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Alone, Together

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Sansa knew that she had drunk too much.  Her goal had been to numb the pain, but she only achieved a melancholy mood thanks to the wine.

She felt out of place now, amongst the lords and knights of the Six Kingdoms.  They were no longer her countrymen, after all.  

It was the night before the tournament officially began and Sansa was wondering if she should slip away to bed, if it would be considered rude.  Her Uncle Edmure had already managed to annoy her, questioning her about marriage and heirs - something she couldn’t bring herself to think about. 

Her bannermen had voiced their own worries about the continuation of the Stark line, and while their inquiries were mostly borne out of concern for what would happen when their Queen was gone, Sansa couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that perhaps someone among them felt that she was failing them by not planning for the future.

She sighed heavily and swiped a hand across her aching head, already overcome with exhaustion at the prospect of being social tomorrow.

The impending tournament was the first of a series of tournaments to be held in celebration of peace.  No more dragons, no more White Walkers, no more Red Weddings.  Bran had felt it important for the land to heal, and so funding had been acquired for the tournaments due to some clever work by the new Master of Coin, Lord Bronn of Highgarden.

Sansa had a sneaking suspicion that Lord Bronn’s methods were likely as ethical as Littlefinger’s.  But those matters were outside her concern and she was fairly certain that Bran knew everything that was going on anyway.

Everyone in the hall seemed to be occupied, including her guard detail, so Sansa stood and slipped away as quickly as possible.  

It was warm in the hall and she was overdressed, still dressed for Northern weather, so she found herself exiting the Great Hall, relishing the cool night air.  She nodded politely when she caught someone’s attention, but thankfully, no one stopped her.  She wasn’t as familiar with the castle as she would have liked to have been.  Her mother grew up here, after all, and part of her wished that she’d had a chance to spend more time in the Tullys’ home.  But she vaguely remembered  that the quickest way to the Keep was through the small godswood, so she set off.

The heart tree was significantly smaller than the one at Winterfell, with a sad face carved into the white bark.  Her plan had been to move quickly through the Godswood and get to her room before her guards or her maids could bother her, but she found herself drawn to the small heart tree.  

She couldn’t have stood there for more than a couple of minutes when she heard movement behind her.  She didn’t startle exactly - she knew that the small castle was overflowing with tourney-goers - but she tensed all the same, not truly in the mood for conversation if someone happened to find her.

“Oh, Lady Stark?”  The voice was vaguely familiar, so Sansa turned around, her brow furrowing because she couldn’t quite place who the voice belonged to.  

She peered into the darkness and a tall figure stepped forward, the break in the trees allowing the moonlight to illuminate his features.

“Lord Baratheon,” she nodded to him, remembering that he seemed to be friendly with Arya.  “It’s good to see you again.”

It was a pleasantry left over from her days of wanting to be a perfect lady.  It wasn’t that good to see him - not when she barely knew him and didn’t really want to see anyone.

His brows pinched together and he frowned at the ground, as though just remembering something.  “Er, I apologize, I addressed you wrong…”  He shook his head, as though he was confused, and said, “Forgive me, Your Grace.”

Sansa felt a tiny twitch at the corner of her mouth - which unfortunately reminded her of Sandor’s reluctant smiles, and that instantly killed the bit of amusement she found in this sweet, bumbling new lord.  She sighed and shook her head.  “You can address me however you are most comfortable, Lord Baratheon.”  She said it tiredly, hoping he’d move on.

He didn’t catch her hint.

“I’m still adjusting to being called Lord Baratheon,” he said, following it up with a bitter chuckle.  “I suppose I got myself into this by telling Jon who I was.”

“None of us are great at keeping secrets,” Sansa admitted.  Jon had ratted out Gendry to Daenerys after all, and Sansa had ratted out Jon to Tyrion.  Sansa studied him for a moment and thought to herself that, even with his background, Gendry had a rather lordly look.  “You look like your father,” Sansa said mildly.

