Work Header

half blade, half silk

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 1: Jon I

Sansa beamed up at him, with a smile that had his heart clenching. “A direwolf, truly?” She looked down at the two little pups in Jon’s hands with joy. “I thought they were only found beyond the Wall.”

“Direwolves haven’t been seen south of the Wall for two hundred years,” Jon agreed, as she took the one meant for her from his arms. “But we found these ones on our way back to Winterfell. Their mother had been felled by a stag, but the pups were still alive.”

Sansa reached out and ran her long, slim fingers through one of the pups’ coats, laughing gently when it mewed and reached for her. “How many?”

“One for each of the Stark children,” Jon told her.

Sansa frowned at him, looking so sad that he wanted nothing better than to reach for her and pull her into his arms.

“What about you?” She demanded, with a look of stubbornness that could easily be found on her twin-but-older brother, Robb.

Jon gestured to the small, white heap in the crook of his other elbow. “This one’s mine.”

The pup, in question, looked at her with clear red eyes, and leaned into her touch when she scratched behind its ears, making her giggle. It was clear this pup of his had as much preference for Sansa as he, himself, did.

“Have you named yours yet?” Sansa asked, looking up at him with curious, cornflower-blue eyes.

“Ghost,” Jon shrugged.

Sansa’s lips twitched. “Why Ghost?”

“His colour… he’s white as a ghost. And he hasn’t made a sound since I found him,” Jon explained. “And yours?” He gestured for the pup slumbering peacefully in her arms (he couldn’t begrudge the pup, knowing what her embrace felt like himself). “Have you any ideas?”

Sansa looked down and rocked the pup slightly. “Lady, I think.”

“Of course,” Jon teased.

Sansa flushed. “She’s very sweet, isn’t she? It suits her.”

“That she is,” Jon agreed. “She gave me no trouble at all when I picked her up.”

“Not like me, then?” Sansa said, playfully, looking up at him through her eyelashes.

“Not like you at all.”

That night, there was an impatient knock on his door. It had him scrambling for a tunic, shrugging it on, before he opened the door, roughly, already knowing who would be on the other side. It didn’t take long before his arms were full of his pretty half-sister, kissing him for all that he was worth, her fingers threading through his dark-brown hair.

“Sansa,” Jon groaned, finding the curve to her hips that had only just began to widen.

She pulled away with a smile, mouth redder than her hair. “Thank you for Lady.” She said, sweetly.

It made Jon chuckle. “I didn’t make her for you.” He tugged on the end of her braid.

She fluttered her eyelashes. “Yes, but you brought her to me. You could have let Robb do it, or Bran. But you came.”

Jon rubbed the back of his neck. “I wanted to see the look on your face.”

Sansa’s smile broadened. She didn’t reply to him, but she didn’t need to. She slipped her hands underneath his tunic, pressing against his muscled abdomen from years of training in the yards (she had watched him often under the guise of watching Robb, lest her mother catch her and scold her; watching him usually left a strange warmth in her belly that left her aching for the imprint of his hands on her skin). She pulled him close, leaning up on her toes so that he could feel the lines of her curves against his own body.

“Sansa,” Jon began, roughly.

“What, Jon?” Sansa asked, guilelessly.

“Are you sure?” He wondered, quietly.

He always asked her that – in case she ever changed her mind.

It hadn’t been easy for him, when Sansa had pulled him down and kissed him a year ago in the Godswood. He had struggled with his own feelings for so long, and to be faced with her reciprocation, it had left him reeling. He had avoided her for almost a fortnight, unable to reconcile the shame of loving his sister as a woman with the sweetness of her mouth on his. But a fortnight later, Sansa had cornered him in the stables and begged his forgiveness if she had offended him with her actions, and he couldn’t bear to see the tears in her eyes and the way her she held herself away from him, as if she feared he’d hurt her (as if he ever could; he’d sooner cut off his own arm), and he had been helpless against her, taking her into his arms and moving his mouth against her until she was arching into him shamelessly.

Every now and then, he remembered the sin of wanting to bed his own sister (half-sister, his mind eagerly reminded him, as if that were better) and it left him sickened, wondering if this was the work of his bastard blood that Lady Catelyn had always worried about. And he knew that their tryst (it felt so wrong to refer to what they felt for each other as so sordid) wouldn’t last, in any case. One day, and he imagined soon (considering the way that eyes followed Sansa nowadays), his father would give her hand away to some Southern idiot who would take one look at Sansa’s pretty face and wolf blood and would either want it for himself or trample her down until there was nothing left but empty beauty (and his Sansa was so much more than just her comeliness).

But for now, Sansa was his. She didn’t even think of another boy in the same breath as him, he knew that. And anyone who sneered down at him for being a bastard was immediately put out of her mind (save her mother, but he would never begrudge her a mother, not when he ached for one himself) – she loved him so dearly. And when she left him, and she would leave him (who could look at Sansa and not see that she was meant for more than just Winterfell?), he would join the Night’s Watch. There was great honour in being a Black Brother and he would be comforted with the thought of her and that would be enough.

It had to be enough.

“Jon,” Sansa said, gently. “You’re straying from me.”

He looked down at her, fearing the day that she would be no longer his to touch (even in private), and kissed her fiercely, hauling her up against his body and pulling her to the bed.

He hadn’t wanted to lay with her, not at the beginning. He hadn’t wished to take her maidenhead (bastard born didn’t deserve highborn girls’ maidenheads), and he hadn’t wanted to take the risk of putting a bastard in her (not just any bastard, but a bastard born of incest); she had argued, of course, citing that most highborn girls lost their maidenhead to a horse more than they ever would to a man, and she had found moon tea somewhere (he hadn’t cared to ask where she had gotten it from, but he had a sneaking suspicion that the tavern wench Theon was always tupping may have been behind it – but how she gotten it without revealing that she was Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, remained a mystery that plagued him). He hadn’t been able to resist beyond that (he was honourable, but he was still a man), and they had quickly tumbled back onto the bed together.

It had been awkward and messy and painful (for her, at least), the first time for the both of them, but no rhythm was established until his mouth found its way between her legs and he was licking into her. She had clutched at his hair with remarkable strength and buried her head into his pillow, so as to muffle her sounds of pleasure, but he had continued, not stopping until he felt her cunt pound against his mouth and her thighs turn wet with her slick. It had made him groan, the first time, at the taste of her; she hadn’t tasted like lemon cakes, as he had expected, but something tart and fierce – it had been sweeter than lemon cakes.

The next morning, she looked straight through him as if he didn’t matter to her at all, as if she hadn’t spent the night before on her back with her bastard half-brother between her legs, moaning his name like some Wintertown brothel girl (but he doubted that any of those girls sounded half as sweet as Sansa when she was aching for him). Oh, in front of everyone else, she pretended as if her bastard half-brother was just that, a half-brother that she was fond of (her attachment to Robb, and therefore Jon, as a child, had crippled Lady Catelyn’s aspirations for a child that preferred her to Jon Snow), no more fond than she was of Robb, Bran or baby Rickon, perhaps less so, as he was her bastard half-brother and not her true full-blooded sibling, but could not and would not be significant; almost as if he were a mere annoyance in her life, taking up unwanted space in her otherwise perfect trueborn family, but only he knew the truth of her – of how she was greedy for him in a way that spoke nothing of the lady she claimed to be, or of the sister she was meant to be. It became their secret, one which was guarded so close to their hearts, that they would have to pry open their rib cages to find the truth.

He was reminded of that first night of theirs, now, as his warm hands spanned the width of her pale, smooth things, sliding up underneath the thin shift of her nightgown, pressing her down onto the bed. He mouthed at her open throat as he settled between her open thighs. Her smallclothes were damp against his tunic and he could see that brush of red curls (kissed by fire, as he had heard Old Nan refer to Sansa’s colouring once) between her thighs through the opaque fabric. He dragged them down her pale, smooth legs, knowing that he couldn’t simply tear them as much as he would like to (she would need them to walk back to her room later and she would be ever so cross with him if she were forced to leave without them).

Sansa never said a word, but she reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him down to press their mouths together. She tasted like the lemon cakes they had at supper and she moaned, as the length of him jutted against that place between her thighs.

“Now, Jon,” She panted. “I feel as though I’ve been waiting forever.”

Jon chuckled. “What about yesterday in the Godswood?”

Sansa scowled. “Those were just kisses. You haven’t been inside me in a moon’s turn.”

“As you wish,” Jon murmured against her neck.

He fisted his cock and pressed it where she was wet and open for him. She parted for him like a ripe peach, her jaw clenching as she welcomed him inside her. Within moments, he was inside her to the hilt, the muscles in his back taut with the effort of not simply rutting away inside her like the green boy that he was, where she was warm and tight. He let her adjust to him for a moment, before leaning down and brushing away a lock of her crimson hair that had strayed from her braid, away from her soft-with-youth face.

“Move,” She urged him, patting him on his smooth shoulder.

A groan left Jon’s mouth and he began to move inside her, emboldened by her small cries of pleasure, which she kept as quiet as possible, lest someone learn that Jon had a girl in his room (there would be questions he didn’t quite care to answer if someone found out, and Lady Catelyn disliked him enough without him turning her home into a brothel). Their lovemaking was gentle, but brutal all the same. Sansa liked to dig her nails into him, as if she feared she’d lose him if she slackened her hold on him somewhat. She always held him close to her, as if willing he’d open up her chest and crawl into her heart so that she would never forget him and what they had shared, even when she was some other man’s wife and in some other man’s bed and bearing his children. He too was eager for a similar mark, dreading days at the Wall where he’d only have his memory of her to keep him company.

His rutting was short but deliberate, and he brought her to the edge quickly; he usually liked to take his time with her, especially when his mouth was on her, but today he found himself impatient and eager for that sweet time once they were finished, when she curled into him, pliant and lissom as a kitten, limbs boneless and eager for sleep and his embrace. She would never stay too long, in case the time came where she could no longer return to her rooms before the servants began to rise and begin their work. She clenched around his cock quick enough though, a low keen breaking from her throat, her skin flushed right down to the curve of her breasts through her thin nightshift, pink as her nipples. Her peak had him coming as well, spilling deep inside her with a rough groan.

He pulled out, gritting his teeth against the draw of her flesh, and found himself a washcloth, calmly sluicing the seed and slick from her thighs until she was clean and dry. He laid his head down on the pillow beside her and slipped his arm under her neck, allowing her to nestle against his side, fisting her hand in his tunic as her nose jutted into his collarbone. One hand rested on the curve of her hip, while the other loosened her hair from the braid and let it spill across his chest in a wave of red.

“Mother told me that the King rides for Winterfell,” Sansa said, shifting in his arms so that she could look at him.

Jon frowned. “The King? Why would he come here?”

Sansa bit her lip. “The Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, he’s dead.” She paused. “Mother believes the King intends to ask Father to be his Hand.”

“Father won’t want to leave Winterfell,” Jon said, adamantly.

He wondered if it were more sinful, in bed with his sister after lying with her as man and wife and speaking of their shared father.

“He may, if the King asks,” Sansa said, pointedly.

Something akin to dread curdled in Jon’s stomach at that. If Father went south, there would no longer be a place for him in Winterfell. Lady Catelyn would never allow him to stay, even if Sansa and Robb were to argue on his behalf (and Arya, he couldn’t forget about his she-wolf little sister, his own not-by-birth twin, as Stark-born as Robb and Sansa were Tully-born), which meant his departure to the Wall and to the Night’s Watch (away from Sansa, he thought, miserably) was more imminent that he realised.

“You’re sulking again,” Sansa said, annoyed, drawing his attention back to her as she often did (Arya had him beyond that door, but in here, he was all hers). “What are you thinking about?”

He looked down at her, warm and sweet and wanting him and only him, and he dreaded telling her of the Wall; she’d never accept it, him joining the Night’s Watch, him leaving her (which would be the greatest sin to her). She had spoken to him of joining her when she married, as her sworn-shield – a girl’s dream, but it could not be.

Lady Catelyn would never allow it.

“Nothing to worry about just yet,” Jon consoled her, gently, smoothing back her hair. “You should sleep some; it’ll be time for you to leave soon.”

With one arm slung across his chest, she let his petting soothe her to a restful slumber, unaware of Jon’s heart caught in his throat.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 2: Sansa I

The day that the King and his contingent rode into Winterfell was a day that Sansa wouldn’t soon forget. Winterfell itself had been up since dawn, the servants working doubly hard to ensure that all was ready for the royal party’s arrival. Sansa’s mother had come into her chambers and helped her get dressed in a pale-blue gown (it brings out your eyes, Sansa, her mother had said) with a matching cloak, her red hair parted in the centre, and a few tresses pinned back in braids, leaving the rest to curl subtly around her soft face.

She fiddled with the clasp of her cloak now, waiting with baited breath as the King’s party, some three hundred strong, rode through the gates. She twisted her head, slightly, turning behind her to see Jon standing just off to the side in the second row, his face impassive and harsh as the winter in their words, until he caught sight of her looking at him, to which he winked. Her eyelashes fluttered downwards and she hid her answering smile by looking away, before her mother could see and admonish her.

She would ask him to meet her in the Godswood later.

When she looked back at the King, she found herself wondering how this fat man who needed help to get down from his horse could have ever been the tall, strong warhammer-wielding Storm Lord who killed the Dragon Prince, all for the love of her Aunt Lyanna. She saw Jaime Lannister, the Queen’s twin brother, (Kingslayer, she had heard in hushed voices from the maids as they spoke of the knight) just as Arya whispered the name to her, nudging her in the side, peering around for the Imp. The man was handsome, golden hair and green eyes and a sharp smile. It was a lazy, disinterested, almost scornful look he gave his surroundings – it made Sansa bristle inside.

Winterfell may not be the glory of the South, but it was her home, nonetheless.

There was a large man with half of his face terribly burned, and a tall boy with the Kingslayer’s golden hair and eyes, whom she assumed to be Joffrey, King Robert’s eldest son and the crown prince. As if he had heard her thoughts, he turned in her direction, his somewhat indolent smile turning appreciative, making her blush (not in admiration, as Robb must have thought, since she could see his frown from out of the corner of her eye, but in discomfort, as the only one who had ever looked at her like that had been Jon, and he had never looked at her so covetously, as if he’d like to cut her open and eat all her insides). She looked away, awkwardly, looking at the stunted little man behind them, who must have been the Queen’s younger brother, Tyrion Lannister.

The King crushed her father in a hug, roaring out his name, and Sansa blanched at the show of boorishness. Even her poor father seemed stunned by the King’s rough affection.

But her father simply blinked. “Your Grace. Winterfell is yours.”

The doors to a gilded wheelhouse that had rolled in along with the riders opened and the Queen sidled out with her young children, Joffrey’s younger siblings, Princess Myrcella, the pale, blonde, pretty girl, and Prince Tommen, blonde as his siblings and mother and of an age with Bran. Her father knelt in the snow and kissed the Queen’s ring, while the king embraced her stoic mother as if she were his own sister.

King Robert moved down the line of Stark children, shaking Robb’s hand, who looked much older than the fourteen years he shared with her, and he kissed her hand, calling her a “pretty one” (she deliberately ignored the feeling of his wet lips on her skin). Arya looked at him, disinterestedly, and he muttered something about her looking like her Aunt Lyanna before moving forward to Bran and baby Rickon.

The King then turned to her father. “Take me down to your crypt, Eddard. I would pay my respects.”

Sansa frowned at that, wondering why the King was so adamant to see Winterfell’s crypts, and then only just remembered that her Aunt Lyanna had been buried there, after the war had ended. That made her soft inside – to know that the King still loved her Aunt Lyanna so greatly that he wished to see her statue in the crypts – this was the Robert Baratheon from the songs. But, Sansa turned to Queen Cersei, curious to see her reaction, won’t the Queen be angry that he wishes to visit Aunt Lyanna in the crypts?

The Lannisters must have been mind-readers, as the Queen’s mouth thinned at that moment and she began to protest, citing that they had been riding for over a month and surely the dead could wait. Sansa balked at that, as if her aunt had been some blacksmith’s daughter who’d died of a fever, instead of the only daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, who had been carried off from her bed by Rhaegar Targaryen, raped and left to die in some tower in Dorne.

But the look that the King gave Queen Cersei chilled Sansa right to the bone, and she looked away, just as Ser Jaime took her by the arm and led her back to her children. Her mother, the consummate lady as always, swept forwards and offered to take the Queen and her children to the chambers where they would be staying, and the party dispersed. Sansa was left with her siblings, who immediately began to prattle as soon as the King, Queen, the royal children, and the Kingsguard had left their midst.

“Did you see the Imp? He-”

“The King doesn’t look at all like what I thought he’d-”

“Do you think that’s the sword Ser Jaime used to kill-”

Sansa looked at Jon then, curious to know what he’d thought of the royal party, only to find him staring at her as well.

Oh, I cannot wait any longer.

She gave him a deliberate look and she held out her hand, imperiously.

“Jon, I would like to go to the Godswood now,” She told him.

Jon nodded and offered his arm for her hand to lay upon.

“Sansa, why do you need to pray now?” Arya rolled her eyes.

Sansa scowled down at her little sister. “There is no such thing as an established time to pray. I’d simply like to go to the Godswood, unless it would displease you?” The derisive edge her voice took towards the end told Arya that even if she objected, Sansa wouldn’t be changing her mind.

Arya huffed and turned to Bran. “Do you think the Kingslayer-?”

Robb, however, didn’t let them leave immediately. “Why did the Prince look at you like that?”

Under her hand, she felt Jon tense.

Sansa tipped her head up, defiantly. “How should I know?”

“You blushed,” Robb accused.

Sansa rolled her eyes. “Yes, because he smiled at me.”

“So you do like him?” Robb pushed.

If it were possible, Jon turned to stone beside her.

“Of course not,” Sansa scoffed, and she hoped Jon listened well. “Blushing isn’t something that you can just control. And it isn’t as if boys smile at me, often, now is it?” She challenged.

Robb grimaced, but kept silent.

“Now,” She levelled her twin with a withering look. “If we are finished with all the accusations, I’d like to go to the Godswood now.” She turned to Jon, expectantly.

Jon nodded and he led her away to the Godswood, leaving the other Stark children standing in the courtyard. She hoped that her siblings didn’t think much of it, her asking Jon to take her to the Godswood instead of Robb, or waiting until after the royal party had settled in their rooms.

The two didn’t stop walking until they reached the heart tree, with its solemn face carved into the dark weirwood, looming over them as if judging them for the reason behind their retreat to the Godswood.

The Old Gods frown upon incest, Sansa remembered.

But did she have any other choice but to bring Jon here with her?

The Great Keep would be bustling with servants, of Winterfell and King’s Landing, and she didn’t trust anyone to not be peeking around the corners, curious as to what those strange Northmen actually did up in their frozen wasteland. And if the King and Queen were to find out, the eldest daughter of the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North bedding down with her own half-brother, a bastard half-brother at that, the consequences would be too great – for Jon more than her (her mother would have him killed, her husband’s blood or not, and Sansa would die then of grief).

No, the Godswood is our only sanctuary.

She looked up at the stern face of the weirwood and closed her eyes, praying for forgiveness. It would not do well to be arrogant here. The Old Gods’ wrath was slow, but brutal.

“You blushed when the Prince smiled at you?”

Sansa’s eyes snapped to Jon, whose solemn features (her father’s features, but she didn’t care to contemplate long on that) remained inscrutable to her.

“Not you too,” Sansa sighed.

His face broke out in a smile and he touched her on the arm. “I was merely japing.”

Sansa huffed. “I wasn’t blushing, not really. He… took me by surprise.” She explained, gently.

Jon took her hands in his and raised them up to his mouth, warming them from the cold. The touch of his lips then sent such a hurtling surge of warmth through her that she almost rocked on her feet, wishing that she could fall into his arms then and there.

“I know,” He murmured.

She had never thought of another boy in the same breath as she had him, and Jon knew that, she knew he knew that; he had nothing to be jealous about – but she also knew that the royal party’s arrival had him on edge. It was difficult enough to find time to be alone together when it was just Winterfell around them, but he would isolate himself from even more now that the King and Queen were they, lest they be offended by a bastard in their midst (she hated when he thought of himself as less than anyone; how could Jon be less than anyone?).

“What did you think of the King?” Sansa asked him, curiously.

“The demon of the Trident,” Jon began, scornfully. “A man as wide as he is tall, and already half in his cups.”

Sansa’s lips twitched. It was clear to her that Jon had the same thoughts as she had.

“And the Queen?”

“She is beautiful,” Jon reasoned.

Sansa raised an eyebrow. “More beautiful than I am?” She teased.

Jon gave her such a withering look that it had her flushing down her neck. “Hardly.”

He didn’t compare her look to the sun or the moon or the stars or any other pretty, arcane things, as the songs were wont to do, but the way he said it, as if it were some incontrovertible truth that made her a lackwit for not understanding, that was more of worth to her than the words of Seasons of My Love.

“Her smile is false,” Jon said, suddenly.

Sansa frowned. “What do you mean?”

“She never looked at any of you, not Father, or your Lady Mother, simply through you, as if you didn’t exist at all, or perhaps were not worth existing.”

Sansa had seen it too, in the Queen’s sharp, green gaze, but she hadn’t put too much thought into it until now, until Jon himself was speaking what she was thinking.

Cersei Lannister did not want to be here.

“The Prince?”

Now, this was a question she was eager for an answer.

“He doesn’t like it here either.”

“I saw it too,” Sansa said, softly. Her brow furrowed. “But if the Queen doesn’t want to be here, why are they here?”

“Mayhaps she does not have much choice in it,” Jon pointed out. “You saw the way he looked at her when she objected to him going down to the crypts.”

Sansa nodded. Kings did not look at their Queens, Queens they loved, the way Robert Baratheon had looked at Cersei Lannister earlier.

She couldn’t imagine her father looking at her lady mother like that, ever.

“This will not end well, will it?” Sansa said, suddenly.

Jon’s face softened and he took his hands in hers. “No.”

Sansa’s shoulders slumped and she glared at him, viciously. “You’re meant to reassure me.” She snapped.

Jon chuckled. “Sansa, Father may not even agree to be King Robert’s Hand.”

“Kings don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Sansa replied, stubbornly.

He looked around first before taking her face in his hands and kissing her (there were too many people in Winterfell now for them to be as reckless as they would be). Sansa melted into the kiss, as she was accustomed to doing, clutching onto his forearms through the black wool of his cloak. When he pulled away, her eyes were still closed, as if to capture this moment in her mind.

She shook her head. “If Father goes to King’s Landing, Mother will want Arya and I to join him.” She said, carefully.

Jon nodded. “Yes, that is likely.”

Sansa bit her lip. She didn’t want to ask her question, but she needed to know.

“And you? Will you come with us?”

She saw the indecision on his face and her heart dropped into her stomach.

To his credit, Jon hesitated before answering.

“Your Mother will not allow it.”

“I’ll convince her,” Sansa said, adamantly. “You could be our sworn shield.”

She could see in Jon’s eyes that he did not have the same faith as she did, and wondered if this was the beginning of their idyll being unstitched at the seams (no, it can’t be, I won’t let it, Sansa reassured herself).


She imagined he began his words so slowly and so tenderly, as to break the news of his doubt kindly, without offending her.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Sansa snapped.

“Sansa-” His voice was now sharp and frustrated.

Why did he sound so angry if it were her heart that he was breaking with his wavering?

Sansa was suddenly cross.

“No,” She said, firmly. “We mustn’t speak of this right now. Mother will be looking for me. I must return.”

With that, she left him standing there in the Godswood, alone, every step she took away from him almost like a league away.

Her mother had come to her rooms early that night, before the feast to welcome their guests, in order to help her get ready again. Her gown would be different; one she had stitched herself with ruffles at the collar much like her mother was wearing. Her hair was twisted into a myriad of braids, some of which falling over her shoulder. As she looked into the mirror, she wondered if Jon would like her in this dress; would he want her out of it as eagerly as he had the dove-grey silk she had worn to the last harvest feast? In truth, she had worn it for him, knowing that it was the same colour as his eyes, with just enough of a neckline to bare her collarbone.

Tonight, however, she felt more of a girl than she did a woman. Especially when her mother knelt in front of her, took Sansa’s hands in hers, and explained how the offer for her father to become the Hand of the King came with another one as well.

Sansa felt something die inside of her when her mother calmly explained that the King wished to bind the Houses of Stark, Lannister and Baratheon together, in marriage. She would marry Ser Jaime and Prince Joffrey would marry Arya.

Her mother had just finished speaking the princess’ name, when Sansa spoke up.

“But, Mother, Ser Jaime… I thought knights of the Kingsguard were forbidden to take a wife?”

Sansa was surprised when her voice did not waver as she thought it would.

Her mother hesitated. “The King has agreed to release Ser Jaime from his vows and allow him to marry you, so that there may be peace between our houses. As you well know, your father and the Lannisters have an unfortunate history.”

Yes, Sansa had heard the story of how her father had strode into the throne room of the Red Keep once King’s Landing had been sacked by the Lannister army, only to find Ser Jaime sitting on the throne, with the Mad King’s body lying at his feet, his golden sword and white cloak drenched with blood. She had also heard the story of how her father had objected when Tywin Lannister had presented the newly-crowned Robert Baratheon with the bodies of Elia Martell, Rhaenys Targaryen and her baby brother, Aegon, their corpses wrapped in Lannister cloaks as red as the blood that still congealed on their skin.

She looked up then.

“Father,” She said, hopefully. “Surely he does not mean to-”

Father hates Jaime Lannister; everyone knows that. He’s a knight without honour, an oathbreaker. Father would never expect me to marry such a man. Sansa reassured herself.

Catelyn flinched, as if she so badly wanted to agree with her. “Your father has… accepted the King’s offer.”

Whatever was left inside Sansa died as well.

“Why?” Sansa demanded, forgetting her courtesies for a moment.

“Sansa,” Catelyn sighed. “Your father is in a precarious position. He cannot refuse the King.”

“So he’ll just sell me off to whomever the King wants?” Sansa asked, sharply.

“Sansa!” Catelyn admonished. “Your father would never sell you. Ser Jaime is… a good match. Once he has been released of his vows, he will be the heir to Casterly Rock and the future Warden of the West.”

“He’s too old!” Sansa protested.

“He is younger than both your father and I,” Catelyn pointed out. “He and the Queen are only thirty-two years old.”

“I’m fourteen!” Sansa paused. “What of the prince? He must only be a year or two younger than me. Can I not marry him and Arya can marry Prince Tommen?” She asked, desperately.

Catelyn pursed her lips. “It appears that the Queen is of the opinion that it would not do if the Crown Prince married someone who was older than him.” She explained.

“But it would do if I married someone eighteen years older than I am?” Sansa shot back, incredulous, her voice growing louder.

“Sansa!” Catelyn rebuked now.

Sansa flinched away from her mother, making Catelyn soften.

“Sansa, my love,” Catelyn took her hands in hers again. “What are our words, the Tully words?”

“Family, Duty, Honour,” Sansa replied, swallowing hard.

“I was only twelve when my father betrothed me to your Uncle Brandon, but I did my duty,” Catelyn said, gently. “And you will do yours.”

Sansa didn’t want to point out the obvious to her mother – that her Uncle Brandon had only been three-four years older than her and she and her uncle would not have even been married until she was seventeen or eighteen.  

But what could she say more? Her mother and father had apparently already agreed for her and were merely telling her as a courtesy, rather than asking her for her opinion. And as her mother had said: family, duty, honour. She had been raised in those words just as she had been raised in winter is coming.

“Sansa, I know this isn’t what you dreamed of, but your sons will rule the West one day, and be kin twice over to future Kings,” Catelyn insisted.

I don’t care about that, Sansa wanted to shout. Jon will leave now, don’t you see? He’ll leave me all alone and I’ll be forced to bed the Kingslayer.

But she could never say that to her mother – even the mere mention of Jon Snow was enough to make her mother walk out of the room, her face as pale as white-hot fury.

“Our House will be safer for it, if you marry Jaime Lannister, Sansa,” Catelyn urged, quietly.

Yes, our House. But what about me, mother? Do you not feel any pity for me?

But there was nothing more to do. Short of running away with Jon (and Jon, her sweet Jon, would never do something so dishonourable; no, he’d bite his tongue and step away before he’d ever shame her like that), she could not stop what was to come. All she could do is hold onto Jon as fiercely as she could before everything fell apart around them – sometimes, she feared she was as stupid as Arya said she was; had she really thought that Jon and her could be together forever, just like Florian and Jonquil or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight and his Queen Naerys?

“When will we be married?” Sansa asked, dully. “Now, or…”

She couldn’t bear to finish the sentence.

“Once he hears of your father’s agreement to the betrothal, the King will publicly release Ser Jaime from his vows and you will be wed in the Sept, here in Winterfell.”

“In a few days, then?” Sansa murmured.

“That is what the King intends.” Catelyn hesitated then. “I need to go and make sure that your brothers and your sister are ready for the feast. Will you be alright on your own?”

“Yes.” Sansa replied, blankly.

“Very well,” Catelyn kissed Sansa on the crown of her head and left her sitting there in her chambers.

Sansa stared off into nothing, the heat from the fire easing none of the cold that had spread once her mother had told her of her future (the future that she apparently had no say in).


She needed to speak with Jon.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 3: Jon II

Jon took his place on the bench, amongst younger squires, snatching up a goblet of summerwine and draining it dry, grinning at the thought of escaping his father’s usual watchful eye. Only one glass and only at feasts, his father’s words, passed right over his head, as he poured himself another glass.

His eyes wandered around the Great Hall, taking in the banners that lined the walls. The Stark direwolf; the Baratheon stag; and the Lannister lion. The procession of the honoured guests had happened right in front of him. First, his father, escorting Queen Cersei – beautiful and golden-haired, with green-eyes like the cat on her sigil. Second, the King, escorting Lady Stark, his face red from exertion or from drink, Jon wasn’t able to tell, his silks damp from sweat. Then came Rickon, three-years-old and dignified, but his attention wavered when he saw Jon sitting down at one of the benches and Jon nodded him forwards, before Lady Stark could see him and become cross (and no doubt blame Jon for it all, because he must have done something to distract Rickon). Princess Myrcella entered on Robb’s arm, looking up at him shyly, with her heart in her eyes, but his brother not sparing the girl a second look. He almost felt sorry for her, but in the end, he rolled his eyes instead.

Sansa and Arya entered next, each on the princes’ arms. Jon found his hand tightened on his wine glass, when Sansa’s eyes travelled across each of the tables before landing on him, a purposeful look on her face, before she looked away. Jon frowned, not at her inattention (she could hardly show favour to her bastard half-brother when the royal family were in her midst, as much as she may want to), but at the pallid look on her features, as if she were sick or sad, and it took everything in him to stop himself from hurtling off the bench and seizing her in his arms, to see if she were truly okay. But despite whatever melancholy had taken her over, Sansa looked radiant.

He wondered if she’d smile once he put his hand between her legs.

