it was possible,” he said.

She shook her head forcefully. “Jon, no. Never. You didn't kill her, Jon. None of us thought that. My father—he always said one of his biggest regrets was not finding you. He wanted to bring you home to us,” she said emphatically.

Jon inhaled sharply at her words and closed his eyes for a moment. He could feel tears building but he tried to push them back. Did Sansa speak for true? He didn’t think she would lie to him about something like that, but he could hardly contain his reaction.

(Bring you home to us).

“Really?” he asked, shakily.

“Yes, Jon, really.” She told him. He opened his eyes to find Sansa cupping his face with both hands. Her eyes flitting rapidly between his. He could feel something shifting between them, even if he couldn’t quite identify it. His eyes moved to her lips. He got the strange feeling he was about to kiss her, or she him, and he started to lean toward her.

A knock at her door interrupted them, causing them to jump apart. Jon’s breaths were shallow and uneven as he watched Sansa stand and straighten her hair and dress before opening the door. He hardly remembers what news Brienne brought to her, but Sansa was then pulled away to her duties, and Jon excused himself before making his way back to his room. At his basin, he splashed water on his face. But it was a long time before he felt his blood begin to cool.

Chapter Text

When Bran suggests the next step is for Jon and Sansa to warg into Ghost together, Jon sees the way Sansa’s hand tightens on her cup of ale. His own hand flexes beneath the table. They had agreed to break fast in Sansa’s solar: him, Sansa, Bran, and Arya. He’s not sure if Arya’s fully warmed to him yet, but he is spending more time with all his Stark cousins.

“Is that something wargs can do?” Sansa asked as evenly as possible. He suspected she felt as surprised at Bran’s suggestion as he did.

“Yeah, Bran, I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Arya said, glancing at her brother pointedly.

Bran briefly glances to Arya before looking back to Jon and Sansa. “It’s rare—but some circumstances call for it. The bonds you’re building, they are progressing. But Jon has been most successful warging in his sleep.”

“What does that mean?” Jon asked.

“It means I think if you and Sansa warg into Ghost together while neither of you is asleep, it will be easier for you, Jon, to warg without dreaming. And when you warg into the dragons, you’ll need to be awake.”

Jon ran a hand through his hair nervously. The thought of warging into Ghost was less intimidating than it used to be but thinking about the dragons made him feel overwhelmed. He needed practice on that, he was sure.

“And you think this will work?” Sansa asked her brother. He watched her arch her brow. Jon imagined this made her nervous, but she approached it with a queenly bearing, nevertheless.

“I think it will help you both, yes,” Bran said, looking between them. “That is, if you’re willing to try,” he said to both of them.

Jon nodded, too eagerly, he thought. He looked at Sansa.  

She nodded. “I’m willing to try if you are,” Sansa said and looked at him hesitantly.

“I’m willing,” he said. More than willing, he thought. Soon he and Sansa would attempt to warg into Ghost together.  It was intimidating but more than anything, exciting, to think about sharing something with Sansa on that level. But would she know how he felt then? Did she know already? Perhaps he was a fool to look forward to this, but he couldn’t help it.

---

That night at dinner Tyrion was in top form, and by top form, Jon thought, the man was so far into his cups he wasn’t sure Tyrion could make it back to his chambers. Someone would likely have to carry him. Jon did not relish the thought. Perhaps Jorah could. He sat at a table in the back, but Jon thought he might need to call him forward soon.

Jon especially didn’t like the way the man was looking at Sansa. Eyes gleaming with drunkenness, gazing at Sansa too much, with fondness and something else; something more. Jon didn’t like that at all. Tyrion leaned toward her that evening as most of the crowd had filtered out. “You know, we never really made a proper go of it, did we, Your Grace?” he slurred, a bit of his wine spilling onto the table.

Jon scoffed. At least he said Your Grace this time, Jon tried to tell himself. But his gut churned with anger. Tyrion himself had said it was a sham marriage—why would he say such a thing now? Surely, he didn’t think he would get anywhere with this? Jon moved forward to take the man’s drink. Tyrion dodged back with his wine, surprisingly deft in his evasion.

“Now, now Prince Jon. I was asking the Queen a question if you don’t mind,” Tyrion said.

Sansa’s gaze on Tyrion was measured and Jon couldn’t for the life of him figure out how she managed such composure. “No, Lord Tyrion, we did not. Do you mean to tell me you lament such a loss?” she asked with a smirk. She was trying to joke as if he were an old friend, and maybe in some sense he was to her.

He laughed. “How could I not, the beautiful Queen in the North who could have been mine?” he said, raising a cup to her in a salute.

“Tyrion, that’s enough,” Jon snapped. Sansa put a hand on Jon’s forearm to calm him. It had started to work, too. Until he saw Tyrion watching the touch with a knowing grin directed at Jon.

Sansa quickly removed her hand from Jon. She leaned slightly toward Tyrion. “I wonder, the last I saw you this drunk, do you remember? Our wedding night?” she said. And though she sounded friendly, as if catching up on old times, Jon believed he knew her well enough now—she was looking for any way to end this interaction tactfully.

Tyrion shrugged and smirked lightly at her. “Bits and pieces,” he said.

“Yes, I imagine. I asked you if it was wise to continue drinking—”

“And nothing was ever wiser!” he said, raising his glass nostalgically. “True then and true today, if I do say so myself,” he slurred, bringing his drink back to his lips.

Jon thought a look passed over Sansa’s face—a strange combination of concern and disdain. She cleared her throat. “Yes, well, if I recall correctly, and I believe I do remember better than you, you passed out on the settee and awoke the next morning with a most troublesome headache. Perhaps you should make to bed now, to avoid such a recurrence.”

“Ah, yes, wise, so very wise, clever, beautiful Queen,” he rambled, staring into his cup.

“Ser Jorah,” Jon said and made his way to the back of the room, unable to listen to his drunken flirting any longer. “Would you please escort Lord Tyrion to his chambers?” Jorah began to stand with a look of surprise when Tyrion spoke.

“No, no. You, Prince Jon. You escort me to my chambers, I haven’t had enough time to speak with you of late,” Tyrion said, stumbling away from the table. Jon could see Arya’s scowl as she moved close to Sansa and eyed the dwarf suspiciously. Sansa was watching too, but Jon couldn’t make out the expression on her face.

Jon swallowed thickly and nodded. “All right, come along,” he motioned for Tyrion to follow him. The man may be small, but Jon was not going to carry him unless he absolutely had to. The man’s unsteady steps brought him beside Jon. He looked back to see that Jorah had left, Sansa was speaking with Ser Davos, and Arya was watching the two of them leave closely. He still wasn’t sure about how Sansa’s sister felt about him, and the notion made him nervous.

As they made their way through a darkened corridor, Tyrion began to speak. “The Queen in the North, the Queen in the North—you remember the way they chanted for her?”

Jon forced himself not to smile, he knew it’d be bad for Tyrion to see such pride he had in Sansa. And that was what he felt when he recalled the way they’d chanted. And he realized even more how he felt tied not only to Sansa, but the North as well. “I do,” Jon said neutrally.

“Daenerys will not be happy, Jon, she will be expecting us to send word,” Tyrion slurred, and Jon’s chest clenched. Were they running out of time? He hadn’t even warged into Ghost awake yet for more than a few seconds. How long might they have?

“It takes time to persuade people, Tyrion. Especially in the North,” Jon said, hoping to placate him.  

“Ah yes, persuade, persuading people, persuading Sansa,” he murmured. They reached the door to Tyrion’s chambers. “Come in Jon and have a drink with me?”

Jon arched a brow at him. “You’re going to have another drink?”

“Don’t be such a Septa, Jon, really,” he said, opening the door as he leaned into it. Jon reluctantly followed him. After the door was shut, Tyrion stumbled into a chair by his desk. “You know, Prince Jon, Sansa was my wife.”

Jon’s fists clenched. He hated the man bringing such things up, part due to the reminder of Sansa’s captivity and part due to Jon’s irrational jealousy. That Tyrion should have gotten to call Sansa his wife. “You said she was hardly ever your wife, remember?”

Tyrion appraised him with glazed over eyes. “Wife in name at least. But that bothers you, doesn’t it?”

Jon shifted nervously on his feet. “Excuse me?”

Tyrion rolled his eyes and reached for yet another drink. “You are supposed to be persuading her, she is not supposed to be persuading you,” he said lowly.

Jon scowled. “I don’t appreciate what you’re implying.”

“No?” he said. “Well allow me to state it outright—you are letting her seduce you and thinking with your cock.”

Don’t talk about her like that,” Jon snapped.

“It wouldn’t offend you so if it weren’t true,” he said.

Jon took a deep breath, willing himself to calm. He was getting too close to letting his feelings rule here, he couldn’t let Tyrion see that. “Like you don’t do that with my aunt?” he asked. Tyrion had always looked at Jon’s aunt that way—the same way he looked at Sansa tonight.

Tyrion narrowed his eyes. “We are both sworn to our Queen, Jon. Do you think she will take kindly to your divided loyalties?”

“My loyalties are not divided.” That much was true, though he hoped Tyrion took it in the other direction.

“Good. Keep it that way.” Jon thought he might have placated Tyrion for now, at least. As he made his way out the door Tyrion spoke again. “But we cannot put this off forever Jon. One way or another your aunt will have to know what’s happening in the North.”

Jon sighed and looked back at the dwarf. “Just a little more time, I’m making progress.” Tyrion nodded and Jon left. He’d delayed a little longer. But he’d have to speak with Sansa on the morrow. Time was running out.  

---

Jon was headed to Sansa’s solar the next morning when a small, dark figure pushed him into a darkened alcove. Jon immediately made to grab his sword before he heard the voice of Arya: “don’t you even think about it,” she hissed. The cold blade of a dagger was at his throat.

His whole body stiffened on high alert. “Princess—”

“And don’t call me Princess,” she snapped at him.  

“Fine,” he said. “Is the dagger really necessary?” He knew she distrusted him, but a dagger? Had they really made this little progress after all his time working with Sansa and Bran?

“I’m the one asking questions,” she said. But he felt her lessen the pressure of the blade at his throat, if not remove it outright. “What did you and Tyrion speak of last night?”

He breathed. So that’s what this was about. He remembered the way she had eyed them upon their exit from the Great Hall the night before. “Well? I’m waiting,” she said. He could just now begin to make out her features as his eyes adjusted to the dark. Despite all the hard looks she’d given him in the past, there was something different about her glare now, even if he couldn’t place it.

“He said we were going to have to write to my aunt soon,” Jon told her.

“What else?”

“I…” truthfully, he was a little embarrassed to repeat any of what Tyrion said about Jon’s feelings for Sansa.

“I said what else?” she spat, pressing the blade harder against him.

“Okay, okay,” he said, holding his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. “He said that I was supposed to be persuading Sansa instead of the other way around. That my aunt wouldn’t appreciate divided loyalties.”

“And are your loyalties divided?” her eyes narrowed.

It was strange to have this conversation again. But at least he could be honest this time. “I would never betray Sansa,” he said.

She continued to stare hard at him for a few moments, studying him for any deception. She must have decided she had her answer for a moment later she lowered her dagger from his throat, and he let out a deep breath. Yet, Arya still looked at him closely. “You’re in love with her—my sister.”

Jon inhaled sharply. Had he been that transparent? First Tyrion and now Arya. He thought about denying it, but what use was it when she clearly already knew the truth? “I am,” he said on a quiet exhale. He’d not had anyone to talk to about it before, and it was strange to first admit it to the cousin who seemed most hostile to him. She took a step closer to him and he forced himself not to take another step back. She was small but Jon had seen enough to know she was a skilled fighter and surprisingly intimidating despite her stature. But he wasn’t going to cower.

“Bran says you will help us. But if you hurt my sister, if you break her heart—just know I will kill you,” Arya said determinedly. “And I’ll make it hurt.” From the bite in her voice, Jon believed her.

Break her heart? Jon felt a spark of hope—did that mean Sansa really might care for him too? “I won’t. I wouldn’t,” he said. Hurting Sansa—breaking her heart—was the absolute last thing he would ever want to do.

Arya looked him up and down once more with narrow eyes. “I am usually a good judge of character,” she said, still a hint of warning in her voice. “Don’t disappoint me, cousin.” And then she walked away abruptly.

Cousin. Family. A small smile came to his lips.

---

Bran was with her that morning when Jon entered her solar. After Tyrion’s display the night before, Sansa was ready to call another council meeting. Whatever was driving Tyrion’s behavior, it was clear her ex-husband was becoming a bigger threat, or so Sansa thought. She was sure it was no coincidence that Tyrion had borderline flirted with her, brought up their marriage, and then asked Jon to escort him to his chambers. She knew the man was trying to gauge not only her reactions, but Jon’s as well. She had managed to seem unbothered, or so she thought, not appearing disturbed, but instead amused and perhaps even fondly reminiscing with Tyrion. In actuality she could hardly remember a time when she had been angrier. Certainly not since she’d been safe in the North. But Jon, she thought, almost appeared jealous. And if Tyrion had meant to push them together, he certainly meant for Sansa to be the one more emotionally involved, not Jon. But she couldn’t pretend she wasn’t emotionally involved, either. Since that first time warging into Ghost, her feelings had intensified, to the point that she was beginning to think she was falling in love with him. Maybe she was already there. But she needed to stay disciplined. She had a feeling that Tyrion would in all likelihood begin suspecting them of plotting soon.

And so it was of little surprise when Jon entered and immediately spoke of his conversation with Tyrion the night before. “We’re running out of time, he says we will have to send word to my aunt soon,” he told her, and she thought she could see the color drain from his face as he spoke on it.

Sansa sighed. “I suspected as much. I will have to call a council meeting.” She said and began to exit her solar.

“Wait—” he said, stopping her footsteps as she turned to look at him. He looked uncertain of exactly what he wanted to say.

“Yes?” she asked.

“We’re supposed to practice warging into Ghost today,” he said, looking from her to Bran. “If we’re running out of time, then I need to be making progress quickly.”

“Jon is right,” Bran said.

Sansa bristled slightly. She was nervous about warging with Jon. Especially since, after her first warging, the perception of Jon as her mate had continued within Ghost’s thoughts and her own. She didn’t know how this might change with Jon warging as well, and even if she knew it was important, some part of her was scared. “But I really need to speak with all of my advisers, Bran,” she said, choosing to address her brother instead of Jon directly.

“Later today,” Bran said. “This is more important.”

Sansa stared at her little brother for several moments. She couldn’t help but feel that Bran was maneuvering her in some way, and it made her uncomfortable. Sometimes, his detachment and abilities made it feel like he merely saw everyone as pawns. She knew that wasn’t the truth of it, not fully anyway—but still, it bothered her. “And you’re certain of that?” she asked, stepping toward him, crossing her arms, and giving her most stern look. He would understand that she was not speaking as a sister now, but as a Queen.

But he did not shrink away. “I’m certain.” Just then a knock came at the door. “That’s Meera,” Bran said, “I asked her to come for me.” Jon made to open the door and Ghost trotted to her side, as if he already anticipated the work they were about to do. Meera was pushing Bran out when she called to him once more.

“Bran?” she asked, and he turned to face her briefly. “Any other advice on how to do this?” Sansa wasn’t sure she was ready for this.

Bran looked between her and Jon. She felt scrutinized, and by the way Jon was shifting on his feet next to her, she suspected he felt the same. “It’s not just about the bond with Ghost,” Bran said. “It’s about your bond with each other.”

She could feel Jon’s eyes on her then, but she kept watching Bran until Meera closed the door behind them. She walked over to latch the door, before reluctantly meeting Jon’s gaze. He smiled at her softly, shyly. She realized he was nervous too. It gave her some comfort, she supposed.

Sansa cleared her throat, not trusting her voice much at the moment. “I suppose we should begin,” she said.

Jon nodded. “I suppose we should.”

She sat by the hearth on a small bench, and Jon joined her. Ghost sat at their feet, equidistant between them. She clasped Jon’s hand like always. It was strange how often they touched now, and Sansa never flinched away. She looked at him and he smiled at her. She smiled back. Ghost raised up on his legs and Sansa began petting him. “Will you close your eyes too?” she asked. She felt silly asking the question but, well—she felt awkward closing her eyes if he would keep his open.

“Aye, I will,” he said, and reached out the hand not grasping hers to pet Ghost as well. She closed her eyes and felt Jon relax beside her.

Sansa willed herself to relax too. Calm helped her as she developed her warging skills. She concentrated on Ghost’s fur beneath her fingertips, but remembering Bran’s advice, she also concentrated on the feel of Jon’s hand in hers…

Soon she felt herself move into Ghost. She looked up and saw herself and Jon sitting with their clasped hands, and she had to admit she liked the picture. But had it worked? Was Jon here?

And then, a moment later…

Sansa?

Jon?

I’m here.

Wow, we really did it, Sansa said. How does it feel? She asked him.

Strange, not bad—just different.

Very.

Should I try to move? He asked her hesitantly.

Yes, she said. She thought this would feel weird to her, but it almost felt natural.

Me too.

What?

Natural.

Oh…

That’s good, right?

Yes. Ghost began walking from their forms to a resting pillow Sansa kept for him in a corner.

Are you helping me? Jon asked.

No. She said. Ghost settled into the pillow.

Sansa?

Yes?

Jon felt nervous, because suddenly a thought he assumed he was sharing with Ghost began to come forth.

…Mate.

What?

Sansa, I’m—I’m sorry.

Mate? Did you say mate?

…I did. Jon said.

And suddenly, Jon and Sansa saw a flash of white light behind Ghost’s eyelids before everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Ghost was in the Godswood watching them, his masters. His masters stood at the Heart Tree. Ghost watched his Wolf Queen in her finery, his soon-to-be Wolf King in his own. His Wolf King draped a cloak across his beautiful Wolf Queen. He heard the Wolf King say he was a Stark. The pack was complete, Ghost thought with satisfaction.

Jon and Sansa came to at the same time. Gripping hands with one another for dear life. And Jon felt like he’d fallen from a great distance. He tried to piece together what he’d just seen through Ghost’s eyes. Had Sansa seen it too? If Jon was correct, wasn’t the vision showing them…

“Marrying,” Sansa whispered. She looked at him, her pupils blown wide.

“Sansa,” he said, not knowing what else to say.

“I saw it too,” she said. And Jon wondered if she had heard his thoughts, even now. He still held her hand, and he was glad she hadn’t made to pull it away.

“What does it mean?” He asked. He felt disoriented, but he supposed the truth was he already knew. Some part of him, he thought, had known all along.

Sansa shook her head as she thought about it. “I think it was a vision.”

“Of the future?” he asked, unable to hide the hope in his voice.

She looked at him, the barest hint of a smile forming. “I think so,” she said quietly.

“Sansa,” he rasped her name reverently. He felt like all the air was rushing out of his lungs. He reached out his other hand to cup her face, and she leaned into the touch. Heart pounding, Jon leaned slowly toward her, he looked from her lips to her eyes and back again, hoping it would signal his intent. She began to lean toward him. Softly, Jon brought his lips gently to hers in a kiss.

It was a whisper of a touch. He didn’t want to scare her off. But he held the kiss for several moments as her lips pressed back to his. He would not try for more, but just the feel of her lips against his own was enough to send sparks through his whole body, it seemed. Her lips were soft, just as he imagined. It was everything. Delicate. He would treat her with care—for the rest of their lives if she would let him. They pulled apart and stared at one another in silence, taking deep breaths.

“Sansa,” he said. “I want to be with you, I would like…I would like to marry you,” he whispered. He wasn’t sure how she would react.

He watched Sansa’s eyes flit between his, and he thought he saw a flicker of fear in them. Jon hated that. He reached for both of her hands and took them in his own. “I don’t mean now. I understand we couldn’t now—what with my aunt, but…later, if you would have me, I would be honored to be your husband, Sansa.”

Despite the vision, he felt he was standing at a precipice, having made himself vulnerable. Jon knew it was still possible for her to reject him. She looked at him hesitantly and Jon steeled himself for the worst. “Jon,” she whispered. “I’m not ready for that now. And not just because of your aunt, I don’t know when I’ll be ready.”

He rubbed his thumb across her wrist soothingly. “I will wait however long you need, Sansa.”

“Oh, Jon,” she inhaled sharply, and he could see tears building in her eyes. She pulled her hands from his only to take his face in her palms. Her touch soothed something inside him. He felt safe. He felt home. She leaned forward and kissed him again. Time could have stopped for all he knew. All that mattered to Jon was right here in that moment, her mouth fused to his. When she eventually pulled back, they rested their foreheads against one another. He slowly put his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him, waiting to see if she would tense or pull away but she didn’t.

“Sansa, I love you,” Jon said softly.

He could feel her breathe against him. “I love you too,” she said. Jon closed his eyes, determined to savor this moment. To feel her love warming him from the inside out.

“But Jon, for now—I think we need to keep this between us, well Bran will probably know,” she said. Sansa smiled gently at him. He didn’t think he’d ever seen her so happy, so peaceful. Almost carefree, he thought. It filled his heart to think he had something to do with it.

He chuckled lightly.

“What?” she asked curiously.

“It’s just, well—Arya already knows. I mean, she knows I’m in love with you. I spoke with her this morning.”

“You did?” she asked, her head cocking to the side.

“Before I got here, she grabbed me and put a dagger to my throat,” Jon knew it was strange, but he couldn’t help smiling anyway.

Sansa pulled back a little, eyes wide. “She what?”

“It’s okay, Sansa. She wanted to know about Tyrion, and I told her what I told you and Bran. And then she said if I broke your heart, she would kill me.”

“Oh, well,” Sansa considered. “That sounds like Arya. But she shouldn’t have pulled her dagger, I will talk to her—”

“You don’t need to, Sansa,” Jon told her. “Oddly, I think it was her way of accepting me. She called me cousin.”

“Oh,” Sansa said, and a small, adorable giggle fell from her lips. He felt so happy—he was sure he was the happiest he’d ever been. Sansa loved him. Sansa. Loved. Him. He pulled her closer and kissed her again. He felt her smile against his own. Gods, did it feel good. For awhile they sat embracing quietly. They didn’t need to say anything in that moment, he thought. They were so attuned to one another.

But then, she had a thoughtful look on her face that made him think something was bothering her. She stood up and looked back at him. “Jon, I don’t know how this—” she said, motioning her hand between the two of them, “works.”

He stood up as well and took a step toward her. But he didn’t reach for her because he sensed she needed the space. “We’ll figure it out.” He was certain that they could.

She looked at him questioningly. “But your aunt? Tyrion? This is complicated Jon, and I don’t know if your aunt will go to war with the North when she sees I won’t bend.”

He sighed. He knew this was coming, but he didn’t want to face it. Could he perhaps broker peace? He couldn’t imagine his aunt giving up the North. But might he be able to convince her? What might it take? Would she kill him if she thought he’d abandoned her? He knew it was a distinct possibility. But then, he was her heir and that made her more reluctant. He couldn’t say for sure.

“Jon,” she said hesitantly. She looked at her hands, running a thumb over her palm, a habit he’d noted she had when she was nervous. Then she looked back at him. “I know it isn’t fair to you. I don’t want to ask you to choose.”

He looked in her eyes and he knew she meant it, truly and deeply. But that was what it came down to, wasn’t it? If he couldn’t broker peace, he would have to choose. North or South. Stark or Targaryen. Sansa or Daenerys. The few moons he’d spent in Winterfell had changed him forever. He knew there was no going back.

He’d already made his choice.

And so, Jon dropped to his knee. Sansa looked down at him, gaping. “Jon!” she said in shock.

“I don’t really know how this works,” he admitted.

“Get up,” she said, grabbing for his hand. “Stop kneeling.”

“I’m trying to pledge myself to you,” he told her insistently, but he let her pull him up, and kept his hand in hers.

“Well, you’re right that you don’t know how this works. There are supposed to be witnesses, for one, and for two, what are you thinking?! I don’t want you to put yourself in danger like that,” she said, swatting his chest in admonishment.

He smiled despite her protests. She wanted him safe. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing there are no witnesses, and maybe you can keep that to yourself?”

She nodded, looking at him in mystification. He put his hands on her cheeks and pulled her in for another kiss.

“Jon,” she said when they pulled apart. “You shouldn’t just pledge yourself to me because you have feelings for me.”

“I’m in love with you. But I’m not pledging to you because of that, Sansa,” he said. She raised a brow at him, and he laughed softly. “I’m not, really. I’ve seen how you rule the North—you’re good at it.”

She flushed at his praise, and he tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear. “I love my aunt, don’t get me wrong. But I already told you I find it harder and harder to support her. She’s—”

He still feels guilty saying it. But all he can think are his aunt’s lover Daario’s words. “She’s a conqueror, not a ruler. I wish it weren’t true, but it is,” he said sadly. How he wished Dany could be happy with the things she had instead of always looking for more. But he supposed he was guilty of that in a sense, too, because he had wanted more, and he’d found it here. “And the North, it feels like it could be home to me, if you’d be okay with that, that is,” he said hesitantly.

She gripped his hand. “Of course I would be okay with that.”

But then her smile dimmed. “What?” he asked. She looked back at him and he thought she looked worried. Maybe even guilty.

“If we’re really serious about this, Jon,” she said, taking a deep breath as if to steel herself. “Then I think we have to be completely honest with one another. We need to tell each other the full truth.”

She looked as nervous as he felt at that. He gulped and nodded.

“I’ll start,” she said, and moved a little away from him. “I’ve had Arya follow you and listen in on your conversations with Tyrion.” She looked at him fearfully.

He cleared his throat. “Okay,” he said.

“Okay?” she asked skeptically.

It made him uncomfortable, yes. But he understood why she’d do it. “I’m not entirely surprised, I guess. I came into your home to force you into submission, so, it makes sense.”

She still looked at him cautiously. “She told me that you and Tyrion talked about how he wanted to use you getting to know the North and our family as a way to appeal to me and the North. Bran told me I should help you understand the North and the Starks because you were a potential ally.”

“Oh,” he said softly. That hurt a little, he had to admit. “So the crypts…”

She closed the distance between them and grasped his hand. “I would have let you see it anyway, Jon. I swear it,” she said, tears forming in her eyes. He caressed her cheek.

“I believe you,” he said. And he did believe her. She was kind to him, and he knew they’d really begun connecting that day. Sansa had been genuine. She had been cautious too—almost as if she were afraid of him getting too close to her. But she’d had reason to be afraid, given what they were there for. She had to protect her people, whatever connection might have been growing between them. He sighed. “I won’t lie and say that doesn’t hurt a little.”

“I’m sorry,” she said thickly, and a tear ran down her cheek, he wiped it away and kissed along the trail it’d made on her skin.

“Shh, Sansa. I know. I forgive you. Gods, dragons, dragon fire?” he shuddered. “It makes sense you’d be looking for ways to keep everyone safe.”

“You don’t have to make excuses for me, Jon. I’m apologizing and you’re trying to comfort me, it isn’t right.”

“Well, I have an apology of my own to make, if it makes you feel any better,” he said. She looked at him with a hint of fear in her eyes. “I didn’t want to tell you because I was afraid of what you’d think of me,” he said, looking away from her. He moved to sit down.

“Jon?”

“Before Daenerys took the Throne—” he shook his head, willing himself to stay calm. “We had a major setback when Cersei’s forces took Highgarden from the Tyrells. Daenerys was furious. She accused Tyrion of sabotaging her in favor of his sister,” he sighed tiredly. “She wanted to burn King’s Landing, but we convinced her not to. She and Tyrion decided they’d go to the Reach to attack Cersei’s forces there, and of course I went as one of her soldiers. The battle—it wasn’t even close. Dany’s dragons, the Dothraki. We leveled them easily. Then when the remaining forces surrendered, Daenerys gave them a choice—bend the knee or die.”

Sansa moved to sit down across from him. “Tyrion and I tried to convince her she didn’t need to do it. She could send them to the Wall or just keep them as prisoners. But she refused. Most of the soldiers bent the knee, after seeing what the dragons could do. But two men, a father and son from a noble house—they wouldn’t bend. So she burned them alive with her dragons. Gods, I’ll never forget it.”

“No one knows about this,” she said, voice unsteady.

He looked at her, trying to see what she thought of him. “No. Tyrion said we needed to minimize the damage, because no one would support her in the kingdoms if they knew. But Lord Varys—”

“The Spider,” she whispered, a distant look in her eye. He hadn’t thought about it before, but he supposed Sansa knew him once.

“He turned against Daenerys then, and he was going to send word throughout Westeros, but one of Dany’s spies caught his little birds before they could. And she burned him too.” Jon ran an unsteady hand across his face. He realized he was shaking, and he felt pinpricks of tears forming in his eyes. Those men and Varys—it wasn’t the first time she’d burned people, but Jon could always tell himself that those people were slaveowners (he didn’t know if all the nobles in Meereen had been but he tried not to think on it), and if innocent people got hurt, it wasn’t intentional. It had still bothered him—but he’d been able to rationalize it. But with them, here in Westeros, they weren’t clearly evil people—they were political opponents. The crime of the father and son who didn’t want to swear fealty to a ruler they’d never met and didn’t know. And yes, he tried to talk her out of it. But when he failed, he just stood there. He’d done nothing. He still helped her take King’s Landing. He didn’t know if he could forgive himself.

“I’m sorry, I should have told you sooner, Sansa.”

“I forgive you,” she said.

 “Do you? I just stood there. I didn’t stop her. You must think me a monster.”

She shook her head and said quietly, “No, not a monster. I think you were probably afraid.”

He looked at her then, and she was looking at him in such a way that he knew all her walls were down. “After Joffrey killed my father right in front of me, he made me stare at his head on a spike.”

Jon flinched. “I thought about pushing him off a ledge, but I didn’t do it. And after that, I still claimed to love him and called my own family traitors because it kept me alive.”

Jon shook his head. “It’s not the same.”

“Maybe not,” she said, “but it’s not entirely dissimilar either.” She reached for his hand then. He took it in his own. He felt relief flow through him. It didn’t stop his guilt, but he was glad he’d spoken of it, finally.

“It’s just, maybe Varys was right. Maybe people need to know about the Tarlys.”

Her eyes clapped to him. “The Tarlys?”

“The highborn father and son, yes.”

She stood up suddenly. Moving about in distress, she brought her hand to her mouth. “Oh, Gods, Jon,” she breathed.

He stood with her. “Sansa?”

“My Maester,” she whispered.

“Sam?”

She looked at him solemnly. “Maester Samwell Tarly.

Jon’s stomach dropped. Sam had told him he was from the Reach, but he’d never mentioned his surname. The man he had been talking to all along, and Jon and his aunt massacred his family.

“His brother and his father,” she said in horror.

“Gods, I didn’t know he was a Tarly, Sansa,” he said, feeling more guilt than ever. What had they done? He’d known all along these men had loved ones, but knowing and meeting one unawares made it feel more real.

“I have to tell him,” she said and made for the door.

“Wait, Sansa,” he said.

She turned back to him. “You don’t expect me to keep this from him, do you?”

“No,” he sighed. “But how do you want to do this? I knew the secret couldn’t be kept forever, but if you tell him, are you prepared to send word throughout the Kingdoms?” Daenerys had been keeping Horn Hill under constant guard, so Sam’s mother and sister couldn’t send word. But he knew this would happen eventually.

She was silent for a few moments. “People need to know.”

He nodded.

“Even if your aunt already burned someone alive for trying to send word.” She looked grave but determined, and Jon could tell she was prepared to die if need be.

He moved to her urgently and grabbed her arms, pulling her to him, making sure she met his eyes. “I won’t let her hurt you, Sansa. I won’t. I would die before I let that happen.” He hoped it wouldn’t come down to that, but he would do whatever it took to protect Sansa and the Starks. Pack. His eyes drifted to Ghost for just a moment.

Sansa brought her soft hands to both sides of his face. “No dying,” she said.

“I’ll try not to,” he said. Her chin quivered and he had to kiss her then. Kissed her and clung to her. Kissed her like she was the air he needed to breathe, wrapped up tightly in each other's arms. Whatever else happened in the future—at least they’d had this, if only for a moment.

Chapter Text

Sansa was on her way to the rookery with Jon by her side when they met Sam in the hallway. She had a sharp intake of breath at the sight of him. Gods, how was she going to tell him? Sam had become like family to them, and now she had to bring him news of his own family in the South. She knew he hadn’t gotten on well with his father—but he was still his father—and his little brother. Her heart clenched. “Sam,” she said shakily, she could feel Jon stiffen just slightly behind her.

He moved to her with an urgent look on his face. Did he somehow find out already? “Your Grace,” he said gravely. And she knew it was something dreadful because he called her Sansa most of the time, he’d only call her Your Grace when there was a serious matter at hand. Then she noticed the parchment in his hand. “A raven came.”

She looked at it, the sigil of a three headed dragon and whipped her head back to Jon. “Daenerys,” Jon said, a dark, almost haunted look in his eyes.

She reached for the scroll and it felt inexplicably heavy in her grip. “It’s for the Prince, Your Grace,” Sam said quietly. She stared at it dumbly for a moment. She felt Jon’s hand at her elbow.

“We’ll take it in your solar,” he said, and she turned to see his eyes warm and reassuring. How had this man come into her life and made her feel so safe?

She looked back at Sam. She wanted to tell him right away, but she had to imagine it would at least have to wait a little bit longer. “Thank you, Sam, that will be all,” she said, hoping it didn’t sound like the broken croak it felt like in her throat. He nodded to her, looked between her and Jon once more, and departed. They quickly made their way back to her solar and she latched the door behind them. Jon was holding the scroll but hadn’t broken the seal yet, staring at it in what might have been the same kind of helpless gaze she’d given it moments earlier.

“Jon,” she said softly, moving toward him. He looked up at her, and she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen what she was seeing in his expression now. Then she realized.

It was fear.

“You—have you heard from her since you arrived?” she asked. After their emotional confessions, she figured there were no secrets between them, but she still had to check, for her people if for no other reason.

“No,” he said quietly, shaking his head. He moved to break the seal with a trembling hand when there was an abrupt knock at her door. They both nearly leaped out of their skin, and Sansa thought she’d let out a most unladylike yelp at the sound.

