Title: The Wolf’s Den
Rating: M+ for language and explicit sexuality; I mean it!
Word Count: 6022
Summary: A lion in the wolf’s den. He is the interloper. He was the enemy, and there is no proof that he isn’t still. He has survived a great deal, but surviving the North and its men might be the true test.
Author’s Note: The final part of the A Wolf Among Lions series. But I love this ‘verse so much that in the future I might have additional storylines to add.
The Wolf’s Den
This place is a misery. Endless cold that cuts through the skin. Backbreaking work that never seems to result in the progress Jaime would like to see. Winds that howl and keep him awake as much as the nightmares that stalk him when he closes his eyes. It makes him question his path. Question what he has chosen and why. In her absence he questions everything. In her absence. With only one of Tommen’s cats to warm—reluctantly, for the cat misses his mistress as much as Jaime does, seemingly—his feet and bed at night.
At times he has mightily regretted his efforts to persuade her that this arrangement would be a good one.
Jaime hoped that Sansa would be somewhat easier to reason with after she was delivered of the child—a child, who had been placed in his arms as soon as its mother could raise her sweat dampened brow and make the request—because thinking of them in Winterfell without proper shelter didn’t become any easier with time. In reasoning with her, he played upon the instinctive protectiveness of a new mother. He intended on persuading her that men should go before her to begin the rebuilding process, so that there would be rooms fit to receive her and their child.
But whereas Sansa was quietly skillful at negotiations, he was still but a novice, who would rather resort to threats. At least he could tell by her silence that she saw some potential merit in his plan. She did not dismiss him outright at any rate.
“Lannister men?” she finally posed, as she looked from the babe—Edwyn, a Stark name of course, but not a doomed one—cradled in her arms to Jaime, standing at her side.
Her tone and look gave nothing away, but it didn’t take a vast intellect to guess the source of her hesitation.
He made a face and shrugged. She might have wished for someone else to do the job, but what other men did they have at their disposal?
She clicked her tongue with dissatisfaction. “Lannister men might not be entirely reliable. They’re as like to scatter with the first howl of the winter winds as do their work.”
“We’re not all as cold blooded as you Starks.”
Sansa frowned, stroking Edwyn’s soft blond hair with her index finger. With his twin’s death, Jaime’s face had been his own for only a short time: now he shared it with his son. Initially he had been apprehensive that Sansa might be disappointed in Edwyn’s Lannister features, so clearly reproduced on the babe’s little red face, but the child’s mother thought him without question the most perfect creature ever brought into the world.
Instead, it was Jaime who sometimes was made uneasy by it, but he assured himself that mothers determine more substantial characteristics than appearance. Already the babe slept and fed quite contentedly; he was much more obliging than Jaime imagined any Lannister ever being, when noise and trouble could have been made instead. But then, perhaps Tommen and Myrcella were easy babies. They were easy enough as children, after all. He couldn’t really say. Prevented from being a father to them, how would he have known enough to make the comparison his heart sometimes urged him to?
“No, I couldn’t trust them, sending them off with our supplies. We might lose everything or they might lay down their tools and flee. I’d need someone reliable to see to it that these southern men do the work of rebuilding. Who would oversee them?”
He was ready for her question, for this was part of his plan. His announcement wass accompanied by a cocksure grin that he hoped would hide the fact that he knew nothing about rebuilding a castle, and therefore, was probably a very poor choice for the job. But he felt compelled to try. With just a few words Sansa had ensured that she could return to Winterfell and stay in relative safety there beyond anyone’s grasp, but he could do this for her. He could attempt to prove his worth.
“Is this your way of vanishing forever, ser? To ride off into the North without me? For adventures beyond the Wall?”
She said it lightly enough, gazing almost flirtatiously up at him through her lashes, but he knew better than to believe her little chirps. They hid what truth lay beneath.
“Gods, Winterfell will be far enough north. I’ve promised I’d see you there safely, and this seems the best way,” he says without elaboration.
