The first time Jon walked Sansa home from the library, he had been surprised to find her in a corner at closing time, just three comfortable chairs down from his signature study spot. Eyebrows knit close together behind too-chic horn-rimmed glasses, an artfully messy ponytail above a vintage college sweatshirt - Sansa looked more like a magazine’s idea of a college student, as if she was modeling what it could look like to be collegiate. Jon felt disheveled and unkempt in comparison with his smudged glasses and dark jeans covered in Ghost’s fur. Why he ever bought anything dark when Ghost is a giant, heavily shedding white dog… he shook his head ruefully before daring to interrupt the redhead’s focus.
Her gaze snapped up, eyes taking a second to focus on the tall man in front of her, rather than skimming through the text for next week’s exam. Blue eyes lingered on slender, dark curls pulled back from his face, tee faded from frequent washing - a sense of familiarity washed over her like an old sweater and she could have sworn she smelled a pine tree.
“Jon,” she greeted him with a half-smile, an unexpected warmth in her eyes for someone he’d never been that close with – before absently marking her place in her book with a fingernail chewed to the quick. “How are you?”
“Good, um, and you?”
She shrugged and gestured at the stack of books in front of her, grinning as he chuckled in acknowledgement of her suffering. He offered a chagrined smile and rubbed the back of his neck as he said, “Yeah, you seemed a little lost in them. That’s why I thought I should tell you the library is closing soon.”
Her eyes widened in surprise before she glanced at her gold-rimmed watch, sighing heavily. Jon jammed his hands into his pockets to prevent himself from helping her to gather her books but couldn’t help noticing some familiar titles being carefully placed into her bookbag.
“Is that Fire and Taxes: A History of the Targaryen Dynasty ?”
Sansa looked up at him in surprise and nodded, a light coming into her eyes. “You know it?”
Jon grinned wryly, saying: “My buddy Sam is teaching the class.”
“Tarly! He’s great,” Sansa said, shouldering her bookpack over her oversized sweater, adjusting her glasses, and walking out into the chill of the night next to Jon, clutching the largest textbook closely to her chest. “I’ve really enjoyed his class, although some of his perspectives are in direct contrast to Professor Lannister’s theories, but I suppose that’s what makes it more interesting.” She bit her lip, aware that she had talked more in the last thirty seconds than they likely ever had before – and that she was dangerously close to revealing how much she wanted to succeed, how much she would work for it.
“Is that your major, then? Political science?” Jon asked as if he didn’t already know the answer, but he suspected the average student using Sam’s class simply for credit for another major wouldn’t get as excited about comparing and contrasting two professors’ theories. The sparkle in her eyes had been something to see, something he hadn’t seen since they were younger and she was constructing fanciful stories about the knights and ladies in days of old.
Sansa ducked her head down, swiping a loose piece of hair behind her ear, nodding in a mixture of embarrassment and sudden shyness. She had known he was a political science major, but also knew that absolutely no one expected her to follow in his footsteps. She was actually planning on a law degree after graduation - but gods, she could never tell anyone that; she knew, innately, her parents and siblings already half-expected her to drop out or switch to fashion design. Some days she was sorely tempted, she would admit to herself, but there was something about the rigor of her classes, about working hard to put together theories and examine things from a different lens... and it fulfilled her in ways she’d only been able to imagine.
Besides, she had already proven so much to herself in the last two years; Sansa could only imagine how good it would feel to walk across that stage at graduation, bright tassel dangling in front of her face and clashing terribly with her hair and her broad, proud, I-fucking- did -it smile. She was so distracted by her academic fantasies that she didn’t notice Jon’s grey gaze lingering on the curve of her face, mouth tense as he seemed to battle some internal debate.
“I can -“ he broke off, before sighing and giving in to his best worst impulses. “If you’d like, I can help you study sometimes, if you want. It’s been a few years but I remember how difficult Lannister’s class was during my sophomore year – and I wasn’t even taking Tarly’s class on top of it.”
Sansa’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, before venturing, tentatively, sure that he was about to retract his offer (help would be amazing, but she didn’t want to take him up on it, not if he didn’t really mean it) - “I’d really appreciate it, but don’t you have fun upperclassmen things to do?” She offered him a teasing smile as they stopped in front of her dormitory, only slightly out of the way from his student apartment, just off-campus.
Jon shook his head ruefully, thinking of the girlfriend who had broken up with him over the summer, the lingering question of what his next steps should be (which had so far left him riddled with anxiety but with no plan to show for all his worrying), and his sudden wealth of free time. Thank the gods for Ghost. His wolf-like pup was thrilled with all the attention and belly-rubs and TV marathons and Chinese take-out. “Nah,” he said, “I’m just applying to doctoral programs and trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life.”
“Aren’t we all?” she said, and he didn’t think he was imagining the questioning-tinged truth in her voice. Sansa took a step, then two onto the steps of her dorm, before turning around and offering a blinding smile, lifting her hand in goodbye as she swiped her student ID and went inside.