Gendry made a face and Sansa couldn’t stop the smile then, realizing that Gendry’s first thought of Robert Baratheon was likely one that entailed the overweight slob that the king had become before he died.

“Pardon,” she said, chuckling a little, “I meant that you look like the old portraits I’ve seen of him that used to hang in the Red Keep.”

“Oh,” he said, the grimace lessening a little.

“I suppose it would’ve been more accurate for me to say you look like Lord Renly.”

He shrugged, his shoulder moving beneath his cape.  “Didn’t know him either.  I’ve always just been Gendry.”

“Well, Arya seemed to like you as just Gendry,” Sansa said.

Something changed in his face then, as though he were trying to keep as still as possible so he wouldn’t give anything away.  “Oh?”

“The two of you...you were friends, no?  Arya said that you knew one another before….”

He nodded, his throat bobbing as he swallowed.  “Aye, I mean...yes, my lady….Your Grace,” he shook his head again as though to clear it.  “I met Arya…” He blew out a frustrated breath, then corrected, “I met Lady Stark shortly after Lord Stark…”  He trailed off, his eyes flicking up to Sansa’s with an apologetic look.

Sansa nodded, not really wanting to discuss that particular topic.  “So the two of you spent a lot of time together?”

“Yes,” he confirmed.  He was fidgeting, as though the topic was uncomfortable, but for some reason, watching him squirm fascinated Sansa.

“Arya always made friends rather easily,” Sansa mused.  But after a moment, she thought about her words, and frowned.  “That is, she used to make friends easily.  She’s….”

“Different,” Gendry supplied, bitterness barely detectable in his tone.  His eyes widened as he realized what he said, but Sansa just nodded in agreement.

“I’m different as well,” Sansa admitted.  “We all are after everything we’ve been through.”

“Do- when do you think…” Gendry trailed off, his chest rising and falling in an exaggerated breath.  “How long do you think she will be gone?”

The question pricked at something inside Sansa, something she’d been trying to ignore.  She had avoided that train of thought whenever it cropped up in her mind because she was too scared to ponder over the answer.  

Sansa shook her head and grasped for a change of topic; unfortunately, after hearing her name, Arya’s absence was plaguing her again, refusing to leave her alone and suddenly she was so tired.  

“It’s late.  I suppose I need to get back to my room,” she made to walk past him, but she slowed when he tentatively offered his arm.

“How about an escort?”  His small smile was warm and it settled Sansa’s nerves a bit.

“Of course,” she said quietly, taking his arm and letting him lead her to the Keep.

*

In the five years since Arya has departed, Sansa has left Winterfell more than she planned.  Once Jon had reclaimed Winterfell for the Starks, Sansa had thought that she would never leave again.  But she has, time and again – thankfully, she has always returned.

After traveling to King’s Landing with the Northern army to demand that Jon be allowed to live, she had traveled back to Winterfell only to stay a few months before traveling away again to the tournament at Riverrun.  She remembers now that she had sworn Riverrun would be the only tournament she attended, if only to show her support for Bran.

It almost makes her laugh now when she thinks back on it.  How all it had taken was for one tournament, a few days of something like happiness, to ensure that she would chase the feeling whenever the chance arose.

She doesn’t particularly like traveling.  There is nothing comfortable about it.  She is not a strong rider, so much of her travel time is passed in the wheelhouse with a couple of her ladies.  She tries to keep herself distracted, but her mind wanders to Jon fairly often.  She worries for him even as she nurses her own broken heart.  

She feels angry at times, telling herself that if Arya had only come home, that she and Jon wouldn’t be facing yet another tragedy.

And then there were three , she thinks sadly, counting Bran amongst the remaining Starks even though some days it feels like she’s lost him too.

She works on her sewing, finishes the embroidery on a new gown for herself; after that, she works on a tunic, carefully stitching the outline of a stag.