“Sansa,” she heard Arya’s voice. She looked back at Jon for a moment and he nodded. She thought that after warging into Ghost together, they might have been able to hear each other’s thoughts, if only a little. She opened the door to find Arya with Bran in front of her. “He said we had to come,” she said, motioning her head to their little brother with a slight annoyed glance at Bran’s odd ways. Sansa can’t help but feel warmth in her chest at the sight of it.

But it leaves her in an instant when she gazes down at Bran—he had that look on his face the same he had the night—

No, her mind screamed. She couldn’t think about that now. But oh, how she missed Robb. She moved to the side to let them in wordlessly. Sansa latched the door again.

“So what’s going on?” Arya said, looking at her and then over at Jon. Her eyes narrowed infinitesimally and then cleared. Perhaps Jon was right, and Arya was coming around.

“It’s Daenerys,” Bran said. “She’s sent a raven to Jon.” His voice is too stilted, his features too old for such a young man.

“Well, what does it say?” she demands of Jon impatiently. It’s almost the tone she uses when she squabbles with her or Bran. Gods, did Arya just need to hold someone at the tip of her dagger to warm to them?

“I haven’t opened it yet,” Jon stammered nervously.

“Well hurry up or I’ll bloody well do it myself!” Arya ordered him. Jon looked at Sansa for just a moment and she could have sworn she saw a hint of warmth in his eyes—she knows he wanted Arya to accept him, even if they’d hardly spoke of it.

It seemed to shake Jon out of his stupor, and he broke the seal. “Sansa?” he said, and she could tell he wanted her at his side to read it along with him. She moved to him immediately as he unrolled the parchment.

Nephew,

I hope this letter finds you well. You, Tyrion, and Jorah have been gone from me for moons now without word. I know we spoke on how stubborn the North could be, but I must say now I have grown worried I have sent you on an errand too large to handle on your own. Forgive me, dear nephew, for failing to realize it. I trust that the Starks have not harmed you—for surely word would have come to me by now. However, I can no longer leave my fellow Dragon in that den of Wolves to fend for himself. Do not fret, for I shall make my way to Winterfell within the next fortnight with my children, so if the Wolves try anything know you shall be safe. Together we will show them the power of the Dragon.

Your Queen,

Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.

She almost feels the wind knock out of Jon as he trembles next to her, his knees nearly buckling as she grabs hold of his side.

“Well, what does it say?” Arya asked with a huff.

“She’ll be here within the next fortnight,” Jon said quietly.

“What?” Arya questions, her eyes clouding with fury and her hands bunching into fists. Jon hands Sansa the scroll and sinks down into a chair behind them. She looks at him as he runs a hand through his hair, a nervous habit, she’s noticed. He looks at her and nods. She hands Arya the parchment. Her eyes scan it quickly as she shifts on her feet. “Gods she really says all her titles?” she asks in exasperation.

Jon snorts.

Arya’s eyes meet hers. “I’ll kill her.”

Arya,” Sansa said sternly.

“She’s threatening to burn us Sansa!” Arya tosses the parchment onto the desk.

Jon is quiet behind her. She’s not sure what he’ll think of Arya’s threat, but when she looks back at him, he’s staring blankly into the space in front of him, like he’s not even listening. “She’s acting like we’ve hurt Jon and she’s going to burn us to protect him,” Arya continued.

“She’s threatening me,” Jon stated darkly. So, he was listening. His eyes clapped to hers. He leaned forward on his knees.

“Explain,” Arya practically growls.

He sighs tiredly and looks at her sister. “I’ve known my aunt my entire life. I can read between the lines. She’s referring to us as Dragons and how I’m in a den of Wolves to remind me of whom I serve, saying I’m on an errand too large to handle on my own—she means it’s a mission she perhaps shouldn’t have trusted me with. Bringing her children? The power of the Dragon? Your Queen? All of that is a warning that I will be safe, so long as I haven’t betrayed her.”

Arya’s brow furrowed, as if she didn’t know what to do with this information. She looked at Sansa, and Sansa knew they were thinking the same thing. “I need to gather my war council,” Sansa said. She risked a glance at Jon. Would he be angry at her?

He looked at her with intense eyes, but if he looked angry, he didn’t look angry with her at least. “Aye, you should,” he said. He stood up and brought his hands to her arms soothingly. She felt herself exhale and some of the tension left her body. She could see that Arya was eyeing them, but she couldn’t read her expression.

“Jon should be there,” Bran said. They all looked to her brother in varying degrees of surprise. “He knows her best, knows her mind and how she strategizes. He’s invaluable.”

“I’ll do it,” Jon said resolutely, one hand moving to the small of her back. His touch made her feel safer, and she still couldn’t help but find it odd.

“Jon,” she said haltingly. This was a nearly impossible position to put him in and she didn’t want to do it, even if she needed to. “She’s your aunt.” But if there was no other choice…

His eyes met hers, deep gray boring into her. “And you’re my family,” he said it with such conviction she found herself moving a hand to cup his cheek gently.

“Jon,” she whispered. He smiled just slightly and leaned forward until his forehead was touching hers.

They could have been alone, she thought. But then: “so I guess this is a thing now,” Arya said, and Sansa pulled back to look at her little sister. What was it she heard in her voice? Disgust? She didn’t think so. Annoyance? Probably. But she figured she could handle that. Arya’s lips curled the smallest bit. Sansa felt warmth in her chest bloom because she realized Arya was happy for her.

“They’re fated,” Bran said with certainty and a small smile she thought was just the slightest bit smug.

Jon chuckled warmly, his hands at her waist. “I knew he was trying to embarrass us,” he said. His eyes were warm and peaceful on hers. She smiled. Gods, how was it they were facing death by dragon fire and she still felt happy in this moment?

“You really need to mind your own business sometimes, Bran,” Sansa reprimanded him lightly.

He shrugged as if in apathy, but his eyes looked anything but. “Excuse me for wanting my sister’s happiness and saving the North,” he said in that dry, sarcastic tone she’d almost forgotten.

She bounded over to him in two long strides, leaned downward and hugged him tightly, the emotion pouring out of her, clutching him as she did when he’d first returned and she could hold him in her arms again for the first time. After several long moments she pulled back, tears shining in her eyes, framing his face in her hands. “There’s my little brother,” she rasped and placed a kiss on his forehead.

“Oh Gods Sansa don’t make me cry,” Arya groaned, pinching her nose and closing her eyes.

Sansa laughed. “Sorry,” she said, though she wasn’t in the slightest. Still perched just above Bran she reached out and squeezed Arya’s hand. Arya smiled. She looked back at Jon, motioning with a nod. “Get over here,” she commanded, but he looked hesitant.

“Oh, just do it,” Arya barked at him. Sansa laughed and Jon’s face lit up so brilliantly it nearly took her breath away as he reached them. He leaned down and kissed the crown of Sansa’s head, rubbing her back. “Gross,” Arya complained. She felt Jon laugh against her.

She looked at Jon, at Arya, at Bran. This was it—this was home. Looked again at Jon and knew they shared the same thought.

Pack. As if they’d actually said it aloud, and Jon’s eyes widened. She cleared her throat and looked at her family surrounding her. “The pack survives,” she said.

“The pack survives,” the three of them echoed back to her.

---

They go to tell Sam first. He needs to know before Sansa convenes her war council and they decide how best to use this information. But it doesn’t stop the feeling Jon has, bereft and scared, he realizes. A different kind of fear than he’d had opening the letter from Daenerys—that being an elemental, even primal, fear, mostly not for himself, but for Sansa and what he now sees as his pack. Because that is what his Stark cousins are now, and it is like a part of him he didn’t even know existed has begun to open up within him. Like plants grow toward the light, he’s pulled to the radiating warmth of his family, his home.

But as much that moment when Sansa had named him amongst her pack and Bran and even Arya had accepted him made his heart soar—he was terrified now of what they had to tell Sam. Of what he’d allowed to happen. Sansa had thought to tell him alone, but Jon felt he would be a coward if he couldn’t look Sam in the eye. If he couldn’t look the truth in the face.

Sam’s wife Gilly is with him, and he knows it’s something bad when Sansa suggests a nurse take little Sam and asks them to sit down. Sam looks from Sansa to Jon and back. “Sam, Jon has shared with me some information his aunt sought to keep hidden,” Sansa said, a tremble caught in her voice and Jon could tell she was holding back tears. Sam looks at them with furrowed brows.

“I’ll tell him,” Jon said, placing a hand at Sansa’s elbow. It was the least he could do. She looked back at him, her blue eyes swimming.

“Jon, you don’t—”

“I do, Sansa,” he said firmly. He hoped she could understand. It was nowhere near adequate penance. But he wouldn’t let her do this for him. She searched his face worriedly before she nodded.

“What is it?” Gilly asked. Sam was looking at him, but he wasn’t speaking. He looked as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Jon glanced to Gilly for a moment and looked back at Sam. “Your father and brother, they fought for Cersei Lannister.” It was the only place he could think to start.

“Yes,” Sam said, with narrowed eyes. “She was the Queen then.”

Jon nodded and resisted the urge to look at his feet. “Yes, well, they met my aunt in battle,” he breathed, eyes locked on Sam’s.

“They fell in battle?”

Jon breathed shakily. “Not then, no.”

“What do you mean not then?” Sam said, standing up now to face him as Gilly pulled at his arm, but he waved her off.

Jon closed his eyes for just a moment before looking at Sam again. “After they surrendered my aunt gave them a choice—bend the knee or die.”

“You call that a choice?” Sam’s voice was quiet but filled with rage and despair. He heard a feminine hiccuping sob, but he couldn’t tell if it was Gilly’s or Sansa’s—all he could see was Sam.

“No,” he croaked, his throat raw. “But she did. When they refused to kneel, she burned them alive.” He was up against the wall before the last syllable was out of his mouth. Sam grabbed ahold of his collar and shook him, not so much in anger, Jon thought, but in desperation.

Sam’s mouth twisted and tears were in his eyes. “You,” he spit. “You! You knew this whole time.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know they were your kin when we met.”

“You’re sorry? You’re sorry?!” He shoved Jon harder against the wall.

“Sam!” Gilly called. She appeared by his side, placing a hand on his shoulder, and Sansa came by his other side.

“No. No,” Sam said helplessly as he let go of Jon and began turning away. “No, no. Not Dickon. My father—not even he deserved to die like that.” Gilly pulled him into her arms. “But Dickon—Gods, my little brother,” he gasped and began sobbing into Gilly’s shoulder. Jon could only watch uselessly, as Sansa approached and placed a soothing hand to Sam’s shoulder.

“I’m so sorry, Sam,” Sansa cried. She looked over at him, not in anger but sorrow. He felt it should be in anger. He kept himself braced against the wall, feeling that he might collapse to the floor any second.

This was his fault. Or, maybe not all his fault. But he’d been party to it. He understood now, more than ever, the monstrous acts he, Tyrion, and all of Daenerys’s worshipers enabled. Somewhere beneath that guilt, horror, and shame, there was a greater anger than he had ever allowed himself to feel for his aunt. Before, he thought he still had love for his aunt. But watching Sam, seeing the pain they’d put others through (and because Sam wasn’t even the half of it), he began to think maybe he didn’t love her at all anymore. In fact, he thinks he may hate her.

A few moments later, Sam began to quiet and turned back to Jon, looking more stoic now. Still, he took a moment to gather himself before speaking. “My mother and sister would have sent word. Are they…?”

“They’re alive,” Jon hurriedly told him.

“Are they prisoners?” he asked.

He nodded. “Essentially. They’re still in their home but they’re under constant guard. I’m so sorry Sam.”

Sam looked at him searchingly, as if trying to piece together what man Jon was before him.

You don’t seem like a bad guy, he’d said.

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“Because we have to stop her,” Jon said. Sansa looked over at him, and she may have been surprised by his tone, and the finality with which he said it. He knew she felt anxious about his potentially warring with his aunt. But he was more assured of it than ever. Hopefully, it wouldn't be war, but they needed to be ready.

“Her raven, Sam. She said she is coming within the next fortnight with her dragons,” Sansa said gravely. Sam’s lips parted and Gilly clutched his arm anxiously. “We have to gather our war council and rally our bannermen. We need to do it as quickly as possible.”

Sam looked at him. “Can you do it, Jon?”

There were a variety of things Sam could have meant. “Do what?”

“Can you stop her?”

Jon wasn’t sure if Sam meant her, or her dragons, or both. But he supposed the answer was the same regardless. His eyes flitted to Sansa’s for a moment, deep, warm, encouraging, loving. Still. Even still, now that she knew. “I don’t know—but I will do everything in my power trying to stop her. I will die before I let her do to the North what she’s done to your family.”

He studied Jon for another moment. Then, almost imperceptibly, he nodded to Jon. He knew what it meant—Sam was choosing to trust him, even if he was angry with him. Sam looked to Sansa.

“Then we’d best get to work.”

Chapter Text

They move quickly, just as Sansa said they needed. One of the first things they do, more from Jon’s insistence than anything, is have Jon formally bend the knee to Sansa, pledging himself to her and the North, with a mere handful of witnesses. He kneels before Sansa with Davos, Sam, Bran, and Arya as witnesses in her solar. For now, they decide to inform the lords and ladies in the war council but otherwise keep it quiet. It’s strange, Jon thinks, that he feels an inner sense of peace just from the action. But it feels right. He feels like he’s doing the right thing, for what is possibly the first time in his life.

“Her armies are from Essos, and they will be weakened by the winter moving North,” Sansa said to her council. Lords Glover and Manderly kept glancing to Jon skeptically and he tried to shake off his nerves.

He cleared his throat and began to speak. “Her Grace is right—my own small party still faced travel difficulties, which, had we had greater numbers, would have ensured casualties.”

Lord Glover narrowed his eyes at him. “You mean you and your party who traveled to force us to bend to your aunt?” he snapped.

“Aye,” he said, not backing down from the man’s challenge. Of course they would be skeptical. “And that means I know my aunt better than you do.”

“We cannot trust a Targaryen,” he said.

“Lord Glover, I would remind you that Prince Jon has bent the knee to me and pledged himself to the North. You must trust me, if not the Prince,” Sansa said. “And we will benefit from his insights.”

Jon tried not to show that her defense of him moved him deeply as the assembled looked back to him. “In terms of politics, my aunt is unpracticed in Westerosi custom. The thing we need to be most worried about is her dragons.”

“Can you control them?” Lord Manderly asked.

“I will try,” he stated, refusing to shrink before the lords. He would not lie to them and make promises he wasn’t sure he could keep. The man nodded and they went back to planning. It turned out Sansa still had a detachment of Knights of the Vale in the North. Jon knew the Vale and the Riverlands could potentially declare for Sansa before this was all over, making Sansa Queen of Three Kingdoms. He knew Daenerys would be furious at such a prospect. But hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, and in any case, the North at least had extra support to draw from.

He believed their greatest advantage was the winter itself. His aunt was arrogant, and he imagined that she would underestimate how much the cold would affect her and the dragons. That, and his ability to warg, were two things Jon knew he had to count on. And so he practiced with Ghost as much as possible, warging into him awake and on his own. After the vision he and Sansa had shared, it was like a block in Jon’s mind had been knocked down. He could warg more easily, and he felt a level of comfort and familiarity with Ghost that only grew as he and Sansa became closer as well. Sometimes he wishes it were something different that could have brought them together, but he knows what it is now, to have a family, a pack, and he won’t begrudge finding it the way he did.

---

Tyrion and Jorah are both excited and apprehensive about his aunt’s imminent arrival.

“Have you persuaded Sansa?” Tyrion asked as he poured himself a drink.

Jon fought the urge to roll his eyes. “I was still working to get her to see our side of things. I don’t think Daenerys coming here is all that persuasive,” he said. As long as he makes it seem like the headaches he has match the ones Tyrion has, Jon imagines he will be in the clear.

“Your aunt isn’t exactly the patient sort,” Tyrion said. He contemplated for a few moments. “And do you believe there is chance for a betrothal? She’s grown fond of you, and you of her, I know,” Tyrion said.

Jon bit the inside of his cheek. “No. I told you before, Queen Sansa would know what the betrothal means, and she’d never do it.” Tyrion studied him and Jon refused to let himself squirm.

“Then I suppose we wait for our Queen,” Tyrion said dejectedly, staring into his wine.

Jon made to exit. “I suppose we do,” he said and hid his smile, knowing he was now pledged to another Queen. A Queen he believed in.

---

Sansa discusses the matter of the Tarlys with Arya, her council, and of course, Sam. She knows he wants to free his mother and sister as soon as possible, but he also knows that they must tread carefully here. If word were to reach the Dragon Queen that they had sent word of the Tarlys to the rest of the kingdoms, she was sure Daenerys would not come with even the thinnest diplomatic pretenses—she would be ready to rain Fire and Blood. And as Bran advised her and the council, Daenerys would be at her weakest once North, with the winter upon her, her armies, and her dragons. She wasn’t sure what Daenerys expected, whether she thought Sansa would bend the knee or if she was ready for war, but Sansa had to prepare the North and her people as best they could for any possibility. And so they had decided to send ravens to the kingdoms right after Daenerys arrived North, when they had the most advantage. Depending on how much trust she placed in Tyrion, Jorah, and Jon, she may believe that her secret was well hidden. But she could not take Jon’s assessment that the threats in her letter were more intended for him than anyone else lightly.

“What’s she like?” she asked Jon one evening in her solar over cups of wine.  

He got a troubled, far-off look in his eye. “She’s self-righteous,” he scratched his beard, eyeing the flames in her hearth. “More than anything, she’s convinced she knows what’s right for everyone, and people who disagree are mere obstacles to her vision,” he said and looked back to her. She could see the weight he carried with him, how run ragged Jon must have been by his aunt when he arrived in Winterfell.

“Maybe we can use that, if she believes in doing the right thing—”

“You’ll never convince her that you or anyone else knows better what is right, not even with your own people,” he said tiredly, finishing his wine.

“Jon, I’m sorry,” she said. Sansa didn’t know what else to say. She and the rest of her family had their differences of course. She and Arya constantly fought when they were younger, and Sansa needed time to forgive Robb for leaving her in King’s Landing. But she had forgiven him, and no matter how much they argued over how best to win back the North or defeat the Dead, she always knew with her family she was safe and loved. It broke her heart to see Jon so weary of his aunt.

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he said softly. He regarded her now with warm eyes as he reached for her hand. “I love you, Sansa,” he said, pulling her toward him, and she found herself going willingly until she was sitting upon his lap.

She felt warm all over. “I love you too,” she said. Turning to look at him. The man she loved. She never would have thought such a thing possible for her, and yet here it was. She stopped dreaming and hoping for it long ago, only for it to come upon her swiftly and without warning. Ever since they had warged into Ghost together, she couldn’t doubt him anymore. Sometimes they were able to share thoughts between them, and there was a trust and intimacy between them that Sansa imagined could never have happened without Ghost and warging together. She ran her fingers through his hair. His curls were pulled back and she began loosening the tie.

Jon held her gently, running one warm hand along her back while the other settled at her hip. “You like my hair?” he asked lightly, grinning softly at her.

“I do,” she admitted. “It’s very pretty,” she said as she untied it and his curls loosened free.

He chuckled. “I’m not so sure pretty is the compliment a man is looking for, but I’ll take it,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her. She loved Jon’s kisses. She loved Jon’s full lips against her own and how safe she felt in his arms. As he deepened the kiss, his hand on her hip tightened as the other gripped at her waist, pulling her closer. The slip of his tongue into her mouth caused her to gasp. He pulled back slightly, his darkened eyes on hers. “Okay?” he whispered against her mouth. Unable to form words, she nodded. He began kissing her again and when his tongue entered her mouth, she met it with her own, stroking her tongue against his. He tasted of wine, sweet and a little bitter.

He let out a sound somewhere between a grunt and a moan, and his hand on her hip lifted to the nape of her neck, his thumb rubbing along her jaw. When they pulled back for air Jon rested his forehead against hers. “Sansa,” he said in a lower tone of voice than she’d ever heard from him before. “We should probably stop,” he said, although it sounded like it pained him. She then noticed something hard in Jon’s lap pressing against her bum. Sansa knew he was probably right, but some wicked part of her prompted her to wiggle in his lap. He hissed through his teeth at that, his grip tightening. “You’ve decided now is the time to test me, is that it?” he asked with a small smile, but his eyes were darkened again, his pupils dilated, and she found it near hypnotizing.

“Maybe,” she whispered and kissed along his neck.

He groaned and held her body tightly against his. “Gods, Sansa, you really have to stop,” he said. She pulled back to look at him, confused by the contradiction in his response and his words. He caressed her cheek and reached forward to place a quick and chaste kiss to her lips. He brushed some of her hair back from her forehead. “I don’t want to rush things. We have time, Sansa,” he said.

“Do we?” she asked. Sansa hated to think of another war on her home and with her people. She had to be strong as Queen, but here with Jon, she could admit how tired of it all she was; how scared she was.

He frowned briefly before pulling her forward and placing a long, lingering kiss to her forehead. “We do,” he whispered against her skin. “I promise.”

---

“Jon,” his cousin Bran called to him in Sansa’s solar as Meera wheeled him in. Sansa was out making the rounds in the glass gardens and Jon had been spending time with Ghost, currently petting the direwolf’s head as he rested it on Jon’s lap.

“What is it?” Jon asked after Meera left them alone. Jon had thought he’d warg into Ghost on his own today since Sansa was so busy, but he wasn’t sure if that’s what Bran was there for.

Bran looked at him, his usual blank face shaping into caution. “I think it is time we spoke, of your mother and father,” Bran said.

Ghost’s ears perked up as Jon tensed slightly. “I thought it was my choice if and when to ask questions,” he said, voice weaker than he cared to admit.

“It is,” Bran said. “But one of your aunt’s dragons is named after your father.”

Jon sighed. “And?” He was starting to understand Sansa and Arya’s frustration with Bran’s cryptic messages.

“Your bond with Ghost improved after you and Sansa,” Bran paused, searching for the right words, “acknowledged the connection between you two.”

Jon bit back a smile. This was still Sansa’s brother after all. Thoughts of the other night when she had been in his lap in this very room caused him to flush.

“I think the more certain you are of yourself, the easier warging will be for you. And warging into Rhaegal could be easier if you learned about your parents. But it’s still your choice, Jon,” Bran said, looking to him somewhat uncomfortably. He figured Bran felt a little strange pushing him like this, but Jon imagined it was important. And it was true that things with Ghost had gotten easier and more natural after his shared vision with Sansa. Part of him knew, too, that putting Bran off now would only delay the inevitable.

He sighed tiredly. “Okay, Bran, we can talk about them. What can you tell me? Did my parents love each other?” he asked.

Bran looked to his feet for a moment and Jon tried not to feel disappointment. But his head dipped as he frowned to himself. “They did,” Bran said. This was surprising enough to get Jon to raise his head and meet Bran’s eyes. “In their own ways.”

“What does that mean?” Jon asked.

Bran sighed. “Well, your father loved your mother—but he was a selfish man in a lot of ways. He kept thinking about the prophecy of the dragon with three heads, and Elia couldn’t give him more children.”

Jon had wondered what it would have been like to know his half-siblings. Had Rhaegar truly disregarded his wife and children so completely? Did he for some reason think they’d be safe? At times though, he’d wondered what kind of suffering his half-siblings might have experienced had they been raised in exile like Jon, Daenerys, and Viserys. Would they be hateful like Viserys? Would they slowly give into a hunger for power as Daenerys had? Would they be sullen and miserable as Jon had been before he arrived North? For whatever reason—perhaps living with Viserys and Dany—he’d always found himself more curious to know of the Starks than the Targaryens.

“I don’t think Rhaegar knew exactly how to love. He tried, and he did have this notion that everything would work out—that he could find a way to make your mother his second wife and all of you would live together.”

Jon snorted. “So much for that.”

“He didn’t have ill intentions,” Bran said evenly, comfortingly.

“Doesn’t change the fact he hurt a lot of people and got a lot of them killed,” Jon said, a trace of bitterness he usually batted away coming forth.

“No, it doesn’t,” Bran said quietly.

Jon breathed in and out slowly before looking back at his cousin. “And my mother?” he asked. He couldn’t get more specific in his questions, and he hoped Bran would just give him what he needed.

Bran, to his surprise, smiled just slightly, with a minute twitch to his lips. “Your mother loved your father. She was four and ten, and completely swept away. Lyanna always thought her life would be a song, and Rhaegar was a dashing knight come to save her,” he said.

Jon winced. “He had a wife and children,” he said. He didn’t judge his mother, Jon found that somehow, he just couldn’t. She’d only been a girl. But he struggled to understand how she must have thought such of Rhaegar given his wife and children.

“Yes, well, Rhaegar believed they could make it work, and Lyanna believed him. It wasn’t exactly the most solid foundation to build a relationship but…”

“But?” Jon asked.

Bran’s eyes met his steadily. “She loved you, Jon. More than Rhaegar, more than anything.”

Jon closed his eyes tightly, unable to handle the roiling emotions inside of him. Tears built behind his eyelids and his breath quivered. “She…she wanted me?” he asked hesitantly, as if he was not ready to believe.

“Yes, Jon,” Bran said gently. “She wanted you very much.”

Ghost was nudging his knee and Jon opened his eyes and began petting the direwolf again. He and Bran were quiet for a while, Jon unable to say much of anything, and he supposed Bran was allowing him the time he needed. He eventually looked over to his cousin. “Thank you, Bran,” he said.

“You’re welcome, Jon.” Bran paused. “It won’t be long before the dragons come,” he said.

Jon only nodded. He knew what it meant. He needed to be ready.

---

That night, he dreamed he was within Rhaegal, flying over the Stormlands. There was a cold air in his lungs as he screeched. Rhaegal’s brothers were restless as they headed North, as the increasingly frigid winter met their scales. Rhaegal’s mother held onto Drogon. Her favorite. Or so Rhaegal thought. Viserion and Rhaegal could not win their mother’s favor as they wished. “We will take what is ours,” his mother was saying as they landed for the night. But he was tired. So very tired. His mother came up to him then, rubbing along his scales in a way she usually reserved for Drogon or only after they’d killed at her behest, and she smiled at him. “And if Jon has forgotten who he is then we will remind him, won’t we?” she asked in a falsely light voice. Rhaegal gave no indication of the presence within him.

Jon was talking to him, calmly, gently. In that warm and genuine way Rhaegal always liked whenever Jon would ride along his back. He’d missed Jon, even if mother wouldn’t like that. Let it be for now, Rhaegal. She doesn’t know I’m here—Jon told him—but remember Rhaegal, you are not to harm the North. You and your brothers are not to harm the North. They are my kin, blood of my blood.

Rhaegal heeded Jon’s instructions, wondering all the while what may happen once his mother arrived North. But one thing he knew: he would get to see Jon again.

Chapter Text

When Daenerys Targaryen arrived in Winterfell, the screeches of her children sent the smallfolk from within the castle walls and those out in Wintertown into a panic, of which Sansa took measures to alleviate as best she could. She had opened the doors of the castle to smallfolk hoping for greater protection. Part of her feared gathering so many in one place, but it was safer than in town or hiding in the Wolfswood, and at least here she could send them into the crypts, likely the safest place should the Dragon Queen attack. Easing the panic was, for the time being, the best she could do.

Still, she thought there was something plaintive, almost mournful, about the dragons’ cries. “I’d say you get used to it,” Tyrion told her with a smile she did not like in the slightest, “but you never really do.” She could feel Jon stiffen as he walked by her side. Jon, Tyrion, and Jorah would be the first to greet the Dragon Queen. Davos, Brienne, Arya, and Bran remained at her side. Then she saw her, silver haired and purple-eyed, uncomfortably dismounting from her horse with Jorah’s assistance. She was flanked by a dark-skinned woman and man, whom Sansa believed stood close enough that they appeared to be lovers. Daenerys was smaller than she imagined. Beautiful. She did not look happy. However, Sansa didn’t think she looked angry either. What, if anything, it meant, Sansa couldn’t say. She had expected the Dragon Queen would have large numbers of her armies with her, but she seemed only to have a small detachment. Perhaps the rest were holding King’s Landing, Sansa thought, or succumbed to the winter on the journey.

She watched from across the courtyard as Daenerys embraced Jon tightly. “Dear nephew,” she said, loudly enough that her voice carried through the wind. She and Arya exchanged a glance. There was no mistaking the possession in her tone. She was making clear that Jon was hers. Not a Stark, but a Targaryen. Not a wolf, but a dragon. Ghost was in the corner, nearly approaching Sansa’s side with a low-building growl. No, she instructed to him in her mind, somehow knowing he would understand her orders and follow them. As long as her dragons rested outside Winterfell’s walls, for the time being, she would not have Ghost draw attention to himself.

Jon was now escorting the Dragon Queen and her party to greet them. They halted a few feet from Sansa. “Your Grace,” Jon said, nodding to Sansa, at which his aunt stiffened, “may I introduce you—”

“No need, Jon,” Daenerys said in a jovial tone, “Missandei will introduce me.” Sansa saw a slight frown pass over Jon’s features as the dark-skinned woman stepped forward.

“May I present, Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.”

Murmurs ran throughout the crowd, and Sansa raised a commanding hand to silence them. No doubt her people were offended by her titles of Queen of the First Men and Seven Kingdoms. But Sansa was not going to let the woman’s arrogance start conflict immediately. Daenerys no doubt noticed how swiftly they quieted at Sansa’s command. She didn’t think the woman liked it.

Davos cleared his throat awkwardly. “May I present Sansa of House Stark, the Queen in the North.” Sansa felt a wave of sympathy for the woman who must memorize and recite those many titles.

“Your Grace,” Sansa said with a courteous nod and polite smile. She would not show deference.

Daenerys’s lips curled in a tight smile that Sansa believed looked like more of a grimace. “The Queen in the North. How delighted I am to make your acquaintance. I must say, Lord Tyrion spoke of your beauty, but his words did not do you proper justice, for you are stunning.”

Sansa pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth for a moment, swallowing her distaste. The Dragon Queen’s compliments immediately made her think of Cersei, and then of Littlefinger. She smiled politely. “You are too kind, Your Grace.”

I’m sorry, she heard Jon say in her mind, though his lips hadn’t moved. She met his eyes briefly. I know, she responded back wordlessly.

“I merely speak the truth,” she said, her jaw ticking. Sansa thought it was from irritation, but the more she noticed, the more she thought the woman was cold. She was dressed in white furs, but not enough for Winter in the North.

“Shall I have my ladies’ maids show you and your party to your chambers?” Sansa asked.

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Daenerys said, grabbing onto Jon’s arm abruptly. “I’m sure my nephew may escort me.”

“I hardly know the castle well enough, aunt,” Jon said with a tight smile. She almost saw a family resemblance between them then, if only in the false smiles they gave.

“Then walk with me as the ladies’ maids lead the way, Jon. Forgive me, but I so wish to catch up with my nephew,” she said. Sansa saw Jon’s face pale.

“Of course, I understand, Your Grace,” Sansa nodded.

Try not to let her goad you, Jon, she told him in her head.

I will try for you, my love, he answered. When she glanced to him again, he gave her the briefest glimpse of a small genuine smile. A moment later, Jon and his aunt were headed inside, and Sansa let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

---

“She is quite beautiful, isn’t she beautiful, Jon?” Daenerys asked him in a falsely friendly tone, as she looked between him and Tyrion as if they were sharing a bit of gossip.

“She is striking,” Jon said, fighting back his discomfort.

“Absolutely gorgeous,” Tyrion piped in, and Jon had never wanted to punch the dwarf more than he did in that moment, as the man played his aunt’s game.

“Yes, exactly,” Daenerys said to Tyrion, crossing her arms and smiling up at Jon, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I should think you’d have no difficulty bedding her, dear nephew,” she said.

Jon’s fists clenched for moment, before he released them, not wishing to betray his level of anger at her words. His aunt’s jaw was tight. She arched a pale brow at him. “Well, Jon? Would you find it difficult to bed her?”

He hadn’t thought she’d really expected an answer here as they settled into her chambers, with Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, and Jorah as an audience. “That’s not at issue here,” he said stiffly. His aunt’s violet eyes flashed in anger before she turned to the others in the room.

“Leave us please,” she asked with a courteous smile. As the group filed out of the room, Daenerys kept her eyes on him, as if waiting for any false move. Once they were alone, her features settled into the familiar expression she wore behind closed doors when it was just the two of them and he had pissed her off. The look that said he was her servant and he had failed her. “How is the North treating you then? How have you found the Starks of Winterfell?” she asked, the snarl in Stark apparent as always.

“They have been hospitable,” he said noncommittally. He refused to give her more. Especially when he could see she was itching for a fight.

She clucked her tongue. “Hospitable, is that what you would call it? They did not bow; they did not ask after my children. Did you see the faces of the brutes out there? They looked at me coldly. Like everything here is cold apparently,” she huffed in irritation. Dany looked about the room and crinkled her nose in distaste. “And I just know this so-called Queen is keeping the best chambers for herself.”

Jon sighed. He’d been alone with his aunt for a mere few minutes and already he was exhausted. She looked back to him with a sharp gaze. “I have to wonder, nephew, with all the dreariness of the North, how exactly have you been passing the time?” she tilted her head as if she were curious, but her eyes narrowed in accusation.

“I’ve been trying to lay diplomatic groundwork,” he said, crossing his arms across his chest and trying to stay calm.

Daenerys laughed then, a small and disdainful sound. “Diplomatic groundwork, Jon? It is quite simple to demand they acknowledge their rightful ruler.”

Jon couldn’t help sniping back at her. “It’s actually far from simple, when you have two walking, talking scandals accompany me North.”

“Excuse me?” she said incredulously, all humor—false or otherwise—falling from her expression.  

“Jorah—exiled by Ned Stark for selling people into slavery, Dany!”

“Jorah has been by my side fighting slavery for long enough that no one has the right to question him,” she snapped defensively.

“Well, I would say the North begs to differ. Because his own cousin Lady Mormont, the head of their House, was ready to call for his head the day we got here,” Jon said.

Her lip curled in displeasure. “How dare they—”

“You never even told me, I had no idea until everyone here got angry and I had to ask Jorah himself,” Jon told her.

“He is under my protection—”

“Which is why he’s not dead, Dany. But I had to try and smooth things over with the Queen and all the lords and ladies, not to mention handle Tyrion’s offenses.”

“Tyrion was this Queen’s protector, Jon,” Daenerys told him, her lips pulling into a snarl.

