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Alone, Together

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“She could’ve made you happy, for a little while,” she told him as she sat down across from him, trying to fight back the triumphant smile that threatened to take over her face when she thought of how just he’d sent away a  pretty and willing girl.

Grey eyes looked up at her, a flicker of surprise before he quickly looked away.  “There’s only one thing  that will make me happy.”

Killing your brother, Sansa thought.  But she played along.  “What’s that?”

She expected him to snarl something about the Mountain, something about how killing a knight would make him happy, but instead he suddenly looked on edge rather than bored and irritated.  His eyes went to his drink and his brow furrowed.

If Sansa hadn’t known him better, she might have left it alone.  Sandor had always given off a don’t-poke-the-bear energy, but she was not afraid of him.

“Sandor?” She said expectantly, tilting her head to try and meet his eyes.

His eyes flitted back to hers and he gave her an appraising look, then promptly tried to change the subject.  “Used to be you couldn’t look at me.”

“That was a long time ago.  I’ve seen much worse than you since then,” she felt a smile pulling at her mouth.  

Sandor wasn’t smiling though.  His mood seemed to darken and there was murder in his eyes.

“Tell me your brother killed him slowly,” he growled.  “Tell me that Bolton bastard died screaming.”

“He died screaming,” Sansa confirmed.  “But not at Jon’s hand.”

He gave her a questioning look, but Sansa just stared him down, the answer clear without her saying a word.

“You,” he said, and it wasn’t a question.  “How?”

She bared her teeth in a vicious smile, “Perhaps I’ll tell you if you agree to answer my question.”

His eyes softened and the corner of his mouth twitched.  “Aye, alright, little bird.  So how did you do it?”

She frowned at him.  “I asked my question first, ser,” she fought another smile when he scowled at the title.  “How do I know that you will keep your word to answer my question if I answer yours first?”

He cocked his head to the side.  “Have I ever lied to you?”

She was silent for a moment, knowing that he had her there.  “No,” she huffed.  “But you may decide to start now.”

His eyes twinkled.  “A hound will die for you, but never lie to you.”

She rolled her eyes, which was the epitome of unladylike behavior, but then, when had Sandor ever cared about that?

She took a breath and met his eyes again.  “Hounds,” she told him, managing to keep a straight face.

Sandor didn’t.

He huffed a life and she felt a little lightheaded when he smiled at her.

“You’ve changed, little bird.”

“Your turn,” she reminded him.

He sat back in his chair and took another swig from his large cup, his eyes suddenly anywhere but her.  It occurred to her that he was nervous about answering her.

“Sandor,” her voice carried a hint of playful warning.

He exhaled heavily and stared down at the table.  “You, Sansa,” he said to his lap, seemingly unable to meet her gaze now.  “You’re it.”

Her hands tightened around her wine glass and she gasped noisily, her eyes widening as she stared at him.

He snorted as he examined the contents of his cup.  “I even told the wolf-bitch as much the last time I saw her before she fucked off and left me to die.”

Sansa released her glass and her hand shot across the table, curling around the back of his, causing him to finally look up at her.

“That,” Sansa told him, her voice trembling, “is something I can give you.”

*

She is daydreaming again, or rather, remembering , and once she realizes that Maester Wolkan is looking at her expectantly, she gives her head a minute shake, asks him to repeat the question, and then promptly answers him.

It is not normal for Sansa to get lost in her thoughts when she is busy with her duties, but the anniversary of his death is near, and she supposes it is only normal to be distracted when coming up on the five year anniversary of losing the love of your life.

Sometimes she thinks that she should be over it by now.  Other times she knows that the pain will never completely go away.

But it is no longer an open wound.  It is a scar, like so many others she has had - a mark of survival even while it is still sensitive.  She reminds herself that scars are indicative of healing, and she carries on.

*

He was gentle with her, which surprised her.

She had taken abuse at the hands of Ramsay, and knew that she could handle anything so long as she was a willing participant.

She had fantasized about him in the years since she’d seen him and always imagined that he’d be rough, if in a passionate sort of way.

But his calloused hands were gentle and he kissed her slowly, held her gingerly in his arms as though she were some porcelain doll he had to handle with care.

“I will not break,” she told him.

“No,” he agreed in a whisper against her lips, “you’re too strong for that.”

*

Despite the tragedy her life has been thus far, Sansa finds it in herself to believe that there is hope for the future.

She likely shouldn’t be so optimistic.  Objectively, her life has been one nightmare after the next - her Father’s execution, her captivity in King’s Landing, her marriage to a Lannister, her marriage to a monster who abused her in the worst ways possible, the death of her baby brother, the death of the man she loved, the feelings of abandonment when her siblings were once again scattered all over the world - and so maybe she should not be so hopeful.