One of her ladies, Mara, eyes it curiously.  “A gift for the Lord of Storm’s End?”

Sansa nods and avoids the questioning gaze.  It’s not the first time she’s made something for Gendry and she doesn’t appreciate the very slight hint of incredulity in her lady’s voice.  She gives Mara a steady look, then decides that because she is one of the few household members that knows of Arya’s death, explains:  “Lord Baratheon was friends with Lady Arya,” she says this as though Mara should have already known it, though the girl did not come into her service until after the war.  “I plan to give it to him when I tell him…”  She trails off because she isn’t ready to speak of it in such a casual way, but Mara seems to understand, and nods.

It is not the first gift she has made for Gendry, and Mara knows that.  

It makes Sansa wonder what else she knows.

*

Sansa grudgingly had to admit that she was enjoying herself.

She had been seated near Bran, who actually seemed to be wearing a small smile as he paid close attention to the events.  Lord Bronn had taken to talking to her as though they were old friends - and she supposed that they were in a way, since he’d been Tyrion’s own personal sellsword when she’d been married to him.

Many of the knights competing were very young and mostly unknown to Sansa, but that didn’t diminish the giddiness she felt.  She tried to remind herself that tournaments had their darker moments, remembering the young knight from the Vale she had watched die at the Hand’s Tourney.  But over all, she admitted to herself that she was glad she had attended.

Gendry found her at the feast that evening, looking a little sheepish as he took a seat next to her.

“Pardon, Your Grace, but you’re one of the few highborns that I respect,” he muttered under his breath.

She looked at him out of the corner of her eye.  “You’re a lord too now.”

“Don’t remind me,” he groused, taking a tentative sip of the wine in his cup.  He made a face and Sansa had to fight off a giggle.

“I think lordship suits you,” she told him, turning her full attention to him.

His brow furrowed.  “You’re mocking me.”

“I’m not,” she insisted as she studied him.  

He wore a black velvet doublet with a stag stitched across the breast in gold thread.  The doublet did little to hide the breadth of his shoulders or the broadness of his chest.  Aside from that, he was objectively handsome, with an attractive jawline and bright, bright blue eyes.  Sansa was struck with the realization that Gendry would look just as impressive without the fancy clothing and it made her wonder.

“What is it that you did before…?”  She knew that Gendry had come North to fight with Jon and that he had made himself useful with a trade, but she wasn’t sure she’d ever been told what it was he’d done before being named a lord.

His eyes flitted to her, his features softening a little when he realized that she truly wasn’t trying to mock him.  He cleared his throat and answered in a low voice.  “I was a blacksmith, my lady,” he paused, his blue eyes widening.  “Er, Your Grace.”

Sansa’s eyes strayed to his arms of their own will and she had a brief thought of Ah, makes sense before she shook herself from those thoughts.  “Do you ever miss it?”  She asked, and then immediately thought of what a dumb question it was. 

Of course he wouldn’t miss working in the stifling heat of a forge.

But he surprised her.

“Yes,” he said empathically, sitting up straighter.  “I miss it all the time.  In fact, I…”  He pulled up short, giving her a wary look as though he couldn’t trust her not to judge him.

Sansa’s head tilted to the side as she studied him.  “What?”

“I still work in the forge at Storm’s End some,” he admitted, his eyes shifting away from her.  “It’s the one thing I know.  I’m out of place in these clothes.  Can’t get used to having servants.  Just now learning my letters.”  He explained it all in a low voice, shaking his head.  “I don’t feel so useless in the forge.”