It was more than the vow waiting to be fulfilled. It had been a great deal more than that for some time, and perhaps she deserved to know that. It had always been so easy with Cersei to say nothing and understand everything—a wordless, shared understanding. When things went unsaid between him and Sansa, however, it simply went unsaid with no guarantee of understanding. But, action always came easier than speeches for him. He would prove himself through action.
He could not help but notice that she did not look at him as she asked, “How soon would you leave?”
“How soon would you be rid of me?”
Jaime recognized immediately that his flippancy was unwelcome. He reached out to draw her reluctant gaze up, holding her chin with a golden hand.
“The sooner I leave, the sooner you might go home.”
“I can barely remember it sometimes,” she confessed, and the shame he saw there in her eyes made him let her chin slip from his grip.
Still afraid that she has lost herself so fully in a role, once Alayne, then Lady Lannister, that she has lost and forgotten vital pieces of herself, including her home.
“It won’t be exactly as you remember it.” Not if the reports of its sorry condition weren’t greatly exaggerated.
“How long would I need wait?”
He almost spoke out of hand, but he stopped to think before he said, “Eight moons at least. I don’t know what kind of weather we might encounter. Deep snows will slow our progress.” In reaching Winterfell and in rebuilding.
She drew in a deep breath, before bending over the child to press a kiss to its brow.
“That seems a rather long time.”
It would be: they had not been parted as long as one moon’s turn, since he had dragged her out of the Vale, weeping for the wrong father. Her level statement was quite nearly an accusation, Jaime was certain, and yet, as he leaned in, a smile tugged at his lips as if he was about to share a great secret with her.
“At the risk of making myself wholly unnecessary, can I tell you something, Lady Sansa?”
Jaime used to worry about Sansa. He had worried about her safety, worried that if he left her side for a moment something might happen to her. Dreaming up violent scenarios, he had pictured the confused girl he’d found in the Vale, hair dyed dark and cheeks stained with tears. He had pictured the broken girl he’d barely taken note of in King’s Landing. The one with hollow cheeks and red eyes. Not anymore.
“I think you can take care of yourself,” he whispered into her shoulder.
The flush that tinted her cheeks was proof enough of the pride she took in his confidence in her. Other women wanted to be told they were beautiful. Sansa bloomed under praise of a different sort.
“Of course, I can,” she said with a dismissive toss of her head, her long hair swishing over her back.
But the flush was still high on her cheeks, as he made a trail of kisses along the curve of her pale neck and tangled his hand in her tresses.
“That is, if you’ll even think to trust a one handed knight with no real experience to see to the task,” he said with a smirk against her smooth skin.
She leaned away from his kisses and narrowed her eyes.
“I have a trusty steward I’ll send to keep an eye on you, ser.”
He chuckled, as her little act of defiance was mostly spoiled by the hand she extended to gently run down his right arm until her fingers circled where his wrist ended.
“Besides, your role as my guard is not what makes you necessary,” she finished, as her fingers teased the bit of flesh that was exposed between his heavy tunic and golden hand.
There wasn’t much feeling there, and her touch was like the flutter of insect wings against his scarred flesh. She sometimes kissed him there, when she had convinced him to remove the golden hand in her presence. He hated to have her see him without it, but he never wanted to be inside of her and over her more than when she insisted upon it being put aside.
“Oh, I tremble to hear what makes me necessary then.”
Sansa squeezed hard enough that there was no mistaking the sensation, ruined flesh or no.
“Perhaps I’ll tell you in Winterfell.”
Jaime has been eking out an existence in the shell of Winterfell for several moons under the watchful eye of the steward he had assumed was merely a part of Sansa’s joke. It is the irksome steward who informs him that morning that scouts have spied signs of the Lady Lannister’s approach and estimated the time she will be within sight of the walls. Jaime advised the man that he should call her Lady Stark if he wanted to remain in the good lady’s graces.