Still, she awakens everyday with hope that happiness and love is a possibility for her.

*

“Lady Sansa,” Sansa looked down to see Tyrion approaching her, a good-natured smile on his face.

She arched a brow at the title and he froze, an apologetic look twisting his features . “Ah, I mean, Your Grace, of course…”

She smirked at him and shook her head.  “How are you, Lord Hand?”

“Busy as ever,” he answered jovially.

“I imagine ruling alongside Bran can be...tedious.”

“Nonsense, he’s a delight,” Tyrion said, though Sansa can see the secret smirk pulling at his mouth.

“I’m surprised you’re here,” Sansa commented.  “I never took you for one who would enjoy tourneys.”

“His Grace insisted,” Tyrion informed her.  “I haven’t been to one since His Grace’s coronation, but he thought the kingdom would keep for a few days so that I could accompany him.”

“The city looks far better than the last time I visited,” Sansa commented.  It had been three years since Daenerys Targaryen had taken King’s Landing, and it seemed it had taken that much time to repair all the damage she had left in her wake.  This was the first tournament held in the capital since the Baratheons’ reign.

“Yes, well, don’t ask me how our Master of Coin managed to fund all the repairs.  I’d rather not know.”  Tyrion sighed dramatically, and then looked back to Sansa’s face, another one of those knowing smiles taking shape.

Sansa gave him an exasperated look.  “What?”

His heavy brow knitted together as he studied her.  “Nothing, Your Grace.  You just seem...happy.”

Sansa should have taken it as a compliment, thanked him, and went on her way.  Instead, her eyes widened and she just stared at him.

Tyrion stood there, looking at her expectantly.

“What?” She asked again, a touch of frustration in her voice.  “I am happy.  It’s nothing that should arouse suspicion.”

Tyrion smiled at her then - not a smirk, but a genuine smile that reached his eyes.  “Good.  You deserve all the happiness in the world, Your Grace.”

*

 

The next day, Sansa receives a formal invitation to yet another tourney.  The latest one is being held in Old Town in two months’ time.

Though the North is no longer part of the other kingdoms that comprise Westeros, Sansa often attends functions such as this one.  If anyone finds it odd, she reminds them that it is a chance to see her brother.  

The fact that this is only part of the reason she attends is her own business.

She smiles as she thinks of Bran - not King Brandon, to be sure - but her brother Bran.  She remembers the boy that he was before the fall, recalls that he wanted to be a knight, though that title was rare among the warriors of the North.

Sansa thinks that perhaps there is a bit of that boy left, considering his tourney attendance in the last few years.  He hasn’t missed many.  It is one of the ways she comforts herself - a bit of a reassurance that there is still some of the old Bran there - when she worries that she has lost her little brother forever.

“Do you plan to attend, Your Grace?” Maester Wolkan asks, clearly wondering if he should send an answer to Lord Hightower confirming her attendance.

“I’ll think about it,” she tells him, already knowing that she will go.  

Much like Bran, Sansa has not missed very many tournaments over the last five years.  

Sansa thinks back to that first tournament she attended after Bran’s coronation.  She had not wanted to attend.  She had been resistant to any kind of enjoyment after all the heartbreak.  If not for her Jon, she might still be lonely and bitter, refusing any joy that life had to offer her.

*

The tournament was to be held at Riverrun, as the capital was still rebuilding, though the tournament had been Bran’s idea.

Their Uncle Edmure had agreed to host the tourney and Brienne had written Sansa numerous letters, begging her to attend.

Even months after losing Sandor, Sansa was still heartsick and lonely.  She had no interest in attending, but her stern older brother clearly had plans to coax her into it.

Jon ventured down to Winterfell every few months, despite his supposed exile.  Sansa was endlessly grateful for this - he was the only sibling that hadn’t completely abandoned her.

“You should go,” he told her as they sat near the fire in her solar.

“I don’t want to,” she’d said back, her tone petulant.

“Sansa,” he was exasperated, and when she looked at his face he was giving her that look.  The look only an older brother could muster for a childish younger sibling.

She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin.  “The North is autonomous .  I am not expected to attend a tournament, of all things.”

“No,” he said, “You’re not expected to.  But you should go.”

“Why is that?” She sipped at her wine, her tone imperious as she narrowed her eyes over the top of her cup.

He lifted a brow at her attitude.  “Might be entertaining.”  He shrugged his shoulders.  

“I have better things to do than entertain myself.”

“Sansa.”  That tone again.  He reached over and squeezed her hand, albeit awkwardly because honestly, Jon was not exactly practiced in offering comfort.  “You’re still young.  The North will keep while you’re gone.  The Sansa from my childhood loved the idea of tournaments.”

