Sansa was plagued by the strangest feelings over the next few months. She felt guilty because she didn’t feel guilty.
It made no sense.
She knew it made no sense, but she couldn’t stop agonizing over the fact that she really ought to be feeling like a terrible person.
But every time she received a letter from Gendry filled with his messy handwriting and abhorrent grammar, instead of feeling guilt, she felt happy.
Excited, giddy, a bit like the girl she’d never quite gotten to be.
She always wrote him back immediately, hoping it wouldn’t take him too terribly long to reply.
It never did.
She got the feeling that Gendry was doing the same thing she did - rushing off to answer her messages before the raven had even properly rested.
They never spoke of what they’d done in the East Tower that night and Sansa felt both relief and dread that perhaps it had been a one-time thing.
That’s all she meant for it to be.
But half a year after the tournament in the Vale, she took a ship from White Harbor to The Tor, knowing Gendry would be attending the tournament as well.
Sansa had never been to Dorne and was not prepared for the nigh-unbearable heat. She had packed her summer silks, anticipating a significant increase in temperature, but it was clear she had underestimated the unrelenting desert sun.
It was beautiful though, and Sansa immediately made arrangements for lighter clothing during her stay.
When they were delivered, however, Sansa was more than a little scandalised at the lack of...fabric.
The neckline, if one could call it that, was split nearly to her belly button, offering a view of her sternum. Her ladies blushed and giggled and assured her she looked lovely, but Sansa’s eyes were fixated on the shiny scars visible, crisscrossing her breastbone and the soft skin between her ribs.
Similarly, though the gown technically had sleeves, they were also slit at the shoulders, revealing the entire length of her arm, also marred by silvery scars.
“I can’t go out like this,” Sansa said quietly.
“Your Grace, you look beautiful!”
“It’s the fashion here!”
“It’s not scandalous, Your Grace, I swear…”
Her ladies all chimed in, believing that she was embarrassed by the amount of skin showing.
It wasn’t the skin though - it was the scars.
While she was agonizing over whether she should change and risk dying of a heat stroke, Gendry showed up at the room she’d been offered and she was told he was waiting in her solar to greet her.
Still undecided about whether or not she should be seen in the gown in public, she entered into her solar still wearing the dress. Gendry had seen her scars and didn’t seem bothered by them.
She wanted to rush over to him and embrace him, but her ladies and her guards were in the room still, so she stood a respectful distance away.
“Good afternoon, Lord Baratheon,” she said as she crossed over to the table he sat at.
He looked up and his face did something...interesting. His jaw slackened and his eyebrows lifted and he immediately pushed back from the table, standing up, and closing the distance between them.
He seemed to remember himself just before he touched her and took a step back.
“Uh,” he said.
Sansa cocked her head to the side, trying to figure out why he was acting so strangely; but then, his eyes dipped below her collarbone, following the line of exposed skin.
Sansa felt heat flood her cheeks and within seconds, she knew she was blushing everywhere . A glance down her body told her that even her chest was flushed.
“Leave us,” Sansa ordered hoarsely, and her guards and maids scurried to comply.
“That gown...” Gendry trailed off a bit breathlessly.
Sansa trailed her fingers over her partially naked sternum, tracing the raised scars. “Is the gown too much?”
“Not enough...” Gendry responded in a strangled voice; he attempted to clear his throat, “I mean…”
“Not enough fabric?” Sansa guessed, nodding in agreement. “I should have known finding a gown in Dorne would be tricky. I have summer silks, but it’s just so hot . But I know I shouldn’t...no one wants to see this…” She gestured at the silvery scars on display.
A hand wrapped around her wrist and Sansa looked up to find Gendry wearing a frown. “That’s...not what I meant…”
Sansa frowned back at him in confusion and looked down at her attire again. “What did you mean?”
Gendry gave a sharp laugh that sounded a little nervous, and pulled Sansa closer to him by the wrist he was holding. She felt the fingers of his other hand beneath her chin as he tilted her face up so she’d meet his eyes.
“I meant that...I meant not enough...skin,” he raised his eyebrows and a smirk pulled at the corner of his mouth.