Stirred to action, Jaime ordered one of the weaker men to stand watch atop the walls, although they could barely afford to spare him—all hands are needed to continue the work whenever the snow will permit so as to ensure some kind of progress—so he might be informed immediately of the slow approach of carts and ponies, appearing through the blanket of swirling snow. When the shout came down, nearly carried away by the winds, he directed the men to line up flanking either side of the entrance, to properly greet their lady. He spares just a passing thought for the greeting he once received here as part of Robert’s royal caravan.
A lion in the wolf’s den. If he was Sansa, he might not have trusted him with the task, but her desire to believe in him remakes him as much as his own wish to be something more than before. That means nothing to these northern men, however, who arrived to assist in the rebuilding: they certainly look at him with undisguised suspicion, and he can’t blame them. He is the interloper. He was unquestionably the enemy, and there is no proof that he isn’t still. It has crossed his mind that if the Lady Stark seems too overly fond of him, when she arrives, they might cease tolerating him altogether.
He has survived a great deal, but surviving the North and its men might be the true test.
He stands beside the other men and shifts his weight, stomping his feet in turn, trying to bring some feeling back to his feet—he doesn’t think he’ll ever grow accustomed to the biting cold of Sansa’s North. He stills as the sound of their approach reaches his ears. He squints through the snow.
“Move,” he barks at the young man standing closest to him, although he has no idea what he intends the lad to do.
His order is so unspecific that the young man merely jumps and scrambles uselessly to get further away from Jaime, but he can’t be concerned with that. All of his attention is drawn to one thing as the shapes become real and he can make out a mounted figure with unbound hair.
The carts rumble behind her and somewhere within those wagons must be Edwyn, bundled against this cold that cannot be kept out.
The northern men shout first and then a low rumbling chant breaks over all of them.
He is not the only one clinging to her name. She is a symbol to them, as she once was to him—a symbol of his last hope for honor and a symbol of their pride and hope for future glory—but she is so much more. She hasn’t disappointed him and she will not disappoint them either.
“Assist the lady,” Jaime shouts over the clamor of men and horses and wheels at the same young man he had spooked moments earlier, and this time his order bears weight.
Sansa dismounts with assistance, although she looks as if she does not need it, as her red hair—made brighter by the contrast with this land’s endless expanses of white—spills over her thick furs and she turns to face the men. Her fur lined boots make fresh prints in the snow as she comes amongst them, walking down their lines, putting out her leather gloved hand to take each of theirs in turn. She knows the names of the Lannisters; she asks each of the northerners what house they represent and says how glad she is of their presence.
He would move forward, present himself to her, but his feet feel frozen to the ground—not a complete impossibility.
Let her greet her men, he tells himself. She does so with such grace, with such genuine pleasure: he suspects that she will not forget any of their names from this moment forward.
Eight moons are long enough to make Sansa’s smile seem an almost distant memory. For so long her smiles were nothing but courtesy, after all. He only teased a real one from her on occasion. Until Edwyn. She had smiles a plenty for their son, and thankfully there was nothing to poison her sweet happiness. No constant reminder of things past lurking beneath her feet or chained to a baggage cart.
Unless he himself is a dark reminder.
The bleak, dispiriting thought washes over him as she turns her smile on him and reaches out to take his hand. He offers her his left and her gaze flickers to his right for the briefest of moments.
“Ser,” she says with a nod, her hair whipping about her face.
“You’ve done well,” she says, as she looks over his shoulder, her eyes dancing over the buildings they have rebuilt and those that are still in ruin, piles of scorched rubble heaped with snow.
It is better than when they arrived, but there is still much to do. He can see that mingling with the hope in her blue eyes there is sadness lurking. This is not the Winterfell of her youth. Nor will it ever be.
Look forward, he wants to urge her. Don’t look back.
She lets his hand slip, as she turns away from him, addressing the men, who crowd in, breaking the ranks Jaime insisted upon for her arrival, as the mountain ponies and wagons pour through the entrance.