Sansa reached over and patted his arm.  He startled a bit, then tensed up.  Poor thing apparently wasn’t accustomed to someone comforting him and Sansa had always gravitated to touch when trying to comfort someone.  She pulled her hand back and gave him a reassuring smile.  “You aren’t useless.  And if it helps…”  She chewed on her lip as she considered what she was about to offer him.  It was a completely normal activity, but she didn’t want to offend him.  Ultimately, she offered anyway.  “If it will help you  practice, we can write to one another.  Writing to someone is more practical than what your maester likely has you doing.”  She remembered being sat down in the library by Maester Luwin, forced to copy the same words over and over again, and while it had been effective, it was immensely boring.

Gendry snorted, and though it wasn’t especially lord-like behavior, Sansa found herself smiling.  “Are you sure, Your Grace?  There’s a good chance you won’t even be able to read my handwriting.”

“I’ll manage,” she assured him.  “And you can call me Sansa.”

*

The closer Sansa gets to Old Town, the more she dreads what she will have to do.  She wonders if telling Gendry will be harder than telling Jon, then feels like a fool because of course it will be harder.  She knows Jon hurts, knows that he’s lost the person he was closest to as a child, but she also knows that Jon has lost enough in his life that he will survive it.  He’s lost three siblings.  He killed the woman he loved.  He’s lost so many mentors.

It’s not that Sansa believes that Jon will feel less pain over Arya’s death because of everything else he has lost - only that she knows that he can survive it.

But she doesn’t think Gendry has ever lost anyone.

Not true , she amends, her thoughts more bitter than she cared to admit.  He’s already lost Arya once.  

It occurs to her that she has been in this situation as well, though not with Arya.

Sansa at least had some contact with Arya over the years, though it was limited.  

But Sansa lost someone twice too.

The second time around certainly hadn’t been any easier for her.

*

“I don’t want to do this,” she sat on the bed, still in her nightgown, twisting her fingers in her lap.  “I can’t...I can’t be around anyone right now.”

She couldn’t stop crying.  Her eyes were swollen and her face was raw from constantly swiping at the rivers of tears that seemed never ending.  She knew that Arya had shed some too, though she was infinitely more discreet about it.

“Why didn’t you tell me about the two of you?” Her sister asked.  She was standing against the door of Sansa’s room, arms crossed, refusing to leave until Sansa got dressed.  They were supposed to attend the trials in the Dragon Pit in less than an hour.

Sansa glared up at her.  “Why didn’t you tell me about the two of you?”

If she was hoping to uncover some guilt in Arya, it didn’t work.  Her sister just scowled at her and shrugged her shoulders.  “Sandor and I had a...complicated relationship.”

Sansa was about to open her mouth and ask if Arya thought the relationship she had with him was any simpler, but Arya decided to elaborate, so Sansa kept her mouth closed.

“I hated him, you know,” she told Sansa.  “I wanted him dead.  I thought about killing him constantly.  He was on my list.  I hated him.  Until I didn’t.”  She shrugged again and looked away, her eyes seeming to have a glassy look of their own.

“He protected me,” Sansa whispered hoarsely.  

“Me, too,” Arya said.

“And I loved him,” Sansa said, squeezing her eyes shut because how could she explain that to Arya?

Her chest rattled with sobs once again as she thought about her loss.  She would never see him again and she’d only just figured out what she’d been feeling for him all those years.  She had missed him fiercely enough whenever he’d disappeared from King’s Landing.  She’d thought about him all the time and that was before she was brave enough to pick apart her feelings.  Once she had examined how she felt, she’d been startled to learn just why she’d been pining for him for so long.  And when they’d been reunited, Sansa had finally experienced what it was like to love and to be loved by the same person.

 She knew Arya thought she was foolish, loving someone Arya could hardly stand.

But somehow, even though she was fighting to catch her breath, she managed to catch Arya’s whispered words - 

“Me, too.”

*

Sansa is sick with the thought of being the one to tell Gendry, although she knows that she’s the only one who could.  She can’t stand the thought of him hearing it from someone else, someone who may be insensitive or unaware of his feelings for Arya.  

It’s not that Sansa thinks that there is any gentle way to deliver the news - only that she thinks it should be relayed by someone who also loves Arya.  Loved, she bitterly corrects herself.