Joffrey looked disdainful (although, Jon didn't see why he had to be disdainful, considering he had Sansa on his arm), as if Winterfell didn’t match his expectations or perhaps it was not worth his esteem, much like his mother in that fact. The boy was two years shy of him, Robb and Sansa, with a tangle of blonde curls on his head and green eyes like his mother. In fact, now that he looked at Tommen as well, all three of the Queen’s children looked exactly like her. Not a drop of Robert Baratheon in them, Jon thought, his eyes straying to the King up on the dais, wine already at his mouth, taking in his black hair and beard, and light blue eyes.

Arya, unfortunately, had been paired with Prince Tommen, young and plump and of an age with Bran, much to Arya’s displeasure. She had snuck over to Jon’s room, earlier, once her mother had left her be, and tugged impatiently at her dress and hair, loudly exclaiming (once Jon had dragged her inside his room, before someone could hear her) that she didn’t want to walk in with the prince and couldn’t he walk in himself, why did he need her to lead him? He knew that if Sansa had heard Arya, she would’ve been wroth with her little sister (as she were often), and tried to explain it the way Sansa would, but only less condescending (he loved Sansa with everything in him, but she was a spoilt brat when she wanted to be, and her and Arya fought like cats and dogs when they were in a mood).

Behind Sansa and Arya came the Queen’s two brothers. The Kingslayer, Ser Jaime Lannister, in Lannister colours than the Kingsguard armour of Ser Meryn Trant and Ser Boros Blount, who had accompanied the King and his retinue to Winterfell. He was the spitting image of his sister, if in a man’s body, the same golden hair and green eyes, but his smile was sharp, cutting like a knife. The other brother was hidden by the height of Ser Jaime, waddling on short legs: Tyrion Lannister, the youngest child of Tywin Lannister. He had none of his brother and sister’s beauty, but still managed to walk into the Great Hall as if he were the most important man in the room.

The food was served not long after and Jon took his fair portion of honeyed chicken, listening to the bawdy tales from one of the squires. Once he had finished eating, he looked out towards the table where the children had been seated, a level down from where the King and Queen sat with his father and Lady Stark. He grinned when he saw Arya lob a piece of her food at Sansa and watched it hit her in the cheek, and Sansa’s answering shriek, Arya! Arya turned back to her plate, surprised that her throw had landed with such accuracy, but proud nonetheless. Her grey eyes, the same as his, found his and he winked at her, his smile falling when he caught sight of Sansa glaring at him, wiping at her cheek with a cloth, Jeyne Poole soothing her offended spirits. He winced, thinking of the hell he would get for it later if she had seen him smiling at Arya.

Unfortunately for his youngest sister, her mother had also caught sight of her little stunt and had caught Robb’s eye, nodding at him to take Arya away for bed, whose shoulders slumped. He vaulted off his own bench and grasped Arya by the waist, pulling her away from the table, despite her pout, and leading her out of the hall.

When Jon saw Prince Joffrey paying Sansa a little too much attention than what made him comfortable, and a quick look up at the dais found the King pulling one of the serving girls into his lap and fondling her shamelessly while his queen sat beside him, cold as ice, he decided that it was time for him to leave the feast as well. He hastily said his goodbyes and led Ghost away from where he had been glaring at some black mongrel bitch, who had been sloping through the tables. It was only once he was outside in the cold air that he found that he could breathe again, the wine that he had drunk turning him flush and warm.

He scratched Ghost behind the ears when the pup began to nudge at his legs, impatiently, and he proceeded over to the mannequin propped up in the yard, snatching up a sparring sword that had been lying on the ground. He thought of Joffrey when he began to hack at the mannequin with fervour. His anger slowly abated, but he found himself centring on Sansa’s low spirits during the feast, wondering why she had been so miserable.

Only the sound of horse hooves drew him from his contemplation.

“Is he dead yet?” A voice called out.

Jon turned around and a smile lit up across his face. His uncle, Benjen Stark, came racing in through Winterfell’s gates, finally bringing his horse to a halt just where Jon was standing.

“Uncle Benjen!” Jon greeted, joyfully, throwing his arms around his uncle once he had dismounted.

His uncle looked much like him, if older and gaunter, but with the same dark hair and grey eyes and long face that he, Arya and Father had. He was dressed in the black of the Night’s Watch, the cloak huddled close to him. Benjen raised an eyebrow when Ghost followed Jon, promptly.

“You got bigger. I rode all day. Didn’t want to leave you alone with the Lannisters,” Benjen raised an eyebrow when Ghost followed Jon, promptly. “A very quiet wolf,” Benjen mused.

Jon grinned. “That’s why I called him Ghost. He never makes a sound. We almost missed him when we were collecting the others. That, and he’s white. All the others are grey or black.”

“There are still direwolves beyond the Wall. We hear them on our rangings,” Benjen looked at Jon, curiously. “Why aren’t you at the feast?”

Jon’s lips twitched as if he wanted to smile, but it wasn’t at anything cheerful – merely the mockery of his life.

“I was,” Jon replied. “But Lady Stark thought it might insult the royal family to seat a bastard in their midst, so I decided to leave before my presence became a nuisance.”

Benjen looked like he wanted to say something, something to comfort Jon, but he doubted anything like that existed – it was a difficult life, being a bastard. Oh, he knew he had it better than most; Maester Luwin had taught him history, heraldry, geography, sums, how to read and run a household; Ser Rodrik had taught him the sword, the bow, the lance, all the fighting arts; anything that Robb learnt, Jon had as well. He was lucky for a bastard son. Most lords didn’t keep their bastards in their keep with their trueborn children, but Jon had grown up along with Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon, as if they were his true siblings and not just his half-brothers and sisters.

But he was a bastard. Lady Catelyn had always made sure that he never forgot that. When a visiting lord would come to Winterfell, he would be placed at one of the lower tables, lest someone mistakenly think that Eddard Stark had six trueborn children, and not five trueborn children and one bastard son. It had always been drilled into his head that Winterfell could not be and would not be his, ever. It was not something he had ever coveted, but it bothered him to know that it was a quirk of fate that he had been born on the wrong side of the sheets, and yet Winterfell could be denied to him, all because his mother and father hadn’t been married.

In truth, it should not be something he should have to fight for, his place here at Winterfell; he was as much his father’s son as Robb, Bran or Rickon were, if only their mothers were different. Yet by whatever mistake his parents had made, he was forced to shy away, lest people think he was Daemon Blackfyre come again.

Yet, even when he had nothing, he had always had Sansa.

Finally, Benjen was able to say something. “Well, you’re always welcome on the wall. No bastard was ever refused a seat there.”

Jon took that as a chance. “Robb is a stronger lance than I am, but I’m the better sword, and Hullen says I sit a horse as well as anyone in the castle.”

“Notable achievements.”

“Take me with you when you go back to the Wall,” Jon said, quickly.

I’m sorry, Sansa.

But he knew there was no other choice for the two of them – not when Sansa would go south with his father and the royal party and he would never be allowed to join them – their future together would end here at Winterfell.

“Jon…” Benjen trailed off.

“Father will give me leave to go if you ask him, I know he will,” Jon urged.

Benjen took a deep breath. “The Wall is a hard place for a boy, Jon.”

“I will be fifteen on my next name day,” Jon protested. “And Maester Luwin says bastards grow up faster than other children.”

Benjen grimaced, as if he didn’t want to acknowledge the fact of it, but it was true nonetheless. “True.”

“Daeron Targaryen was only fourteen when he conquered Dorne,” Jon pointed out.

He’d never be known with a great moniker, but he could serve with honour at the Wall, and he wouldn’t have to watch as Sansa married and had trueborn children with a great lord or a prince. He could live and die up at the Wall, and they’d both be better for it.

“A conquest that lasted a summer,” Benjen pointed out. “Your Boy King lost ten thousand men taking the place, and another fifty trying to hold it. War isn’t a game.”

“I am ready to swear your oath,” Jon said, firmly.

I have to be.

“The Wall isn’t going anywhere. You don’t know what you’re asking, Jon. The Night’s Watch is a sworn brotherhood. We have no families. None of us will ever father sons. Our wife is duty. Our mistress is honour.”

“Bastards can have honour too,” Jon said. “I am ready to swear your oath.”

“You are a boy of fourteen,” Benjen said. “Not a man, not yet. Until you have known a woman, you cannot understand what you would be giving up.”

I have known a woman, but you can never know that.

“I don’t care,” Jon shot back.

Benjen put a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “We have no families. None of us will ever father sons.”

The only sons I want are with Sansa and I can’t have that.

Jon could only admit to that desire in his own mind – he had never even spoken of it to Sansa herself (she would be thoroughly devastated if she learned that he had often dreamt of having a family with her) – even if he hadn’t been a bastard and she a lady, they could never have had that life together, being brother and sister as they were.

He tipped his head up, defiantly. “I will never father a bastard.”

Benjen sighed. “You wouldn’t say never, if you knew what it meant.” But he knew that Jon would not so easily be altered. “I’d better get inside. Rescue your father from his guests. We’ll talk later.” He said, reassuringly, clapping Jon on the back and walking off towards the Great Hall.

With that indecision left in him, Jon attacked the straw dummy with a renewed vigour, slashing at it until he felt his arms begin to hurt and sweat begin to rise. He could hear the sound of music and wine sloshing coming from inside as the doors opened and he ignored it deliberately (it was not his world), wishing that the mannequin was a real man so that he may sate his anger.

“Is that a wolf?”

Jon turned around to see Tyrion Lannister hovering in the yard on his lonesome. He frowned.

“What’re you doing back there?” He asked, confused.

Tyrion took a long drain of his wine. “Preparing for a night with your family.” He paused. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“A direwolf,” Jon replied. “His name is Ghost.” He looked down at the animal in question, who peered up at him with eerily red eyes.

When Tyrion attempted to pet him, Ghost reared back and snarled, baring its sharp, white teeth.

“Shy, isn’t he?” Tyrion commented, dryly.

Jon snorted. “If I wasn’t here, he’d tear out your throat,” He said.

He wondered if that were actually true – if it weren’t, it would be soon.

Jon raised an eyebrow. “You’re Tyrion Lannister. The queen’s brother?”

Tyrion smiled, sardonically. “My greatest accomplishment. You… you’re Ned Stark’s bastard, aren’t you?”

Jon’s jaw clenched (as it did when anyone referred to him as Ned Stark’s bastard son – as if that were all he could ever hope to be – someone else’s mistake but his only lot in life).

He turned away.

“Did I offend you?” Tyrion asked, dryly, as if it didn’t quite matter to him much if he had. “Sorry. You are the bastard, though.

Jon gritted his teeth. “Lord Eddard Stark is my father.” He hedged.

“And Lady Stark is not your mother. Making you a bastard.” Tyrion said, pointedly. “Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour. Then it can never be used to hurt you.”

With that, Tyrion turned away, doubtless to return to the feast, but Jon couldn’t keep his mouth shut, the anger from watching Joffrey leer at Sansa, the anger from being denied the Night’s Watch and now the anger from the Lannister dwarf’s presumption colliding in one terrifying surge.

“What the hell do you know about being a bastard?” Jon demanded, scornfully.

Tyrion turned around and regarded him, blankly. “All dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes.” He drawled and then departed.

Jon picked up his sword and attacked the dummy with new ferocity.

It was in the same position that Sansa found him later on, clutching her cloak tightly to herself as the nip in the air began to eat at her skin.

“You left the feast.”

It was no question.

“I had enough of wine and song,” Jon replied, his eyes not straying from the mannequin.

“I need to speak with you, Jon.”

And here it comes, he thought, wryly.

Jon turned. “What could you possibly need to speak to me about, my lady?”

Sansa flinched, her face white with cold and fear, but still so beautiful – something that made his heart hurt.

“Can we go to the Godswood?” She asked, her voice small and worried (it made Jon angry – Sansa should never sound as if she had something to fear).

Jon nodded, stiffly, and lent her his arm, leading her to the heart tree much like he had earlier this morning.

Once they were standing under the weirwood, the bloody frown of the sap gleaming down on them, Sansa turned to Jon, her face as pale as the snow littered around them.

“What is it, Sansa?” He asked, gently.

He feared he had hurt her feelings with his sharp tone earlier – it had not truly been her he had been angry at, but at the lack of direction his life was taking.

But now, seeing Sansa, with her pale blue eyes looking up at him without any of their usual sweetness and spirit, he found himself regretting anything harsh he may have ever said to her – he only wanted her to be happy again.

“Mother came to my rooms before the feast tonight,” Sansa began, quietly, looking up at the heart tree as if praying for strength. “She wanted to tell me of what the King and Father had discussed together in the crypts, earlier today.”

“And?” Jon pushed.

“The King has asked Father to be the next Hand of the King,” Sansa told him.

“We had already thought something like that, Sansa,” Jon pointed out. “I don’t see why this requires a late-night journey to the Godswood. There are still people at the feast; if they were to see us together, so late-”

Sansa shook her head, desperately. “I needed to speak with you.” She said, wildly.

Jon sat on the stone beside her and took her hands, frozen with cold, in hers, caressing them until some heat returned to her fingers.

“Sansa, there’s something you don’t want to say; what is it?” He urged.

Sansa’s mouth quivered, but she stayed as stoic as the lady she claimed to be. “In addition to Father becoming the Hand of the King, the King has also put forward that the Houses of Stark, Lannister and Baratheon be joined in marriage.”

A betrothal? Jon had assumed something of that nature already, he just hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself.

His heart was heavy, as if filled with lead.

“Apparently, I am to marry Ser Jaime Lannister, the Queen’s brother-”


“-and Arya will marry Prince Joffrey.”

“But-but-” Jon stammered. “He’s too old for you.”

Sansa let out a breath. “I said something similar to my mother, but,” Her lip curled. “It is a good match.” She said, clearly quoting something which her mother had said.

“Sansa,” Jon began, his voice betraying his agony.

“I know,” Sansa finished for him, her voice thick with grief. “I-I tried to argue with Mother, but she says that Father will accept, and that I should… do my duty as a Stark.”

Jon looked down at their joined hands, where Sansa’s was shaking, as if she couldn’t contain her fear any longer.

She looked at him then, with damp eyes and a drawn face, and he had the sudden urge to find Jaime Lannister, wherever he was, and run him through so that he’d no longer be a problem, so that he’d no longer make Sansa feel afraid in her own home, so that he wouldn’t even have the chance to think of touching someone as decent as Sansa.

Kingslayer, they called Jaime Lannister behind his back. How could his father agree for Sansa to marry a Kingslayer?

The very idea seemed incongruous to him.

“Perhaps Father won’t accept,” Jon offered, weakly.

Sansa shook her head. “He can’t refuse the King and Tywin Lannister; it would be too much of an insult. And Mother won’t say anything either.”

“When?” Jon asked, dully.

Sansa licked her lips. “As soon as Father accepts, the King will publicly release Ser Jaime from his vows, and we will be married in the Sept, here in Winterfell.”

“Then, soon?”

It was as if the colour at the edges of his world had begun to darken.

Sansa’s face fell apart then and she crumpled into his arms. “I don’t want to marry him, Jon. I don’t want to. I don’t want to.” She sobbed into his shoulder as if he could change her fate.

She trusted him this much and he could do nothing but watch her marry a man almost twenty years her senior, of age with her own parents – he didn’t deserve that trust.

He had to try.

“What do you want to do?” He asked, quickly.

Sansa looked up, her eyes red. “What do you mean?”

“Do you want to leave?” Jon asked, pointedly. “We can leave Winterfell.”

Sansa bit her lip. “You’d do that, for me?” She asked, hesitantly.

Jon closed his eyes. “Sansa, if you asked me now to go back there and kill Jaime Lannister, I’d do it without asking another question.” He paused. “Do you want to leave Winterfell?” He repeated.

“We can’t,” Sansa said, haltingly. “We-we’d be hunted. My mother would be convinced that it was you who made me run; she and Father would never stop looking for us. And if they ever found us-”

“I’d most likely be put to death,” Jon reasoned.

Lady Stark would insist upon it, and if he ran off with his father’s eldest daughter, his own half-sister, he doubted his father would care much to intercede and protect him. And if he did, it would be to send him to the Wall, anyway. He’d never be able to live in Winterfell again, and he’d never see Sansa again.

Family, Duty, Honour, those are my mother’s House words,” Sansa whispered. “It is my duty to marry the man my father has chosen for me.”

Jon scowled and jumped off the stone. “It doesn’t mean you have to accept it.”

Sansa scoffed. “Of course I don’t accept it, but I don’t see any other way. Do you?”

“No,” Jon confessed, hating himself for it.

“So, what do we do now?” Sansa asked, flatly. “I marry Jaime Lannister and go south; you stay here; and we just forget about everything?”

“I won’t be,” Jon said, suddenly, and winced at what he had just unknowingly admitted to.

Sansa frowned. “You won’t be what?”

Jon pursed his lips. “I won’t be staying here.”

Sansa’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean? Where would you go? Have you thought more about becoming mine and Arya’s sworn shield?”

“No,” Jon shook his head. “That will never happen; your mother will never let it happen.” He paused, hesitating with what he was about to say. “I have decided to join the Night’s Watch.”

Silence rang in the Godswood.

“Are you mad?” Sansa snapped, sliding to her feet. “I tell you I am to be married, and your first reaction is to freeze to death at the Wall?”

Jon grimaced. “It’s not my first reaction.”

Sansa paused. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve been thinking of this for a while now.” Jon explained, gently.

“What?” Sansa breathed. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, Sansa, sweet girl,” Jon began, quietly, seizing her hands in his. “This was never going to end well. You were always going to marry and leave Winterfell. Whether it was south or to one of Father’s banner houses, but you would have always had to leave.”

“You were going to come with me,” Sansa accused, sharply.

“No,” Jon shook his head. “It would never have happened. I would’ve waited until you married and then I was always going to join the Night’s Watch. There… a bastard could find honour there.”

“Honour?” Sansa snapped. “That’s what matters to you? What about me?”

“I love you,” Jon swore. “With everything in me.” He placed a hand on her cold cheek. “It’s the only way I know to keep your memory with me. I could live and die at the Wall, with your memory to keep me warm at night.”

Sansa’s eyes dampened. “What about a family? A wife, a child of your own?”

Jon rejected that idea immediately. A wife that was not Sansa? A child that Sansa did not bring into this world? No, he wanted neither.

“You are the only wife I would have,” Jon explained, gently. “And the only children I would have are the children you would bear.”

Sansa shook her head in desperation. “I don’t want you to leave,” She choked out amidst the rush of her tears. “I don’t want you to leave because of me.”

Jon softened and he curled her against him, so that she could feel his heart beating under his doublet and know it beat only for her.

“I don’t think there’s anything else we can do,” Jon said, reluctantly. “We can’t leave Winterfell; you can’t not marry Jaime Lannister; I can’t stay here after you and Arya and Father leave; and I can’t come with you south.”

Sansa pulled away. “I will hate myself until the day I die for making you go to the Wall.” She said, roughly.

Jon tugged on one of her braids. “You’re not making me do anything.” He insisted. “I want to go to the Wall, because it will give me a place I cannot have here in Winterfell. A bastard can rise high there. Knowing that I can live there with you in my heart for the rest of my life, it is a comfort, I swear.” He slid a hand down her flank. “Prince Aemon the Dragonknight joined the Kingsguard so that he could be true to Queen Naerys.”

Sansa huffed. “Yes, but, he was there, in King’s Landing, with her.”

“Yes, and I will be at the Wall. It is far from the Red Keep or Casterly Rock, but it will not dull my love for you by any means.”

“Maybe you could join the Kingsguard then?” Sansa offered, as a last effort. “For Arya, as well as for me.”

Jon shook his head. “No, I cannot be so close to you.”

“Why?” She asked, hurt.

“I cannot bear to see you with another man, sharing his bed and bearing his children,” Jon confessed. “While I will be aware of it at the Wall, I will be far enough away so as to not be faced with it. I fear it would kill me to see you belong to someone else.”

“It will kill me to belong to someone else,” Sansa retorted.

“Your children will keep you happy,” Jon reasoned (it was the only way he would be able to leave her, knowing that she would have some semblance of joy in her life, and in time, perhaps, as much as it destroyed him, she would begin to feel something for her husband).

Sansa grimaced. “Children… with the Kingslayer.”

Jon flinched at that. But he could not show Sansa how much the thought hurt, lest it weaken her (if she thought her marriage hurt him so greatly, she would run off with him in an instant – she loved him so – and he didn’t want to shame her more than he already had).

Family, Duty, Honour,” Jon reminded her.

Sansa gritted her teeth. “I hate those words.” She spat. She leaned into his embrace, tucking her cheekbone against his bare throat. “I just want to stay here with you.”

“So do I, sweet girl,” Jon held her close to him and smoothed warm lines down her back. “Did I mention; you look very beautiful tonight?”

He wanted her to smile again and she did so, against his neck.

“I wore it for you,” Sansa admitted. “I wanted you to like it, as much as you did the grey one I wore at the last harvest feast.”

Jon chuckled and Sansa curled into the rumbling of his chest. “You look beautiful in everything you wear. Although, I fear I cannot do as I did that last harvest feast, not in this cold.”

Sansa sighed. “A pity; I hadn’t let myself grow too fond of this one, even if I stitched it myself. I was so eager for you to strip it off me.”

“Another time then,” Jon offered.

But as he held Sansa in the quiet of the Godswood, with only the Old Gods looking down on them, he knew that another time may never come for them.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 4: Sansa II

It hadn’t taken her father long to accept the King’s offer. In fact, it had happened the morning after the feast to welcome their guests. Sansa had kept her head down, as the King had announced Ser Jaime’s release from the Kingsguard first, and then their betrothal. The hall went silent at that, perhaps some of them wondering what was wrong with her that she was to be married to a man eighteen years older than her, or perhaps wondering how her father could stomach marrying his eldest daughter, barely two years flowered, off to a man who had killed the king he had sworn to protect.

In true fashion, Robb had turned to look at her with such horror that she found tears coming to her eyes, tears that could not fall while the eyes of the whole of Winterfell were on her. Arya, in a show of sisterhood, had grasped at her hand as the betrothal was announced, almost as if she thought Sansa would be ripped away from them at that moment. As she looked out of the corner of her eye, she could see the dark frown on her little sister’s face. Rickon was much too young to understand what was going on, but Bran looked confused, as if it didn’t make sense to him at all why his sister was marrying Ser Jaime.

It doesn’t make sense to me either.

But she endured it, the stares and the whispers and yet, Ser Jaime still did not meet her eye. He simply stared ahead, as still as a statue, ignoring his sister’s cat-like gaze or her own somewhat curious glances.

She wondered if he was as displeased at this marriage as she was.

She searched for Jon in the crowd gathered in the hall, wondering if he’d punish himself enough to actually come, and she found him sitting at one of the benches, clutching at a glass as if it were the only thing tying him to the ground, avoiding her gaze.

She resisted the urge to flinch – could she truly blame him?

Once the King had dismissed them, Sansa found herself running and running until she reached her chambers, throwing open the door and locking herself inside, sliding down the door until she was crouched on the floor with her head buried in her knees. Lady, as silent as she needed to be, trotted up to her and nudged at her knees, as if to offer comfort

She simply sat like that for a moment, threading her fingers through Lady’s fur, waiting for the blood roaring in her eyes to fade, only to be broken out of her reverie by a knock on the door.

“Who is it?” She called out.


Sansa sighed and slid to her feet, smoothing down the skirt of her gown, and she opened the door, to find her twin looking at her with concern.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

Sansa bit her lip. “No.” She replied, honestly.

Robb shifted on his feet, awkwardly. “May I come in?”

Sansa twisted to the side, to give him entrance, and he walked inside, Sansa shutting the door behind him.

“How long have you known?” Robb asked, quietly.

“Since yesterday,” Sansa told him. “Mother told me before the feast.”

Robb sighed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Sansa swallowed hard. “I didn’t want to give voice to it.” She said, weakly. “I thought… perhaps there was some way…” She trailed off.

“This isn’t fair,” Robb said, gruffly, echoing what she and Jon had already said.

“It isn’t,” She agreed.

“I’ll speak to Father,” He said, suddenly. “I’ll ask him to change his mind. I’ll-”

Sansa held up a hand to stop him. “He won’t. The King asked and Father answered. That’s it.”

“But he can’t just let you marry the Kingslayer!” Robb protested, hotly.

Sansa raised an eyebrow. “Well, he’s already agreed, hasn’t he?”

Robb scowled. “Why aren’t you more upset about this, Sansa? I know you haven’t spoken of it in a while, but you always dreamed of marrying a knight or a prince or a lord, like the ones in the songs-”

Yes, she had dreamed of a knight or a prince or a lord, but all those fantasies had become just that, fantasies, a year ago, when she had kissed Jon in the Godswood for the first time.

“And now I’ll be marrying the heir to Casterly Rock,” Sansa reminded him.

Robb scoffed. “An ex-Kingsguard knight and a Kingslayer.” He corrected. “But you didn’t answer my question. Why aren’t you more upset?”

“All my tears came last night,” Sansa told him. “I could continue to cry, yes. But would it change anything?” She asked, wearily. “I’ll still be marrying Jaime Lannister a few days from now.”

Robb looked at her at her so despairingly that she could see it in him, the urge to destroy anything that may cause her pain; her twin brother, with the same auburn hair and blue eyes as she had.

“Sansa, I don’t want you to have to do this,” Robb murmured.

“But I must,” Sansa smiled at him, sadly.

“Isn’t there anything I can do?” He demanded.

“Doubtful,” Sansa said, honestly. “The King will not accept it if Father goes back on his word, and Father would never do that, anyway.”

“So you’ve become the sacrificial lamb,” Robb scoffed.

“Unfortunately,” Sansa grimaced.

Robb paused. “Have you spoken to him?”

Sansa tensed. He can’t mean Jon, can he?

“Who?” She asked, carefully.

“The Kingslayer,” Robb said, pointedly.

“Oh,” Sansa blinked. “No.”

Honestly, she hadn’t thought to.

While Jaime Lannister may be a handsome man, beautiful like his sister, Sansa couldn’t forget his brittle smile and the look of disdain on that handsome face when he had removed his helm to look over Winterfell for the first time.

“Well, you may want to, you know, before you’re married and all,” Robb said, dryly.

Sansa grimaced. “Don’t remind me.” She muttered.

Robb walked over so that he was standing in front of her. He cupped her jaw, gently.

“I’m sorry,” He said, solemnly.

“For what?” Sansa’s brow furrowed.

“I can’t do anything for you.”

Sansa softened. “What would you do?”

“Take you away from here,” Robb replied, gruffly. “So you wouldn’t have to marry him.”

The second boy asking to run away with me.

“That you would be willing to do so means everything to me,” Sansa whispered.

Robb pulled her into a fierce hug then and Sansa melted, clutching at his shoulders like a lifeline.

“Come,” Robb said, taking her hand once they broke away. “We should return to the Great Hall, before people start to think you’re upset by the betrothal.”

Sansa laughed. “But I am upset by the betrothal.” She teased.

Robb grinned. “Yes, but we don’t want people to know that, remember?”

When they slipped out of her chambers, Sansa made sure that Lady stayed inside before she closed the door behind her (would that she could take Lady with her everywhere she went). With Sansa’s hand in the crook of Robb’s elbow, it was out in the corridor that they ran into Ser Jaime, gleaming in his silver Kingsguard armour.

Sansa resisted the urge to take a step back and her shoulders straightened.

She was a Stark of Winterfell and a Tully of Riverrun; she was a wolf of the North and the blood of the Kings of Winter – lions did not scare her.

“Ser Jaime,” She nodded, genially.

“My lady,” He replied, smoothly.

She could feel Robb tense under her hand and patted him to keep him silent.

“My sister sent me to escort you back to the Great Hall,” Ser Jaime told her, offering her his own arm. “She would like to speak with you.”

Sansa pursed her lips. “Of course.” She smiled as bright as she could fake and slipped her hand from Robb’s elbow, silently asking him to return to the Great Hall without causing a scene.

Surprisingly, Robb did so without another word. Granted, he did so without a single acknowledgment of Ser Jaime, to which she glanced at the knight nervously, only to find stark amusement on his sharp features.

“I can’t imagine your brother likes me very much now,” Ser Jaime mused.

“He was merely caught unaware by the King’s announcement, Ser,” Sansa remarked, uneasily, hoping that he had not taken offence to Robb’s snub.

It would not do well to anger the man who would soon hold her entire life in his hands, to do with as he wished.

“As were we all,” He replied, grimly. He looked down at her then, his green eyes narrowed. “I doubt you’re very pleased, yourself.”

“Ser?” Sansa blinked up at him, guilelessly.

There was a brief impatience in his eyes. “Come now, I imagine you thought you’d marry some young lord, not an ex-Kingsguard knight of age with your mother and father.” He challenged.

Sansa tipped her head up. He wanted her to admit to something that she would not admit to.

“I know my duty, Ser Jaime,” She answered, blankly.

Ser Jaime narrowed his eyes, as if trying to catch her in a lie. Finally, his mouth thinned.

Perhaps he was hoping for some objection from her so that he could do away with the betrothal?

“Yes, I’m sure you do,” He murmured. “We should hasten, before my sister and the King lose their tempers.”

They walked back into the Great Hall and she saw Jon look away from her immediately, after seeing her and Ser Jaime enter together.

He could have hit her across the face and it would’ve been kinder – she needed his strength, otherwise, how would she endure what was to come?

Ser Jaime led her up to the dais where the King and Queen were still seated.

“Getting better acquainted with your bride-to-be, eh, Kingslayer?” King Robert guffawed.

Ser Jaime’s face remained blank. “She is just so beautiful, Your Grace.” He said, softly, but Sansa could tell the undertone of mockery in his words.

She didn’t know whether to take offence to it or not – did he mean that she was not beautiful, or was he merely scoffing at the King?

Queen Cersei’s smile sharpened as her green eyes (so very much like her brother’s, was this the smile she would have to stare at for the rest of her days? – she much rather preferred Jon’s slow-but-artless grin) laid onto Sansa’s luminous-blue.

She resisted the urge to bite her lip, knowing that the Queen would see it as a sign of weakness.

“Come here, little dove,” The Queen soothed, lowly, in a voice that rang like a bell. “I should like to meet my new sister.”

I am not your sister. She wanted to scream.

Sansa clenched her fists, hidden by the length of her sleeves, but did as the Queen bid, and stepped closer so that she was standing in front of the dais. She curtseyed as elegantly as her mother had taught her.

“Your Grace,” She said, gently.

“But you are a beauty,” Queen Cersei admitted. “How old are you?” She asked, curiously.

“Fourteen, Your Grace,” Sansa replied.

“You’re tall,” Cersei remarked. “Are you still growing?”

“I think so, Your Grace.”

Cersei cocked her head, her smile turning sly. “And have you bled yet?”

Sansa gritted her teeth, discomfited by the rude question. “Yes, Your Grace.”

“Good,” Cersei mused. “Casterly Rock needs an heir.”

Sansa took a deep breath.

“And your dress last night, your mother told me that you made it yourself?”

