It’s been a harsh Winter.
That is all Sansa can think as her horse carries her, galloping through the night, through what is the harshest of snow storms that Sansa can remember in her lifetime. Her teeth chatter and her face feels rubbed raw from the wind howling all around her. She’s been riding for days, but the storm only got unbearable in the last few hours and she knows if she doesn’t make it to shelter soon she never will.
(There’s only one shelter she has hopes of reaching, if she’s lucky).
It had happened quickly. The uprisings, the rebellions, the chaos that put all their lives in jeopardy. When she had received word of Bran’s assassination (right on the steps of his own castle, an arrow through the chest, that pinned him forevermore to the chair that defined his life) well she knew she had to act with haste. She had hoped that it wouldn’t come to this, that they would be able to quell the fears and the discord that had befell the Kingdoms in the wake of the Dragon Queen’s death. But it had been some ten years and Sansa could admit they had failed, she had failed.
Bran’s death had been a blow, yett she hadn’t cried. She had lost her brother ages ago. The shell of a man who had resided over the Six Kingdoms was but a hollow representation of the boy who loved climbing and adventure, who only wanted to be a Kingsguard. No, instead of crying Sansa had felt as if her heart had lodged itself directly in her throat. It has not moved since.
But now, there is so little left for Sansa. She hadn’t wanted to flee the North, flee her people. But she heard the whispers, she knew that with Bran dead they schemed for her head next. They think they can do better, and maybe Sansa is bitter about that. Because all she had ever done was try, try to put her people first, to better her Kingdom. She put her own wants, needs, desires, dreams aside for the betterment of the North. She had bled for the North, she had sacrificed more than anyone and she had fought, god she had fought and in the end it wasn’t enough.
Her Stark ( Lannister, Bolton ) name wasn’t enough. And that hurt maybe more than anything.
Sansa grits her teeth to stop them chattering and pushes her horse harder. Unfortunately she knows that her horse is likely to die after this, she had tried to avoid that outcome but when it came down to it she was going to put her life ahead of her horse. She would never forget him though, the job that he was doing for her.
She opens her eyes as much as she can and tries to see something in the dark, through the thick snow. She thinks that she can find it, she has to believe she can. She’s only been there once, and in the light of day, but she has replayed the day enough to be almost sure of herself.
Four years ago. It’s hard to admit that it has been that long. She had been visiting the Wall, trading with the Free Folk and working on hunting agreements, as was her duty. She visited often, usually twice a year. She had been meeting with Tormund when Jon walked in.
It had been the first time Sansa had seen him since they parted at King’s Landing. He had made no effort to come back, though he knew he would be more than welcome at Winterfell. Sansa always asked about Jon when she visited the wall. But Tormund’s answer was always the same.
“Bloody bastard keeps to himself, nobody but his wolf to keep him company I reckon.”
And that was the end of it. Sansa couldn’t force him into something he didn’t want to. But late at night, in the privacy of her chambers she would picture it. Jon’s homecoming. The feasts they would have, visiting the crypts together, walking in the forests around Winterfell. Of course it was only a dream, a dream of perhaps what could have been if everything had been different. If Daenerys never came to Westeros. Now, now there is too much left unsaid between them, too much hurt and heartbreak. But in her dreams it is only joy, only mutual affection and shared laughter. (If she envisions their hands intertwining as they stroll then she would never admit it to herself in the light of day).
Now Sansa tries desperately to remember every detail of that one encounter. It was only for the day. Jon had been shocked by her presence. He had stuttered, gone bright red and then bowed. It was almost comical and put Sansa at ease. That was the only levity they seemed to have though.
Formalities were exchanged, greetings and surface level apologies for not seeing each other sooner. It had been a farce. They tiptoed, too afraid to say anything meaningful. And then Tormund had essentially forced Jon into bringing Sansa out to his cabin, about a two hour ride from the Wall. Luckily Tormund accompanied them because the ride would’ve been near silent if not for him.
When they’d arrived, after Jon had finished his business with Tormund (trading of his own apparently), Sansa had at once felt out of place. It was odd, to see a place so wholly Jon. It was a quiet cabin, surrounded by a copse of trees. Some smoke still escaped the chimney. It was small, oddly quaint but everything she would expect of Jon. It was simple and fulfilled what it was meant to. She saw an axe left in a log and as she had dismounted her horse she thought she could hear a stream nearby.
Ghost had bombarded her then. And she had nearly been swept off her feet. When she had realized what had happened she was thrilled, she had missed having a direwolf around.
Jon had half-heartedly called Ghost off and then Tormund had insisted on a ‘tour.’ So Jon showed them around, showed them inside and gave them tea. They weren’t there for more than an hour.
The conversation had been stilted but through it all she had been thankful for Tormund’s presence. Until they were getting ready to leave and Tormund went off to “take a good hot piss” as he so kindly informed them.
Jon and Sansa had stood completely alone, just outside Jon’s cabin, for the first time since she had asked him if he loved Daenerys Targaryen. All at once Sansa was aware of the fact that she didn’t belong here. They’d made their choices and none of them involved her here, somewhere along the way their paths had irrevocably diverged.
At Winterfell, it had always belonged to the both of them. There was no awkwardness, they felt at home. At the Wall, it hadn’t been solely Jon’s, she had felt comforted, at ease and protected. And at their brief time together in King’s Landing, well, neither of them had ever belonged there had they?
At his cabin though, the air seemed to be alive with Jon’s essence, it was his home now. And it broke Sansa’s heart. She thought, for a time, maybe home hadn’t been a place. Maybe they had built a home in each other. But now, six years behind them, she wasn’t a part of his life any more than he was hers. The wound still throbbed though, as open as it had been the day Jon left King’s Landing without her.
Their conversation had somehow been worse.
(“I’m sorry about him, Tormund I mean.” Jon winced and scratched his head, not meeting her eye.
Sansa rolled hers in return, aiming to cut the tension, “Don’t be ridiculous Jon… It’s been good to see you, almost like old times.”
