She’s heard the rumors for months. Heard them and convinced herself that, true or no, they didn’t matter. Not really. Why should they? Their marriage was one of hasty convenience, a match to tie the North together once the truth of Jon’s parentage had been revealed. A way to keep them both safe, to let them stay in Winterfell. They weren’t even truly man and wife, not really, not in the privacy of their chambers.
But as Jon enters the main courtyard with Daenerys Targaryen at his side, as beautiful as every story Sansa’s heard and as fierce as the dragon that soars over Winterfell, something dark and slithering coils around her heart. The feeling wars with the acute, painful relief of seeing Jon alive and well. Months of worry and fear and loneliness condense into a tight wedge in her throat and her eyes burn traitorously. Gods, she’s so grateful not to be alone.
She is torn between being the aloof, cold Queen in the North she’s had to be since Jon left, and rushing forward to throw her arms around him just as she had that day at the Wall so long ago. Jon makes the decision for her when he turns, gaze searching, before he finds her face and offers a weary, broken sort of smile. It’s a smile just for her, something secret and precious. It’s the same smile he used to give her late at night as they poured over maps and books, or when she’d catch him awake by the hearth, staring blankly into the flames before she’d disturbed him.
He catches her in his arms when she reaches the bottom of the steps, and they are as strong and solid as she remembers. He breathes her name into the fall of her hair and she feels a tremble quake through him. For a moment, everything is right in the world.
At dinner, with the hall full and boisterous, Sansa watches Jon smile at something Deanery’s says and remembers the night before he’d left to ride for the Wall. The way he’d swept the tears off her cheeks, the ones she’d sworn not to shed, and told her that he would come back, that he would protect her. Remembers the way he’d looked at her, eyes darting to her lips as they did sometimes, and the foreign heat that had suffused her body. The way his lips had felt against hers, soft and sweet. The first kiss that hadn’t felt stolen from her.
Sansa shakes her head, banishing the memory, and takes a drink from her goblet as something heavy sinks in her gut. She’d been such a fool to think that such a kiss, shared on the night before he’d ridden off to battle, meant anything. Still… there had been nights during the long darkness where she’d let herself dream of children. Visions to keep her warm at night and to hold the demons of the past and future at bay. A girl first, she’d decided, one that looked and acted like Arya, and then maybe a boy, one that looked like Robb or Jon. She hadn’t thought of children in years, not since her father had died, but even with the world ending, the thought of having a family of her own hadn’t seemed so distant when she’d recalled the gentleness of Jon’s kiss. She’d decided that things would be different when –never if– Jon returned.
Sansa glances side-long as the Dragon Queen murmurs something in Jon’s ear and thinks she was right, things are indeed different.
She hadn’t really expected him to come to her chambers, not truly. Still, as she sits by the fire running a comb through her hair, something delicate seems to snap apart inside her. She lets the tears fall, let’s herself bask in her eternal foolishness. Will she never learn? It is well into the night, she’d left the hall hours ago, bidding her returned husband good night as he hurried off to ensure their men were settled. He’d smiled at her, gripping her hand briefly, before following after the Targaryen Queen. Sansa had known then that it would not be her bed that the King in the North warmed that night.
She isn’t certain why it hurts so badly, his wanting another woman. Though they may be cousins through blood, they’d spent most of their lives as brother and sister even if they were never particularly close. He’d always been kind to her though, far kinder than she’d ever been to him. Her shameful bastard brother.
That shared childhood isn’t the true reason she avoids their marriage bed, however. Sansa is capable of admitting to herself that her fear and hesitation of lying with Jon or any man has more to do with the ghosts and horrors that live on inside her than any residual complications from their childhood. Ramsey Bolton is dead, but he’d left deep wounds within, wounds she fears may never close. Still, with Jon, she’d begun to think that things might be different. That he was different.
A soft rap on the door startles her from her thoughts and she swipes quickly at her cheeks. A servant, perhaps, or maybe Sam with another late night problem for them to solve. Sam had arrived shortly after Jon had left and he’d been a most welcome addition. A friend even. She’d never thought to have friends again.
“What is it Sam…” Sansa trails off as she opens the door to find Jon standing without.