“That Sansa is dead,” she said quietly.

He gave a heavy, long-suffering sigh.  Then, “Even if she is, you should go in remembrance of her.  Nothing wrong with holding onto a little bit of that girl.”

“That girl was stupid,” Sansa said, her voice barely above a whisper now.  “That girl believed in day dreams, and true love, and happily ever after.  That girl was hurt time and again because she was too naive to learn.”

Jon moved his hand away from her shoulder.  “You’re wrong,” he disagreed gently.  “That girl was strong.  That girl is now the backbone of the North.”  She turned her face to him, a question in her eyes.  He gave her a small smile.  “That girl deserves to find some happiness, in whatever she can.”

*

Sansa does not often hear from Arya.  The ravens she receives are few and far between, with never enough detail in them for Sansa’s liking.

Sansa always responds with questions - when are you coming home?  Are you ever coming home?  Where are you exactly?

Arya never truly responds to the questions, too long going between messages for the sisters to keep up a steady correspondence.

A few days after Sansa receives the invitation, she receives a message, presumably from Arya.  She wastes no time in tearing at the seal, reading it as she sits in the Great Hall, just finished with her mid-day meal.

Her eyes fly over the short message and her stomach turns.

*

Sansa had not known that Arya had a lover before she left Westeros.

In fact, she didn’t find out until the man himself confessed it to her.

She knew that Arya was friends with Lord Baratheon,  and knew that they had traveled together at some point after Father was executed.

But Sansa had never put together that they were lovers.  

Once she wrote to Arya, Will you return one day for Gendry, if not for me?

The question, as usual, went unanswered.

*

Sansa’s hand trembles as she rereads the missive that was delivered to her mere moments before.  She is vaguely aware of activity around her, of people moving about the Great Hall, but to her, the world has stopped.  She reads it a third time, just to be sure that one of her nightmares hasn’t decided to haunt her in the middle of the day.

I am sleeping , she tells herself.  This is just a dream.  A terrible dream.

She reaches over and pinches her left wrist absently, watches her skin turn pink from the assault.  Now both hands tremble and her lip quivers as she reads the message a fourth time.

“Lady Arya Stark has passed from an unknown illness contracted while exploring the Far West Lands.  We await your instruction regarding how to handle the Lady’s body.”

Sansa knows that there had been no time for condolences and soft words from Arya’s crew, but the strict manner with which the information has been relayed to her feels like a dagger to the heart.  She lifts her right hand to her chest, feels the steady thumping against her ribcage.  Still alive.  Such an odd feeling to know that, while her heart lies in tatters, she goes on living.

How many times in her life has she experienced this phenomenon?  

*

“You don’t have to go,” her voice was small, quiet, muffled as she stared down at her hands, clutched against the furs of her bed.

”I do,” his answer was a deep rumble.

“Your hate for him is stronger than your love for me?” Her voice broke at the end, despite the strong words.

“If you insist on looking at it that way, then aye,” he growled at her as his temper flared.

“If you go there,” she told him, finally lifting her head to give him a serious look, “the chances of you returning are slim.”

“I know.”

*

Too many, too often .

She stands quickly from her chair, holds out the message for Maester Wolkan.

“I am retiring to my room for the day.  I am not to be disturbed,” she tells him, knowing that he will understand once he reads the words scrawled on the parchment.

She collapses in her bed, fully dressed, and pours out all her anger and tears into her pillow until there is nothing left inside her.  

It is not the first time she has done this.  She is surprised there is anything left in her.  How many times has she found herself in a tragedy that left her feeling like her insides have been carved out?

*

She had been in King’s Landing for three whole days before she mustered up the courage to ask about Sandor.

“I need you to tell me what happened to him,” she cornered Arya in the corridor between their rooms, circling her fingers around Arya’s skinny little wrist.

She watched as her sister’s shoulders slumped, as her head dropped.  “You don’t need me to tell you, Sansa.”

She bit into her bottom lip to stop the wail clawing its way up her throat.  Her fingers squeezed Arya’s wrist without her realizing what she was doing.  Her sister said nothing – just let Sansa’s delicate fingers squeeze until bruises bloomed on her skin.  What was a bit of physical pain in the face of this?

*

The next morning, she wakes with the sun and allows her ladies inside to assist her with bathing and dressing.  Afterward, she meets with Maestar Wolkan in her solar to make arrangements.

“Jon needs to be informed,” she tells him.  “A raven needs to be sent to Hardhome with instructions that it be delivered to Jon Snow immediately.”  Hardhome had been resettled by the Wildlings shortly after the Long Night and she knows that getting a message to the village is the easiest way to reach Jon. 

