Sansa knows she looks like her mother. The red hair, the Tully eyes, the stern way she carries herself. She knows she looks like her mother because who else would she have learned from how to stand on the barracks of Winterfell and watch Stark men ride off to war, only to come back with another woman’s child.
Jon had not revealed the white-haired baby girl from under his cloaks until he was standing before her, away from prying eyes and listening ears.
I’m glad, Sansa thinks, chest heaving like she imagines her mother’s did all those years ago with another man and another baby. I’m glad he’s close. I want him to see my heartbreak for himself.
“I never loved her, Sansa,” are the first words Jon says to her after months of not seeing one another, months of agony, and patience; of praying to gods she does not believe in, bargaining for his safety, that he is returned to her. His eyes are pleading, arms shaking and she’s surprised that her only thought is that he’ll wake the sleeping babe if he keeps shaking like this. “I never loved her. I never loved her. I did what I had to–for the North, for….”
Don’t say for me, Sansa closes her eyes. Her chin does not shudder, her lips do not quiver. She is the Queen in the North, and when the dragons came she did not kneel. She is iron. She will get through this.
They stand there, on the barracks, in the silence. She swears she can hear the dusting of snow. Their breaths are quick, puffs of grey between them. He tries not to cry, but Jon has never been able to conceal anything behind those windows for eyes.
Until now, She thinks, looking down at the baby, whose hair has a curl.
“I lied to her every second,” Jon sounds like he’s praying the way his voice has a revered softness to it. “The war could not be won without her dragons or army, so I used her and then I…”
Say it, She wants to say. Say it, you coward. She wants to say it, to slap him with the truth of it. So, she does. “Say it,” she commands, but she instantly regrets the pain she inflicts, the way she can see how hard the lash was on him in the shift in his eyes.
But, Jon does say it because deep down, beneath the cold and the anger, Sansa knows Jon would do anything she asked. She isn’t sure how this makes her feel. “I killed her. I put a dagger in her chest. I needed her to save the world, and then I killed her to save the world. I killed my daughter’s mother.”
When he calls the bundle of furs in his arms daughter when they are both forced to acknowledge her, is when the iron falls and Sansa feels like porcelain again. She wants to scream on the top of her lungs to release the burning that claws in her, the anguish, the absolute horror of falling in love and it absolutely wrecking you.
She wants to tell him she needs time, but she does not manage even that before she walks away. As she turns the corner, and a glimpse of Jon flashes in her the corner of her eye, she sees him crying.
Sansa knows she looks like her mother, because who else could she have learned from how to turn away from the man she loves and his motherless babe.
She doesn’t speak to Jon for near a month. The anger has faded, and what’s left is the grief she feels of missing him. She wants to see his face again, to hear his voice. At night, when the fire and furs are not enough she craves his hands and wonders what they’d feel like on her body. Then she hates him again, for taking that chance away from them both.
Secretly, when the castle is asleep and she could hear anything in the stirless silence, she listens. She waits to hear the newborn wailing, but the sharp, pierce cries never come. Sansa tosses and turns with frustrated huffs. She punches the feathered pillows in hopes to get comfortable, but how can she? How can she rest when there is so much left unsaid, unresolved, between her and Jon? The gaping abyss is tearing her apart and she wants nothing more than to close it.
How can she rest when her child is here?
The thought feasts on Sansa. The terribleness of the ugly, intrusive thought gnaws at her bones, feeling more brittle by the day. She’s just an innocent baby. A girl with no mother.
What would she do if she did hear the child cry in the night? Sansa can imagine the baby lifting her arms, waving them in the air searching for someone to lift her to their chest, and kiss her. Does anyone do that? Sansa wonders. Would she do it? Sansa wonders if the child looks anything like her, that dragon queen of fire and blood. Those eyes haunt Sansa, the eerie color, the madness behind them. What if the child has her mother’s eyes?
Sansa cries into her pillow because she hates herself so deeply for hating a baby. Sansa’s reflection in the mirror is a curse to her and she only sees Catelyn, who more and more she understands, who more and more she doesn’t, who more and more seems like just as cruel a woman is any other. How could you not love him? Sansa cries to the mirror, to her mother. He was a baby who needed love, who needed you, and you called him bastard.
Sansa runs to the nursey at that very moment. She despises the gods, but wonders if she can hate something she doesn’t believe in. And yet, she despises them all the same for their cruel twists of fate, the way they demand history to be cruelly repeated.
She’d never been inside the nursery before and is shocked by the comfort of it. A fire burns and casts a soft glow, a music box hums delicately. There is but one crib, and in it is a soundless babe. She thought she’d be on unsure legs as she approached the crib, but her feet are sure and they do not stumble. She’s looking in now, and she expected the child to be sleeping considering how silent the nursery had been, but she is wide awake. Sansa chokes on her subdued sob at the soft brown eyes looking up at her. She does not feel relief to see Jon’s eyes blinking up at her curiously, she feels turmoil. Would she have hated the girl for things she could not control? Does she not cry because she believes no one will come for her? That she is alone?
No. Sansa shakes her head adamantly. No more of this Stark women hating motherless Targaryen children.
She reaches down and strokes the girl’s chubby, rosy cheek. She wonders what her name is. The babe’s face scrunches, her dark brows furrow as she takes in the sight of this new person, of Sansa smiling down on her. She laughs. The babe is the picture of Jon, with his forlorn scowl and contemplative face. Sansa laughs breathily and the feeling of it is a shock to her. She cannot remember the last time she laughed.