Despite himself, Jon laughed humorlessly. “Do you really believe everything Tyrion tells you? He was kind to her at a time when she was mistreated. That doesn’t mean he was her hero. And the people of the North certainly don’t see him that way. They see him as her former captor. Then there’s the fact that he’s constantly drunk and spouting offensive remarks.”

Daenerys rolled her eyes. “That’s Tyrion, Jon.”

“Which is why he never should have been here in the first place,” Jon spat, all his anger at his aunt that built over the past moons he’d spent here seeming to come out of him. “Which is what I tried to tell you before—”

“This again? He got us to Dragonstone, to King’s Landing, Jon,” she said condescendingly, as if she were explaining something to a small child.

“And Jorah already told you, the North is different,” he said, knowing that invoking the man should win him some favor.

Daenerys sighed. She studied him and stepped closer. “You know, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were a Northman,” she said casually. But there nothing casual about it, and Jon knew it. She stepped close enough to run her hand over his beard and he struggled not to recoil too violently as he backed away. “The look of the North,” she murmured. He half expected her to come forward again and strike him. He knew from experience her hand on his face like that was a warning of violence soon to come.

“I’ve been trying to use it, Dany,” he said, attempting to appeal to her. He felt disgusted with himself, trying to make Daenerys believe he was still on her side.

She stepped forward again and grabbed his chin in her grip threateningly. “Do not betray me Jon. We are the last Targaryens,” Daenerys hissed, her eyes flitting between his as she studied him.

“I know,” Jon said. She released his chin and pulled away from him.

Good,” she said. “Do not forget who you are. Who we are. It’s like I’ve always told you, Jon. We are different. We will show them. And I have no doubt they will bow before their true Queen.” She looked more assured now, as if she and Jon were a team.

He nodded. Jon would rather say nothing, because he didn’t trust himself to keep from pouring out disdain should he open his mouth. Finally, to his immense relief, she gave him leave.

In the corridor he immediately felt Rhaegal’s presence. It came upon him so suddenly he nearly walked into a wall. The dragon was upset—anxious, maybe even afraid. He did not like the cold. He could sense Viserion was near Rhaegal and felt similarly. Drogon found the cold bothersome, but where his brothers became anxious, he felt restless, maybe even angry. It wasn’t that Jon could feel Drogon, exactly, it was that he could feel Rhaegal’s fear of his largest brother. He’d sensed Rhaegal’s unease when he’d warged in his sleep—but the level of disquiet in his aunt’s dragons as they grazed so close left him trembling.

He tried to communicate with Rhaegal. Stay calm, you and your brothers will not harm the North. He paused and considered. But through this tie to Rhaegal—Jon could sense his resentment of Daenerys. You will not harm the North or its people, no matter what your mother says. Jon could feel a sense of hesitation from Rhaegal now; but then something more powerful washed over him. Memories of battles, of dragon fire unleashed at the orders of his mother, an exhaustion from fighting. He hadn’t known any of the dragons may feel similarly to Jon himself. Then he could sense Rhaegal’s agreement with his commands. Taking another step forward, as he grasped the greater picture: if Drogon wants to attack you must warn me Rhaegal.

All Jon could do was send these messages to Rhaegal as he made his way to Bran’s solar. They’d agreed on it before Daenerys’s arrival—that Jon would go to speak with Bran and eventually Sansa would arrive to meet with them, with Arya and Brienne. It seemed safer to meet in Bran’s solar, as his chambers were a little more obscure to the rest of the Keep and reduced risk with his aunt possibly prowling about.

“The dragons,” Jon said after he entered Bran’s solar.

“They’re unhappy,” Bran completed his thought before he could.

Jon furrowed his brow. “You can feel them too?”

“A little, though I don’t imagine it’s quite as potent as it is for you. Rhaegal has quite the attachment to you, Jon,” Bran told him as Jon moved to sit across from him.

“Aye,” Jon agreed. He hadn’t known it, not truly, until that first night he dreamed of Rhaegal. But he also suspected it wasn’t quite as simple as that. “I also think it’s because he’s displeased with Daenerys.”

“Yes, that too. He and Viserion,” Bran paused. He looked at Jon in that direct, unsettling way of his that always left Jon tempted to squirm. “They need a sense of direction. They feel the preference Daenerys has for Drogon, and since you are the only other Targaryen, they are both looking to you.”

Jon wasn’t sure how to use this to his advantage, if there was a potential split between Drogon with Daenerys and Rhaegal and Viserion with Jon. Drogon was the largest of the three, likely the most powerful on his own, his aunt always rode him. But even if he was stronger, if Jon could sway the others then he had numbers on his side.

“What should we do then?” he asked his cousin.

“You need to spend time with them,” Bran said.

Jon shook his head. “I’m not bringing them closer.” He stood from his chair and thought for a moment. “I have an idea, but I don’t know if it’s any good.” Bran nodded minutely for him to continue.

“I go to them with Daenerys. Tell her I missed them and the two of us will go on a dragon ride?” he looked to Bran.

“It will reassure your aunt and give you better opportunity to strengthen the bond.”

“You don’t think she’d find that suspicious?” Jon asked.

Bran’s lips quirked slightly in amusement. “Your aunt would never miss the opportunity to fly with the dragons over Winterfell to intimidate everyone. Or for the people to admire their beauty, depending on the day she’s having.”

Jon laughed. Bran, he realized, had quite the dry sense of humor when he wanted to. But thinking on it, Jon knew Bran was right about Daenerys, and it stopped being funny when he thought of how mercurial she could be.

“We can do this, Jon,” Bran said. “As long as we work together.”

---

When Sansa speaks with him again, she grasps at his jerkin as she tells him they are to send the ravens out to the kingdoms. She’s courageous and what’s more, she’d never show her doubts to her people. She is their pillar of strength. But he can see the fear in her eyes and the way she holds onto him.

He cups her cheek soothingly. Something between them both relaxes when they embrace. “Whatever your command,” he tells her.

“Be careful,” she says and he wants to kiss her so badly, but he will not do so in Bran’s solar with her siblings and Brienne.

When he suggests to Daenerys they meet with her dragons and take a ride, she beams at him in delight. It would look innocent, almost childlike, were it not for the gleam in her eye Jon can see so clearly. That gleam that tells of her eagerness to show her power, or the dragons’ power, to those in the North; to put the North, its people, the Starks, and Sansa in what she sees as their rightful place. His guts twist. There is something vicious in that delight and it is near enough to making him change his mind, but he can’t back down from it. And it seems to have renewed a sense of trust from Daenerys.

It was strange for Jon to know he was manipulating his aunt like this, after growing up together and being his only kin for so long. Yet, he knows now that kin and family are not always the same thing, and he cannot regret this betrayal. It is the right thing to do.

When they approach the dragons on the snowy expanse of land, Daenerys sighs as she watches their lethargic grazing. “They do not like the North, it is too cold for them,” she said dejectedly. “I can’t understand why any of these Northerners enjoy it here.”

Which is exactly why you shouldn’t rule them, Jon thought. You cannot rule those whom you don’t understand. He bites his tongue and swallows back the words. “It’s what they know. What they’re used to,” he said.

“I suppose,” she said, seemingly bored with the conversation.

As she climbs atop Drogon and Jon sits astride Rhaegal’s back, he has a sense of Rhaegal’s moods again, and Viserion’s as well. He wonders at what Daenerys is feeling, if she’s merely decided they’re unhappy for the same reasons she is. Is he sensing things about Rhaegal and Viserion she doesn’t pick up on at all?

“We’ll show these Northerners,” she said, smiling over at him in that dark, frightening way she sometimes had. His guts twisted again, but he nodded as he and Rhaegal took to the air.

Daenerys looked about the land from their position, but he could see she didn’t appreciate the North’s beauty, her admiring looks were more about the feeling she was conquering simply by dragon riding. She looked down on the people like tiny insignificant specks. He still remembers the first time he’d seen her ride Drogon, how utterly terrifying it had been. How it still was. He could only imagine the distress they were unleashing on the people of the North then. He felt a surge of guilt.

But he remembered Bran and Sansa’s words of encouragement. This was for the North. For his pack. He would protect them. Soon the ravens would go out, and their plans would be in motion. If they could avoid war, avoid burning for the North and its people, then he might finally be able to build a life he’d never fully let himself dream of before, and with Sansa, the woman he loved.

The grin on his aunt’s face begins to fade as Drogon’s wings begin flipping haphazardly, and he’s slowing and sinking, almost as if a ship losing the wind in its sails. Drogon’s and Daenerys’s screeches nearly match one another, and Rhaegal panics hovering with Jon in the air as Viserion circles them in confusion. Calm, steady, Rhaegal—Jon tries to sooth the beast as he grips his scales tighter. Viserion swings toward them, as if following Rhaegal’s lead. Both of you, he instructs in his mind, calm, steady.

“Drogon!” Daenerys shrieks helplessly as they just barely glide over a snowcapped hill, and he knows his aunt is going to have to land whether she likes it or not. Jon leans forward on Rhaegal and concentrates on moving downward. “DROGON!” His aunt screams again, in a way he’s never heard from her with her dragons.

All three dragons screech in response. Jon feels his entire body react to the tension—Rhaegal is shaking as Jon tries to steady him. Daenerys crash lands in a small grove-like area near a frozen waterfall. To his horror, Drogon releases some fire, but thankfully the area is secluded, and he only melts some of the waterfall, leaving dripping water along some of the masses of ice. He and Rhaegal glide to a gentle stop not far from his aunt and Drogon, with Viserion soon following. His aunt has climbed down from Drogon when Jon lands on his own feet, and she looks between her children in bewilderment as she turns to him. “I hate it here, Jon!”

“What happened?” he asked, motioning his head to Drogon, who settled moodily into the snow. Because truly, Jon doesn’t know. He doesn’t carry the same bond with Drogon, and from what he can tell, Rhaegal and Viserion are just as confused and distressed as he.

“My children are not eating like they should be. They hate the cold, the North,” she spat. “And this Queen did not welcome them into the courtyard or the gates at all,” Daenerys said bitterly.

“There’s hardly room for them Dany,” Jon pointed out, which caused her to glare at him. He looked away from her, jaw ticking in irritation.

“She has not supplied them with food either,” Daenerys said, crossing her arms. She approached her largest child, “Drogon,” she said, running her hand gently against his scales. It repulsed him.

“Do you even know what they should be eating up here? The game is entirely different,” Jon said. There’s no way Sansa could have prepared, and it isn’t as if Sansa invited the dragons into the North anyway, he thinks. But Daenerys saw conspiracy where she should have seen her own short-sightedness. Her paranoia was unsettling.

She looked at him and arched her brow, lip curling in a sneer. “Are you taking her side?”

“There are no sides when you don’t even know what you want. How was anyone supposed to take care of the dragons here? We don’t know the land. The people who do know the land don’t know the dragons.” There was an implicit message here—take them South. Could he save his aunt’s life? It wasn’t a hope he carried anymore, yet he was giving her an out, even if only to prove to himself she’d never take one. Because he knew she wouldn’t take them South. Not when she was convinced that their presence here was what she needed to force the North to bend.

Her face goes blank for a moment. He knows that’s bad. “You’re right, Jon.”

His brow furrows in confusion. Because she can’t actually be agreeing with him, can she?

“I have to show them what I want. No, I have to show them what is mine,” she said, turning back to coax Drogon.

That sickening feeling threatens to take over and he feels Rhaegal nudge against him. You and Viserion, he makes eye contact with the other dragon, will not harm the North. Will not hurt the Starks, blood of my blood. You will warn me if Drogon tries.

But Jon’s wondering if Drogon would be up to the task anyway, as even with Daenerys’s encouragement, even her anger and harsh reprimands, her favorite child is sluggish, flies back low as if injured with Daenerys on his back as they make their way closer to Winterfell’s gates. His aunt is furious. He can see it when they land, and she tries to school her expression into a mask. But she’s not very skilled at it, and her face twitches every few seconds with that barely contained anger.

“Aunt,” he tries to sound calming in his appeal as he follows her into the Great Keep.

“Don’t,” she bites out, barely glancing at him as she hurriedly makes her way to the Great Hall.

His fists clench. You will warn me if Drogon tries. You will warn me if Drogon tries.

Suddenly Dany stops abruptly in front of him, and he almost knocks into her. Before her is that massive white fur and those red eyes he knows so well now. Ghost. Something in his heart warms, even as Daenerys gasps and draws backward from the wolf.

“What is this?” she grits out through her teeth.

“It’s a direwolf,” Jon said. “Queen Sansa’s.”

“I see,” she said, her displeasure clear in her tone. “Be gone, beast,” she ordered Ghost, waving a dismissive hand.

It’d be funny were it not for the disdain he hears in her orders. No, he hears Ghost answering her back. Not that Daenerys would know. Ghost stares at her for a few moments longer before stepping around her just slightly and moving to Jon’s side. Daenerys watches him closely.

Go to Sansa, he instructs Ghost without even looking at the direwolf while Daenerys looks between them curiously. Jon doesn’t want to show any bond with Ghost in front of her. He needs Ghost to understand and thankfully he does. But then Daenerys heads in the same direction, pushing open the doors to the Hall where Sansa sits with a small party of lords and ladies.

“Aunt,” Jon said again, a warning in his tone. She shoots him a glare and walks with irritation up to the table. Sansa does not look to Daenerys with surprise or fear. Her eyes flit to him for the briefest of moments. But he feels a surge of love, warmth, and trust in their connection before they both turn their attention back to his aunt.

Daenerys slaps her hands down on the table in outrage. Immediately Arya is out of her seat, her hand at her sword. Brienne comes to Sansa’s side with her sword halfway out of its hilt. Jon instinctively grips his own sword at his hip and when Daenerys looks back at him, he realizes, she thinks his grip on the sword is to protect her, not Sansa. He and Sansa lock eyes again for a moment. He knows that Sansa is certain that he is still with her and the North, but she is as willing as he to let Daenerys believe otherwise. Nearly all those at the table have stood, except for Bran and Sam, whom he finds cannot look at his aunt too directly. He realizes Sam must be struggling greatly in that moment, and his heart goes out to him.

Sansa stands gracefully from her seat, unhurriedly as his aunt fumes. She folds her hands in front of her and meets Daenerys’s gaze evenly. There is no anger or fear. “Did you need something, Your Grace?”

Daenerys scowls. “You know, my beloved Jorah always spoke of the North fondly. He said the North treats its guests with courtesy.”

Sansa purses her lips. “Has something displeased you, Your Grace?” she asked.

“Why yes, it has, Lady Stark,” Daenerys said. He rolled his eyes; thankful Daenerys couldn’t see his face at that moment. It was worse than Tyrion’s blunder, because this was an intentional insult. One could hear it in his aunt’s petulant tone.

Sam rose to his feet. “It is Your Grace to you,” he said boldly.

Daenerys snapped her head to the Maester. “I am the rightful Queen—”

“By what right?” he scoffed, face growing red with anger.

“That is enough,” Sansa spoke over them. Daenerys pulled her eyes back to Sansa. “I am assuming whatever you arrived here to say was a more specific complaint.”

“My children are sick,” Daenerys said accusingly.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sansa replied.

“Oh, I’m certain you are! You have provided nothing for my dragons.”

Sansa gazed at her quizzically. She wasn’t confused, Jon was sure. But that was how she played it now. “I was not under the impression I was supposed to provide anything for your dragons.”

“We are your guests,” Daenerys said.

Sansa’s eyes turned steely, the blue like an icy cut. “I’m afraid I do not recall sending an invitation for your dragons to come North. Nor do I recall your request to bring them. Rather, I recall you informing your emissaries you were coming North with your dragons.”

“That is no excuse!” Daenerys snapped. “You have been inhospitable!”

“It is winter. I have no resources to spare. Your dragons are unfamiliar with our terrain and climate, not to mention our food sources. Your dragons are not my guests. I wish you luck in caring for your children in winter,” Sansa said plainly.

Jon felt a fear for Sansa bubbling up, but the dragons weren’t screeching, and Ghost was at Sansa’s feet.

Daenerys scowled a few moments longer. “I’m certain we will speak more on the morrow, Lady Stark,” she said, and stormed out of the room, knocking into Jon and not looking back to anyone on her way out. Arya started to follow, and Sansa grabbed her arm, and shook her head in warning to her little sister. She angrily shrugged off Sansa’s hold but made no move to follow Jon’s aunt.

Jon could feel Ghost at Sansa’s feet. More distantly, he could feel Rhaegal and Viserion. He certainly had a lot of work ahead of him.

---

Jon stole into her chambers that night. Sansa almost felt like a girl again, but of course she would never have done something so wicked when she was younger. A voice in the back of her mind was telling her she shouldn’t be doing this now, either, but she found herself dismissing it, perhaps because they’d sent the ravens out, and Sansa knew that they were possibly near death for it. It was the right thing to do, and Sansa didn’t doubt it, but she was afraid, and thinking of how little time she might have could have led her to be more impulsive now. But she also knew it wasn’t just that.

It was Jon.

Gods, he was a beautiful man, even if Sansa liked to believe she had grown out of her shallow ways. She could still appreciate that, couldn’t she? She loved him. Maybe even more of a revelation, though, was how she wanted him. Wanted his hard body, lean corded muscles against her soft curves. She loved how tender he was with her. How careful.

He was adorably flustered and blushing pink when she opened the door from her solar to her bedchambers, pulling him with her. “Sansa,” he said cautiously. Gods, even the way he said her name did something to her. It was with such warmth and adoration coloring his voice.

“Jon,” she said back, closing the door behind them and barring it. His hands rested hesitantly on her hips. When she turned to face him, she noticed the bob of his throat as he swallowed thickly.

He leaned into her, pressing her just slightly against the door, and she felt the heat of his body against hers. “What do you want, Sansa?” he asked, voice low and raspy. The feel of his hot breath against her prompted gooseflesh on her skin.

“Kiss me,” she whispered, the need bleeding from her. Jon’s mouth was on hers instantly, and he gripped her a little tighter. This time, he did not hesitate to slip his tongue past her parted lips, and she immediately met it with her own. He moaned and the vibration of it running through her made her tremble. One of his hands moved to the small of her back, pushing her body even closer to his own. She brought her hands around his neck, feeling like she could drown in him.

They began to stumble backward, unable to drink enough of each other, it seemed. His hands seemed to be everywhere, moving so quickly she couldn’t keep track. Her hair, her waist, her hips, and he even brushed, tentatively, against her breast. She couldn’t stop the whine that left her then as she arched into him and he grabbed her there more surely, squeezing. “Sansa,” he murmured deeply against her mouth.

Sansa felt his arousal against her, but she found she did not mind it. In fact, she found that she quite loved all of what they were doing. And then Jon stumbled against the furs at the edge of her bed. He caught himself, still holding her close even as their mouths broke apart. His chest was heaving as he stared at her hungrily, his eyes dark. She could scarcely catch her breath either, and she realized he watched her body, her own chest as it rose and fell rapidly. He met her eyes again, the desire so raw in his expression, but it was more than that too. It was love. Devotion.

Finally, he broke the silence. “Sansa,” he said hoarsely on a sharp inhale, “nothing happens that you don’t want.”

There they stood at the edge of her bed, and she knew to her bones that he meant it. Jon would never hurt her or do anything she didn’t want. It made her love him more. She brushed some of his curls away from his now somewhat sweaty brow. “I know,” Sansa said. “I—Jon, I want…” she wasn’t sure, now that she thought about it. She wanted something, but she didn’t think she could lay with him, not tonight.

Jon watched her patiently, and then when she said nothing else, brought his lips to her forehead for a kiss. When he pulled back to look at her, he smiled gently, and his eyes lit a fire inside of her. Sansa ached. “I think I can make you feel good, Sansa,” he whispered. “If you let me,” he said on a ragged breath.

Uncertain what he meant, but knowing she trusted him, she nodded. His eyes seared into her at her assent. He moved to turn them around, so the backs of her legs brushed the furs. “Would you get on the bed for me?” he rumbled into her ear, thumb brushing across her waist. Jon’s words were soft, not a command, but said with such heat she felt she was burning up.

She sat down onto her bed, and he removed her shoes and stockings, slowly, hardly looking away from her eyes. When he finished Sansa pushed herself back to the center of the bed, unsure what to do next. Jon removed his own boots and slid next to her atop the furs. He began kissing her again, slowly leaning over her, almost getting on top of her but not quite, his weight pressing her into the bed. He moved to kiss her jaw, and ran his tongue along her neck, causing her to let out a breathy moan when she felt the barely-there graze of his teeth.

“Can I touch you, Sansa?” Jon asked carefully.

“You are touching me,” she said, drunk from his kisses.

“Well, yes, but,” one hand traveled up her leg, inching toward her thigh. Even through the fabric that separated her flesh from his hand, she felt a shiver as he moved closer to the center of her heat. “Can I touch you there?” Jon whispered, his fingers gliding lightly over her womanly place through her dress.

“Ahh,” she uttered on a broken gasp, panting. “Yes, Jon, please.” He growled in response and began rucking up her skirts, and soon he was reaching his hand to untie her smallclothes, looking her in the eye to make sure it was okay. She nodded.

Jon’s fingers met the small nub at the top of her sex, and she cried out and rocked against him. He groaned, his head falling helplessly to her shoulder. “Sansa, you’re wet for me,” he said, taking her earlobe into his mouth.

“Yes,” she gasped.

“I love you,” Jon said in what sounded like astonishment and wonder at her desire.

“I love you,” she managed in a hiss, as Jon continued rubbing her, building that heat pulsing through her body.

“I want to make you feel good, Sansa. So, so good,” he rasped, and one finger teased at her entrance.

“Yes,” she said. At that point he didn’t need to ask. Sansa knew women could feel pleasure, but she’d never had a man who wanted to please her like this. His finger entered her, and she sighed in satisfaction. He bucked against her, and she felt his erection at her hip, and she held onto his wrist as his hand worked between her legs.

“Sansa, Sansa, my Sansa,” he babbled into her throat. He lifted up and kissed her then, stealing the breath from her as their tongues danced together languidly. “Sansa,” he whined as if desperate. His hand began to slow. He looked at her. “Can I…can I kiss you there?” he asked, picking up his pace again.

“Jon,” she gasped, her eyes widening. Sansa had heard of it, but she didn’t think men liked it.

“Only if you want, and I promise I would stop if you didn’t like it,” Jon said, and his eyes were pleading.

“Do you want to do that?” Sansa asked, unable to hide her surprise.

He grinned at her wickedly and kissed her again. “Very, very much. I want to do that,” he breathed against her mouth.

“Okay,” Sansa said in a small voice, still a little mystified.

He exhaled. “Thank the Gods,” Jon muttered and immediately made his way down her body, lifting her skirts further, he pulled her smallclothes down and away. “Beautiful,” he whispered as he placed a tender kiss at her thigh.

“Jon,” she whined. In another instant his mouth was on her and it was heavenly. His tongue flicked along her nub, and she bucked against his face. “Sorry,” she said, but he was groaning.

“Gods, don’t be,” Jon breathed against her, and pulled one of her hands to his head, encouraging her to grip him by his hair. “Use me, move me however you want,” he said before resuming making love to her with his mouth, his tongue lapping eagerly against her.

Jon was giving her control. She gripped his curls and he moaned against her, a finger entering her again. She began rocking against him, unable to contain herself any longer. “More,” she said unabashedly. Jon added another finger and she felt herself beginning to tighten.

“So fucking good,” Jon said in a strangled voice and her head lolled back in pleasure, his filthy language only adding to the sensations coursing through her. His fingers were deep, curling inside of her, touching a place that made her rock even harder against him, and his answering moan, the feel of his tongue at her bud as his fingers worked fast back and forth combined to push her over the edge.

Jon,” she cried breathlessly, clenching around him, spasms wracking her body uncontrollably as her thighs clamped around his ears and Jon was groaning, rutting into her furs beneath her. It felt so good she could hardly bear it.

As she began to come down from her high, still shaking, feeling aftershocks pulsing through her sex, Jon continued lapping at her until she began pushing at his head. “I can’t take anymore,” she said, feeling utterly spent. He raised up from between her legs, looking down at her like she was his everything.

“You are,” he answered hoarsely, wiping her wetness from his beard with the back of his hand.

Sansa blinked at him. “You know, I’m still not used to this whole thought sharing thing,” she said.

Jon chuckled warmly and leaned over her to kiss her. She found she did not mind the taste of herself on his lips. He looked at her. “Sansa, that was…you are…incredible,” Jon said. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Sansa said and smiled at him. She studied him. “But what about you…?” she said, reaching downward, but he halted her hand.

“Uhh, no that’s—I’m good,” Jon said, looking a little pink.

Her brow furrowed in confusion. He met her eyes. “I, um, I peaked when you did,” he said, still looking a little embarrassed.

Sansa couldn’t help but laugh at the utter charm. He’d peaked at pleasing her.

“I’m glad you find that amusing,” Jon said, but he couldn’t fight the smile on his face.

“You’re just so…generous, I suppose,” she said lightly.

He kissed her again. “Always, love.” And she knew he meant it. He’d always try to make her feel good whenever they coupled. Gods, she hoped they survived. She wanted to build a life with Jon. He gripped her waist to hold her close to him, his forehead at her temple. “I’ll protect you,” Jon said. Had he heard her thoughts again? Or was he just feeling all that she felt, knowing what awaited them? “I promise,” he said.

Chapter Text

“It has to be you.”

Sansa stared at her brother. “Don’t say that.”

Robb sighed, ran a hand down his face in exhaustion, whether from preparations for battle or from the argument they were having, Sansa couldn’t be sure. “We have to be realistic, Sansa,” Robb said, hands on his hips, and she could see the resignation in his slumped shoulders.

“You’re coming back. You’re not leaving us,” she said, standing tall before her big brother.

“You don’t know that, Sansa—”

“NO!” Sansa eliminated the space between them, grasping at his forearm, trying to force him to see, to understand.

She couldn’t do this without him.

“No. You’re not leaving me, leaving us, again Robb. You, me, Arya, and Bran. We’re all that’s left. I won’t lose you again,” Sansa said, choking back a sob, but it reverberated in her lungs, her shoulders beginning to shake.

“Sansa,” Robb said gently. It was the voice he used with her when they were still children and she would fall in the mud, ruining her dress. He brought his arms around her, hugging her protectively, just as he would have back then.

She leaned into him, tucking her head beneath his chin, tears falling onto his jerkin. Sansa allowed herself, for that moment and that moment alone, to be a little girl again. Because when she was that little girl, Robb always protected her.

Robb always made it better.

But then he pulled back, put his hands on her shoulders and forced Sansa to look him in the eye. “I love you all so much, you know that. But I can’t promise you I’ll come back Sansa, you know I can’t.”

“You’re the King in the North. The Young Wolf. It’s not just me that needs you. The whole North needs you.”

A crooked grin—completely inappropriate to the conversation, to Sansa’s mind—came across his face then. “You underestimate yourself, little sister,” Robb said. “You’d make a fine Queen, and we both know it.”

“I don’t know that,” she scoffed. Once, it had been her dream. When she thought it meant being married to a good man who would be King and giving him princes and princesses. But she learned how far that dream was from reality. Sansa was learning; had learned so much. But was she strong enough to be the Queen in the North? Could she handle the weight of that crown, after seeing how heavy it was on Robb’s head? She wasn’t sure.

“You do, Sansa,” he said, taking a step closer and placing a hand on her shoulder again. “I know you’re scared. I was scared shitless when they named me King. Seven hells, I’m still scared,” Robb said, a sad laughter emanating through him. “But what did Father always say?”

“Using Father is not playing fair,” Sansa said, but she couldn’t stop the smile forming on her face to match Robb’s.

“The only time a man can be brave is when he’s afraid. It’s true for women too,” Robb said, the warmth of remembrance in his eyes.

“Sansa,” he said, turning more serious, and though she didn’t want to, she met his gaze straight on. He took a heavy breath. “I will try to come back to you but if I don’t—no, don’t shake your head at me, listen.” He held her hands for emphasis. “It has to be you. It can’t be Bran or Arya. The people of the North will choose you regardless of whether I name you as heir. And that’s how it should be. You’ve gotten us ready, done all the little things I couldn’t, and the big things too—you keep them fed, you keep them clothed and sheltered and as calm as possible. You’re a leader, people look to you. You’re strong. Stronger than you know. Gods, Sansa, I’m so proud of you,” Robb said, tears filling his eyes.

“Robb,” she couldn’t seem to say more, her throat felt thick and she knew the tears filled her eyes too.

He pulled her in for a hug. “I know you can lead them, little sister,” he said, breath catching as he ran a soothing hand through her hair and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head. “I know you can.”

---

Sansa couldn’t help but remember Robb’s words as she readied herself to meet with her advisers, and later, Daenerys. She was afraid and she didn’t feel ready. But she knew Robb had always felt the same. And he believed in her.

Sansa wanted so much to live up to Robb’s faith in her.

She went to the Godswood alone that morning, stared at the Heart Tree and thought of her brother. “Are you here?” Sansa asked in a quiet voice. It wasn’t the first time she’d reached for Robb, but she still felt a little silly doing it. The red leaves of the Weirwood rustled in the wind, and she smiled. She didn’t pray anymore, at least not to Gods. She prayed to her family—to Robb, Mother, Father, and little Rickon. Whenever ruling felt as if it might kill her, Sansa called to Robb.

“I’m scared,” she whispered so quietly she could barely hear the words herself. It wouldn’t do for anyone to hear the Queen saying such things, no matter how early in the day and secluded she might be here. “I don’t know how to do this, Robb and I…”

Sansa paused and breathed, trying to keep herself from becoming overwhelmed. “You know, I’m still a little mad at you for not being here,” she said, her vision blurring, but a small smile came to her face. “Leaving me to be Queen? This Dragon Queen, Robb? It isn’t fair. It should be you. And I know—I know, I can’t expect the world to be fair but I just—I wish you were here,” she confessed to the wind and the trees.

But Sansa thought maybe she could feel him here with her. The rustle of the leaves, the weeping face, the frozen pool—it all held her heart in its hands. “If you hear me out there Robb,” she continued whispering, “please just help me. Give me some guidance.” She sighed, and felt the weight flowing out of her, making her lighter. “I love you and I miss you, big brother,” she said, and with one last look at the Heart Tree, she left to get on with the day.

---

“They are my children, Jorah, and a mother knows,” Daenerys was saying to Jorah as Jon entered her solar that morning. “Something is wrong. Something is not right.”

Jon felt his body stiffen but told himself to relax, he couldn’t let Daenerys see her words provoked such a response in him. Yet, she hardly seemed to notice him, so caught up in her own despair. Tyrion nodded to Jon in acknowledgement while Jorah sought to comfort his aunt.

“They are not used to the North, Khaleesi,” Jorah said softly. It had been the same thing Jon and even Tyrion had told her before, but there was always something about Jorah’s words that was more soothing for his aunt. It used to be something he’d appreciated in the past, but ever since learning of Jorah’s history, it aggravated him to no end as he thought of Daenerys’s hypocrisy. Still, if Jorah was convincing her, Jon knew to be grateful.

Because he knew that not being used to the North was only part of the reason for Dany’s disquiet. No, a sense of triumph and trepidation warred within Jon as he understood. Daenerys was sensing the shift in her children as Jon forged connections with Rhaegal and Viserion. He just needed to keep Daenerys in the dark long enough for Sansa’s plans to come to fruition.

Soon, there would be reactions from the rest of the kingdoms to Daenerys’s actions in the Reach. He wished to be with Sansa as she strategized with her council, but he had to be with Daenerys now; had to keep her placated just long enough before she realized his betrayal. Jon feared in his absence he would be two steps behind whatever Sansa’s plans were, and he didn’t want to potentially compromise them. But Jon hoped, perhaps naively, certainly romantically, that his and Sansa’s connection—their ability to communicate in their minds as well as simply intuit one another—would be enough. It had to be enough, Jon thought.

---

Sansa’s plans began to coalesce better than she had imagined. Robb, is that you? She silently questioned. She should know better, of course, but a small smile curved her lips regardless. If there were nothing to magic, how could she explain Bran or her connection to Ghost and Jon?

Still, Sansa knew they had to be careful and think every possibility through, as she unrolled the scroll from Arianne Martell, who had recently retaken Dorne. It appeared that, following the discovery of Ellaria Sand’s corpse in the dungeons of the Red Keep and the loss of the Sand Snakes, a trueborn Martell had risen with considerable support from smallfolk in the power vacuum. Arianne Martell already considered Daenerys Targaryen a Mad Queen for supporting the murderers of her family. She’d written to Sansa immediately upon hearing word of the events in the Reach—and now, they had the makings of an ally in the South. Even better, Sansa thought, was her request that Sansa, as a fellow sovereign, keep Daenerys in Winterfell so that she and representatives throughout the kingdoms might put the Dragon Queen on trial.

This was exactly what Sansa had hoped for. Since she had no jurisdiction over the Six Kingdoms, Daenerys’s subjects, those of the other kingdoms, would have to be ready to charge Daenerys for her crimes. Arianne was also ready to declare Dorne an independent kingdom again, and asked Sansa Stark, the Queen in the North, to support her own claim as Queen of Dorne. Sansa believed she could readily agree to such terms after she’d met her and Daenerys had been brought to justice—but such claims would have to wait, if Arianne wanted to keep jurisdiction over Daenerys. They will have to wait until she arrives. And then there is the personal news she must share with Sam—Arianne Martell wishes to send a detachment to free his mother and sister. A solemn look crosses Sam’s face then. His eyes fill with tears. They decide it is too risky, that word may reach Daenerys of their plot long before they are able to neutralize her dragons, or the kingdoms can put Daenerys on trial. They send out a raven declining the offer and agree to Arianne Martell’s treating with the North—she and her party plan to take a ship to White Harbor and arrive in a fortnight or perhaps sooner. They request she allow Robin Arryn and Edmure Tully passage North as well.

Sansa had also sent more personal messages to her cousin Robin in the Vale and her uncle Edmure in the Riverlands. Robin and Edmure agreed to arrive in the North to bring charges against Daenerys as well. They now have two kingdoms in Daenerys’s six, and the Riverlands, set to put her on trial. Robin ends his missive with the declaration: I know no Queen but the Queen in the North whose name is Stark.