“I need a message to be sent to Arya’s crew to set sail for Old Town.  Let the captain know that I plan to meet them there to recover Arya’s body.  Lord Hightower is holding a tournament there in six weeks’ time.”

Someone will need to tell Gendry in person.  He does not deserve to find out as I had to .

Sansa clears her throat and presses on.  “I do not want this information to get out.  There are people that Arya was close to that deserve better than to find out by gossips.”  

He should not have to wonder whether he is hearing the truth or a nasty rumor.

Sansa spends the whole week making preparations for her departure.  She does not tell the household that the She-wolf of Winterfell has died while exploring across the sea.  The servants know that Sansa had planned to attend the tournament, so she does not tell them that the tournament is now the secondary reason for her travels.

 She waits for a response from Jon, wondering if the news will break him.  Jon has always loved Arya more than any of their other siblings, and the same was true for Arya.  If Sansa feels like a large part of her is dying, she can only imagine how Jon must feel.

Then, two days before her departure, Jon rides through the gates of Winterfell, accompanied by some of his Wildlings.

She meets him in the courtyard and they collapse into one another.

“What happened?” He implores Sansa, his voice thick with emotion.  His lips are trembling with the effort of holding in a sob.  His face is wet with tears.  “What happened to her?”

“I told you all I know,” she tells him quietly.  

“I can’t believe it,” his voice breaks at the end of his sentence and he takes a shuddering breath.  “It doesn’t seem real.”

“I know,” hot tears stream down her face, surprising her.  

I thought I was empty.  I thought I had no more tears to give you, Arya, but seeing Jon’s grief has proven me wrong .

Jon’s arms tighten around her rib cage and she can scarcely breathe, but then, she supposes it is not too different from how she’s felt since she heard the news.  Curious, that the end of Arya’s life could steal the breath from Sansa’s lungs.

Sansa thinks of Gendry, remembers all the broken pieces of him that Arya left behind.  She remembers their shared grief at Arya’s decision to leave.  

She remembers how broken she was when she found that Sandor had died.  How those broken pieces never quite fit back together the same way.

One more time, Gendry, Sansa thinks sadly.  She’s going to break your heart one more time. 

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Sansa is as discreet as she can be with her invitation for Gendry to join her in her private room at the inn..  Some of the ladies had been offered rooms at The Hightower, but the last thing Sansa needs is to encourage the rumors that have circulated about her in the past year or so. Thankfully, she has been able to procure a large, private room in one of the finer inns in Old Town.

There is a rap on her door, likely signaling Gendry’s arrival, so Sansa takes a deep breath and calls out, “You may enter.”

Gendry is led inside by a House Stark guard, who announces, “Your Grace, Lord Baratheon of Storm’s End.”

She hasn’t seen him in several months, but he looks much the same.  The major difference is the beard he has grown.  It is thick and black and Sansa realizes that she likes the look, though it obscures his attractive jawline.  He stands by the door, a bit stiffly until the guard leaves.  Once the heavy footsteps fade down the hallway, his entire body relaxes and those bright blue eyes of his soften.

*

Sansa had not had enough wine to impair her judgment, but just enough to make her absurdly bold.  

And it was that boldness, combined with loneliness, that led her to his door.

The Gates of the Moon had not changed since her last visit, though she had.  She had gone by the name Alayne the last time she’d walked the halls.  The keeper, Lord Nestor Royce, had offered her a room in the East Tower so that she did not have to find a room at an inn or stay in a tent while visiting for the Tourney.

He’d also offered Lord Baratheon a room, which Sansa now stood outside of, wondering whether her bravery was leaving her when she hesitated to bring her fist up to knock.  She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and rapped gently on the door three times.  She kept her eyes closed until she heard the creak of the door swinging open.

“Sansa?”  He smiled, immediately moving aside to let her in.

She wondered if it crossed his mind at all that letting a woman into his room in the middle of the night was scandalous.  She turned to him as he closed the door, giving herself a few moments to gather her courage.

Gendry was confused, she could tell, brow furrowed and blue gaze searching her own.  After all, there were not too many reasons a queen would have for showing up in the room of a lord wearing nothing more than a dressing robe with a thin gown beneath.  

She tugged at the belt and let the robe fall open.  Gendry watched in confusion, his eyes traveling to the opening of the robe and then back to her face, bewildered.  She didn’t speak though.  Instead, she shimmied out of the robe and let it fall to the floor, knowing that the light flickering in the fireplace would illuminate her form from beneath the thin material of her gown.

“Lady Sansa?  I mean, Your Grace…” Gendry fumbled, his eyes darting around the room in an effort to keep from landing on her body.