He frowns slightly, looking severe in his dark leathers. He looks older, darker. “Sam come to your rooms at this hour often?”
Sansa can feel herself flushing and she clutches her night robe tighter about her chest. “Only sometimes, when he has difficulties with the ledgers.”
Jon nods awkwardly and ducks his head, rocking back on his heels in a strangely boyish show of uncertainty. Realizing her rudeness, she takes an awkward step back. “Would you like to come in, your grace?”
She’d only ever called him that in front of the small folk or during particularly important meetings with his banner men. Never alone. He was always Jon and she Sansa between the two of them. That comradery seems lost to them now.
He shoots her a glance before stepping stiffly inside. Sansa closes the door after him and presses herself briefly against it, heart trembling in her chest as she wonders what he is doing here. He startles her further by sitting at the edge of the bed and pulling off his boots.
“What are you doing?” she blurts before she can stop herself.
He pauses, expression unreadable as he studies her in the firelight. Her hair is loose and she’s wearing a plain night trail with her fur lined robe tied loosely at her waist, thick wool stockings tied securely above her knees. She feels a child under his gaze and forces herself to straighten her shoulders, feeling oddly defiant.
“Preparing for bed,” he says slowly, plucking off his other boot with a tug, “Unless… unless I am no longer welcome here?”
Though she and Jon had never been truly intimate, he’d slept by her side every night leading up to his departure. They’d grown accustomed to each other’s nightmares. She’d missed his warmth and the weight of him in the bed after he’d left. Some nights she’d lain on his pillow, breathing in his scent until it had disappeared. He smelled like home, the one she remembered, not the burnt out husk that remained.
“But-why?” she demands, confused and frightened by her own feelings and how helpless she is to control them.
Jon frowns deeply and sets his boots aside before rising to his feet and pacing slowly toward her. He’s cautious, as if afraid she might bolt from the room. She realizes belatedly that she’s clutching the door handle and forces herself to let go.
“Am I not your husband?” he asks quietly, his eyes fathomless in the flickering light. He’s dark and handsome and so painfully familiar, the last and final reminder of the girl she’d once been. She could almost hate him for it. With everyone else she is capable of frigidity and ambivalence. With Jon she can only be herself.
“I know what it is between you and the Mother of Dragons,” she says, nearly choking on the words, hurt and anger, no matter how foolish, threatening to consume her. “Soldiers talk and I am not the innocent girl you remember. I understand the way of things.”
He arches a brow, something unfamiliar flashing in his gaze. “And what is it that you understand, exactly, my lady?”
Anger makes her bold and she lifts her chin definitely. “I understand that you warm Daenerys Targaryen’s bed, and while I appreciate that I am not the wife you wanted, I am the wife you have, and I’ll not have you in my bed when you likely just came from hers.”
Shock, followed quickly by hurt, melds into something akin to fury as he takes in her accusations.
“That is what you believe of me?” he demands, fists clenching at his sides. “That I have been unfaithful?”
Sansa ducks her head, willing the tears back, and the anger seeps out of her, leaving her cold and shriveled inside. Gods, maybe it would have been better if he’d never come back at all. “I know- I know I am not your wife in the truest sense, and I would not blame you for seeking your husbandly rights elsewhere.”
There is a long stretch of silence, broken only by the crackling of the hearth fire, before Jon draws in a ragged breath and gently tilts her chin up with his thumb and forefinger. She can only barely make out his face through the welling of tears and she blinks rapidly, letting them burn trails down her cheeks. Jon tracks their movement, looking pained and uncertain before adjusting his grip to smooth the moisture away with the rough pad of his thumb.
“Sansa,” he says in a voice she’s never heard from him before, both tender and strained. “I’ve shared no bed but yours.”
She draws in a breath that hurts, feeling fragile and somehow ensnared by the gentle pressure of his hand. The truth is there, she realizes, in the way he looks at her. It’s likely been there from the very start but she’d been too afraid to look for it.
It is so foolish to want him, she knows. To want their marriage to be more than a sound alliance and a way to keep them both in the North. But she has always been a fool.
Eyes still open, she tips forward and presses her lips to his, feeling him stiffen then gentle, tilting his head to deepen the pressure. She steps nearer and closes her eyes as his arms engulf her in warmth and the scent of home and winter. No one has ever kissed her as Jon does, like he’s offering something instead of trying to steal something away. His fingers thread through her hair as he pulls away, his quickened breath warming her face.