Sansa nodded.

Cersei beamed, but Sansa knew it was fake. “Such talent. You must make something for me.” She turned to Ser Jaime, something passing between the two of them. “Take the little dove back to her family, brother. They must want to spend time with her before the wedding on the morrow.”

Ser Jaime nodded, stiffly, and offered Sansa his hand once more, which she took reluctantly, and allowed him to lead her to where her siblings were standing together. Once she was back at Robb’s side, Ser Jaime raised her hand to his mouth and brushed a kiss over her knuckles (perhaps to make Robb seethe more than he was already). The kiss made her flush, despite herself, and he smirked down at her, cockily, as if he were aware of what he was doing and he was simply waiting for that reaction from her.

“My lady,” He crooned.

“Ser Jaime,” Sansa murmured, slipping her hand out of his grasp and shaking it at her side, subtly.

Ser Jaime nodded at her siblings, politely, although his eyes showed some amusement when he looked at Robb, and he left her standing there. Only when his white cloak faded into the crowd gathered in the Great Hall did she finally begin to breathe easy.

“Are you alright?” Robb demanded. “Did he say anything to you? Did he touch you? Should I speak with Father?”

“No,” Sansa shook her head. “No, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t touch me. There’s no need to speak with Father.”

“What did the Queen say to you?” Arya asked, curiously.

“She… asked me how old I was, if I had bled yet, and she spoke to me about my dress.”

Arya scowled, a remarkably protective gesture from a girl that had made it her undertaking in life to row with her.

“She asked you if you’d bled yet?” She snapped.


Arya muttered something unfavourable under her breath, then looked up at Sansa. “What do you want to do?”

Sansa frowned. “About what?”

Arya rolled her eyes. “About the wedding, stupid. What do you want to do?”

“I don’t believe I have any choice in the matter,” Sansa pointed out.

Arya glared at her. “You do; you just don’t want to take it.”

“What would you have me do, Arya?” Sansa asked, impatiently. “Run away?”

“Yes!” Arya growled like the she-wolf their father always likened her to. “Run away!”

“Firstly,” Sansa began, tightly. “Don’t say that so loudly, otherwise someone might hear. Secondly, run where, Arya? And thirdly, do you truly believe the King and Queen would just let me run away?”

Arya gritted her teeth as if she didn’t want to acknowledge the truth in Sansa’s words.

Sansa lowered her voice, shooting her surroundings an uncertain look. “If I ran, the Queen would blame Mother and Father; our House would be ruined. Is that what you want?”

“No,” Arya admitted, reluctantly. She bit her lip, looking at her with wide grey eyes (Jon’s grey eyes, Sansa thought with an ache in her heart). “But how can you just marry him?” She asked, quietly.

Sansa bit her lip. “I don’t want to.”

“But then Father-”

“Father was the one who agreed,” Sansa snapped, her own resentment bleeding into her voice.

Arya flinched. “But how can he let you marry someone eighteen years older than you?”

“You’ll have to ask him,” Sansa murmured, looking away.

Just like she had this morning, Arya took her hand, lending her strength.

Jon was avoiding her.

She had gone to his chambers after everyone had broken their fast, at midday, but he hadn’t been there. He hadn’t been in the Great Hall for their meal, either, which had Sansa worried. She had first thought that he had decided to take his meal in his rooms, and she wouldn’t have blamed him, but he clearly hadn’t.

She stepped out of the Great Keep, the cold, clean air hitting her face like a blow. She looked around, seeing the yard bustling with people, some of whom she recognised and some she didn’t. Her eyes scoured over them, hoping to spot the familiar shock of dark hair that belonged to Jon, and she finally caught sight of him, making his way to the First Keep, an unused drum tower that decayed from age.

He knows I look for him, Sansa reasoned. The First Keep will be empty now. There would be nothing for him there.

So, she followed him, slipping around the borders of the courtyard until she happened upon the entrance to the First Keep. She eyed the cluttered yard, making sure that no one would see her, before proceeding up the dilapidated steps, clutching her skirts in her hands.

Finally, she came to the end of the stairs and stepped out onto the landing, where Jon was waiting for her, standing there solemnly.

“You shouldn’t have come after me,” Jon said, earnestly. “Someone could have seen you.”

Sansa scowled. “You knew I was following you. You deliberately led me here, and now you’re telling me I shouldn’t have come.”

Jon glared at her and gripped her by the arm, leading her away to the wall furthest from the window. “I thought you’d be smarter than this.”

Sansa wrenched her arm away from him. “I am not the fool that you or Arya or Robb believe me to be, Jon. I know the consequences of someone finding us together. But I needed to speak with you.” She urged.

“About what?” Jon crossed his arms over his chest.

Sansa found herself faltering. “You’ve been avoiding me.”

Jon sighed. “Sansa-”

Don’t deny it,” Sansa warned.

“I think it is best if we keep our distance from now on,” Jon said, solemnly.

“Why?” Sansa threw her hands up in the air.

Jon scowled. “Why? Because you’ll be wed on the morrow.”

“I’m not married yet,” Sansa hissed, kissing him hard on the mouth and making him groan.

He pulled back, roughly. “We shouldn’t.” His grey eyes, now dark with lust, flashed.

“We should,” Sansa whispered.

She leaned in and kissed him once more, clutching him to her until she felt him weaken against her, tugging her close to him, where she could feel him hard against her belly.

“Sansa, tomorrow-” Jon tried to say.

“No,” Sansa said, coldly. “I don’t want to speak of tomorrow. I want today with you, Jon.” Much to her shame, she felt tears rising to her eyes. “Please let me have this, Jon. I know-I know it isn’t fair to you, and the last thing I want is to hurt you any further, but tomorrow night, he’ll have me. He’ll have me and it’ll be rape, because I don’t want him. So, if I must suffer him, let me have this. You said you wanted the memory of me to keep you warm at night when you’re at the Wall; well, let me have the memory of you to keep me warm when I have to suffer him.” She said in a rush, her breath coming out jarring.

She had watched Jon’s jaw clench the moment she uttered the word ‘rape’, and she felt his pain in that moment (how it would hurt him to send her to a bed where she would be forced to lay with someone who wasn’t him – oh, she could never speak of rape to anyone and she shouldn’t have spoken of it to him because the Gods knew what he would do now, but it would be rape; in her heart, it would be rape – she was only ever meant for Jon).

“I should kill him,” Jon said, darkly.

Sansa pressed her hand against his mouth. “You mustn’t say such things.” She said, in a hushed voice.

Jon pulled her hand away. “If I killed him, none of this would matter.”

Sansa smiled, mournfully. “Then it would be someone else. You yourself said that I would always marry and leave Winterfell.”

Jon sighed, frustrated, tugging at the ends of his hair. “Then what should I do?”

Sansa leaned on her toes and kissed him gently, marvelling at the clean-shaven skin of his jaw.

“Give me today,” She insisted.

And so, he splayed her out on the ground of the abandoned keep, rumpling her dress upwards until it was gathered at her waist. He mouthed between her thighs first, pulling away her smallclothes and licking between her legs. He spread open her legs and tugged them over his shoulders, bending her knees back so that he could lap at her cunt earnestly. It didn’t take long before she was crying out his name, digging her teeth into her own palm before someone heard, glad that the First Keep had been abandoned for centuries.

She scraped her nails against his scalp as she came down from her peak, Jon kissing at her still-convulsing flesh gently.

“Beautiful,” Jon murmured, gruffly, his mouth wet with her slick. “Sweet girl.”

“Jon,” Sansa whined, reaching for him.

Jon surged up, so that his hips were cradled between her thighs. He cupped her face in his hands, brushing the loose strands of her hair way from her face. The way he looked down at her, it was as if he were memorising her – how she looked with her blue eyes, blown wide and dark from lust, her lips redder than her hair and her skin damp with sweat as she recovered from her peak. She wanted to do the same with him – wanting the image of his dark curls, grey eyes and full mouth, staring down at her like she was the only thing keeping him alive (and he was the only keeping her alive). He kissed her then, and she could taste her own slick on his mouth, making her moan at the filth of it all. She could feel him hard against her and she unlaced his breeches, sliding her small hand inside and palming his cock, making him grunt.

She pulled him out of his breeches and stroked upwards, twisting her fingers around the head, as he had shown her once. She rolled her hips forward until his head was nudging against her cunt. He slid into her with ease, already wet and open with his earlier attentions. Her mouth opened in a gasp that she never voiced when she felt him inside her until the hilt.

Sansa patted him on the shoulder, urging him to move.

He began his thrusts, short and shallow, until she was keening against him, nails digging crescent-shaped marks into his skin. Every roll of his hips had her shuddering, arching her throat to him where he could rest his mouth and nip at her skin leisurely. The unrushed pace finally irked him and his rhythm turned fierce and deliberate, holding her against his chest desperately, as if he were trying to pull her inside himself and protect her from what was to come.

“Spill inside me,” Sansa said, suddenly.

At least, if this would be their last time together, she would hold onto a part of him – it was selfish and unfair and could possibly ruin her, but she was desperate.

“No,” Jon shook his head, firmly.

“Please,” Sansa whispered. “Please, Jon.”

“No, Sansa,” Jon growled.

She reached for him then, kissing him on the forehead, his eyelids, his cheeks, grazing against the stubble, and then his mouth, swirling her tongue against his teeth (when she had heard Theon telling Robb and Jon about this, she had thought it absolutely unpalatable, but Jon tasted like the rest of him – fierce and uncompromising).

“Please, Jon, please,” She whispered.

“I can’t, Sansa,” Jon moaned. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” He repeated over and over again until Sansa could feel a dampness against where he was nuzzling her throat, and Sansa realised with such grief that Jon was crying.

His tears prompted her own and her peak came across her so fast she didn’t even realise it’s approach, biting down on his shoulder to muffle her sharp cry. She seized around him, thighs jerking upwards. A touch to his shoulder confirmed his own end, but he pulled away at the last second, leaving her empty and sobbing, and spilled his seed on the ground instead.

She wiped at her cheeks, hastily, sitting up, and shoved down the skirts of her dress, jerking up her smallclothes underneath. Her cheeks were red with shame and she avoided his gaze, until he touched her jaw, turning her to face him, his breeches laced up again.

“I can’t put a bastard in you, Sansa,” He said, grimly. “I can’t give you my child and send you off to another man. Please, understand that.”

“I do,” Sansa said, honestly. “It was wrong of me to ask that of you. I know that. I just-” I just wanted something of you to keep with me.

“I know, my love,” Jon soothed.

“This will never happen again, will it?” Sansa said, dully, already knowing the answer, but somehow wanting to hurt herself again.

Breath left Jon’s lungs in a great swoop. “No.” He said, heavily.

She wrapped her arms around her knees. “I hate this.”

“As do I,” Jon slung an arm around her and pulled her in close, so that she was practically sitting in his lap.

She looked at him, placing her hand on his cheek. “I love you, Jon. I am yours, please believe that. Jaime Lannister will not change that.”

“I know,” Jon said, something fierce glinting his eyes. “You are mine, as I am yours. I love you, Sansa. I will hold you, here, in my heart until my last day.” He pressed their joined hands against his chest, where she felt his heart beating.

“As will I,” Sansa whispered, pressing her forehead against his.

They felt like marriage vows.

Later, when her mother asked her what had happened to her dress, she ran her fingers over the dirt stains on the back and said I fell.

The next morning was not one Sansa was eager to wake to. Her mother, along with Arya, Jeyne Poole and Beth Cassel, strode into her room at the crack of dawn, clutching something folded in her hands.

“The cloak your father placed around my shoulders the day we married,” Her mother told her when she caught her staring.

Sansa nodded at that, not wanting to speak.

Soon, she was ready and staring at herself in her small, hand mirror. Her hair was loose, like a Northerner, with a few strands twisted back to form a cluster of braids at the back of her skull. She wore a full-sleeved dress as white as the snow that was melting outside, with silver embroidery in the pattern of weirwood trees from the bodice to her knees, that dipped low down to her breastbone, baring her pale collarbone.

She looked like winter, and on the inside, as she felt like it as well.

“Sansa,” Her mother’s soft voice drew her away from her own image. “You look beautiful, my love.”

Sansa’s smile wavered, as her mother placed her maiden’s cloak around her shoulders, the Stark direwolf gleaming on her back.

Catelyn took Sansa’s hands in her own. “I know this is not the wedding you dreamed of, my girl. But this wedding will ensure your happiness, as well as our family’s safety. One day, you will understand.”

No, I understand now. But neither you or Father will understand how my heart is breaking today.

Sansa nodded and let her mother lead her from the room, out of the Great Keep and to the Sept, where everyone had gathered inside, in front of her mother’s statues of the Seven.

Her father met her at the front door and those harsh Northern lines softened, as he snatched up her hands.

“You look beautiful, my little Sansa,” He murmured, gruffly.

She had the urge to throw herself into his embrace and start crying in his arms, but she merely smiled again.

He led her into the Sept. Her eyes glossed over those standing until she found Ser Jaime standing at the front, beside Septon Chayle, dressed in Lannister red. The King and Queen stood in the first row, accompanied by Tyrion Lannister and the royal children, Joffrey utterly bored, but Tommen and Myrcella beaming and excited. On the left, her mother, along with Robb, Arya, Bran and Rickon stood, turning to face her as she and her father stood at the back.

Jon was standing in the second row, all in black as if he were mourning (and she supposed that he was, that they both were), determinedly looking away from her march down the aisle, on their father’s arm. He stared straight ahead, as if a glimpse of her would test his resolve – she so badly wanted to test his resolve.

She wondered what the consequences would be if she simply reached out and seized Jon’s hand and the two of them ran from the Sept, stole horses and rode for the Wolfswood and beyond. Would the Lannisters come for her and drag her by the hair into the Sept? Would the King punish her father and mother and the rest of her family? Would they have Jon and her killed? If it were only her and Jon, perhaps they could take the chance. But they would put their entire family at risk, and while their love meant everything to her, she couldn’t and wouldn’t allow her family to pay for their sins.

Finally, she approached the front of the Sept, holding onto her father as if she would drown if she let go. Ned reached forward and undid the wolf clasp at her threat, sweeping the maiden’s cloak from her shoulders and folding it across one of his black-clad arms, leaving her in only a dress and shivering from the waist up, which she tried her hardest to hide. Suddenly, a heavy weight fell across her back and a startling crimson cloak was clasped deftly around her. She didn’t need to turn her head to know whether there was a gold lion stitched onto the back. The image was imprinted onto her skin.

At that, the Septon signalled for both her and Ser Jaime to face each other.

“Father, Smith, Warrior, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Stranger.”

She had always thought Jon to be the Warrior, and her the Maiden.

This was wrong, so wrong.

“I am hers, and she is mine. From this day, until the end of my days.”

No, I want no part of Jaime Lannister to belong to me.

“I am his, and he is mine. From this day, until the end of my days.”

I am Jon’s, and he is mine. From this day, until the end of my days.

“With this kiss, I pledge my love,” What love, Sansa scoffed. “And take you for my lord husband.”

No, no, I don’t.

“With this kiss, I pledge my love, and take you for my lady wife.”

Ser Jaime kissed here then – a fleeting press of his mouth, which was soft and warm, against hers. It was not horrible, and he was very handsome, but she resisted the urge to pull back nonetheless, feeling the wrongness of it set in her bones and make her twist uncomfortably.

The Septon raised his crystal high and the rainbow light from the glass windows above them fell through.

“Here in the sight of gods and men,” He said, “I do solemnly proclaim Jaime of House Lannister and Sansa of House Stark to be man and wife, one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever, and cursed be the one who comes between them.”

Sansa felt whatever broken remains of her heart in her chest shatter as the words registered.

I keep the Old Gods as well, she thought, suddenly, desperately. The Old Gods are the gods of my father. This wedding was not done in front of a heart tree, so this is no true wedding. I am not truly his wife.

She had always preferred her mother’s gods to her father’s, but today, she yearned for the comfort of the Godswood. The Godswood was where she and Jon had shared their first kiss; it was where, for better or worse, the Old Gods had blessed hers and Jon’s union (for if it were truly a sin, would the Old Gods not have struck them both down then and there?). Her union with Jaime Lannister was only blessed by the Seven, Southern gods, and she was a Northerner. The Old Gods wanted her and Jon to be together.

But if her father had married her mother in a Sept and their marriage was valid, did that not mean that Sansa herself was married to Ser Jaime now?

No, I am Jon’s first, Sansa reassured herself. I cannot belong to Jaime Lannister if I belong to Jon first.

But she feared there would be no undoing this.

The wedding feast occurred with Sansa completely silent on the dais, her face pale and her eyes bleak. Ser Jaime was as silent as she was, speaking only to his dwarf brother who sat beside him. Clearly, unlike his sister, he had some fondness for his younger brother, despite his deformity.

Somehow, it made him human to her.

The feast itself was small, but the entire of the King’s retinue, as well as her father’s household was gathered in the Great Hall. She could see the incredulity in some of the servants’ eyes: why was this young wolf girl being made to marry an old lion, handsome though he may be?

Perhaps they thought something wrong with her.

She wanted today to be over, but she knew if it were, the bedding would come and that terrified her just as much as saying those words in the Sept had. The men would snatch her up in the air, all the while disrobing her and making crude jokes about her unclothed body and what would happen between those sheets, and carry her off to her husband’s room, drop her onto the sheets, while the women would do the same with Ser Jaime. Perhaps they would even wait outside the door and shout out suggestions – but, no, her father and Robb would never allow that.

Jon would never allow that.

She eyed some of the men, with their large hands and faces red from drink, and desperately disliked the thought of them touching her.

She felt the air displace next to her and she turned her head, seeing Ser Jaime look at her.

“My lady, would you like to dance?” He offered, formally.

Sansa nodded, timidly (it would be rude to refuse). “As you wish, my lord.”

He led her out onto the floor by her hand, and begun to spin her around, gracefully. Whatever she may have thought of Ser Jaime, it could not be denied that he was a good dancer. Soon, their dance finished and her father partnered her next, walking without much grace as Ser Jaime, but his movements as sure as the ones she imagined he made with his sword – deliberate and deft.

“How are you, Sansa?” His voice rumbled.

“Well, Father,” Sansa replied, flatly.

“Sansa, I want you to know that…” Her father hesitated. “I only want what’s best for you, love.”

Is this best for me, Father? She wanted to ask him, but it would hurt his feelings, so she remained silent.

“I know, Father,” Sansa murmured, looking past his shoulder.

“This may not be the marriage you dreamed of, love, but you are a Stark of Winterfell, and you are strong, Sansa. Be strong.”

She looked at him then and saw the desolation in his eyes, the lines drawn on his solemn face, deeper than she had ever seen before, and she felt a pang of regret in her, wondering if she had been unkind to her father – she knew he loved her, truly, and what father, who loved his daughter, would want their daughter married to someone they looked on with contempt?

Her smile trembled. “Yes, Father.”

Soon, she was faced with Robb and Bran and even little Rickon. Jory danced with her, Theon (although, she ignored him as she always had), Vayon Poole, Ser Rodrik, Prince Joffrey, Prince Tommen and Tyrion Lannister as well. But it was Jon who came to her last, and she felt the breath leave her lungs finally.

He made sure to keep a distance between them, one befitting a highborn lady just married and her bastard half-brother. She tightened her hand around his and he looked at her, unfathomably, his eyes gentling when he saw her drawn face.

“You look beautiful, little sister,” Jon said, softly.

Calling her sister now, after everything they had shared, had her stomach twisting uncomfortably as it had in the Sept.

“Thank you, brother,” Sansa inclined her head, politely. She hesitated. “During the bedding, will you-”

“Father asked Robb and I to keep an eye out for you,” Jon said, reassuringly. “We will be there, Sansa. Don’t be afraid.”

“But I am,” Sansa said, lowly.

His face changed just the slightest, but she could see the agony in his eyes when faced with her fear.

“I know, sweet girl,” Jon murmured.

She eyed Ser Jaime then, as he danced with his sister first, and then the Princess Myrcella.

“He looks strong, what if he hurts me?”

“Fight him,” Jon said, sharply.

“I’m not Arya, Jon,” Sansa retorted.

“What does that matter?” Jon growled. “He has no right to rape you.”

“But he may take as he wills now.” But not my heart, never my heart. That is yours.

“Fight him, Sansa,” Jon urged.

She imagined her face showed her doubt.

“Sansa, you are stronger than you think you are,” Jon said, fiercely. “You owe him nothing, least of all your body.”

Just then, the King’s roar rang through the Great Hall.

“Time to bed them!”

Sansa’s hand tightened around Jon’s, both his and Robb’s gazes snapping to her in that instance, and she was certain that they could see the fear so unashamed in her gaze for just a brief moment, before her blue eyes turned luminous once more. Jon squeezed her hand and warmth flooded her. When the men seized her and hoisted her in the air, tearing her from Jon, she felt the emptiness ring through her.

She let herself fade away inside, when the men began to tear at her dress, pawing at her crudely, as if she were some Wintertown brothel girl and not the eldest daughter of a great lord. She twisted her head downwards, at a sudden change in grip, and she saw Robb and Jon knocking off hands, bolder with drink, that made to grope her, she hitched in a sharp breath.

At least Robb and Jon were there.

That would never change.

She could go all the way to the south, to King’s Landing or Casterly Rock, she could wed the Kingslayer, bed him, become Sansa Lannister, bear him Lannister children (Stark children, in her eyes, always and forever – she hoped they had grey eyes and dark hair – like her father and Jon’s – then she could at least pretend they were her children with Jon), but at least she would always have Robb and Jon. Even when she was old and grey and grandmother to blonde-haired, grey-eyed children, while Robb ruled in Winterfell and Jon served at Castle Black, she would know that they would never let any harm come to her.

Soon, they led her to Ser Jaime’s chambers in the Great Keep, throwing open the door with a roar and tossing her onto the bed. Sansa looked away from their leers, and she clutched whatever remained of her dress and smallclothes to her, hoping that it would be enough to protect her, her eyes damp with humiliated tears.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Robb snapped, him and Jon coming to stand in front of her, protectively. “Leave.” He snapped at the drunken men.

Albeit with a few protests, the drunken men left the room, a few bawdy japes leaving with them.

“Ser Jaime’ll have a wolf in his bed tonight!”

“The hair between her legs is just as red as that on her head!”

She saw Robb scowl at their comments and make to go after them, but Jon grabbed him by the arm, pulling him back.

Sansa cringed, shaking with mortification.

“How am I going to do this?” She asked, dully.

Robb’s head bent by her ear. “If he does anything that you don't like, I'll come and stop it.”

His voice rumbled through her like a vow.  

She wanted to believe him, she really did, but if the Kingslayer hurt her, what could Robb truly do?

She nodded, nonetheless, not wanting to hurt his feelings. She deliberately avoided Jon’s gaze, knowing it was hardly decent to look for strength from her lover before bedding her husband – and if she looked at him, she feared all resolve would fail her and she’d beg him to take her away from here.

“We’ll leave now, Sansa,” Robb hesitated. “Will you be alright?”

Sansa nodded, shakily.

“Be strong, little sister,” Robb said, gruffly, kissing her on the forehead, and left the room.

Jon looked at her and she looked at him too.

“Fight him if you must, Sansa,” Jon said, grimly. “He is owed nothing of you.”

For everything you are is mine and yours, she knew what he left unsaid, but couldn’t say for fear that Robb was waiting outside.

He reached for her hands and lifted them to his mouth, kissing her knuckles gently, before sweeping away from the room, leaving her before she could reply – she supposed that was better; there was no reason to prolong it.

The women bundled Ser Jaime inside, his clothing mislaid on the way. They giggled when they found Sansa curled up on the edge of the bed, clutching tatters of silk and embroidery in an attempt to preserve her modesty (idiots, Sansa thought, bitterly). Without the ribaldry of the men, they left Ser Jaime standing there promptly, who seemed quite content with his natural state, something she didn’t think she could ever be (even if they called her beautiful as they did).

“Lady Sansa,” Ser Jaime drawled, inclining her head. He nodded at a table, upon which sat a jug of wine. “Would you like some?”

Sansa shook her head. “My father only allows one cup, and only at feasts.”

Ser Jaime raised a condescending eyebrow. “It’s your wedding day, my lady. I’m sure he’ll forgive you.” He said, dryly.

Sansa found herself bristling, but she kept silent.

“No, Ser, I don’t want any wine,” She said, flatly.

“As you will,” Ser Jaime murmured, walking over and snatching up a goblet, which he filled to the brim, and drained in one gulp.

He ran his thumb over his lower lip, sluicing a drop of wine that lingered, and Sansa, much to her own shame, found herself noticing the shape of his mouth, and a bolt of heat burst in her belly. Her eyes trailed down his strong, solid abdomen, rippling with sinew, wider than Jon was, and skin a pleasant gold. His legs were long and leonine, and what hung between them was just as impressive – his cock was heavy, long and limp, with a thatch of blonde hair curling around the base – she much preferred Jon’s, long and lean and pale as he was in every way.

He smirked when he caught her staring at him and she quickly averted her eyes.

“It’s fine; you can look; it’s your right, now,” Ser Jaime waved his hand.

“It was not proper of me,” Sansa apologised, awkwardly.

Ser Jaime rolled his eyes. “My lady, we will have to do much worse than you staring.”

Sansa paled.

Ser Jaime observed her, carefully, but he didn’t stray beyond her eyes.

“Tell me, my lady, do you know what will happen tonight?” He asked, curiously.

Sansa tipped her head up, defiantly. “We will lie together.”

“Yes, that is what the King and my father intends,” Ser Jaime murmured. “And you know what that entails.”

Sansa gritted her teeth. “Yes.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“My lord,” Sansa began, haltingly.

“Yes?” Ser Jaime raised an eyebrow.

“I am untouched, but one day when I was riding in the Wolfswood, there was some pain and I later found blood-”

Ser Jaime’s lips twitched, as if he found her discomfort amusing. “‘Twas not your moon’s blood, I take it?”

Sansa shook her head, waiting with baited breath.

Something sharp glinted in his eyes and for a moment, Sansa feared that he had caught her in her lie.

“Yes, my sister unfortunately suffered the same,” Jaime replied. “No matter, I do not intend to take your father to task.”

Sansa nodded and released the breath she was holding. “How would you like me, Ser?”

“Lie down, if you please, Lady Sansa,” Ser Jaime said, in a gentler voice than she had assumed he could speak in.

She did as he bid, lying down on her back and staring up at the ceilings. She bit back a flinch when he knelt down on the bed, at her feet, peeling away the scraps of her gown and smallclothes until she was utterly naked for him, with nowhere to hide. He trailed a hand across her bare shoulder, his fingertips rough with callouses. His hand trailed down her breastbone and she took a deep breath, just as he cupped her still-growing breasts in his warm palms, while his fingers plucked at her nipples until they were hard.

His touch was surprisingly gentle; she had expected him to grope her as he liked, without much care for her own gratification, but she could see he wanted her to have some pleasure out of what was to come – of course, she had no intention of gaining any satisfaction from this encounter – Jaime Lannister may be someone she had to suffer on top of her, her body may be his, but she could keep her heart safe for Jon.

His hand reached between her legs, fingers barely grazing the shock of red hair there, but she gripped his arm by the wrist, halting his efforts.

“No,” She said, sharply, but then softened her tone lest he take offence. “Please, I don’t want… I would prefer it if you simply…” She trailed off, unsure of how to tell him that she didn’t want him to touch her like that.

Something gentled in his expression and he inclined his head. “Very well.” He said. “But it will hurt.” He warned.

Sansa nodded, stiffly. “I am aware.”

She would bear this hurt if it meant that only Jon would have that piece of her – the piece that was her pleasure.

He crawled on top of her then, his weight on her heavier than Jon had ever been (though, she supposed that came with age – Jon was still young). Unfortunately, now with him above her, she could not simply fade away by looking at the ceiling – his green eyes now looked down at her, not disinterested by any means (she could feel his cock pressing against her thigh, hard and willing – clearly he had liked what he could see in her body) but not consumed by desire for her either.

Fight him, Jon had told her.

She could kick him, she supposed. Claw at his face with her nails until he got off her. But what would she gain from it? He was stronger than her, with a sword propped up against the wall that he knew how to use. If he so desired, he could drag her by the hair and tie her down to the bed.

How could she fight a man who had more rights to her than she herself did?

Arya would, Sansa thought, bitterly. If Arya were here, she’d kill him first. I am weak.

But she would never dream of Arya being here – she would bear a hundred Jaime Lannisters if it meant sparing Arya this fate.

Would Joffrey hurt Arya, as his uncle would hurt me? Surely a prince would be kind and gentle to his lady?

But Ser Jaime, himself, was a knight and the son of a great lord, yet he had every intention of taking his rights from her, a fourteen-year-old girl he had but met only days before.

For all of our rows, Arya is my only sister. Let Joffrey be kind to her.

But the Gods had failed her today; she imagined they would fail Arya as well – but Arya wasn’t one who needed prayers; if Joffrey tried to hurt Arya, she would hurt him right back.

I am a false wolf in this pack, Sansa thought suddenly and she wanted to cry.

Ser Jaime reached between their bodies and fisted his cock, and she could feel the head of him pressed between her legs, where she was dry and unyielding – not at all how she had been with Jon just yesterday (Jon could make her wet between the legs with a single touch).

Ser Jaime sighed, pulling back slightly. “Sansa, you don’t want this, do you?”

Sansa tensed, startled by his question as much as she was by his use of her name without her title. “I am your wife, my lord.” She hedged, impassively.

Ser Jaime rolled his eyes. “Sansa, I’d like for us to be honest with each other, in this, at least.” He touched her hand and she resisted the urge to wrench it back. “Neither of us wanted this marriage, Sansa. I would’ve consummated it if only to oblige my father, but I am no rapist.”

Sansa bit her lip. She didn’t know what to say, a thought which she voiced in the end.

Ser Jaime pursed his lips. “Say nothing. I will not bed you tonight, nor any night, until it becomes absolutely necessary for us. Do you consent?”

Could she do anything but?

Sansa nodded, stiffly.

“Very well,” Ser Jaime murmured. “We will still need to show proof of consummation, if only to please the King and my father.”

Sansa furrowed her brow. “But I have no maidenhead, Ser.”

“Call me Jaime,” He said, suddenly. “At least in our rooms. And there is another way.”

He unsheathed a knife from his boot, still unlaced (she hadn’t even realised he was still wearing his shoes), and ran the sharp edge of the blade across his own palm, slicing the skin deep enough that blood welled. His face showed no outward recognition of the pain, but the blood dripped onto the white sheet in a smear that she imagined would pass as the loss of her maidenhead.

“Oh,” She breathed in shock.

Ser Jaime’s smile was wry. “There are ways around this.”

The fear remained curled in her heart (for he had only given her a reprieve until it became necessary for them to lie together – she imagined he would need an heir at some point), but she remembered her courtesies. “Thank you… Jaime.”

Jaime nodded at her, something akin to surprise in his eyes – perhaps at her decision to call him by his name rather than his full title.