“I’ve never done this before,” Sansa said softly, fighting away any shame she felt.  “Well, once before…”  But she pushed that far from her mind as she pushed herself away from the door and closed the distance between them.  

Gendry looked panicked, caught as he was between his new lordship and a lifetime of looking away from high-borns so that they might not interpret his gaze the wrong way.  But Sansa was not his queen.  She had no power over what he did or did not do.  

She laid a surprisingly steady hand on his shoulder and the other across his strong jaw, urging him to look at her. 

“I just want to forget.”

“What are you trying to forget, my lady?  I-I mean, Your Grace,” he stumbled again.

Sansa bit into her bottom lip, wondering if he would understand, wondering if he felt even a fraction of the loss that she was feeling.

“I’m trying to forget what it’s like to hurt.”

Recognition dawned in his eyes then and she didn’t know if he understood which pain she was trying to forget, but he certainly understood that there was enough pain going around that Sansa was feeling it acutely.

“Is it your brother, Your Grace?” He asked, still not moving under her touch.  “Or…or your sister?”

Truth be told, it was all of it.  She hurt because Arya had left her.  She hurt because Bran had left her.  She hurt because she didn’t see Jon nearly as much as she wanted.  They were all alive but they were all gone But she shook her head.

“The man I love died in King’s Landing,” she whispered, and with that confession a surge of emotion threatened to choke her.  “I have no appetite.  Sleep evades me.  It has been more than a year since I lost him and the wound is still open and bleeding.  I just-I want to forget.”

Gendry’s hands wrapped around her in a loose embrace and he pulled her to his chest.  “I’m sorry for your loss, Your Grace.”

“Sansa,” she gently reminded him, her words slightly muffled against his tunic.  “Call me Sansa.”

Gendry hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Who was he?”

“A good man,” she said.  “Someone brave and gentle and strong.  Someone who never lied to me.  Someone who did their best to protect me.  Someone who loved me.”

To his credit, Gendry did not try to offer any empty words, did not tell her that there was someone else out there for her.  He just held her, rubbing gentle circles into her back.

She might have been content with that.  She had crept into his rooms to forget, to try to convince him to lay with her so that she would have just one night of something other than tears and pain.  But then she felt his fingers on her chin and he tilted her face up to his.  Then he leaned down and kissed her.

“I want to forget too,” he whispered against her mouth.  “She isn’t dead, but...she is lost to me.”

Sansa pulled back, the question on the tip of her tongue.  She wondered who it had been that he had lost, and to something other than death for that matter.

But Gendry shook his head and leaned back down to brush his lips against the side of her mouth.  “Not- not now,” he implored, so she let the topic drop.



*

Sansa stands from her chair and crosses the room, coming to stand just in front of him.  Her breathing is a bit labored and Gendry likely attributes this to something else.  His eyes flicker across her face, evidently searching for any minute changes in her that he may have occurred since the last time they saw one another.  It seems that he can’t go another minute without touching her, and he reaches up to grasp her arms gently at her elbows, his thumbs drawing circles on the inside of her arms.  The part of her that recognizes only desire is glad that she has dressed appropriately for the warm weather of Old Town and has chosen a dress with cap sleeves.  If she had worn her normal gowns with sleeves that came all the way down to her wrists, she wouldn’t have been able to feel him against her skin.

It matters little that the gown reveals numerous scars gifted to her by Ramsay.  Gendry has seen it all already.

The words that Sansa has come all this way to tell him stick in her throat as she stares at him.  She knows that she is a hard woman to read, that the mask she has learned to wear to keep herself safe often proves difficult to let down even in situations in which she needs to display her emotions.

She doesn’t want to hurt him.  She truly has never wanted to hurt anyone, if she was honest with herself; but Gendry is probably the very last person in the world she wishes to hurt.  Over the years she has learned that he is one of the truly good men left alive, uncorrupted by power, loyal until the end.  It is his loyalty that will aid in breaking his heart today.

Gendry’s open expression changes to one of concern as he studies her face.  One hand leaves her arm, lifts so that he can caress her cheek.  She sighs and leans into his touch, closing her eyes for just a moment so that she can take in the comfort he is offering.

In the next heartbeat, his mouth is slanting over hers, making her gasp at the sensation because even as many times as they have done this now, he still leaves her a little breathless.

Her arms wind around his neck as she returns the kiss, a part of her that she has little control over thrilling at the feel of his hands against her skin.

But then she feels selfish and sick and this is not what she came here to do Not this time.  

She pulls away abruptly, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip as she ducks her head.  She worries about what she will see when she looks into his eyes.  She worries that she’s not going to be strong enough to keep her hands off of him.

When she thinks she can finally look at him, she meets his eyes and there is confusion and maybe something like hurt.