Truly, there is no good or gentle or decent way to tell someone that the love of their life has died.  She suspects that Gendry has been holding out hope all these years that Arya will return to him.  He is a lord - young, handsome, and just so good - yet, he has never married, though Sansa imagines he is facing pressure similar to what she faces.  She wonders if he will find someone to marry now that there is no one left to wait on.

Her stomach is in knots, and for the first time in days it’s not because of the news that she has to deliver or the remains that she will be retrieving.

Rather, it’s the thought that now Gendry’s marriage to some lord’s daughter from the Stormlands is an inevitability.  

She tries to tell herself it does not matter, that she’s always known that he would have to marry eventually.

It doesn’t help the heaviness settling in her chest.

*

Nearly a year after the tournament at Riverrun, Sansa found herself once again in the Riverlands for a tournament - this time at Harrenhal.

The castle was imposing and not just because of its large size, but because there seemed to be ghosts everywhere.  

Lyanna Stark had been named Queen of Love and Beauty at a tournament so much like this.  The title had been given to her by Rhaegar Targaryen, a married man who truly had no business turning his eye toward a young Northern girl.

Sansa wondered if Gendry had ever heard the story, knowing that his knowledge of the affairs of highborns was still fairly limited.  

They sat together the first day of the tournament, and after receiving numerous comments from people about how odd she must feel considering the Starks’ history with Harrenhal, Gendry finally asked her what was going on.

“Is there something I’m missing?”  He had witnessed at least four people come by with pitying looks and reassuring pats to her arm.

Sansa sighed heavily.  “You know the history of Robert’s Rebellion, yes?”

Gendry shrugged.  “Erm, Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped Lyanna Stark...or maybe he didn’t kidnap Lyanna?”  He seemed unclear on the details, and Sansa couldn’t blame him for that.  There were so many rumors surrounding the whole thing.  “They were Jon’s parents.”  He sounded more sure of himself on that.  “Robert - er, my father, didn’t like it and...started a war?”  He finished lamely, rolling his eyes to show how he felt about it.

Sansa was fighting a smirk and losing.  “Something like that.”

“Do you know that it all started here?”

He scratched at the stubble on his cheek, looking thoughtful.  “It had something to do with a tournament.  Lyanna Stark was crowned Queen of Love and Beauty by Rhaegar?”

Sansa nodded.  “From what I understand, your father-” Here, Gendry flinched and made a face that had Sansa fighting another smirk, “-was very angry.”

“What’s the official story exactly?  Was Lyanna kidnapped or…?”

“Everyone thought so, but apparently they were in love,” Sansa shrugged.  “That’s what Bran told us.  For years, everyone believed that my aunt was taken against her will, but as it turns out, she wanted to disappear with him.”

Gendry was quiet for a moment and Sansa couldn’t quite read the expression on his face.  Finally, he said, “You think it’s romantic?”  He sounded a little like it turned his stomach.

Sansa thought about it, then shook her head.  “Maybe when I was a girl I would’ve found it romantic.  But their actions were reckless and maybe if they hadn’t been so secretive, it would have been clear that she wasn’t kidnapped.  Robert’s belief that she was kidnapped is what motivated people to follow him.  I know that wasn’t the only reason….Rhaegar’s father killed my grandfather and uncle and that was probably as good a reason as any to rebel against him, but...they may never have gone South had they known Lyanna was safe.  So no, not romantic.  Reckless and stupid.”

Gendry nodded his agreement.  He was quiet for a few moments, but Sansa could tell he had more to say.  He opened his mouth a couple of times, then closed it again as though he wasn’t quite ready to put a voice to what was bothering him.  She watched as resolve settled over him, but he didn’t meet her eyes when he began speaking.  “I know that’s the event that everyone remembers when they think of this place, but...it’s different for me.”