“You as well, Your Grace,” it’s Jon’s old deference and he almost looked embarrassed by it.
It set Sansa’s teeth on edge. She’d heard echoes of Jon being cowed into submission. Something simmered between them. A beat of silence and then Sansa blurted.
“Is that how it must be now? Duty and forced familiarity? I suppose it is what you grew accustomed to,” her tone was biting, venom on every word.
“Sansa–” Jon pleaded.
“Don’t Jon, just don’t.”)
She had left him like that, looking crestfallen and hurt in a way she didn’t think he had a right to. She had gone to her horse and saddled up. When Tormund came back she left with only the thinnest veil of a courteous goodbye.
Her return ride with Tormund had been quiet until they were almost back.
“You know he regrets it Sansa,” Tormund spoke to her like the friend he had become over the years and Sansa winced.
“Regrets what Tormund?” she responded, a bit too snappish.
Tormund had given her a long searching look, as if he wasn’t sure how to articulate his words in a way that would be clear to her.
“All of it.”
Sansa yanks herself out of the memory. Four years had passed and each one had brought more hardship and pain, while Jon lived out his life free of responsibility or the weight of the world on his shoulders. Sansa felt entitled to some resentment.
It’s funny, how she defines her life like that. Six years without Jon. Then briefly, Jon. And the four years without Jon that followed.
Sansa nearly misses it, lost in her thoughts. The entrance to the copse of trees where Jon’s cabin is, she only notices the change in light from the slight break in the trees. She pulls on the reins and brings her horse to a halt. He seems thankful for the reprieve and Sansa finds herself hoping that he will survive beyond tonight.
She walks into the copse with her horse following and for a second she freezes. Her whole body has been shaking for hours and she must be blue from a lack of blood flow but she feels as if all remaining blood evaporates when she looks to the house and it is only dark. The storm rages too fiercely for her to tell if there is any smoke coming from the chimney.
She blinks. And then she hits the ground.
She’s disoriented and suddenly frightened. It’s night, she is somewhere unfamiliar and anything can lurk in the darkness. She knows the stories passed down by Old Nan. But then there is hot breath and a lapping tongue and she almost has to laugh.
It’s Ghost. But this time Sansa hadn’t the strength to stay upright, merely getting pushed down by his bounding. She’s weary at the thought as Ghost paws at her stomach and she feels the snow wetting her clothes, making the cold ache even more than she thought possible.
“Ghost! Ghost what is it?”
She hears hollering but she’s too out of it to recognize it for who it is.
Crunching snow and the flicker of fire.
Firelight from a torch washes over her face and she is drawn to the warmth, she wants to reach for it but she thinks she is still collapsed in the snow. Her head feels light.
“Seven hells, what happened to you? How are you here?”
It’s the last thing Sansa hears before everything goes dark around her, she focuses on the two grey eyes hovering over her and lets a deep peace wash over her.
When he sees her, Jon thinks he is dreaming. A very cruel dream that he will hate in the morning but a dream nonetheless. She looks like something his mind would conjure up. When Ghost had started barking and growling he assumed there was some animal, lost in the storm and far from home. But when he’d ventured out of his cabin into the raging wind the first thing he’d seen was a horse. A horse that Ghost had no interest in.
Something had clenched in his gut. A horse meant a person and that could mean trouble. He’d had his share of visitors over the years, welcome and not. But there was still always the latent fear that they would cause trouble.
He trudged through the snow.
“Ghost! Ghost what is it?”
His voice sounded hoarse to him, from disuse in this hard Winter. It had been months since he had visited anyone.
But when he saw Ghost playing in the snow something in him knew. Sansa. The only person he had ever seen Ghost be comfortable with other than him in the last decade was Sansa on her one and only trip to Jon’s cabin. The Stark blood, he was drawn to it. All the direwolves had. And while they had recognized friend from foe, (Jon remembers Ghost’s reaction to Daenerys instinctively, that had been something), the direwolves were never more comfortable than with the Starks. Theirs was an old sort of magic.
His heart thudded in his chest.
“Sansa?” His voice was hesitant, he had hardly dared to believe.
He stopped a few steps from her and his torch illuminated her in a wash of light.
She had a smile on her face but she appeared delirious. Part of Jon knew she looked unwell but he was too shocked to move for a few seconds.
The hood on her navy riding coat had fallen in the snow and her hair fanned out around her. It was falling out of two braids. It was windswept and in thorough disarray. There were tiny scratches on her face if Jon looked closely (they appeared to be from branches, mere scrapes he hoped). And her face. It was awfully pale and Jon suspected it wasn’t just from the moonlight. Her lips seemed to have a purple blue tinge to them.
Her dress, once a washed out cerulean was dirt smeared and soaked with snow. If he watched closely he could see she was shaking. Ghost continued to lick and paw at her, vying for attention she seemed unable to give. He thought he saw her hand twitch.
It woke Jon up and he stepped forward and peered over her.
“Seven hells, what happened to you? How are you here?”
He can tell she’s unconscious so he doesn’t hesitate. He bends down and scoops her up in his arms. Years of manual labour and fending for himself makes it easy for him, he barely notices the weight. He holds her to his chest as he brings her to the cabin and he is thankful that he can feel her heartbeat against his own.
She’s alive, she’s going to be okay.
It was the mantra Jon repeated to her as he tended to her over the next hour. He didn’t like the dampness of her clothes but there was no way in hell that he was going to undress her, he took off her riding boots and socks, her outer jacket and gloves and pulled his mattress over in front of the fire that he stoked up so it was blazing for her. He laid her down and wrapped her up in all the blankets he had until a sweat broke out on her forehead and the blue tinge receded from her lips and fingers.
When he was pleased with how Sansa was recovering he had gone and tended to her horse. He brought him into the stable he had erected for his own horses and did what he could for the animal. He suspected he would recover but it would be a slow go of it, he reminded himself to check on the horse again before going to sleep.