There was something about her in that moment - something about the glint of her auburn hair in the lamplight, standing on the steps to her college dormitory, clutching a book on taxes to her chest - that caught Jon Snow completely off-guard. If anyone else had seen her in that moment – dazzling smile, sincere blue eyes, long legs stretching from underneath the sweater that looked as if it had been Robb’s, or even his, long ago – they wouldn’t have blamed him, surely, for the minute he took to catch his breath and calm his racing heart rate, before he turned over his shoulder, hefting his bag and blaming the late night coffee for the buzzing in his veins.
“And that is the extent of everything I know about the Targaryen restoration,” Jon said, taking a drink of his coffee before smirking and lowering his voice enough that Sansa had to lean over the table in the crowded coffee shop to hear him. “And considering I taught Tarly everything he knows…” He winked at her and Sansa let out a short, barking laugh before covering her mouth and flushing. She had forgotten how funny Jon Snow could be, when he wasn’t brooding and angsty and seventeen.
She had forgotten a lot of things about Jon Snow, but it seemed he had remembered her. He had remembered how she took her coffee, her favorite flavor of bakery goodies, even her propensity towards visual learning, rather than just reading it in a book. He had teased her gently about the color-coded flowcharts she would make. He had brought her order over without even reading the name on the side to ensure it was hers - hazelnut in the fall, a splash of soy milk - and split a hefty slice of banana bread with walnuts down the middle, offering her half.
“Jon, thank you,” she said, smoothing a nervous hand down her braid and closing her notebook. “I really don’t know how to re-pay you for this.”
He shrugged self-consciously. “It was nothing,” he said, hesitating before he continued, “I know how important this is to you.”
“What is?” she asked, hiding her face behind her mug as she sipped the warm dregs from the bottom, the sweetness flooding her bones with contentment.
“Doing well.” His voice was quiet in the coffee shop, as if it was a secret, and she supposed that, in a way, it was.
“It’s just… no one expects it from me. No one thinks I’ll do well because they don’t think I can and -“ she started to trip over her words in frustration - “it’s not like - it’s not as if I haven’t done well - it’s been two years and they still think I’ll give up at any moment-“
“I know, Sansa.” Jon placed a hand over hers at the table, interrupting her monologue, and her eyes darted up to him in surprise as a flush spread up his neck and he too-casually lifted his hand back to his side of the narrow table. “I mean, I get it.”
She looked across at him with a little bit of wonder in her eyes. “You would, wouldn’t you?” she murmured, thinking of the lost little orphan boy she had known, a chip on his narrow shoulders to prove everything to the world that he felt had abandoned him, to the family who had decided he wasn’t worth their time. It had been heartbreaking to see him meet his aunt Dany, who had been well taken care-of since her youngest days, once she got out of the thumb of her abusive older brother. He had looked at her with no small amount of betrayal and jealousy and gratitude in his eyes - she had everything, true, but he had had the Starks, and while he didn’t have a blood family, he had them.
Ned had offered to take him into the family business, offering internships and summer jobs - but Jon had been intent to do it all on his own, to prove himself. He couldn’t see that the love from Ned and Catelyn wasn’t dependent on whatever he did, but that they loved him and thought he was worthy of that love anyway.
Jon rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously, and she took the silence as an opportunity to change the subject from her family - who only wanted the best for her, but didn't expect her to live up to any standard except the one she'd set for herself when she was twelve. “Do you have any idea what you’d like to do after you graduate?”
The small smile that stretched across his face was genuine. “I’ve been asking myself that for months, but I think I’m starting to come up with an answer.”
And they kept talking, ignoring how easy it was to talk together, ignoring the urge to ask why they hadn’t done this ages ago, why they’d avoided each other for years growing up.
There were no good answers to questions about the past.
Sansa sipped her coffee and listened to Jon contemplate his future.
When the autumn leaves had turned to frost, Jon drove to his aunt’s house – and Sansa drove home to Winterfell.
Jon had planned to visit his aunt Dany for Thanksgiving, at her insistence that family celebrates together, and he did. He went to the lavish home that she shared with her wife, he ate heaping piles of sushi while ignoring the term paper he’d been set to work on that weekend, and he enjoyed himself, for the most part. (He thought about Sansa and determinedly did not call her).
Sansa was accosted, immediately upon arrival, by a pack of siblings and their dogs and her favorite reunion of all: Lady. She buried her face in her dog’s sweet-smelling fur, laughing as her darling girl woofed and crooned in her ear, her whole body wiggling with excitement of her favorite person returning at last. Sansa dreamt of the day when she would have her own apartment, like Jon, and could bring her sweet pup along for the journey. She had gotten to see Ghost a few times, since she moved to her dorm at the university, but it just wasn’t the same. She thought about Jon but did not call him.
Late Saturday night, Jon gave in, pressing her name on his phone without thinking about it too much, safely ensconced in Dany and Yara’s guest room.