“You should sleep,” Jaime said, suddenly. He pulled his Kingsguard cloak which was thrown over a chair. “Here, wear this.”

Sansa took the cloak from him, demurely, and wrapped it around herself, preserving what modesty she could (even if he had already seen her unclothed and had even put his hands on her). She leaned back onto the bed, and curled into herself, tucking the folds of the cloak around her, closing her eyes. She could hear the sounds of Jaime padding around the room, before the candles in the room were blown out and the chambers were filled with darkness.

The bed creaked when Jaime knelt upon it, and Sansa tensed, wondering if he had changed his mind and would take his rights from her now, in the dark of the night, with only the moonlight standing witness. But instead, she felt him stretch out on the bed beside her, and fall silent.

Sleep did not come to her easily that night, but when it did, she dreamt of grey eyes and the Godswood and there was a part of her that hoped she would die then and there, if only to spare herself the grief of tomorrow.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 5: Jon III

The day after Sansa’s wedding, Jon was watching the younger boys drilling out in the yard from the window in the bride between the armoury and the Great Keep, when Sansa came upon him, quiet as a feather, where he was seated on the windowsill. It wasn’t until Ghost was roused did he realise that Sansa had approached him, Lady dutifully at her side. The littermates curled up together in one corner and Sansa hauled herself up to sit on the sill alongside him.

“How are you?” He asked, lowly.

“Fine,” Sansa said, without offering much else.

He hesitated, wanting to and not wanting to bring up what had occurred last night, but he couldn’t quite find the words, so he remained silent.

“I had thought Arya might join me,” He offered.

Sansa hummed. “Septa Mordane must have kept her back. Princess Myrcella has been stitching with us, you see, and as I was given leave after yesterday, I imagine the Septa wanting Arya to remain in order to keep the Princess company.”

“Arya usually steals away,” Jon pointed out.

“Yes, but now she is the only representative of House Stark there. It would be rude if both I and Arya weren’t there. Besides,” Sansa sniffed. “Arya could use more needlework lessons.”

Jon scowled. “Just because she’s not as good as you-”

Sansa shook her head, her features softening. “That’s not what I meant. She doesn’t need to be as good as me. But Arya will marry the Prince soon, Jon,” She said, lowly, urging him to understand. “Everyone will be looking at her, and they will be crueller than Septa Mordane and Jeyne Poole if they find her wanting.”

Jon scoffed. “So, you do admit they’re cruel to her. Yet you do nothing to defend her, your own sister.” He accused.

Sansa scowled. “Arya never makes an effort. If she simply sat down for a little while and tried to work on her stitches, she could stitch as well as I. You think the skill just came to me one day? It didn’t; I had to work on it, every day, until my hands bled, for years. Just as you do with the sword.”

Jon rolled his eyes. “Septa Mordane and Jeyne Poole talk as they please to Arya, and I imagine you’re thinking exactly what they’re saying, but you walk away innocent of any wrongdoing because you’re not the one saying those things to Arya.”

Sansa’s expression contorted with such hurt that he wanted to both look away and seize her in an embrace.

“Why are you being so unkind to me today?” She demanded.

She looked away at the yard and he could see the tears in her eyes, and he felt even more of a prick than he already did.

“Alright, I’m sorry,” Jon said, heavily.

“I don’t want an apology from you,” Sansa snapped, blinking away the tears before they fell.

“No, I shouldn’t have said that,” Jon admitted. “I do understand what you mean, but at the same time, you could defend her more. She’s your sister.” He hesitated. “And when you’re in King’s Landing, she won’t have anyone but you, Sansa. She’ll need you.”

“I know,” Sansa agreed. “I should defend her more. But I’m also tired of you and Arya and Robb joining forces against me, as if I’m the monster in the story.” She murmured, still avoiding his gaze.

“You’re not,” Jon nudged her, teasingly. “You’re much to pretty to be a monster.”

Sansa’s lips twitched and his own grin widened.

“Come, Sansa, smile,” He urged, playfully, nudging her in the side once more.

She started laughing at the lopsided grin she could see on his face, and his heart clenched at the bell-like sound.

“You should always be laughing,” Jon mused, soberly.

The smile fell from her face. “I haven’t had much to laugh at in the last few days.” She replied, grimly.

“I know,” Jon murmured. 

“Nothing happened last night,” Sansa said, suddenly.

Jon turned to her with wide eyes. “What?”

“He and I… the marriage was not consummated,” Sansa replied, awkwardly, looking down at her hands.

“But-” Jon didn’t know how to continue.

“He touched me a little,” Jon grimaced at that, the anger twisting around his bones. “But he never… he was never inside me.”

“Why?” Jon had to ask.

“He could see that I was unwilling,” Sansa explained. “And he did not want to rape me.”

He didn’t want to thank the man who could have bedded the girl he loved the night before, but he found himself truly grateful that the Kingslayer was less of a monster than he had assumed.

And there was a small, but significant part of him, that was glad that Sansa still belonged to no one but him – no one had touched her skin, flushed with lust; felt her whine in pleasure against their mouth; seen those wide blue eyes roll back into her skull; tugged at her rosy-pink nipples with their teeth; have her mouth lapping at their cock like it was the sweetest treat; licked between her legs until her thighs were shaking and throttling their neck in sweet-pain; have her warm and wet and willing around their cock with her nails in their back, until she was screaming.

But him.

She was his, and he was hers – it was the only truth he knew.

“Perhaps the Kingslayer has some honour after all,” Jon muttered.

Sansa’s lip curled. “Perhaps so.” She agreed.

Jon cleared his throat. “But he must not have left the issue unsettled, correct?”

Sansa shook her head. “He said that he would not bed me until it became absolutely necessary to do so.”

Jon frowned. “What did he mean by ‘absolutely necessary’?”

“I imagine, when it comes that he needs an heir,” Sansa replied, wryly.

Jon grimaced. “I hope it is a long while before that is required of you.” He said, solemnly.

“As do I.”

Jon paused. “Then you are well?” He asked, worriedly.

He hadn’t been able to sleep all night; whenever he closed his eyes, he was faced with images of Sansa crying out in pain as Jaime Lannister forced himself on her.

Sansa’s mouth quivered. “I didn’t like it when he touched me.” She said, honestly (he loved her all the more for telling him the truth then, for it hurt her to speak the words and remember what had happened, but she loved him enough that she wanted to comfort him). “It made my skin crawl. But yes, I am well.”

“I’m sorry,” Jon said.

Sansa cocked her head. “Why?”

“I should’ve… last night should not have happened,” Jon said, fiercely.

Sansa softened and she placed a small hand on his shoulder, her knuckles dragging over the side of his neck soothingly. “I don’t blame you. I don’t expect you to have done anything.” She said, kindly, her smile sweet and sad.

Even now, hurting and scared, she was determined to comfort him – oh, how he loved her.

“I should have,” Jon insisted.

If he were older, stronger, smarter, if he weren’t a bastard, he could’ve stopped it.

It only made him hate himself even more.

“Neither of us could’ve stopped yesterday, Jon,” Sansa said, determinedly. “The people who own this world made the choice for us. What could we possibly have done? They think us children, and we are.” Her voice dripped with bitterness.

“When did you become so wise?” Jon asked, grimly.

He missed the Sansa who dreamed of a life in the songs.

“Since they made me marry a man eighteen years my senior,” Sansa replied, wryly.

Jon grimaced, but looked back down at the yard.

“Why aren’t you down in the yard?” Sansa asked, curiously.

He gave her an almost smile. “Bastards are not allowed to damage young princes,” He said. “Any bruises they take in the practice yard must come from trueborn swords.”

Sansa’s lip curled. “Oh.” She answered. “How foolish. You’re better with a sword than all of them.” She said, proudly.

Jon gave her a teasing look, his eyes finding his good-humoured, sanguine Sansa lurking in her cornflower-blue eyes. “And what would you know about it?”

Sansa sniffed. “I watch you, you know.”

Jon’s smile widened. “Yes, I’ve noticed.”

They shared one of those secret, happy, hopeful looks that before yesterday would have made them look for the nearest excuse to escape into the Godswood together, or the First Keep, so that he could slip his head under her skirts and she could shove her hand down his breeches.

But, now, he remembered with a cold shock, that she was another man’s wife and it somehow seemed a worse sin to look at her with lust as he was now – although, he imagined it couldn’t be a greater dishonour that taking the maidenhead of his trueborn half-sister (something that should not belong to him). 

They looked away from each other, desperately, and Jon wondered if it would ever stop hurting, his heart, if that ache to be together would ever fade – he wasn’t sure he wanted it to – and in any case, at least they would suffer together, split apart from each other by leagues, but at least this torment would keep them close at heart.

The two looked out the window, watching Bran whack at Tommen with a wooden training sword, and then circle each other.

“You see Prince Joffrey?” Jon asked, curiously.

“There, by the wall,” Sansa pointed through the glass, where the prince was surrounded by men he didn’t know the name of, but were dressed in the livery of Lannister and Baratheon

“Look at the arms on his surcoat,” Jon told her.

There was a shield embroidered on the prince’s padded surcoat, the arms divided down the middle. On one side was the crowned stag of House Baratheon, and on the other the lion of House Lannister.

“The Lannisters are proud,” Jon observed. “You’d think the royal sigil would be sufficient, but no. He makes his mother’s House equal in honour to the king’s.”

Sansa’s lips twitched. “So, I should swap my wolf out for a lion? Or my son should, rather?”

Jon scoffed. “Hardly. What would you need with a lion sigil? You’re not a Lannister in truth, just wedded to one.”

He didn’t want to think about a child Sansa would have with the Kingslayer – but he imagined he’d be as beautiful as his mother.

“I could wed Tully to Stark in my clothing,” Sansa pointed out. “A wolf and a fish. Mother may like that.” She mused.

But Jon didn’t. He liked seeing the wolf on her.

“But,” Sansa continued. “Why would I need a coat of arms? Girls don’t fight.”

Jon shrugged. “Girls get the arms but not the swords. Bastards get the swords but not the arms. I did not make the rules, sweet.”

“Bastards can invert their House sigil,” Sansa offered. “Daemon Blackfyre bore a black three-headed dragon on a red banner.”

Jon snorted. “Yes, the last thing I need, your mother to think I am following in the footsteps of Daemon Blackfyre.”

“Fair point,” Sansa conceded.

There was a shout from below and the two looked down, only to find Prince Tommen, plump and sweating, rolling around the dust of the yard, attempting to push himself to his feet but failing each and every time.

He looks like a turtle on its back with all that padding, Jon mused.

Bran, small himself, was standing over him with a wooden sword, ready to strike and whack him again once he regained his feet, as the men began to laugh.

“Enough!” Ser Rodrik called out. He gave the prince a hand and yanked him back to his feet. “Well fought. Lew, Donnis, help them out of their armour.” He looked around. “Prince Joffrey, Robb, will you go another round?”

“Who do you think will win?” Sansa asked Jon, curiously.

“Robb,” Jon said, immediately. “The Prince isn’t very good.”

Sansa frowned. “He’s the prince.”

“Yes, and he lacks the skill his father and uncle are known for.”

Robb, already with sweat beading on his forehead, moved forward eagerly. “Gladly.”

Joffrey moved out of the shade, shaking his head, which shone like spun gold – much like his uncle’s, Jon thought.

“This is a game for children, Ser Rodrik.”

Theon barked out a laugh. “You are children,” He mocked.

“Robb may be a child,” Joffrey said. “I am a prince. And I grow tired of swatting at Starks with a play sword.”

“You got more swats than you gave, Joff,” Robb said. “Are you afraid?”

Sansa frowned. “Robb shouldn’t bait him.”

Jon scoffed. “He’s a pillock, Sansa.”

“He’s our prince and our guest,” Sansa said, disapprovingly. “The King and his family may take offence.”

Jon turned to her, raising an eyebrow. “So, we should stomach his bad attitude?” He asked, sceptically.

“No,” Sansa shook her head. “I’m saying that we cannot offend him, or it will reflect poorly upon our house.”

Jon looked down on the scene with a frown, where the Lannister men were laughing at something Joffrey had obviously said in reply to Robb’s taunt. “He is truly a little shit,” He muttered.

Ser Rodrik tugged thoughtfully at his white whiskers. “What are you suggesting?” he asked the prince.

“Live steel.”

“Done,” Robb shot back. “You’ll be sorry!”

“Oh, Robb,” Sansa moaned, holding a hand to her forehead at her twin’s recklessness.

Jon grimaced. He had to admit it hadn’t been smart of Robb to rise to Joffrey’s baiting.

The master-at-arms put a hand on Robb’s shoulder to quiet him. “Live steel is too dangerous. I will permit you tourney swords, with blunted edges.”

Joffrey said nothing, but a man strange to Jon, a tall knight with black hair and burn scars on his face, pushed forward in front of the prince. “This is your prince. Who are you to tell him he may not have an edge on his sword, ser?”

“Master-at-arms of Winterfell, Clegane, and you would do well not to forget it.” Ser Rodrik’s voice was sharp.

This is the Hound, Jon realised with wide eyes.

“Are you training women here?” Ser Clegane scoffed.

“I am training knights,” Ser Rodrik said, pointedly. “They will have steel when they are ready. When they are of an age.”

Ser Clegane looked at Robb. “How old are you, boy?”

“Fourteen,” Robb said, dutifully.

“I killed a man at twelve. You can be sure it was not with a blunt sword.”

Jon saw Robb bristle at the blow to his pride and turn on Ser Rodrik. “Let me do it. I can beat him.”

“Beat him with a tourney blade, then,” Ser Rodrik said.

Joffrey shrugged. “Come and see me when you’re older, Stark. If you’re not too old.” There was laughter from the Lannister men.

Robb’s curses rang through the yard, and Jon watched with amusement as Sansa covered her mouth in dismay and outrage, while Theon gripped Robb by the arm in an effort to keep him away from charging at the prince.

Once the Lannister party had left, Jon leapt down from the window, wrapping an arm around Sansa’s waist and helping her down so that they were standing on the bridge once more. He found himself reluctant to release her then, content to hold her close, her eyes level with his throat, his fingers grazing the end of her braid from where his palm was pressed hotly against the small of her back.

He knew he should let her go, let her leave and find her husband or make herself busy as newly-wed girls do, but he found himself aching to lead her to the Godswood like they usually would.

“Jon,” Sansa murmured, staring up at him through her eyelashes.

She is married. This is wrong.

He freed her, as if her skin burned him, and dropped his hands lamely to his sides.

“You should go, sweet,” Jon replied. “Go find your husband.”

He left her standing there on the bridge, Ghost following him immediately despite Lady’s yearning whine.

Even their wolves wanted to be together.

The next day, the hunt left at dawn, and everyone but him, Bran and Rickon and the women were invited to go along, much to his eternal resentment. But something beyond the shunning of the royal party and his own people irked at him – today would be his last day in Winterfell.

His father had come to him the night before and given him his agreement for Jon to join his Uncle Benjen and become a recruit for the Night’s Watch – it had left him somewhat at peace, knowing that his life was no longer uncertain, and he wouldn’t have to watch Sansa leave with the Lannisters and the King, where he doubted he would ever see her for years, at the very least. But at the same time, it left him livid in his heart – in what world was it fair that he had to exile himself to the Wall and to the Night’s Watch because Catelyn Tully felt his presence here without his father to temper her indignation would be a greater offence than his last fourteen years had been? He had decided to leave for the Night’s Watch to hoard his love for Sansa, yes, and he was still willing to do so, but he could not ignore that the necessity was born because Lady Catelyn would not abide his presence in Winterfell after his father left for King’s Landing.

He was sitting in the library tower, on his lonesome, petting Ghost, who had his head thrown in his lap, dutifully, when Sansa, always Sansa, found him, Lady ever-faithful at her side. Ghost immediately bounded for his litter mate and began licking at her neck, enthusiastically.

Traitor, he scowled when he saw the two direwolves curl up together on the floor, Lady leaning into Ghost.

Although, he couldn’t much blame the young direwolf pup – if he could spend the rest of his days with his mouth on Sansa’s skin, wouldn’t he do it in a heartbeat?

He glared at her, wondering if marriage had made her rash. “Are you following me now?”

Sansa looked like she wanted to shrug, but it was too much of an unladylike gesture, so she simply blinked at him, innocently.

“I have nought to do,” She said, simply.

“Why don’t you go and practice your needlework?” Jon waved his hand in the direction of the door.

He knew he was being rude, and he knew it was Sansa (sweet, beautiful, clever Sansa) but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Septa Mordane seems more inclined to let me be, now that I am wed,” Sansa sighed and settled in a chair beside him, wrapping her cloak around her, despite the fact that the library was quite warm in itself.

“And so you decided to seek me out?” Jon raised an eyebrow.

Sansa chewed on her lower lip, a remarkably anxious gesture she wouldn’t have dared flaunt to anyone but him.

“It’s our last day in Winterfell, Jon,” She said, gently. “Do you truly wish to part as strangers?” She asked, mournfully. “Not everything has to change between us.”

Of course it does, Jon wanted to scoff. He had been inside her. How could he look at her the same way now?

“Should I call you little sister, as I call Arya?” Jon asked, mockingly.

Sansa’s eyes shuttered and her mouth thinned in disapproval and hurt. “You’re being unkind again.” She said, pointedly.

“So, leave,” Jon urged.

Sansa flinched and looked away, dark circles under her eyes making her look older than her fourteen years.

“Very well,” She said, formally, sliding to her feet with plentiful grace. She inclined her head, holding herself stiffly as if his brusque dismissal of her had made her entire body ache. “Jon.”

She made for the door.

“Wait,” Jon called out before he lost his nerve, and she turned around, her features still empty (and he couldn’t blame her). “I’m sorry.” He said, genuinely. “I was… angry at something, and I took it out on you. I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”

Sansa’s mouth curved up at the corners – she always forgave him when he was in one of his moods, and he always forgave her when she was being particularly bratty.

“Ser Jon the Sullen,” Sansa teased him with the nickname she had given him when they were much younger, slinking over to him until she was standing in front of the chair he was seated in. “What ails you now?”

Jon did something he knew was wrong – he took her hand, clasping it between his own and centring on her long fingers. He threaded their fingers together and looked up at her curious blue eyes, so unlike her mother’s, but for the colour (he hadn’t ever seen Lady Catelyn look at him with such love, but Sansa always did, even before they had begun their affair).

Jon shook his head – he couldn’t burden her with his own problems, not when she would be riding into the lion pit on the morrow.

“It’s nothing,” He reassured.

“Then why are you sitting on your own in the library tower, Jon?” Sansa asked, pointedly.

Jon opened his mouth, but he suddenly had a better idea. He grasped the hand of hers he was still holding and tugged her sharply into his lap, which she fell into with a small sound of surprise, holding onto his shoulders before she tumbled onto the floor.

“Jon!” Sansa chastised, her cheeks flushed.

Jon’s lips twitched, liking the light in her eyes – it had been absent for too long.

He thumbed the dip in her hipbone, knowing he was taking liberties he shouldn’t be taking. But Sansa seemed so warm and willing against him, he couldn’t help but continue. They wouldn’t see each other for what could be years after tomorrow; surely the Gods wouldn’t curse them for a little while – he couldn’t touch her as he usually touched her (she was still another man’s wife, as much as it galled him, and he may have bastard blood, but he was still Eddard Stark’s son, born on the wrong side of the sheets or not – she would leave this tower as untouched as she had been when she came, even if there was some irony in that considering he had already touched her in all ways a man could a woman), but he could hold her and learn her embrace by heart, take comfort in her as he had always done.

“Something’s wrong,” Sansa said, pointedly. “Tell me.” She ordered.

Jon tugged on the end of her braid, playfully. “Tyrant.”

Sansa sniffed. “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you, or not?”

“I was just thinking about the Night’s Watch,” Jon confessed.

Sansa cocked her head. “What about it?”

Jon shook his head, his courage failing him momentarily. “Sansa-” He said, reluctantly.

Something changed in Sansa’s eyes. “I knew it.” She whispered. “I knew you would hate me for this.”

Jon furrowed his brow. “Hate you? Whatever do you mean?”

“That’s what you’re thinking about, isn’t it?” Sansa guessed, sadly. “You’re wondering why it is necessary for you to join the Night’s Watch for me.” Her voice was agonised.

“No,” Jon said, firmly. “No, that is not what I’m thinking about.”

Sansa’s eyes were suspiciously damp and she shook her head. “Don’t try and comfort me, Jon. I know, I know that is what’s bothering you. It’s selfish, I know. There should be another way. But I never asked-”

“No, you didn’t,” Jon agreed. “I made the decision even before I told you, Sansa. Yes, a part of my reason that I decided to join the Night’s Watch was because I… wanted to stay true to you until my last day, and I have every intention of acting accordingly, but,” He hesitated. “Sansa, your mother would not have allowed me to stay in Winterfell once Father left for King’s Landing. Even if you hadn’t been married, and you had stayed in Winterfell, I would still have joined the Night’s Watch because there would be no place for me here.”

Sansa looked away. “I’m sorry.”

Jon sighed. “It’s not your fault, sweet.”

“She’s my mother,” Sansa insisted.

“And she’s Robb’s, Arya’s, Bran’s and Rickon’s as well,” Jon said, pointedly. “If I don’t blame them for their mother’s dislike of me, why would I blame you?”

“Yes, but we are…” Sansa motioned to the empty space between them in order to denote their relationship.

“Yes, we are. But this has nothing to do with you, Sansa. This is because as long as I am around, I am a walking reminder of her husband’s infidelity, and she simply doesn’t want to have to deal with that reminder if she doesn’t have to.”

“It’s not fair,” Sansa said, quietly. “You shouldn’t have to leave because of her.”

Jon shrugged. “Yes, I shouldn’t have to, and I suppose it isn’t fair either. But I’m a bastard, Sansa. Life isn’t fair for me.”

Sansa threaded their fingers together. “What can I do?”

“Nothing,” Jon said, grimly. “I fear I’m not in a very good mood today.”

“Understandable,” Sansa muttered. She bit her lip. “Can I sit with you?”

He raised their joined hands to his mouth (surely, kisses on the hand were brotherly?). “Of course.”

She shifted in his lap, so that her back was no longer jutting against the armrest, and threw her legs over his lap, resting her arm across his shoulders and stroking her fingers through his hair. Before long, she was curling up against him, their mouths almost touching.

“This was never going to end, was it?” Sansa asked, softly, cupping his jaw, thumbing the dip in his jawbone, just under his chin where the stubble still lingered.

Jon looked down at her fingers, pale and nimble and long, up the length of her arm to her bare throat, and felt himself stir despite his low spirits.

“No,” He said, gruffly.

And he didn’t want it to end.

They simply sat there in silence, when they were broken out of the contentment by the sudden vigilance of the wolves, who livened up and began barking. Sansa frowned and slipped off his lap (much to his displeasure) and made her way over to Lady, scratching behind her ears. Lady began to howl, a noise which was matched by Ghost, and Jon joined Sansa, kneeling beside his own wolf. Ghost nipped at his fingers and began to bark in the same pitch as Lady, scurrying over to the door and pawing at the wood.

“What is it, Ghost?” He asked, curiously.

Lady joined Ghost, scraping at the door as well.

This was no happy frolicking between the litter mates – there was something desperate in their howling.

Sansa came up to his shoulder, her face set in worry. “I think they’re trying to show us something.” She said, haltingly, as if she weren’t sure of her own words.

“Like what?” Jon frowned.

“I don’t know,” Sansa shook her head. “But perhaps we should let them show us.”

She swung open the door for the direwolf pups, and they scampered away, down the stairs of the library tower, until they burst out into the cool air. They followed the wolves past the courtyard, which for once, was devoid of men as they had all gone on the hunt (and it was the first time since dawn that he had felt pleased at that fact – it would not have ended well if someone had seen Jon and Sansa together, coming out of an empty tower), and through the little hatchway in the bridge between the Great Keep and the armoury, until they came to the little yard in front of the East Gate.

In the distance, they could see a small body lying on the ground in front of the First Keep, crows spinning around it as if foretelling something sinister. Jon caught sight of a familiar head of auburn hair and a direwolf barking desperately at his side, and his heart seized in his throat.

“Bran,” Sansa breathed next to him, her long legs keeping the pace with him until they finally came to Bran’s side, Sansa falling to her knees beside him and his direwolf, the dirt raking up her pretty dress.

Jon stood by Bran’s head and knelt down, patting the young boy on the cheek.

“Bran?” He called out, worriedly. “Bran, wake up.”

But the boy remained silent, his eyes shut.

“Is-is he…?”

Dead, was what what he imagined Sansa wanted to say but couldn’t bring herself to spit the word out.

Jon placed a hand on Bran’s small chest, feeling the boy’s heart thump steadily under his palm.

“His heart is still beating,” Jon said, tersely. “And he’s still breathing. We should move him.” He made to pick Bran up when Sansa gripped his wrist.

“No!” She warned him off. “We mustn’t move him. If he fell…” Her eyes dragged up to the wall of the First Keep where they both could easily see Bran climbing, bored with no one to talk to, or just simply testing himself. “He may have injured his spine… Maester Luwin told us that it could harm someone further if you moved them after a fall.”

They both looked up at the wall in question, where the gargoyles loomed over them, ominously.

Bran had always liked to swing from them.

Guilt rose in Jon like a dark, thick cloud – Bran had sought him out earlier that day, to spar with him in the yard (Bran had been-was eager to become a knight, and he never failed to seize an opportunity to prove his mettle, all eight years of it), or perhaps just to spend time with him on his last day before leaving for the Night’s Watch, but he had been in too low spirits to indulge him.

Now, look what happened, Jon thought to himself, bitterly. All because you wanted to sulk on your own.

“Sansa,” She looked at him, her eyes red and wet. “Go find your mother and Maester Luwin.” He ordered. “I’ll stay with him.”

Sansa nodded, briskly, and broke off into a run, her skirts swishing about her ankles, towards the Great Keep. He sat down on the cold, wet, flat ground, cross-legged, putting one of his hands on Bran’s cheek.

“It’s okay, Bran,” He murmured. “Sansa’s gone to get help for you. But I’m not going anywhere.”

Soon, Lady Catelyn and the Maester came charging up to them. Lady Catelyn ignored his very presence and did just as Sansa had, falling at Bran’s side and clutching at his pale, limp hand.

“Bran,” She choked out, tears in her eyes.

Whatever her faults and wrongs against him, Catelyn Tully loved her children very much.

“He’s still breathing, and there’s a heartbeat,” Jon told the Maester, quickly, as the old man began to examine Bran.

“What happened?” Lady Catelyn demanded, though not specifically of him.

“The wolves started barking and howling,” Sansa explained, thickly. “We followed them out here, where Bran was just… lying there.”

“We?” Lady Catelyn asked, sharply, eyeing him with suspicion, which he returned with a blank look.

“When I came out of the keep, Jon was coming out of the armoury, Mother,” Sansa lied in a way that made her seem the truest person there was. “Both our wolves were howling.”

Lady Catelyn seemed to take that as an explanation, and she turned her attention to Maester Luwin, who looked up from Bran, grimly.

“Well, what is it?”

“I believe his back to be broken, my lady,” Maester Luwin murmured. “And his legs as well. We must carry him into the keep, carefully.”

Lady Catelyn nodded, shakily, and slipped her hands underneath Bran’s broken body and lifted him up into the air. Bran didn’t stir as his back curved inward; he didn’t register the pain that he should have felt when Lady Catelyn scurried back to the Great Keep.

“Sansa, have a rider convey the news to your father and Robb, then come to Bran’s room,” Her mother ordered, her voice clipped but clotted with stress.

“Yes, Mother,” Sansa replied, dutifully, looking after Bran’s unconscious body with worry.

Once Lady Catelyn and the Maester had left their surroundings, Sansa looked back at him, indecisively.

“I’ll go find the rider,” He said, reassuringly. “You go to your mother and Bran; they will both need you now.”

“What will you do?”

“I will find Arya, let her know what’s happened, and be there when Father and Robb return, so I can tell them what’s happened as well.”

“I’ll come find you, later,” Sansa promised, and fisted her hands in her dress and raced for the keep.

Later came, and it was only then, as Sansa wrapped her arms around him and cradled him against her, that he allowed himself to cry for Bran and all the dreams the boy had that may never come to be.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 6: Sansa III

A fortnight after Bran fell from the First Keep, Sansa had been strongarmed into breakfast with her new husband, goodsister and her children. Apparently, Queen Cersei felt as though she should be spending more time with her new family, not just her old one, even if her eight-year-old brother had been lying unconscious in a bed for the past fourteen days.

But it did not seem to matter to the queen, and while Jaime had not been insistent come morning, he did not seem as though he would’ve been pleased had she declined the offer to take her meal with the queen and her children.

But she bore it in silence and with a good-natured smile, even though she still had the vicious urge to wrench her arm away when Jaime led her to the Great Hall, where the Queen was already seated primly with her two younger children, Tommen and Myrcella, her eldest son unsurprisingly missing.

“How are you, goodsister?” Queen Cersei asked Sansa, peering at her with curiosity.

“I am well, Your Grace,” Sansa looked at her, steadily.

Cersei’s mouth quirked as if she wanted to smile. “And your brother? Is there any news?”

“When I last spoke to Maester Luwin, which was last night, there was no change,” Sansa replied, promptly. “However, the maester seems to think that is a hopeful sign.”

Princess Myrcella gave a happy gasp, and Tommen smiled, pleased, and Sansa found herself returning the joy. These two had none of their older brother’s (their mother’s) scorn or (their uncle’s) negligent indifference.

Cersei sighed. “Such a shame, so young and to be taken so cruelly.”

He hasn’t left us yet, Sansa balked. And Bran won’t die. He wouldn’t just leave us.

“Bran will wake up,” Sansa said, firmly. “If he were meant to die, he would have died when he fell. But he didn't. He's still fighting. He's fighting to come back to us.” She tipped her head up in defiance.

The queen could say as she willed, but Bran was a Stark, and Starks were direwolves; they didn’t die by falling from a tower.

Cersei reached out and patted Sansa on the hand, as if she were the stupidest girl to ever have existed, but Sansa didn’t take her sentiment as worth a grain of salt.

“Of course, you must keep hope. To lose a brother is a dreadful thing.” Her green eyes strayed to the man beside Sansa (my husband, Sansa thought, bitterly), one who mirrored her own look.

Just then, Lord Tyrion strode into the morning room of the Great Keep, and sat beside Sansa, uninvited by the look of distaste that had the queen’s otherwise beautiful face transformed into something ugly.

Clearly, the queen’s earlier comment about it being dreadful thing to lose a brother did not apply to little dwarf brother.

“Goodsister,” Lord Tyrion said, kindly. “How do you do?”

“I am well, my lord,” Sansa inclined her head.

Jon had spoken to her of the conversation he had with the Imp during the welcome feast after King Robert and his party had arrived. While Sansa, personally, had thought Lord Tyrion’s words to Jon to be cruel, Jon had seemed to take some comfort in what the Imp had said, and anyone who was kind to Jon immediately rose in esteem in her eyes.