“Lannisters and northern men alike,” she shouts out to them. “This is a winter that will make northerners of us all. We shall raise Winterfell together. We shall make House Stark a power once more. We shall forge a powerful alliance between us two. We shall all be brothers.”
Whatever divisions exist between the men, they are united in their love for her even more so than by her babe, Edwyn, equal parts Lannister and Stark, whom most of them have never laid eyes upon. Power can be won through intrigue, fear, and cunning. She certainly was taught well enough in those methods, and she can adeptly play and win at that game, but Sansa’s real strength is in something much rarer.
He goes to one knee amidst the whoops, and the snow wets him through his breeches immediately.
“Lady Stark,” he declares, loud enough to be heard over the shouting.
Her furs sweep through the snow as she turns to him once more. Her hand is light upon his shoulder and even lighter as she brushes the ice in his beard, and he bows his head.
He barely waits for her answer before he opens the wooden door to her chamber and kicks it closed behind him with a heavy thud.
In the company of others they have spent the hours since her arrival discussing what has been accomplished at Winterfell thus far and what their next plans should be. The strain of being so close to her and yet entirely constrained reminded him painfully of his past and set his teeth on edge. As soon as the men retired to the hall in which they slept shoulder to shoulder with a roaring fire keeping away the worst of the chill, he found his feet guiding him to her chamber.
She might send him away. This is her sanctuary. Even in Casterly Rock he never dared disturb her within her chambers. She came to him. Not the other way around.
This is quite the opposite of prudence, coming to her like this, when only this morning he worried about his safety among these northerners—they wouldn’t like the Kingslayer’s cock buried in their Lady Stark—but the blood pounding through his veins as his eyes rake her form cares nothing for reason.
She looks up from whatever it is she is folding—some heavy gown that in these conditions still won’t be enough to keep her warm without the benefit of furs—and speaks to softly scold him, “You have only just missed my serving girl.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t come here to see your serving girl,” he says, as he moves towards her, crossing the room in long legged strides.
She turns her back to him, smoothing out the folded gown over the trunk she has been unpacking, but he doesn’t let her seeming disinterest deter him, as he slips his arms around her and buries his face in the crook of her neck.
“And what would we have done if you had come here before she had left?” she continues, even as his hand flattens over her middle, pressing downward over her pelvis until he cups her through her gown.
“I’d have told her to bloody leave,” he growls against her neck.
“Your impulsiveness, Jaime,” she says on a sigh.
She might be frustrated with him, but she rocks her back into him and her hands settle over his wrists, holding them fast to her. Whatever doubts that coiled in his chest about what would become of them here in Winterfell unravel at her touch, so that his heart beats unimpeded for the first time since midday.
“I waited eight moons and all afternoon, my lady. That seemed long enough.”
“Then I’m surprised you waited this long,” she says, leaning her cheek against the crown of his head.
“It’s only because I was worried your northern men would slit my throat if I dared so much as cast eyes upon you. That is, until you declared us all brothers today,” he says, laughing low.
She jerks in his grasp, her mood spoiled, but he attempts to appease her with a kiss below her ear.
“No, it was well done, Sansa. They love you. They all love you,” he murmurs, and he can feel her muscles begin to relax once more.
“I want their respect.”
“You’ll have it. They’ll willingly give it.”
It is like their old game, where he speaks to her of her future in Winterfell as a promise as much as a seduction, except now they are actually here, now it’s real.
“And I won’t allow anyone to do you harm under my roof,” she whispers.
A woman—barely more than a slip of a girl—between himself and death, and he believes she’s more than capable of doing the job.
“I best not step outside these walls then.”
She twists in his arms until she faces him, and he would take the opportunity to taste her lips, but she raises a hand between them and places it squarely against his chest, stopping him with the barest pressure.
“They might as easily slit mine.”
“I’d never let anyone get close enough. If someone looks at you the wrong way, I’ll kill them,” he vows, and her hand twists in his tunic.