The thought that her rejection could hurt him twists something in her gut.

Do not worry, she thinks.  Soon you won’t care about me pulling away from you.  That hurt is nothing compared to what I’m about to do.

Sansa has always had a tender heart.

Despite what she has been through, she has never lost the ability to feel for others.  She breathes in slowly; she has to look away from him again, but she reaches for his hand as she breathes out.

“Sansa…” Her name on his lips is heavy and she knows she is worrying him.  “What is it?”

She doesn’t know how to tell him.  In that moment, she tries to remember how Arya told her that Sandor had died, then quickly remembers that she didn’t .  

She closes her eyes briefly, steeling herself, digging deep for the strength she will need to handle this.  

“It’s Arya,” she tells him, finally lifting her eyes to his face.

His brow furrows and – while she hopes that he will just somehow know, will hear it from the misery in her voice – he looks confused.  She remembers Arya teasing him a bit in those days before she sailed away, telling him that he was not the sharpest sword in the armory.

His mouth opens, and Sansa knows that he is about to ask her what about Arya , so she rushes ahead of him, squeezing his fingers in what she hopes is a comforting way.  “She fell ill.  She – I’m so sorry, Gendry – she passed away some weeks ago.  The captain of her ship sent me a message.  I came to Old Town to…”  collect her body , she means to say, but Sansa can’t finish her sentence.  

“Fell ill,” he croaks, and it is not a question.  

“An illness unknown to Westeros,” Sansa supplies, though she doubts that Gendry truly cares about what it was that took her.  He will only care that she is gone.

His left hand is still occupied, but his right comes up to cover his mouth with the back of his hand.  He looks like he might be sick.  His eyes dart around and Sansa releases him and quickly points in the direction of the chamber pot.

He promptly rushes over and empties his stomach, heaving for long minutes as Sansa politely averts her eyes.  

She can see from the corner of her eye, though, that he has braced himself against the wall with both hands as he vomits.  He is shaking badly.  Only when he turns back around does Sansa realize that it is not from the heaving, but from his sobs that the shaking originates.

“She’s gone.”  Again, not a question.  It’s not disbelief.  He knows that Sansa would never lie to him, would never deliver him false information.  She watches as he fills a cup with water to rinse out his mouth and surges on with the news.

“Her crew is…bringing her to Old Town.  I don’t plan on attending the tournament now.  I have  to meet the ship so that I can take her home.”

“I never…when she left I thought…”

Sansa knows what he thinks.  He thought that she would be back.  He thought that once the wanderlust had faded that she would come back to him.

Perhaps she would have, had she lived.

“Am I being punished?” He blurts out.

His words startle Sansa.  She turns to him fully, knowing she must look confused.  She closes the space between them, too tentative to reach for him yet, but needing the proximity for her own comfort.

“Punished?” She questions him.

Gendry drags his hands through his hair.  “For…this,” he waves his hand between the two of them.  “For you.”

Sansa knows that it is only his way of trying to understand how this happened, why Arya was taken from them, but the words cut her to the bone.  She flinches and, a second later, so does he.  His shoulders sag while Sansa fights to keep her composure, straightening her spine and averting her eyes.

This is not about you , she tells herself, trying to get over the acute pain from knowing now, unequivocally, that Gendry regrets their trysts, even going so far as to look at them as a reason that gods may have taken Arya from him.

“I-I didn’t mean that how…” Gendry cuts himself off, squeezing at the bridge of his nose.

Sansa attempts to put him at ease, to assure him that she took no offense to his words.  “It’s fine,” she rushes to tell him, waving her hand to dismiss his half-formed apology.  It has not occurred to Sansa though, that losing her sister may be punishment for lying with the man she apparently loved.  She supposes that it would  be a fitting punishment for a particularly vindictive god.

But Sansa no longer believes in the Seven.

And anyway, she had not known that Gendry loved Arya when she first lay with him.

*

Sansa lost herself in the feel of his lips - pressing kisses against her mouth, sucking bruises into the skin of her neck, tugging gently at her earlobe as he walked her back to his bed.

Their clothes fell away quickly and Sansa tried not to linger on thoughts of what her body looked like as Gendry trailed his fingers over the silvery scars.  

But when she found the courage to look back up at him, he was not looking at her scars at all - but at her breasts.  And he didn’t look disgusted.

Awed was the more appropriate word.

He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her sternum, then one to the inside of each breast.  She panted as she cradled him between her legs, a little overcome with the desire that flared in her when he looked at her.

It’s his eyes , she reasoned.  He has such beautiful eyes.

When she felt his lips close over a nipple, her hands went into his hair, tugging a little harder than she meant to.  But Gendry only groaned and sucked at her breast harder, making her arch off the mattress.  