Sansa hadn’t known it was possible to blush anymore than what she’d already done, but by her estimation, her skin tone likely matched her hair.
“Oh,” she said, finally taking the time to appreciate his blue eyes and his charming grin and the fact that they were alone.
“A part of me - the part of me I’m sure I got from my father,” Gendry added bitterly, “Doesn’t want anyone else to see you in this dress. A part of me can’t stand the thought of anyone else even looking at you - even if you’re properly covered. But it’s a small part and one I’m going to ignore,” he said firmly. His fingers brushed against her cheek. “Because you look beautiful in this gown.”
As Gendry leaned down to kiss her, Sansa felt certain of a few things in that moment: one, she was a fool to think that the tryst in the Vale could be a one-time thing; two, Gendry made her feel more beautiful and alive than she’d felt in...a really long time; and three, she shared his possessive sentiment - the thought of anyone else even looking at Gendry was abhorrent.
Over time, Sansa realized that that possessive feeling she’d experienced for the first time in the Tor would only grow. Logically, she knew he wasn’t really hers. She knew that as soon as Arya came back, she would need to step aside and forget anything had ever happened between them - if Arya ever came back.
She also knew that if Arya didn’t come back that Gendry would still need to marry, as she would.
The thought would prove to be a plague to her senses from then on.
He looks almost apologetic as he reaches for her hand. He licks at dry lips and squeezes her fingers. “Because there’s someone else.”
For a moment, Sansa experiences emotions ranging from jealousy to despair to rage. She opens and closes her mouth several times before she slows down and takes a good look at his face. He’s staring at her knowingly, giving her fingers another squeeze.
“Gendry…” His name comes out breathy and a little hoarse.
His lips twitch as though fighting a smile. “If you don’t want me anymore, then I can be the only man to be rejected by two Starks.”
“That’s not what’s happening,” she rushes to tell him, stepping into his space.
They are still holding hands, so Sansa brings his hand to her face, pressing it against her cheek. “I still...want you. That hasn’t changed.”
He gives her a pained look, his eyes falling to her mouth, and she thinks he might kiss her. Instead, he gives a shake of his head. “I don’t just want you. Once or twice a year is not what I want, Sansa.”
She would be lying to herself if she denied that his words made her heart pick up speed; but she would also be lying if she denied the guilt she is feeling.
“If you didn’t come to this tournament,” Gendry says, “I would’ve come to you.”
Sansa fell into a pattern.
Every tournament held, she found a way to attend. And the time in between was spent exchanging letters with the Lord of Storm’s End.
He never asked about Arya in the letters, thankfully.
So when he brought her up at a tournament held in King’s Landing, Sansa felt her stomach turn.
She’d been enjoying herself. She’d spent the majority of her time with Gendry, inside and outside the bedroom.
She knew there were probably whispers about the nature of their relationship, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.
Even as she was teased by Tyrion, she couldn’t help but feeling happy .
He made her happy.
His gentleness, his easy smiles, even his stubbornness - which she was seeing a lot more of lately - were things that she found endearing. She was more at ease with him than she could remember being with anyone else.
Her heart always twisted a little at the self-deprecating humor he often displayed. She knew he often felt he still didn’t belong in his position. But from all accounts, Gendry was doing a remarkable job at being lord considering he’d spent most of his life in Flea Bottom.
But as they lay in his bed on the last night of the tournament, he shattered her illusion by mentioning her sister’s name.
“Where do you think she is right now?”
“Who?” Sansa said at first. Arya had been the furthest thing from her mind.
“Arya,” he said quietly.
Sansa stiffened in his arms and then gently pulled away. “She never tells me.”
She could see him nod from the corner of her eye. “She doesn’t write much, does she?”
They were quiet for several long moments, Sansa at war with herself over whether this was something she wanted to talk about or not. As a general rule, Arya was never mentioned.
“She’s not the girl I knew,” he said, his voice sounding so sad .
“I know,” she replied, studying his face. His expression was pained and it made Sansa’s chest ache.
“She’ll never want me, will she?”
Sansa’s hands dug into the cover, twisting the material in her fist. “I don’t know. But...you deserve someone who wants you. You deserve someone who will love you.”