“Is Robert still abed?” Lord Tyrion asked, curiously.

Cersei eyed Sansa before speaking. “The king has not slept at all,” She told her younger brother. “He is with Lord Eddard. He has taken their sorrow deeply to heart.”

“He has a large heart, our Robert,” Jaime mused, lightly, his eyes centred on his goblet.

She wondered if Jaime cared about anything, or if he were as careless in everything as he seemed to be now.

One of the servants approached them and Lord Tyrion told him what he would like for his morning meal, before turning to his niece and nephew (her own niece and nephew, now that it struck her – even if Myrcella herself was only a good seven years younger than her, of age with her brother, Bran, and Tommen a year younger than that).

“I visited your brother’s sickroom last night, goodsister,” Tyrion turned to her, his mismatched eyes searching her. “Your maester says he may yet live.”

Sansa nodded. “Yes, that is what I was told as well.” Her voice lowered, mournfully. “But he will never walk again.”

Tyrion’s face softened. “Yes. His back is broken, and the fall shattered his legs as well.”

“He wanted to be knight,” Sansa said, absentmindedly. “And now he will never be.”

“The gods are cruel,” Tyrion added, sympathetically. “I would swear that wolf of his is keeping the boy alive. The creature is outside his window day and night, howling. Every time they chase it away, it returns. The maester said they closed the window once, to shut out the noise, and Bran seemed to weaken. When they opened it again, his heart beat stronger.”

“My father says that the direwolves were gifts from the Old Gods,” Sansa murmured.

Tyrion frowned. “Perhaps so. They do not seem to be common wolves.” He began to cut into the fish on his plate. “Are you leaving soon, then?”

“Not near soon enough,” Cersei said. She frowned, noticing the odd question. “Are we leaving?” She repeated. “What about you? Gods, don’t tell me you are staying here?”

Tyrion shrugged. “Benjen Stark is returning to the Night’s Watch with his brother’s bastard. I have a mind to go with them and see this Wall we have all heard so much of.”

Sansa forced herself not to react to the mention of Jon, lest her company wonder why she was so affected by a reference to her bastard half-brother. But Tyrion’s words only served to remind her that she would soon be leaving Winterfell, her mother and Robb, Bran and Rickon.

And Jon.

While Jon and her uncle would leave along with them, they would part at the Kingsroad, and Jon and her uncle would ride to Castle Black, while she, Arya and her father would ride south to King’s Landing. A few nights ago, she had asked her husband (she loathed to call him that, even in her head) why they would be going to King’s Landing if he had been released from his Kingsguard vows.

Surely your seat is now Casterly Rock? She had asked him.

Alas, my father already rules at Casterly Rock, little wife, Jaime had replied, briskly. It serves his interests to have me, and us, in King’s Landing for now. But never fear, you may yet see the Rock soon enough, if my father has his way. And he always has his way.

But the mention of Jon had also served to make her aware that she would hardly have the chance to say her goodbyes to Jon on the Kingsroad. The queen would likely insist she accompany her and Tommen and Myrcella, and the rest of the queen’s ladies in the wheelhouse, instead of riding on her own. Missing that last glimpse of him as he continued on his own stretch of the Kingsroad, forced to bite her tongue, it shattered something in her, made her want to rage at the injustice, but there was still a true farewell to be had, here in Winterfell – the Gods know that her mother would not be an impediment, as she hadn’t risen from Bran’s bedside in a fortnight. He could ride off to the Night’s Watch with the certainty that she belonged to no one but him – in her heart, she was his, and what did mere flesh matter when their souls were one?  

Jaime looked over the top of her head to smile down at his younger brother (unlike his twin, he seemed to possess at least some sort of affection for Tyrion).

“I hope you’re not thinking of taking the black on us, sweet brother.”

Tyrion laughed then. “What, me, celibate? The whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock. No, I just want to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world.”

Cersei gave him a withering look. “The children don’t need to hear this filth.” The queen turned her to her children. “Come,” She said, loftily, sweeping from the morning room, with her children following the train of her green dress, without a single word of acknowledgment to those gathered at the table with her.

Sansa inwardly objected to the queen’s rudeness, but then again, she supposed, queens can do as they please, snub whoever they please, even their own brother’s wife.

But she took it as a chance to leave herself, the time she had spent with the Lannisters enough for a day. She slid to her feet, and her husband did the same.

“My lady, shall I escort you to your mother?” He asked, lazily, as if he’d much rather be doing anything but.

Sansa cocked her head. “This is my home, my lord. I’m certain I can find my own way.”

She turned on her feet and sloped away, clasping her hands in front of her.

She wondered if he had found her words rude, but couldn’t bring herself to care much.


“You’re packed, then?” Sansa asked, hesitantly, standing in the doorway to Jon’s chambers.

Jon straightened and turned around. “It would seem so. And you?”

Sansa nodded, stepping over the threshold and shutting the door behind her. “Ser Rodrik had the guards take my things.” She bit her lip. “I saw Robb; he said you’d been in to see Bran.”

Jon pursed his lips. “Yes, I had.” He replied, stiffly.

“You’re upset,” Sansa presumed. “And I wager my mother is behind it, seeing as she hasn’t left Bran’s side since his fall. What did she say to you?”

“Nothing I didn’t already know,” Jon replied, honestly.

“I suppose one blessing in leaving Winterfell is that you won’t have to deal with her any longer. I know how she hurts you,” Sansa mused, looking somewhere at the ceiling.

Jon sighed and looked her in the eye. “You shouldn’t be here, Sansa.”

Sansa recoiled from his tone. “I didn’t realise that I was unwanted.” She said, woodenly, as if protecting herself from further affront.

“You’re not unwanted,” Jon snapped. “But we’re playing a dangerous game. If someone found you here-”

“Then, I’d simply tell them I was saying my farewells to my brother, who’s leaving for the Night’s Watch,” Sansa returned, sharply. “I don’t believe that is utterly inconceivable. Unless I’m the harpy that you and Arya like to whisper behind my back about.”

“I have never thought that about you,” Jon’s voice was brittle with fury and hurt that she’d even think that of him. “Nor have I ever whispered with Arya behind your back to anything of that effect.”

“So, you admit you do whisper with Arya behind my back about other things,” Sansa accused.

“Is this really the conversation you want to have right now?” Jon asked, incredulously, leaning forward.

“No!” Sansa growled, loudly, and eyed the door with unease, lowering her voice. “No, this isn’t the conversation I want to have, but you’re the one who acted like I’d committed some grave sin by coming here.”

Jon looked at her, sternly, slumping down onto the bed beside his chest. “If I were your trueborn brother, it wouldn’t matter, but-”

“I didn’t come here to argue with you,” Sansa cut him off. “I’m tired of arguing with you, Jon.”

She wondered if he could see that fatigue in her bones daubed across her face. She wondered if it would make him kind to her again.

Jon’s eyes gentled. “Why did you come here then?”

“I came to give you something,” Sansa told him, quietly. “I had Mikken make it. It seemed silly, but I thought… perhaps you wouldn’t mind taking it with you.”

Jon frowned at her (clearly the idea of her visiting the blacksmith confounded him as much as it had her when she had first walked into the armoury – she didn’t think she’d ever been in there before until now).

“Mikken?” He asked, confused. “What did you need him to make?”

Sansa remained silent, but she reached out for his hand, taking it into her own, and dropped something into his upturned palm. It was a silver chain, meant for his neck, with a crow cast in black iron as a pendant.

Sansa bit her lip. “Ladies always give their knights favours in the songs.” She murmured. “I had the idea of having Mikken make a wolf for me, but then I thought he’d get suspicious. But having a crow made for my half-brother joining the Night’s Watch didn’t seem so odd.”

Jon stared down at it, his face betraying no emotion. “Then, I’m your knight?”

Sansa swallowed hard. “You will always be my knight.” She swore.

Jon was quiet for a moment longer, before he huffed out a laugh, shaking his head. “Whenever I try to keep you at arm’s length, you do something like this and coax me back to you.” He murmured, rubbing the small pendant between his thumb and index finger.

“I don’t do it on purpose,” Sansa said, quietly, looking down at the floor. “I know I must seem greedy to you; you have every right to avoid me and I don’t blame you at all. I would avoid me if I were in your place. I just… I wanted you to have something of me while you were at the Wall. So you wouldn’t forget me.”

“Oh, Sansa,” Jon sighed. “Sweet girl, I believe I will die loving you. So, how could I possibly forget you?”

Sansa’s eyes snapped to him. “Don’t say that!” She said, aghast. “I don’t want to hear you talking of dying. Ever. The only way I can go south with the Lannisters is knowing that you’re still alive.” Her voice was thick with unshed tears. “Even if I won’t see you again for what will seem like an eternity.”

Jon clucked his tongue. “Come here,” He soothed and pulled her close.

Sansa knew it was foolish; she knew she should be smarter; she knew she should just give him the necklace and leave him to the rest of his farewells, but she curled into his embrace that one last time, settling her forehead against the lean line of his neck, her nose jutting into his collarbone.

“Do you like it?” Sansa asked, hesitantly. “The necklace, I mean.”

Jon hummed. “A crow for a crow, sweet?” He teased.

“It suits you, all in black as you will be,” Sansa muttered.

“I think it a beautiful gift,” Jon smoothed a hand down the length of her auburn hair. “I will cherish it always.”

Sansa gripped onto his arm and she looked up at him, her blue eyes suddenly fierce. “Promise me you’ll live, Jon. Promise me you won’t die there.” She begged through her teeth.

Jon’s brow furrowed as he looked down at her, seeing nothing but desperation etched onto every single line of her face. He cupped her jaw in one hand, dragging his thumb down her cheek, tenderly.

“How could I die, if I’ve left my heart with you?”

It was then that he kissed her, his mouth moving over hers as slowly and artfully as he had in the Godswood, a year ago. Sansa clutched onto his arms with both hands and sighed against him, all that worry and pull in her body fading as soon as he put his hands on her.

Jon groaned something rough when he pulled away, as if it wounded him on the inside to release her.

“We shouldn’t have done that,” He grimaced.

At times, Sansa found it endearing, formidable, wondrous, how honourable her Jon was. But today, now, she found it maddening. She resisted the urge to cuff him and shook her head.

“We should,” She said, firmly. “If I have to spend the rest of my days in abject misery, I am owed this with you.”

“Abject misery,” Jon scoffed. “You’ll be Lady of Casterly Rock and wife to the Warden of the West one day. Your nephew by law will be King, and your nephew will be King after him.”

Sansa scowled. “I want you, and I can’t have you. Therefore, anything but that will be abject misery. Don’t belittle my pain.”

Jon softened. He threaded their fingers together and kissed the tips of hers. “I can’t kiss you again.” He said, solemnly.

Sansa rolled her eyes. “Ever the malcontent.”

“No, I’m being decent; there’s a difference,” Jon retorted. He fell silent. “When do you leave?”

“We leave with you and Uncle Benjen, and it appears my new goodbrother will be joining you,” Sansa told him.

Jon frowned. “Lord Tyrion is joining the Night’s Watch?” He asked, sceptically.

“No,” Sansa laughed, shaking her head. “He wishes to see the Wall, so I believe he will take this is as a chance. As for the question of taking the black, he said ‘the whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock. No, I just want to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world’.”

Her lip curled and it made Jon smile.

The look of amusement dropped from Sansa’s face as quickly as it had been there. “The queen has asked me to ride in the wheelhouse, with her younger children and her ladies. Arya, of course, protested. She wants to ride, but Father said ‘no’, so she’ll be joining us.”

Jon thumbed the little iron crow. “Take care of her, Sansa.” He said, solemnly.

Sansa grimaced.

“She’s your sister,” Jon reminded her, sternly. “I know you two don’t get along, but you’re all she’ll have there in King’s Landing. And she’s younger than you; King’s Landing isn’t like Winterfell, and she won’t realise that.”

“I’ll have to be with the Lannisters, more often than not,” Sansa reminded him, grimly. “I can’t be with her always, not like I would’ve been had I not been married yet.” She paused, seeing the entreaty on Jon’s face. “But I will do my best.” She said, grudgingly. “But Arya doesn’t listen to me; she’ll fight me, even when I tell her not to do something.”

“Say it kinder, then,” Jon suggested.

Sansa scowled. “Are you saying I’m not kind?” She asked, offended.

“To Arya?” Jon snorted. “Not very.”

Sansa gritted her teeth. “Well, then, if I’m so unkind, I’ll leave you in peace.”

She made to storm out, only seeing her own anger and hurt, when Jon’s hand caught her wrist.

“I said you’re not very kind to Arya, and that’s true,” Jon told her, almost amused. “But you do love her; and she loves you back. You’re sisters, Sansa, not enemies.”

“You always take her side!” Sansa shot back.

“No, I don’t,” Jon rolled his eyes, as he always did when he thought her being a brat. “But she’ll be alone in a strange place, and Arya can be wild. People here in Winterfell enjoy it, but those in King’s Landing might not. All I’m saying is to keep an eye out for her.”

“And for me? Who will keep an eye out for me?” Sansa asked, bitterly.

She didn’t understand why he was so concerned for Arya’s fate, when it was her that had been thrown into the lion pit.

“I’ve seen you talk,” Jon said, pointedly. “Sometimes I fear, you could talk your way out of seven hells, I think.”

Sansa resisted the urge to smile at that – Jon always found a way to make her smile, even when she didn’t feel much like smiling.

She cleared her throat and stared back at him, primly. “I will take care of Arya, and make sure she doesn’t do anything reckless,” She pursed her lips. “And I will try to be kinder about it. But for you, and only for you.” 

Jon’s smile widened. “That’s all I ask.”

Sansa dug a tooth into a small sliver of flesh of her lower lip. “I should go.” She said, grudgingly, giving the closed door a withering look. “Father will be looking for me.”

The way Jon looked at her then, it left something hollowed out inside her. She wondered if she’d ever feel as whole as she did when she was with him.

“Don't let him ruin you, Sansa,” Jon said, gravely. “Remember who you are.”

“I won’t,” Sansa replied, earnestly.

Jon’s lips twitched in a mockery of a smile – but there was nothing but sadness in his silver-grey eyes.

“I wish you good fortune, my lady,” Jon inclined his head.

His lady. For a brief moment, Sansa let herself believe that she was his lady and he her lord.

It made her want to cry.

But, she was Sansa Stark of Winterfell; she was strong. Jon thought she was strong. She needed no better conviction than his.

She curtsied to him. “And I wish you good fortune, as well, Jon.”

There were a thousand things she wanted to say to him then – I love you and you are my everything and I can’t forget you and don’t make me go and I’m sorry and let’s run away from here, let’s leave everything and everyone and just be together, somewhere.

But she didn’t dare (not because he wouldn’t come with her – because he would, had she asked it of him, he would run with her all the way to the end of Sothoryos if she had wished it – but because it wouldn’t be fair to him; she couldn’t let him suffer because of her cowardice).

She memorised his eyes, his mouth, the look of him standing there, handsome and strong and kind and hers, the necklace she had given him wrapped around his palm like a ribbon a Septon would’ve used during their wedding.

And then she rushed out of the room before she lost her courage.

“You’re packed, then?”

Sansa hid her amusement at the thought that she and Robb had said the same words, albeit to different people.

She swung around, flakes of snow sitting idly on her hair.

“I am,” Sansa agreed. “We leave soon.”

Robb’s smile was sad. “I know.”

Sansa bit her lip. “I’m going to miss you.” She said, honestly.

Robb exhaled. “Yes, I think I’ll miss you too.”

Sansa crossed her arms over her chest. “You think you’ll miss me?” She asked, playfully angry.

Robb scowled, mockingly. “Well, now there’ll be no one to make me steal lemon cakes from the kitchen in the middle of the night.”

Sansa’s smile widened. “You loved it; you and Jon both did. You thought it was fun.” She said, fondly. Her mouth quivered. “I don’t want this to be the last time we see each other.” She said, suddenly, a sudden, cold fear making her shake.

Robb smiled, as if nothing could touch him, the sun making his hair as red as fire. “We'll see each other again.” He said, confidently.

“How do you know?” Sansa demanded.

“We’re twins, aren’t we? How could they possibly keep us apart?” Robb teased.

A sob was wrenched from Sansa and she abandoned her propriety, throwing herself into Robb’s arms. She clutched onto his shoulders, fearing that he’d fade away if she released him. Robb held her close as well, burying his face in the drapes of her hair.

“It kills me to know I won't be able to protect you from him,” Robb huffed into her shoulder.

Sansa blinked back tears. “You'll always protect me. The thought of you gives me strength.”

Robb’s hands on her waist tightened.

“If he hurts you in any way,” Robb began, seriously. “Send me a letter and I'll come and get you.” 

She could feel his heart beating in his chest and suddenly, she felt like she had all the strength in the world.

“Like Brandon and Lyanna?” Her smile trembled.

She had always liked the story – despite the horrible ending of it. Her uncle Brandon rushing to King’s Landing to save his little sister from the evil dragon prince. He had died for his bravery and his recklessness, but his intentions had been good. 

“Like Brandon and Lyanna,” Robb said, warmly.

He dipped his head down and pressed his mouth against her forehead.

“Goodbye, little sister,” He said, solemnly. “And be careful.”

Sansa stared up at him. “You too.” She whispered.

He left her standing in the yard (a boy of fourteen, Robb wasn’t much for prolonged displays of emotion) and she looked around, at the walls of Winterfell, the snow still draping over the walls. As a girl, she had wanted to leave; she had wanted the glamour and glory and glow of the South, as her mother had told her in the stories – she had wanted knights and tourneys and pretty dresses and handsome lords. As she had grown older, her desire to leave had waned somewhat, for Jon had lived in Winterfell and how could she leave him here?

But now, she was leaving Winterfell and so was Jon – the Gods could truly jape.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 7: Jon IV

Jon felt like a fool.

Now that he could take a good look at Yoren, one of his uncle’s black brothers, and the pair of pair peasant boys that were dragged along with him.

“Rapers,” He had heard Yoren tell his uncle.

It made him flinch.

The Night’s Watch was meant for heroes. All he had heard were stories of the brave defenders of the Wall, protecting the realms of men from Wildlings and White Walkers and all those legendary creatures that Old Nan had spoken off in her stories.

These two boys, not much older than him, had their faces set in perpetual frowns, clothes ragged as if wild animals had tried to mangle them, stupid and cruel and revolting by the look of them. Yoren, himself, had a smell that made Jon grimace; his hair and beard were matted with dirt and filth and thick with lice, his clothing black and unwashed.

Rapers, Yoren had said.

The Night’s Watch took in rapers.

More than fortnight into their journey, Jon had found Sansa’s new goodbrother, and their unwanted guest (by the contemptuous look he had seen in his uncle’s eyes, he guessed that Benjen Stark was as much of an admirer of the Lannisters as his own father was), Tyrion Lannister curled up against the base of a tree beside a stream, huddled in his furs, sipping from a wineskin with a book splayed in his lap.

“Why do you read so much?”

Tyrion looked up at that, and sighed, closing the book reluctantly. “Look at me and tell me what you see.”

Jon scowled. “Is this some kind of trick? I see you. Tyrion Lannister.”

Tyrion looked like he very much wanted to roll his eyes. “You are remarkably polite for a bastard, Snow. What you see is a dwarf. You are what, twelve?”

“Fourteen,” Jon corrected.

“Fourteen, and you’re taller than I will ever be. My legs are short and twisted, and I walk with difficulty. I require a special saddle to keep from falling off my horse. A saddle of my own design, you may be interested to know. It was either that or ride a pony. My arms are strong enough, but again, too short. I will never make a swordsman. Had I been born a peasant, they might have left me out to die, or sold me to some slaver’s grotesquerie. Alas, I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and the grotesqueries are all the poorer. Things are expected of me. My father was the Hand of the King for twenty years. My brother later killed that very same king, as it turns out, but life is full of these little ironies. My sister married the new king and my repulsive nephew will be king after him. I must do my part for the honour of my House, wouldn’t you agree? Yet how? Well, my legs may be too small for my body, but my head is too large, although I prefer to think it is just large enough for my mind. I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind … and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” Tyrion slid a small hand across the front of the book. “That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.”

Jon pursed his lips. “What are you reading about?”

“Dragons,” Tyrion told him.

Jon’s brow furrowed. “What good is that? There are no more dragons.” He said, determinedly.

Everyone knew that the last dragon had died during the reign of Aegon III. She had been sickly and small and misshapen, and had died with a clutch of five eggs that had never hatched.

“So they say,” Tyrion replied. “Sad, isn’t it? When I was your age, I used to dream of having a dragon of my own.”

Jon raised an eyebrow – it was an almost amusing image, the dwarf of Casterly Rock riding a great, big dragon.

“You did?”

“Oh, yes. Even a stunted, twisted, ugly little boy can look down over the world when he’s seated on a dragon’s back.” Tyrion unearthed himself from his furs and climbed to his feet. “I used to start fires in the bowels of Casterly Rock and stare at the flames for hours, pretending they were dragonfire. Sometimes I’d imagine my father burning. At other times, my sister.”

Jon couldn’t imagine hating his family so much that he would actually burn them to the ground, in a dream or not. Robb, Arya, Bran and Rickon loved him like a brother; his father had treated him like a son instead of one of his by-blows. And Sansa, Sansa had loved him with everything in her. Lady Catelyn had never been monstrous to him, as she could have been (but for that moment by Bran’s bedside that he didn’t think he would ever forget, not even when he was on his last breath), but she hadn’t been kind either. But her contempt for him hadn’t dulled anything he had with his half-siblings or his father, nor had it with Sansa (it still felt unseemly to consider her in the same breath as his other half-siblings – brothers didn’t bed down with their sisters, baseborn or not).

Even with the thought that Sansa would be married off to some high lord or prince and he would have to leave Winterfell to join the Night’s Watch, while she had trueborn children with another man, he had never dreamt of blaming her for his ill fortune. Sansa was the only good thing in his life – even if she was no longer his.

Even if she belonged to the brother of the man currently laughing at what he imagined was his stricken face.

“Don’t look at me that way, bastard. I know your secret. You’ve dreamt the same kind of dreams.”

“No,” Jon said, immediately, thinking of Sansa’s eyes in his room the day he left Winterfell, tucking the little crow charm into his palm. “I wouldn’t…”

“No? Never?” Tyrion raised an eyebrow. “Well, no doubt the Starks have been terribly good to you. I’m certain Lady Stark treats you as if you were one of her own. And your brother Robb, he’s always been kind, and why not? He gets Winterfell and you get the Wall. And your father … he must have good reasons for packing you off to the Night’s Watch…”

“Stop it,” Jon snapped, fists clenching at his sides, as the words rung home.

Surely his father wouldn’t have thought to shove him somewhere like an embarrassment after raising him alongside his trueborn children for fourteen years?

“The Night’s Watch is a noble calling,” He insisted.

Tyrion laughed once more. “You’re too smart to believe that. The Night’s Watch is a midden heap for all the misfits of the realm. I’ve seen you looking at Yoren and his boys. Those are your new brothers, Jon Snow, how do you like them? Sullen peasants, debtors, poachers, rapers, thieves, and bastards like you all wind up on the Wall, watching for grumkins and snarks and all the other monsters your wet nurse warned you about. The good part is there are no grumkins or snarks, so it’s scarcely dangerous work. The bad part is you freeze your balls off, but since you’re not allowed to breed anyway, I don’t suppose that matters.”

“Shut up,” Jon snapped.

Why must you Lannisters take everything?

He took a step forward, fourteen but threatening enough for a dwarf, but before he could even comprehend the violence he could deal, Ghost lunged for Tyrion himself, knocking the small man flat on his back, the book knocking out of his hands. The dwarf attempted to stumble back to his feet, but something in his spine caught and he fell again, much to Jon’s dark amusement. Finally, Tyrion grabbed at one of the tree roots and attempted to hoist himself up, but to no avail. He looked at Jon with frustration.

“Help me,” The dwarf urged, holding out a hand.

Ghost, ever faithful, slid in between them, simply glowering at Tyrion with eerie red eyes, his teeth bared in a snarl.

Tyrion slumped back to the ground. “Don’t help me, then. I’ll sit right here until you leave.”

Jon’s lip curled in a taunting smile, leaning down and running his fingers through Ghost’s white fur.

“Ask me nicely.”

Tyrion gritted his teeth. “I should be very grateful for your kind assistance, Jon.”

Jon rolled his eyes. “Down, Ghost.” He ordered the direwolf, who sat back on his hind legs, his eyes never leaving Tyrion’s, almost like a warning.

Jon walked around the tree and picked Tyrion up bodily, sliding his hands underneath his arms, much like he would have Rickon or Bran or Arya, the dwarf not weighing much to him at all. He swept the book up from the where it lay on the forest floor and handed it back to Tyrion, no small amount of smugness plastered across his face.

“Why did he attack me?” Tyrion asked, curiously, sidelining the direwolf, as he wiped blood and dirt from his mouth.

“Maybe he thought you were a grumkin,” Jon said, dryly.

Tyrion looked at him for a moment and started laughing, genuinely. “Oh, gods,” He choked out, shaking his head. “I suppose I do rather look like a grumkin. What does he do to snarks?”

Jon rolled his eyes. “You don’t want to know.” He picked up the stray wineskin and handed it back to Tyrion.

Tyrion drank from the wineskin, heartily, and then surprisingly, he held out the skin to Jon, who took it cautiously and grimaced at the taste of the wine.

“It’s true, isn’t it?” He said, once he had returned the skin. “What you said about the Night’s Watch.”

Tyrion nodded.

Jon gritted his teeth, feeling betrayal bloom like a flower in his heart – surely his father hadn’t known, but then again, how could he have not? And yet, he had still sent him here, because it had suddenly become too troublesome to continue housing his bastard son.

Jon imagined his face looked as sullen as Sansa always said it did when he replied. “If that’s what it is, that’s what it is.”

Tyrion grinned at him. “That’s good, bastard. Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.”

I have been facing hard truths all my life, Jon thought with resignation.

Had he ever had something of his own, but for Sansa? And even then, he had lost her without even having the chance to fight for her. He could never be Lord of Winterfell like his father, not like Robb would be, trueborn eldest son that he was; he could never have Sansa, even if he loved her more than any gaudy Southern lord ever could; they would only ever refer to him as Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon’s bastard half-brother, even if he had loved them all as much as any trueborn sibling would have.

No, he had never been one to shy away from hard truths – Lady Catelyn would never have allowed delusions of grandeur from him.

“Most men,” Jon replied. “But not you.”

“No,” Tyrion admitted. “Not me. I seldom even dream of dragons anymore. There are no dragons.” He scooped up the fallen bearskin. “Come, we had better return to camp before your uncle calls the banners.”

Grenn stumbled backwards, raising his sword in a vain attempt to defend himself, but Jon rapped his wooden sword against the back of his knees, where he had left himself open, sending the other boy swaying unsteadily as his stance slipped. Grenn swiped at him again with the edge of his sword, but Jon dodged it deftly and his sword overarched in between them, coming down hard on his helm. Grenn, not one to give up just yet, swung his blade again, but Jon swept it aside easily and shoved elbow into Grenn’s chest, who finally lost his footing and crumpled to the ground.

Jon thumped his wrist with the tip of the sword and Grenn’s blade also fell, drawing a cry of pain from the other boy.

“Enough!” Ser Alliser Thorne called out, sharply.

Grenn looked up at him with such a black look that it had Jon rolling his eyes. “The bastard broke my wrist.” He grumbled.

“The bastard hamstrung you, opened your empty skull, and cut off your hand. Or would have, if these blades had an edge. It’s fortunate for you that the Watch needs stableboys as well as rangers.” Ser Alliser waved at Jeren and Toad. “Get the Aurochs on his feet, he has funeral arrangements to make.”

Jon pulled off his helm and shook his dark curls free, while the other boys pulled Grenn to his feet. The sweat was smothered across his face, his skin warming under the helm with every swing of his sword, and the cool air eased his discomfort greatly. He braced his sword on the ground and let himself rest for just a moment.

“That is a longsword, not an old man’s cane,” Ser Alliser admonished, coldly. “Are your legs hurting, Lord Snow?”

Jon gritted his teeth against the name. Lord Snow, Lord Snow, what a great jape.

“No,” He returned, just as icily, as he slid the longsword back into its scabbard.

Thorne marched towards him. “The truth now.” He commanded.

Jon pursed his lips. “I’m tired.” He grudgingly confessed, shaking out the burn in his arm, starting to feel the bruises that Grenn had left on him, despite his few hits.

“What you are is weak.”

“I won,” Jon protested.

“No. The Aurochs lost.”

One of the other boys sniggered, either because seeing him shamed in front of the other recruits brought him the greatest joy or because he genuinely found the old knight’s jape to be amusing (although, Jon couldn’t possibly see how this was true).

Jon, of course, didn’t reply. How could he, when it was clear that Ser Alliser had no affection for him, at all?

“That will be all,” Thorne growled. “I can only stomach so much ineptitude in any one day. If the Others ever come for us, I pray they have archers, because you lot are fit for nothing more than arrow fodder.”

Jon followed the rest of them back to the armoury, on his lonesome. He had no friend here, out of the twenty that he trained with (of whom, none could fight him like Robb would have), but he had no interest in being of any of their friends – rapers and boys who’d never held a sword a day in their lives.

Inside the armoury, Jon put away his sword, ignoring the others milling around. He stripped off his leathers and as if wanting to add to his misery, the cold immediately assaulted him, despite the coal burning in iron braziers at either end of the long room. Castle Black was much colder than Winterfell had been – the chill never seemed to leave, encouraged by the giant wall of ice that they guarded. 

He missed Winterfell then, the warmth in the keep where if you pressed just right against the stone walls, you could feel the thrum of the hot springs that flowed underneath the keep. He missed Rickon, wild red hair and a wilder spirit; he missed Robb, his dearest brother and his dearest friend, who never looked at him as something to be shamed by; he missed Bran, eager for stories of Ser Ryam Redwyne and Serwyn of the Mirror Shield (although Sansa had always been better at telling them) and a turn at the sword, who dreamt of being a great knight like Ser Barristan Selmy. He missed Arya, with her scraped knees and tangled hair and dirt-strewn dresses, who looked more like him than any of their siblings, who could always make him smile.

But most of all, he missed Sansa. He missed her hair and her eyes and her smile and the way she upturned her palms when she wanted him to hold her hands. He missed the way her red hair would flutter in the breeze when she would watch them train in the yard from the bridge between the armoury and the Great Keep. He missed the way that she would sneak into his chambers in the dead of night and crawl into his bed, curl up against him for warmth. He missed holding her as she slept, even if it were only for a few hours at most, his hand splayed across her belly, their fingers threaded together. He missed the way she’d kiss him, her mouth soft and willing, as if he were the only one who could give her life (in truth, it was the other way around as well). He missed the warmth of her, how she’d hold him against her and stroke her fingers through his curls, lulling him into rest.

He would have none of that here.

Jon tugged at the little crow charm around his throat, the bauble giving him something akin to comfort and courage.