And then he had brought Ghost inside and drawn a chair up to watch Sansa as she dozed. It seemed, perhaps, uncouth. But for god’s sake she had shown up half dead on a horse in the middle of the night with no ability to even give an explanation of what was going on. Half of him feared she was being chased, he knew Ghost would alert them if anyone approached though. So he untucked the blankets so that she didn’t overheat and he focused on the steady rise and fall of her chest.
Sansa, here. In his house. It didn’t feel tangible to him, that even though she was three feet in front of him, if he tried to reach for her she would slip through his fingers.
As he watches her he falls into a barrage of memories. He tries desperately not to think of their last meeting. He has blocked most of it from his mind, he regrets it mostly, but he had been so unsteadied that day. She had been sprung on him out of nowhere, and curse Tormund for what he thinks. It had been a disaster. And to think it was their only meeting in the last ten years. Jon feels old all at once, every change he has undergone somehow present at once.
But Jon’s memories from further back are fair game and they ceaselessly wash over him. Sansa at the wall. Sansa fashioning him a cloak of his own. Sansa and Jon rallying the North. Killing Ramsay, losing Rickon. You are to me. Ruling Winterfell, together. Riding away, out of Winterfell’s courtyard and far away from her warmth. The pristine image of her on the ramparts forever burned into his brain, coming to him on his loneliest nights. Just her waving, a hint of a smile as snow fell into her hair. And then the memories change.
Tension. Barely concealed grimaces. Glances that hold more than their words. Dancing around each other, the unsubtle wedge between them. And a Targaryen Queen. (She’d said it like an accusation. Daenerys had never been his Queen though. Not really) Trying to protect Sansa. Sansa betraying him. Sansa saving him. One last look as he left her again.
It all blurs before him into one agonizing feeling of regret. So much he would have done differently if he could do it over again.
Sansa stirs, and Jon is pulled from his recollections.
She blinks her eyes open and quicker than expected she is alert. She pulls herself up onto her forearms and she seems to focus on Jon. He can’t speak.
Her voice cracks and she looks utterly confused. Jon wonders if she hit her head.
“Well I hope that is who you were looking for out there, otherwise you’re likely a fair bit off course…”Jon trails off when she just looks at him perplexed as ever.
Then it all seems to fall into place for her and he can see her putting something together in her head. She grins suddenly.
“I made it.”
It seems to be this great sigh of relief, a weight lifted right off her shoulders. She looks utterly content then and snuggles up into her blankets. Pulling herself closer to the fire and closing her eyes to bask in the warmth.
Jon hesitates. Then he resolves himself and gets up from his chair, makes his way over to the mattress and sits beside her. She doesn’t even seem to notice. Ghost wanders over and curls up at their feet.
“Sansa?” Jon asks and she looks at him, eyes wide, “Why are you here?”
She stares at him for a few seconds, and Jon almost expects some silly excuse. That she will brush it off. Then her expression shifts and she lets out a choked sob. It catches him off guard but his body reacts before his mind catches up. He pulls her close to him and rubs her back as she starts to cry.
“I failed Jon, I–I’m a failure,” Sansa gets out between her wet sobs.
He doesn’t understand what she means, he tries to mull it over. She continues to shake.
Jon holds her tighter, “Shh, it’s okay Sansa. Tell me what happened.”
It’s odd. That despite all the time between them and everything that lies in their past, how easy it is to be open with her, to welcome her in like this and to comfort her. It is as easy as breathing. Jon isn’t thinking about it, he just acts.
Sansa calms herself after a few minutes. She pulls back from him and wipes her tears. And Jon sees her slip into a semblance of some mask she has used before when hiding herself away from the world. It seems Jon still knows her well enough to recognize that at least. She levels him with her icy eyes and Jon braces for impact.
She says it with no emotion and Jon knows it is a protective tactic. She is separating herself from that reality. But Jon sees the cracks in her armor. The way her top lip quivers and the lines around her eyes tighten ever so slightly. He lets out a long breath as the news hits him again and again. Bran.
“When?” Jon’s voice is barely above a whisper.
Sansa tells him. She tells him everything she knows. About Bran’s death. About the turmoil the Kingdoms are in. About how things have gotten progressively worse the last two years since Winter began. About the plots she uncovered scheming for her own death. About it all. And Jon feels guilt, indescribable guilt.
He had known, vaguely, from Tormund that there had been issues in the South. But he never suspected that it was this dire. That Sansa and Bran’s lives were in danger. It makes him want to throw up. When Sansa finishes Jon can only stare.
“I should’ve been there,” Jon says and looks to the ground, disgusted in himself.
Sansa bristles at his words, seeming to only just remember that he was there after her outpouring of information.
“But you weren’t.”
The air is heavy between them and they both stare at each other.
It’s an absurd thought, yet Jon cannot help but notice that Sansa looks so like Catelyn did. Even disheveled as she is, he looks at her eyes and sees the woman he spent the better part of his youth resenting. She lives still in every expression Sansa takes. And yet they have their differences. Sansa’s hair is lighter than the deep crimson red Catelyn’s had been. And her eyes are more haunted than he had ever seen Catelyn’s. Sansa had to live through worse than Catelyn could ever imagine for her eldest daughter. Part of Jon is glad she didn’t live to find out the truth.
(And Jon can’t help but wonder if Sansa looks at him and sees Ned, the only father who ever mattered to him. As the traveller who had once been a North man said to him a few years back. I thought I had seen a ghost my boy, I would swear you look just like the late Eddard Stark. The words had rung in Jon’s head for weeks).
“Aye, I wasn’t.”
Jon breaks the silence and it seems to cut something loose between them. As if they are letting their regrets go, as if they are letting the past die. Sansa turns to the fire and it dances across her face. She looks lost in thought. Jon thinks she has never looked more beautiful, more at ease.
“I haven’t seen Arya in three years since her last visit. Brief as it was. She writes but I didn’t think it safe to divulge my plans into a letter. I didn’t know what else to do Jon. I have no solid loyalties in the North. Yohn Royce remains loyal, and Edmure, but I couldn’t do that to the Eyrie, Riverrun has only just recovered. You… You were the only person I could think of that I would feel safe with,” Sansa looks to him on her last words and he thinks she says more with that look than she ever has before.