“At night I would think of you, the way you looked dancing at our wedding feast, and it wouldn’t seem so hopeless,” he murmurs and Sansa is certain that if he were not holding her she would float away.
Courage, she thinks, I must have courage.
“I dreamed of children,” she says, clutching at his jerkin. “A girl like Arya and a boy like you.”
This kiss is different, tinged with desperation and hunger, something that might have frightened her if it did not so keenly echo the sentiments of her heart. He tastes of mead and the cold and she clings to him, pressing against the hard, lean lines of his body, wishing somehow she could climb inside of him. Or that he could climb inside of her, so that she might keep him safe. Still, he holds her carefully and she can feel the hesitation in him, the worry. Previously she might have assumed it was a lack of desire or perhaps even guilt, but she knows better now. If there has been uncertainty, it has been for her benefit –the hard length of him against her belly is evidence enough of that.
“Take me to bed, Jon,” she half begs.
His large hands flex on her hips and he rests his forehead against hers. His lashes are long and dark against the splay of his pale cheeks and his beard is a bit unruly from months of travel and their kissing. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he says at last, lashes lifting and gaze searching.
She wants to tell him that she’s braver than he thinks, that she believes he’s worth the risk, that she trusts him as she thought she could never trust again. But the words lodge in her throat so she kisses him again instead, willing him to understand. She’s unpracticed and unsure but he cradles the back of her neck and shows her the way of things.
It takes the both of them to free him of his clothes. Smiling and blushing at each other like children as they fumble with clasps and ties. She traces the dark ridges and scars on his chest and the look in his eyes as he watches her makes her want to cry. They both have scars, she knows, as she steps back to shrug off her robe and dressing gown, trembling with uncertainty. But Jon doesn’t leave her to shiver in the chill of the room, he wraps her in his strength and understanding and it’s far easier than she’d ever imagined to lead him toward the bed.
“Nothing you don’t want, Sansa,” he says gruffly, cupping her breast and rubbing the rough pad of his thumb over her hardened nipple. It makes something hot and only vaguely familiar burst to life between her thighs. She feels breathless and restless as she squirms against him, desperate to be closer somehow.
She hadn’t know it could be like this. Had never understood why so many people seemed to enjoy it, thought women must only endure it for the sake of love and children, but as Jon traces a path down her belly and into the cleft between her tightly clenched thighs, she realizes that it could be so much more. Memory and horror had been creeping at the edges of her mind, but as Jon finds a delicious spot inside her, the demons within are banished in favor of a hot coiling low in her belly.
“Jon,” she gasps, uncertain and clutching at his shoulders.
“I’ve got you,” he half moans into her throat as his tongue traces a tendon there. “Gods you’re perfect. So lovely, so wet and hot.”
Her only reply is a keening moan as his movements quicken and the coil inside her bows her back and seems to tighten every nerve in her body. As she floats back down to herself she feels oddly absolved, new and clean as she runs her fingers through Jon’s hair and tastes his lips.
Jon watches her with reverence and warmth as she traces the lines of his face. She curves a calf around his hips and urges him above her, shivering at the perfect heat of his body. She’s never been so warm, she thinks, so content. He kisses her slowly, a wordless promise of something he’s been trying to say to her for a long while, but that she’d been too afraid to understand.
There is a moment of fear when he slips inside her. Memories of pain and invasion pressing against the backs of her eyelids, but Jon holds her through it, petting and murmuring gentle words into her skin until the darkness fades and there is only the two of them. The rest seems as natural as breathing and as necessary as air. She doesn’t think she will ever forget the way Jon looks when he’s lost in pleasure, when his control begins to slip and desperation takes hold.
Afterwards, he holds her close to his chest, his heart slowing beneath her ear as the fire burns low.
“I dreamed of a little girl with hair like yours,” he confesses, tugging his fingers gently through the tangled strands. “Hair of fire and just as brave as her mother.”
“You think me brave?” she asks, tone disbelieving.
Jon shakes his head, bemused as he cups her face and forces her to look at him. “I’ve never known anyone braver, Sansa.”