Sansa would want me to be strong. If she must suffer the likes of Jaime Lannister for me, I can stomach these fools, Jon told himself.

“You broke my wrist, bastard boy.”

The sullen voice drew Jon from his thoughts. Grenn loomed over him, three of the other recruits lining up behind up as pillars of support.

Jon slid to his feet. ““I’ll break the other one for you if you ask nicely.”

“Maybe we’ll break you,” One of the rapers that Yoren had brought with him said.

“Try,” Jon taunted, reaching for the sword he had just hung up, but one of them grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back.

“You make us look bad.”

Jon snorted. “You looked bad before I ever met you.”

The hand that had his arm jerked upward and Jon gritted his teeth against the pain that surged from his elbow up to his shoulder, refusing to cry out.

“The little lordling has a mouth on him,” Another said. “Is that your mommy’s mouth, bastard? What was she, some whore? Tell us her name. Maybe I had her a time or two.” He laughed.

Jon slammed his foot down on the instep of the boy holding him, who cried out in pain and released him. He flew at the one that had insulted his mother, knocking him backwards, over a bench, with both hands around his throat and smashing his head against the ground.

The rapers from the Fingers pulled him off, throwing him roughly to the ground, while Grenn began to kick at him. Jon was curling on himself, avoiding the blows when a booming voice cut through the gloom of the armoury.


Jon pulled himself to his feet, only to find Donal Noye, one of Castle Black’s armourers, standing at the doorway to the armoury, glowering down at all of them. “The yard is for fighting,” He said. “Keep your quarrels out of my armoury, or I’ll make them my quarrels. You won’t like that.”

The boy that Jon had been beating into the ground, slowly, rose upwards, feeling the back of his head when Jon had managed to pound a bloody hole.

“He tried to kill me,” The boy complained.

“‘S true. I saw it,” One of the rapers added, immediately.

“He broke my wrist,” Grenn insisted, holding it out to Noye for him to have a look.

Noye barely even glanced at the wrist. “A bruise. Perhaps a sprain. Maestor Aemon will give you a salve. Go with him, Todder, that head wants looking after. The rest of you, return to your cells.”

Jon started, but Noye’s voice stopped him.

“Not you, Snow. You stay.”

Jon’s shoulders tightened, but he sat heavily on the long wooden bench in any case. He shook out the arm that was still throbbing, both from the raper’s grip and his exertion out in the yard.

“The Watch has need of every man it can get,” Donal Noye said, finally, once they were alone. “Even men like Toad. You won’t win any honours killing him.”

Jon scowled. “He said my mother was—”

“—a whore. I heard him. What of it?”

“Lord Eddard Stark was not a man to sleep with whores,” Jon said, sharply. “His honour—”

“—did not prevent him from fathering a bastard. Did it?”

Jon’s fist clenched from the rage that curdled like sour milk in his stomach – he didn’t quite like the truth in what the armourer had said.

“Can I go?” He asked, belligerently.

“You go when I tell you to go.”

Jon averted his gaze, choosing to centre his eyes on the smoke rising from the burning coal, until he could no longer, as Noye had seized him by the jaw, forcing him to twist his head around.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you, boy.”

Jon looked.

“Words won’t make your mother a whore. She was what she was, and nothing Toad says can change that. You know, we have men on the Wall whose mothers were whores.”

Not my mother, Jon thought stubbornly.

Not that he could know for sure; his father had never spoken to him of his mother – the subject itself was unspeakable within the walls of Winterfell, both by his father to him, and by the servants in Winterfell (lest Lady Catelyn hear any of the gossip), who had always looked at him so curiously, as if his very existence was incongruous (and he supposed it was, but for all of the talk of the honourable Eddard Stark, he had fathered a bastard in the end). But he imagined she knew the truth of his mother’s identity – otherwise, why else would she hate him so much? Surely, she would hate him for being his mother’s son more than she would hate him for being some unnamed woman’s son.

There had been rumours, rumours he had unwittingly heard as a child, that spoke of an Ashara Dayne, the sister of the Sword of the Morning, who had guarded the Tower of Joy where Rhaegar Targaryen had held his Aunt Lyanna prisoner. His father had told him, Robb and Bran once that Ser Arthur Dayne had been the greatest knight he had ever seen. His father had killed him to get to his sister and returned his sword, Dawn, to the lady Ashara, who had killed herself soon after. The servants had whispered that it was not her brother’s death that been the end of Ashara Dayne, but the child that Lord Eddard had stolen from her.

They whispered that Jon was that child.

He hadn’t wanted to believe that truth – he hadn’t wanted to believe his father would snatch a babe out of a mother’s arms after killing her brother; he hadn’t wanted to believe that his mother was dead. He had whispered to Sansa (shamefully, because while had no great affection for Lady Catelyn, his father’s wife loved her children, loved Sansa, very much and he had never wanted that stolen from Sansa, knowing what it was to lack a mother’s love) that he wanted to believe she was out there, somewhere, beautiful and highborn with kind eyes. Sansa, with a great deal of kindness, had wanted that for him as well – she had told him that she hoped he would find her one day (only for his sake, of course, because in her eyes, her father had only ever loved her mother and she would never want her mother hurt).

He wondered, then, if Sansa ever bore Jaime Lannister a child, as he would eventually want, would Jon hate the babe, as Lady Catelyn hated him, the son of the man she loved that wasn’t hers? Could he look at a child, who had Sansa’s red hair and blue eyes and the smile that he loved, and only see the face of the man who had sired him or her, a man who was not him? He had always thought he’d love any part of her, including a child that wasn’t his, but perhaps he would be no better than Lady Catelyn.

No, Jon thought, stubbornly. I would love Sansa’s child. Any child of Sansa’s would be as beautiful and kind and good as she is. How could I not love her child?

And if Sansa had a child, it would bring her something like happiness, there in the lion pit, surrounded by strangers and people who weren’t her family, to have something that was Stark and hers. He didn’t want her miserable, even for the sake of him – and how could he hate something that brought Sansa joy in a place where she had none, in a place that she hated?

Moreover, Sansa would only bear the Kingslayer’s child because he forced her into his bed, not because she had gone willingly. She would love her child because Sansa was a sweet, kind girl who loved with everything in her heart, even if she despised the child’s father. But his father had married Lady Catelyn and then bedded his mother. His father had chosen to dishonour his wife and dishonour himself – for all that he loved his father and had no great liking for his father’s wife, he could not deny his father’s mistake left an unpleasant taste for him to bear – he could never betray Sansa in any way, not in look or in deed; it was why he had decided to join the Night’s Watch in the first place; so, then, how could his father have acted so faithlessly?

“You think you had it hard, being a high lord’s bastard?” Noye continued, unaware of Jon’s brutal contemplation. “That boy Jeren is a septon’s get, and Cotter Pyke is the baseborn son of a tavern wench. Now he commands Eastwatch by the Sea.”

“I don’t care,” Jon said. “I don’t care about them and I don’t care about you or Thorne or Benjen Stark or any of it. I hate it here. It’s too … it’s cold.” He finished, lamely.

“Yes. Cold and hard and mean, that’s the Wall, and the men who walk it. Not like the stories your wet nurse told you. Well, piss on the stories and piss on your wet nurse. This is the way it is, and you’re here for life, same as the rest of us.”

“Life,” Jon scoffed.

“Yes, life,” Noye replied, scowling. “A long life or a short one, it’s up to you, Snow. The road you’re walking, one of your brothers will slit your throat for you one night.”

“They’re not my brothers,” Jon retorted, sharply, taking immediate offence – he had real, true, good brothers, who were nothing like the boys who had just attacked him. “They hate me because I’m better than they are.”

“No. They hate you because you act like you’re better than they are. They look at you and see a castle-bred bastard who thinks he’s a lordling.” Noye leaned forwards. “You’re no lordling. Remember that. You’re a Snow, not a Stark. You’re a bastard and a bully.”

Jon’s eyes widened. “A bully?” He shouted, incredulously, his heart hammering away inside his chest. “They came after me. Four against one, that’s hardly fair.”

“Four that you’ve humiliated in the yard,” Noye reminded him. “Four who are probably afraid of you. I’ve watched you fight. It’s not training with you. Put a good edge on your sword, and they’d be dead meat; you know it, I know it, they know it. You leave them nothing. You shame them. Does that make you proud?” He asked, mockingly.

Jon didn’t want to admit how much that rang true in him. He had been proud when he thrown them into the dirt. He had felt smug when it was only him left standing. But that sure as hell didn’t make him a bully – it wasn’t a crime to be better than others.

“They’re all older than me,” Jon retorted, defensively, but his words were lame.

“Older and bigger and stronger, that’s the truth,” Noye agreed. “I’ll wager your master-at-arms taught you how to fight bigger men at Winterfell, though. Who was he, some old knight?” He asked, already knowing the answer.

“Ser Rodrik Cassel,” Jon replied, warily.

Donal Noye leaned forward, into Jon’s face. “Now think on this, boy. None of these others have ever had a master-at-arms until Ser Alliser. Their fathers were farmers and wagonmen and poachers, smiths and miners and oars on a trading galley. What they know of fighting they learned between decks, in the alleys of Oldtown and Lannisport, in wayside brothels and taverns on the kingsroad. They may have clacked a few sticks together before they came here, but I promise you, not one in twenty was ever rich enough to own a real sword.” He looked at Jon, grimly. “So how do you like the taste of your victories now, Lord Snow?”

“Don’t call me that!” Jon said, sharply, the shame thickening in his throat until his anger was more for show than it was for just reasons. “I never… I didn’t think…”

“Best you start thinking,” Noye said, warningly. “That, or sleep with a dagger by your bed. Now go.”

Jon walked out of the armoury, his shoulders hunched over in shame and regret, his skin prickled by the armourer’s words. He stopped short as he stared up at the Wall, the sight of it still knocking him sideways after more than two weeks of being at Castle Black. He had heard stories of the Wall’s resplendence, but nothing had matched the actual sight of it – having to crane his neck back to even see edge of it going past the skyline, the streaks of blue that raced along the white of the ice when the sun hit it just right.

“Makes you wonder what lies beyond,” A familiar voice said.

Jon turned around to see Tyrion Lannister standing behind him, thoughtfully, bundled up in his furs which alerted anyone who looked at him that he was as strange to the cold as any Southerner could be (although, Jon supposed he wasn’t one to scorn someone for being sensitive to the cold – Castle Black’s chill was nothing Winterfell had ever raised him in).

“Lannister. I didn’t see-” He fumbled. “I mean, I thought I was alone.”

“There’s much to be said for taking people unawares. You never know what you might learn,” Tyrion said, slyly.

Jon scowled. “You won’t learn anything from me.”

He hadn’t seen the dwarf much since they had reached Castle Black, Queen Cersei’s brother being an honoured guest of the Night’s Watch, housed in the King’s Tower and dining with the Lord Commander at every meal, while Jon had been cast out to Hardin’s Tower with the other recruits and brothers of the Night’s Watch. In some ways, he had missed the dwarf’s company – for all of his blunt nature, Lord Tyrion had been the only one to speak the truth to him; not even his own father and uncle had done him the same courtesy.

“Oh, I learn things everywhere I go,” Tyrion gestured at the Wall. “As I was saying… why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?” He narrowed his mismatched eyes at Jon. “You do want to know what’s on the other side, don’t you?”

Jon pursed his lips. “It’s nothing special.” He said, finally; although, he knew better.

From the stories told by his uncle, Jon wanted to see the Bridge of Skulls and the haunted forest and the Fist of the First Men, climb the Frostfangs, fight Mance Rayder’s wildling soldiers and see if Old Nan’s stories were just that, only stories. But he doubted he’d get the chance anytime soon, if his uncle and Ser Alliser had their way.

“The rangers say it’s just woods and mountains and frozen lakes, with lots of snow and ice.”

“And the grumkins and the snarks,” Tyrion japed, grimly. “Let us not forget them, Lord Snow, or else what’s that big thing for?”

“Don’t call me Lord Snow,” Jon snapped

The dwarf raised an eyebrow. “Would you rather be called the Imp? Let them see that their words can cut you, and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name, take it, make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore. Come, walk with me. They’ll be serving some vile stew in the common hall by now, and I could do with a bowl of something hot.”

Jon had nothing better to do, and he could feel the pangs of hunger settle in his stomach, so he followed the dwarf, his long strides matching the dwarf’s awkward steps easily.

“I don’t see your wolf,” Tyrion said, casually.

“I chain him up in the old stables when we’re training. They board all the horses in the east stables now, so no one bothers him. The rest of the time he stays with me. My sleeping cell is in Hardin’s Tower.”

“That’s the one with the broken battlement, no? Shattered stone in the yard below, and a lean to it like our noble king Robert after a long night’s drinking? I thought all those buildings had been abandoned.”

Jon shrugged. “No one cares where you sleep. Most of the old keeps are empty, you can pick any cell you want.”

Tyrion laughed. “I’ll be sure to tell your father to arrest more stonemasons, before your tower collapses.”

There was mockery in his words, but there was also truth in what Jon said. Only three of the Night’s Watch nineteen castles were manned, and in each of those three castles, the Watch was seriously lacking numbers – that was why most of the old keeps were empty for them now. They had been built for a stronger force, a proper army to guard the Wall, founded in the wake of the Long Night, but nothing remained of the strength the Night’s Watch had given forth when it was the Others, and not wildling raiders, they were fighting.

The Watch desperately needed men – men more skilled than rapers, poachers and thieves.

“It’s better that I’m by myself,” Jon told Tyrion. “The rest of them are scared of Ghost.”

“Wise boys,” Tyrion snorted. “The talk is, your uncle is too long away.”

Jon grimaced, thinking of how he had begged his uncle to take him out on his ranging, but he had steadfastly refused – apparently the bonds of blood that made him Benjen Stark, the First Ranger’s nephew all fell to pieces the moment he had walked through the gates of Castle Black as a new recruit – he would get no favour here by virtue of his uncle.

“He said he’d be back by my name day,” Jon told him, hoping his worry was muted.

His name day had come and gone over a fortnight ago, and it left something unpleasantly heavy in his chest. That night, few hours of short of midnight, he had curled up in his bed, tossing and turning over the hard mattress and wincing from the bruises that littered his body, and thought of Winterfell and his last name day, where his father always had the cooks prepare him a leg of lamb despite Lady Catelyn’s glowering, and Robb and Theon had taken him to the Smoking Log for a flagon of ale. The boys had even urged him to visit the girls in the brothel but he had refused, thinking of Sansa and how she’d be ever so cross for even considering the idea. Of course, he hadn’t gone his name day without her sneaking into his chambers once everyone else was asleep and slipping her shift over her shoulders, leaving her bare, for the first time, to his eyes.

That was the night he had taken her maidenhead, and he supposed, she had taken his as well (she had japed as such when they had finished, damp with sweat and holding each other, her maiden’s blood still tinging his cock a dull pink).

His name day this year paled dearly in comparison.

“They were looking for Ser Waymar Royce; his father is bannerman to Lord Arryn. Uncle Benjen said they might search as far as the Shadow Tower. That’s all the way up in the mountains.”

“I hear that a good many rangers have vanished of late,” Tyrion remarked, as they climbed the staircase that led to the common hall. He grinned and pulled open the door. “Perhaps the grumkins are hungry this year.”

Jon bit down on his tongue so he wouldn’t laugh.

He and Tyrion sat at a table at the far end of the hall, so as to not draw the attention of any of the diners, who had taken a disliking to him.

Tyrion leaned in and sniffed at the stew, as if he didn’t quite trust what was in it. “Barley, onion, carrot.” He muttered. “Someone should tell the cooks that turnip isn’t a meat.”

“It’s mutton stew,” Jon told him, dryly, rubbing his glove-free hands together, and inhaling the stew as quickly as he could, hours of hunger finally breaking his will.


Jon grimaced at the sound of Ser Alliser’s voice and forced himself to turn his head.

“The Lord Commander wants to see you. Now.”

Jon tensed. Had he done something wrong already? Or worse, had something happened to his Uncle Benjen?

“Is it my uncle?” He asked, quickly, jumping to his feet. “Is he returned safe?”

“The Lord Commander is not accustomed to waiting,” Ser Alliser replied, crossly. “And I am not accustomed to having my commands questioned by bastards.”

Jon bit back his instantaneous retort.

Tyrion swung off the bench and gave Ser Alliser a grave, warning look. “Stop it, Thorne. You’re frightening the boy.”

“Keep out of matters that don’t concern you, Lannister. You have no place here.”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed. “I have a place at court, though, and the boy's sister will be Lady of Casterly Rock one day.” He grinned, conspiratorially. “A word in the right ear, and you’ll die a sour old man before you get another boy to train. Now tell Snow why the Old Bear needs to see him. Is there news of his uncle?”

“No,” Ser Alliser said, reluctantly – clearly, the dwarf’s threat had hit a nerve. “This is another matter entirely. A bird arrived this morning from Winterfell, with a message that concerns his brother. His half-brother.” He amended.

Jon swallowed hard, feeling the words hit him like a brick to the stomach. “Bran.” He breathed. “Something’s happened to Bran.”

No, no, no. Bran wouldn’t just die. He wouldn’t leave us so soon. He wants to be a great knight, like the ones in the stories Sansa would tell him. He can’t be a great knight if he’s dead.

Jon barely registered Tyrion putting his hand on his arm and offering him condolences. But he brushed the gesture away and ran to the Commander’s Keep, his feet almost slipping on the old snow a few times, but he didn’t care much. He burst into the Lord Commander’s solar without a knock to be polite, his eyes wild and panting from his sprint.

“Bran,” He said, immediately. “What does it say about Bran?”

Jeor Mormont shook the raven that had its claws curled into his forearm. “I am told you can read.” He drew a roll of paper and handed it to Jon.

Jon’s finger ran over the direwolf in white wax and he broke open the seal. His eyes ran over Robb’s handwriting before tears started to come, unbidden, from what he could read.

“He woke up,” Jon choked out. “The gods gave him back.”

“Crippled,” Mormont said. “I’m sorry, boy. Read the rest of the letter.”

He didn’t care. He didn’t care if Bran had to stay in a bed for the rest of his life – as long as he lived, he didn’t care.

He ran down the stairs, out of the keep, back to the common hall where Tyrion was still eating. He seized the dwarf by the arms and tossed him in the air, spinning him around.

“Bran is going to live!” He cheered. Ignoring the dwarf’s less-than-pleased look at being thrown in the air like a child, he shoved Robb’s letter into his hands. “Here, read it,” He said, smugly.

Everyone had thought Bran would die, but he lived. Jon knew he would. Starks were direwolves; they didn’t die from falling off a tower, no matter how great the fall.

He looked around, finding Grenn amidst the crowd that had gathered around him and Tyrion, to see what had him in such high spirits (Sansa would have laughed at that, said it was an unprecedented event in history to see him so not-sullen – Gods, he missed her, now most of all, when all he wanted to do was kiss her everywhere, so great was the joy in his heart). Grenn clutched his hand to his chest, almost as if he feared Jon would advance on him and injure it further. It almost made him falter – perhaps Noye was right and they did see him as a bully – he had always been the one to be bullied, by Theon Greyjoy, by stable hands and the alike who didn’t see why Eddard Stark’s bastard son was so uppity like he was trueborn – he didn’t want to be like them.

Jon bit his lip and approached him, but Grenn backed up, putting up his hands in surrender as best he could.

“Stay away from me now, you bastard,” Grenn scowled.

Jon smiled. “I’m sorry about your wrist. Robb used the same move on me once, only with a wooden blade. It hurt like seven hells, but yours must be worse. Look, if you want, I can show you how to defend that.” He offered, kindly.

And, with his luck, Ser Alliser heard his words and immediately took offence.

“Lord Snow wants to take my place now.” He sneered. “I’d have an easier time teaching a wolf to juggle than you will training this aurochs.”

Jon bit back a smug grin (nothing could touch him now, not when Bran was awake and alive).

“I’ll take that wager, Ser Alliser,” He said, almost mockingly. “I’d love to see Ghost juggle.”

There was nothing but silence in the common hall, as the black brothers waited to see what Ser Alliser would do to him (in truth, Jon too was worried he may have pushed it too far – this was not Winterfell and Ser Alliser could hurt him as he liked).

But then, Tyrion Lannister started laughing, and soon everyone joined in to the point where Grenn even chuckled.

Ser Alliser didn’t taking the ridicule well, clearly shamed in front of a new recruit he didn’t see fit to wipe his boot on; his face darkened, his hands tightening into fists at his side, and Jon feared he may have made a grave enemy with his words today.

“That was a grievous error, Lord Snow.”

Jon found Tyrion standing on the top of the Wall that night, alone, with his back to him, as urine gushed in an arc over the edge.

Apparently, Sansa had been telling the truth about Tyrion’s intentions of accompanying him and his uncle to the Wall.

“I'm sorry to see you leave, Lannister,” Jon called out.

Tyrion shook his cock and tucked it back into his breeches. “It’s either me or this cold. And it doesn't appear to be going anywhere.” He remarked, amused.

Jon pursed his lips. “Will you stop at Winterfell on your way South?” He asked, hopefully.

Tyrion’s brow furrowed. “I expect I will. Gods know there aren't many feather beds between here and King's Landing.” He said, dryly.

Jon took a deep breath, letting the cold air rush out of his lungs and mouth when he exhaled. “If you see my brother Bran, tell him I miss him,” He hesitated. “Tell him I'd visit if I could.”

Although Lady Catelyn would most likely object if I tried to get past the gates, Jon thought, bitterly.

Tyrion inclined his head. “Of course.”

“He'll never walk again,” Jon mused, grimly.

He imagined that was a great blow to Bran, who lived to clamber up the walls of Winterfell. He didn’t deserve that fate.

“If you're going to be a cripple, it's better to be a rich cripple,” Tyrion told him, knowingly.

“You’ll be heading to King’s Landing… if you see my sisters…” Jon wondered if it were smart to tell Tyrion, despite his candour and understanding towards him, this – he was, after all, the Kingslayer’s brother. “Tell Arya to keep up with her needlework; she’ll need to practice, day and night.” He sobered. “And Sansa…”

Tyrion sensed something in his hesitation. “My brother is not half the monster that others claim he is, Snow.” He said, gently. “He won’t hurt her. She’ll not want for anything, I promise.”

Would that I could believe that, Jon thought, miserably.

He cleared his throat. “Tell her that I wish her all the happiness she can find, and not to worry, I won’t let the Others carry me off before she sees me next. I may not be Prince Aemon the Dragonknight or any of the other knights in her songs, but Ser Jon the Sullen can watch the Wall and keep the realm safe for her.”

It was only when the words had rushed out like blood, Jon thought that he may have spoken too much – his ribcage caved in as he waited for the dwarf’s reaction.

Tyrion raised an eyebrow. “She calls you Ser Jon the Sullen?”

“As you have most likely presumed, I was not the happiest child,” Jon returned, dryly.

“A most apt name,” Tyrion japed.

Jon’s lips twitched. “Yes, it is.”

“I shall be glad to give them your words,” Tyrion held out his hand, which Jon shook. “Take care, Snow.”

Jon nodded. “Farewell, My Lord.” He hesitated. “Friend.” He amended.

Tyrion’s smile was wry. “Friend. All my friends are bastards. Yes, I should be glad to call you friend as well.” 

Chapter Text

half bade, half silk

Chapter 8: Sansa IV

“Will you not join the hunt, my lord?” Sansa asked Jaime, curiously, as they broke their fast.

“I thought I told you to call me Jaime,” he admonished, lightly. “And no, I will not. The days of me guarding Robert will soon be over, and he has Ser Meryn and Ser Boros; they will be enough, I think.”

“And the Prince?” Sansa wondered out loud.

“Clegane is with him; my sister prefers Lannister swords to the Kingsguard, any day.” Jaime watched her feed Lady a piece of bacon under the table with disapproval. “Must you feed your dog at the table?”

Sansa raised an eyebrow, defiant. “She’s not a dog; she’s a direwolf.”

“Wherever did you find them?” Jaime asked, breaking off a piece of bread between slim, strong fingers.

“A stag felled their mother in the Wolfswood outside Winterfell; my brothers found the pups, one for each of us.”

“All of you?” Jaime’s eyes glinted. “Including your bastard brother?”

“Yes,” Sansa hoped her voice didn’t betray her sudden anger at the way he had spoken of Jon – like he was worth less for being born on the wrong side of the sheets. “Six pups.”

“Tell me,” Jaime began, and Sansa looked up from her plate, curiously. “Would you not prefer to break your fast with your sister and your Septa?”

Sansa blinked at him (she wondered if he thought her simple). “I thought it wise for us to spend time together.”

Honestly, she had not wanted to. But she went to bed with the man every night and it seemed prudent, at least in the long term, to at least abide by each other. She did not want a cold marriage (she did not want any sort of marriage, least of all with Jaime Lannister), and it did not seem as if the marriage would simply fade away for lack of her consent, so she had decided to resign herself to her fate. With all the world thinking her wedded and bedded, she could hardly run away (and the only one with whom she would have run away was currently turning to ice at the Wall).

Keeping him company seemed the least objectionable way to endure him.

Jaime raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe my companionship is something to covet.”

Sansa’s lip curled. “Why would I lie?”

Jaime narrowed his eyes, as if he wanted to take her up on her impertinence, but he kept silent. “I hear my sister has asked you and your sister to ride with her in the wheelhouse.”

“It is a great honour to ride with the queen,” Sansa agreed, lightly. “And my sister is eager to speak with her betrothed.”

Actually, Arya had said no such thing to her. In fact, when she had brought up the topic of Prince Joffrey to her younger sister, Arya had simply scoffed and said that Jon had told that Joffrey looks a girl. Sansa had, of course, inwardly agreed (the Prince had none of his father’s bulk or his uncle’s thew, tall but lean-made and the image of his mother’s constant disdain on his sharp face didn’t endear him to her at all), although her courtesies had quickly subdued that thought – Joffrey was her prince and nephew by law, and her future goodbrother – he was owed her respect in all things.

For a moment, she felt a spark of anger towards Jon. It was easy for him – to raise disobedience in Arya, but at the end of the day, she would marry the Prince, just as she had married Jaime Lannister. Defiance would do her sister no favours.

But Arya was only a girl of nine and her reluctance to marry the Prince could be forgiven – at least they would only marry after Arya had flowered and she still had some years for that.

“Yes, I imagine my sister intended for it to be a great honour,” Jaime murmured.

Sansa cocked her head, sensing something akin to scorn in his words. “My lord?”

“Jaime,” he corrected, sharply. “I told you to call me Jaime.”

“Very well, Jaime,” Sansa smoothed down her skirts. “If it would not displease you, I would like to see if my sister is ready. With your leave.”

Jaime waved her away and helped himself to more bread and honey, as Sansa slid from the bench, Lady following her dutifully as she left the inn.

Outside, she took a deep breath and watched as the King’s men pulled down the tents and pavilions and loaded the wagons for their journey. The Crossroads Inn had only managed to keep a third of the King’s party, once her father’s household and the freeriders who had joined them on the road had converged with them. It didn’t take her long before she found Arya, on the banks of the Trident, clutching onto Nymeria desperately as she swept the dried mud that was clinging to her dark grey fur, with Septa Mordane nowhere to be round. Arya hadn’t even changed out of the riding leathers she had worn the day before and the day before that.

“You should wear something pretty,” Sansa told her. “We’ll be travelling in the queen’s wheelhouse with Princess Myrcella and Prince Tommen today.”

“I’m not,” Arya replied, dismissively, raking her small fingers through the tangles in Nymeria’s fur. “Mycah and I are going to ride upstream and look for rubies at the ford.”

“Rubies?” Sansa blinked. “What are you talking about? What rubies?”

Arya looked at her like she always did – as if Sansa were a lackwit. “Rhaegar’s rubies. This is where King Robert killed him and won the crown.”

Sansa grimaced. “Why would you want to look for Rhaegar’s rubies?” she said, disgusted. “And you can’t go on your little quest anyway; the queen invited us. She wants to be introduced to the girl who will marry her son one day.”

Arya scowled as she always did at the mere mention of the prince. “I don’t care,” she sniffed. “The wheelhouse doesn’t even have windows; you can’t see a thing.”

Sansa’s shoulders slumped. “What could you want to see?” she asked, annoyed. “All there is are fields and farms and holdfasts.”

“It is not,” Arya retorted. “If you came with us sometimes, you’d see.”

Sansa’s face twisted. “I’d rather sit in the wheelhouse.”

Arya shrugged. “When we were crossing the Neck, I counted thirty-six flowers I never saw before, and Mycah showed me a lizard-lion.”

They’re going to eat her alive, Sansa thought, miserably, eyeing her dirt-strewn dress, tangled hair (clearly Septa Mordane had not had much luck with Arya as she would have had with her) and red welts on her hands. It made Sansa frown in concern.

“Arya, are you hurt?” she asked, worriedly.

Arya furrowed her brow, looking down at her hands and then back at Sansa. Her eyes flickered and she turned her head.

“Never you mind,” she said, dismissively.

“Arya!” Sansa admonished. “What if the queen were to see those?”

“She’s not going to,” Arya said, impatiently. “Because I’m not going in the wheelhouse.” Nymeria wriggled in her grasp and Arya scowled. “Stop that, I have to do the other side, you’re all muddy.”

“What will I tell the queen?” Sansa crossed her arms over her chest.

“Tell her what you’d like.”

Sansa glared at her. “Must you be so childish.”

Arya returned her dark look. “Must you be so prissy.”

Sansa reared up, offended. “I am not prissy.”

“You are prissy,” Arya mocked.

Sansa shook her head. “You have to come with me,” she said, sternly. “You can’t refuse the queen, and Septa Mordane will expect you.”

Arya ignored her, giving a hard yank with the brush and Nymeria rounded on her, offended, and toddled off, Arya giving the direwolf a chase of her own.

Sansa gentled her voice, hoping that her benevolence would manage to convince Arya – Jon had asked her to be kind to her, after all.

“There’s going to be lemon cakes and tea,” Sansa said, persuasively. “Why would you want to ride a smelly old horse and get all sore and sweaty when you could recline on feather pillows and eat cakes with the queen?”

“I don’t like the queen,” Arya said, casually.

Sansa breathed in, sharply – not out of offense on Queen Cersei’s part, but that Arya would say it so bluntly and so openly with so many strangers lurking about – who knew who could be listening in? And what if someone were to tell the Queen?

“She won’t even let me bring Nymeria,” Arya continued, hooking the brush onto her belt and stalked after her wolf.

Honestly, Sansa hadn’t quite liked that condition either, somehow feeling safer around the lions if she had her wolf nearby, but the Queen was the Queen and she could do as she liked – it didn’t seem as though her husband would intercede on her behalf.

But if Arya had her support, she’d be even more wild than she already was.

“A royal wheelhouse is no place for a wolf,” Sansa said, crossing her arms over her chest. “And Princess Myrcella is afraid of them, you know that.”