And I love you , she thought, surprising herself completely because, up to that point, she hadn’t known, hadn’t had a clue.
Gendry’s eyes flicked to hers. “Seems like that kind of thing is rare in our world. Especially where marriage is concerned.”
Sansa nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
His gaze was intense as he continued to look at her. “All you nobles,” he snorted, shaking his head. “None of you marry for love.”
“You’re a lord,” she reminded him, probably for the thousandth time.
“I wasn’t when I learned how to love,” he answered her quietly. “She taught me, and I’m grateful...but now I don’t know any other way. I don’t know how I could marry someone without it.”
“They’ve been pressuring you, haven’t they? Your advisors, your bannermen?”
Gendry nodded. “Daily.”
“Is that- is that why you’re wondering where she is? Do you think if she comes back that she would…” Sansa trailed off, the thought so painful that she had to shut it down before she could let it sink its claws too deeply.
Gendry shook his head. “No, nothing like that. I know that Arya will never marry me. I should’ve known from the beginning, but…” He shrugged. “Maybe when we were two nobodies traveling the Riverlands...maybe it could have worked. But not...not now.”
“So you’re ready to get married then?”
“No,” Gendry squeezed his eyes shut. “I’ll never be ready to marry someone I don’t love. But I’ve...accepted it.”
“I haven’t,” Sansa said, feeling that familiar bitterness take hold of her. “I’ve been married twice and they keep telling me that I need to marry one of my bannermen’s sons…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “I suppose you’re more dutiful than I am, in that aspect. So much for being part Tully.”
Gendry smiled at that a little. “I’ve gotten better at knowing my duty over the past few years. I only worry about the poor girl I’m going to marry.”
He gave her an earnest look, she was sure she’d never seen him look more serious. “It won’t be fair to her. There will always be someone else.”
A fist may as well have been closed around Sansa’s heart. There was an irrefutable finality to his words - words that told her that no matter what, no woman, not even the woman currently sharing his bed, would be enough to wipe Arya from Gendry’s heart. No one stood a chance against her.
“I’m going to need you to tell me exactly what you mean by that,” Sansa tells him. “Because I’ve been under the assumption that our arrangement was working well for you.”
He brushes his nose against hers. “It’s not. Not for some time.”
She wants to kiss him so badly, but there has been so much doubt, so much heartache that she can’t function under assumptions any longer.
“What about it isn’t working?”
He lets out a shaky breath that stirs the loose hair around her face. “It’s not working to see you a few times a year and rely on letters the rest of the time. I can’t do it anymore, Sansa. I don’t want to. If you don’t want what I want...then fine. I’ll move on. I’ve done it before, but…”
She can’t help herself. She places a soft kiss against his mouth, meant to urge him on, encourage him to keep talking.
“I’m in love with you,” he says so quietly, the words a soft puff against her mouth. “I don’t even know when it happened, maybe that first time, maybe sometime in between, but...I didn’t think you felt the same. You told me so many times that you didn’t want to get married and I told myself it was fine, I would take what you’d give, but…” He presses a kiss to the corner of her mouth. “It’s driving me mad. I don’t want to be away from you anymore. If you don’t want to get married, that’s fine, but if you want me, even a fraction as much as I want you...then let’s do something about this. It’s…” An exasperated sigh followed by a muttered, “...really fucking hard to be away from you for months at a time.”
She can hardly believe what she’s hearing.
“I thought...that you said you’d always love Arya, that anyone you married would receive a raw deal because…”
“Aye, because there would always be someone else,” he confirms, seemingly remembering the exact conversation that was weighing on Sansa’s mind. “You. I wasn’t talking about Arya. I was talking about you . The only reason I brought her up that night was because…” He pauses, that frustration over struggling with the meaning behind his words making itself visible. “I wanted to tell you that night how I felt about you. And I know it’s been nearly two years since then, but I turned craven when we talked about marriage. But the reason I brought up Arya was because I wanted to know how likely it was that she would return and we’d all be in an awkward situation because I’d already made up my mind about you. I wasn’t going to let you go willingly, no matter if she turned up and confessed her undying love.” He lifts his shoulders in a shrug. “I let her go a long time ago and I just...want you. Even if you end this now and I have to go marry some bannerman’s daughter...you’ll always be with me.”