“Hullo?” she picked up quickly, sounding slightly out of breath, and he could hear her siblings bickering in the background. “Jon?”
He ignored the smile that stretched across his face at the sound of her voice. “I wanted to see what kind of chaos was happening in Winterfell this weekend.”
Sansa let out a short, exasperated laugh – even as she turned away from the phone to scold Arya for teaching Rickon how to fence – before lowering her voice. “Robb brought his girlfriend home,” she said, conspiratorially, “- and Theon lost his shit .”
“Really?” Jon said, tilting his head as he contemplated his two best childhood friends.
“Really,” she confirmed, and he could practically hear her eye roll as she continued. “I’ve been waiting for this to happen for years, but it’s really cutting into dessert time because everyone is having Serious Conversations.”
“Well, I’m all for true love, but not at the sake of pie.”
Jon chuckled. “What else?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious.
So Sansa slipped away from the crowd and told him the way Bran and Arya had gotten into no less than five philosophical debates that ended in Ned having to intervene, physically separating the two of them, and how Rickon had snuck off with his friends to go ice skating, but fell through the ice and ended up nearly getting pneumonia, and Catelyn Stark eventually had laid on the chaise lounge in her bedroom, insisting that she only be disturbed for a true emergency.
Sansa laughed as she related her mother’s demands – saying that she was just asking for it, as Arya had almost immediately tried to prove to her boyfriend, Gendry, that she could climb up the trellis on the side of the house, fell and fractured her elbow.
“I thought she was teaching Rickon how to fence?”
“Her left arm is in a sling, and she insists it's good practice to continue to fight,” Sansa murmured, exasperated and fond, all in one.
Jon laughed outright, pressing the phone closer to his ear, listening contentedly as they continued to talk – and as Sansa’s phone was yanked from her hand and passed around to each of the Stark children, who each demanded his presence at Christmas. Jon was able to assure them he’d be there, as Yara and Dany were going on a second honeymoon to Essos and he had rapidly declined their offer to join them.
Finally, Sansa retrieved her phone from Robb, and confirmed, once more, “You’ll be here, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he said, broad grin on his face – not only at the prospect of the Stark manor at wintertime, but also at the hope in her voice that he didn’t think he was imagining.
She had puzzled over the text for too long before sending it – worried that it was weird or strange. It was true, that they talked more often now, ever since the first time he’d walked her back to her dorm in late September, but he was Jon and she was Sansa , and sometimes she remembered them as who they’d been as kids, not as the people they were becoming now.
It was silly to say, but the memes helped, and the commiserations over class, and the screenshots of Arya’s twitter account that she only posted to at three in the morning (as well as Robb’s indignant replies). Occasionally, she would call him as she walked home from the library, slipping her headphones in under her fur-lined ear band so that she could be comforted that someone was there, keeping her safe, even as she trudged through mountains of snow in the starlight. Something about his rough voice on the phone reminded her of home, of the smell of pine, of warm familiarity.
It became rare that she wasn’t talking to him, in some form, and somehow, nothing seemed odd about that. Sansa knew about his thesis, and which doctoral programs he was considering, and the way that he spent each week teaching Ghost some obscure new trick that had no utility in daily life but was hilarious. (Last week, he had taught Ghost to pretend to smile with his teeth, and the videos had made her laugh so hard she had cried actual, literal tears). But they rarely met up in person, not on purpose.
Maybe it was time to change that. Sansa typed up a quick, likely too-casual text, that she was studying in the library and his favorite nook was open, if he wanted to join her for a bit.
She pressed the send button and set her phone down, pretending to focus on her textbook once more – but when her phone buzzed two minutes later, her heart swooped, and she jumped to look at his reply. It was simple: “See you soon.”
And sure enough, several minutes later, Jon Snow walked into the library and up to the study spot he’d once told her was his favorite – just a few armchairs nestled in a back corner, a comfortable desk that had engravings on the side in Latin from some over-zealous scholars decades ago, and enough warmth from the coffee shop underneath that the tall windows simply gave you a nice view of the river, and not a chill. It was lovely, she’d admitted, teasing that she would steal it, now that he’d shared his secret.
Jon had simply given her a half-smile, not meeting her eyes when he said that if she wanted it, it was hers. She had shoved him and insisted that they share it, instead, and his shoulders relaxed, and his gaze, when it met hers again, was alit with something she couldn’t name.
Not then, not yet.
“Hi,” he said, waving as he began to shrug out of his coat, revealing a knit sweater underneath that she immediately began plotting how to ‘borrow’ from him surreptitiously, because it looked so comfortable. “Nice sweatshirt,” he said, a smirk playing on the edges of his mouth.
Sansa looked down in surprise, then back up at him, laughing. It was a Winterfell track team sweatshirt, likely stolen from Robb or Arya. “I’d forgotten it wasn’t mine,” she admitted. “But it’s so torn, I ought to email the coach and ask for a new one, especially as Rickon was rude enough to go out for lacrosse and then refused to buy me any gear.”