She felt his hand trail down her waist to the outside of her thigh before sliding inward, his thumb rubbing circles into her skin.

And she was overcome with the need to tell him to touch her already.  Her hips lifted of their own accord, shifting in an attempt to get him to touch her where she ached.

His mouth returned to hers and she whimpered when he slid his tongue inside, rolling it against the roof of her mouth as his hand moved to finally play at her core.

When he found her hot and slick, he let loose another groan and dipped a finger into her.

“Yes, please,” she whimpered into his mouth.

He added another finger and within seconds, Sansa’s hips were rolling against his hand.  Gendry’s thumb brushing against her clit in a way that had pressure building fast.  She writhed and panted as his fingers and thumb worked her over, crying out when she released quicker than she’d ever been able to in the past.

He pulled his fingers from her and lined himself up against her, his cock nudging gently at her entrance.

“Please,” she said again, wrapping her legs around his waist, giving him little choice but to sink into her.

“Gods,” he croaked, burying his face into her neck.  He was still for several moments, and Sansa closed her eyes, surprised at how good it felt.

When he started rolling his hips against hers, Sansa had to kiss him again, if only to keep herself from babbling about how good it felt.  Gendry had tilted his hips in such a way that with  every forward roll, his pelvic bone brushed her clit, sending waves of sensation that she felt through her whole body.  It wasn’t enough for another release at the pace he had set, but it a sweet, beautiful torture that pulled low moans from her throat.

He shifted then, pulling her legs away from his waist, throwing one over his shoulder.  He slid in deeper, hissing in pleasure as Sansa’s fingers clawed at the sheets beneath her.  His pace changed too, hips snapping into hers with more purpose, drawing gasps from her every time he hit a delicious spot inside her.

Then his fingers were on her clit again, rubbing circles as he drove into her.

Sansa bit hard into her bottom lip, trying to hold in the sounds fighting to escape her throat as the pressure built again before cresting and rolling through her body, making her tremble as she released as Gendry lost rhythm, pulling out of her just before spilling his seed on her stomach.

He rolled to the side, falling onto his back on the mattress as he caught his breath.  Sansa turned her head to look at him, only to find he was already studying her, perhaps trying to figure out what had just happened.  He rolled to his side and Sansa did the same, unable to stop a slow, satisfied smile from curling on her lips.

She’d had every intention of leaping out of bed and dressing herself as soon as it was done; instead, she lay curled on her side, mirroring Gendry, her eyes searching his face.

He was so handsome, and she was mildly amused that she had waited so long to appreciate it.

His eyes slid closed, but his breathing indicated he was still awake.  

Of its own accord, her hand crept up, landing against his stubbled cheek.

Bright blues eyes opened again, studying her with a hint of bewilderment.  She watched as his brows furrowed and his mouth opened, as though he were contemplating what to say.

Another smile tugged at Sansa’s mouth and she watched as his eyes flickered to the upturned corner.

“You’re very beautiful,” he murmured.

Sansa had heard it many times, so often in fact that she was quite tired of the sentiment.  But when he said it, it didn’t come across as a compliment necessarily, or even as a bid to please her.

He said it as though it was just an observation, as though he’d only just realized it.

“Thank you,” she said, surprised to feel her cheeks heat with a blush.

He smirked at her, those startling blue eyes twinkling.  Then he turned his head and laid a kiss against the inside of her wrist.

“Who was she?” Sansa asked suddenly, remembering the love he had lost.

 He clearly knew who she meant.  She could tell by his reaction to her question.  His throat bobbed as he swallowed and he frowned, his eyes flitting away from her face.  

Sansa felt her smile fade as an uneasiness settled in her chest.  “Do I know her?”

He pressed his lips together, a stubborn look crossing his face, and for a moment, Sansa was sure he wouldn’t tell her.

“Who?”  She pressed.

“Your sister,” he said quietly.

Sansa lay still, the words echoing in her head.  She moved suddenly, scrambling round under the tangled covers in her effort to sit up.  Gendry stayed still, looking straight ahead as she managed to get up on her knees, the coverlet pressed tightly to her bare chest.

“What?” She gasped.

His eyes slid to her briefly, before flitting away again.  He swallowed heavily and scratched at the back of his neck.

“Arya?” She asked again, her voice taking on a higher pitch than she thought possible.

“Aye,” he muttered, picking at an errant thread on the blanket.

“You...and Arya?” Sansa felt faint.  She pressed a hand to her forehead.  “Oh, gods.”

“It was...a brief affair,” Gendry said, as though this was supposed to reassure her.  “She said she just wanted to know what it was like before…”

“What?!  So she had never...you were her…?” Sansa collapsed back onto the bed, staring at the canopy.  