Sansa is flattered and wonders when exactly her little Sweetrobin became so very Northern in disposition. Yet, he’d idolized Robb when he arrived, and Lord Royce had provided him guidance. Once Littlefinger’s crimes had been exposed and Robb had taken his head before they headed North, Robin had flourished. She would have to speak with him and ensure he truly wished to pledge the Vale to the North or merely meant it symbolically. And she would have to stop him from bending the knee—if that was what he truly wanted—until they’d had time to work out the details, and of course, Daenerys was brought to justice. Sansa wasn’t sure she could be Queen to the North and the Vale, and it was too much to think about now.

Sansa worries how Arianne may react once she discovers Jon has bent the knee and is allied with the North. Arianne may be offended by such an alliance, considering how Rhaegar had abandoned Princess Elia. But Sansa is hoping that Jon’s cooperation in bringing Daenerys to justice and the North’s support of an independent Dorne will be enough to mitigate the possible damage.

She and her counsel decide they must delay whatever they can until the arrival of these guests. Sansa will engage with this Dragon Queen in “negotiations” only known to immediate parties. It wouldn’t do to frighten her bannermen. Sansa isn’t sure it will all work—it is risky. But it is still, Sansa finds, the best chance they have. Especially as they bought Jon more time. She prays to her departed family, once again, that it will be enough.

---

Daenerys has Jon sit by her side. He isn’t surprised, exactly, but he is uncomfortable, facing a different side of the table than Sansa, as they had the day Tyrion nearly brought everything to ashes. It wasn’t right, Jon thought, to be sitting away from Sansa and his pack, much as he knew he needed to. He wasn’t like Daenerys, Jon thought. He’d never be like Daenerys. His connection to the dragons was even different, as Daenerys couldn’t warg nor did she know anything about warging. He would never let Rhaegal or Viserion burn innocents again now that he had influence over them. Drogon, he thought, most likely would have to die. His aunt, Jon wasn’t sure. He looked over at Daenerys for a moment, thinking of when they were children and wishing. But it would do no good, Jon knew. He looked at Sansa, and how was it that his heart seemed to speed up and slow down at the same time at the mere sight of her?

His aunt leaned over and placed a hand on his forearm, looking at him imploringly. “We must be ready, Jon,” Daenerys whispered. “For anything that may come.” Jon hadn’t the slightest clue what exactly it was she meant, and the only he reason he knew she didn’t mean burning the North with her dragons immediately was because they sat in this council room—her dragons not close enough to spring into action while she was within the castle’s walls. He nodded to her, and she seemed to be satisfied with his response.

After Daenerys pulled away from him, he glanced at Sansa, whom he knew had been watching them, her stunning blue eyes now flitted back and forth between them for a moment. Jon feared that she may doubt him, and he looked into those beautiful eyes and reached out.

Trust me, he said in his mind.

I do, she answered. He felt warmth radiating within him from her faith. They sat apart now, but they would never be enemies. Sansa knew as well as Jon where his true heart laid.

Daenerys cleared her throat to bring everyone’s attention to her and smiled politely. “Your Grace,” she said, and Jon had to keep his jaw from dropping open at that, “I’m afraid we did not begin on the best of terms. I regret the role I played in that, and I hope that we might gain a better understanding of each other.” Jon watched his aunt school her expression to as soft and gentle as she could manage. Who, Jon wondered, had gotten Daenerys to do this? Tyrion or Jorah, he imagined. But he looked at the small smile of pride Missandei wore and wondered if it was perhaps his aunt’s translator who’d broken through to her somehow.

Sansa smiled back, revealing nothing else in her expression. She was much better at masks than his aunt, and Jon remembered how hard it had been to read Sansa when he’d first met her. How things had changed since then. “Well, I believe a better understanding of one another is key to a healthy alliance between the North and the Six Kingdoms,” her voice was kind and authoritative at the same time.

Daenerys’s lips thinned as Jon suspected she tried not to grimace at Sansa. She folded her hands in front of her and looked down at them. “I am,” she paused and breathed, “a bit sensitive about my dragons, Your Grace.” Daenerys looked up now. He saw Tyrion shifting in his seat and wondered if from her other side he had been delivering Daenerys lines to appeal to Sansa.

“I see,” Sansa said neutrally. Ser Davos was stoic next to her on one side. Arya had a hard face next to her, but it seemed his cousin was still restraining her most fearsome glare, probably on Sansa’s orders, Jon thought.

“No, Lad—Your Grace, I’m afraid you do not,” Daenerys said, a slight edge to her words that she failed to conceal. Sansa said nothing, prompting Daenerys to speak again. “I ask you now, as a woman, not a ruler, to consider my words and keep them confined to this room.”

Sansa gave no indication one way or the other, and Daenerys sighed. He figured he knew now what Daenerys’s play would be and he felt that sense of dread rising to the surface again. No doubt, Sansa knew what was coming too.

“I’m saddened to say that I cannot bear children, Your Grace. So, you see, my dragons are the only children I will ever have,” Daenerys pleaded for Sansa to understand. Sansa had a small crease between her eyebrows, her eyes seeming to show empathy for his aunt. Of course, Sansa already knew this information, but Jon would have been fooled had he not known. “The thought that they were sick, and the feelings it inspired in me—well, I might have gotten a little carried away,” Daenerys said with a light (and forced) laugh. Jon knew his aunt was presenting herself falsely, and he wasn’t sure who, if anyone, would believe it. But certainly not Sansa.

“I am sorry to hear that, Your Grace,” Sansa said, and Jon believed her. She could be sorry without having to believe everything else. Perhaps that was the secret of Sansa’s power. Even now, with their bond, with Jon’s instinct of Sansa as his mate, he still thinks he hasn’t fully grasped how she commands as she does.

A small smile crossed his aunt’s face. Daenerys thinks she has her now, Jon thought. He folded his hands together to keep them from trembling excessively. “I thank you. You must also understand then, why Prince Jon’s status as my heir is so important.” Jon knew where this was going, but it doesn’t stop Jon’s stomach from dropping as they arrive there.

He looks at Sansa, but she doesn’t once glance at him. An exceptional self-control, Jon thought. Was he the only one who noticed the line of Sansa’s throat as it tightened and she swallowed? His lips had touched that skin just the night before, and he has to stop that line of thought immediately. Jon believes he is the only one who sees it, because he knows now that Sansa, his mate, is afraid. He feels a growl in his chest he refuses to give air to. His fists clench beneath the table.

“I can understand, Your Grace,” Sansa said evenly. She looked unaffected. But he knew it wasn’t true. He didn’t know how to do this. Because he could feel it.

Sansa was afraid.

I love you. I love you, he told her over and over in his head. I will never let her, or anyone, hurt you.

I know, she said. Still, Sansa would not look at him and how he wanted to see her eyes on his. He understood, but it was torturous.

“My nephew must provide me with an heir. And when Prince Jon decided he would like to venture North as my emissary, I couldn’t help but think of the rift between our families.” Daenerys spoke smoothly. This was rehearsed, Jon knew. Yet again, he hadn’t been informed of how Daenerys planned to approach this meeting, even as he heavily factored into it. “So many years, and so much lost, only for the last Targaryens to retake Dragonstone and King’s Landing. Only for the last Starks to retake Winterfell and the North. Our families have triumphed over those who wished to destroy us. And after what happened between my brother and your aunt—”

Jon sighed inwardly. What happened. Between his parents. His aunt spoke of him as if he weren’t even in the room.

“—has, quite understandably, caused damage between our houses. I hope we may repair that damage. Prince Jon, my heir, of both Targaryen and Stark blood, is well suited to this task. And what better way to solidify our houses than for Jon to wed the Queen in the North?” Daenerys finished with a smile. It was less forced now, as Jon could tell she was quite proud of herself. Then again, she did manage to refrain from threatening to burn everyone alive, so perhaps it was something. It was no comfort to Jon, however.

Sansa waits a moment before speaking, long enough that his aunt shifts in her seat. Still, she does not look to Jon. “I can understand where you’re coming from, Your Grace. However, I do believe I must dispel or clarify some of your assertions.”

Daenerys tries to hide her frown and doesn’t quite succeed. “Very well,” she said stiffly.

“While it is true that your brother and my aunt caused tensions between our houses, the largest source of tension was not the troubled…courtship of Rhaegar and Lyanna. House Stark and the North’s greatest divide from House Targaryen stems from your father’s murders of my grandfather and uncle. Then there was his attempt to have Jon Arryn hand over my father to be murdered just as his father and brother were murdered. Doing so, your father killed the Warden of the North, his direct heir, and attempted to eliminate the next heir in the line of succession.”

Daenerys tensed beside him, and she got that look in her eye that always made his blood run cold. Aerys was a particularly sensitive spot for his aunt. She had wanted to be different, or so she said, but she reacted poorly whenever anyone criticized his actions. “I am not my father.”

“I never said you were, Your Grace. I hardly know you. I am merely stating your supposition of the divide and its solutions don’t account for the context.”

“And so, for this you would not consider a betrothal to Prince Jon? As my heir, your firstborn child would one day sit the Iron Throne,” Daenerys said this as if it were a tempting proposition. Maybe to some it would be, but not in the North or to the Starks.

“And what of my kingdom, Your Grace? I am a Queen,” Sansa said and didn’t flinch.

Daenerys narrowed her eyes and heaved a deep breath. “I rule the Seven Kingdoms,” she said, anger sending her voice into a higher register.

“Six, Your Grace,” Sansa said plainly. “The North was independent well before you took the Iron Throne.”

Daenerys glared. Tyrion pulled her to the side and the two spoke in hushed, furious whispers, until Daenerys returned to her seat. She tried to smile as she looked to Sansa.

“Would you be amenable, Your Grace, to allow the reunification of the Seven Kingdoms once your heir comes of age, while the North still retained a greater degree of autonomy?”

Tyrion’s idea, Jon remembers. Sansa’s face was blank.

Daenerys kept talking: “The babes born from your union with my nephew after the firstborn might take the name Stark, and they would be princes and princesses, rather than lords and ladies.”

He expects Sansa to reject it. Expects he will then have to warg into Rhaegal and have the two dragons fight his aunt’s one. Can he do it? Is he ready?

Then Sansa speaks. “I would need time to consider your proposition and discuss with my small council, Your Grace.”

Jon barely keeps his neck from audibly cracking as he whips his head to Sansa.

What are you doing?

And finally, she looks at him. Eyes so pure blue on his—clear water on ice. Trust me.

Sansa looks away in an instant. But Jon answers her.

Always.

Chapter Text

He’d come dangerously close to punching Tyrion after that meeting. “Well that certainly went better than expected,” he said smugly. “I suppose your skills of seduction worked better than you thought, Jon.” Tyrion looked up at him, smiling and self-satisfied.

Jon scowled in response. His aunt turned to him and arched her brow, “seduction, was it? Should I be proud or worried, nephew?” Daenerys could never seem to decide between those two with Jon.

“Proud, I suppose,” he said uncomfortably. Jon needed to keep things calm, needed to keep himself close to the dragons—but it wasn’t easy.

“Oh, come now, Jon,” Daenerys said with humor, “I’m hardly asking you to sacrifice much in the way of concessions. She is a beautiful woman and just think,” her voice beginning to adopt a darker tone, “you’ll finally have that foothold in the North and with your mother’s family you always wanted.” His aunt said it with a smirk, but her violet eyes gave away her resentment. Resentment that Jon had never done enough, in her eyes, to make up for his Stark side. Resentment that Jon might dare long for family outside of her.

Jon said nothing. He wouldn’t give further kindling to the toxicity of their relationship. “You know, Jon,” she said, studying him as she received a cup of wine from Tyrion in her solar. “I have to know you will continue to represent House Targaryen when I leave for the South again.”

“Have I failed to represent House Targaryen before?” Jon asked, and tried to keep the edge out of his voice. He’d done his aunt’s bidding for so long now, he’d forgotten what it meant to be one’s own person, or perhaps he never knew at all until coming North.

Daenerys pursed her lips as Missandei worked on braiding her hair. “I suppose not,” she said. “Then again, you’ve never been around Starks before.” The accusation was left unspoken as she ran her finger around the rim of her cup. Yes, what Jon had told Arya about reading between the lines with his aunt was truer than his cousin could ever know.

Jon knew this proposition from Daenerys and Sansa’s consideration of it were both falsities. But Jon wondered if, in his aunt’s narrow perspective, she was convinced that Sansa’s agreement to consider it made this “betrothal” a foregone conclusion. She was preparing now to leave Jon alone up here in the North and looking for betrayals in the future rather than the present.

“Queen Sansa would become a Targaryen should she accept,” Jon said. All of this discussion made Jon feel wrong. He’d never cage Sansa this way, but to even pretend he might made him feel that familiar wave of shame.

Daenerys narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. “She will not be your partner, Jon, do you understand me?”

He nodded. Anything to put an end to this conversation.

“She and the rest of the Starks are not your family. They will never be your family. I am your family,” Daenerys said, her words sharp but there was something almost pleading in her expression as she looked at him. It was that same desperate need she had to always be the most important person, to be loved and worshiped. Jon knew Daenerys thought that since they were the last Targaryens, it wasn’t fair for him to care about his Stark family. If she didn’t have more family, then neither could he.

Nothing about what she said was new, but it felt different now, with Sansa and his pack. Where it used to make him feel sad and conflicted, now it just made him angry. His stomach churned in revulsion at her words. He walked about the solar and hoped it appeared he did it absentmindedly, but in truth he couldn’t sit still and look his aunt in the face. He worried if he did, he might lose his hold on the control he’d been practicing since her arrival.

“Jon?” she asked expectantly.

He stopped his pacing and reluctantly met her gaze. “Yes?” he asked tiredly.

“You will be the one in charge, not her. She will only be called a princess because you are a prince. You will serve as the true Warden of the North and keep her in line, is that clear?” She spoke to him like he was a child in trouble for misbehaving.

“It’s clear,” Jon said, trying to keep himself from growling at her. With his aunt, a full dragon, he’d never felt more a wolf. He sensed too, that Ghost had just made a kill he would bring to Sansa’s feet. “But it isn’t as if she’s agreed yet,” Jon said. Somehow, he couldn’t stop himself from the little swipe, much as he knew he should have.

Daenerys’s face hardened. “She will agree, if she doesn’t want to burn,” she said.

YOU WILL NOT TOUCH HER, the wolf in him howled, and Jon left before he gave himself away entirely.

---

Agreeing to even consider Daenerys’s offer felt entirely wrong to Sansa. She had made no commitments. There was no betrothal. Yet, Sansa felt that fear come upon her.

What if they cage me? What if they cage my people?

Jon had felt her fear. His concern and the strong desire to protect her coupled with anger toward his aunt and Tyrion came off him in waves only she, Jon, and Ghost were privy to. She had felt his shock and dismay when she said she would consider such an arrangement.

Trust me. That’s what she had told him. When they were alone, he immediately swept her in his arms protectively. “Why?” he asked into her hair. “You must know she won’t grant greater autonomy if you agree. She’s hoping she can trick you.” There was no way Sansa didn’t know. But Jon was bewildered nonetheless.

“I know that, Jon. I will not agree,” she said softly, her head at his shoulder. His smell gave her a sense of safety, peace, and protection.

Jon held her tighter. “Then what’s happened?”

“We’re buying time,” Sansa said, looking up to meet his eyes. She told him of the ravens she’d received from her cousin Robin, uncle Edmure, and Arianne Martell.

“So, it worked?” he asked with a smile. Jon suddenly felt lighter in his shoulders at the news.

“Yes,” she nodded. “I haven’t heard back from the other kingdoms yet, but we have allies that can hold her accountable.”

“Arianne is ruling Dorne?” he asked. The last Jon had known, the Sand Snakes were all dead and his aunt hadn’t decided on whom to replace Ellaria.

“She has taken it back in the Martell name,” Sansa said.

Jon nearly winced at that. “The Martells…” he said softly, anxiety returning.

Sansa grasped his hand. “We will handle it, Jon,” she said. “She’s furious with Daenerys because of the Sand Snakes, and once she sees you were the one to reveal this condemning information, I think she will accept you. We only need her to back us with Daenerys and then I’ll support her claim for Dornish independence.”

Jon nodded and kissed her gently. She thought of everything, his clever girl. Jon hoped this meant things could be resolved without war.

Jon spends much of the next sennight warging into Rhaegal and even Viserion a few times. When Sansa cannot watch over him, Bran stays with him and tries to help him grow his abilities. He dreams of Ghost one night and Rhaegal the next. Stark and Targaryen. It is strange after spending so much of his life feeling like an outcast to have his lineage working to benefit others.

Jon is beginning to understand that Rhaegal and Viserion follow his commands and he may not even need to warg into them when danger presents itself, so long as he is able to instruct them in his mind. He also realizes that Rhaegal and Viserion could leave the North peacefully. Jon needed only to neutralize or eliminate Drogon. Some part of him felt guilty, turning brothers against each other, but he knew that Rhaegal and Viserion longed to be free of conflict, and ending Drogon’s attacks would give them that opportunity. He supposes it is the nature of any Dance of Dragons. Jon intends to protect as many innocents as possible. Conflict between the two Targaryens will not make the Northern people its casualties if he can help it.

He was beginning to understand now how Daenerys had been wrong all their lives in her assumptions surrounding their blood. She believed their history made them stronger, but Jon now saw that the Targaryen beliefs of superiority were their downfall. How else could Daenerys be so confident Sansa would give up the North?

But those assumptions aided them now. Drogon was weak. Daenerys’s unhappiness and discomfort with the North affected him more than the other two, now that they followed Jon. If Rhaegal and Viserion could subdue him, then the North and the other kingdoms would be safe. It doesn’t mean Jon stopped feeling afraid, but he’s seeing how their plans will take shape. When Jon looks at Sansa or holds her in his arms, when he thinks of how he must protect her, and how they will build a life together, he knows it is all worth it.

 ---

Arianne, Robin, and Edmure arrive in the dead of night. Sansa is reunited with her cousin but meets with her uncle for the first time. He is tall and has the Tully look like her. Sansa feels a pang in her chest as she thinks of her mother.

“Didn’t bring your Frey wife with you?” Arya snarked at him.

“Arya, really,” Sansa said incredulously.

Her uncle straightened under her sister’s gaze. “She’s a Tully now,” he said with narrowed eyes. “And no, I do not want her or my son near the dragons.”

Arya said nothing further and Sansa counted her blessings for it.

“I wouldn’t worry much about the dragons,” Arianne said with a smirk as she took in her new Northern allies. She was beautiful, with olive skin, dark hair and eyes that reminded Sansa of Prince Oberyn. She’d never been North before and Sansa could see the chill in her bones and yet, she also carried herself with confidence, as if she belonged in any place or room she happened to be in. That made her think of Margaery and she shoved away her momentary grief. “Martells have killed dragons before,” she said, looking between Sansa, Arya, and Bran. “You go for the eye, understand?” she looked at Arya expectantly, as if she’d appointed her dragon slayer. Arya tried to keep her face solemn as she nodded, but a bit of excitement gleamed in her eyes.

After they’d escorted Arianne to her chambers, secluded from the rest of the castle, and settled Robin and Edmure in similar quarters, Arya turned to her and smiled. “I like her.”

Sansa huffed, but with amusement rather than irritation. “Some of the first words to come out of her mouth were about killing dragons, of course you like her.”

Brienne informs her Jon is waiting in her solar and Arya bids her goodnight. He looks tired and forlorn, but Jon smiles when she enters, standing up from his chair and reaching for her.

“So, tomorrow?” he asked, pulling her close and brushing a thumb along her cheekbone tenderly. She nodded and leaned into his touch.

“Tomorrow,” Sansa confirmed. “They’re all getting settled now.” Jon leaned in and kissed her, but she could feel the tension in his body.

 “Jon, are you having second thoughts?”

“No,” he said resolutely. He twined his fingers into her hair as he considered. “It’s just that I’m nervous. And I wanted to talk to you about something,” Jon said, hesitantly meeting her eyes.

Now Sansa was the one that stiffened. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing bad,” he rushed to assure her. “At least, I don’t think so. I don’t think we need to get rid of all three dragons.”

Sansa studied him, not sure what to think. She knew she trusted him, but dragons were powerful creatures.

“It’s not that I think any of them should remain here, but Drogon is the one that needs to be killed. I’ve bonded with Rhaegal and Viserion.”

“Like with Ghost?” she asked.

Jon shook his head. “No. Not exactly. Ghost is like a part of me I didn’t know I had,” he smiled at her, “like you,” he said and brought her hand to his mouth for a kiss. She smiled at him, warmth bursting within her. “But I understand them, what they need and want, and they don’t want to fight or hurt anyone. They’ve switched allegiance to me.”

“You’re certain?”

Jon nodded. “I am. I wouldn’t be talking to you about it now if I wasn’t. They’ll warn me if Drogon tries to attack and they’ll help me subdue him.”

Sansa still felt a little nervous about it, but Jon knew the dragons better than she ever could and if the two would help them, then it was what she wanted. She was also relieved he didn’t want them to stay in the North. They frightened people, and she didn’t want to risk any accidents even if the dragons didn’t want to hurt anyone. In any case, it was true that it wasn’t good for the dragons either, adapting to the Northern winter. “So, what about after? If you don’t plan for them to stay here.”

A soft, almost nostalgic look crossed Jon’s face then, and she understood enough from her bond with Ghost that Jon was sharing a feeling with the dragons. “They want to go back to Valyria,” he said. “It’s where I’ll have them go. It’s where they belong,” Jon said with a smile. He put his arm around her waist and swayed into her, almost as if they were about to dance without music. He touched his forehead to hers. “Just like I belong here,” he said softly.

Her hands went to his chest. “You belong here,” Sansa said. “With me.”

Jon nodded. “With you.” Then he leaned in to kiss her. Sansa realized more acutely in that moment, with his soft lips against hers, that Jon was her partner. Someone she could trust and feel safe with. A man that would support her and allow her to be Sansa instead of just the Queen. She had her siblings, of course, and some of her advisers were like friends and family too. But this was different, their intimacy, Jon’s caring and protecting her, Sansa’s desire to care for and protect in return. It wasn’t something she’d thought she was missing before, but now that Sansa had it, she wanted to keep it. Always. Her mate.

---

As Jon enters the Great Hall at Daenerys’s side, he is keenly aware of the dragons’ location and state of mind. His aunt is confident going into the meeting, and as such, Drogon is a little calmer from what Jon can sense from Rhaegal and Viserion. The latter two dragons know something important is about to happen and they are closely watching their brother for signs of attack, per Jon’s instructions.

Sansa sits at the center of the head table, Arya on one side and Bran on the other. Brienne is behind her, standing guard as always. Sansa has prepared as much as possible, has spoken with Arianne, Edmure, and Robin so they are all agreed. Arianne is not exactly happy about Jon, but she has accepted him as Sansa’s ally if not her own. Brienne is instructed along with Podrick and several Knights of the Vale to escort the smallfolk into the crypts if, or more likely, when Daenerys calls for her dragons. Other Knights of the Vale shall remain. A smattering of lords and ladies flank tables on either side of the head table as Daenerys’s party enters. Sansa will not lie to herself; she is afraid. Daenerys approaches with a smile. Beneath the table, Arya grasps her hand for just a moment and Sansa squeezes back.

The only time a man can be brave.

“Your Grace, I thank you for meeting with us,” Daenerys said as she sat. Jon looked at her and sat down beside his aunt.

“Of course, Your Grace,” Sansa said.

It’s true for women too.

“I trust that you have taken the time to consider my proposal and to discuss it with your council,” Daenerys said smoothly. Jon can hear the self-assurance she has as she speaks. His aunt has hardly noticed the chilly reception of the Northerners in the room today, expecting nothing but victory over Sansa and the North.

Keep close watch, he instructs Rhaegal and Viserion, be ready.

“I have, Your Grace,” Sansa said evenly. If her eyes flit to him, it is but only for a moment. Neither one of them can afford to take their attention off the matter at hand and the danger his aunt presents, Jon knows. But he so wishes now he could hold and comfort Sansa. He will do anything to keep her safe.

Daenerys smiles in satisfaction. Grey Worm is behind her, stiff posture and hands folded behind his back. Jon is acutely aware of him and everyone in the room. Daenerys looks to Sansa indulgently, as if they are two old friends. “And what have you and your council decided?” she asked.

Jon can hear it and he’s sure everyone else can too—there is only one right answer.

Sansa met Daenerys’s gaze directly. “I can understand how important the matter of heirs and succession can be, as a fellow sovereign. I can understand, too, the importance of healing past divides between the Starks and Targaryens.”

Daenerys’s smile grows slowly. Jon’s dread squeezes in his chest.

“However, I am afraid I must decline your proposal, Your Grace,” Sansa said without inflection. She was calm and measured; composed.

Daenerys is so taken aback that she laughs. A tinkling sound that rings in the otherwise silent room as she looks to Sansa. Sansa does not look away. She refuses to show weakness to this woman who would have her and her people chained. She is a Stark of Winterfell. She is home with her pack.

“Excuse me?” Daenerys asked, a note of disbelief in her voice. Jorah stares at the table, Jon notices.

“I must decline your proposal,” Sansa repeated. She was steel, Jon thought.

“Yes, I heard you,” Daenerys said testily. She grimaced as she studied Sansa and leaned back in her seat. “Why?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. “Do you find my nephew to be so lacking?” Daenerys tried to put another smile back onto her features, but she couldn’t quite achieve it.

“No, Your Grace,” Sansa said. “I decline your proposal because the North is and shall remain an independent kingdom.” The lords and ladies at the tables on each side cheered at her words, and Daenerys shot a glance to them with contempt.

Rhaegal and Viserion grew anxious as Drogon became angry like his mother—but he still sat amid piles of snow, uncalled for by Daenerys—for now at least. Keep watch. Be ready.

“Your ancestor bent the knee,” Daenerys said, her voice becoming strained, even as she tried to appear calm and collected.

“And the Targaryens were overthrown,” Sansa said, and Daenerys huffed in response.

“By the usurper with your father’s help,” Daenerys bit out through clenched teeth.

Sansa’s eyes narrowed minutely. “And the North later declared its independence. It is as I told you before, Your Grace, you conquered the Six Kingdoms, not Seven. The North was no longer tied to the Iron Throne when you took it from Cersei Lannister.”

Daenerys clucked her tongue and crossed her arms as she scowled at Sansa.

“Khaleesi,” Jorah said softly from her other side.

“Don’t, Jorah. It is quite alright,” Daenerys said tightly without moving her eyes from Sansa’s. “You know, I have often wondered where you Northerners get your gumption,” his aunt continued in a conversational manner, but the bitterness dripped from her voice. “You have the gall to disrespect me, to disrespect Jorah in his own homeland—”

“Disrespect?!” Lady Lyanna Mormont stood from her table in outrage.

Daenerys turned and looked bewildered at the young girl confronting her. “Yes, dear child—”

“No. I am the Lady of Bear Island,” Lyanna snapped. “You disrespect House Mormont. You disrespect the North by bringing Jorah Mormont here—”

“He is one of my sworn shields!” Daenerys said, standing from her seat.

“He is a slave trader!” Lyanna bellowed.

Jon heard a gasp and saw Missandei’s hand go to her mouth, in shock or disbelief, Jon couldn’t tell. She looked to Grey Worm, his lips parted in dismay as he looked between his lover, Lyanna, and his Queen.

“He has more than made up for his crimes!” Daenerys snapped.

“There is no making up for his dishonor!” Lyanna called and lords and ladies clapped on the tables in agreement. Daenerys’s jaw unhinged as she looked about the room. Jon stood up from the table as well, and noticed Sansa and Arya rising.

“Is this true?” Grey Worm asked Daenerys in a soft voice, jaw clenching and a guardedness in his eyes.

She looked at him beseechingly. “Grey Worm, you must understand I—”

“My Queen?” Missandei interrupted. She walked toward her tentatively. “Is it true?” Sansa felt a twinge in her gut watching the woman’s face as Missandei struggled to process this information.

“Well, yes, but you must understand I…” Daenerys looked between Missandei and Grey Worm, seemingly at a loss. “He’s followed me for years now, fighting slavery at my side,” she said softly, her eyes growing wide. Jon surmised she hoped to look an innocent girl to them. But he didn’t think it meant much as Grey Worm silently looked to his feet and Missandei wrapped her arms around herself protectively.

Daenerys whipped her head back toward Sansa. “You have tried to turn my people against me. You dare to defy your rightful Queen!” She spat.

There was a desperation in her words, Sansa thought. She stepped forward. “I swore no fealty or other oaths to you, Your Grace.” She was surprised to find she wasn’t scared anymore. She would protect her people even unto death. (Porcelain to ivory to steel).

“And do you think you will get away with it? I can have you all burned—”

“Oh, we know what you’re capable of, Your Grace,” the voice of Arianne Martell rang out as she entered the Hall with Edmure and Robin.

Daenerys looked to the arrivals. “And you are?” she asked in exasperation, voice going higher with every word.

Arianne stepped forward. “Arianne Martell, Princess of Dorne,” she said, raising one dark condemning brow as two guards flanked her. She crossed her arms, thoroughly unimpressed with the Dragon Queen as she looked her up and down, Sansa thought.

“The Martells—” Daenerys’s brow furrowed as she took in the woman before her.

“You thought we were all dead? Your allies the Sand Snakes certainly tried,” Arianne snapped.

“And what is the Princess of Dorne doing in Winterfell?” Daenerys scowled as she looked between Sansa and Arianne. “Who are these other lords?” she asked, gesturing to Robin and Edmure.

“Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun, Your Grace,” Sansa’s uncle introduced himself.

“Robin Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie and Lord Paramount of the Vale,” Sansa’s cousin straightened his shoulders and stood to his full height.

As Daenerys looked at them, several Knights of the Vale moved closer. “What is the meaning of this?” she demanded. She looked back to Sansa. “You mean to ambush ME?!”

“Now,” Arianne said.

“Seize her,” Robin directed the Knights who swiftly began seizing Daenerys.

“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?! UNHAND ME, I AM YOUR RIGHTFUL QUEEN!”

Jorah was disarmed and seized. Tyrion was quickly apprehended, his cup of wine clattering to the floor. Screeches of dragons could be heard in the distance as their mother bellowed.

“Brienne, now,” Sansa instructed, and Brienne, Podrick, and the others in their party hurried to evacuate smallfolk to the crypts.

Grey Worm was lifting his spear when Jon came behind him and managed to pin him to the table. “It’s not worth it, Grey Worm,” he implored the man.

“LET HIM GO JON!” Daenerys squealed. “I DEMAND TO KNOW THE MEANING OF THIS! I AM THE DRAGON!”

“Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen,” Arianne called out above the din of noise as everyone turned to her. “In my name, in Lord Robin’s name, and in Lord Tully’s name, we hereby charge you with the murder of the surrendered soldiers in the Reach, Lord Randyll Tarly and his son Lord Dickon Tarly.”

Daenerys, now in chains, stopped her thrashing in the Knights’ arms as her eyes widened. She looked about the room uncomprehendingly until her eyes fell upon her nephew. “You,” she breathed. “You—Jon. YOU BETRAYED ME!”

Jon still held Grey Worm to the table, but the man released the spear. Arya jumped toward it. “I’ll be taking that for now,” she said happily, seemingly unfazed by the chaos around her.

“JON!” Daenerys screamed.

Jon released Grey Worm, who was searched for further weapons but not apprehended or chained, at least for the time being. Missandei and Grey Worm moved to the side of the room, looking dazed as they simply watched the events unfold.

Jon finally looked to his aunt. She struggled in her confinement as she glared at him. “YOU BETRAYED ME!” Daenerys screamed again. Her eyes filled with disbelieving tears.

“You left me no choice,” Jon said simply. Be ready. Be ready, he told the dragons.

“No choice?! I gave you everything! I named you my heir!” Daenerys looked around the conspirators who had plotted against her. “You’ll never get away with this! DRACARYS!” She cried desperately, and a bone shattering screech sounded from outside.

NOW. Jon instructed Rhaegal and Viserion. STOP HIM NOW!

Chapter Text

Rhaegal feels the cold chill against his scales as he and Viserion whip around to chase Drogon. His brother wants to head toward the castle, where their mother is screaming for them. Where Jon and the Starks (blood of my blood, Jon tells him) are within its walls. He cannot let that happen to Jon and Jon’s blood, not even for mother. Drogon releases a flame into the air as Rhaegal crashes into his side. The trees and snow and ice burn, and the animals below run in terror.

Brother! Rhaegal implores him.

TRAITOR! Drogon snaps at him with his teeth as he twists around.

Viserion has clutched onto Drogon’s tail, and Drogon screeches and through the battle, Rhaegal screeches too.

Pain and heartbreak and despair and fire and blood so much blood over the years and mother had done this to them. Didn’t Drogon see? Jon is sorry to make him do this. Jon sees through Rhaegal’s eyes and Rhaegal feels the warmth. Because Jon cares. Mother loved him. He knew that. But she didn’t care like Jon.

Drogon was the biggest and always the strongest. It was why he was mother’s favorite. But he wasn’t strong anymore when Viserion scraped along one of his wings. Drogon screeched again and more flames came from his jaws, but they had no direction or sense to them, flailing as haphazardly as Drogon’s wings in the winter winds. They flew Drogon downward until they were falling in the snow.

TRAITORS! THE BOTH OF YOU! Drogon cries. MOTHER!

She called for them. Again and again. Only DRACARYS. Drogon attempted to fly. He started to crawl for the castle with the flames building in his throat.

NOW! STOP HIM NOW! Jon’s repeated commands in his ears. Jon’s need to protect them making a home within Rhaegal too.

Brother, Rhaegal called again. Weakly. He wanted the fire and blood to end.

Drogon looked at him strangely. He was confused, and let Rhaegal come closer. Viserion was on Drogon’s other side.

We have to destroy them, Drogon called to them. Jon and the Starks and the North will burn. They will pay in fire and blood.

Rhaegal came close to Drogon as if checking his wounds. He must stop him.

I know, brother. Rhaegal soothed him.

He just wanted it to be over. He wanted to go home to Valyria.

Rhaegal felt pain for what he must do to stop him.

I know, brother.

Help me, Drogon called. Help me burn them.