“Rascal,” Jon said fondly, before venturing, “I’m sure I could dig mine out of my dresser, if you really wanted another one.”
“You’d do that?” she asked, scrunching up her brow as she stared at him through her tortoise-shell glasses.
“Sure,” he shrugged, a flush on his cheeks as he settled into the armchair opposite hers, before gesturing to her laptop and the piles of textbooks surrounding her chair. “So, what are you working on tonight?”
Sansa groaned and pulled on the end of her braid. “My essay for Lannister’s class,” she said, unhappily. “He hasn’t agreed with a single one of my papers this semester, and I just have a bad feeling about this final paper.”
“What topic?” Jon asked, pulling out his laptop.
“The assignment was to focus on a part of history that wasn’t addressed in the curriculum, and so I chose the prevalence of incest in the Targaryen dynasty and how it both helped to maintain their rule and ultimately destroy it.”
Jon winced. “I should have told you – he’s unlikely to be sympathetic to that, though I think it’s fascinating.”
“Why not?” Sansa asked, brow furrowed as she pushed her glasses back up her nose.
Jon leaned in close. “Apparently there were some rumors regarding Professor Lannister and his twin sister when they were growing up…” He waggled his eyebrows, before giving up the ghost. “I’m joking, he’s just true to his name. He doesn’t want to read a well-written paper about the Targaryens, he would rather a poorly written paper on how great the Lannisters were. It’s one of a few reasons his class wasn’t my favorite,” he said, diplomatically.
Sansa rolled her eyes. “The only Lannister I can handle writing about is Joanna Lannister – and honestly, the theories on her being the voice behind the military strategy of Tywin date from the war of the five kings, so it’s possible, but there’s just not enough literature on her to flesh out a final paper, although…” Sansa shoved her pen behind her ear and began her literature search with renewed fervor, determined to play by the rules of the game even as she flouted them.
The pair of them sat together for hours, taking breaks to fetch a hot chocolate from downstairs (for Sansa), an espresso (for Jon), and a double-chocolate caramel-coated brownie (ostensibly for Jon, though he gave more than half of it to Sansa). They worked in companionable silence, each wearing headphones and glasses and focused, intently, on their laptops and the stories they were crafting within. If Jon had glanced to the window nearby, he would have seen in its reflection two people that looked for all the world to see like a collegiate couple in a magazine, advertising what a university romance could look like – lit by soft light, matching large headphones, their feet stretched out and almost, but not quite, close enough to touch.
A few hours passed, and when Sansa stretched, she looked out the window, and gasped excitedly, yanking off her headphones and tapping Jon on his knee. He looked up, eyes concerned, but took in the broad smile on her face and he began to grin too, knowing the words about to fall from her mouth.
“Jon, it’s snowing!”
There were definitely some advantages to having known Sansa since they were kids, since he was a pseudo-adopted Stark, and one of them was knowing that every time it snowed, she had the same look of joyous wonder.
Another advantage was being able to predict what she’d want to do next.
He offered her a broad smile and grabbed his scarf from the pile of his things, shoving it towards her. “I know you want to,” he murmured, affection in every word, “so go- I’ll watch your things.”
Sansa grabbed his scarf with an squeal of excitement before dashing down the stairs and throwing herself out into the snow, wrapping the scarf around her neck. She went from nearly running to standing quietly amongst the falling flakes, out in the middle of the clearing on that side of the library, arms hugged tight around herself and face lifted to the dark sky. She closed her eyes as they began to land on her face and melt, as they dotted her hair, as they clung to her.
Jon could see her from the window, and though he’d known Sansa Stark was a beautiful person for basically as long as he could remember, this was the first time he looked at her and thought, simply, that she was the most lovely person he’d ever known, and that he’d like to know her like this for a very long time.
It took only a few minutes for the chill to reach her very bones, and Sansa darted back inside the library, grinning broadly as she returned to their chairs and found Jon sitting, looking almost stunned as he stared, unseeing at his laptop.
“Jon?” she asked, as she draped the scarf over a nearby heater. “You alright?”
“Hmm?” he replied, looking up at her and offering a short nod and a half-smile. “Yeah, of course. How was it?”
“Freezing,” she replied, as she wrapped up in her warm coat and sipped the remnants of her hot chocolate happily. “I love it.”
“Yeah,” he murmured, looking up at her through his glasses, the strangest expression on his face. “I know.”
Sansa gave him a puzzled look but eventually set down her laptop and returned to her paper, typing furiously and biting her lower lip, glancing occasionally at Jon, only to find him totally lost in his work. But when her eyes lowered to her page, and when she brought her thumbnail up to her mouth to chew on it, lost in thought, she had the feeling that someone was watching her.
And she had a feeling she knew who it was.
She smiled, softly, behind her hand.