Sansa studied him, noting that he’d gone a little pale.  She had no idea what he was about to tell her, but it looked like it troubled him.

“Is it the dragon fire?”  Sansa asked suddenly, her eyes flicking up to the singed towers in the distance.  She thought perhaps after seeing King’s Landing burn that maybe the visual reminder that he’d seen the kind of creature that caused that destruction might bother him.

His eyes flicked to hers, brow furrowing in confusion before he seemed to understand what she was implying.  He shook his head quickly and huffed a laugh.  “No.  Oddly enough, it’s not the dragon fire - it’s just…”  He ran a hand over his face and was looking more sickened by the second.  “I was a prisoner here,” he explained quickly.

Sansa felt her eyes widen and her mouth popped open as she stared at him.  “What?”

He nodded, staring down at his hands.  “Sometime after I left King’s Landing, we were captured by the Mountain’s men.”

Sansa stiffened, her hands clutching at her skirts.  “The Mountain?”  She asked a bit breathlessly.

Gendry nodded, his eyes flicking quickly to hers.  “Your sister was with me.”

“What?”  She asked again, feeling her blood run cold suddenly.  Arya had been captured by the Mountain?

“We watched everyday as someone was interrogated by his men and tortured to death.  It was...fucking terrifying.”  He flinched and pressed his lips together when he realized what he said, but Sansa just nodded, letting him know he could go on.  “Arya and I...we woke up everyday wondering if we were next.  The only thing that scared me more than than dying by torture was watching her die.”  He bent forward, elbows on his knees and dropped his head in his hands.  

Sansa wished she had some words of comfort to offer him, but she was so thrown by his words.  Arya had never told her that she’d been through something like that.  She’d known that her sister had lived in constant danger - she had too, after all - but she had never been told the specifics. 

“We slept outside in the mud,” he continued, still staring at his hands.  “We would lay back to back.”  He snorted and shook his head.  “As though that would protect us.”

As Sansa watched him relive a nightmare, she thought perhaps she understood a little better why Sandor had been so adamant about killing his brother.  Sansa had only seen the Mountain up close at the Hand’s Tourney all those years ago, but he’d frightened her - certainly worse than Sandor ever had.  She couldn’t imagine what it was like having to face him day in and day out and she voiced as much to Gendry.

“What’s bad is that he wasn’t even the one doing the torure.  It was one of his men.  The Tickler, he was called,” a shiver seemed to run through Gendry’s body.  

Sansa decided she didn’t want to know why he was called the Tickler.

“Yours and Arya’s history is more extensive than I thought,” she commented, sensing that Gendry was ready to move away from this subject.

His eyes met hers and softened as a small smile curled on his mouth.  “She was my best friend.”

*

Sansa knows now that Arya was more than that to Gendry, but at the time, she had been glad to learn that her sister had a friend through all that.

She supposes that she should’ve seen it then.  But the truth is that Sansa still has a hard time imagining why Arya would leave when she had someone like Gendry who loved her.  As soon as the thought crosses her mind, she scolds herself.  Just because Gendry fell in love with Arya doesn’t mean that she returned his feelings.  Arya never spoke to her of love, but then, Arya didn’t speak to her of much at all.

Gendry has since confessed to what exactly happened between himself and Arya, but had he not told her, Sansa thinks she probably would have never guessed.  She wonders why Arya approached him the way she did - was it truly because she was worried she’d die without ever experiencing it or did it go deeper than that?

Sansa would never know.  Not even Gendry knew what Arya’s motives had been at the time, though Sansa knows he’s agonized over it time and again.

When her traveling party finally reaches Oldtown, Sansa is lucky enough to secure a large room at an inn, forgoing the offer to stay in the Hightower castle.  She sends a messenger to find Lord Gendry Baratheon with instructions that he meet her as soon as he is able.

With her stomach in knots, she waits for him, not quite prepared to deliver the news that may break him.