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When We Were Young

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Once upon a time, there was a young girl who loved lemon cakes and fairytales, a girl who believed in true love and happy endings.

This is not that girl’s story.

That girl is gone. Not dead (no not yet), but buried certainly, buried under the ensuing years of death and cruelty and lies.

Alayne Stone buried Sansa Stark. Sansa Stark has unburied herself, rising from the ground like an unholy devil while gleefully throwing shovels of dirt down upon the remnants of the naive innocent that she used to be. The girl that she once was is gone with nobody to mourn her, she has slowly turned herself into a different creature entirely.

Not yet 21 years old and already she's lost everyone she ever loved. She’s been forced to marry a member of the family responsible for her father’s death, been accused of murder, stolen away by a man who covets her even as he calls her daughter, and finally even lost her own name.

This is certainly not what fairytales are made of.

Sansa Stark became Alayne Stone and buried herself, pretended that she was safe, pretended that she had a father (but she never forgot who her real father was, never, not even for a moment), pretended that she had no real purpose in life, that she'd never known any real tragedy. Smiled and simpered and nodded at all the right moments in conversations. Yet Alayne could never overcome Sansa entirely and remnants of her true self would creep up and out of the past, sneaking past the guard she had set for them.

Alayne Stone is a cheerful, blithe girl; a dutiful daughter who trusts her father implicitly. Alayne certainly doesn't go searching through desk drawers or eavesdrop on conversations or refill her father’s glass until he’s drunk too much in order to listen to him rambling so that she might make sense of the words. Alayne does not ask innocent sounding questions of her father's visitors or lead them into conversations about his past.

Alayne would never lock and bolt her door at night to keep the monsters out, nor stay awake until she's heard the hand that tries to turn it fail and the footsteps once again retreat.

It is Sansa Stark who does all these things.

It is not Alayne, but Sansa, who remembers her aunt's last words before she died. Aunt Lysa had been half crazy and trying to kill her at the time, yet Sansa cannot forget what she had revealed. Stories of poison and letters and names that she had once heard spoken by her parents, long ago, when she was a different girl. A murderous old harpy her aunt may have been, but she had known exactly what she was saying at the end, no matter how crazed it sounded.

Sansa has pieced together the rest of the mystery by herself over the past two years, has slowly unraveled Petyr Baelish's role in her family's downfall. Littlefinger considers himself to be entirely too clever and Sansa has perfected the art of pretending to be dumb and saying only what others wish to hear.

It has been a long time since anyone has seen her true face, or known entirely what she thinks or feels. Years and pain have taught her to play her part well, an insipid girl incapable of any great thought. She ensures that there is too much temptation to prove his own superiority for Littlefinger to resist, and he drops clues like breadcrumbs while she secretly picks them up one by one and follows the trail.

Petyr Baelish may not be a lion or a wolf, but Sansa has come to realize that a mockingbird is the most dangerous creature of all; one that sings a sweet song to distract you while it prepares to peck out your eyes.

Now here she is, the last of the Starks, under the protection of the man who set her family's downfall in motion.

Once upon a time, Sansa Stark would've prayed for someone to save her; a brave hero who would come for her and take her somewhere safe, far away from here.

She does not pray anymore. After all, there is nobody left to save her now.

One by one she lost them all. If she is to be entirely accurate, then she should say two by two rather than one by one, after all she’s lost them all in pairs. First her father and Arya, then Bran and Rickon, then finally her mother and Robb.

They are all dead now, except perhaps for Arya. Sansa has no idea what actually happened to her younger sister and is not entirely sure that she wants to find out. If Arya isn't dead by now then she probably wishes she was.

Fourteen year old girls on the run with nobody to turn to seldom receive happy endings.

Jon is alive at least, but even he’s lost to her. He's far away fighting a war, ironically probably safer on the frontlines than he would have been at home. No, she won't doom Jon as well by drawing him into this.

There was another man once, who said that he would keep her safe, who offered to take her somewhere far away. Sansa didn't go with him, she hadn’t known whether she could trust him or not and so she placed her bets on the wrong savior instead.

Sansa has heard that that man is dead too; either that or he's killing and raping his way up the East Coast with a motorcycle gang. To be honest, she's not certain which one she considers to be the worse possibility.

There were times before she heard he was dead that she prayed that man would come back to save her (if she's honest, then even hearing he had died didn't entirely stop those prayers). She prayed that he would come for her because he was the last person to ever tell her the truth, as ugly as it was, and she's lived with lies ever since.

They're all liars, and every one better than you, he had said once and he had been right, so she made herself into a liar too and perfected the art of it.

He had said many things to her, true things, and she remembers them all, clutches them to her in the dark of night like a jacket once given, long ago.

He had wanted to save her, to take her away from her captors. He had wanted her, she's certain of it, though she wasn’t able to understand it at the time. Wanted her for herself and not her inheritance. Wanted her for herself and not because she looked like her poor dead mother. Saw right through her, saw her for the deluded little fool she was and wanted her anyway.

He had come to save her on a night filled with fire, dead drunk and half crazed with fear and despair, held a gun to her head and pinned her to the bed. Came to save her on a night filled with fire and it's the last true memory she has.

He had wanted to save her (wanted her), and she wishes she'd known it for the truth it was then, wishes that she'd seen past his threats and her own fear and gone with him anyway, consequences be damned. Wishes that he'd kissed her like she knows he wanted to, like she used to pretend that he had, just so she'd have a true memory to cling to when she fears losing herself. Wishes that maybe he had taken her right there on the bed and sometimes even convinces herself that she would've wanted it too (she didn't, she wouldn't have, she would not have remembered him so fondly now if he had, she is a liar in this too). Wishes he'd taken it from her simply so that Petyr Baelish couldn't one day (she won't let him, she won't give him that victory).

If she could turn back time, then she would’ve gone with that man and trusted in him to save her. She would've gone with that man, and even let him have her if he wanted to in return for his protection; and eventually - eventually she would've loved him simply for rescuing her and keeping her safe, because that was the girl that she once used to be. (Maybe she would’ve loved him anyway. Maybe.)

It is a different matter that the Sansa of that time, still so very innocent as to how the world really worked, would never have thought these things or agreed with these sentiments.

Hindsight is useless and no matter what she thinks she should’ve chosen, it is all pointless now. Because that man is dead along with everyone else and there's no one left to save Sansa Stark so she's just going to have to save herself.

If you can’t protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can. Sansa will never have the type of strength that he had spoken of, but she’s learned other ways to protect herself instead.

So she puts away money for a rainy day and plans and plots and lies and lies and lies through her teeth until even she's not sure what the truth is anymore.

Let Petyr Baelish revel in his own superiority because she, Sansa Stark, is preparing to spread her wings and fly away.

She doesn't need anyone to save her anymore.

(There isn't anyone, anymore, anyway.)