Yes, brother, Rhaegal called back. He approached as if to help lift Drogon into the air once more. His brother would never fly again, Rhaegal thought sadly.

But he cannot let him burn Jon and Jon’s blood. He must stop it.

And so as Drogon embraced him expecting help, Rhaegal struck his claw deeply into Drogon’s eye.

May you find peace, brother.

---

Jon wakes in a bed. The light around him is too bright. He’s disoriented, trying to figure out where he is, and the light hurts his head. He remembers the brightness of the white snow and winds, of the flames that danced along the ice, remembers why he’d seen it.

He jolts forward in the bed. “Sansa!” Jon cries, terrified, grasping along the furs. Then he feels a warm hand on his cheek, and it is her. She is sitting in a chair at his bedside. She is shining like her very own light, in her radiance she is all he can see and suddenly it doesn’t hurt as much anymore.

“Shh, Jon, you must rest,” Sansa lightly placed a hand to his shoulder, encouraging him to lie back down.

“Drogon,” Jon breathed.

“Is dead,” Sansa said quietly. Her brow furrowed in concern as she looked him over and continued to lightly push him back.

And he knew that Drogon was dead. Had seen it—felt it—inside Rhaegal when it happened. When Rhaegal had killed his brother to help protect them. The pain was a crushing feeling in his chest, Rhaegal’s grief at having to kill his own brother. Jon did not feel guilty—he’d done what he had to do to protect Sansa and his pack, protect everyone, really. But he mourned with Rhaegal too that it had come down to this. That this was the price they had to pay.

Still, hearing Sansa confirm Drogon was dead; that the threat was gone, he slumped his shoulders in relief and rested back as she bid.

“How are you feeling?” Sansa asked, brushing some of his hair back from his brow with a tenderness he’d never known before her skin touched his.

He answers her question with one of his own. “You’re safe? Not hurt?” Jon clasped her hand in his gently, bringing her palm to his lips for a kiss and then resting her it along his chest. Atop his heart.

“I’m safe,” Sansa said. “Not hurt.” A small smile.

“Bran? Arya? Everyone? No one was…burned?” He doesn’t think so from what he can remember from his time in Rhaegal, but he has to know for sure.

“No one was burned,” she said soothingly. “Some of the forest in the wolfswood and the game,” she ducked her head down, and Jon had no doubt she was worrying over feeding her kingdom in Winter. “But no people.” He tugged her toward him until she sat on the bed.

“Jon, are you okay? You didn’t answer me before,” she said. She kept studying him worriedly.

“I’m okay. You’re safe,” he sighed in relief. “How long was I out?”

“Just a few hours,” Sansa said.

“A few hours?” Jon asked. That surprised him, warging into Rhaegal had never taken so much of his energy before. But then, he’d never had to do anything like what they’d done today. He had hoped not to warg at all and merely instruct them, but it hadn’t worked out that way.

Sansa nodded. “Sam checked you over after you fell to the floor. Jon, I was terrified,” she admitted in a whisper.

“I’m sorry love,” Jon said.

She shook her head, wiping the tears just starting to form in her beautiful eyes. “No, I—it’s okay. Luckily you didn’t hit your head, and he says you only need some rest and Bran promised me it would be alright but,” Sansa took a breath and smiled tremulously, “I feel much better now that you’re awake.”

He leaned forward to kiss her, cupping her face and running his thumb along her jaw. Her lips were heaven. After a moment she pulled back. “No, Jon, you have to rest,” she said in the sweetest reprimand he’d ever heard as he attempted to chase her lips.

“Let me hold you then,” Jon said, and opened his arms in invitation for her to lie back on the bed with him.

Reluctantly she did so, and Jon smiled in victory even as she murmured into his neck. “But I can’t stay much longer.”

“Daenerys?” Jon asked running a hand along her back.

“She’s in a cell now,” Sansa said.

Jon nods. “She didn’t take Drogon’s death well.” Jon wasn’t conscious for it, but it wasn’t a question.

“She was hysterical. Sam had to give her essence of nightshade so she would sleep. Jon,” she hesitantly looked up at him from the crook of his shoulder, “I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” Jon said, lifting her chin so she couldn’t duck away from him.

Sansa looked at him with exasperation (it was quite adorable). “She’s your aunt, Jon.”

“I haven’t forgotten, Sansa,” Jon said plainly. “There was no other way, love.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s not hard for you,” she said stubbornly.

“It is,” Jon acknowledged. It saddened him to know his aunt was in a cell with one of her children dead and facing trial—but like with Drogon, he mourned only that it came down to this. He mourned for the girl Daenerys used to be, but not for the woman she was now. “She made her own choices. And I made mine. I don’t regret any of it, not even for a second,” he assured her, caressing her cheek with his fingertips. Her skin was always so soft and delicate, almost as if he could corrupt her with his calloused skin, but she leaned into his touch. Jon kissed her lightly. “But I should see her,” he said.

“You should, but only after you rest,” Sansa said sternly.

“Yes, Your Grace,” he said with a sly smile. Was it wrong that her bossing him around turned him on? She swatted at him playfully. Sansa looked so young as she smiled up at him.

After another light kiss (or two, he’ll admit to dragging it out as much as possible) from her, Sansa reluctantly left his arms. “Rest,” she said, pointing her finger at him before she left the chambers.

He smiled and rested, as his Queen commanded.

---

Jon rests for a long time—an entire day and night. He wakes up occasionally. He knows he’s seen Sansa at his bedside a few times, and Bran, at one point even Arya, though she just seemed to be pushing Bran’s chair. Ladies’ maids bustled about at times. Sansa tries to get him to eat, but he’s too tired for it. Sam places a hand on his forehead and takes in his color to report back to Sansa.

But it all blurs together. When he finally wakes it is morning—Sansa has had someone bring him a meal to break his fast, but she’s nowhere to be seen. Jon is starving after all his time asleep or in that half-dreaming state. After he finishes his meal, washes and dresses for the day, Jon feels better.

He feels better. Relaxed. More confident. Mostly, he is relieved that the North has not burned. That Sansa and his loved ones are safe.

But he knows he must see his aunt. There was no getting around it. Truth be told, Jon didn’t want to get around it either—there were too many things left unsaid. He doesn’t know what her trial will bring and perhaps he is a coward because Jon is relieved that her fate is not in his hands. Jon doesn’t want to be the one who has to make the decision.

With renewed energy, he seeks out her cell. The Vale knights let him through. He’s not sure how they feel about him. Jon was a Targaryen and the nephew of the woman sitting in the cell they guarded, but everyone knew that he had betrayed her now for the Starks. She is alone. Jorah and Tyrion are kept in cells elsewhere. Daenerys is wearing the white furs she’d arrived in, though they are dingier now. He’s seen she’s been given food, but it doesn’t look as if she’s touched it. His aunt looks more worn than he thinks he’s ever seen her. Her silver hair is disheveled—the elaborate braids Missandei always gave her were gone. Daenerys is staring off into the distance for a few moments before she sees him. Her eyes spark in recognition.

She smiles. He doesn’t like the look of it at all.

Daenerys stands and moves closer. The chains around her ankles do not allow her to reach him, but her hands are free. They itch to strike him. Jon can tell, from the way she clenches them. “Nephew,” Daenerys said, the word sounding different on her tongue somehow as she regarded him. “How kind of you to visit,” she said, and that smile curling along her face is just wrong. Jon knows it—feels it in his stomach. But in another moment, it’s gone, and her face is stony. “Or have you come to drive the dagger in yourself?”

Jon sighed. “You’re having a trial.”

Daenerys disregards his words. “Should I turn my back to you so you can do it without looking upon my face? Would that make it easier for you, Jon? Shall I turn my back so you may kill me as the Kingslayer killed my father? So you can be a Queenslayer and kinslayer both?” she hissed.

He’s angry. How many times had she threatened his life to keep him obedient? What right did she have to shame him? So, Jon repeats his point. “You’re having a trial. Perhaps that sounds strange to you, but you’re not facing execution on the spot. You’re being handed a fairer fate than you gave thousands, than you gave the Tarlys.” He thinks of Sam’s tears when he’d discovered the truth.

And somehow, Daenerys finds another way to shock him as she laughs at his words. “As if you ever cared what I did to the Tarlys.”

Jon is nearly speechless, but he cannot let that go without saying something. “I told you that very day!” He said, pointing at her. “Even Tyrion told you, Daenerys. We told you not to do it!” His hands shake.

“Oh yes, I remember! Jon and his noble kindness and his honor.” She said mockingly. “Well, Jon traded in all that precious honor for some Northern whore’s cunt.”

Gods help him, Jon nearly strikes her. “Don’t you dare talk about her like that!” They are both at yelling volume now, but Jon cannot help it.

She scoffed in disgust. “You’re just like your father! Throwing it all away for some Stark girl. I should have known.”

“Known what?” he scowled.

“That your traitorous Stark blood would ruin everything I worked for. That your vile bastard blood would eventually come out,” Daenerys snapped. “I should have let Viserys kill you like he wanted.”

His fists clench. “Shut up, Daenerys,” he snarled.

She narrows her eyes at him. “Do you not realize everything you have and everything you are is because of me? Tell me, Jon. What did she promise you?”

Jon shakes his head. He doesn’t understand. “What?”

“What did good Queen Sansa promise you? Did she promise you the Iron Throne would be yours instead of mine?!”

Jon stared at her in bewilderment. He almost laughed in disbelief.

“Did she promise you would take my place as the rightful heir? Is that what you’re getting out of all this? Finally rising from your bastard station to take MY THRONE?” she bellowed in her fury, chest heaving.

Jon shook his head slowly, pinching his nose in frustration. “No. Sansa promised me no such thing.” She crossed her arms and eyed him skeptically. “That’s what it all comes down to for you, doesn’t it? All your precious titles, that bloody chair. All that bloodshed and lives lost, as long as you get to call yourself Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, everything else is insignificant.”

“I have sacrificed!” Daenerys shouted. “You’ve thrown away all I have worked for!”

“Everyone has sacrificed, Dany!” Jon stepped further away from her. He didn’t know how much of it was due to his anger and revulsion and how much of it was due to sheer pity, but he needed more space between them. “People have sacrificed and struggled, and it doesn’t entitle them to rule over people who don’t want them. Why can’t you understand that?”

“IT IS MINE AND YOU WANT IT FOR YOURSELF!” She screamed.

“I don’t want that damned ugly chair,” Jon snapped. “Gods, Daenerys, aren’t you tired of it? Aren’t you tired of all this fighting?”

She doesn’t answer him. “You took two of my children and killed the other.”

Jon didn’t wince at her accusation. “I protected the people you wanted to burn.”

She shook her head furiously as something helpless settled in her eyes. “None of them are innocent,” she murmured. Jon thought she may have been talking more to herself than him.

“I couldn’t do it anymore, Daenerys. Someone had to stop you,” Jon said softly.

“So, what, you cast me aside and they’re your family now?” she spat, a trace of hurt in her features.

Jon sighed, his hands on his hips. This was how it always was. His aunt took and took and took. Until there was nothing left. “We all could have been family, if you weren’t so set on forcing them or burning them.” He made to leave.

“You’re a traitor,” she called out to his retreating form.

He looked back for a moment. Jon could tell from the look on Daenerys’s face she meant to shame him. His sense of honor and loyalty. But what good was loyalty when it enabled atrocious acts like the ones Daenerys committed? Where was the honor in keeping pledges of fealty when it resulted in the deliberate deaths of innocent people? “Call me what you like. I did what was right,” Jon said. With that he left, something like peace in his heart.

Chapter Text

“And what are the plans of this Prince Jon? Does he seek the Iron Throne?” Arianne had asked her that morning when they met prior to Daenerys’s arrest.

Sansa had straightened in her chair as Arianne’s gaze fixed upon her. Truthfully, Sansa had never directly asked Jon if he desired to sit the Throne. It was more one of those things that, given their connection and his decision to bend the knee to her, went without saying. But of course, she couldn’t exactly say that to an ally—that she’s certain he wouldn’t, despite never directly discussing it. She does the next best thing. “Prince Jon has bent the knee and pledged himself to me and the North.” Sansa had told her.

Arianne raised a brow at her inquisitively. “And you? Do you seek further kingdoms? Do you plan to take the Throne yourself?”

“I will not be taking the Throne.”

“But—” Robin had interrupted at what Sansa viewed as a most inopportune time.

“But?” Arianne had whipped her head to Sansa’s cousin.

“The Vale wishes to join the North under Queen Sansa’s reign,” Robin had told her, glancing proudly at Sansa. She couldn’t help but feel a blush at his faith in her.

“And the Riverlands are also interested in pledging ourselves to Queen Sansa’s rule,” Edmure piped in.

“Uncle, you gave no such indication in our letters,” Sansa said, surprised at his declaration.

He smiled wryly and glanced at Robin. “I wasn’t exactly going to declare I know no Queen but the Queen in the North in a letter,” Edmure said. “Unlike some people.”

“It’s what the Northmen say!” Robin responded defensively.

“And this is your first time North of the Neck—”

“Alright you two, I’m sure Princess Arianne is not interested in our family squabbles,” Sansa had interrupted them, hoping they did not all come across as fools to the Dornish princess.

“It’s quite alright, I find these two most entertaining,” Arianne had said with a smirk. “So a Queen of the North, the Vale, and the Riverlands?”

“We are nowhere near formalizing such terms,” Sansa had explained, throwing a scolding look at her cousin and uncle. “And of course, it will have to wait as we need you three to maintain—”

“Jurisdiction,” she and Arianne stated simultaneously.

“Great minds,” Arianne said with a smile. “In any case, I have no issue with the joining of your three kingdoms, but I expect you will recognize Dornish independence and myself as Queen of Dorne following the trials.”

“On that we can agree.” Sansa said plainly. “But what about the other kingdoms? Have you any interest in those? Maester Tarly greatly appreciated your offer to assist his mother and sister, but do you have further designs on the Reach? The Westerlands?”

Arianne had merely shrugged at her question, which Sansa found quite odd. Her dark brown curls bounced about her shoulders whenever she gestured. “It’s possible the Reach may join us, or simply remain close allies for trade and such. My focus is my kingdom and restoring House Martell.”

“That I can understand,” Sansa had said. She knew the pain of losing so many of your family; and of watching their murderers seize what had been your home.

“Then we are agreed.” Arianne had said, but she paused a moment before speaking again. “However, I will need assurances from Prince Jon himself after Daenerys’s arrest that he will not seek the Throne or attempt any Targaryen restoration. I do not trust a Targaryen, but I should like to take a measure of the man himself and see what his plans are.”

“Of course, princess.” Sansa had readily agreed.

---

Reflecting on the meeting, Sansa hoped the meeting with Arianne, Robin, Edmure, and Jon would go well. Jon’s warging and subsequent bedrest had delayed those discussions which Arianne was quite eager to begin.

In the meantime, Arianne, Edmure, Robin, Lord Royce, Ser Davos, Sansa, and Bran worked to prepare for the trial. Daenerys had been hostile, to say the least, upon her arrest. Fortunately, her attempts to burn Winterfell and everyone within the castle had failed as Jon warged into Rhaegal. Sansa had nearly run to him as he fell to the floor, with his eyes rolling back in his head. Arya had grabbed her arm and silently shook her head, keeping Sansa from revealing too much of herself. Thankfully, some Vale knights, Ser Davos, and Meera had gathered him up from the floor and settled him on one of the tables. All the while, Daenerys had shrieked hysterically, demanding to know what had been done to her children, as she screamed and screamed “DRACARYS” to no avail. She’d fallen to her knees when Rhaegal killed Drogon.

Now Sansa had received word from other kingdoms. To her surprise Yara Greyjoy, who escaped her uncle Euron’s captivity, killed him, and retook the Iron Islands, writes to declare her neutrality. Sansa is skeptical. Yara had previously allied herself with Daenerys, and the rift between House Stark and House Greyjoy was still bitter. Robb would have killed Theon himself, Sansa knew, but the Bolton bastard had done it before Robb got the chance, killing him in a rage when he discovered Theon had aided Jeyne Poole’s escape from Ramsay’s clutches. But it was true that Daenerys had never attempted to rescue Yara following her capture. Yara’s words were quite simple: I trust neither Starks nor Targaryens. The Iron Islands are independent and take no position on the Targaryen Queen’s trial.

She could expect raiding eventually, Sansa was sure, and keeping her fleets in White Harbor prepared would be her bigger focus moving forward in relation to the Iron Islands. Not a single kingdom spoke in Daenerys’s defense or stated they would seek to fight her charges. Word from the Reach was the most heartening. House Hightower had sent a detachment to free Sam’s mother and sister at Horn Hill and succeeded, overtaking Daenerys’s guards. Lady Tarly and her daughter wrote to Sam themselves, and, assured of their safety and Daenerys’s trial, Sansa believed he was beginning to allow himself proper grieving. They would now be able to move forward with Daenerys’s trial with little to no blowback from Westerosi, but Sansa was still concerned about the Essosi in King’s Landing and the crownlands. Only a handful of soldiers belonging to Daenerys remained in Winterfell and were currently being kept under guard and offered the chance to travel back to Essos. It seemed more were taking the opportunity with every passing day. She had a feeling, though, that Missandei, Daenerys’s translator, and Grey Worm, her Master at Arms, would remain until the trial was finished. As long as Sansa was able to keep track of them under guard, she supposed she could live with that.

Now, though, it was time for Jon to meet with their allies and make clear his intentions. He was nervous, more so than Sansa herself, as she could feel it within him and her own mind. She discreetly squeezed his hand before they entered the council meeting.

“Prince Jon Targaryen,” Arianne said, standing to meet him and eyeing him appraisingly, giving a slight courteous nod.

“Princess,” Jon said with a nod, unsure what to make of her greeting him with his full name. Seemingly polite, Jon couldn’t help but notice how she’d drawled Targaryen as an insult. He looked at Sansa. Not off to a great start.

She smiled just slightly. It’ll be fine. She’s trying to throw you off. Try not to let it rattle you.

Arianne looked between them and tilted her head to the side. “Shall we sit?” she asked them both. Edmure and Robin had already settled themselves so the other three joined them.

“So,” Arianne began, sitting across from them and directing her dark gaze to Jon. “What made you decide to turn against your aunt?”

Jon coughed lightly, trying to play off his discomfort. The Princess of Dorne was blunter than he expected.

Just breathe, Sansa told him.

I’m trying, love.

Jon cleared his throat. “I realized that what my aunt did in the Reach was inexcusable, and I couldn’t continue supporting her or let it stay hidden any longer,” he said honestly.

“Was it the first time you’d seen her burn someone alive?” Arianne asked with a quirk of her brow.

Jon sighed. “No. But it was different for me.”

She narrowed her eyes. “How?”

He took a deep breath and looked her in the eye. Jon hadn’t expected a Southerner to approach him this way, but he could see Princess Arianne was angry with his aunt and Targaryens in general. He supposed he couldn’t blame her, but he wasn’t going to shrink away from her scrutiny. “In the past, in Essos, Daenerys was fighting slavery, and while I don’t know if everyone she burned alive was equally guilty, it wasn’t the same. But here, all the Tarlys were burned for was not bending the knee; they’d already surrendered. I knew it was a problem, even before, but then—I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.”

Arianne was quiet for a few moments, thinking over his words. “What did you think of your aunt allying with my family’s murderers?” she asked, a sharp edge to her voice showing her resentment.

“I knew little to nothing of the Sand Snakes or any of her allies, really. I know she was looking for any support she could get, and she didn’t pay much attention to what any of it meant.”

Arianne huffed. “Of that I’m not surprised, she clearly knew nothing of Westeros,” she muttered. “And what do you think of your father abandoning his wife and children?”

At least this question Jon had anticipated. “I think he was a failure of a husband and father. A failure of a man in general.” Jon was a little surprised at how easily the words came out, but he couldn’t deny it was what he thought.

Arianne studied him. “Far too many in your family have been tyrants.”

“Yes,” he agreed.

“Will you seek the Iron Throne now that your aunt has been arrested?”

 “Never. My place is the North.” He couldn’t help but glance at Sansa.

Arianne’s lips quirked minutely as she looked between them. “And will you two marry then? Jon will be consort?”

Jon blushed and looked away. Sansa’s lips parted. Her uncle Edmure’s brows raised in surprise as Robin looked at them curiously.

“Oh, well, I’m sorry,” Arianne said with no small trace of amusement. “I thought that was the question on everyone’s minds,” she said, giving Sansa a wink. Jon didn’t think he’d ever seen Sansa so flustered and he couldn’t help a smile forming on his face.

“Nothing has been decided,” Sansa said evenly, straightening in her posture.

“I see,” Arianne said with mischief in her eyes before looking back to Jon. “I trust your cooperation in the trial?” she said, a more serious note to her voice.

“Yes,” Jon said readily.

“Good,” the princess said, standing up from the table and looking about the room. “Shall we get some of the Northern ale I’ve been so eager to try?”

Sansa stood to face her. “I’m afraid it will not live up to Dornish wine.”

“Perfect,” she said, leaning toward Sansa. “Bad ale makes for better stories.”

After the rest of the group had departed, Jon gripped Sansa’s hand in his own. Yes, he realized then as she smiled at him, it was definitely peace settling in his heart.

---

Jon might have been embarrassed by the way he clutched Sansa’s hand in his as they walked along a snowy bank, if not for the fact she clutched his hand just as desperately. “Oh, Jon, I am not so sure this is a good idea,” Sansa said nervously as her eyes took in the sight of Rhaegal and Viserion as they neared them.

He squeezed her hand in his own, wishing they weren’t wearing gloves. “They won’t hurt you,” Jon assured her soothingly. “I’d never let any harm come to you, Sansa.”

She smiled shyly as she glanced at him. “All the same,” Sansa said, her deep blue eyes trained back to the dragons as she studied them in apprehension, “they are quite…large.”

He smiled. “Aye, they are,” Jon agreed. “But I promise they won’t hurt you. I know it. They listen to me.”

Sansa looked at him with an expression he couldn’t quite identify. But you’re nervous.

“I am,” he responded to her wordless message. Jon had known she felt it through their bond. “But not because I’m scared they’ll hurt you or me.”

She laced their fingers together. “Then why?” Sansa asked quietly.

Jon sighed. “It’s hard to explain.” Sansa was quiet, as if giving him time to gather his thoughts. Rhaegal inched toward them and he felt Sansa tense in his hold. “Hey,” he said to her softly, cupping her cheek and making her look at him. “You’re safe.” She nodded but glanced nervously toward Rhaegal. He brought both of Sansa’s gloved hands up to his mouth and kissed them. “Thank you for coming out here with me, sweetheart, but why don’t you step back toward our horses?” She was bound to feel better with a little distance.

“But you said you wanted me here,” Sansa said.

“I did. I do,” Jon said. “You’ve made it easier for me just by being here, but this part—” he paused and looked at Rhaegal and Viserion. “This part I can do on my own.”

“If you’re sure,” Sansa said.

“I’m sure.” Knowing that even in the middle of this snowy bank with no one particularly close by he still couldn’t risk a kiss on the mouth, he pressed a fierce kiss to her forehead before Sansa backed away.

Jon turned his attention back to the dragons before him. Rhaegal ducked his head downward to meet Jon, and he felt the dragon’s warm breath puffing against him. Jon let out a chuckle at that and removed the glove from one of his hands. As if on cue, Rhaegal inched forward for Jon’s hand, and he petted Rhaegal’s scales in a soothing pattern he’d known the dragon had always liked. A sound left Rhaegal’s throat that was something like a purr. “There you are,” Jon said softly.

Rhaegal made himself comfortable in the snow as Viserion approached hesitantly. Though he had warged into Viserion twice, Jon had never ridden Viserion, so he felt more hesistant. He supposed the dragon felt similarly and he beckoned him closer with his hand. Viserion met Jon’s hand and he petted him as he had Rhaegal and both dragons seemed to calm one another. They would need one another, Jon knew. They were still recovering from the battle and grieving. “There you are,” he repeated to Viserion. He could feel their desire to go to what they knew as their home in Valyria. The place where their real mother laid their eggs who knew how long ago. They wanted peace. “You will have it,” Jon assured them both as they moved closer to him.

They would have to wait until they were healed in more ways than one to travel so far. But Jon wanted them to know they could travel between Dragonstone and back North for the time being, with Sansa’s blessing. The climate was more amenable there, and they could hunt game in the seas, then return North to Jon when they needed him. And even when they went to Valyria, “it won’t be a goodbye,” Jon said. “I’ll watch over you. You can call to me, asleep or awake.” They needed security, something that was stable. Jon would be that for them, knowing Daenerys’s instability had left them in a state not dissimilar to Jon’s own before he’d met Sansa and the rest of his Stark cousins. A gentle touch, not a sharp command as they conquered lands. He could give them that. The inner peace he felt flowed to them and back too. They circled him happily.

“Jon!” He heard Sansa, briefly out of his line of eyesight.

“It’s alright, love,” Jon answered with a soft laugh. “They’re only playing.”

“No, Jon that’s not what I meant—”

And he saw what Sansa meant as Ghost jumped into the circle, tail wagging happily and running about the small circle along with the dragons. Jon could only laugh harder, feeling free and light and warm, even in winter.

---

The trial began a few days later in the Great Hall. Sansa had taken what she’d come to think of as her unofficial throne (her mother’s chair) and moved to sit at the side of the head table. She was the Queen and this was her kingdom, but she would not be one of the judges, instead leaving Arianne, Edmure, and Robin to sit at the front as she, Arya, and Bran usually did.

One blessing Sansa counted was that many of the smallfolk had returned to their homes since Drogon was no longer a threat. Some Northern lords and ladies had gathered to watch the proceedings, but Sansa was relieved the crowd was not so dense as it could have been. As necessary as the trial was, she did not wish to see it become a spectacle or oddity. She didn’t want to see such matters become mere entertainment as she remembered from her years at Court in King’s Landing.

Bran sat next to her in his chair, and Meera at the end of the table next to theirs, reaching over now and again to squeeze his hand. Sansa looked over at her little brother and his ladylove and smiled. She wondered if they might marry soon. She knew Bran had been reluctant in the past, when he still struggled to keep his humanity at the forefront, and in part because he feared he could not give Meera children. But Sansa knew for a fact that Meera wanted to be with Bran and was ambivalent on the matter of children regardless. And Bran had become more than he’d been in recent moons, and Sansa could not help but think Jon’s arrival and their growing pack had something to do with it. Then again, Meera had mentioned more than once being ambivalent on the matter of marriage itself. Sansa didn’t have long, however, to ponder her mind’s wandering to marriage. Brienne stood behind her as the judges took their seats, and the doors opened to reveal Jon, Sam, Gilly, and Arya entering as inconspicuously as possible.

Her eyes met Jon’s and his lips quirked. You sent me a bodyguard? He raised a brow inquisitively, but his gaze was warm upon her.

It was true, she had sent Arya to stay close to Jon, just in case. Sansa knew Jon to be strong and formidable, but still she worried he might need an extra bit of protection in case he was still weakened after the warging in the dragon battle. Humor me, she told him.

He nodded with a shy smile. So many men would have been angry at such a thing, as if it were an insult to his strength, especially with someone like Arya, a woman, helping to protect him. But not Jon.

Arya, Jon, Sam, and Gilly moved to sit beside Meera. They were close, but Sansa wished she could pull her chair over to them.

Jon must have been thinking similar because a snippet of his thoughts came to her. I wish I could touch you. She looked over. Sansa wasn’t sure he’d even meant to say it, but she found a more heated look in his eyes as he took her form in greedily. She suddenly felt a bit hot in the hall, wishing she weren’t so close to the hearth. Jon smirked, looking far too handsome while doing so. He must have known her thoughts then too.

I love you, he said.

I love you too, she said.

The doors to the hall opened again, bringing forth the prisoners Daenerys, Tyrion, and Jorah. They were escorted by some knights and as they came forward, Jon noticed the look of haughtiness and defiance on his aunt’s face. He knew she wouldn’t make this easy, even without her dragons to scare people into submission. Jorah was staring at the floor. Tyrion’s eyes flitted about the room rapidly, as if he’d never seen it before. But Jon realized a moment later his erratic manner was because he’d gone without drink for nearly a sennight.

Arianne cleared her throat and took in the three before her. “I will be presiding over this trial with my fellow judges,” she gestured to Edmure and Robin on either side of her. “Do you have anything you wish to say before we begin?” Her eyes were sharp, and Jon was glad to not be on the receiving end of her anger this time.

Abruptly, Jorah dropped to his knees before them. Whispers went through the crowd. He looked up at the three who would decide his fate. “Please,” he said softly. “Spare her life. I care not what you do to me. But have mercy upon her—spare her.”

Sansa looked down at her lap. She was reminded too much of her own moments pleading for her father. It was all too familiar, and she had to look away.

Hey, Jon’s voice echoed in her mind, just breathe, remember?

She looked over at him for a moment. I’m trying, love, she said, repeating his words back to him. Sansa quickly looked back on the trial. She could not afford to look like a lovesick girl during such an urgent matter.

Arianne shook her head in aggravation. “Rise, Ser Jorah. We shall hear of what happened.”

He did as bid, awkwardly rising to his feet with the help of a knight.

“A dragon does not cower,” Daenerys said abruptly. She raised her chin as if she would look down on her judges.

Arianne’s eyes clapped to hers. “I’m glad to hear it,” she said. “Prince Jon?” she called, looking to where Jon was seated. He gulped. “Please step forth and share what happened the day your aunt burned Lords Randyll and Dickon Tarly.”

He hadn’t known he’d be called first, but he supposed it made sense. Jon stepped forward and faced the judges.

You can do this, Sansa’s voice called to him. He took her reassurance but did not look back to her. If Jon did, he figured he would have a hard time turning away again to focus.

He cleared his throat to speak strong and clear, hoping he wouldn’t sound as nervous as he felt. He didn’t like reliving that day. “Daenerys and the rest of our party had arrived at Dragonstone about a moon before. One of her allies from a noble house was Olenna Tyrell.”

Arianne nodded. “Go on,” she said.

“After Lady Olenna had returned to Highgarden, as I’m sure you all know, Cersei sent forces to seize the castle. She was successful, and when word reached Daenerys, she was furious. She wanted to go straight to King’s Landing and burn the Red Keep.”

Gasps sounded from the crowd at Jon’s account. He supposed no one really knew before just how many people could have died from Daenerys’s wrath.

“And what changed?” Arianne asked. Sansa was impressed by how steady she was. She’d found she had grown to like the Dornish princess too.

Edmure and Robin’s eyes focused upon him. “Well, Tyrion and I convinced her it was not the wisest course of action. That too many civilians would be endangered.”

“And so she settled on ambushing Cersei’s forces in the Reach?”

Before Jon could respond Daenerys answered. “I took back what was mine. Olenna Tyrell gave the Reach to me.”

Arianne snapped her head back to Daenerys. “I suppose it never occurred to you that the Reach’s bannermen were forced into siding either with their liege lord or the Queen on the Throne to whom they’d pledged fealty?” she asked with disdain.

Daenerys bristled. “I am the rightful Queen!”

“So you say,” Arianne said.

“A ruler who must say she is the Queen is no real Queen at all,” Tyrion said tiredly, shaking his head.

Daenerys scowled at the dwarf at her side. “And just who do you think you are to speak to me this way? You would do wise to hold your tongue.”

“I should wish the both of you to hold your tongues,” Edmure said in a commanding tone Sansa had not heard from him before.

Tyrion sighed but said nothing further. Daenerys tried to present herself as stoic, Jon recognized.

“Continue Prince Jon,” Arianne said.

“The battle ended quickly after Daenerys and the rest of us ambushed Cersei’s forces. Daenerys gathered the surrendered soldiers before the dragons and told them they could bend the knee or burn. Tyrion and I tried to persuade her otherwise.”

“Yes, we did, Princess Martell,” Tyrion jumped in, clearly looking to ingratiate himself.

Arianne looked at him for a moment before turning back to Jon. “It did not work, then.”

“No,” Jon confirmed. “Lords Randyll and Dickon Tarly refused to bend even as the others hastily kneeled in their fear.” Jon remembered hating the looks of terror on the men’s faces as they quickly submitted to his aunt. He knew Daenerys had enjoyed that, to his disgust. “So, she burned them.” He hoped this was enough. Jon felt exhausted from recounting the tale. He could not bring himself to look at Sam.

Arianne looked at the prisoners. “Do any of you have anything to say for yourselves?”

Tyrion stepped forward slightly. “Yes, I tried to talk her out of it just as Jon had said. I do not see how it is fair, that I am in chains and Prince Jon is not,” he said, shooting a glance Jon’s way.

Jon stiffened. We should have seen this coming, he thought.

We did, Sansa’s voice sounded soft and reassuring in his mind.

“Prince Jon is the one who brought the actions of Daenerys to light. You are not simply here because you failed to stop her that day, instead you are here for your actions after that—when you made to conceal this information, Lord Tyrion.” Arianne said. “The same goes for you, Ser Jorah.” Jon’s shoulders began to relax as the crowd seemed to accept this.

“It was his idea!” Daenerys spoke.

Arianne looked at her in exasperation. “Pardon?”

“It was Tyrion’s idea to cover it up, all his. Not mine,” she said. “His idea to keep the Ladies Tarly confined,” Daenerys said quickly, Tyrion’s eyes squeezed shut at her words.

Sam shot up from his seat. “You dare—”

“Maester Tarly, please.” Arianne said in a more compassionate voice. “I understand your personal stake in this matter, but please do sit down instead of disrupting the proceedings. You will have your time to talk later.” She assured him.

Sam nodded, glaring at both Tyrion and Daenerys as he slowly sat back down.

“As I was saying—” Daenerys said.

“You were saying that it was Tyrion’s idea to cover it up, because you likely first wanted to use it to scare everyone else into bending the knee, am I correct?” Arianne cut her off sharply.

Daenerys sputtered but Arianne did not give her a chance to respond. “Lord Tyrion, is that correct?”

Tyrion looked at his Queen for just a moment, narrowing his eyes. They had turned on each other quickly, as Jon and everyone could see, hoping only one of them would take the biggest blow. “Yes, princess,” Tyrion said.

“What other measures were taken to conceal this information?” Arianne directed her question back to Jon.

“Well, Lord Varys, one of her council, was ready to spread word throughout the kingdoms, and when Daenerys caught him, she burned him too.” More gasps from the crowd.