When Jon came home for Christmas, he was surprised to find his favorite kind of pie – pecan, clearly – added to the mixture of desserts, and a present under the tree, specifically wrapped for him. A new scarf, soft as can be. No hint as to who it was from, but Sansa refused to look at him, pink along the tips of her ears and underneath the freckles on her cheekbones, so he had his suspicions.
Sansa was equally surprised to find a present under the tree, with no name on it except hers, written in a handwriting she’d recognize anywhere, after studying with him for a few months. A new publication from her favorite author in political science. No one else would have even known she wanted this – and it was in stark contrast to the rest of her gifts that year, notebooks and frilly pens and yoga pants. She grinned at him, mouthing ‘thanks’ across the family room, and noted the way he rubbed the back of his neck, bashful – even as he wore his new scarf.
A dark purple, to bring out his eyes.
Sansa hadn’t planned to ride back to university in Jon’s beat-up Jeep, but there she was, curled up in the passenger seat, her numerous bags in the trunk, softly scratching Ghost’s ears as he snuck his nose under her arm. Tucked with her feet curled up underneath her, she scrolled through Jon’s playlists on Spotify, teasing him for the ones that were themed to his favorite books.
Jon rolled his eyes, but didn’t respond to her jibes, letting a smile escape the corner of his mouth when she wasn’t looking.
“Thanks for driving me back,” she murmured as they navigated another snowy road on the way to university, winding farther away from Winterfell with every terrible song that played on his War & Peace playlist. She snuggled deeper into the lacrosse sweatshirt that she’d thieved from Rickon, trying not to give in to the sadness that always threatened to overwhelm her when she left home.
Jon glanced at her, hands gripped tightly to the steering wheel on these icy roads, brow furrowed in concern. “You okay?”
Sansa sighed and shook her head, taking a hearty sip of her thermos of lavender tea, freshly brewed by the Stark matriarch that morning, before daring to speak. “Yeah,” she said. “They drive me crazy, and I think about the peace and quiet that I’m missing at school… but then it’s always so hard to leave. That part never gets easier, like I thought it would. And I hate leaving Lady,” she admitted, scratching Ghost underneath the chin as the dog nuzzled in even closer.
He was quiet for a moment, contemplating the curve of the road and the presence of the redhead next to him. She puzzled that she didn’t feel the need to fill the silence, like she would with almost anyone else. The silence between them was comfortable, a heavy blanket of snow and contentment and comfort, being shared between them.
At last, he spoke. “Would it make you feel better to play your own music?”
Sansa’s surprised laughter filled the car, and she happily obliged. Marina and the Diamonds wouldn’t fix her sadness, or bring her dog with her into her tiny dorm room, but Jon attempting to sing along with his gruff voice might help.
When the dining halls are filled with carnations and hearts, when her roommates are all aflutter with who they’ll go to this and that party with, when chocolate sales spike and the whole world seems to drown in the idea of love – Sansa is too inundated with papers and exams to even notice that anything is out of the ordinary.
So, they hunker down in the library, they eat lunch together, and when Jon suggests they grab pizza together that Friday night, and maybe even go see a movie afterwards, she doesn’t even think twice about it, or what day it would be, or why he looks so surprised at the immediate “sure” that drops from her mouth.
Sansa doesn’t even consider that it’s Valentine’s day until she’s getting ready to go, and her roommate, Alys, gasps outrageously when she says ‘out with Jon’ as if she didn’t know who Jon was. But Alys grasped her hands and squealed about how excited she was for Sansa, and was she really wearing that sweatshirt, and she knew he liked her – and Sansa was completely, totally lost.
“What?” she said, holding her roommate’s neatly manicured hands tightly, “Alys, wait, stop. What are you talking about?”
Alys looked at her as if she’d grown a second head. “You’re going out with Jon.”
Sansa nodded in slow acknowledgement.
Alys rolled her eyes and continued, not unkindly, “On Valentine’s day.” With a glance at Sansa’s jeans and the stolen lacrosse sweatshirt, she couldn’t seem to help adding, “wearing… that.”
Sansa’s eyes widened. Shit . She hadn’t even thought – no wonder he was so surprised when she said yes to the date – wait, was it a date? Because he’d never really said and –
Did she want this to be a date? With Jon?
She swallowed heavily and looked at herself in the mirror, quickly assessing her loose braid and casual outfit in new terms. Was it a date? Because if it was a date, she was slightly underdressed, even for pizza and a movie – but if it wasn’t a date, and she dressed up, would he think that she thought it was a date?
What did she even want him to think?
Biting her lip, she turned to rifle through her dresser drawers for an acceptable substitute, in some middle ground between friend and date, some grey zone of uncertainty that was best illustrated by… ah, yes. Sansa swapped the sweatshirt for her favorite, softest sweater, in the softest shade of pink – but kept the high-waisted jeans, the glasses, the loose, messy braid. Jon knew what she looked like.