It’s not forgiveness, he hasn’t apologized. But it is the acceptance that she trusts him, she knows she can depend on him in spite of his mistakes.
“You’re safe here, I’ll protect you” Jon says and he reaches for her hand, squeezes it tight.
He doesn’t realize that his words echo a vow he made to her once, so long ago now, until her head snaps towards him. Her expression softens though and he can see her visibly exhale.
“I’m counting on it,” Sansa says and scoots closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder.
A softer response than the one she gave him nearly twelve years ago. Jon feels something untangling deep in his chest.
It’s easy, Sansa thinks. Too easy. It’s been nearly three months and her and Jon have fallen into this routine of sorts. She thinks maybe this was her destiny, not crowns and corsets but instead a simple life. Warm wools and thick furs. Cooking and sewing. Creating with her hands and taking long walks through the forest with Jon.
Her heart, her soul, she feels it mending. Life has slowed down.
It’s not always easy, some days she feels like she is the worst type of person, running from her responsibilities (to save her life, Jon reminds her) and leaving the rest of the Kingdoms to devour each other. It’s not what anyone ever would have thought of her.
But she adjusts. She breathes a little easier every day.
About two weeks after she arrived, Tormund had visited. He had seemed frenzied, more a Wildling than she had ever thought of him. He had stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of her.
“Your? Your Grace?” Tormund had spluttered, and she knew that he was in shock, he never bothered with such courtesies.
Sansa quirked an eyebrow from the doorway of Jon’s cabin.
Tormund’s shoulders seemed to sag with relief as he realized that he wasn’t in fact hallucinating.
“Oh I should’ve known. Too clever for your own good. Where’s the little crow got to?”
Tormund had been much more at ease after that and they had gone walking to where Jon was off in his clearing gathering them some new wood. He had been just as surprised by Tormund’s sudden appearance. But it seemed that word of Bran’s death had reached him at the same time as the Queen in the North’s disappearance and he had panicked. In truth, he told them he thought he was coming to tell Jon of two deaths. Which he apologized profusely for, like I said, I should’ve known the Wolf Queen was made of stronger stuff.
Whatever Bran was made of that allowed him to fall was left unsaid.
Tormund had stayed for the night and Sansa had drunk more than her share of ale. But it felt good, she felt alive in a way she didn’t remember for many times. She’d watched Jon share stories with Tormund from across the fire, he seemed to glow in the amber of the fire, and she thought to herself that maybe. Just maybe enough time had passed. Maybe there was still kindling in her heart for something she thought she had laid to rest long ago.
Tormund’s departure was tinged with sadness but he had promised to visit more often and that he wouldn’t let slip to anyone that Sansa was actually hidden away in a small cabin deep in the woods, tucked away with Jon Snow.
Today though, Sansa sits by the hearth and she sews. Jon needs a new set of gloves and they have some decent hide. If she finishes those she plans to make some new socks for herself, Winter is far from over and she brought a rather limited supply of clothes in her small pack (one packed with haste in the dead of night, her breath shallow as she thought essentials) when she fled Winterfell. She has been expanding her collection since getting here but somehow socks seemed the least of her worries.
Jon is out, he went up stream to check some of his fishing traps. She goes with him often, they do most of their tasks together. But today there had been a cutting wind and Sansa didn’t want to embark outwards. If she’s being completely honest with herself, she needs the reprieve every so often.
Being around Jon all the time… it is often overwhelming.
Back at Winterfell she didn’t let anyone in. She had no close confidants, no friends. There had been the occasional man she took to her bed after the first few years. A handful of Northern Lords, an emissary from the Iron Islands, and that devilishly handsome Lord of Sunspear. (She only ever called him Martell, he returned the favour. Stark. It made her burn). She was careful not to let any bastards quicken in her womb, though she knew some of the men must hope for it when they bedded her. But that was an intimacy only of the body, not of the mind. Her thoughts, feelings, opinions, fears, and regrets.
Even when Arya had visited there had been a breach between them. She’d enjoyed the few visits they had but she held her sister at arm’s length, as she knew Arya did with her as well. Somehow they knew, Arya never brought up Jon. And in return Sansa never brought up the Lord of Storm’s End, Gendry, now Baratheon. Not even when she’d heard he had a wife now. There are some things that sisters know better than others.
But with Jon. Well, as she had once told Brienne, Jon was Jon. There was something about their past together that made them open up. Sansa found herself discussing all that had happened since they last spoke and even before. There were many missing years. Most of the time it was safe. Every now and then they tread into dangerous waters.
Sansa recalls, that first week, before Tormund even came. She knew they had to talk about it, knew that if they left it between them much longer the tension would be too much. So she had asked, bluntly, over dinner.
“Tell me about her,” Sansa said without preamble.
“About who?” Jon said through his stew.
Sansa thought Jon was going to choke to death on a piece of beef and she nearly rose to help him before he coughed it down and then looked at her like she had lost her mind.
“Sansa we don’t have to–”
“Jon, we do,” And she read the skepticism on his face, “I like being here. I plan on being here for at least the imminent future. If we don’t get this out in the open now though, it will fester. I’m not the girl I once was and I’m not nearly so angry anymore. I want you to tell me.”
Jon considered her for a long time. Sansa thought he wouldn’t speak at all. But he finally broke.
“I had no love for her,” Jon started and Sansa’s eyes went wide. It wasn’t the response she expected, “What you have to understand is, Sansa I was a prisoner on that island. And I thought–I thought if I could pretend. Everyone knew she was interested in me, she made it no secret. I’ve played the spy before with the wildlings. But I was in over my head. And then once we got to the North… She would threaten you–all of you. Arya and Bran as well. I thought it was the only way Sansa.”
“Jon, I’m sorry, I didn’t–”
Jon shook his head, “Don’t apologize Sansa. If I’d told you that first night we might have avoided all of it. Gods, I think about that a lot. If I had just been honest. But I was so scared. And that was my fault.”