“It was Tyrion who told me of Lord Varys’s betrayal as well,” Daenerys said with a smirk.

Jon looked back at his aunt and the dwarf. Jon hadn’t known this was how she discovered it, but from the look on Tyrion’s face, he knew it to be true.

“I was simply serving my Queen loyally,” Tyrion said defensively. He looked at Daenerys. “I served you loyally, betrayed one of my oldest friends and you throw me to the masses for your crimes,” he grumbled at her.

Tyrion looked back to the judges. “I had to prove myself loyal after Cersei’s victory when Daenerys accused me of conspiring against her for my family’s benefit. She is paranoid and unstable—”

Daenerys scoffed. “You are nothing but a traitorous imp—”

“That is quite enough!” Arianne rose to her feet, as did Robin, Edmure, and Sansa. “I believe we shall take a recess and perhaps then you two will stop this squabbling. Prince Jon?” she said, looking over to him.

“Yes?” Jon asked.

“I am satisfied with your testimony. If my fellow judges feel the same, I do not believe you must testify further.”

Edmure and Robin gave an agreeing “aye” and nod to him. Jon exhaled. Gods, he was exhausted by the display his aunt and Tyrion made.

“We will reconvene after a short break,” Arianne said, stepping away from the table as the knights escorted the prisoners out, Tyrion and Daenerys muttering bitterly to one another all the while.

Jon went to sit back at the table and slumped in his seat, his elbows on his knees. He felt a small hand sit on his shoulder. He looked up at Arya. She was looking about the room instead of him. “You did well, cousin,” she said absently.

“Thank you, princess,” he said, a joy filling him at her support.

Then she glared at him. “I believe I have already warned you about princess,” Arya said.

He put his hands up in surrender. “Sorry, won’t happen again.” The hall emptied out.

“Yeah, well, it better not or I’ll stick you with the pointy end of my sword,” she said in a grave tone, but her eyes danced with humor.

Not knowing exactly what came over him other than a surge of familial affection, Jon reached up and mussed Arya’s hair playfully. She slapped his hand away and he laughed. Arya was starting to feel like a little sister to him too, perhaps because he felt Sansa’s bond with her. Arya stood up. “Sansa, fetch your prince before I am forced to gut him,” she said.

Sansa stood with a smile. “Shall we take a little stroll before the trial resumes?” Sansa asked him and he stood eagerly, suddenly feeling they were alone in the room now that they could look at one another more openly.

He held out his arm and she grasped around his elbow. Jon pulled her closer, as close as propriety would allow. “I would like that,” he said.

Chapter Text

The walk with Jon helps to clear her head a little, but she keeps thinking of Jon’s thoughts earlier. She finds she cannot stop hearing its echo.

 I wish I could touch you.

Sansa leads him through more secluded corridors for better privacy. She looks at Jon. “How are you feeling?” she ventured.

“Better now,” he said with a soft smile. Sansa doesn’t know if it is more for him or for her, really, but she quickly moves Jon down one hallway to a darkened alcove, pulling him toward her as she feels the stone wall against her back.

“Sansa,” Jon said, something like surprise and wonder in his voice, with a hint of promising excitement that nearly makes her dizzy. His dark eyes are heavy on her and she feels heat building low in her belly. It was the same way he looked at her in the Great Hall, and the heat hadn’t left her since.

Sansa thinks about asking him to kiss her like she did that night in her bedchamber, but she’s feeling bolder now, and instead takes his mouth with her own. He moans softly, pressing her against the wall while one hand cups the back of her neck and the other tightens around her hip. Their bodies flush together, she can feel him growing hard as their tongues tangle urgently. She grips at his shoulders, relishing in his strong, muscled body.

Sansa,” Jon said in a quiet growl. She had surprised him, his fierce wolf queen. Jon was always hungry for her, but for her to want him back in such a way, to initiate this (in a hallway no less) as if she had lost all sense of propriety in her eagerness, makes his blood run even hotter. Jon is getting carried away as much as she, grinding his hardened length against her, letting her feel exactly what she does to him. The most delicious whimper leaves her throat, and moving from her mouth, his lips find her neck as Jon licks along her pulse point and lightly grazes his teeth (not enough to leave marks but oh how he wishes he could) on her skin. Her hands go to his hair, gripping tightly, and it makes Jon think about the last time she’d pulled at his hair like this, when his head was buried between her thighs and he grows even harder, bucking against her frantically. A desperate noise escapes him. “What do you want, Sansa?” he breathed against her mouth.

“I want you, Jon,” Sansa said. She wanted him, all of him. It was reckless what she was doing, but she couldn’t seem to help herself. She’d never felt this way about a man before. Jon groaned at her words, even as he tried to keep himself quiet.

“You want me, Sansa?” Jon whispers hotly in her ear. He is panting, downright shaking against her. Jon has never wanted a woman like he wants Sansa, and he wants her forever. “Would you let me take you right here? In the middle of a hallway where anyone might find us?” The image of it takes him, and he is drunk with it suddenly.

“Jon,” Sansa gasped, scandalized. But Jon feels her shiver against him at his words.

“Would you like it if I made you scream my name for the whole castle to hear? So they know who makes you wet? Who makes you cum?” Jon bit her earlobe.

“Jon,” Sansa said breathlessly. She knows they can’t but oh, she wants to. “We, I can’t—”

“Shh,” Jon said soothingly against her hair. “I’ve got you.” He started to press her harder against the wall, lifting her skirts slowly. “Just let me make you cum, Sansa. Please, I can’t go back in there until I make you cum for me,” he pleads. Jon is too far gone. He needs it; needs her so much.

He feels her nod against him, and his hand is beneath her smallclothes in an instant. Jon swallows her moan with his tongue in her mouth, and he groans at how slick he finds her. He boldly enters her with two fingers, knowing she is ready for it, and sets his thumb rubbing circles along her clit. Jon thinks he is in heaven as she writhes in response to his strokes, but then Sansa is gripping his cock and he repeatedly thrusts into her hand. All sense of reason leaves him as he bucks against her and takes her lower lip between his teeth. Her eyes watch him, dark and lustful before her head falls back in pleasure, and it is perhaps the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, as her hair falls across her neck with the movement.

“Gods,” she whines, and her hand moves against his cock more rapidly. He mimics her speed as he continues to work between her legs, panting at the hollow of her neck and shoulder.

“That’s it, Sansa,” Jon said. “Keep touching me. You’re such a good girl for me. You’re so wet, sweetheart.”

“Yes,” she hissed in agreement. Her voice is deeper (hungrier) than he’s ever heard it before, and it sends a delicious thrill through his whole body.

“Gods, yes, Sansa. Fuck yes.” His words spill out with abandon. “So good. You feel so good. Cum for me, Sansa. I want you to cum while I’m fucking you with my fingers.”

At that Sansa snapped and the tension inside her broke, her body going rigid as her cunt fluttered around him. Her hand tightened around his cock and Jon was cumming, rutting madly against her and spilling in his breeches.

As he began to catch his breath, he pressed soft adoring kisses against her neck. “Gods, Sansa,” Jon said in astonishment. They were so connected, and it wasn’t just about sex. He lifted his head and she pulled him to her mouth for a lazy but passionate kiss. Jon pulled his fingers from her. Once she pulled away from the kiss he licked and sucked them clean, her eyes heated as she watched.

Sansa dazedly arranged her skirts. She could hardly believe what they’d just done. “What are you doing to me?” she murmured.

Jon laughed. “Loving you, sweet girl.” He pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose and then a more chaste but affectionate peck to her lips. When Sansa had finished smoothing the wrinkles, Jon took in her features, mussed hair, kiss-swollen lips, and his breeches. “We should clean up before going back,” he said lightly. Part of him wanted her to stay like this, for everyone to know what pleasure he’d brought her, but he knew they couldn’t. He tugged her hand in his own. Sansa, blushing and still amazed by her own wantonness (but happy, so happy), hurried along with Jon to his solar to wash up.

---

Jon tries not to swagger into the Great Hall, feeling a swell of masculine pride at giving Sansa such pleasure. Sansa re-enters with Brienne as her escort, prim and proper as she takes her seat. Her eyes meet his for a moment and it sets his heart to racing again. He watches her and barely registers Arya as she plops down next to him, shaking her head. “You’re a complete fool, you know that?” she asked him, mocking and warm at the same time.

“Aye,” Jon said softly, watching Sansa tuck some stray tendrils of her hair behind her ear. If Jon is a fool, he is a fool in love, and he does not care. He can see the ghost of a smile on Sansa’s lips. She knows he is watching her intently, but she refuses to look back. She is better at this than he is, Jon knows. He only manages to tear his eyes away from her when the defendants and judges re-enter.

Sam sits a few seats away with Gilly, a look of grim determination on his face. He looks to his aunt, Tyrion, and Jorah. Daenerys is clenching her jaw. She is as defiant as she was earlier, but some of her confidence has seemed to falter. Jorah stares at the floor as Tyrion fidgets nervously, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Arianne and Edmure look warily at their defendants as they take their seats. Sansa notes (with some affection and some annoyance) how Robin just looks excited to be involved, still a bit of a green boy, she supposes. Jon and Sansa both notice Grey Worm and Missandei standing in a corner at the back. She had seen them be searched before being granted entrance. She isn’t sure how loyal they are to Daenerys now. Clearly, they were conflicted upon their discovery of Jorah’s past, but Sansa knew that didn’t necessarily mean they completely abandoned her. Looking at them now, she still sees an ambivalence in them, though Grey Worm especially attempts to look stoic and unaffected. Something about it strangely reminds her of Littlefinger and the complicated feelings toward him she had. He had helped her escape King’s Landing of course, but he’d also allowed her to be framed for murder—his affection and attentions were frightening. Petyr wanted Sansa to see him as her savior, and she has no doubt, from what Jon has shared and what she has seen, that Daenerys has craved this from her followers. More than anything, it was that same ambivalence she sees in these followers of Daenerys as she experienced with Baelish. Robb made it easier for her to cut the ties she had, and of course, had eventually taken his head. She wondered if Grey Worm and Missandei would manage to extricate themselves and hoped at the very least they would not retaliate.

Arianne stood once more. “Now that we are rejoined, I and my fellow judges would like to give the opportunity now for Maester Samwell Tarly to speak.”

Heaving a deep breath, Sam stood from his seat, looking to Gilly and then to Sansa as he made his way to the front of the hall. Sansa dipped her head slightly, encouraging him forward, and Jon could see that her small gesture made him more confident. This was an aspect of leadership he realized that Daenerys had never mastered or even appreciated. Sansa’s strength lent her people hope and determination rather than instilling fear or demanding worship. She wanted her people to love her, yes, but she understood herself as serving her people rather than the other way around. Her quiet and steady strength, Jon found, was one of the things he loved most about Sansa.

“Maester Tarly,” Arianne said and nodded to him.

Sam looked to the judges as he shifted slightly on his feet. “Thank you, princess.” He turned to face the crowd and those on trial. Daenerys stiffened in discomfort, as Tyrion did everything to avoid Sam’s gaze and Jorah looked as if he could sink into the floor. Truth be told, he still felt party to their shame too, for standing by when it happened. Jon could only hope that his choice to reveal the information could help Sam and his family heal, as they could never repair the damage done. “My father,” Sam said in a low voice, coughing to clear his throat. “My father and I were not close. I cannot stand here and pretend that he and I had a good relationship. But whatever my father’s faults, I know in my heart that he did not deserve to die as he did.” Sam paused, voice trembling. He scratched the back of his neck.

“Falling in battle, that’s one thing,” he continued, “it’s something you don’t ever want to hear happening to your family, but you can expect it, to a certain extent.” Sam’s solemn brown eyes looked about the room, finding a common understanding in his words. So many gathered there must have lost loved ones in battle, Jon thought. “But for not bending the knee? When you’ve already surrendered? That is something,” his breath heaving again, “entirely different. My father and I did not get along. But my younger brother Dickon, I loved him dearly,” Sam looked to his feet, but Jon could see the determination he had to finish his testimony. “He was a good man, an honorable man. He would have made a great lord. And he stood by his father knowing what it meant. He understood that bending the knee to a ruler that threatened you with death by dragon fire gave you no choice at all. Really,” Sam said, fighting back a snarl as he looked at Daenerys, “any fool could tell you that ‘bend the knee or die’ is not a real choice.”

Daenerys bristled and glared at Sam. “It was a choice,” she said through clenched teeth. “He chose death!”

“He chose not to bend to a ruler whom he knew was unfit! As anyone can see,” Sam spat.

“UNFIT? I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains—”

“That is enough!” Princess Arianne called out.

Daenerys blinked at the woman but said nothing further.

“If you have anything to add, Maester Tarly, now would be the time,” Edmure said, looking to Sam. Sansa’s fists clenched in tension as she watched her Maester and friend look at the Dragon Queen.

“Just one thing, actually,” Sam said quietly. He studied Daenerys carefully, looking less angry now and more observant, as if he were understanding something he hadn’t before. “You said you weren’t your father. You’re right. You have dragons. Or had them, I should say.” Jon can see his aunt’s lip curl in contempt at that. “You would have burned all of King’s Landing and used the deaths of my family as an example to scare everyone into submission. You would have burned the North and this very castle, even with your own people—your advisers and some of your own fighters—within it. You’re not your father, you’re worse,” he said with a dark look on his face. Sam had gone about it in his own way, Sansa thought. His words were condemning but not cruel. He was quiet and unassuming. But Sam’s gentle nature and earnest observation only made his words that much more cutting.

Sam went to sit by his wife and the room was silent for a few moments. Not even Daenerys responded to his words, much as Sansa could tell they’d upset her by the way her face twisted. Sansa was not in charge of this trial and she intended to stay out of the way, but she threw a meaningful look in Arianne’s direction, which seemed to shake her out of whatever paralysis had come over them all at Sam’s words.

The princess cleared her throat and looked at the defendants. “We will give you the opportunity to speak on your behalf, beginning with Ser Jorah,” Arianne said.

Jorah stood taller and met the judges’ eyes. “I have nothing more to say except to bid you again to spare her life.”

Arianne gazed at him impatiently. “Moving on then, Lord Tyrion?” The dwarf stepped forward. Jon wondered what the man would say. Tyrion had been clever with words at one point, but no longer. His eyes flitted to Sansa, and Jon didn’t like it at all, and his fingernails dug into the skin of his palm.

Tyrion looked back at the judges. “I tried to do what I thought was right. My sister was a monster. My brother could not be saved. And Daenerys, well,” he looked at her in contemplation. “She seemed a good choice to lead the Seven Kingdoms.” Daenerys’s chin tilted upward just slightly. He looked away from her. “I was wrong. I see that now, clearly.” Daenerys scowled at the back of his head as he chuckled dryly. “I suppose my biggest failing was believing I could control her worst impulses. I thought my counsel would be enough, I overestimated myself, a common mistake for clever people to make.”

Sansa nearly wanted to roll her eyes (like she’d seen Arya do) at Tyrion somehow finding a way to brag about his cleverness even now, but such behavior wasn’t queenly or polite. His mismatched eyes found hers. “I do believe Queen Sansa could tell you that, as her former husband, I am not a bad man,” he said, never looking away from her. Imploring her in some way she hadn’t been prepared for.

Sansa swallowed thickly and kept her expression neutral. She would not break for him. She supposed he wanted to appeal to her sentimentality and at one point in time it may have worked. But now she could only look at him and feel angry that he would drag her into this. He’d helped Daenerys invade Westeros with his knowledge of the realm. He was the reason the Dragon Queen could come to her home, and would have burned the North if not for Jon. “I do not believe my judgment as a former wife has much relevance,” she said plainly.

He stepped closer. “Your Grace, please—”

“I should say that is enough,” Edmure interrupted. “You helped Daenerys conquer the realm and spoke of how she would be a good Queen, you rallied her allies. Then you deliberately concealed her actions in the Reach. I do not wish to hear further appeals you dare make to my niece because you were kind to her when she was in your family’s captivity,” he scolded. Sansa felt herself breathe a little lighter at her uncle’s defense and looking across the room she could see Jon glaring at Tyrion as well.

“Very well,” Tyrion said with a sigh of resignation. He glanced at her again, with a brief and sad smile. “Then I will say this—I am sorry, truly. I made mistakes and I admit them.” He stepped back from the judges, indicating he was finished pleading his case.

“Now, Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen,” Princess Arianne said, training her eyes to Jon’s aunt. “You may speak on your behalf now.” Jon found himself holding his breath as Daenerys looked at the judges with a steely gaze.

“I will not apologize,” she said; strong, proud, and clear. “I did nothing wrong. I am the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and I did what I did to secure my reign, as any ruler would.” Scoffs could be heard throughout the crowd at her words. She looked to the crowd and then back to the judges.

“You think you have the right to sit and cast judgment upon me?” Daenerys said in outrage. “I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me, I don't remember all of their names. I have been sold like a brood mare. I have been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled. Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods. Not in myths and legends. In myself. In Daenerys Targaryen. The world hadn't seen a dragon in centuries until my children were born. The Dothraki hadn't crossed the sea. Any sea. They did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms. And I will.”

Jon sighed. Sometimes his aunt’s egotism managed to surprise him, and now he had no clue what she could possibly think would happen at her words, but disgust continued to build inside him for everything she stood for. Faith in herself and no one else. No, Daenerys could never be part of a pack, and it couldn’t simply be blamed on dragon’s blood. He thought vaguely of Rhaegal and Viserion.

Princess Arianne shook her head at Daenerys with some measure of revulsion and disbelief. “Your reign is over,” she said.

Daenerys smiled, that same eerie serene look Jon remembered from when he visited her cell. “I have escaped such chains before. I shall do so again, and you will pay in fire and blood,” she said. Jon began to suspect that her mind was going now, much like her father’s before her. Not even her most devoted followers could believe her words.

“Khaleesi,” Jorah’s soft, imploring tone was drowned out with calls for her head as knights came to seize the defendants once more.

Arianne, Edmure, and Robin stood from the table. Sansa did so as well, raising her hand to silence her people as the judges whispered to one another. She looked at Jon.

I’m sorry.

Jon knew what his mate meant. It was as clear to him as anyone. Don’t be. There was no avoiding it now, Jon knew. Sansa already had Brienne moving to empty out the Great Hall. She would not allow this to become more of a spectacle than it already had been.

Arianne stepped away from the table to meet the defendants. “The judges have decided. We sentence Tyrion Lannister, Jorah Mormont, and Daenerys Targaryen to die for their crimes against the realm.”

Somewhere in the distance, Jon could feel the winds as Rhaegal and Viserion flew to Dragonstone.  

Chapter Text

Sansa supposes she should feel victorious. Relieved. As much as she’d felt relief when Drogon was killed and Jon had woken from his warging, she felt little relief now. She was glad that the North would not be chained—that the threat of Daenerys no longer loomed over her home, people, and family. But if she is honest, a part of her frets that Jon will be angry with her for this. His aunt’s fate was not in her hands, nor in his. But they had both taken steps to place her fate in the hands of others. And now Jon’s aunt would die. Jon’s only family on his father’s side. And she wonders if she should hate herself because even still, she does not regret it. Not when she knows the price Daenerys would have made them all pay in fire and blood.

But something about it still gnaws at her conscience in a way she can’t quite place. Sansa thinks of all that has happened since Jon arrived. Since she’d fallen in love with him. Once, Sansa had thought she’d known love with Joffrey, but of course it was never love but infatuation, and an infatuation with a fantasy at that. She hadn’t known Joffrey and she hadn’t known herself either, really—she hadn’t known her own heart. Later, she had cloaked herself in protection not with a husband’s sigil and colors, but with her own cynicism. She would never marry for love. Never know love, not of the kind she’d dreamt about as a girl. But she had been so very wrong.

And yet—when Sansa thought that it was perhaps Jon’s love for her that brought about his aunt’s fate, she couldn’t help but feel some measure of guilt. She hated the inane whispers of Baelish and Cersei—seduce to manipulate, the greatest weapon of a woman residing between her legs—that refused to leave her even as those tormentors (and mentors) were gone. No. Sansa loved Jon. But…had some part of her unconsciously set out to use his feelings for her to manipulate him for her own gain?

“Stop,” Jon’s firm voice pulled her out of her thoughts as she looked at him sitting at the corner of her desk, holding a just unrolled scroll in his hand.

“Stop what?” Sansa asked weakly.

“Stop thinking what you’re thinking,” Jon said, placing the scroll on the table.

“Reading my mind again?”

He smirked. “No, actually. I can just tell from the look on your face,” Jon said with obvious pride. Jon knew his woman—his mate. “You’re not responsible for Daenerys’s fate—she is. Stop thinking I’ll hold this against you. If anything, you should hold it against me that I ever went along with her plans to subdue the North in the first place.”

“That wouldn’t be fair.”

“Just like it’s not fair for you to blame yourself and fret over this, Sansa.”

Her eyes scrutinized him. “There isn’t a part of you that worries I was manipulating your feelings? Seducing you?”

Jon considered for a moment. Not because he really suspected. But he knew Sansa wanted the unvarnished truth, so he allows himself to entertain the idea. “No,” he tells her definitively.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.” Jon reached forward to grasp her hand. He knew Sansa well enough not to doubt her. “You’d have to be an incredibly talented actress to do so, and while I’m sure you’re good at putting on a mask, I know what it’s like when the mask comes down.” His eyes soften as he regards her, and it melts her heart. “Besides, I fully believe you’re clever enough that you could have found another way to win me over to your side.” Jon sees the smile she tries to hide at his words. He leaned forward and pressed a warm kiss to her cheek. The whiskers of his beard scratch and tickle just the slightest bit and it sends a shiver down her spine that makes her feel like a green girl.

Jon sits back in his chair and looks pensive. “You know, I’ve made my peace with it. I’m starting to think…” he paused, searching for the right words and wishing to be careful, “I’m starting to think this is more about your need to make peace with it. Something about this—I don’t know, is bringing something else to your mind?”

Something he doesn’t know, but that part goes unsaid.

Jon sees her stiffen slightly. “I don’t mean to be presumptuous, sweetheart,” he tries to explain, and she softens.

“No. I know that, Jon. It’s okay,” she said. “You’re right.” Her voice was quiet. She looked at him. “I suppose we still have much to learn about each other,” Sansa said. Despite the solemn nature of the conversation, he could see a sense of excitement gleam in her eyes that matched Jon’s own.

“We do,” Jon agreed. There was happiness with the observation. Jon could think of all the time they’d have—the rest of their lives—to spend learning about each other.

---

Sansa visits with Tyrion. She isn’t sure what makes her do it. Perhaps it is because of the way he called upon her during the trial. But when she really thinks on it, she realizes that there is more to it. She wants to understand. She needs to understand. Why had he supported Daenerys? Why had he brought her here, and more importantly, how could he have been so devoted to initiate the coverup of what happened? The Tyrion Sansa thought she had known was hard to reconcile with his actions now. And maybe, a small part of her that is still too young, too naïve, needs to understand how he could bring someone so dangerous to her doorstep. Of course, she’d never wanted to marry Tyrion, but he had been kind to her, even before their marriage, when he intervened to stop Joffrey’s knights stripping and beating her in the Throne room. As dismal and terrifying as her wedding day was, she still remembered her relief when he told her he wouldn’t share her bed. Still remembered the way he’d taken her hand and promised he wouldn’t hurt her. But now, his actions put her and everyone she loved in danger. If Jon was right that she needed to make her own peace with everything, then maybe she could start here.

He is sitting dejectedly in the corner of his cell when she comes to see him. Tyrion looks at her with sad eyes, but there is still some humor there, too. “Did you bring wine?” he asked.

Despite herself, Sansa smiles a little. “Well, as it happens…” she pulls the flagon from behind her back.

His shoulders slump in relief. “You are kind, my Queen,” Tyrion said, reaching for the drink.

I am not your Queen, she thinks, but she still feels a little bad when she pulls it back. “Wait a moment. First, I would like to talk to you without the wine dulling your conversational skills.” He stares at her in defeat.

“Oh, dear Sansa,” he says, and she is nearly a girl again. “Don’t you know I’d have better wits about me with a drink? I am a person who drinks. A person who drinks needs to drink, you know.” Sansa thinks there is something almost ashamed about his tone, and she notices the tremors in his hands. She feels some pity for him, even as she knows pity is not an altogether charitable emotion, and Sansa hands him the flagon. He is likely right that some drink will help him talk, or ease his tremors, at least, and it isn’t as if he could get falling down drunk with the single drink she’s brought him. He sighs in relief, taking it gratefully. “Thank you, Sansa.”

She seats herself in a chair across from him as he takes several long pulls of the wine. When he looks back at her, she thinks his eyes are somehow a little clearer and a little cloudier at the same time. “What do you wish to talk about? I suppose my former lady wife is now old enough for my bawdier jokes,” Tyrion said with a smirk.

Sansa shakes her head. “No, I’m afraid I have had enough of your jokes to know I wouldn’t enjoy them.” He smiles. It’s strange, she thinks, how easily they can fall into banter with one another. She remembers all the times he would look at her with a nervous sidelong glance when they were married, and how she now understands he had no idea how to talk to her or what to say.

“True,” he concedes. “So, what do you want to ask?” Tyrion looks at her curiously. If there’s some uncertainty in how he regards her, it is still with a greater familiarity and comfort than the nerves that plagued them both around one another back then.

Sansa sighs. “Why?”

He knows what she means, even if she is not eloquent about it. “Which part?” Tyrion asked in return.

“All of it? Any of it? Why would you bring her here? How could you work so hard to put someone like her on the Throne?”

He shook his head. “It wasn’t—it’s not how you’re making it out to be.”

“Then explain it to me.”

He sighed. “She fought slavery in Essos. I know you laugh at her many titles—but Breaker of Chains? Mother of Dragons? She really is all those things.”

Sansa couldn’t help but retort: “I’m sure you’ve heard of Slaver’s Bay and Meereen falling into slavery and chaos once she left.”

Tyrion looked uncomfortable. “Well, yes. But she tried—she did more than anyone would have thought! She was inspiring, and if you could have seen the way her freed slaves looked at her—she was a hero.”

“And she left them. To come here and reclaim something that was lost to her family through the same means in which her ancestors gained it—conquest. And you helped her all the while knowing she didn’t know Westeros, born here or not. All the while knowing that her rule in Meereen was beset with problems.”

Tyrion took another drink and stared off in the distance as he considered. “I thought a fresh start would be what she needed. I thought she could bring the kingdoms together, if only the people here could see what the people there did.”

 “And burning people alive? You never questioned it?”

“Of course I did. But you have to understand that before she came to Westeros, the people she burned were bad people.”

She is surprised by his simplistic reasoning. “You truly don’t think she ever burned innocents? I find it hard to believe every Essosi she burned was terrible since she is rather indiscriminate in her targets. Jon told me she was self-righteous, so convinced she knew what was best for everyone and could never be convinced otherwise. Surely such a person with creatures as dangerous as dragons is not someone fit to be a leader.”

Jon told you,” he said, quirking his brow and looking a little resentful.

“Yes. But after I met her, he wouldn’t need to tell me. I could see it for myself, as anyone could.”

He looked away from her and spoke quietly. So quietly she barely heard him: “the way you look at him, you never would have looked at me like that, no matter how many years we might have been married. No matter how kindly I treated you. No matter how much I tried to do right by you.”

Sansa doesn’t know what to say. Does some part of him resent her, still, for not having desired him? The thought rankles her. “I was a child,” she said, hating the way her voice quavered. “And you never looked at me the way you looked at Shae.” His head snapped up at that, looking at her wide-eyed.

“How did you…did she tell you?” he asked incredulously.

“Of course she didn’t tell me. But I was never as much the foolish girl everyone thought I was. I saw the way you both looked at one another—but more than anything, I know how strained my friendship with Shae became, because she was heartbroken,” Sansa said sadly. “It took me some time to put it together, but I did.” She knows Shae is probably dead. She’d rather not know anything else about it, and she tries to remember the good with Shae, not the bad. She loved Shae and Shae loved her. Even if their bond was damaged by her marriage to Tyrion, that bond was not broken.

Tyrion looks profoundly uncomfortable. “I’m sorry if you feel I dishonored you—”

“Stop, that’s not the point,” Sansa said in frustration. She doesn’t want to hear more from him. Not about Shae. “The point is you have no right to resent me for living my life just as you have lived yours.”

He breathed raggedly and finished off his wine before looking to her apologetically. “You’re right. And I never thought you were a foolish girl. I admit I have underestimated you, a time or two. To my own detriment.” Tyrion paused. “Do you despise me?”

“No, I don’t.” Sansa couldn’t say what it is she thinks or feels about him, because it is too jumbled and confused. Perhaps she will have to make peace with that too.

“Well, that’s something, I suppose. I know I made terrible mistakes, but maybe…” his gaze upon her is soft and admiring, “maybe I was the best version of myself when I was your husband.”

She looks at him, brow furrowed in confusion.

“I know we were never a love match. But I did try to be good to you, Sansa. I don’t know where I lost my way, maybe from too much drink. Maybe somewhere in between being framed for Joffrey’s murder or killing my father,” he paused, and she could see he was calculating whether to speak more, “but by the time I got to Essos, I was a broken man. Everyone who followed Daenerys looked at her as a savior, and I suppose that’s what I wanted too. I was wrong. But I didn’t realize how wrong I was. I didn’t want to admit it after investing so much in her.” Tyrion rubbed his forehead in exhaustion. “But I did mean it when I said I was sorry. I’m sorry for your Maester and his family. For Varys, though he’s not here to see it.” He stopped with emotion at the mention of the friend he betrayed.

“I believe you,” she said. Sansa did believe him, though she didn’t think remorse fully absolved him.

“I’m getting no less than what I deserve, I suppose,” he said, as if he shared her opinion. “But thank you, Sansa. For the wine and the…” he paused, looking contemplative as he handed her the flagon, “friendship? Is that what we’ve had?” Tyrion looked genuinely puzzled.

Sansa considered and found herself nodding. “I suppose yes, friendship, strange as that is,” she said as she took the flagon and stood up from her chair.

He smiled wanly. “Yes, well. I am glad to have known you, Sansa.”

“I am glad to have known you, Tyrion,” she said. Despite the differences and pain between them, despite the stinging sense of betrayal she felt at his actions, she knew it was true as she exited his cell pushing back her tears.

---

Jon hadn’t been lying when he told Sansa he had made peace with the outcome of the trial. But there was a part of him that wondered if there was something wrong with that. Should he feel more grief over Daenerys? Because truthfully, Jon felt he was ready to move forward with his life—with Sansa and his home and family. Jon knew this was all going to be over. There was nothing he could have done to save Daenerys and she never would save herself as she was now.

And Jon supposed that was a part of it. Jon couldn’t bring himself to love or mourn Daenerys as she was now. He had spent much time already, he now realized, mourning Daenerys as she used to be, when they were younger and more innocent. When she was not so cruel, paranoid, and entitled. Daenerys was the only familial love he’d had growing up since Viserys had always been all the things his aunt had now become. And he liked to believe that Daenerys as she used to be would understand.

She still glowered at him on the day of her execution, and Sansa’s hand in his own gave him the strength to withstand it. Jorah had requested his execution be first, and Daenerys had approached him as guards held her, leaned in and kissed him deeply. He felt Sansa’s hand squeeze him tightly and looked over at her, as she watched his aunt and her sworn shield. To most, she would have looked stoic, but Jon took in her sparkling blue eyes and knew that in some way, the display of affection had moved her. He was continually astounded by her ability to empathize. It tugged at something in his heart, a warmth unfurling in his chest—a sensation he’s come to associate with Sansa—his mate, his home, his love.

Jon squeezes her hand back when they take her former husband’s head. He can see the conflicting emotions she has about it. You don’t have to be here.

She looked at him. Yes, I do.

Sansa knows she was not the one to pass the sentence or swing the sword, but she feels she must watch regardless. She cannot forget the things her father taught his sons, and which only reached her ears too late. (Our way is the old way, Bran recalled with both fondness and melancholy).

When it was his aunt’s time, Daenerys looked to Jon with a sneer, her violet eyes accusing him. “Well, you have done it, nephew,” she said, a haughty self-satisfaction lacing her words (because part of her, Jon knows, loves the idea of her martyrdom and saintly victimhood even now at the end). “You have ensured you are the last Targaryen,” her words drip bitterly like a poison that would seep its way beneath his skin if he allowed it (but he will not). “But remember Jon, a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing,” she said with a smirk.

Jon says nothing in response. He knows her words are a warning meant to haunt him. But Jon finds it empty, because here with his pack he does not worry about being alone in the world. Not anymore. He loves Rhaegal and Viserion, but he knows he is a Targaryen no longer. Jon lived his life as a Targaryen (a bastard but still) and he was usually alone, with or without his aunt and uncle. When he weds Sansa, he will be a Stark. Jon feels a bit of pity for Daenerys, because in one way or another, her tyrant sensibilities had left her alone for a long time now.

And so, Jon says nothing, and only hopes that if there is an afterlife, it is not so cruel as this life can be. And the executioner swings the sword.

May you find peace, aunt.

---

Following the executions, Arianne Martell prepares to leave Winterfell with Sansa’s support for her ascension to Queen of Dorne. Sansa knows she must be eager to officially take her position, but still they work with lords and ladies on stabilizing the other kingdoms, now that it appears there is no heir to the Throne—or at least one who desires it, anyway.

And there is the matter of Daenerys’s remaining fighters in the Crownlands and the Stormlands, primarily. And the matter of the remaining party in Winterfell. Only five remain, including Grey Worm and Missandei, and the other three fighters answer to Grey Worm, who has not displayed any hostilities since Daenerys’s arrest. Still, they need to know this party’s intentions and what they might learn from Grey Worm, as commander of Daenerys’s armies, concerning the remaining Unsullied and Dothraki in Westeros. Her small council, Arianne’s advisors, and Jon is present as well, as someone who knows and has history with Grey Worm and Missandei.

“What are your intentions now moving forward? Do you plan on fighting?” Jon ventures as he sits across the table from his aunt’s former translator and the head of her armies. Jon knows this is the sort of question that to Westerosi, would look silly, and from Ser Davos and Lord Royce’s glances in his direction, he can tell they think it’s useless to ask. But Jon knows enough of Grey Worm in particular that he expects straightforward questions will bring straightforward answers. The man is not a politician and neither really is Missandei, for all of her skills.