Besides, if this was nothing – like she suspected that it was – then it wouldn’t look like she’d put in any extra effort, or that she’d expected it to be something, when it so clearly wasn’t. Why would it be? This was just another case of her romantic heart leaping ahead of her mind, ahead of her brain, and assuming something that wasn’t there – she and Jon were just friends. She and Alys had just spent too much time together, and now her romantic sap ooey-gooey nonsense had rubbed off on the other girl.
Alys rested her head on her friend’s shoulder, bringing her arms around for a quick embrace. “I’m so excited this is finally happening, Sansa,” she exclaimed, a delighted look on her face as she contemplated the redhead in the mirror.
Finally happening? Sansa didn’t generally consider herself to be a person oblivious to social cues, but surely she would have noticed if they were hovering on the precipice of dating, right? They talked a lot, to be sure - almost daily, now that she thought about it. And Jon would meet her at their study spot in the library at least once or twice a week, working on his applications and his senior portfolio, often with coffee in hand.
And she supposed it was true that he was more involved as a friend than any boyfriend had ever been, and that she hadn’t dated anyone since September – and neither had he, to be honest – but they were both so busy , and she attributed the thoughtfulness to just… Jon being Jon. That was who he was.
Sansa shook her head as her phone buzzed with a text from Jon – “I’m outside, ready when you are!” Alys was reading more into this than necessary. They were just friends.
Going out for pizza, on Valentine’s day, as friends.
It didn’t mean anything.
It was easy to pretend all things were normal between them, from the moment he picked her up to ordering their usual at the pizza place around the corner to catching the latest spy movie at the local theater, right up until the very end. He had noticed that the world was teeming with couples and hand-holding and kissing, and yet, he was happy to sit with Sansa, nearly aglow in her soft-looking sweater and bright eyes sparkling underneath those tortoiseshell glasses, laughing in the same way that they had since September.
This was enough, he thought. This was a friendship he never thought he’d have, with someone he never really expected to have so much in common with, and yet, here she was.
Right up until the end, he could pretend like everything was the same, that he hadn’t had any intentions when he asked her to join him, that night, for what could be interpreted as a date. Maybe. Sort-of. In some lights.
But when Jon walked Sansa to her dorm, the clouds that had cast a dark pallor on the rest of the night had dissipated, leaving the world lit with moonlight, in the fae way of the midnight hour, where everything and everyone seemed to glisten with a hint of magic – and Sansa Stark was no exception.
The ruby of her braid had darkened to auburn, her freckles gleamed against the pale glow of her skin, and as she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the moonlight, Jon could do nothing else but watch, completely entranced by this witch of a woman in front of him.
He kept pretending things were normal, that he only wanted to be friends with her – but then simple moments like this would catch him completely off-guard and remind him, like a punch to the chest that set his heart to beat once more, that he has held a torch for this girl for years, and getting to know her more and more this year had only turned a candle into a roaring bonfire.
Then she would open her eyes, and look at him, and ask if he was alright, and he would nod and shrug and say of course, of course, of course – when what he meant was: I am burning for you .
But it was Valentine’s day, and he had walked her to the door of her dorm in the moonlight, and she had given no hint or inclination the entire evening that perhaps, maybe, she felt it too.
But it was Valentine’s day, and he gave her a lopsided grin as he waved goodnight and waited until she walked up the steps, reminding himself that their friendship was already a gift.
But it was Valentine’s day, and Sansa turned at the top of the stairs, something blazing and determined written across her face, before stepping lightly down the stairs and pressing a kiss to his cheek, blushing as she said, “Good night, Jon” and darted back inside.
Jon stood, frozen, for half-a-moment, or several, before his body caught up to his mind, and he put his hands in his pockets and walked back to his car, whistling casually as he did so, ignoring the urge to touch the spot on his cheek where her lips had branded her sigil.
Sansa always thought that something would change, after Valentine’s day, but they continued much in the same way they had since the fall – hanging out, talking, laughing, grabbing coffee, talking some more. She even confessed to him, one night in the library, her plans for law school, and delighted in the way he immediately said that she’d be great, that she’d definitely get in, that she’d be the best lawyer. He let her know about the doctoral programs he was applying to, the rejections and the acceptance to the program at the university – and she brought over a six-pack of beer to celebrate with him while they watched a marathon of their favorite movies. Sansa didn’t think she’d ever talked to someone so much in her life, and she looked forward to every time she saw her phone light up with his face – or rather, Ghost’s ridiculous pulled-back teeth smile.
But when Ned died, they didn’t talk.
He simply showed up at her dorm, walked her to the car, and they drove home to Winterfell in silence.
Sansa baked apple tarts in the kitchen until he pulled her from it and gently guided her to her room, where she collapsed onto her four-poster bed with flour across her tear-stained cheeks, Lady curled up next to her mistress. Then he went back downstairs to wait for the final batch to come out of the oven, drinking the rest of her Scotch, letting the tears roll down his own face. Apple tarts had been his father’s favorite. If Sansa noticed the next day that the final batch was slightly burnt at the edges, she didn’t say anything and just noticed the circles under Jon’s eyes. Grief hung similarly on their shoulders, a coat and a burden they didn’t want to bear.