Her eyes are great pools of black, as if she wants him the way he wants her, but perhaps she has more control than he does. Sansa is careful where he is rash, and he undeniably complicates her place here amongst her people.
“Would you rather I retired to my own chamber?” he asks with raised brows.
“No. I’d have you inside me now, but only if you’ll promise not to anger the men needlessly.”
He would promise her anything given her statement.
“I will need to elevate northerners within my circle, so they don’t feel outdone by the Lannisters. You must try to get along with them. For my sake, for Edwyn’s sake.”
It dawns on him that he did not see his son’s cradle. He always slept alongside his mother’s bed in Casterly Rock, in the wooden cradle carved with prowling wolves and lions given to him by Tyrion on the advent of his birth.
“Where is the little lordling?” he asks, his eyes casting about the room.
“With his wet nurse.”
That would explain how Sansa was able to sit with her men for as many hours as she did without retiring with the babe. That she would give him over to a nurse is somewhat astonishing, however, when she took such obvious delight in his care.
“My milk dried up.”
Not by choice then.
There’s something in her tone that compels him to reassure her, “That happens sometimes, Sansa.”
“I know,” she murmurs, stepping closer to him so that her skirts intertwine with his legs, though her hand still lingers on his chest like a barrier.
There will be no reunion then between him and his son.
His breath catches in his throat and he works to swallow. Finally he is able to ask, “Is he well?”
“Perfectly; although, I’m afraid he wasn’t much impressed with his inheritance today.”
The always happy babe had wailed loudly at being removed from his wagon and shown Winterfell, and Jaime felt sorry for the tightly swaddled child, who was no doubt shocked by the aching cold and tired from his long journey. Sansa cooed and fussed, but he would do nothing but cry. One of the northern men had announced to all that the boy had strong lungs meant to command, however, which seemingly cleared whatever distress clouded Sansa’s countenance.
“Tomorrow I’ll bring him to you,” she promises.
She taps her finger against his chest, her tone more firm as she says, “You’ve changed the subject, ser.”
“Yes, being inside of you was it?” he asks, his hand slipping low to squeeze her arse.
She bats at him and scowls though he holds fast.
“You must promise, Jaime.”
He pats her rounded cheek, as he says with mock solemnity, “I have been playing nicely for eight moons, my lady, and I will continue to do so, but right now I want…”
She cuts off whatever vulgarity he is about to speak by pressing her mouth—impossibly warm in this cold night air—to his.
He needs no further encouragement: he scoops her up to carry her to the bed, and she gives no protest, as her arms cling tightly about his neck. He would fuck her here with her back against the stone wall or on their knees on the freshly rushed floor, but the chill in the room is so severe despite the fire that he thinks it might unman him entirely. He intends on enjoying her beneath the new furs that drape her bed until they’re both limp with exhaustion, he thinks, as he lowers her down and covers her body with his own.
It’s a desperate tear of laces, clasps, and layers using teeth and hands, as they work to reach skin. He can’t possibly feel her against him quickly enough, even if it means he leaves this room to walk frigid halls with his clothes in tatters. Each inch of skin that is revealed makes him harder with the promise of mapping her body with his hand, of kissing her tender spots, of being inside of her until she sobs with release.
She is very nearly bare to him, and he has flipped her body over twice, unable to get enough of touching, tasting, and seeing her, when he makes the mistake of running his right hand—no, stump—up her thigh. He goes cold, his gut clenches. She manages to catch him above where his hand should begin before he can yank it away.
She licks her lips, breathing somewhat hard through her nose.
Her tone is mild and calm, as if she speaks to a jittery mount, “You weren’t wearing it all day.”
“It nearly froze to me on the road. Why, does it bother you?” A wooden one could easily be made or one of boiled leather, although he has become accustomed to doing without—the damn thing always was practically useless.
She shakes her head.
“I never cared for the false one,” she says, as she trails a thumb over the inside of his wrist.
It still does him good to hear it.