There had been a part of Sansa that wondered, if it was all a farce. Jon had killed her in the end and Sansa never really felt that he loved her. It was more like a marriage arranged for convenience sake. Though they were never even married. But when she looked at Jon now, he looked desolate when he recalled that time. She couldn’t recall him seeming so miserable with her, if only she had seen. She wished she could go back, she would’ve done it all differently.
“I’m still sorry. Sorry that I told Tyrion. I was,” Sansa trails off, unsure how to continue but Jon only watched her and waited for her to continue, “Hurt. I was hurt and I didn’t see how my actions would ricochet. I never meant for you to have to kill her.”
Jon reached for her hand across the table then and gave her a sad smile.
“I know that Sansa. Of course I know that. It’s been ten years. We both made mistakes. I’m sorry for mine, it was never fair to you. I can only imagine how things looked from where you were standing.”
And Sansa had wanted to rip her heart out just then, it felt as if it were pounding straight out of her chest. Jon was right. It had looked like her worst nightmare, all the fears that Littlefinger had so adeptly seen in her. It had looked like heartbreak, all her sinister hopes crashing down around her in one harsh goodbye.
It had been the start of a more solid foundation for them. The first night of many confidences that they shared. Though neither of them ever seemed prepared to leap into something more. Sansa continues to work at Jon’s gloves and thinks about one other memory, not even a month ago.
When Sansa woke to the smell of something sweet she had been confused. But then she’d opened her eyes and saw Jon had the table all set with breakfast. It wasn’t how their mornings normally started and she rose from her bed, newly erected on the opposite side of the cabin to Jon’s since her arrival, and rubbed sleep out of her eyes while she grabbed her cloak.
“What’s this?” Sansa asked and walked over to the table.
It was quite a spread. Plump sausages browned and juices dripping. And what looked like a half-decent attempt at a pancake of sorts, winter berries were strewn on top of them. And the sweetness was from the syrup that drenched it all, freshly tapped from a tree Sansa suspected.
“A celebration,” Jon said and tucked into his chair as Sansa took hers.
“What’s the occasion?” Sansa said as she grabbed a fork.
Jon stared for a moment and then a sad smile crossed his face.
“Robb’s name day Sansa,” And a single tear fell down his face.
Sansa wanted to wipe it herself. Her fork nearly clattered to the ground.
She hadn’t realized the date herself, but Jon told her over breakfast how he always tried to do something nice for them on each of their name days. He changed it up. It could be breakfast, a hike to the hot springs. Using some of the sparse cocoa powder that he traded with Tormund to make a sweet treat. Something to honour his family. And to Sansa’s surprise he had spoken shyly of how he had done it even on her mother’s name day, not just his siblings and father’s. The idea of him doing that had lingered and she had thought about it most of the day.
The rest of their day had been a treat too, after breakfast. They’d gone for a long walk. The snow was fresh and it wasn’t too cold. It wasn’t until they came to a pond late in the afternoon that they really talked.
“I’ve tried not to remember. All these years I put them from my mind. I find it easier.”
Sansa said as they stood at the pond’s edge.
“I find it helps to remember.”
Sansa hummed under her breath, a tune from their childhood she remembered that Robb had liked. There were so many ghosts between them. (Not counting Ghost who had been dogging their trail on and off all day). They’d spoken of Bran so little since she came, more the reasons for his death than the loss. And maybe it was because they felt they had lost him so long ago the wound hurt less. Or maybe they had just lost so much that it didn’t come as a shock anymore.
“I still dream of father’s head, tumbling down the steps in King’s Landing. I think it’ll haunt me until the day I die,” Sansa said suddenly and turned to him beside her.
She felt Jon stiffen beside her.
“Sometimes I wake in a cold sweat, watching Rickon’s body fall to the ground with Ramsay’s arrow.”
“When I heard of mother and Robb. All the gruesome details. I considered jumping from my rooms, just throwing myself out the tower window, straight into the street. To be rid of it all.”
Sansa’s tears flowed freely then and she knew Jon was crying too.
“Robb was my favourite brother and yet I had every reason to resent him. Sometimes I was viciously jealous… But part of me thinks that nothing has been okay since he died, father’s death started it but with Robb. Well he was all that was good in the world.”
“I wish I could’ve spoken to him one last time,” Sansa admitted.
“He never would’ve wanted to be King, I’m sure of it. He did it to protect the rest of us,” Jon said.
They looked at each other. Their shared grief was palpable in the air. The silence stretched. They seemed to have the thought at the same time.
“Arya,” they breathed in unison.
Then wet laughter, through their tears.
“I wonder where she is,” Jon mused and wrapped an arm around Sansa.
“Somewhere warm I hope.”
They stood by the pond for some time, until Sansa knew she had to say something. Something that nagged at her.
“I tried Jon. I tried so hard to have them let you come home. When I told you they lost their King I meant it, but really it was me. I lost you and I don’t think I’ve ever quite forgiven myself for it.”
Sansa had looked at Jon. Her eyes were wet and her cheeks were pink. And she had almost thought he was going to kiss her then, almost thought they would cross the line that they had spent all their lives blurring past the point of recognition. But instead he held her tight. Pressed his lips into her hair.
In her chair, Sansa pulls herself from the memory. It peels away in strips until only one sensation remains. She can still feel Jon’s lips there in her hair. She looks down into her lap. The pair of gloves is finished. She should start on the socks. But then the door opens.
It’s Jon. Of course it’s Jon. He’s flushed and smiling. He has a sack full of fish.
Jon’s smile widens.
“I hope you know some good fish recipes Sansa. I think we have enough to feed the whole of the Night’s Watch when it was at its largest,” Jon says with a chuckle and sets down his bag.
Sansa lets out a sigh. This is their home, it belongs to them both now. And she thinks if she has the choice she will never leave. She will stay here, in this perfect, prolonged moment with Jon.
Sometimes Jon thinks Sansa must feel the same way. Sometimes he thinks that she must ache the way he aches for her.