“Myrcella is a little baby,” Arya scoffed, grabbing Nymeria around the neck, solidifying her hold. But the moment her attention was diverted by the brush, the direwolf pulled free and bounded off. Frustrated, Arya tossed aside the brush. “Bad wolf!” she shouted.

Sansa couldn’t help but smile at that. Arya’s wolf was wild just like she was; as Lady was gentle as Sansa was. Sensing her thoughts, Lady obediently nudged her nose into her leg, and Sansa knelt down, hugging her around the neck. Lady licked her cheek and Sansa laughed, softly.

“I don’t care what you say, I’m going out riding,” Arya said, stubbornly, the glint in her eyes telling Sansa that she would do what she willed, even if Sansa had a fit.

I did as you asked, Jon, Sansa thought, defensively. It is hardly my fault if she is still determined to have her own way.

“Gods be true, Arya, sometimes you act like such a child,” Sansa said, exasperated. “I’ll go by myself then. I shall endeavour to explain to the queen that her son’s future wife had much better things to do than ride in the wheelhouse with her and her children, and it will be ever so much nicer that way.”

Sansa spun on her feet and strode back to the inn, Lady padding quietly by her side. She had tried; no one could say she hadn’t tried. Jon couldn’t say she hadn’t tried. Arya’s wilfulness and stubbornness and disobedience – they were no reflection on her efforts. If only Arya could see that Sansa was only trying to help her, help them. If Arya refused the Queen’s request to sit with her in the wheelhouse, she would see it as an insult, not just by Arya, by their father and by her. Did Arya forget that the Lannisters could now use her as the noose to hang their house whenever they refused to come to heel?

It wasn’t as if she had a friend in her new family – her husband was hardly someone to rely on; he spent more time with the Queen and her children than he did with her (not that she wanted his company – the mere sight of his golden hair made dread curdle in her stomach) – but if she became their prey, who but him could save her now?

The knight she would have chosen to champion her was no knight in truth and would soon be a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch.

He could never come for her, even if she prayed for him.

As she neared the centre of the camp, she hid her distress, curiosity seizing her as she spotted a crowd gathered around the queen’s wheelhouse. The doors were thrown open and the queen stood at the top of the steps.

“The council does us great honour, my good lords.”

Sansa stopped an approaching squire, one of her father’s men. “What’s happening?”

“The council sent riders from King’s Landing to escort us the rest of the way,” he told her. “An honour guard for the king.”

Intrigued, Sansa let Lady usher her way through the crowd, people scurrying out of the way to avoid Lady, especially when she bared her sharp teeth (Lady wasn’t all sweetness – just as Sansa wasn’t), at which Sansa hid her amusement. When she approached the front line, she saw two men kneeling before the queen. The first was attired in the same silver-enamelled armour that her husband had stripped off upon marrying her – he was an old man with pale hair, once he had removed his helm, but strong-built. The man beside him was much younger, barely half a dozen years older than she was, but handsome with jet-black hair and a clean-shaven face, an antlered helm cradled in one arm.

There was a third stranger standing close by to the two kneeling men. He was pale and grimly-faced, gaunt as if he were sick, but not old by any means. He wore only chainmail, simple in its design, over boiled leathers, and a two-handed greatsword slung over his back.

“The king is gone hunting, but I know he will be pleased to see you when he returns.” She heard Cersei say to the two kneeling knights, but Sansa could scarcely take her eyes off the third stranger standing beside the horses.

As if sensing her scrutiny and he turned his head, fixing her with such a pale, unfathomable gaze, that Lady growled, her claws digging into the dirt beneath their feet. Sansa felt her heart seize in her throat, a sudden terror making her hands want to shake. She took a step backward and strong hands grasped her by the shoulders. She turned, half-thinking it was her father, when she was faced with the burned visage of Sandor Clegane who looked down at her with such mockery that it made her flush.

Absentmindedly, she mused that he had not been one of the Lannister men that had seized her for the bedding at Winterfell.

“You are shaking, girl,” he growled. “Do I frighten you so much?”

Sansa swallowed hard, unwilling to reveal a fragment of fear (she was a Stark of Winterfell, for Gods’ sake) and stumbled back, the Hound laughing and Lady slipping in between them, ever faithful and ever shielding, her teeth bared in a snarl. Sansa knelt beside Lady and stroked a hand across the wolf’s furred flank, soothing her. She avoided the gaze of all those who had gathered around, watching her in a moment of wavering.

“A wolf.”

“Seven hells, that’s a direwolf.”

“What’s it doing in camp?”

“The Starks use them for wet nurses,” the Hound replied at that, brutally.

Sansa wanted to scowl and say we also use them as guards, would you like to see how quickly she rips off what’s left of your face?

It was then that Sansa realised that the two kneeler knights were looking down on her and Lady, swords in their hands (as if Lady was their enemy). Sansa tensed, and tears filled her eyes, despite her revulsion.

A strong hand wrapped around her forearm and she looked up to meet the blank gaze of her husband, who pulled her from the ground gently.

“What’s going on here?” he asked, sternly, looking down at her.

“It’s nothing, my lord,” Sansa replied, quickly. “I was just… startled, and Lady sensed my fear. That’s all,” she said, meekly.

Jaime’s eyes narrowed at the drawn swords in the knights’ hands. “I do hope you don’t mean to strike my wife, or her little pet,” he drawled, but there was a threat laced in his words (as if he cared about her to such a length). “And Clegane, perhaps you should leave; you’re scaring my wife.”

Sansa bit back a grimace as she always did when someone uttered the word wife in her midst.

The Hound, loyal to House Lannister above all else and now owing most loyalty towards the newly-restored heir to Casterly Rock, slinked away quietly through the crowd.

“It wasn’t him,” Sansa told Jaime in a hushed voice. “It was… the other one.” She tried her hardest not to look at the third stranger.

The two stranger knights exchanged a look.

“Payne?” the young man chuckled.

“Ofttimes Ser Ilyn frightens me as well, sweet lady,” the older knight told Sansa, gently. “He has a fearsome aspect.”

“As well he should.” Cersei descended from the wheelhouse and moved gracefully towards them, green eyes glinting, joined by her eldest son. “If the wicked do not fear the King’s Justice, you have put the wrong man in the office.”

Sansa took a deep breath. “Then surely you have chosen the right one, Your Grace,” she said, blithely, and everyone laughed around her, everyone but for Jaime.

“Well spoken, child,” the old knight said, approvingly. “As befits the daughter of Eddard Stark. I am honoured to know you, however irregular the manner of our meeting. I am Ser Barristan Selmy, of the Kingsguard.” He bowed.

Sansa’s eyes widened. “The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard,” she said, almost awed. She thought of Bran then, with a pang of hurt deep in her chest. He would’ve loved to be here. “And councillor to Robert our king and to Aerys Targaryen before him. The honour is mine, good knight. Even in the far north, the singers praise the deeds of Barristan the Bold.” She said, shyly.

The young man laughed again, richly. “Barristan the Old, you mean. Don’t flatter him too sweetly, child, he thinks overmuch of himself already.” He smiled at her. “Now, wolf girl, if you can put a name to me as well, then I must concede that you are truly our Hand’s daughter.”

Sansa flushed down to her neck.

Jaime’s jaw tightened beside her. “Watch yourself,” he said, lowly.

“I can answer,” Sansa said, quickly, not wanting a brawl to erupt then and there in front of the inn, even if she hardly thought Ser Jaime cared for her honour so greatly that he would come to blows over it). She smiled at the young knight. “Your helmet bears golden antlers, my lord. The stag is the sigil of the royal House. King Robert has two brothers. By your extreme youth, you can only be Renly Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End and councillor to the king, and so I name you.”

Ser Barristan chuckled. “By his extreme youth, he can only be a prancing jackanapes, and so I name him.”

Lord Renly himself led the laughter than ensued, and suddenly all the tension vanished. Sansa let herself breathe easy until Ser Ilyn was standing in front of her, unsmiling and speechless. Lady growled once more, menacingly, but Sansa stroked a hand over her head and the wolf quietened, reluctantly.

“I am sorry if I offended you, Ser Ilyn,” Sansa replied, cordially.

He gave her no reply, his pale, colourless eyes leaving her naked to the soul before him. Without a word, he turned and walk away.

Sansa furrowed her brow. She turned to Jaime. “Did I offend him?”

“Ser Ilyn has not been feeling talkative these past fourteen years,” Lord Renly commented, slyly.

“The Mad King had his tongue ripped out,” Jaime replied, coldly.

“He speaks most eloquently with his sword, however,” Cersei said, dryly. “And his devotion to our realm is unquestioned.” She smiled at Sansa, daintily. “Sansa, the good councillors and I must speak together until the king returns with your father. I fear we shall have to postpone your day with Myrcella. Please give your sweet sister my apologies. Joffrey, perhaps you would be so kind as to entertain your new aunt and your betrothed today.”

“It would be my pleasure, Mother,” Joffrey said, formally.

Jaime gave his sister a raised eyebrow. “And if I prefer my wife to remain with me, sister?”

Cersei merely stared at him, although something sharpened in her face, almost like a warning. “I fear I will need your assistance as well, dear brother. Your new bride will just have to do without you today.” She looked at Sansa, boldly. “Surely you do not object, Sansa.”

“Of course not, Your Grace,” Sansa replied, politely. “I will be glad to spend the day with the Prince and my sister.”

Cersei smiled down at her, as if they really were sisters. Joffrey took her by the arm and led her away from the wheelhouse.

“Your sister, is she still in the inn?” Joffrey asked her, curiously.

Sansa bit her lip. “I imagine she is still breaking her fast, Your Grace.”

Joffrey nodded. “Well, as we wait for her, what would you like to do?”

Sansa blinked. “Whatever you’d like to do, my prince.”

Joffrey looked thoughtful. “We could go riding.”

Sansa inclined her head. “As you will.”

Joffrey glanced back at Lady, who followed her mistress faithfully. “Your wolf is liable to frighten the horses, and my dog seems to frighten you. Let us leave them both behind and set off on our own, what do you say?”

Sansa wondered if it were all that proper to make off with her sister’s betrothed (even if she found him truly ill-suited for her, no matter how much she may have dreamed of princes as a girl yet flowered – notwithstanding how much she yearned for Jon, she could never forget that look of disdain on the prince’s otherwise pretty face when he had first ridden through the gates of Winterfell), but distracting Joffrey seemed the best means to hide her sister’s indiscretions from him.

“If you like,” Sansa said, hesitantly. “I suppose I could tie Lady up.” She paused. “I didn’t know you had a dog…”

Joffrey laughed. “He’s my mother’s dog, in truth. She has set him to guard me, and so he does.”

Sansa’s eyes dawned with realisation and she cursed herself for being so slow. “You mean the Hound.” She paused. “Is it safe to leave him behind?”

Joffrey frowned, offended. “Have no fear, lady. I am almost a man grown, and I don’t fight with wood like your brothers. All I need is this.” He drew a gleaming sword and showed it to her. Joffrey looked down at it, smugly. “I call it Lion’s Tooth,” he said.

Sansa wanted to say that she thought Robb and Jon could easily knock him into the dirt, even if Joffrey stood taller than both of them, despite being younger than her, Robb and Jon by two years, but she kept her mouth shut.

She was surprised when he led her east, along the north bank of the Trident, away from the camp.

“The battleground is right up ahead, where the river bends,” Joffrey was saying, Sansa only paying half-attention. “That was where my father killed Rhaegar Targaryen, you know. He smashed in his chest, crunch, right through the armour.” Joffrey swung an imaginary warhammer, mimicking his father’s movement. “Then Uncle Jaime killed old Aerys, and my father was king.” He frowned, suddenly. “What’s that sound?”

Sansa heard the sound of wood clattering, coming through the nest of trees.

“I don’t know, Your Grace,” she said, nervously. “Perhaps we should return to the camp.”

“I want to see what it is,” Joffrey said, stubbornly, and he turned his horse in the direction of the sounds.

Sansa could do nothing but follow. The noises grew louder and more distinct as they approached, and there was even the sound of panting amidst the clack of wood on wood.

“I think there’s someone there,” Sansa said, cautiously.

“You’re safe with me.”

The twelve-year-old boy drew his Lion’s Tooth from his sheath (a sword he could not have used scarce for one or two name days).

Gods, she wished she had insisted on bringing Lady along.

“This way.”

They rode through the trees until they came upon a clearing, overlooking the river. A boy and a girl were by the bank, swinging wooden sticks at each other as if they were knights in the yard. When the girl lunged for him, her stick outstretched, the boy caught it with his own and swept it aside, the wood coming down hard on her fingers. The girl cried out, eyes brimming with tears, and dropped her stick.

Joffrey laughed at that (as if the sight of pain gave him joy). The boy looked around, startled by the noise, and dropped his own stick in the grass. The girl glared at them, mouthing at the sting in her knuckles, and Sansa bit back a groan.

“Arya,” she sighed, shaking her head.

“Go away!” Arya snarled at her with angry tears. “What are you doing here? Leave us alone.”

Sansa eyed the Prince then, worriedly, and watched his face contort with fury for a moment before it smoothed into the pleasant mask he had been wearing throughout their journey.

Joffrey looked at Sansa. “Your sister?” His brow furrowed. “I thought you said she was still breaking her fast.” The way he phrased his words, it almost sounded like a threat.

Sansa exhaled. “I must have been mistaken. I beg your forgiveness, Your Grace,” she said, quietly, ducking her head.

Joffrey waved her apology off and turned to the boy who had been mock-sparring with Arya, an ungainly lad with a coarse, freckled face and thick red hair.

“And who are you, boy?” he demanded.

“Mycah,” The boy muttered, clearly recognising the prince and averting his eyes promptly. “M’lord.”

“He’s the butcher’s boy.” Sansa shook her head.

Sansa had nothing against the boy, personally, but Gods, couldn’t Arya see how bad this looked?

“He’s my friend,” Arya said, sharply. “You leave him alone.”

“A butcher’s boy who wants to be a knight, is it?” Joffrey slipped from his horse, Lion’s Tooth in his hand. “Pick up your sword, butcher’s boy,” he ordered, amused. “Let us see how good you are.”

Mycah stood there, brittle and still with fear, but Joffrey continued, clearly enjoying the torment he was inflicting.

“Go on, pick it up. Or do you only fight little girls?” Joffrey cocked his head.

“She asked me too, m’lord,” Mycah pleaded. “She asked me to.”

Sansa closed her eyes, reading the truth of the boy’s words on her sister’s face. But this did not make Joffrey waver at all – wine from his skin had made him bold and careless.

This would not end well.

“Are you going to pick up your sword?” The low threat in the prince’s words made his question seem less like a question and more of a command.

Mycah shook his head, desperately. “It’s only a stick, m’lord. It’s not no sword, it’s only a stick,” he pleaded.

“And you’re only a butcher’s boy, and no knight.” Joffrey lifted his sword and placed the edge of the blade against Mycah’s cheek, just below the eye, the boy unable to move from fear. “That was my lady you were hitting; do you know that?” The skin split after he pressed forward and a bright, crimson bead of blood blossomed on his skin, a line trickling down the boy’s cheek.

Somehow, Sansa didn’t think Joffrey was so concerned about the assault on his betrothed’s person as he was at teaching this butcher’s boy that a prince could always do as he liked.

“Stop it!” Arya screamed, seizing her fallen stick.

“Arya, stay out of this,” Sansa snapped, almost begging though, suddenly afraid for her sister – what if Joffrey’s anger turned on her?

“I won’t hurt him … much,” Joffrey drawled, his green eyes fixed on the butcher’s boy.

But Arya took that as a challenge and lunged.

Sansa slid off her own mare, intending to seize Arya before she could leap at the prince, but Arya was quicker than she was and she swung with both hands. The wood cane that she had been using cracked against the back of Joffrey’s skull and Sansa screamed. Joffrey staggered from the blow, stumbling away. But he rounded on Arya quick enough and began roaring at her, saying such terrible, terrible words to her little sister that a part of Sansa wanted to reach for the stick the butcher boy had abandoned and hit him just like Arya had. The butcher boy, to his credit, ran for the tree line as soon as Joffrey’s attention had diverted.

But Arya didn’t stop with a single blow; she swung her stick again, but Joffrey’s Lion Tooth met it instead of some supple, bruisable body part and shattered it into splinters. There was blood smeared across the prince’s golden-blood curls and his green eyes were bright with vengeance.

“No, no, stop it, stop it, that’s enough!” Sansa screamed, unsure of how to intervene.

Arya, hands shaking with the force of her anger, scrambled for a rock and threw it in the direction of Joffrey’s head, but she missed and it hit his horse instead. Joffrey slashed at Arya with his blade and Sansa went cold with fright. The fear was bright on Arya’s face now as she stumbled back, tripping on her own feet until she was scuttling away on her hands, his blade at her throat as he called her all sorts of names, names that no one should ever say near a girl of nine like Arya was.

Sansa found something akin to courage and anger inside her and she leapt forwards, pulling Arya up bodily against her and sliding in between the blade and her little sister, as Joffrey swung it madly at the two of them. Sansa took a deep breath, waiting for the sword to cut into her skin and pain, but a grey blur flashed past her, and Nymeria was there, leaping, sharp yellow teeth digging into Joffrey’s sword arm.

The sword fell from the prince’s hand abruptly as Nymeria threw him to the ground, the wolf and the boy rolling around in the grass as Nymeria snapped her jaws at him, Joffrey clutching his arm and screaming in pain.

“Get it off,” he screamed. “Get it off!”

“Nymeria!” Arya snapped.

The direwolf released Joffrey and moved over to Arya’s side, leaving the prince lying on the grass and holding his bloody arm, his doublet stained red.

Arya cocked her head, pulling herself from Sansa’s hold forcefully, and approached the fallen prince.

“She didn’t hurt you… much,” she taunted, picking up Lion’s Tooth where it had fallen, stopping when she had just about reached Joffrey’s feet, so that she was looming over him, with whatever meagre height she had.

Joffrey hitched in a thin breath, his voice choked as he tried to hide the tears in his eyes (from fright or from pain – either way, Sansa didn’t pity him all that much).

“No,” he warned, miserably. “If you hurt me, I’ll tell my mother.”

Sansa bit back a wince, thinking of the savage wrath the queen would wreak upon them now, upon hearing what had happened. She wondered if it would have been better for her to stay out of the fray, but the second she had seen Joffrey brandishing that edge blade at her little sister (no matter how annoying and stubborn she was), it was as if all reason had abandoned her and all she could hear was take care of her, Sansa and keep an eye out for her.

“Arya, that’s enough,” Sansa called out, warningly.

Arya spun on her feet and threw the sword as hard as he could, the blade falling into the river and sinking right to the bottom. Joffrey moaned, rolling around in the grass, still clutching his arm, as the green beneath him turned a wet red. Arya ran off into the woods, sparing not a second glance at her sister, Nymeria nipping at her heels.

Sansa twisted her fingers together and approached Prince Joffrey then, his eyes shut, jaw clenched from pain and his breathing ragged. She knelt beside him.

“My prince?” she called out, hesitantly. “I’ll ride to the holdfast and bring help for you.”

Joffrey, upon hearing her voice, opened his eyes and looked at her with such loathing in his gaze that she feared for her fate and Arya’s, as well.

But had there been any other choice she could’ve made – a choice that she could have lived with?

“Then go,” he hissed. “And don’t touch me.

Jaime stood in the doorway to their rooms, his green eyes flickering over her sternly.

“It seems your day was particularly eventful,” he drawled.

Sansa wrung her hands together. “I can explain,” she began, cautiously, standing up from where she had been sitting on the windowsill.

Jaime held up a hand to stop her. “Unfortunately, we don’t have time for that. The King has requested your presence in the hall.”

Sansa bit her lip. “Why?”

“My sister is quite incensed by the blow dealt to Joffrey. She wants to know what happened. My nephew and your sister are already there, but you’re the only other person that was present when it all happened. Your testimony is required.”

“And the Queen sent you to fetch me?” Sansa asked, bitterly.

Am I doomed to no friends here?

“It was either me, or Lannister guards, little wife,” Jaime said, pointedly. “Be grateful it was me.”

He held out his arm which she took, her nails digging into his doublet. She looked up at him, finding his face absolutely impassive, which both annoyed and troubled her.

“Should I be worried?” she asked, almost afraid of his answer.

“Yes,” Jaime said, grimly. “Cersei will never suffer an affront against her eldest son, and your sister shamed him well. You should not have interfered.”

“She’s my sister, and he was attacking her!” Sansa said, hotly.

Jaime stopped them, abruptly, rounding on her. “For Gods’ sake, don’t say that in front of the them.”

“But it’s the truth!” Sansa protested.

“You think the truth matters here?” Jaime asked, incredulously, looking down at her like she was some stupid little girl, completely out of her depth (she supposed that she was). “Cersei won’t hear anything against her child, and by interfering, you’ve turned her anger on you as well. But, alas, you are family now, so she won’t demand anything too severe, lest she earn my father’s anger.” His mouth twisted, wryly. “Your sister, on the other hand… well, let’s see if your father is up to the task of saving her.”

Soon, they entered the hall and Sansa saw that her father was already there, his hands on Arya’s shoulders as she just finished telling the part where she threw Joffrey’s sword into the Trident, to which Renly Baratheon promptly laughed.

The king turned a mottled red. “Ser Barristan, escort my brother from the hall before he chokes.”

Lord Renly bit back his chuckles. “My brother is too kind. I can find the door myself.” He bowed to Joffrey. “Perchance later you’ll tell me how a nine-year-old girl the size of a wet rat managed to disarm you with a broom handle and throw your sword in the river.”

Prince Joffrey’s face was pale (either from the shame of it all, or perhaps the blood loss from the wound on his arm had weakened him after all) when he began his completely different version of events, where the butcher’s boy had apparently held him down while Arya had set Nymeria upon him and stolen his sword, only to throw it into the river.

Sansa observed, curiously, that his account of what had happened did not feature her at all, if only to say that she was the one that had sought him help once Arya had run off into the woods.

She supposed there was some privilege in being a Lannister after all.

Once the prince was finished speaking, the king rose heavily from his seat, looking as if the entire world rested on his shoulders.

“What in all the seven hells am I supposed to make of this? He says one thing, she says another,” he said, wearily.

“They were not the only ones present,” Sansa’s father said. “Sansa, come here.” He beckoned her. “Tell us what happened.”

Sansa, for whatever reason, looked at Jaime then, who nodded at her, and she stepped forward hesitantly. She smoothed down the bodice of her dress and looked at both her sister and the prince.

Cersei won’t hear anything against her child, he had said.

They would win no justice here, no matter what evidence she gave.

The king clearly saw her hesitation and he spoke up. “Now, child... Tell me what happened. Tell it all and tell it true. It's a great crime to lie to a King,” he said, lowly.

“I fear I don’t remember, Your Grace,” she said, haltingly. “Everything happened so fast, I didn’t see…”

“Liar!” Arya screamed and lunged for her, digging her dirty hands into Sansa’s hair and pulling until Sansa feared she would tear her hair from her scalp by the clump. “Liar, liar, liar, liar.”

“Arya, stop it!” her father shouted and Jory pulled Arya off her, but Sansa was still shaking when she came to, her hands pale as she looked down as the sting faded from her roots of her hair.

Her father touched her arm, looking at worriedly (and perhaps, there was even disapproval there).

“Are you hurt?” he asked her, but Sansa couldn’t take her eyes off Arya.

I’m trying to help you, you absolute lackwit, Sansa wanted to scream at her, but she couldn’t bring herself to voice the words.

“The girl is as wild as that filthy animal of hers,” Cersei declared. She turned to Robert, fiercely. “I want her punished.” She growled.

“Seven hells.” Robert shook his head. “Cersei, look at her. She’s a child. What would you have me do, whip her through the streets? Damn it, children fight. It’s over. No lasting harm was done.”

Cersei bristled with rage. “Joff will carry those scars for the rest of his life,” she hissed, offended.

Robert looked at his eldest son, scornfully. “So he will. Perhaps they will teach him a lesson.” He turned to Sansa’s father. “Ned, see that your daughter is disciplined. I will do the same with my son.”

Sansa could see the relief on her father’s face and her shoulders slumped, the knot in her belly loosening.

Perhaps she had overreacted after all.

“Gladly, Your Grace,” Ned replied, inclining his head.

Robert started to walk out of the hall, but Cersei had no intention of losing so easily.

“And what of the direwolf?” she called out. “What of the beast that savaged your son?”

The king stopped and closed his eyes. “I’d forgotten about the damned wolf,” he said, wearily.

Arya tensed in Jory’s arms, who spoke up quickly.

“We found no trace of the direwolf, Your Grace.”

There was something tantamount to relief in the king’s eyes. “No? So be it.”

Cersei narrowed her eyes. “A hundred golden dragons to the man who brings me its skin!” she told the audience that had gathered.

“A costly pelt.” Robert grimaced. “I want no part of this, woman. You can damn well buy your furs with Lannister gold.”

Cersei’s lip curled. “I had not thought you so niggardly. The king I’d thought to wed would have laid a wolfskin across my bed before the sun went down,” she sneered.

Robert turned red with anger. “That would be a fine trick, without a wolf,” he said, pointedly.

“We have a wolf.” Cersei smiled.

The meaning of her words hit Sansa like a blow to the stomach and she rounded on her father – no, no, no, Father wouldn’t let them do this, Father wouldn’t let them take Lady from me, Father will say something now, he has to.

The King’s lip curled. “As you will. Have Ser Ilyn see to it.”

“Robert, you cannot mean this,” Sansa’s father protested.

The tightness in her ribs loosened somewhat.

She knew it. She knew her father wouldn’t let them hurt Lady. He knew it wasn’t Lady’s fault. It was all Arya and Nymeria.

The king shook his head. “Enough, Ned, I will hear no more,” he said, sternly. “A direwolf is a savage beast. Sooner or later it would have turned on your girl the same way the other did on my son. Get her a dog, she’ll be happier for it.”

Sansa choked, and she gripped her father’s arm, desperately. “No, not Lady,” she cried out, tugging at his wrist.

No, not Lady. Please, not Lady. I was just trying to help Arya. Jon wanted me to help Arya. It wasn’t my fault. Please, please, not Lady.

Upon seeing nothing but resignation in her father, she rounded on the queen and her son, both smug in their victory. “Lady didn’t bite anyone. She’s good!” she snapped, all wringing-wet.

“Lady wasn’t there!” Arya chimed in, angrily. “You leave her alone!”

Panicking, Sansa turned back to her father. “Stop them,” she begged, unashamed of the tears on her cheeks. “Don’t let them do it, please, please.”

Overwrought from the resignation in her father’s eyes, in a desperate effort, she released Ned’s arm and met Jaime’s eyes, who had stuck close to her but had remained silent.

“Please, my lord, please, tell them, it wasn’t Lady, it was Nymeria, Arya did it, you can’t, it wasn’t Lady, don’t let them hurt Lady, I’ll make her be good, I promise, I promise…”

If she could’ve seen through the tears that blurred her vision, she would’ve seen Jaime’s façade crack for an instant before it smoothened into that empty, pretty face, and she hated him for it. She hated all of them – her father, Arya, Cersei, Joffrey, Robert, Jaime – they were going to kill Lady, all for something her poor, sweet wolf hadn’t even done.

She wrapped her arms around herself, shrugging off her father’s touch as he attempted to take her into his arms. Ned looked at her, helplessly, before turning to the king, who was already across the room.

“Please, Robert. For the love you bear me. For the love you bore my sister. Please.”

At least he’s trying to save her, it was the reasonable thought that Sansa unfortunately had difficulty accepting.

The king looked at them for quite some time, clearly wanting to help his dearest friend, but his eyes then went to Cersei and her expectant look, his face twisting with loathing.

“Damn you, Cersei,” he swore.

Ned’s face hardened like ice. “Do it yourself then, Robert,” he said, coldly. “At least have the courage to do it yourself.”

Robert looked at Ned, emptily, and left the hall, and nothing but the sound of his leaden footsteps could be heard.

“Where is the direwolf?” Cersei asked once her husband had left her be, her son smiling smugly beside her.

“The beast is chained up outside the gatehouse, Your Grace,” Ser Barristan Selmy replied.

Sansa thought he seemed very reluctant to give the answer, but it was a dull comfort.

“Send for Ilyn Payne,” Cersei ordered.

“No,” Sansa’s father interjected, sharply. “Jory, take the girls back to their rooms and bring me Ice. If it must be done, I will do it.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed. “You, Stark? Is this some trick? Why would you do such a thing?”

Ned avoided Sansa’s gaze as best he could.

“She is of the north. She deserves better than a butcher.”

He left the room then, leaving Sansa standing there, friendless, her arms protecting her middle as if she feared someone would strike if they saw as laid bare as she felt on the inside.

That night, after Jory had led her back to the chambers she shared with Jaime, Sansa waited for her father to come to her, to tell her that he had only agreed to kill Lady for Cersei Lannister’s sake, to tell her that he hadn’t done it.

But no one came to her.

Apparently, she was easy to abandon.

She wondered if her father was with Arya now – that would make sense; after all, Arya had suffered a loss as well; the butcher’s boy had been ridden down by the Hound.

Jon would have come, Sansa thought, dully. I know he would have.

The door creaked open and she looked up, hopefully, only for her face to wilt when she saw her husband standing in the doorway.

He looked at her, just sitting there on the windowsill, corpse-like, for a moment before stepping over the threshold and closing the door behind her. He said nothing to her as he strode over to the table, pouring himself wine, which he drank amply. Upon finishing his glass, he slumped into one of the chairs, fiddling with the gilded stem.

“Do you even care?” Sansa asked, suddenly. “Do you even care that my wolf is dead?”

She knew she was being defiant and wilful and stubborn and everything she had earlier cursed Arya for being (she rubbed clean that thought from her head – she didn’t want to think of Arya now), but she wanted to know – she wanted to know if behind that mocking smile and handsome, insipid face, there was an actual, palpable person.

“No,” Jaime said, heavily. “No, I don’t. And if you know what’s good for you, you wouldn’t either.”

The anger she felt at his apathy made her teeth rattle. “She was my wolf!”

“Yes, and now she is dead,” Jaime returned, evenly. “Cersei would not have seen it end in any other way.”

Sansa gritted her teeth. “But why?”

Jaime didn’t answer her question. “I’ll get you a dog, if you’d like,” he offered, awkwardly.

When she looked at him then, her eyes bloodshot and damp and her skin as pale as the snow they had left behind in Winterfell (Gods, she missed Winterfell then – she was safe in Winterfell, Lady had been safe in Winterfell), she wondered if he could see her insides on the outside, how broken and mangled they had left her.

He looked away, of course, cowardly enough that he wasn’t able to endure what his sister and nephew had done to her today (she imagined this, at least). She wondered if it all would’ve ended differently if she had told the truth, if she had told the King, to his face, that his eldest son was a savage, degenerate, monstrous milksop who attacked a nine-year-old child with a steel blade, but cried when the child turned the tables on him. But, then again, Jaime had said Cersei would not have seen it end any other way. She imagined it would’ve ended the same.