He hurriedly pushes her linen shift up over her breasts—no longer swollen with milk—with his one remaining hand and presses an open mouth kiss below her navel, as his fingers dance lightly over her hardening nipple. Kissing his way over her hip bone—still in sharp relief to the rest of her rounded curves despite having carried his son—and down her soft thigh, he listens to her breath hitch as her legs move restlessly against him. He nudges her thighs apart with his nose, his hand sliding down to grip her hip to hold her firmly in place.
He has made no real progress, when she says his name with such urgency that he raises his head. Her hand is outstretched to him.
“I meant what I said.” Her heel drags over his back, digging in to urge him up. “Come up here, please.”
The ‘please’ is so very Sansa, so courteous even as he is about to lathe her with his tongue, that he can’t help but grin.
“What is it you want?” he asks hoarsely, as he hauls himself up over her.
She struggles onto her elbows and tugs, pulling her shift over her head.
“Off,” she demands, nodding at his smallclothes.
He raises one arched brow, pausing to ask, “What is it you want?”
She looks at him as if he is mad, lips pursed and eyes narrowed, and in spite of his mockery—he only wants to hear her say it—he hastily complies with her order.
As he settles against her and grabs her arse to draw her forcefully against him, she says on a shaky sigh, “I missed this.”
As if to prove her point, she snakes an arm between them and her delicate hand is suddenly tight around his cock.
It feels impossibly good after he’s only had a left hand for company, and for a moment he can think of nothing but the stroke of her palm against him, but he wants to hear the words on her tongue. She’s so composed and graceful, so tender by nature that he longs to hear her voice it, to have confirmation of some demanding need, of something as fierce as her love for Edwyn or her desire for home that is solely to do with him.
“Missed what?” he manages to grit out between clenched teeth.
Her answer is merely a satisfied hum as she rubs his head against herself.
“I want to hear you say it,” he growls, as he bites her earlobe. Only he can give her this: he’s certain of that much. She saves herself for him.
He doesn’t have a chance to miss her hand, when she pulls back to press it to his cheek and whispers, “I missed you.”
Suddenly it’s as if the wind has been knocked out of him, as he stares down at her.
It isn’t what he was expecting. He thought her pink lips might say something perfectly unladylike and then he’d devour her words. This is so much better that he wonders for a moment if he has dreamt it.
“Jaime?” she says faintly, as she brushes back the hair that falls forward into his face.
He pushes forward, and she’s warm and wet and perfect, and he squeezes his eyes shut hard, his fingers digging into her arse. He doesn’t know how else to show her how good, how her words have knit him together, how her presence in his life have given him a reason to go on living. He withdraws almost entirely from her, and her fingers twist tightly in his hair.
“Don’t go,” she begs.
He bites at her neck, as his hips snap back, driving into her again.
“Gods, I’ve missed you,” he groans. With her near, there’s no question of his path.
She’s saying yes over and over, her lips wet against his shoulder, and he doesn’t know what she’s saying yes to other than this and them, so he sets up a rhythm that is faster than she usually likes, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Her breath comes quick and hot against his face and she rocks against him, reaching up to meet his thrusts in perfect concert as though they have not been parted all these moons.
He pulls at her pulse, feeling it flutter under his lips, nipping and soothing the hurt in turn. Beyond all reason, they’re both alive, survivors of war, treachery, and dragon fire. Her head lolls to the side with a moan, and he stretches his hand up, fitting two long fingers between her lips, where her tongue is as hot and wet as her cunt and she sucks him further into her mouth.
Under the heavy furs, their bodies are slick together, and each time they come together he’s that much closer to spilling inside of her. His one arm, balancing his weight, shakes with the effort of holding back. He’s losing himself in her, his heart is beating out of his chest, and this will all be over too quickly.
He curses, his wet fingers slipping from her mouth, because his stomach muscles are contracting and he’s going to have to pull out of her to gain back some semblance of control, but she hooks her leg over his back and murmurs in his ear, “Come for me.”