They’ve been living together, in a constant state of tug o’ war, for too many months. And Jon remembers what it felt like when she told him he was a Stark, when she believed in him back in their earliest days at Winterfell. His own confusion, his shame. His pride in Sansa and his utter devotion to her.
But then the old thoughts come back. Bastard. Man of the Night’s Watch. Unworthy.
It doesn’t matter if he was really the trueborn son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Sometimes he thinks nothing has ever mattered less. It took him this long but he realizes the only thing that matters is he is Ned Stark’s son. He had three brothers (four if you count Theon) but none of them remain to him, mere whispers on the wind.
He has a sister, Arya, who he hopes lives somewhere. (Somewhere far away, with all the adventure life can bring her. She deserves that).
And he has Sansa. By some miracle he has Sansa, here, with him. And happy. He can see it in her face, in the way her eyes light up with excitement when she tries out a new way to prepare their fish for the night or when Jon brings them new skins that she manages to make into something beautiful.
He sees it in the way she’s started singing again. Under her breath and just a small tune here and there, but singing all the same.
He sees it in the way she’ll lace her arm through his when they go for a walk. The way she’ll point out the critters to him as if it is all brand new and not something they see every day.
But mostly he hears it in her laugh. A light airy thing that he doesn’t think he had the chance to hear much before this. In the past it was always cut off, or darker, more hardened and bitter. Here it feels free.
Two nights ago he’d thought she was trying to kill him over dinner. The conversation had been non existent but he kept feeling her stare at him. Every time he looked at her she was pointedly looking away but almost appeared to be fighting back a grin. It was almost wicked (almost divine), and he’d nearly jumped her across the table. But he’d stopped himself. He’d gotten particularly adept at stopping himself around Sansa, always holding back, always taking a breath.
(He’d spent all night aching, longing. Until the morning when he could slip away for some privacy).
It seems that living with Sansa Stark is more dangerous than he had anticipated.
And maybe that, in part, has been his fault. There’d been very few women for Jon in the intervening years since he left King’s Landing. It had been too long.
He suffered in silence instead. But for Jon it was something to endure. Her every move took his breath away. She’d never been more beautiful to him than she was now. Her skin glowed, her hair shined. Every day she seemed to settle deeper into herself, it was soft, all consuming and absolutely intoxicating for him to be in her presence all day.
Before she’d come, his days had blended into one long trudge. Just getting to the next, survival at its most bleak. He had a lot of time for reflection, sure. But there was a lot of loneliness accompanied with that. Sansa had lessened that burden and he hoped he had done that for her as well.
They’d shared a lot in the past months. She’d shared all the ways she felt she failed the North. Jon had been adamant, she’d never failed them, the North had failed her. He knew she hadn’t believed him though. She would grimace, turn away and grow quiet. It was something she was working on, forgiving herself.
And Jon had opened up slowly, about how killing Daenerys had been horrific, but it had also been a weight off his shoulders. An indescribable burden was lifted. And Sansa hadn’t looked at him like he was a monster for it, she’d looked at him as if she understood.
It has only taken the slightest whisper on her part for him to understand.
There had been plenty of silence that night.
So maybe Jon can’t think of what his life was before Sansa came to him, but maybe he doesn’t want to either. Because now it is full, everyday brims with excitement, hope and new moments to cherish. Their worries are simple, small, and for now that is enough.
Jon contents himself with this as he finds his way back to the clearing, he’d gone to gather some firewood for the night, the sun is just setting. But when the cabin comes into view he is surprised to see Sansa standing outside. It’s dusk and the red of the sky seems to set her hair ablaze.
She is spinning in circles, snow is falling heavy in thick wet flakes around her, and she is laughing. Jon sets his wood down on the ground.
“Jon!” Sansa yells when she sees him, and the utter glee in her voice forces a smile onto his face.
He can’t blame her, the weather, overall has been so harsh, and here it is, delicately soft snow that is coating the ground fast. Everything is fluff.
“The snow! Jon! It’s beautiful!” Sansa yells and starts to walk towards him, she looks completely astonished at their luck.
And then Jon has a rather stupid idea. He bends down fast, he sees confusion on Sansa’s face and before he can think, he lobs the ball of snow he picked up right at her stomach. It doesn’t hit hard but she lets out a shriek anyway.
For several long seconds she stands there, completely astonished. Almost outraged, and Jon is just readying himself to apologize when a ball comes zinging right into his right ear.
Jon shakes his head at the surprise and looks at Sansa. She raises an eyebrow in one perfect arch.
From there it is war. All out, and they are playing in the snow like neither of them have since they were young children. They are laughing, screaming, shrieking each other’s names and soon enough their clothes are dripping wet. The snow continues to fall as the sun sets around them.
It must be ten minutes later that Jon is running full tilt towards Sansa with a snowball in each hand when he trips over his own feet. Sansa’s face turns into one of shock as he stumbles towards her, his speed not halting, and he crashes into her. Before he can catch them, they are tumbling to the ground. He stops himself from crushing her by sacrificing his hands to the cold snow.
And he hovers over her. He has no idea how he looks, but Sansa is flushed. Her hair is loose and snowflakes have made it wet, it seems to be everywhere. She is still grinning at their predicament and looking up at him as if she would rather be nowhere else. Jon is suddenly very aware of their bodies, pressed close together. They are breathing each other’s air and he can’t seem to stop staring at her lips.
Something shifts in Sansa’s expression. It’s not so jovial. Her eyes seem to darken and her lips part ever so slightly.
“Sansa,” Jon breathes, they’re only inches apart.
Sansa places a hand on Jon’s arm, “Jon.”
He moves, incrementally. The wind shifts and Sansa shivers, her lips move ever so slightly and her eyes flutter close and then open again. She waits, looking at Jon in anticipation.
And he doesn’t think. Just like the first night she came to him, he just acts.
He lowers his head and closes the space between them. He presses his lips to hers and for several heartbeats they stay there. But then Sansa presses upwards, returning the kiss. And they move.