Grey Worm exhales and looks at Missandei at his side, grasping her hand. They look so tired, Jon thinks. His aunt shouldn’t have brought them to Westeros, he thinks. But then, he never would have met Sansa, would he? It was strange the way things occurred. He believes he is fated (and mated, his inner wolf declares) with Sansa, to be by her side, and yet, he cannot help but think of the costs that have come along with their travels. In truth, Daenerys brought foreign armies without really thinking of how she was making them exiles in a new land, as she had so resented growing up. Jon had never really considered it either, if he was honest, what with Daenerys’s insistence that the capitol would be home.

Missandei is the one who speaks first, quietly, glancing from Jon to Sansa and Arianne. “She was going to burn us all,” she said, a hint of disbelief in her voice laden with a kind of grief. Did Missandei mourn his aunt truly, or merely what she believed Daenerys to be?

“Aye,” Jon agreed softly, nodding for her to continue.

Missandei cast her dark eyes on Jon. “And Ser Jorah sold people into slavery.” She stated.

Jon sighed tiredly. “Aye,” he said. Jon had been angry on his discovery, but he can’t imagine it compared to the disillusionment Missandei and Grey Worm showed on their faces now.

Grey Worm leaned forward in his chair. “We wish to go home,” he said plainly.

Jon looked between them, unsure of what home meant in this instance, as Missandei was from Naath and spoke of it fondly, but Grey Worm was not, and he had heard tales of the fever which took any outsiders to the island. “Essos,” Grey Worm said, looking to Missandei who nodded slightly. “But first,” he said, looking back to Jon and those across the table, “we go South.”

“You mean to gather your armies?” Arianne asked darkly, with a warning in her voice.

“You would prefer them not to pillage your lands, yes?” Grey Worm snapped at her. Clearly, the fact that they were disillusioned with his aunt did not mean they were embracing the nobles here, Jon thought. “They will answer to me. I have the highest-ranking authority left,” Grey Worm said, glancing to Jon momentarily. “I will gather the remaining armies, and you will give us a ship and we will sail to Meereen.” Jon could tell Grey Worm had no small amount of discomfort giving orders to nobles. Unsullied were slaves before Daenerys had supposedly freed them, but exactly how much changed for them as they fought for Daenerys, Jon couldn’t say.

“And we are supposed to trust you on faith that this is not to be an attempt in fomenting rebellion?” Arianne asked incredulously, her anger flashing.

She cannot trust, Sansa thought. Sansa was much the same after her experiences, but there was some sincerity she could sense in Grey Worm. In any case, there should be enough of Arianne’s fighters and Knights of the Vale to overpower them, Sansa thought. “Lord Robin,” Sansa said, looking to her cousin, “may you direct a detachment of knights to accompany Arianne, Grey Worm, and their parties South?” He nodded. She wasn’t sure how much to go into numbers, she didn’t want to possibly compromise their safety should Grey Worm decide to rebel.

“How many fighters are left, Grey Worm?” Jon asked, following Sansa’s thoughts and his own hunch.

Grey Worm looked at him. “Around two thousand,” he said gravely.

Jon sighed. It was as he suspected. “Just how many did she bring on her journey here to Winterfell? You arrived with less than a hundred fighters.”

Grey Worm’s eyes darkened. “Six thousand,” he said.

“Dear Gods,” Davos muttered.

“The woman was even more mad than we thought,” Arianne said in outrage.

“She was going to declare war as soon as she got here,” Sansa said in a voice flattened by disbelief. “The only thing that stopped her were her armies dying in the winter,” she whispered, perhaps more to herself than anyone else. Under the table, Jon squeezed her hand in comfort, even as his guts twisted. Daenerys had revealed nothing to him. Had she expected him to take up arms against Sansa and the North, but her plans went awry? Or did she just plan on killing him? He thought back on the sheer hypocrisy of her calling him a traitor.

“Yes,” Grey Worm confirmed, looking uncomfortably from Sansa to the other nobles in the room. “But there was much we did not know,” he said, as if in consolation, and Jon could swear from the way Grey Worm looked at her, he had some respect for Sansa.

“We could have you arrested for conspiring against the North,” Davos said gruffly.

“No,” Sansa said. She didn’t wish to keep Daenerys’s followers in Westeros, and if she was correct in her belief that Grey Worm may ally with them to gather the remaining armies, then they needed him. “I accept your terms. You will leave Westeros. Princess Arianne?”

Arianne eyed Grey Worm suspiciously before nodding. “As long as Lord Robin sends his detachment,” she said, looking to Sansa’s cousin for confirmation.

“Yes,” Robin agreed. They would determine numbers later, Sansa decided. The combined forces of Arianne and the Vale would need to outnumber the Unsullied and Dothraki, just to be safe, even as Sansa was hopeful Grey Worm was sincere.

“If you foment rebellion, I don’t need to tell you it will be war,” Arianne told the Unsullied commander.

“I am tired of fighting in lands that are not my own, for people I do not understand,” Grey Worm said solemnly. “We will fight for Meereen, for the people we should have been fighting for,” he said with finality.

“Very well,” Arianne said. Sansa felt some of the tension ease from her shoulders. Beneath the table, she entwined Jon’s fingers with her own.

---

 

Princess Arianne meets with Sansa, Jon, and her small council shortly before their departure as they discussed the other kingdoms, a new Westeros without an Iron Throne, and trade agreements as well as mutual defense treaties. Sansa also had her own announcement to make. Curiously, she thought she would be more nervous, or she would be more hesitant to announce an official betrothal to Jon, but she felt only happiness. She was more ready than she thought, but she supposed it made sense, as Jon was not just her betrothed but her mate.  

---

“You want to take the Stark name? For our children to be Starks?” she had asked him as they lay cuddled in her furs after finding pleasure with one another. They still had not made love yet, but Sansa found she was learning much about new ways to pleasure each other without laying together and potentially creating a babe. She isn’t sure if they will wait until they wed to take that step, but Sansa realizes now that she finds it a gift to take her time, just as Jon promised they would.

He had smiled at her gently, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. “Yes. I don’t want to be Jon Targaryen. I want to be Jon Stark.” She felt a pitter-patter of her heart at the words as Jon’s gaze upon her grew more heated. “Besides, we are wolves. You are my Wolf Queen,” he leaned in and littered open mouthed kisses along her neck as one hand squeezed her breast.

“You’re insatiable,” Sansa remarked with a smirk even as she tilted her head to give him better access and dug her nails into his shoulders.

“I’m always hungry for you,” he whispered hotly in her ear.

---

“Edric Storm has retaken the Stormlands and Crownlands,” Arianne handed Sansa the scroll.

“Edric Storm?” Sansa asked.

“Robert Baratheon’s bastard. He has retaken them in the Baratheon name,” Arianne explained.

“You know him?”

“Yes,” Arianne averted her gaze.

“And I am only hearing of him now?” Sansa asked, raising a brow.

Arianne looked back at her guiltily and sighed. “We weren’t sure he would succeed.”

“I see,” Sansa said evenly, crossing her arms at her chest. She was a bit miffed by the news, but she supposed she could forgive the withholding of information. Arianne had proven herself a valuable ally. “And what of his legitimization?”

Arianne, Sansa could swear, actually blushed. Sansa had not seen the unflappable woman look so flustered before, and she smiled minutely as she realized what Edric and Arianne must be to one another. “He and I will wed,” Arianne said, “he will take the Baratheon name as I legitimize him and we will join our kingdoms.”

“Queen Arianne will no longer be a Martell?” Sansa asked with surprise.

“Oh, I will always be a Martell,” she said with a steely determination. “Our firstborn will be a Martell and rule as King or Queen from Sunspear, and our second born will be a Baratheon and serve as Warden of the Stormlands and Crownlands.”

“You will need lots of children,” Sansa said with amusement.

Arianne laughed. “Yes, we will. But it will work.”

“It is a rather unusual arrangement, but I see no reason to oppose,” Sansa told her. “My Maester has received word that the Hightowers will seek a marriage alliance with a Lannister cousin and join the Reach and Westerlands,” Sansa said, handing Arianne the scroll.

“Four kingdoms,” Arianne remarked as she read the scroll.

“Four kingdoms,” Sansa confirmed. “And Prince Jon will keep Dragonstone.” She gazed at Jon, who sent a small smile in return. This was how they had decided to segue into their news.

Arianne’s eyes lifted from the scroll. “Prince Jon of Dragonstone,” she looked between them.

“Yes, a suitable title for my betrothed and future Consort,” Sansa said, feeling a light giddiness at the news as Jon came to stand by her side. He put his arm around her waist and Sansa could see how he longed to kiss her, even as he refrained. Arya rolled her eyes from her corner.

“Congratulations,” Arianne said, smirking with self-satisfaction. “I am only sorry I will miss the wedding.”

“I’m sure we can send well wishes and gifts to one another for both our weddings,” Sansa said.

“We most certainly will,” Arianne agreed.

Davos stepped forward. “Your Grace, if I may,” he said, looking to Sansa and briefly glancing at Arianne. “There is another bastard son of Robert Baratheon who may have a claim—”

“Yes, I was just getting to that,” Arianne said. “Edric’s half-brother, Gendry Waters—”

“Gendry Waters?” Arya said with surprise, stepping forward with a keen interest she had not shown before.  

“Yes,” Arianne confirmed.

“He’s a good lad,” Davos said.

“He is, but he has no interest in ruling,” Arianne continued. “Actually, he has requested that he become a guest in the North.” The princess looked at Sansa.

Sansa studied her sister now. “You know him?”

Now it appeared to be Arya’s turn to blush. “I do,” she said, attempting to sound unaffected but Sansa could see right through her. She liked this young man. Perhaps more than liked, and Sansa felt an immediate desire to ask her sister about this Gendry Waters, but knew she could not in the midst of this meeting. “You will let him come North, Sansa?” she asked with hopeful eyes and Sansa was struck again. She is so young.

“If you wish it,” Sansa said.

“I do,” Arya said, gripping Needle nervously as Sansa smiled.

“Then I believe it’s settled,” Sansa said, looking back to Arianne. “Gendry Waters will come North.”

And I shall learn all about him, Sansa vowed to herself joyously.

Chapter Text

When Gendry Waters arrives in Winterfell, he brings with him another surprise—Arya’s wolf Nymeria. Sansa watches Arya gaping between them, momentarily frozen as she cannot decide who to welcome first, but Nymeria hovers off at a distance while Gendry approaches with a smile and it doesn’t take long for Arya to throw herself into his embrace. Gendry laughs as he spins her around in his arms.

Sansa grips Jon at her side, smiling at the display. “It’s about bloody time,” she hears Arya say, as Gendry lowers her to the ground, and she punches his shoulder.

Sansa’s eyes flit to Bran in a bit of confusion. Her little brother nearly smirks at her. “It’s alright, it’s kind of their thing.”

Sansa supposes it must be true as she sees Gendry mock wincing. “I have missed your abuse,” he said with humor.

“Shut up,” Arya said with a smile at odds with her words. She moved to begin introductions but her direwolf then approached. “And Nymeria,” Arya breathed in awe.

Gendry turned to look at the wolf. “You know her?” he asked, furrowing his brow. “She just started following me on my way here once I reached the Neck. I didn’t know what to think.”

Arya laughed softly, as if she feared the sound would scare Nymeria away. “She’s my wolf, c’mere girl,” she said quietly, holding her palm up. Nymeria moved forward and nudged Arya’s hand with her nose.

“Is this why I haven’t been dreaming of you lately, huh?” she asked her, scratching behind her ears. “You decided to surprise me?” Arya hugged the wolf to her chest as tears welled in her eyes. Sansa felt her own tears forming and struggled to blink them back as Jon placed a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“I can’t believe it,” Sansa whispered to him in astonishment.

Jon knew both telepathically and simply from knowing her that this brought up memories of Lady for her. She’d told him how Lady paid for Nymeria’s actions. Jon worried that seeing Nymeria could be a sore spot for her, but her emotions swirled in such a way that he couldn’t pin them down. “Are you okay?” he asked gently, studying her.

She looked at him with shining eyes and a beaming smile. “I’m more than okay,” she told him. It hit in Jon’s chest (as it so often did) how beautiful Sansa was. He nodded and briefly pressed his forehead to hers, wanting nothing more than to kiss her, but he was unsure if it would be appropriate in the courtyard, even as her betrothed. Once they were wed, he hoped Sansa wouldn’t mind that he would take every opportunity to kiss her out in the open.

Sansa giggled softly and reached a gloved hand up to his cheek. “I will not mind,” she said indulgently.

They were pulled out of the moment by Arya. “Oh, you two, please, you can’t keep your hands off each other,” she said.

Sansa and Jon very reluctantly pulled out of their embrace. She looked between Arya and this man Gendry. Sansa pursed her lips to keep from smirking. Soon, little sister, you will not be the only one who gets to tease, she thought.

Gendry looked a bit nervous as Arya subtly pushed him forward with a smile. “This is my sister Sansa, she’s the Queen in the North,” she said proudly, and Sansa felt her chest swell.

He bowed somewhat stiffly. “Your Grace,” Gendry said with a hesitant expression.

“Pleasure to meet you, Lord Gendry,” Sansa said.

“I’m no Lord. Just Gendry,” he said.

Sansa nodded and glanced to her sister. “You may call me Sansa,” she said with a smile.

“This is my brother, Bran,” Arya said, and Gendry nodded to him.

“Prince Brandon,” Gendry said. Arya lightly elbowed him.

“Enough of that, Gendry,” Arya said, looking over to Jon. “And this is my cousin, Jon,” she said, motioning to him.

Jon nodded while inwardly he felt victorious that Arya had introduced him as such. “And as you can also guess by their nauseating displays,” Arya mock-glared at Sansa and Jon even as a smile came to her lips, “Jon is also Sansa’s betrothed.”

Gendry nodded in recognition. “I’ve heard. So there is to be a royal wedding?” he asked, brightening in a way that charmed Sansa, as he seemed truly happy for them.

“Soon,” Sansa and Jon said simultaneously and looked at each other with smiles.

“You see that?” Arya said in exasperation, shaking her head. “Just sickening,” she scrunched her nose.

“Hush, Arya,” Sansa said in her queenly voice. Arya shrugged with a mischievous grin.

“Thank you for welcoming me in the North, Your Grace,” Gendry said.

Sansa raised her brow at him. “I believe I said you may call me Sansa. Think nothing of it, you are Arya’s friend. Welcome to Winterfell.”

At that moment, Ghost came rushing into the courtyard to hurtle into his long-lost sister as they rolled around each other in rowdy play, tails wagging. Gendry watched in fascination and the slightest hint of fear. “That’s Ghost,” Arya explained.

Jon, recognizing the expression all too well, piped in. “You get used to it,” he told Gendry.

As Arya led Gendry inside, Sansa lingered a moment on the two direwolves. Tugging her closer, Jon kissed her hair softly. The pack grows, my love.

So it would seem, she smiled up at him as they made their way inside.

---

Sansa eyes this young man Gendry who appears to have stolen her sister’s heart. She observes him as inconspicuously as possible, thinking she will have the opportunity to learn more about them when they sit down to dinner that evening. He sits next to Arya, his table manners both practiced and nervous, giving her the impression he must have learned under the guidance of his brother Edric or someone within their inner circle, perhaps Arianne.  Despite his discomfort he is more proper and courteous than her little sister, which brings a small smile to her lips.

Sansa thinks of how Arya had confronted Jon just before the two of them began their relationship—putting a knife to his throat and threatening to kill him if he ever hurt her. Sansa wishes to ensure Gendry’s good intentions with Arya, but of course, she is different from her sister and thus will approach it differently. She’s managed a few tidbits of information about him from Arya, how they’d first traveled intending to go to the Wall, and even that their father had met him briefly. She knows he wasn’t aware of his parentage when Arya knew him before, so his unease strikes Sansa more as related to his history of status as a lowborn bastard, rather than ill intentions. But Arya was reticent in details, flushing whenever Sansa pressed.

And so, Sansa inquires Davos to learn more details of Gendry. He tells her the young man had still mostly been a boy when they’d met, and she was disconcerted to learn that Arya’s separation from him occurred just before Davos met him through the Red Woman Melisandre—who’d brought him to Stannis as a sacrifice. Neither she nor Davos liked to recall the priestess, who influenced Stannis and eventually convinced him to burn his own daughter. After Stannis’s death in his attempt to take Winterfell, Melisandre had traveled back to the Wall, with no one the wiser of her hand in Princess Shireen’s death. But Sansa distrusted the woman from the moment she and Robb encountered her when they traveled to the Wall themselves. She proclaimed Robb as the Prince That Was Promised and attempted to cling to his side and seduce him as she’d done with Stannis. Luckily, Robb distrusted her as much as Sansa did and was repulsed by her attempts at seduction, especially as he still loved and mourned his late wife and child. Then when her murder of Shireen was revealed, Robb hanged her. She’s grateful Davos saved this Gendry from the woman and Stannis’s clutches. Especially as she watches Arya and Gendry both make furtive glances at each other.

And Sansa thinks it is a good sign that Nymeria came along with Gendry North. But she must learn more about him. She sees Jon give her a sidelong glance and a quirk of his lips because he knows what she is about. I am not meddling too much!

His silent grin widens as he hides it behind his cup. I said nothing, love.

She turns back to Arya’s friend. “So, Gendry,” Sansa sees Arya’s hand tighten on her fork. “I hear you are a blacksmith.”

Gendry’s eyes lift from his plate. “Yes.”

“A good one too,” Arya said, looking upon him admiringly. She thinks her little sister smitten is perhaps the sweetest thing she’s ever seen.

“I had a good mentor in Flea Bottom,” Gendry shrugged with a blush.

Oh this is too adorable!

Jon coughs back a chuckle at her thoughts. You are too adorable, sweetheart.

Jon thinks it too—she cares so much for Arya and the people around her. Sansa’s heart is big.

“Yes, well, the smithy is always looking for another set of hands. I could introduce you to the blacksmith if you like,” Sansa said.

“That is very thoughtful, Your Gr—Sansa,” Gendry said. Sansa smiled.

“Or I could take him,” Arya said.

She wants alone time, Sansa thinks. Gendry’s eyes flit between the sisters nervously. Jon feels sympathy for the man. Jon may have had a harder time when he first arrived, but he knows it isn’t easy for Gendry, either. The Stark women are formidable.

“I suppose you could,” Sansa conceded, picking up on Arya’s warning glance. She thinks this Gendry appears smitten too, so she supposes she need not push further, at least for now. But she will observe Arya and Gendry together just as well.

After dinner has finished and she gets Arya alone in her solar—she finds she cannot help herself. “So, do you love him?” Sansa asked. It wasn’t quite the subtle attempt she’d meant to make, but she spent all evening watching her sister light up in the man’s presence and the nervous hovering the two did around each other. She was far too eager for details.

Arya scoffed, but another blush colored her cheeks. “I haven’t seen him in years,” she hedged.

“Hmm,” Sansa acknowledges. “I notice that wasn’t a no,” she said as she worked on the embroidery for what would become her wedding dress.

Arya sighed. “I’m not good at this stuff Sans, you know that,” she grumbled as she sat in a chair next to Sansa. Is this where Arya’s reticence had come from?

“But you care for him?” she asked, realizing she was using Arya’s same words from when she inquired about Jon. If only their mother could see them now, still different but more similar than any of them ever could have guessed, and getting along. It’s a pang both sweet and sad, to know their mother would be proud.

“I do,” Arya said haltingly.

“If it’s the right person,” Sansa said, “if Gendry is the right person, it gets easier little by little.”

“Is that how it was with Jon?”

Sansa smiled to herself, ducking her head downward. “Yes.”

“But I’m not like you, Sansa, you’re…you,” Arya said, gesturing at her feebly.

Sansa laughed. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Y’know, feminine, I dunno, just—I’ve never been one for romance and love stories, with your knights and your maidens,” Arya shrugged, a kind of defeated look about her that hurt Sansa’s heart.

Sansa leaned forward and squeezed Arya’s knee. “You don’t need to be anything other than who you are. You are lovable just as you are. And Gendry seems to care for you just as you are.”

“You think he cares for me?” Arya’s eyebrows scrunched together in question. She can’t remember the last time she’d seen Arya look so openly vulnerable.

“He certainly appears to, from what I’ve seen,” Sansa said.

Arya shifted in her seat uncomfortably, but her lips curled upward at the thought. “I don’t wanna talk about this anymore,” she said bashfully.

“Fine,” Sansa said, knowing Arya could only take so much of this sort of conversation. “Tell me what you think of this.” She held up the bit of fabric she was currently working on, white lace over a soft grey.

Arya ran her fingers over the lace delicately. “Beautiful,” she nodded approvingly.

Sansa couldn’t wait for Jon to see the finished product.

---

“Hold still,” Sansa told him as she measured his shoulders.

Jon’s hands were at her waist. “Your hands are on me,” he explained in a low voice.

Jon could see her stifling a giggle. “I need to get your measurements,” she said. “Up,” she instructed, moving his arms from her waist to measure his own. “Be cooperative,” Sansa chided him.

“I am cooperative,” he growled as he pushed back her hair to plant kisses along her neck. He knew she needed his measurements for the cloak she was making, but Jon could smell the lemon and lavender from her bath, and it was intoxicating to be this close and not touch her.

“Jon,” Sansa tried to reprimand him, but her soft laugh and shudder gave her away.

“Perhaps we could take a break,” Jon suggested as he ran his tongue along her skin to the spot just behind her ear—a spot he had learned drove her mad. He liked to think he could be quite persuasive when he wanted to be.

“Perhaps,” she said with a sigh.

Jon grinned in victory. He brought his lips to hers, licking into her mouth and groaning as he wrapped his arms around her waist once more. Jon could stretch this moment out to eternity—her hands in his hair, her body pressed against him, the way she shuddered in his arms. “I love you,” Jon breathed into her skin as he laid her on her bed.

“I love you too,” Sansa gasped.

Jon began unlacing her gown. “Gods, you’re so fucking gorgeous,” he murmured as he took in the pale line of her throat and her chest, and he saw a flush forming. She could get shy when he used filthy words, but Jon also saw the heated way she’d look at him, the way she’d shiver against him, and knew she enjoyed it. He whispered in Sansa’s ear as he pulled her dress downward, cupping her breasts through her shift. “If I could I’d keep you in here all day, did you know that?” She arched up into him as he took her nipple between his thumb and forefinger. “I’d lick at your pretty little cunt until you couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Jon,” she moaned, making him more desperate for her. He moved quickly to cast off her shift as she pulled off his tunic. His lips kissed along her breasts before he took a pink nipple in his mouth, his hand kneading her other breast. Jon thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

He pressed teasing kisses along her stomach, feeling the muscles quiver beneath him. “Then I’d bury my cock in you and fuck you until you were cumming all over me.”

Jon,” she whimpered in need as her hips bucked against him. Jon undid her smallclothes slowly, teasing himself as much as her. He laid an open-mouthed kiss along her hip. Once he was able to gaze at her sex uninhibited, he groaned at the sight of her wetness, her swollen lips and her thatch of curls, a slightly darker shade of red than her hair.

Jon rubbed along her clit as he breathed in the scent of her deeply. “So wet,” he leaned down and entered her cunt with his tongue, feeling her silky walls as he drank from her greedily. “You’re the best thing I’ve ever tasted, Sansa,” he moaned and moved his tongue to her clit and entered her with one finger, then two.

“Oh, Gods, Jon,” she cried.

He pulled back just enough to speak against her, meeting her dark, hooded eyes. “You like that Sansa?” Jon asked.

“Yes, Jon, please don’t stop!”

“Never,” he vowed and continued lapping at her.

“Oh Gods, Jon, I can’t—”

He hummed against her in acknowledgement but did not relent, and she reacted by bucking against him as one hand grasped along her hip. Sansa was no longer so shy, and he loved the bolder side that he seemed to coax out of her. A moment later she was throwing her head back and cumming against his tongue and fingers. Jon groaned into her, working her through it until she pushed his head away. Jon licked his fingers, eyes closing in pleasure, and wiped his beard.

He only had a moment or so to take in how radiant Sansa looked, her heavy breathing lifting her breasts as she looked undone, debauched, and satisfied, before Sansa abruptly flipped Jon onto his back and straddled him. His cock twitched at her show of dominance as she pressed kisses along his neck and downward on his chest. He gripped her waist before moving to cup her ass, thrusting his hips against her as she unlaced his breeches.

Caught up in the moment, Jon didn’t realize what Sansa was doing until she placed kisses along his stomach and down, down…

“Sansa,” he gasped.

She looked up at him with a small grin. “Allow me to return the favor.”

Jon felt as if all his blood rushed to his cock, so much so he felt faint. “You don’t have to,” he said raggedly as she pulled his breeches and smallclothes down to his thighs.

“And if I want to?” Sansa asked coyly.

“You minx,” he growled, gripping her hair. She giggled and then her mouth was on him, and Jon’s eyes rolled back in his head. “Oh, fuck, Sansa!”

Her mouth was hot and wet as she licked the underside of his length and began bobbing her head up and down in earnest. His hands tightened in her hair and Jon had to restrain himself from gripping harder or bucking into her mouth—he didn’t want to hurt her.

“Oh Gods, Sansa…” he babbled. “You feel so good…your mouth…sucking me…fuck, sweetheart…”

She hummed around him and he groaned. Her mouth went upward and she swirled her tongue around the head of his cock, one hand working at the base of his cock while the other moved to cradle his balls. “Fuck, Sansa. You feel too good, I won’t last…” he warned her, wanting to let her move off him. “Sansa, I’m about to cum.” But she only took him as deep as she could into her mouth. “Oh, Gods, oh Gods, oh Sansa!” Jon cried and he was cumming into her mouth, his body shuddering as he couldn’t stop himself from thrusting with his hips back and forth just a little. It was the most erotic thing that went beyond his wildest imagination as he watched her lick him clean. Sansa sat up and licked her lips, his eyes widened at the sight.

“I didn’t mean to cum in your mouth,” Jon said apologetically.

“I wanted you to,” Sansa said cheekily. Jon was still catching his breath as he watched her saucy grin.

He shook his head in amazement. “You really are a minx,” Jon said, leaning up to kiss her.  

---

Sansa was relieved to find the North accepted the betrothal for the most part. Jon had already demonstrated both his support of Northern independence as well as his repudiation of Daenerys’s actions. Still, Sansa knew there would be anxiety around the issue of heirs, and whether Jon had intentions to usurp Sansa’s rule. The best course of action, as she and Jon agreed, was to address these issues early. Though they had already announced the betrothal, Sansa wanted to give time for her lords and ladies and small council to voice their concerns, and so they met with the assembly in the Great Hall.

“And he will be a Prince Consort? Prince Jon doesn’t have designs to be King?” Lord Royce asked, glancing warily at Jon by Sansa’s side.

“I have no desire to be King,” Jon said firmly. He wanted to speak for himself, make himself known to the people of the North. They were his people now too—even if some were still a little skeptical.

“Prince Jon has shown himself faithful to our Queen. He helped to bring Daenerys Targaryen to justice,” Sansa’s Hand Ser Davos said. “I support him.” Jon felt touched by the man’s defense.

“And children, Your Grace?” Lord Glover asked.                

“They will be Starks. Just as Prince Jon will take the Stark name,” Sansa said. “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, and we intend to carry that forward through future generations.”

“Aye,” a chorus from the crowd came as they pounded the table in affirmation. “The Queen in the North! The Queen in the North! The Queen in the North!”

---

“I’ll never get used to it,” Sansa confided later that day as they strolled in the glass gardens. Jon glanced at her questioningly. “Just the way that they chant and cheer for me, it’s strange.”

 “Don’t you feel like you deserve it?”

Sansa stopped and turned to stare at him blankly. “I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that. Not since I took the crown.”

Jon smiled softly. He wasn’t surprised by that. She seemed such a natural in the role. But Sansa was Jon’s love and mate first, his Queen second. He saw her multitudes as the woman she was, even as he saw she was a capable ruler. It made him happy to think he could ask her questions no one else would.

She shook her head slowly. “It was supposed to be Robb’s,” she said.

“He wished you to lead if he fell for a reason, Sansa,” Jon told her, caressing her cheek with his gloved hand. Jon knew that much to be true, even if he’d never known Robb.

“It’s just it doesn’t feel…” Sansa sighed as she searched for the right words. “It doesn’t feel right to know there’s so many people counting on me, the weight of the responsibilities. It’s uncomfortable sometimes.”

Jon considered that for a moment. “I think it’s supposed to be,” he concluded, one palm moving to her elbow.

Sansa’s head tilted to the side, her eyes studying him curiously. “With my aunt, I don’t think she ever felt uncomfortable wielding her power. The only times she was uncomfortable were when she felt her power was threatened. That kind of comfort with power makes a person reckless. It makes them unlikely to see things as they really are or consider their people the way they should.”

She took in his words. “You’re very insightful, are you sure you don’t wish to be King?” she joked lightly.

He laughed and pulled her closer, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Quite sure. You’re good at this, you know—ruling.”

Sansa’s eyes twinkled as she smiled at him. “You really think so?”

“I do,” Jon replied. “All I wish is to have a support role—to help you, share your burdens,” he explained and a mischievous look alighted his eyes “and of course, to love and serve my beautiful, lovely Queen,” he said, leaning toward her suggestively.  

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her fingers curled around the tufts of hair at his neck. “Hmm,” Sansa said, biting her lip. “And serve you shall,” she said, before pressing her lips to his.

That night she sits in his lap again before the fire in her solar and they whisper of children. A girl with Sansa’s red locks and Jon’s grey eyes. Or a boy with the long Stark face, Tully blue eyes, and Jon’s curly mop of hair. “I would like many babes,” Sansa said into the crook of his neck.

“I’ll put babe after babe in you,” Jon growled into her ear. At her laughter he moved to tickle her sides and attack her face with adoring kisses. Sansa thought of her father’s words from so long ago.

Someone brave and gentle and strong.

---

Jon, Sansa, Arya, and Bran go to the crypts together when they finish the statue for Robb. Robb had commissioned for Rickon’s statue after they had retaken Winterfell, and they gathered to see him once Bran and Arya returned. The Stark siblings had not returned together to the crypts since then, both because it was difficult for Bran to be carried, and because it became too emotional with all of them together. Sansa had commissioned for Robb’s statue after he died fighting the Night King, well before Jon arrived in Winterfell. But Sansa had felt so dissatisfied with her father’s statue and the sense that it didn’t look like him, or how she remembered him, that she was careful and exact in her selection of workers and her instructions. Robb would go on to be a legend in the North. He had died but he had taken the Night King along with him, saving all of Westeros in the process, and whether any other kingdoms believed it, their people would always remember him. Sansa knew that it was important that future Starks see Robb’s statue—she would ensure that their descendants remembered him too.

At first, Jon felt a little strange about joining Sansa, Bran, and Arya. Though his previous journey to the crypts with Sansa was the beginning of his getting in touch with his Northern heritage, he was acutely aware that he had never known Robb and it made him feel like an intruder of sorts. “You’re a Stark, Jon,” Sansa said. Bran had also informed Jon he could help Arya getting Bran and his chair down the steps to the crypts. He and Arya did just that as Sansa stood at the bottom below them, torch in hand.

There was another reason Jon knew he needed to be here, which all but erased his feelings of intrusion. He could sense Sansa’s distress, the waves of grief his mate was giving off as they approached her big brother’s statue. Once they had successfully brought Bran down and carried their own torches, Jon clung to Sansa’s side, sensing she needed him. Her eyes shone as she gripped his hand, entwining their fingers. He brought her hand up to press a light kiss to her knuckles. She glanced over at him with a small smile as Bran and Arya joined them at Robb’s statue.

“What do you think?” Sansa looked at her brother and sister.

Arya’s eyes flitted across Robb’s visage. “It looks so much like him,” she whispered.

Sansa let out a sigh of relief at Arya’s words.

“You’ve done well, sister,” Bran said, and Jon could hear the emotion in his cousin’s throat.

“Some days, I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Sansa said in a quiet voice.

Arya looked at her sister. “It feels like maybe it’s one of his pranks,” she said with a minute grin.

“Remember when we were down here, and Robb covered himself in flour, so we’d think he was a ghost?” Sansa asked.

Arya laughed, and even Bran chuckled lightly. “How could I forget? I’d never seen you so mad at him,” Arya observed fondly.

“I didn’t talk to him for weeks,” Sansa said, smiling and shaking her head. “He really scared me.”

“But whenever we had nightmares, he’d let us climb in his bed,” Arya said.

“And on stormy nights, when all of us piled into one bed,” Bran reminisced as his sisters laughed.

Jon observed his cousins quietly, not wanting to break the spell of happy nostalgia. Sansa looked at him contemplatively, and he felt his mate beginning to give off a sense of peace. “I wish you could have met him, Jon,” she said.

Jon leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “I wish I had too.” He tried to imagine what it would have been like, if he’d had to come and treat with the King in the North instead.

“He would have liked you,” Sansa said.

“You don’t think he would have engineered my demise in the training yard for threatening Northern independence?” Jon asked, only half-joking.

“Oh no, that would have always been Arya,” Sansa said plainly.

“It’s true,” Arya said. “I may be small, but I’ve always been more violent,” she remarked with an oddly proud smirk. “But once he got to know you…”

Jon raised an eyebrow at her. “You really think?”

“Oddly enough, yes,” Arya said.

Jon chuckled.

Sansa sighed, leaning into him. “I wish Robb, Mother, Father, and Rickon could be here for the wedding,” she said with a note of melancholy to her voice. To Jon’s relief, there was also a note of acceptance; of healing in the confession.

“They will be,” Bran said. “In their own way. You are getting married in the Godswood.” He gave the two of them a smile.

“All right, I think we’ve had enough for the day. Jon, help me get Bran up the steps before he gets even creepier with his musings,” Arya said dryly. Bran only smirked at his sister in response.

Jon placed another kiss on the crown of Sansa’s head before moving to help his other Stark cousins. Sansa took another moment to look at Robb. She didn’t know if what Bran said was true or if he could truly know, or if he merely meant to offer her comfort. But as she turned away from Robb’s statue to follow the rest of her pack, she chose to believe him anyway.