The babe turns her face into Sansa’s hand, a soft gummy smile on her face. She seems to like the feeling of Sansa’s finger running up and down the bridge of her nose, along her cheeks and chin. She really does look like Jon. Sansa brings her hand underneath the baby’s head, her other hand under the rest of her tiny body, and lifts her to her chest. Sansa holds her breath as she adjusts the baby. She’s never held one before and her first time is graceless and awkward. The babe seems to think so, too; her tiny face scowls at her, unimpressed. She squirms and tries to turn out of Sansa’s arms, and now she’s afraid the baby hates her, that it sensed her turmoil and hated her for taking so long to get here.
“Stop moving,” Sansa softly pleads to the babe, whose arms and legs are stretching. The babe seems to scowl again at her and Sansa frowns. “Looks like you have your father’s temper, too.”
Sansa spots a rocking chair by the fire and moves to sit in it, which provides another difficult task of figuring how to hold the babe in a comfortable position for them both.
“You’ll have to be patient with me,” Sansa adjusts the babe again, moving her head to Sansa’s other arm. “I’ve never done this before.” But then, Sansa gets it. The babe nestles perfectly into her arms and her tiny face seems to relax.
Sansa can see her face more clearly by the glow of the fire. Her hair is not as white as when she had first seen her, more a deep blonde now. The curls are thicker now and she brushes her fingers through them, marvels at their softness. She brushes her finger up and down the babe’s nose, which she seems to like since her eyes flutter close and she turns her face deeper into Sansa. The act melts her. Truly and astonishingly, in every sense of the word, Sansa melts. Whatever anger and resentment had caged her in is pooled at her feet now. Whatever hesitations Sansa had are gone now and she knows she could never hate the babe in her arms, and she knows that for the first time in her life, Sansa finally does not resemble her mother. She brings the babe up to her lips and kisses her nose, her cheeks, her eyelids.
“I suppose I should introduce myself,” Sansa chuckles. “I’m….” she doesn’t know what to say. I’m your mother’s adversary? I’m your father’s….whatever we are? “I’m Sansa,” she decides on. “And, I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.”
She thinks about Catelyn, how much pain and suffering could have been spared had she only done what Sansa has now. Had Catelyn only reached in and grabbed Jon, all would be different. Sansa closes her eyes. Oh, Jon. How much that must have hurt, never being loved by Catelyn.
Sansa swears she’ll be different. She brings the babe up to her lips again and murmurs promises to her, oaths of fealty, of love. The babe begins to stir again, and Sansa brings her finger back up and down her nose.
“Now, what’s your name?” Sansa asks softly to the sleeping babe.
“She doesn’t have one yet.”
Sansa is so startled she wakes the babe, but she only frowns at Sansa again and closes her brown eyes. She hadn’t seen Jon, but he’s always been good at hiding in the shadows.
She swallows dryly. “How long have you been there?”
Jon smirks and makes a gesture of trying but failing to hold a baby.
Sansa flinches. “You saw that?”
“I saw all of it,” Jon says.
They stare at each other, drinking in the other from across the nursery. They hadn’t seen each other in a month in Sansa’s pain, but she forgets that now at the sight of him. She feels that twinge of hurt again, though, and she wants to turn away and cry.
“Sansa,” Jon breaths, and the reverent sound is back. He looks at her like he did when she came to Castle Black what feels like a lifetime ago. The babe stirs in her arms, and Sansa supposes that it was a lifetime ago.
She doesn’t know what to say to him, not when he’s saying her name like a prayer and looking at her like the answer all the same. “What do you mean she doesn’t have a name?”
Jon shrugs, but he seems to relax. His shoulders droop and he looks tired. She sees a bottle in his hands.
“I’ve tried a few names, but they don’t seem right.” He sits on the ground next to her, looking at the babe in her arms and he smiles. Sansa finds she does not hate the sight, doesn’t feel that calloused grip of resentment.
“That’s absolutely ludicrous, Jon.” She says his name for the first time in too long and his eyes are simply too much for her to look at right now. “What do you call her then?” Sansa asks, turning her gaze back to the babe.
“Sweetling, for the most part. Sometimes Sweet Girl.”
Sansa flinches. Her father called her that. “She is a sweetling, isn’t she?”
“Sansa,” Jon breathes again, and she doesn’t know how to look at him or what to say, but she does.
“Jon,” she says in the same soft way. She forgot what this felt like, for someone to hold her eyes as intensely and passionately as Jon does. She doesn’t look away. She feels safe again in his eyes, his eyes he now shares with a daughter that isn’t hers, and she realizes now that she has finally named her pain: Jon’s child is not hers. She didn’t know how much she wanted that with him until now.
“I didn’t love her,” Jon says, repeating what he said when he first came back. He holds her gaze, and a long moment passes between them. It feels like healing. “Do you understand what I mean when I say that?”
I want to Jon, Sansa thinks to herself, her eyes beginning to moisten. I want to so badly, but you can’t understand how painful this has been for me.
Jon doesn’t move, but his hands fidget. “It’s you, Sansa,” he says in a deep, low voice. “It’s always been you. Only you. Whatever I did with Danerys, it was to win. None of it mattered, I felt nothing, and I’m so sorry,” Jon’s eyes dart to the babe, “for all this pain–”
“–Stop,” Sansa interrupts him, their eyes still holding each other. “Don’t apologize for her.” Sansa smooths a hand through the babe’s curls again, and she doesn’t know if she imagines it, but she swears she smiles.
Jon watches Sansa and the babe, his eyes impossibly wide and she sees boundless love in them.
No one could ever be sorry for her, Sansa thinks as she looks down at the babe.
“You didn’t love her?” Sansa feels foolish, like the lovesick child she was in King’s Landing, but she can’t help but ask the question.
Jon’s face softens. “Not for a second.”
Sansa reaches her hand out and when Jon takes it, his calloused fingers intertwining with hers, she believes that perhaps history repeats itself so that it can be mended.