When Ned was buried, they didn’t talk. She leaned into him for stability as her heels sank into the grass and her mother wept beside her. When her knees started to give out, he slipped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her in tight to his side, ignoring the tears gathering in his own eyes.
When the house was flooded with people, well-wishers and casserole-bearers, they didn’t talk. They sat on the floor of the laundry room, shoulder to shoulder, passing a bottle of expensive brandy back and forth until they could bear the thought of standing up, of smiling, of pretending that they had the strength to even begin to mourn. By the time they emerged from the laundry room, the house was empty except for the Starks, gathered in the living room and eating the remnants of a casserole brought by Lysa.
Jon saw them gathered together and moved towards the door, but Sansa grabbed his hand and yanked him onto the couch next to her, noticing Robb’s nod of approval and Arya’s grim smile. As she slipped out of her black heels and reached for a plastic plate on the coffee table, she felt her mother’s gaze on her and lifted her chin to meet it, challenging Catelyn to kick out the boy who had been as much family as the rest of them, who had been there for her – but instead, her mother’s eyes were soft, and lingered on the way that Sansa’s leg rested against Jon’s, and the way his hand was close enough for her to hold, if she needed it.
Sansa was almost completely numb – but even still, she could feel a little warmth bloom in the space where her heart must have resided, a flush on her face that had nothing to do with the brandy on an empty stomach.
It wasn’t as if she thought she’d be over her father’s death in a few weeks – but life went on. Her classes continued, she had papers to write, she had to eat and sleep and continue bravely on - even when she felt completely destroyed.
Her professors knew – she’d had to request time off for the funeral – and so they were gracious, but there were expectations to uphold, and a law school to get into, eventually, and grades to be maintained and the goddammed pity in their eyes was too much to handle, so she stopped looking into their eyes.
The only person who didn’t look at her like that – like she was about to shatter at any moment – was Jon.
Though they had hardly hung out at Jon’s tiny apartment before, preferring neutral locations such as the coffee shop, or the library, or sometimes even the quad when the sun warmed campus enough to be bearable, Sansa lingered there, like a moth drawn to the flame, finding comfort in the small walls, in the presence of Ghost. She missed Lady more than she could say, but curling up next to Ghost on the couch in Jon’s apartment helped her to forget, for a moment.
Jon helped her to forget – and better still, he understood. If she started crying because she’d had the urge to call her dad, to ask him something, to see his face on her phone screen. If she raged about the unfairness of it all, about how she wasn’t even there to say goodbye, how she couldn’t have been, how they should have known he was sick. If she laughed, hysterically, over a joke that would have barely made her smile before.
Jon accepted her grief in stride, and allowed her to see him mourn, as well.
They went on long drives, and sat at the river’s edge, staring at the sunrise. He would talk about his favorite memories of Ned, and the ones that infuriated him. He mentioned, once, that he’d been approached at the funeral about taking a job with the family business, and she couldn’t interpret the mix of despair and anger that curdled his voice.
Mostly, they were just there for each other, as best they could be; Sansa came to depend on Jon, and Jon on Sansa.
One evening, she fell asleep on his couch – it had happened before, and he’d always woken her up gently and offered to drive her back to her dorm. But on this particular night, she looked so vulnerable, so young, and so, unbearably, insufferably tired. The moonlight danced across her lovely features, and he wished they could go back to the night at the library, where the snow kissed her face and he had watched her feel alive in the best way she knew how. But the only way through grief is to live another day.
So, instead, he gathered her into his arms, deposited her on his bed, and – after hesitating for far too long - kissed her forehead tenderly. Ghost jumped up to lay alongside her, and he covered her with a heavy knit blanket, before going to sleep on the couch. Ghost looked up at him as he left the room, and whined briefly, as if to say that he should stay.
“No, boy,” Jon murmured, shaking his head, despite how badly he wanted to curl up alongside them both, Sansa curled up against his chest and his arms firmly wrapped around her. “You stay with her.” I can’t . Not now .
The grief was too fresh, too big, too all-encompassing to allow for anything else.
Even if it had been there, before.
Even if, maybe, it had been there all along.
Jon leaned against the wall, sipping his beer and laughing as the Stark children – now basically all grown – ran helter-skelter around the yard in some version of a childhood game they’d insisted they all remembered, but with different rules, and with their massive wolf pups running along with them happily.
The sticky-sweet scent of summer hung in the air, that too-heavy weight of the warmth that wrapped around him, that smell of gardenias and champagne and joy that had only seemed to intensify as the sun had set in the sky. When he looked up, he could almost see the brightest stars in the sky – and when he looked back, the game had been disbanded in favor of spirited debate between Rickon and Robb about the rules, while Sansa and Arya stood off to the side, discussing something else heatedly, the latter gesturing so widely with her champagne glass that it was spilling into the grass.