Chapter Text

A few days prior to the wedding, Jon employed the help of Arya and Bran to keep Sansa away from the glass gardens. It wasn’t the easiest task, for it was one of Sansa’s favorite places, not to mention important for the North’s food supply and as Queen, Sansa took the responsibility of feeding her people in winter seriously. But the glass gardens did not just provide food supply. Jon excitedly picked several winter roses for Sansa. He wasn’t the best at weaving, but he sought Gilly’s help so they might use the roses to create a flower crown. Jon didn’t know if Sansa would want to wear it during the ceremony, but he at least wanted to have the chance to bestow it to her as a gift on their wedding day. Jon knew Sansa loved winter roses, and that knights would supposedly gift such crowns to their ladyloves when they won tourneys. He also couldn’t stop thinking of how beautiful she would look with the flower crown; the blue petals of the winter rose reminded him of Sansa’s eyes.

“Do you think she’ll like it? Will it go with her dress?” he asked Arya anxiously as he and Gilly worked on the weaving in Sam and Gilly’s solar.

Arya looked at him with impatience, standing by the hearth with her arms crossed while Little Sam toddled around the room. “Jon Targaryen, soon to be Jon Stark,” she said, and Gods did it feel good to imagine being Jon Stark, “if you don’t know by now my sister would love this, perhaps you don’t deserve to marry her,” Arya finished with a smirk.

“Arya be nice,” Gilly said, taking the same tone she used with Little Sam.  

Arya planted her hands on her hips and scoffed. “I am always nice!”

Jon and Gilly laughed lightly at that.

“Look, I’m just saying she’ll love it,” Arya said.

“And will it match her dress? Or does she have to wear her actual crown in the ceremony? Gods, I should have asked!” Jon said, rubbing his forehead in frustration.

Arya rolled her eyes. “Calm down. It matches the dress fine and I don’t know if she has to wear her crown during the ceremony, but she’ll love it either way.”

“It’s okay to be nervous, Jon,” Gilly said, placing a reassuring hand at his shoulder.

“I just want it to be perfect for Sansa, she deserves it to be everything she’s ever wanted,” Jon said to Gilly and Arya. Jon knew enough of Sansa’s first wedding to know how terrifying and humiliating it had been. And of course Tyrion had made a drunken scene, which he thinks must have been embarrassing, even if it prevented the bedding ceremony. At least now, Sansa was Queen and already made clear that no bedding ceremony was to take place. It will be different this time in every way, and he just wants to ensure Sansa feels loved, happy, cherished, and beautiful.

“Well I don’t think you need to worry,” Gilly said. “It seems you’re everything she’s wanted.”

Jon smiled as Arya groaned. He looked to his cousin. “This grumbling coming from the girl making moon-eyes at Gendry all day,” Jon said with a smirk.

Arya’s jaw dropped. “I do not—”

“You do,” Gilly said with a laugh.

Arya scowled at them as they finished weaving one side of the crown. “Well, I think I’ve had enough of this,” she said and headed toward the door. “I’m going to spar.”

“With Gendry, no doubt,” Gilly teased, and Arya huffed.

“Arya, wait,” Jon called out when her hand was on the knob. “Remember not to tell Sansa, it’s—”

“A surprise,” Arya nodded, cutting him off. “She won’t find out about it from me, you lovesick fool,” she said and exited.

Jon knew she was making fun of him, but he couldn’t stop the smile that came to his face at her words.

---

The toughest reaction to the wedding plans was not what Sansa anticipated, as it didn’t come from lords and ladies of the North. No, the toughest reactions came from her uncle Edmure and cousin Robin when they discovered Sansa wanted neither of them to give her away. Instead, she had decided that Arya would.

“She’s a girl,” Robin said, as if Sansa was not aware, looking slack jawed between them.

“I’m more than a girl,” Arya said, playing with the dagger in her hand absentmindedly. Sansa could tell she didn’t even mean for it to be threatening in this instance, but Robin took a step backward anyway.

“She is my sister. She is of the North. She is a Stark. It is most appropriate,” Sansa explained to them.

Edmure sighed. “Don’t you think your mother—”

“Do not say what I think you’re about to say, uncle,” Arya warned, eyes narrowed on the Tully lord. He shut his mouth.

Perhaps her mother would have preferred it be a man like Edmure or Robin instead of Arya. But it would not stop Sansa regardless. Her mother would be thrilled to see them together once more, and to see that Sansa had made a match with a good man. “I am glad you are staying for the wedding. And I trust you will both save dances for me at the reception?” she asked, hoping they would still feel included.

“Of course,” they’d agreed, and it seemed to be smoothed over. It was strange, Sansa thought, to have so many of her family gathered here to celebrate her wedding. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever get a chance like this again, for not only her siblings but also Edmure and Robin to be here with her. She would not squander it. She would treasure it, Sansa thought happily.

---

It couldn’t be a coincidence, Jon thought, when Rhaegal and Viserion returned to Winterfell while Ghost constantly trailed Jon and Sansa’s heels the evening before their wedding day.

“Do you think the dragons sense it too?” Sansa asked Jon curiously as they ventured out to meet them. While they both had a bond with Ghost, Sansa did not know about the dragons’ thoughts and feelings as Jon did.

“I think so,” Jon told her as he rubbed along both dragons’ scales. “They’re happy for us. They understand you’re my family,” he said, looking back at Sansa with a smile. Sansa thought Jon was never so handsome than when he smiled.

“You said it was different than with Ghost,” Sansa remarked as Ghost nudged at her waist, ducking slightly as at full height he stood to her chest. Like last time, Ghost did not seem to find these dragons a threat.

“Aye,” Jon nodded. “With Ghost it’s like he’s a part of me, a part of us,” he said as she scratched behind the direwolf’s ears. “With Rhaegal and Viserion, it is more like they need assurance or guidance. Ghost might be more like a partner whereas they…” Jon trailed off, frowning as he considered it.

“Are they more like children? Should we call you Father of Dragons?” Sansa asked with an arch to her brow.

Jon shook his head and laughed. “No. Not exactly, but there is something paternal about it, I suppose,” he said. Both of them thought of children they might have in the future, and the warmth growing in Sansa had her moving to Jon and stepping into his embrace. “Maybe a bit like grown children ready to be on their own.” Jon said, looking at the dragons with a mixture of pride, happiness, and a hint of melancholy that struck Sansa as more than a little paternal.

“Valyria?” she asked.

“Valyria,” he confirmed and kissed her head. “But they’re here to celebrate with us first.”

“An extended part of the pack,” Sansa said, leaning into Jon’s chest.

“Yeah?” Jon asked with a smile. He hadn’t just abandoned the dragons, even if he felt more a wolf. Sansa realized he craved that acceptance.

“Of course,” she said, and his lips met hers in a soft, sweet kiss.

“Perhaps I could convince you to go on a dragon ride with me?” Jon asked, already knowing the answer.

“Absolutely not,” she laughed. He hugged her tighter.

“I love you,” Jon said tenderly. The weight of her in his arms was the best feeling he’d ever known.

“I love you too,” she said. He caught her mouth again in a kiss that was longer, his tongue stroking against hers until they were both breathless.

“I cannot wait to marry you, Sansa Stark,” Jon said with shining eyes when they pulled apart.

Sansa’s heart fluttered. “And I cannot wait to marry you, Jon Targaryen.”

And as they walked hand in hand back through Winterfell’s gates as it grew dark, Sansa made sure no one was the wiser when they came across her sister and the newest blacksmith at the forge. Jon barely had time to see Arya and Gendry, who were—for lack of a better term—necking, before Sansa pulled him softly along with her, both on their tiptoes and stifling giggles so as not to interrupt them.

“She is happy,” Sansa said as they reached her solar and he pulled her into the room.

“And you, my love?” he asked, pressing a soft kiss to Sansa’s throat.

Sansa looked up at him, blue eyes sparkling and a smile on her rosy lips. “I am very happy.” Jon grabbed her face in his hands and brought her mouth to his, quite intent on some necking of their own.

---

On the morning of her wedding day, Sansa allows two handmaidens to work with her hair as Arya studies her own appearance in front of Sansa’s mirror. She was delighted to find that Sansa had not made her a dress, but trousers and a quite handsome cloak, if Sansa did say so herself.

“Thank you, Sans,” Arya said, turning to beam at her.

“Of course,” Sansa said happily. For her own part, Sansa had not dressed herself fully yet. Her handmaidens had excitedly taken in the dress, hesitantly running their hands across the fabric before Sansa had shooed them away. She adores the dress and only hopes Jon will feel the same.

Jon.

Her stomach does a little flip, and it is like butterflies have been nestled there all morning. Truly, Sansa cannot remember the last time she had felt so excited, a spark of nervous anticipation was thrumming through her body. It made her breath quicken and Sansa didn’t need to look in the mirror to know a smile wouldn’t leave her face.

Sansa, Arya, Brienne, Gilly, and the handmaidens were throughout Sansa’s bedchambers as the handmaidens made two small braids around the back of her head. The rest of her hair would stay down, as Sansa much preferred wearing her hair in such a way, the more elaborate updos of the South had fallen out of her favor long ago. And Sansa knew that Jon loved her hair, allowing it to fall in soft waves in a more natural look. Jon, she thought, smiling bigger again. There was a knock at her solar door and the sudden sound mixed with her giddy excitement so that she nearly leaped out of her seat.

It was Jon, she just knew it. She pulled her robe together and made her way to the solar as Brienne, Gilly, and Arya moved her dress from where it would have been in Jon’s sights. It was silly, perhaps, but she preferred he not see it until the ceremony. She wanted to surprise him in the Godswood later.

She opened the door and found Jon who looked upon her with what Sansa could only describe as reverence. He smiled. “You knew it was me?” Jon asked.

She wouldn’t have been the one to answer the door otherwise. “I did,” Sansa said on an exhale. She wanted to leap into his arms though it would not be proper, and in any case, he had one hand behind his back. Sansa had vaguely caught his thoughts on surprising her, and determined not to follow them and spoil it.

“You look beautiful, Sansa,” Jon said with warm eyes studying her face.

She ducked her head, suddenly shy, and wrapped her robe tighter around her. “I’m not even dressed yet,” she said.

“You’re still beautiful,” Jon supplied softly, and she looked back up at him. “I’d marry you just like this or any other way, Sansa.” His gaze was open and earnest.

“Jon,” she whispered with emotion, leaned forward and kissed him tenderly.

“I have something for you,” Jon said nervously as they pulled apart. He pulled the arm from behind his back to reveal a crown weaved with winter roses.

Sansa gasped.

“I know it’s not much, especially compared to your actual crown,” Jon said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“I love it,” Sansa said sincerely, reaching out to his forearm.

“I wasn’t sure if you could wear it to the ceremony—”

“I will,” she said quickly.

Jon beamed at her. “Then might you allow me?” he asked, stepping toward her and holding the crown gingerly above her head.

“You may,” Sansa nodded.

Jon placed it gently atop her head, careful of her tresses and braids. “There,” he said in satisfaction, brushing his fingers across her cheek in a soft caress. “My Queen of Love and Beauty,” he whispered. Sansa saw the slightest build of tears in his eyes, knowing they reflected her own happy tears.

She pulled him against her and kissed him again. His hands were at her waist and he hummed in approval as their tongues met. She really shouldn’t be doing this, Sansa distantly thought to herself, not when the handmaidens and the others could see. But she didn’t care.

“I love you,” Jon said breathlessly when they pulled apart.

“I love you too,” Sansa said.

“Taking all the credit for yourself then, Jon?” Gilly asked with a playful arch of her brow as she approached them.

Jon laughed and looked to Sansa. “Gilly helped me,” he said nodding to the crown.

“Thank you, Gilly,” Sansa said gratefully to her friend.

Gilly shrugged. “It was nothing,” she said humbly.

“Not to me,” Sansa choked with emotion. Sam and Gilly had become dear friends who meant the world to her. She knew Gilly’s acceptance of Jon indicated Sam’s acceptance too.

Gilly looked at Jon sternly. “I’m afraid I must ask you to leave Jon,” she said lightly, bringing a hand to Sansa’s shoulder. “We are not done primping your bride.”

Jon looked at Sansa and gave a squeeze of her hand in his own. “I’ll see you,” he said warmly.

Sansa nodded. “I’ll see you.” Jon departed and Sansa followed Gilly back to her bedchamber, grinning like a fool. At this rate, she figured, her cheeks would be sore before the day was over.

---

Jon’s breath caught as he watched Sansa approach him in the Godswood, Arya at her side. The Godswood was a bit cramped with their audience, as many wished to see their Queen wed. Yet, they kept it relatively small, knowing the feast would be filled with people. And still, as his eyes met Sansa’s, it was as if they were the only two people in existence. Her cheeks were flushed, from the cold or the attention, Jon could not tell. Sansa was, as always, stunning. Radiant. He still remembered the first time he saw her. How he had been immediately arrested at the sight of her across the courtyard and had to shake off the distraction. He smiled at the memory, now able to devote his full attention to his love, and so Jon looked his fill.

Her dress was a shade of blue gray, paying tribute to her Stark and Tully roots. Her bodice was adorned with white lace accents that resembled the branches of the Weirwood tree, and just above it at the neck were two embroidered wolves meeting. Her elongated sleeves featured red Weirwood leaves that glittered in the light of the Godswood snow. Her cloak draped over one side, accented with Tully fish scales and ending in wolf-like furs at the bottom. And of course, atop her head rested the flower crown he’d help make for her—making her blue eyes even more mesmerizing. 

She was magnificent, Jon thought. As Sansa came toward him, he was so enamored with the vision of her that he nearly forgot how to begin. Bran helpfully cleared his throat. Jon looked to Sansa.

I cannot believe this woman is marrying me, he thought.

Believe it, Sansa’s lips twitched as her words rang in his mind.

“Who comes before the Gods?” Jon asked.

“Sansa of House Stark, the Queen in the North, comes here to be wed,” Sansa said, her eyes never leaving his. “Who comes to claim her?”

“Jon of Houses Stark and Targaryen,” Jon said, as they had decided on the wording to include both, “Prince of Dragonstone, comes to claim her. Who gives her?”

“Arya of House Stark, a Princess of the North and sister to Queen Sansa, gives her,” Arya said, and she clutches Sansa a little tighter before releasing her. Sansa moved forward, and Jon took her hands in his own.

“Do you take this man?” Jon asked, feeling his voice quiver in his throat at the emotion of the moment. She was claiming him and he was claiming her, in front of the Gods, her family, and her people. His heart fluttered.

“I take this man,” Sansa said, sounding a bit shaky herself.

I love you so much, Jon told her in his mind, his eyes boring into her own.

I love you too.

They kneeled together at the Heart Tree, hand in hand. Jon did not know much of the Gods, old or new, but he bowed his head. Thank you for bringing me to her. Thank you for bringing me home. Please help me to be the best husband she could ask for.

Sansa prayed to those she loved who were gone. Thank you father, I have found the match you would have wanted for me. Thank you, mother and father, for showing me a loving marriage. Thank you Robb and Rickon, my sweet brothers. I will never forget you. Guide me so we may have a long and happy life together.

They stood together, Jon steadying Sansa at the waist. She removed her cloak and handed it to Arya, and as she looked back, she saw Ghost in a far-off corner, observing. Jon’s eyes followed Sansa’s to their direwolf, and he smiled before looking back to his bride. He removed his cloak, with the Stark colors of white and gray, and placed it around Sansa’s shoulders. Jon pulled her to him and kissed her with all the love, devotion, and affection he could express. Like their first kiss. Like every kiss with Sansa.

The crowd cheered and clapped for them, and Jon and Sansa held onto each other as they made their way inside. Jon remembered the vision they’d shared in Ghost, and Ghost’s own thoughts, which now so echoed his own. Because Jon knew without a shadow of doubt, with his wife by his side, he was complete.

---

It was as Sansa danced with Jon in the Great Hall later at the feast, feeling light and in love, that her thoughts turned, oddly enough, to Cersei Lannister.

“What is it?” Jon asked with a sly grin, as if they were sharing a joke no one else knew.

“Nothing,” Sansa said, perhaps too innocently, for Jon’s eyes narrowed. He pressed nothing further though, kissing her forehead and gliding her across the room. Sansa would tell him eventually, but now she didn’t feel the need to do so. Fortunately, her thoughts on Cersei were not upsetting her, maybe for the first time.

It was something different she felt now, as her eyes scanned the hall. Gendry had managed to get Arya to dance with him for two whole songs, which was enough in Sansa’s eyes to make him a legend. She saw her little brother Bran and Meera sitting close and talking intimately. She saw various young lords nervously approaching young ladies for a dance and smiled to herself, leaning closer to Jon.

“How am I doing?” he whispered in her ear. She knew Jon felt awkward about dancing.

“Passable,” Sansa joked, and Jon’s soft laugh rumbled against her chest.

“And you would tease your poor husband so?” Jon asked her.

“I’ll make it up to you later,” Sansa whispered to him.

His eyes darkened and his grip on her tightened. “I am looking forward to that,” Jon said huskily, pressing his forehead to hers.

Cersei was wrong, Sansa thought. All those years ago, when she had told her that she should only love her children. When Cersei said that the more people you love, the weaker you are. Perhaps it was because Cersei loved in ways that were selfish or smallminded, or otherwise unhealthy or destructive. But she was mistaken, Sansa realized. Love did not make one weaker. It made one stronger. The more she loved Jon, her family, the North and its people, the stronger she was, the happier she was. Opening her heart had made her a better woman and a better ruler. No, love was not a burden as Cersei thought. Love was a gift. Sansa knew the love she had with Jon was real, true, and strong. And she knew it would only grow, just as her parents’ had, though Sansa and Jon had the advantage of already loving one another. As Jon led her to their seats, it struck her again.

I married for love.

---

“Jon Stark,” Sansa said heatedly as they stumbled into her (their) bedchambers, and it sent a chill down Jon’s spine as he ducked to litter her neck with kisses. Sansa barred the door only to be pushed against it by Jon in his haste, kissing her with a groan as his hands explored her body.

“Sansa,” he whined in desperation. Jon understood that Sansa was Queen but still, the feast with her people had kept him from alone time with his bride for far too long. Sansa gently pushed him off her and stepped toward the fire. She removed her cloak and placed it on the back of a chair before turning to face him.

Jon swallowed thickly. It hadn’t been something they’d set out beforehand, but now Jon was happy they’d waited, even if it made him more eager to make love to her. “What did you think of my dress?” she asked, running her hands over the skirts.

“Beautiful,” Jon said and moved toward her, capturing her lips with his while settling his hands on her hips. “I only hope it doesn’t have too many laces at the back,” he said and spun her around.

“You will not rip this dress, Jon Stark,” Sansa warned.

“Never, my lovely wife,” he said, pressing a kiss to the back of her neck, causing her to shudder against him. He slowly undid the laces, his breathing growing ragged. “So beautiful,” he whispered reverently as he slid the dress from her shoulders. His eyes and hands traced along her back, her shift was nearly transparent, and as she daintily stepped out of the dress and placed it on the chair, he felt ready to take her now. Jon tried to calm himself, but he reached for her immediately.

Jon licked into her mouth as Sansa let out a soft sigh and melted against him. He squeezed her breasts before trailing one hand down to cup her mound. “Jon,” she moaned, and he nipped at her earlobe.

“I want you so bad, sweetheart,” Jon groaned as he walked her backward. “Will you get on the bed for me, please?”

His cock twitched at her eagerness to follow his request. She sat back against the furs with a coquettish grin as Jon removed layers of clothing until he was shirtless and in his breeches. To feel her skin against his with no barriers…Gods.

Jon nearly pounced on her, earning a musical giggle from Sansa that made him smile. “I’m glad you find that funny, wife.” He kissed her sweet lips before she could reply. “What do you want?” he asked, his nose running along her neck as her hands entwined in his hair.

She pulled him so he was looking into her eyes. “I want whatever you want tonight, husband,” Sansa said.

Jon moaned. “Are you trying to kill me?” he asked as she giggled again, and he quickly removed her shift, kissing his way down her body. He sucked one breast into his mouth greedily as Sansa arched against him, before treating the other breast to the same.

“If you want whatever I want,” he mumbled against her hip as he untied her smallclothes and unrolled her stockings from her legs. “We won’t be leaving this chamber for weeks.”

“Jon!” she looked downright scandalized, pink dusting her cheekbones as he set his mouth to her cunt. Jon had told her the truth before. Nothing had tasted better than her sweet cunt. The way she writhed against him and dug her fingers into his hair had him aching to be inside her. Jon kissed her between her legs until she was cumming with a soft cry of his name and he rutted into the furs beneath them for relief.

Before Jon could blink Sansa had pulled him up her body and was kissing him, thrusting her hot tongue between his lips. He hadn’t even had time to wipe his beard. Knowing how much Sansa must be tasting her own juices on him—the thought made him even harder as he groaned against her. Sansa was unlacing his breeches.

“I need you inside me now,” Sansa said.

Gods. Perhaps she was trying to kill him. “I need inside you,” he moaned. If the breeches had not been made by Sansa, he’d have carelessly ripped them to shreds in his haste, but because she made him such fine clothing, he would spare them. His smallclothes, however…

Sansa’s eyes widened as she heard the rip. “Jon—”

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” Jon said and kissed her as he lined his cock along her cunt. “Sansa,” he groaned as he rubbed his manhood up and down her folds, gathering her wetness. She already felt incredible and he wasn’t even inside her yet. She wrapped her legs around him. Neither one of them were maids, Jon knew. It didn’t matter because the two of them together was different. He knew that. She was his mate, now his wife. Now it would truly be an act of love. Jon was only relieved that Sansa would likely not be hurt as he entered her slick heat.

“Fuck, Sansa!” Jon panted into her neck. Her thighs tightened around his hips and she raked her nails down his back, causing him to shudder. “Do that again,” he pleaded and she obliged. Jon held himself still inside her once he was fully sheathed, partially to allow her time to adjust and partially because he did not want to spill right away. It was like he fit inside her perfectly, as if they were made for each other.

She thrusted her hips beneath him and his eyes rolled back. “Jon,” she whined, running her foot along his calf. “Move,” Sansa urged.

Jon kissed her hungrily and began to thrust hard and slow. She pulled his hair and gasped. “You like that?” he grunted. His chest was heaving. The feel of her tight walls wrapped around him was overwhelming.

“Yes,” Sansa cried. “More!”

“Like,” Jon pulled back only to drive back in again, his hips slamming against hers, “that?” he asked her teasingly.

“Yes, Gods, yes!”

Jon repeated the motion and picked up his pace as Sansa met his thrusts enthusiastically. “You feel so good Sansa,” Jon said as he thrust inside her again and again.

“Yes,” she hissed. Her eyes, he noticed, were beginning to roll back.

“Does it feel good Sansa?” he asked. “Do you like my cock inside of you?”

Sansa groaned beneath him. “Yes.”

“Say it, Sansa,” Jon urged, thrusting faster.

“I…I,” she gasped, reluctant.

“Come on, sweet girl,” Jon crooned, his fingers reaching for her clit as he encouraged her. “Tell me.”

“I like your cock inside of me,” she moaned.

“Ahh. Fuck, Sansa,” Jon grunted. He needed to make her cum before he did. “Feels so fucking good inside of you, Sansa. I love your cunt. You’re so wet for me. You need me to fuck you?”

“Yes, Jon, fuck me,” she ordered shamelessly. Jon nearly cums at her words but manages to hold back even as his hips stutter. Jon rubs at her clit harder, finding a rhythm that causes her to buck her hips even more.

“That’s it, sweetheart. My sweet girl. My Sansa. Will you cum for me? Fuck, Sansa! You’re squeezing me so tight. Are you about to cum sweetheart? I want you to cum, Sansa. I want you to cum on my cock,” Jon groaned, driving into her as he felt her pulse around him and it was all too much and soon he was shouting his own release inside of her, throbbing and spasming as they both fell over the edge.

Jon wasn’t sure how long it was after that when their breathing began to sound somewhat normal again. He felt Sansa’s heart beating beneath his own chest. Perhaps he was a romantic after all, as he got the strange sense their hearts beat together in time.

“That was…” he said, at a loss, brushing a lock of her red hair from her forehead. They were both shiny with sweat, though Jon doubted he looked as lovely as Sansa still did, even in her mussed-up state.

“Hmm,” Sansa ran her forefinger across his bottom lip, “it certainly was,” she said with a mischievous glint in her eyes. They laughed together and Jon kissed her gently.

His heart was full. Every night they would sleep in the same bed like this. Every morning he would wake up with her next to him. “I love you wife,” Jon said, and each time he took in the fact that Sansa was wife and he was Jon Stark, he felt as if he was floating.

Sansa leaned toward him with a smile, her forehead resting against his own. “And I you, husband.”

Chapter Text

Lyarra Minisa Stark’s first nameday is accompanied by the arrival of Spring, tiny shoots of grass peeking through the snow. The Northerners rally in celebration of both. They say the wolves have come again. Sansa and Jon’s eyes catch one another at that moment while he holds their daughter in his lap, a small smile curling his lips.

The wolves had already come again, Sansa thought. They came when Jon arrived.

She reaches forward and pets her daughter’s head gently, running her fingers through the tufts of red hair. Lya looks up at her with grey eyes, Jon’s eyes, and coos, spittle running down her chin. Sansa frets and reaches for a cloth (she keeps them on hand now). “Oh Lya, really,” Sansa said as she cleaned her chin. “You’re wearing your nameday dress.” But truly, she couldn’t sound irritated with her daughter at that moment if she tried.

Jon laughs as his daughter squirms forward in his lap, reaching for Sansa’s touch. “Someone wants mama,” he said warmly, handing Lya over to Sansa’s arms. He feels his heart swell whenever he watches Sansa hold their daughter. She really looks so beautiful tonight, Jon thinks, as Sansa clutches Lya to her chest and Jon tucks a strand of his wife’s hair behind her ear. “Actually,” Jon said in a quieter voice, kissing Sansa’s cheek. “Make that two someones,” he said suggestively.

“Jon!” Sansa said, darting her head to see if anyone heard, slapping his arm in a weightless reprimand, eyes shining with her smile.

“I believe I promised you babe after babe,” Jon grumbled in her ear. Despite the feast around them, he feels her shiver at his words. He gently tugs her chin so her mouth meets his. It was true what Sansa told him, as her husband she does not mind that he kisses her at every opportunity.

But then Lyarra is making noises again, vying for her parents’ attention and Sansa and Jon pull away to look at their daughter. Jon leans forward and presses a kiss to her head. “I love you Lya,” he said, looking between Sansa and Lyarra with a soft smile. “I love both my girls.”

“I still say this husband of yours really ought to have stolen ya,” Tormund Giantsbane said as he approached them, horn of fermented goat’s milk in hand. The King Beyond the Wall was visiting for the celebration and trade talks.

“Tormund, we’ve been over this,” Jon said. He’d only met the burly redhaired man once before, but his familiarity was something Jon grew fond of, in comparison to the leaders of other kingdoms he’d met as Sansa’s Consort. It was refreshing to be straightforward. Jon looks back at Sansa. “She stole me,” he said with a grin.

“Hey now, I helped a little,” Bran said with a smirk as Meera hushed him. He helped a lot, Jon thought. But Tormund paid his commentary little mind, his focus on Sansa, and Jon could tell something vulgar was about to come from the man’s mouth.

“Aye that she did, that’s why she’s the Red Wolf, quite a hold on your cock,” the wildling said with a booming laugh.

Sansa shook her head at his coarse language, but she could not stop the smile on her face. Tormund nodded at her, “I like to see the blush on your pretty face,” he said with a wink.

“Watch it Tormund,” Jon said. He knew the man meant nothing by it but still. “Go bother Brienne,” Jon told him. Immediately the man’s head whipped to Brienne, the lady knight sitting and talking with Davos and his wife, Marya.

Tormund took a long drink from his horn, the milk running down his bushy beard before he looked back to Jon and Sansa seriously. “I’m going in,” he said, before heading off determinedly.

Jon snickered. “You know it is hopeless,” Sansa said.

Jon shrugged, unbothered. “Maybe, maybe not. I just don’t like him flirting with you.”

She turned Lya in her arms to face the rest of the hall, and their daughter looked about the room curiously. It was certainly the largest gathering they’d had in Lyarra’s life. Bigger than Jon and Sansa’s wedding too, because now it was spring. Sansa reached for Jon’s hair, running her fingers through his curls. “You know I am only yours.”

Jon smiled and pressed his forehead to hers. “Aye, I do.”

“It’s never going to get less sickening is it?” Arya grumbled at them as she approached the table and picked up her goblet.

“No,” Jon and Sansa said simultaneously. Arya rolled her eyes.

“Well, you’re overdue for the dancing,” Arya said.

“Are you volunteering to take her?” Sansa asked.

Arya smiled at her niece. “Seven hells, I guess I am,” she said, approaching and retrieving Lyarra. Try as she might to act the tough warrior, Sansa knew Arya melted completely with Lyarra around. Yes, Sansa thought, her daughter was well loved indeed.

“Careful little sister, you might give him ideas,” Sansa warned, motioning her head to Gendry who sat at the end of the table, watching Arya and Lya adoringly.

Arya scoffed even as a blush tinted her cheeks. “I already married him. He should consider himself lucky for that!” She steadily raised her voice as she looked in her husband’s direction.

“Oh, but I do!” Gendry said, raising his drink to her in a salute.

Sansa laughed as Jon pulled her to dance. “Beautiful wife,” Jon murmured and kissed her lips gently.

“Handsome husband,” Sansa said, an arm around his shoulder as he wrapped his arm around her waist. “I can hardly believe it’s spring,” she said, looking around at the joyous guests.

“I can,” Jon said.

“Really? Why is that?” she asked with a tilt of her head, though she suspected she already knew the answer.

“Winter couldn’t stay long with my two girls’ warm faces,” Jon said. Sansa wanted to roll her eyes at that but she couldn’t. She kissed him instead.

I love you, she told him in her mind so she didn’t have to break her lips from his.

She felt Jon’s smile against her own. I love you too.

---

A few days after the spring celebration, as guests returned to their villages and nobles to their holdfasts, Sansa gathers winter roses and accompanies Jon with their daughter to the crypts. They had decided to wait until her first nameday passed before taking her there for the first time. Jon holds Lyarra as he introduces her to her grandmother Lyanna. “We almost named you after her,” Jon told his daughter gently.

They had only decided not to do so after she was born, when Jon felt tears in his eyes as Lya was placed in Sansa’s arms. He hadn’t imagined the way he could love another person as fiercely and intensely as he loved Sansa, but once Lyarra was born Jon knew it to be true. When his daughter gazed up at them and Jon saw his own eyes reflected back at him, he’d known Lya was too distinct in his mind. She was unlike anyone else, and he couldn’t do it. Jon didn’t wish his daughter to feel a weight with the name, as if she needed to live up to some ideal of a woman she’d never know.

Sansa placed the roses at Lyanna’s statue as Jon murmured to their daughter. “I never got to meet her,” Jon said, less with sadness now and more in reflection, “but I know she would have loved you. Just as your mother and I do.” Sansa watched Jon with their daughter, smiling to herself at what a kind and good father he was. Just as she knew he would be. She loved the idea that they were building a family much as the one she’d had growing up.

Sansa carried their daughter over to introduce her to her grandfather Eddard. “Grandpapa was a good man and honorable. Just like your papa,” she whispered. She also introduced her to Robb and Rickon’s statues—telling her a little of stories about them. More, Sansa knew, would come in time, as she got older. But for now, this was enough—to familiarize their daughter with their family.

Jon smiled as he led them out of the crypts. Sansa handed over Lyarra to a nursemaid, and he pulled his wife back to his side. Ghost followed the nursemaid after finding them just outside the crypts. Their maids and servants had grown used to it by now and only occasional guests of the castle became skittish. The nursemaids in particular had grown fond of the direwolf, as he always stayed close to Lya when her parents were elsewhere. Lyarra loved him, and she liked to play with him and bury her hands in his fur. Ghost was ever gentle and protective, his bond with Jon and Sansa allowing him to adopt parental instincts. If anything, they worried Lya would harm Ghost with her enthusiasm, but she was growing to understand how to hug around his neck without actually cutting off his air. He’d felt the dragons’ awareness of his daughter over a great distance when she was born, but so far they remained in Valyria. Jon wondered if and when Rhaegal and Viserion visited again—perhaps more likely as it grew warmer—Lya would be old enough that she would want to ride them. Jon had done it himself, of course, but he rather hoped Lyarra would take after her mother in that respect—she was his little girl after all.

“Do you have duties you must get to now?” he asked. Jon hoped for more time with her, though he knew Sansa was always busy. Yet, he’d also seen the way his mate was lighter now that spring arrived.

She hummed in response, and Jon could tell she had something in mind as they approached their chambers. Sansa pulled him into the room, his pulse racing in anticipation. “Perhaps we should make Lyarra a little brother or sister,” she whispered against his lips, his eyes growing heated as if they scorched her skin. Jon groaned and kissed her deeply as they hurried to the bed.

After, sated and flushed with limbs tangled together, Jon kissed her languidly. He pressed his head against her breast and listened to her heartbeat. Its steady thump and the rise and fall of her chest soothed him like a lullaby, as Sansa ran her fingers through his hair absentmindedly. Jon loved their coupling, but he loved the after just as much.

“How did you feel about it? Introducing Lya?” Sansa asked.

Jon looked up at her and smiled. “It was good,” he said. “Better than I thought it would be, honestly.”

Jon did not worry over what his mother would think of him like he used to, not now that he found his home. He couldn’t help but believe that in some way, his mother had led him here—to Sansa.

Jon sat up and brought Sansa to rest on his chest, running a light hand along her shoulder. “You know, I just realized you never told me.”

Sansa looked up at him curiously. “Told you what?”

“How your father said you were like my mother,” Jon said. And Sansa, his wife, his love, his mate, whom he knew as well as he knew himself, blushed in his arms. He couldn’t help but smile at it.

She sighed and looked at him dreamily. “He said that I was always a romantic, just like her,” Sansa answered with a grin.

Jon kissed her softly. This was where I was always meant to be. Jon sent a silent prayer of thanks to his mother that he’d made it here—forever grateful of the day he met the wolves in the North, unaware he would become one of them. “Well, love, that makes two of us.”