“I thought you meant Arya,” Sansa says again dumbly because this , this is not what she expected to happen. “I didn’t...I had no idea….”
Gendry shakes his head. “Arya was my best friend and it...it really fucking hurts that she’s gone. But I haven’t been in love with her in a long time now. Probably since I realized she didn’t care enough to even write to me. I loved an idea. Or maybe I loved the girl she was and admired the woman she turned into,” he trails off, shaking his head. “I’m not sure. But I know - Sansa, I know how I feel about you.”
She feels the tears gathering in her eyes and she has to kiss him again. She smiles against his lips. “Do you know what kind of mess you’re about to get us into? I’m not meant to marry a lord and you aren’t supposed to marry a Queen.”
“We don’t have to marry,” he reiterates. “But I’m done spending so much time away from you. That is, if you agree…”
“I’ll marry you,” Sansa tells him, only realizing afterward that he hasn’t actually proposed to her. “Our bannermen will hate it and I don’t know how we’ll make it work, but…I love you, and I think we can figure it out.”
He doesn’t say anything else, but instead takes action.
His lips press against hers insistently, not as gentle as they’d previously been. Her arms wind around his neck. His hands are working at the laces on her gown, his deft fingers well-practiced in ridding her of her clothes. He shoves the fabric down her shoulders hurriedly and Sansa lets her bodice and skirts pool onto the floor. She walks him back to her bed, shedding his layers along the way.
Gendry settles himself against the headboard, propped up into a seated position with pillows. Sansa wastes no time in crawling into his lap. Her hands land on his strong shoulders and she takes a minute to look at him and it feels different, looking at him now and knowing he’s hers.
He frowns a bit and reaches up to glide his fingers across her cheek, tracking wetness on her skin. She doesn’t know when she started crying.
“Shhh,” she says, leaning forward to press her lips to his.
His fingers dig into her hips as she slides her tongue against his, reveling in his muffled groan. Sansa’s own hands are wandering, having fled from his shoulders to cup his bearded jaw in her hands as she kisses him.
She can feel how hard he is against her thigh and she knows that she is just as desperate for him. She lifts her hips and lets him guide her until she is sinking down on him, gasping at the familiar stretch. Gendry leans forward and mouths at her breast, his lips wrapping around a sensitive nipple. Sansa arches toward him, her breath catching in her throat at the duel sensations of his mouth on her and her hips rocking against his.
She has always kept her eyes closed, always tried to distance herself as much as she could - usually unsuccessfully - but now Sansa opens her eyes.
He’s eyes are on her too as he rolls his tongue over her nipple, his eyes dark with lust.
But there’s a softness there too.
An emotion she might not have recognized had he not explicitly told her moments before.
When his movements beneath her become a little erratic, she reaches down, barely brushing her thumb over her clit before she’s clenching around him, gasping as he pulls her face down to kiss her.
He follows quickly, groaning into her mouth as his arms wrap around her waist, holding her to him.
After, when they are tangled up and exhausted, he rubs a hand up and down her arm to get her attention.
“I’ll go with you,” she looks up from her spot on his chest to see him looking down at her. “To Winterfell. To...bury her.” He swallows with some difficulty and his eyes flit away for a moment before settling back on her. “You shouldn’t be alone for that.”
Sansa nods and presses a kiss to his chest. “Thank you.”
The words are not sufficient - a horrible substitute for what she wants to say.
She wants to tell him that she had planned to do it alone, but she’s glad she doesn’t have to.
She wants to tell him that he’s the first person in so, so long that she has been able to count on. That’s been there for her when no one else has.
She wants to tell him how she entered into this thing between them, looking for comfort and maybe a friend - someone who could be a distraction from her heartache and loneliness - but got so much more than what she hoped.
She wants to tell him just how much she loves him.
Instead, she snuggles deeper into his embrace and sleeps more peacefully than she has in ages.
She knows when she wakes up, he will still be there and maybe she will never have to be alone again.