Sansa’s lips. Jon doubts he’s ever tasted something he wants more, it is as if all the heat in the world radiates from them and he cannot get enough of them. At one point he nips at her bottom lip and Sansa emits the tiniest whine below him. He can feel the blood rushing away from his head at the sound.
Every nerve in Jon’s body is firing over and over again. He can hardly think of anything else but Sansa. Just her name. Over and over. Sansa. Sansa. Sansa. She consumes. And Jon loses himself in her. Sansa suddenly pulls him closer to her, yanking on the front of his furs, pressing their bodies as close as can be.
Jon has to stop though, he pulls away and pants heavily. He sits up and pulls Sansa with him. He can hear her breathing too. They sit there, catching their breath in the snow, still entwined, for several more seconds. Their foreheads touch and Jon closes his eyes, trying to find something to tether him to the Earth.
Sansa’s voice does the trick.
“ Finally, ” Sansa laughs when she says it.
Jon is too shocked to even speak, he doesn’t think he can find his voice. But Sansa is standing up and pulling him with her.
“Let’s go inside,” Sansa says, her voice radiates something he hasn’t heard before and Jon focuses on putting one foot in front of the other.
Once they’re inside the cabin it’s apparent how warm they are. They strip off their outer furs and boots in haste. For a few seconds Jon and her appraise each other. And then, without speaking, Sansa starts to disrobe.
She unbuttons her dress and lets it fall to the floor. Jon, subconsciously, takes off his tunic as well. They stand there, the fire warming them and the room. It’s dark outside now, flickers of firelight illuminate their faces and Jon can feel himself going red.
Sansa is only an arm’s distance from him. She is only in her slip and he is almost scared to look at her even though he stands only in his own small clothes, and his chest is bare. Sansa speaks again.
“Jon,” her voice is honey, “You can look at me.”
And so Jon does.
He starts with her face. It’s the same face he has always known, one that means safety and love, unconditional and unyielding. Her hair is drying quick now in the warmth inside. She’s smiling at him. Jon didn’t think he would ever feel like this again. He didn’t think he could, or that he deserved too. But when he sees Sansa, smiling, only for him, he knows it will be okay. And then he looks lower.
His eyes trace her slowly. Every delicate edge of her body is on display and Jon feels unworthy to look. He just kissed her, disheveled her quite thoroughly in the snow, but he shudders to do it now.
He starts with her legs, they’re creamy, they look soft and they seem to go on forever. She wiggles her toes, as if she can’t seem to stand quite still. He realizes she must be nervous, despite her bravado. She shifts her weight. His eyes roam higher. He sees her breasts, her nipples pointing out obviously through her slip and Jon thinks he stops breathing. It’s at that point that Sansa steps towards him. She places a hand on his chest and smiles softly at him. He looks up and drowns in her eyes.
“I love you Jon,” Sansa says and embraces him, pulls him tight, “I want this.”
Jon lets go of his fears all at once, at all his feelings of doubt and guilt. Because this is beyond anything he ever could have wished for. He holds her gaze, unafraid.
“I love you Sansa,” Jon says and kisses her again, “I have for a long time. Too long.”
Sansa pulls back from the kiss, and he sees the tears in her eyes. He sees some unspeakable truth there. They have loved each other, even when they shouldn’t have. But it hardly matters, it has all led them here in the end.
He reaches his hand up, wipes away one solitary tear tracking down her cheek and then cups her face in his hands. He presses his lips to hers.
After that, the speaking is kept to a minimum.
Jon kisses her, quite thoroughly, picking up where they left off in the snow. His hands roam her body and his kisses stray down her jaw and neck until she’s panting and trying, unsuccessfully, to get their bodies closer than physically possible. He palms one breast and she lets out tiny gasps. She smashes their mouths back together, commanding Jon’s attention. And then Sansa digs her nails into his shoulders while doing things with her tongue he has never experienced in all his life. He knows she has to feel his cock between them, it throbs for her and yet all they’ve done is kiss.
So Jon maneuvers them to his bed. They nearly tumble down again but Jon catches Sansa this time. She holds onto Jon and then steps back, dropping her hand from him. Before she lays down on the bed she looks at him, making sure he is watching, and reaches for her slip. Slowly, excruciatingly, she removes it. Her skin is milky white but he sees the scars from years ago lacing it, a series of lacerations. (He feels his own scars twinge at the reminder of who they used to be, at all that has brought them here). His eyes don’t linger and he sees her blush faintly. She lays down on the bed, spreads her legs slightly and looks at him, pleadingly.
Jon practically jumps into bed, the sight of her too arousing to ignore any longer, and kicks his small remaining clothes off as he goes. He kisses her again, pressing her down into the mattress as he does so and finally, he slips a hand down to her leg, to the inside of her thigh, and then higher. She keens at his touch.
“ Jon. ” Sansa closes her eyes.
He finds her folds, and they drip. His hand is slick already with her, with Sansa. He realizes that this is for him, that he did this. And there’s a pride there that Jon didn’t know he would feel.
“Jon, please .” Sansa begs him and her eyes are still closed, her hips buck towards his hand in their desperate pleasure seeking.
Instead of answering, Jon slides down her body. He doesn’t stop at her breasts, though he wants to, he doesn’t stop until his head is right over her opening. His eyes find hers, finally open, and she nods.
Jon lowers his mouth, and his tongue darts out, anticipatory.
And then, Jon feasts. He laps at her, working her open with his tongue and drinking her in. His tongue finds her clit easily and he works her in slow circles. Her hands find his hair at that and she pulls at his head, urging him closer, always closer.
“Jon. Jon I need –” Sansa pants but is cut off by Jon’s finger slipping inside her while he continues to work his mouth around her clit.
He continues until Sansa is bucking her hips hard into his mouth, begging and pleading for him. He has almost forgotten his own arousal, he’d been so preoccupied with Sansa’s pleasure. But when he stops for a moment and Sansa lets out a whine at the halting sensation, he looks down at his throbbing cock and he is leaking. He groans.
“Jon, I need you. Inside me. Please,” Sansa’s breath is still laboured and when he looks to her she is ready and waiting.