It was true that she had never really spoken to Arya about her love life.  Sansa’s own experiences with lying with man had been so traumatic that she had never brought it up with Arya; and by the time Sansa had experienced one good memory of having someone properly make love to her, Arya had already headed South to kill Cersei, and then had subsequently left the continent.  No, they had never traded pillow talk, had never had the time for it.  Sansa wasn’t even sure if Arya would have divulged the information anyway.

“Wait,” Sansa said, though Gendry had not volunteered any more information.  “Did you love her?  Or was she just…” Sansa trailed off, turning her head to look at Gendry.

“Yes,” he murmured, turning his head so that he could meet her eyes.  “I love her.  But it doesn’t matter now, does it?”

And he didn’t have to explain to her why it didn’t matter.  Sansa knew already how he felt.  Arya had abandoned him just as she had abandoned everyone else.  “No, I don’t suppose it does.”

*

He crosses the room tentatively, his head down, his face twisted in conflict.  Sansa has the same urge she’s always had, to smooth over awkwardness, to put him at ease.  But the unexpected twist of pain his words brought her distracts her and she is unsure what to say to him.

“I should not have said that,” he says to her feet, now standing within arms length.

Sansa wrings her hands and keeps her head held high.  Taking a deep, fortifying breath, she pushes through the hurt.  “You said how you felt, my lord.”  She had not meant it to come out sounding so cold and formal.  “I know that...you’ve been conflicted about…”  Our affair.  Our dalliance.  Our mistakes. “....Us.”

His eyes move to her face then, and it’s as though he must have read her thoughts because he says, “I don’t regret this.  I didn’t mean it that way.”

Without warning, her anger takes hold, and she snaps out, “Then what did you mean?”

His brows wrinkle and his mouth twists in anger, and evidently they have forgotten about one another’s tempers.

His hands lift to her cheeks, bracketing her face, forcing her to look at him.  But as fierce as he looks, his hands are gentle.

“I meant,” he says quietly, “that I wonder if I’m being punished because I was trying to put her behind me and now she’s...”  He closes his eyes, cutting off as though he just can’t finish the sentence.

Sansa shakes her head, trying to throw off his hands, but his grip tightens on her, though it is still gentle.  “Gendry, it’s fine.  I understand. You loved her, she hurt you, and now she’s gone and there’s no chance of reconciliation.  I only meant that…”

“You don’t understand,” he cuts her off, stepping more into her space, chest to chest.  The look on his face is one of torture.  While he has become more educated and infinitely more articulate since being named Lord of Storm’s End, Sansa knows that some words still escape him, some emotions are too complicated to explain.  But he tries.  He takes a deep breath, his eyes shifting between both of hers.  

“Then help me understand,” Sansa says tiredly, her hand lifting to rest on his chest.  Her fingers dig into the wool of his doublet.  “I’m hurting too.  She was my sister.  And I didn’t...I didn’t know that I was betraying her when I came to you that first time.  But then, after I knew, I didn’t stop.  But I don’t have guilt over it.  I don’t feel like her dying is punishment for me…”  Using you.  Needing you.  Falling in love with you .  “...trying to find some comfort in your company.”

She sees the moment that resolve settles into Gendry’s features and he gives a little nod as though he’s ready to spill it all.  

“When I was on my way here,” he says, his eyes softening, “I was going to tell you that it was over.”

Her heart twists in her chest and she clenches her teeth together hard, breathing through her nose steadily.  She can’t look at him anymore, so her eyes flit away, finding a random spot on the wall, waiting for him to finish.  She can’t speak.  The emotions are too close to the surface.  

“Sansa,” he says, his voice so soft.  “I wasn’t going to end it with you.  I was going to tell you that it was over between Arya and I.  That I was letting her go for good.  That I was done holding onto the past.”

Her eyes snap back to his face, her mouth falling open in surprise.  He lifts his brow when he realizes she understands.  

He goes on, “I wanted to tell you that I wasn’t going to let her get in the way anymore.  She left years ago and I’ve heard nothing from her.  I’ve been holding onto something that’s not even real, if only because it’s all I knew.”  He shrugs his shoulders, lifts his eyes to the ceiling as though the words falling from his mouth are ridiculous.  Then he looks back at her, and he looks...scared.  “I didn’t know you were going to tell me she’d died and that’s why I feel like I’m being punished.  I let her go and then I learn she’s died,” he huffs out an unamused laugh.

Sansa finally finds her voice, clearing her throat delicately, she says, “Why, after all this time?”

Chapter Text

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?”

“No.”

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.”

“Why’s that?”

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.

“Sansa…”

“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.