Catelyn had insisted on it, this big graduation soiree at the Stark manor. She had called Jon, demanding that he let her throw him a celebration party, because the gods knew they all needed something to look forward to, and she wanted to fill the house with happy memories.
Sansa had been sitting at the coffeeshop with him when her mother called, had watched his face go slack in shock, his eyes wide at the offer. Catelyn had been known for her parties, but Jon’s high school graduation party had coincided with Robb’s, and he’d thought he might prefer a smaller, more intimate dinner with just a few people for his graduation from university. (Robb had taken a year off to work in the PeaceCorps, so he was on track to graduate the year following). He’d thought he would refuse her, but with the glinted hope in her voice, for something to look forward to, something happy in the large house he’d imagined had become a mausoleum of memories, he said “yes, thank you” immediately.
And now, the night of the party, when everything and everyone was painted in that hazy orange light of early summer nights, he was even more grateful to the Stark matriarch for this idea.
Even when – especially when – it meant Sansa was wearing a simple tank top that bared her shoulders, the constellation of freckling across her pale skin, the expanse of her long legs extending under the dark denim shorts that surely did not cover enough skin to be decent, but would fuel his fantasies all the same.
Jon swallowed heavily and tightened his grip on his beer as she broke off her conversation with Arya and headed towards him, a determined glint in her eye. He tried to keep his eyes on her face, but really, he was only human, and she was a goddess in this light.
Arya was so frustrating , and this was really nothing new but gods, sometimes she just wanted to strangle her sister. Arya had insisted that Sansa was being an idiot, that Jon was completely in love with her and that she should either date him or put him out of his misery, but that no one could tell how Sansa felt under her mask and –
They were adults, now, but sometimes bickering with Arya brought her back to feeling eight years old and embarrassed, once more.
And this conversation, it felt too familiar, felt too much like the one she’d had with Alys in February, and March, and basically every few weeks when Alys saw her leaving to go hang out with Jon, or get coffee with him, or even when she was just going to class all by her damn self.
The most frustrating thing about Arya is that she tended to be correct; for all of her bluntness, her tact like a hurricane, she was an excellent judge of people, which likely came from her tendency to hang back and observe in the shadows. It was unnerving, but she was rarely wrong.
Jon looked at her like she hung the moon, and yet had never asked for anything from her, had never asked for anything she wouldn’t give. He had started to be brave, had started to ask her on an almost-date in February – it wasn’t his fault she hadn’t known what day it was – but then, Ned. And grief. And mourning. And the endless sadness that would still take her by surprise, some days.
She’d needed space, and he’d given it to her. Time, too. And while time would never heal the canyon of sorrow in her heart, she didn’t want to stay in this stasis forever.
Jon liked her, and if she thought about it for more than half a second, if she thought only about what she wanted and the way he made her feel, if she was truthful and bold and unafraid – she was already half in love with him.
And on this night, golden and glowing with celebration, surrounded by family, Sansa decided – catching sight of him, leaning casually against the side of the house, looking absurdly handsome in the dark tee and jeans - it was time to tell him.
Sansa came towards him like a delicate hurricane, some sort of frenzied energy belying her every move, stepping closer and closer to him until they were merely inches apart, close enough to touch, close enough to kiss. Closer than they’d ever been, before.
She calmly plucked the beer bottle out of his hand, finished off the last dregs, then set it down on the nearby table, before turning to him.
“I’m in love with you,” Sansa said, cheeks flushed with champagne and bravery and her gaze staring straight into his.
Jon froze, eyes locked on the redhead standing in front of him, resisting the urge to ask her to say it again, and again, and again.
“I’m in love with you,” she said again, leaning forward until her breath ghosted across his lips, “and I think you’re in love with me too.”
“I am,” Jon nodded, finally finding his voice and not even noticing the gravel within, reaching his hands out to touch her, to trace his fingertips up the side of her bare thigh, to bring his other hand up to cradle her jaw tenderly. “I am in love with you.”
“Good,” she murmured. “That makes this easier.”
And with that, she pressed forward on her toes and kissed him, confidently, as if they had done it a thousand times before, and would do it a thousand times again, and she was completely assured in this new language between them.
Of course, they hadn’t, so it took a moment, a few open-mouthed kisses as she tilted her head different ways, as his other hand caught around her waist – but they found a rhythm of kisses, of lingering moments, of the warmth between them. Jon wrapped his arm tight enough around her waist to seal her body against his own and tangled his right hand in her hair. They kissed until they could not breathe, for eagerness, for the feeling of finally , for the feeling of coming home, and eventually they pulled apart, grinning at each other like there was no one else in the world.
Which was decidedly not true, they realized, as they heard the cacophony of cheers from the party-goers, led by Arya, who then broke into a rendition of “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” while Robb stood in the back, disgruntledly lifting his beer in cheers and mouthing the words but refusing to actually sing them.
Sansa laughed, Jon beamed, and she pressed her head into his chest, where she could hear his heartbeat, and it sounded like home.