He’s lost: a couple of uncontrolled thrusts and his eyes slam shut and his hand fists in the mattress tick.
As soon as he can summon the strength, he rolls them both, so that she is atop him, and while he is still hard, he intends for her to find her release, something she seems to understand. Her hips sway over him, her thighs tense around his waist, her hands splayed atop his chest. It doesn’t take long. As he feels her tighten around him, slick with his seed, her nails digging into his flesh, he pulls her down until he can take her rosy nipple in his mouth, and it’s enough.
She’s never more beautiful than in this moment.
She falls onto his chest, her cheek pressed into his sweaty chest as she pants and shakes. He skates his hand over her back, as her breathing evens out, and presses a kiss to the crown of her head. She shifts enough that he slips from her, and he’s sorry for it only because he wishes he could pull her inside of himself and keep her there. He may simply have to take her again before the day dawns afresh.
Her head still tucked against him, she blindly runs a hand over his heavy beard.
“You look a proper lion with this mane.”
“It’s too bloody cold to shave.”
“Are you under there?” she asks lightly, as she takes hold and tugs.
He flips her over and glares down with feigned affront. Her eyes twinkle back at him with mischief.
“Careful: it’s attached, my love.”
She goes very still at his words.
Her voice is small and uncertain or maybe even hopeful, when she asks, “Do you mean it?”
He doesn’t know what she means. His brow furrows and he smiles at her. “Yes, it’s a real beard,” he teases, as he traces her sloped nose with his finger.
She shakes her head, biting her lip so hard that it goes white.
“Do you believe love is a poison?”
He stiffens. That doesn’t sound like Sansa; it sounds like something his sister would avow.
He knows something of love: it has guided his path through life, for better or worse. It has made him be brave and made him be terrible. That much hasn’t changed. He would still choose to protect those he loves over the honorable path.
“Depends on who you love.”
It’s easier to be a good man, when you love a good woman.
Her voice trembles as she whispers to him, “You saved me.”
He can’t take the credit for that, not even if her belief in that is what has bound her heart to him. “You saved yourself, Sansa.”
“But, you did,” she insists. “You found me in the Vale.”
“Yes.” But that was only the beginning.
“And you didn’t love me when you took me from the Vale.”
Sansa’s face is a wordless question. She knows he did not love her initially. That he came for her for a different reason entirely. What she wants to know has nothing to do with the distant past.
He scrubs his face with his hand.
“No, but I have loved you since.” Sansa and Edwyn are what matter to him in this frozen hell.
He can see where she might believe love could poison, but she shouldn’t be afraid of her ability to love and inspire love in others. In a world this bleak, that is Sansa Stark’s real strength. It has made him kneel at her feet; it will make other men do the same, as she creates the future for this North of hers.
“Does that frighten you?” he asks, grabbing her hand and squeezing.
He knows his loving her isn’t convenient or appropriate, that allowing it has created problems for her. It wasn’t the astute choice when they were within reach of King’s Landing. It wasn’t without complications as the Lady of Casterly Rock with his brother for a lord husband. And it certainly isn’t going to be easy with the whole of the North watching her. Given their families’ histories, they are supposed to be each other’s sworn enemies, and that is not entirely in the past: Lady Stoneheart would still happily see him swing from a tree, should she learn what Sansa Stark did at night and with whom.
“No. I was afraid of the opposite,” she says, looking past him. “I told you once that you were necessary to me.”
“Not because of my considerable skill as a one handed swordsman,” he said, tapping their clasped hands on her breast. He remembered.
“No, because I love you too. So, I chose to forgive you…and myself.”
He meant all along to save Sansa, but she has saved them both. She has made him better. She has given him a purpose, a family, and she has given him her heart when it was not sensible to do so.
Bending down, he kisses her, an act of thanks that will never be enough to repay his debt.
It will never be a suitable match, it will never be wholly free from difficulty or danger, but it will never be a poison either. Not to either of them. That is his new vow, and one he intends to keep.