He crawls back up to her, holds her in his gaze and slowly lowers himself down before lowering his hips and burying his cock deep within her. He lets out a low groan and closes his eyes. Sansa wraps her legs around his back and pulls him closer to her.
“Gods, Sansa. You are…” Jon trails off, lost in the sensation of being inside Sansa.
He thrusts into her, she is so warm, so wet and he knows he won’t last long. Sansa is well worked up by now and soon they are both writhing. He thrusts into her, building them both up and then kisses her again. He keeps their lips connected as he continues his rhythm and feels Sansa’s whines into his mouth. Jon slowly becomes more erratic, he feels Sansa clenching around his cock and he knows it is almost over. In the final moments, all there is, is Sansa. Sansa’s icy blue eyes lock with his and he can see that she’s coming, that she’s lost in her own pleasure. Seeing her, in that moment of vulnerability, it sends Jon crashing down after her.
They lay there, spent, for what might be several hours. Until Jon extricates himself from her and then pulls her close to him, pressing his chest to her back and holding on tight. He grabs a fur to throw over them and they don’t talk for several minutes.
Skin on skin. Jon didn’t realize it was a comfort he had missed until now. But here, as their breathing slowly syncs up, he knows he has been depriving himself.
Sansa murmurs, something that Jon misses.
“What was that love?”
The endearment slips out, almost too naturally, and Jon cannot bring himself to feel ashamed about it.
Sansa turns over so they’re facing each other. Her face, he doesn’t think he has ever seen her so at ease. She looks happier than he has ever seen her.
“We wasted so much time.”
Sansa’s face doesn’t fall even though her words are mournful.
Jon brings his hand to her face, pushing aside some of her hair. He presses their foreheads together.
“We have all the time in the world. I’m never leaving you, not ever again.”
Sansa’s eyes shine.
“I wished I’d come sooner,” Sansa admits.
Jon smiles, “You came at just the right time.”
Sansa sighs contentedly at his words and flips back over, snuggling into Jon. They lay there, falling slowly to sleep until she says one last sleepy thought.
“They’ll sing a song about us one day. The Queen in the North and her wildling, her bastard brother turned princely cousin,” Sansa says under her breath.
And Jon thinks it’s probably true. He imagines it, a hundred years from now a Bard going to Winterfell to tell the story of Jon and Sansa. Fated lovers kept apart by time, distance, their countless enemies. Only to find each other at the end of it all.
As Jon falls asleep he hears wolves howl in the distance.
Months turn into years. It’s been just over two since Sansa escaped Winterfell, and somehow, miraculously there has been no hunt for her. At least not one that led them to Jon Snow.
Sansa wonders what has happened to Arya. If she is still at sea, too far for anyone to tell her that Bran has died and Sansa is missing. Or did her sister perish in some far off land, away from home and without any family by her side? Did she return to Westeros to the devastation only to flee again.
It is Sansa’s biggest regret, maybe the only one she really has anymore. And she vows to herself frequently that she will find Arya one day, or at least learn of her fate. She knows Jon longs for that too, that she is their last connection, their last living memory of the people they grew up as, to the Stark name.
But at present, Sansa lays in bed. Jon is beside her, reading a book that Tormund brought them a few weeks ago while she has put aside her embroidery.
She is thinking of the conversation her and Jon had this afternoon. One that they have repeated with increased frequency the last several weeks. Winterfell.
Things have continued to deteriorate in the South. Everything South of the Wall seems to be at war with no end in sight. But Tormund had let slip a while ago that there are whispers that the Starks were the only ones who could wrangle the North together.
Jon and Sansa take turns being on one side of the argument. Returning could quite certainly mean their death, either one of them. Or both. Staying away is just as hard. Because at the end of the day they are Starks. Wolf blood hums in their veins and even Ghost’s hackles seem to be up more often than not, roaring for another fight.
Today, it had been Jon who had advocated for them leaving their safe haven, leaving the home they have made here to return to a place that may have no use for them any more. Sansa sees several futures play out before her, and she makes a decision.
She grabs the book from Jon’s hands. She has his attention at once. She knows her eyes must be burning something terrible, Jon looks half fearful for his life. Sansa musters the courage she felt she had the night she fled on her horse, in the worst storm of her life, with only Jon’s name on her lips and a ghost of a prayer at finding him.
She grips Jon’s hand.
“I’ll go back to Winterfell with you Jon. I’ll fight for the North with you. I’ll go wherever you go but you have to do one thing for me first,” Sansa says and her resolve must falter because Jon grins at her.
She had been a bit too serious and now she comes across as if she is having a go at him.
Jon runs his other hand through his hair and Sansa continues to try to look through him with the intensity of her gaze.
“And what is that, my Lady?”
Jon teases her, he doesn’t think it’s any serious matter obviously. Just you wait Jon Snow. She takes a breath, prepares herself to remember his face at her words.
“Marry me, Jon Snow.”
Jon’s jaw drops. Sansa grins. Their hands are still intertwined. She feels his go slack in her palm.
Sansa laughs, throws her hair back.
“What’s wrong? I thought you always fancied the name Stark? It sounds alright to me I think, let me test it out, Jon Stark.”
Sansa barely gets her words out as Jon reaches out and connects their lips in one long kiss. When they part she’s breathless. Jon’s eyes are blown wide.
“Gods. Yes Sansa, I’ll marry you and we will win back the North. Again. As it was always meant to be.”
Sansa pulls him close, his head is on her heart and she just holds him there for a few seconds.
Tomorrow they can plan, make preparations and pray to the Gods that they make it out of all of this alive. But tonight. Tonight is for them alone. Sansa has been brash, she hasn’t declared something new. She has loved Jon for years now, has lived with him in this bliss for what feels like forever. But this, it is a new sort of promise.
When we go back to Winterfell, we will go to them as Jon and Sansa Stark. United by marriage, together in love. Stronger and more powerful than they have dreamed. And they will remember, remember what it means to have a Stark in Winterfell.
Ghost stirs from across the room and far off in the distance they hear the faint sound of a wolf howling.