Joffrey still would have lied, and Cersei still would have demanded another wolf for Nymeria and her father still would have yielded and Lady still would have died.

Sansa still would have lost.

But that didn’t salvage whatever the lot of them (the King, the Queen, Joffrey, Jaime, Arya and even her father, her own father – just when she thought his betrayal of her couldn’t wound her more) had hollowed out inside her.

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 9: Jon V

The day that Jon Snow met Samwell Tarly was not an auspicious day for either of them.

Firstly, when the boy waddled into the yard, clothed in furs, still shivering as if he’d never been, Jon couldn’t believe someone so large actually existed and for one, made it through the long and arduous journey to the Wall from whatever warm keep he must have come from.

Secondly, the boy wasted his entire first morning in order to be fit into leathers that had to be specially made for him, considering his size.

Thirdly, Jon found himself on the other end of three swords, because Ser Alliser had formed a grudge and the boy had been screaming in pain as Halder struck him with the flat of his sword over and over again, even after he had yielded.

Sansa would’ve said he had a kind heart, but it had nothing to do with kindness.

There was no honour in beating a man already felled.

Jon thumbed the crow charm at his neck, steadfastly ignoring Ser Alliser’s jeers about his lady love and flung himself forwards, beating Halder back, all the while avoiding the blows of the other two Ser Alliser had charged with taking him down to get to the new recruit. While he was successful in his task of battering Halder, he did manage to get clobbered in the head by another stray sword. Finally, she managed to unbalance Halder and he knocked Halder’s leg out from underneath him, who hit the ground with a curse and a crash.

When Jon turned, Grenn was facing Albett fiercely, but Pyp was struggling against Rast, who was older and larger than him. Jon sidled behind Rast and knocked him hard, once, on his helm. When Rast swayed, Pyp knocked him down quickly, and Jon moved to help Grenn. Seeing two swords levied against him, Albett backed off and yielded.

When Jon rounded on Ser Alliser, the man looked so displeased by the turn of events that he simply scoffed with disgust and walked away.

Halder managed to clamber to his feet with Dareon’s help. “For an instant, I thought I finally had you, Snow,” he grumbled.

Jon snorted. “For a moment, so did I.” When he attempted to remove his helm, his shoulder ached so fiercely that Jon had to grit his teeth before he would shout.

That was when the new recruit came up to him, gently asking him if he could remove his helm for him.

“Did he hurt you?” the recruit asked, worriedly.

“Just a bruise,” Jon replied, awkwardly, touching his shoulder and wincing.

There was blood in the boy’s hair from where Halder had struck him on the helm.

“My name is Samwell Tarly, of Horn …” Samwell stopped in his tracks, licking his lips in nervousness. “I mean, I was of Horn Hill, until I … left. I’ve come to take the black. My father is Lord Randyll, a bannerman to the Tyrells of Highgarden. I used to be his heir, only …” he trailed off abruptly.

“I’m Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard, of Winterfell,” Jon offered, mildly.

Samwell nodded. “I … if you want, you can call me Sam. My mother calls me Sam.”

Jon nodded. “These two are Grenn and Pypar.”

Samwell fidgeted. “My thanks to you all.”

“Why didn’t you get up and fight?” Grenn demanded.

“I wanted to, truly. I just … I couldn’t. I didn’t want him to hit me anymore.” Samwell looked down at the ground, as if he could escape. “I … I fear I’m a coward. My lord father always said so.”

“The wall’s no place for cowards,” Jon said, pointedly.

Rapers and cowards, joy, he thought, morosely. And I thought I would find honour here.

“I know, I know,” Samwell said, quickly. “I’m-I’m sorry. I don’t mean to … to be like I am.”

With that, he waddled off in the direction of the armoury.

“We shouldn’t have helped him,” Grenn urged. “They may think us craven too.”

Pyp snorted. “You’re too stupid to be craven.”

 “I am not,” Grenn argued.

“Yes, you are,” Pyp teased. “If a bear attacked you in the woods, you’d be too stupid to run away.”

Grenn lunged for Pyp, who dodged out of the way and ran off laughing. Grenn scowled and followed him, leaving Jon to his own thoughts, standing in the middle of the emptying yard, staring after Samwell Tarly.

That night, Jon found himself huddled against ramparts on the Wall, as a small fire blazed beside him.

“Hello,” Samwell called out and Jon turned. “Ser Alliser said I'm to be your new watch partner. I should warn you, I don't see all that well,” he said, lightly.

Jon frowned. “Come stand by the fire. It’s warmer,” he said, gently.

Samwell shook his head. “No, that’s all right. I’m fine.”

Jon raised an eyebrow. “You're not. You're freezing,” he said, pointedly.

“I don’t like high places,” Samwell explained.

Jon wanted to shake him by the shoulders.

“You can't fight. You can't see. You're afraid of heights and almost everything else probably. What are you doing here, Sam?” he asked, in disbelief.

Samwell looked away and Jon wondered if it were a trick of the fire that his skin was a shade paler than just moments before.

“On the morning of my eighteenth nameday, my father came to me. You're almost a man now, he said, but you're not worthy of my land and title. Tomorrow, you're going to take the black, forsake all claim to your inheritance and start north. If you do not, he said, then we'll have a hunt and somewhere in these woods your horse will stumble, and you'll be thrown from your saddle to die. Or so I'll tell your mother. Nothing would please me more.”

Jon floundered, unsure of how to proceed. Nothing he had ever experienced, be it with his father or Lady Stark, could compare with Sam’s ordeal. While Lady Stark had often been cold or merely dismissive as to his existence, she had never attempted to murder him, though perhaps that was out of fear of what her husband would do should he learn of her sin. Whether it had simply never occurred to her, or she had recognised that it would not end well for her should something befall him, Jon could at least be grateful he was still alive today to be standing at the Wall, even if he still harboured some resentment as to his fate.

Thankfully, Sam continued himself, sparing Jon the trouble of finding the words to react appropriately to his story.

“Ser Alliser's going to make me fight again tomorrow, isn't he?” Sam asked, dully.

“Yes, he is,” Jon said, solemnly.

Sam groaned in frustration. “I'm not going to get any better, you know?” he said, sharply.

Jon grimaced. “Well… You can't get any worse.”

Sam’s solemn face cracked, and he started laughing, either in an attempt to avoid his fear or in genuine amusement. But somehow, his laughter was contagious, and Jon found himself chuckling helplessly, holding onto the wooden strut behind him for support when it threatened to bring him down.

The next day, Jon and Sam were in the common hall, wiping down each of the tables as punishment for Jon’s defence of Sam the day before.

“I know for a fact that some of the officers go to that brothel in Mole's Town,” Sam declared, shaking his head.

Jon shrugged. “I wouldn't doubt it.”

“Don't you think it's a little bit unfair? Making us take our vows while they sneak off for a little sally on the side?” Sam said, pointedly.

Jon’s lips twitched. He had never heard a whore being called such. “Sally on the side?” he teased.

“It's silly, isn't it? What, we can't defend the Wall unless we're celibate? It's absurd,” Sam said, adamantly.

“I didn't think you'd be so upset about it,” Jon said, absentmindedly.

Sam reared up, offended by the assumption. “Why not?” He demanded. “Because I'm fat? But I like girls just as much as you do. They might not like me as much. I've never... been with one. You've probably had hundreds,” he said, morosely, with only a touch of jealousy.

“As a matter of fact, not much more than you,” Jon offered, awkwardly.

“What? None?” Sam scoffed. “I find that hard to believe.”

“Just one,” Jon corrected.

“Was she a whore?” Sam asked, curiously.

Jon flinched at the allegation. “No,” he said, sharply. “She wasn’t a whore. She was just a… girl,” he finished, grimacing.

It felt wrong to put Sansa in the same breath as any other girl, as if she were so easily replaced or forgotten, but he could hardly tell Sam, no matter how much he liked the other boy, that he had bedded his virgin, trueborn half-sister.

Whether it be south or north of the Trident, incest was a sin that none would stomach.

“Was she your lover, then?”

Jon swallowed hard. “Yes, yes, she was.”

“What did she look like?” Sam wondered out loud.

“Beautiful.” Jon smiled to himself. “She was beautiful. Young and sweet and kind.”

“What colour hair?” Sam asked, excitedly.

“Red,” Jon recalled, remembering how soft Sansa’s hair was when he threaded his fingers through it, combing out the tangles for her.

“You miss her, don’t you?” Sam asked, solemnly.

“Aye,” Jon replied, matching his tone. “I do.”

Every minute of every day, I do. I wish I wasn’t here. I wish I was with her.

“Then why did you come here? Why didn’t you stay with her?”

Because she’s no longer mine. Because she’s married. Because she’s in King’s Landing. Because she’s my sister. Because I’m a bastard.

The reasons were endless.

“What’s my name?” Jon asked, suddenly.

“Jon Snow?” Sam said, uneasily, as if he were unsure if he were making a mistake.

“And why is my surname Snow?” Jon pushed.

“Because…” Sam hesitated. “You're a bastard from the north,” he finished, proudly, as if praising himself for remembering the fact.

“I never met my mother,” Jon confessed. “My father wouldn't even tell me her name. Not even when I told him I was joining the Nights’ Watch. I don't know if she's living or dead. I don't know if she's a noblewoman or a fisherman's wife... Or a whore.” While he liked to think she had been a lady of a great house, he knew the latter was also just as likely. “My girl…” He hesitated; he had never referred to Sansa as his before, not out loud, just in his head. “She’s trueborn. Beautiful, fierce, kind. She’s married now. And I couldn’t-wouldn’t ruin that for her, not even for the love I bear her. She could do much better. All I would give her… are more bastards named Snow.”

And a life of shame. A life of everyone knowing that she had bedded her bastard half-brother. A life of runaways and hardship and dishonour.

Not for Sansa. Sansa deserved all the good things in the world. She deserved wealth and beauty and honour and pride and dignity. She would never have that with him.

Of course, had she been standing here, she would be shouting (and she could truly make his ears ring sometimes) that he deserved all those goods things as well, and even if she had to endure those terrible things, she would endure it with him. But he could never let her make that decision.

It was his sacrifice to make.

Perhaps one day, she would even forget what he meant to her and what she meant to him. Perhaps she would only look on him as her sullen half-brother that she had cared for very much, instead of someone she needed as she needed air to breathe.

He could live with that, he supposed. In twenty years, he would live with her in his head and heart and know that he loved her as dearly as he had the day he left, and it would have to be enough.

“It's not a good life for a child,” Jon finished, looking back down at the table and scrubbing hard enough that his wrist began to ache.

“So, you did know where to put it?” Sam teased.

Jon couldn’t help but cracking a smile and threw his sponge at Sam, lunging for him and grabbing him around the neck. Brothers, Uncle Benjen had called the brothers of the Nights’ Watch. Jon could now see why he had said so. They were so caught up in their little scuffle that Ser Alliser’s voice brought them back to their surroundings.

“Enjoying yourselves?” he said, coldly.

Jon and Sam immediately fell back into standing positions, their heads downcast.

“You look cold, boys.”

“It is a bit nippy,” Sam offered.

“A bit nippy,” Ser Alliser scoffed. “Yes, by the fire, indoors. It's still summer.” He narrowed his eyes. “Do you boys even remember the last winter? How long has it been now? What, ten years?” Jon and Sam couldn’t answer. “I remember.” His beady eyes turned to Jon, who looked on steadily. “Was it uncomfortable at Winterfell?” He mocked. “Were there days when you just couldn't get warm, never mind how many fires your servants built?”

Jon couldn’t help himself. In his head, Sansa called him a lackwit, but it did nothing to dull his temper.

“I build my own fires,” he shot back.

“That's admirable,” Ser Alliser replied, but Jon was certain he meant quite the opposite. “I spent six months out there, beyond the Wall during the last winter. It was supposed to be a two-week mission. We heard a rumour Mance Rayder was planning to attack Eastwatch. So, we went out to look for some of his men... Capture them, gather some knowledge. The Wildlings who fight for Mance Rayder are hard men. Harder than you'll ever be.” He eyed the two boys with distaste. “They know their country better than we do. They knew there was a storm coming in. So, they hid in their caves and waited for it to pass. And we got caught in the open. Wind so strong it yanked hundred-foot trees straight from the ground, roots and all. If you took your gloves off to find your cock to have a piss, you lost a finger to the frost. And all in darkness. You don't know cold. Neither of you do.” He hissed. “The horses died first. We didn't have enough to feed them, to keep them warm. Eating the horses was easy. But later when we started to fall... That wasn't easy.”

Ser Alliser smiled. It was a sickly, unpleasant smile that had Jon’s stomach curdling.

“We should have had a couple of boys like you along, shouldn't we?” he said, gently. “Soft, fat boys like you. We'd have lasted a fortnight on you and still had bones leftover for soup. Soon we'll have new recruits and you lot will be passed along to the Lord Commander for assignment and they will call you men of the Night's Watch, but you'd be fools to believe it. You're boys still. And come the winter you will die... Like flies.” He growled.

The day finally came for the new recruits to take their vows. All of them were standing in the small Sept, while Septon Celladar swung an incense burner, filling the air with grey smoke that blew everywhere. For a brief moment, Jon was taken back to the day that Sansa married Jaime Lannister, in that small Sept of Lady Stark’s in Winterfell. The smoke had burned his eyes to tears that day as well.

The elders of the Nights’ Watch arrived in a large crowd.

Lord Commander Mormont stood in front of the altar at the front of the Sept, solemn as always, his face grimmer than usual.

“You came to us outlaws,” he intoned. “Poachers, rapers, debtors, killers, and thieves. You came to us children. You came to us alone, in chains, with neither friends nor honour. You came to us rich, and you came to us poor. Some of you bear the names of proud houses. Others have only bastards’ names, or no names at all. It makes no matter. All that is past now. On the Wall, we are all one house.”

Jon took a deep breath.

No longer a Snow. No longer a Stark.

Just a brother of the Nights’ Watch.

“At evenfall, as the sun sets, and we face the gathering night, you shall take your vows. From that moment, you will be a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch. Your crimes will be washed away, your debts forgiven. So too you must wash away your former loyalties, put aside your grudges, forget old wrongs and old loves alike. Here you begin anew.”

Jon felt his mouth go dry and hoped his face didn’t betray his reluctance. Forgetting Sansa was a fool’s paradise to him. He still dreamed of her every night. He still remembered what her hair felt like, her skin, her mouth, her hands, her breasts, her cunt. He remembered what it felt like to be inside her, as if the world itself were coming together before him. He remembered what how she sounded, how she smiled, how she walked, how she danced.

It was a drumming in his head that refused to fade, and he had no interest in seeing it fade.

“A man of the Night’s Watch lives his life for the realm. Not for a king, nor a lord, nor the honour of this house or that house, neither for gold nor glory nor a woman’s love, but for the realm, and all the people in it. A man of the Night’s Watch takes no wife and fathers no sons. Our wife is duty. Our mistress is honour. And you are the only sons we shall ever know.”

I’m sorry, Sansa, Jon closed his eyes.

“You have learned the words of the vow. Think carefully before you say them, for once you have taken the black, there is no turning back. The penalty for desertion is death,” Mormont paused. “Are there any among you who wish to leave our company? If so, go now, and no one shall think the less of you.”

Jon was careful not to seem too curious, but he did look out for any such man.

No one moved.

“Well and good,” Mormont said. “You may take your vows here at evenfall, before Septon Celladar and the first of your order. Do any of you keep to the Old Gods?”

Jon slid to his feet. “I do, my lord,” he declared.

Mormont nodded, as if he had been waiting for him. “I expect you will want to say your words before a heart tree, as your uncle did.”

“Yes, my lord,” Jon agreed.

The gods of the Sept, the Seven, they were Lady Stark’s gods, they were Sansa’s gods, but not his. Only the Old Gods spoke to him, and a vow in the Sept would mean nothing to him.

“There’s no Godswood here, is there?” Grenn whispered behind him.

Jon had wondered that himself, as he hadn’t seen one as they had come through the gates of Castle Black.

“Castle Black has no need of a Godswood. Beyond the Wall, the haunted forest stands as it stood in the Dawn Age, long before the Andals brought the Seven across the narrow sea. You will find a grove of weirwoods half a league from this spot, and mayhap your gods as well.”

“My lord,” Jon looked back to see Sam standing as well. “Might I… might I go as well? To say my words at this heart tree?”

Mormont frowned in confusion. “Does House Tarly keep the Old Gods too?”

“No, my lord,” Sam shook his head, his voice stuttering just the slightest. “I was named in the light of the Seven at the Sept on Horn Hill, as my father was, and his father, and all the Tarlys for a thousand years.”

“Then why take your vows before the Old Gods?” one of the other elders asked him.

Sam shrugged. “The Seven have never answered my prayers. Perhaps the Old Gods will.”

Mormont’s mouth thinned, and he nodded. “As you wish, boy.” Both Jon and Sam sat back down. “We have placed each of you in an order, as befits our need and your own strengths and skills.” He was handed a paper by Bowen Marsh and began to read.

Jon allowed his mind to wander until he heard his own name called. Both Grenn and Pyp were sent to the rangers, while Sam was made a steward, as he had already assumed, but he straightened when he heard Lord Commander Mormont call his name.

“Jon, to the stewards.”

He recoiled when hearing those words. The stewards? He wanted to rise and shout and declare that the Lord Commander had a made a mistake, but out of the corner of his eyes, he caught Ser Alliser’s eyes fixed on his and he knew this had been done on purpose.

He saw red, and it took everything in him not to lunge for Ser Alliser.

Fortune never seemed to come to him.

The Old Bear eyed them as he rolled up the paper. “Your firsts will instruct you in your duties. May all the gods preserve you, brothers.” Mormont bowed and left, and Ser Alliser went with him, a triumphant smile on his face.

Ser Jaremy Rykker, the first Ranger while Uncle Benjen was away, called his rangers to him, and Grenn and Pyp left with him, the latter favouring Jon with a sad look.

Builders were called to Othell Yarwyck, and Jon reluctantly looked at Bowen Marsh, the Lord Steward, who rubbed his hands together.

“Samwell, you will assist Maester Aemon in the rookery and library. Chett is going to the kennels, to help with the hounds. You shall have his cell, so as to be close to the maester night and day. I trust you will take good care of him. He is very old and very precious to us.”

Sam nodded, and flushed with pleasure. It was clearly a task he had been looking forward to.

“Dareon, I am told that you sang at many a high lord’s table and shared their meat and mead. We are sending you to Eastwatch. It may be your palate will be some help to Cotter Pyke when merchant galleys come trading. We are paying too dear for salt beef and pickled fish, and the quality of the olive oil we’re getting has been frightful. Present yourself to Boreas when you arrive, he will keep you busy between ships.”

Marsh turned his smile on Jon, who had remained thin-lipped and stern through it all. Just because he had to suffer through this in silence didn’t mean he had to endure it with a smile.

“Lord Commander Mormont has requested you for his personal steward, Jon. You’ll sleep in a cell beneath his chambers, in the Lord Commander’s tower.”

Jon gritted his teeth. Somewhere in his head, he knew this was an honour, not an insult. He knew he should be grateful. But all he had dreamed of, since he had first acknowledged his future as a brother of the Nights’ Watch, since Sansa’s future had become one that he couldn’t share, was becoming a ranger, just like his uncle.

“And what will my duties be?” Jon snapped. “Will I serve the Lord Commander’s meals, help him fasten his clothes, fetch hot water for his bath?”

“Certainly,” Marsh returned, blankly. “And you will run his messages, keep a fire burning in his chambers, change his sheets and blankets daily, and do all else that the Lord Commander might require of you.”

“Am I a servant now?” Jon hissed.

“No,” Maester Aemon said, smoothly, from where he was sitting at the back of the sept. He was helped to his hand by a steward. “We took you for a man of Night’s Watch … but perhaps we were wrong in that.”

Jon reared up in offence and resisted the urge to storm out of the sept, just to spite the lot of them. Instead, he gritted his teeth and faced Marsh head on.

“May I go?” he asked, coldly.

“As you wish,” Marsh replied, blithely.

Dareon and Sam joined him as they descended into the yard. The melting ice on the Wall glinted in the sunlight and Jon felt as though the heat of his rage could render it to water in an instant.

“Jon,” Sam began, hesitantly, and his hand twitched at his side, as if he wanted to reach out to comfort him (Jon was slightly glad that he chose not to, should his anger turn on him next). “Don’t you see what they’re doing?”

Jon rounded on him. “I see that Ser Alliser wanted to shame me, and he has,” he said, sharply.

Dareon narrowed his eyes. “The stewards lot are beneath Lord Snow, Sam,” he scoffed.

Jon scowled. “I am better with a sword and horse than any of you,” he snapped. “It is not arrogance to think I am better suited to the rangers than Grenn or Pyp. It is the truth.”

“Truth?” Dareon retorted. “Truth was the girl waiting for me, bare as the day she came into this world; she pulled me through the window, and you talk to me of truth?” He turned on his feet and stormed away.

Jon couldn’t bring himself to appease him.

“There is no shame in being a steward,” Sam said, gently.

Jon scoffed. “Easy for you to say. You would not have been anything else.” If Sam was hurt by Jon’s words, he didn’t show it. “Am I to spend the rest of days washing an old man’s smallclothes,” he asked in disdain.

“That old man is the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch,” Sam said, pointedly. “Who asked for you himself. You’ll be with him day and night. Yes, you’ll pour his wine and see that his bed linen is fresh, but you’ll also take his letters, attend him at meetings, squire for him in battle. You’ll be as close to him as his shadow. You’ll know everything, be a part of everything… don’t you understand what that means?”

“What?” Jon demanded.

“He wants to groom you for command!” Sam’s voice fell to a lower register. “My father did the same for Dickon, my younger brother, when he was grooming him to be his heir.”

Jon stood there, stunned silent. His father had often done the same for Robb, asked him to join him during his councils, so that he would know what to do when his own time came as Lord of Winterfell. Could this be the same?

“I didn’t want this,” Jon said, slowly.

And he hadn’t. Yes, a bastard could rise high in this world. But he hadn’t wanted this. What had he wanted?

To be away from Sansa was the first thought that occurred to mind.

Not because he hated her, of course, but because it was the only way he could live with himself without sinking into despair.

“None of us asked either,” Sam pushed, gently.

Jon looked down. Sam’s words were neither said in anger or designed to hurt, but they made him feel low nonetheless.

“You are right,” Jon sighed. “I am but a boy.”

“Then you’ll stay and say your words with me?” Sam asked, hesitantly, as if he feared Jon would leave him alone at Castle Black.

I have nowhere else to go was the sad realisation that he never wanted to voice. He may have been welcomed at Winterfell by Robb and Bran and Rickon and Ser Rodrick and Maester Lewin, but Lady Stark’s hatred of him would have followed him like the Stranger’s shadow until he walked out of those gates.

“The Old Gods will be expecting us,” he said instead. “We should not disappoint them.

Late that afternoon, they set out beyond the Wall, through a hatch in the ice at the base of the Wall. It was dark, the only light that could be seen was from the other end of the tunnel, white as bright as ice.

Jon forced his eyes to adjust to the light once they emerged on the other side.

“The wildlings … they wouldn’t … they’d never dare come this close to the Wall. Would they?” Sam asked, haltingly, his stutter betraying his fear.

“They never have,” Jon offered, climbing onto his saddle. Once Marsh and the other ranger had mounted their horses as well, Jon whistled sharply, and Ghost came loping out of the tunnel, his white pelt melding with the snow.

Marsh made a face as his horse recoiled away from the wolf. “Do you mean to take that beast?”

He’s not a beast, Jon wanted to argue, but wisely kept his mouth shut.

“Yes, my lord,” he replied, dutifully.

Ghost ran off into the trees, sensing something beyond what Jon could hope to understand.

Once they entered the Haunted Forest, Jon curled in on himself. It was arcane and beautiful and vicious; they had edged beyond the whatever the limits of their world, and Jon wasn’t sure if he found it agreeable or not.

They finally approached a small clearing with nine weirwoods in a rough circle. Jon hitched in a breath. He had never seen a Godswood with more than one or two of the carved trees. When he turned back, Sam was watching each of the weirwoods with something akin to awe and fear.

“The Old Gods are watching us,” he murmured.

“Yes,” Jon agreed and knelt down in the snow, in the middle of the nine.

“Hear my words, and bear witness to my vow,” the two boys began. “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honour to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

When Jon looked up at the stern face carved into the white wood, he thought of the day that Robert Baratheon had come to Winterfell, and he and Sansa had met afterwards in the Godswood. He had kissed her as if she were not his sister and theirs was no sin, and now he knelt before the same Gods he had shamed himself before and swore that nothing but the realm would matter to him until the day he died.

It was a lie. He knew it deep in his bones that he could swear a thousand more oaths just like this one, from today until his last day, and they would always be lies.

Forgive me, Sansa, he thought.

In this moment, more than any other moment that came before, he wished he had taken Sansa and the two of them had ridden as far from Winterfell as they could have. He wished they had a thousand different lives other than the ones the Old Gods had cursed them with. He wished they had been allowed to marry and have babes and grow old with each other, instead of Sansa trapped in a marriage with a man more than twice her age that she would never come to love, hundreds of leagues away, and him, bound to the Night’s Watch and swearing away everything that should have belonged to him and Sansa. 

The woods felt silent, as their oaths finished, and Jon just knelt there, wondering if the Old Gods would strike him down, then and there. They must know he was lying in his heart, how could they not? Oh, he imagined he would give his life for the Night’s Watch and his new brothers (who weren’t Robb or Bran or Rickon, as many decades as he may live here at Castle Black), if it was needed, but Sansa had his heart and mind and sword. He had pledged himself to her, first and foremost, even if he had been a green boy. It mattered not to him; it was a vow and there was honour in keeping vows.

To kneel here, before the Old Gods, and promise anything of his to anyone but Sansa, it was a lie. It was a greater sin than any other he had ever committed.

“You knelt as boys,” Bowen Marsh intoned, solemnly. “Rise now as men of the Night’s Watch.”

Jon held out a hand to pull Sam to his feet when his girth proved an obstacle. They were greeted by the smiles and embraces and congratulations of the other rangers, their new brothers, and while Jon knew this would never be his home like Winterfell had been, even with Lady Stark’s grim shadow hanging over his head, there was brotherhood here that he held in high regard.

“Best we be starting back, m’lord,” the old forester, Dywen, told Marsh, grimly. “Dark’s falling, and there’s something in the smell o’ the night that I mislike.”

Suddenly, Ghost emerged from the trees, his white fur a stark contrast against the dark green of the leafage. His red eyes watched the humans, as if assessing them as possible threats. His teeth were bared in a mockery of a smile, with something black and gnarled between them.

“What’s he got there?” Marsh asked, frowning.

“To me, Ghost,” Jon ordered, crouching down in the snow.

Ghost loped over to him, inclining his head as his snout brushed Jon’s knees and dropped the thing between his teeth unceremoniously to the ground. Jon heard Sam’s breath catch.

“Gods be good,” Dywen muttered. “That’s a hand.”

Chapter Text

half blade, half silk

Chapter 10: Sansa V

Sansa split away from her family as they neared the Red Keep, climbing up Aegon’s Hill, as the towering bronze doors to the castle loomed in front of them. For a moment, she marvelled at the image of what had taken so many years and so many Targaryen kings to raise to the sky, wondering how the Old Gods and the Seven had landed her here from Winterfell, no less striking but incongruous in its own right. But before she could linger on her awe for long, the exhaustion hit her and she slumped in her saddle, her head hanging, as her muscles throbbed, desperately wanting the luxury of a long, hot soak to wash away the smell of horse and sweat from her skin, followed soon by the comfort of a featherbed to sink into.

“Your father, his men, and your sister will be residing in the Tower of the Hand,” Jaime told her, his voice straggling over the edge of grim. “Our chambers are elsewhere. I suggest you make your goodbyes now.”

Sansa pressed a hand against the swooping sensation in her stomach. She swallowed past the knot in her throat and mustered up a shaky nod for her golden-haired husband.

“Shall I join you in our chambers, then, my lord?” she asked, tentatively.

Jaime’s face twisted. “No need. I shall escort you. I would not want your father thinking that I was anything but a gracious husband to you,” he said, dryly.

Sansa wanted to snort, a very unladylike gesture that she barely managed to stifle – that was an understatement.

“My father would never call into question your adequacies as a husband, my lord,” she said, her voice hushed.

She knew she was lying; her father hated, absolutely hated, her husband, which made her marriage so much harder to stomach, because why would her father bind her to a man he couldn’t stand?

Unless he considered her not so worthy to pay much attention to.

stomach rolled.

Ser Jaime raised an eyebrow. “I have underestimated you, my lady.”

Sansa blinked, her eyes wide and big as the moon itself. “My lord?”

“I would never have thought that the daughter of the great, honourable Eddard Stark to be such a good liar,” he explained, eyes fixing on her, sharp as one of her sewing needles.

Sansa recoiled from the insult. “My lord,” she said, her tone edging towards bite.

Jaime grinned, full of teeth. “I fear I have offended you, little wife. Forgive me,” he said, smoothly, his handsome face curved into an expression of satisfaction.

Sansa bristled and held herself taut. “I shall go and make my goodbyes to my father and sister,” she said, sternly.

Jaime inclined his head – she took it to be a mocking gesture. “As you wish, wife.”

Wife, she couldn’t think of a word she hated more now.

She found Jory first, before she could find a glimpse of her father or Arya anywhere (in all honesty, she wasn’t in any rush to find either of them, after everything that had happened on the Kingsroad – she was the type to persist in her bitterness – but this was nothing more a show of courtesy and a convenient jab towards her husband).

“Hello, Jory,” she called out.

Jory met her eyes and gave her a soft, sweet smile. “Lady Sansa.” He bowed a little.

“Where is my father?” she asked, curiously.

“They are preparing to enter the Tower of the Hand, my lady,” Jory replied, promptly. He paused. “How are you, my lady?” he asked, kindly.

Sansa had the sudden urge to unspool her head in front of Jory, Jory, whom she’d known since she was old enough to know anything, but how could she? She was Sansa Lannister, now, as much as she hated it, and she could not be weak.

She was a wolf of the North, and wolves are never weak.

She smoothed down the folds of her dress. “I am well, Jory,” she said, letting her voice slip to a curt register. “Now, my father and sister?” she urged.

Jory’s face went dark and closed off when he realised that she was not prepared to answer (she doubted he thought of her kindly). “You will find them at the entrance to the Tower of the Hand, my lady,” he deadpanned.

“Very well.”

Sansa sauntered off, in search of her father and sister, her arms braced against her stomach. She found them arguing in front of their horses, near the towering doors of the Hand’s spire. Her father caught her eye when he found whatever Arya was saying too exasperating to continue.

“Sansa!” he exclaimed, reaching for her.

She kept her distance – he killed Lady, yet he had nothing, not a single word, to say to her; apparently, he had much to say to Arya, and Sansa felt stupid for expecting her father would have given her more than that.

She curtsied politely.

“Father,” she said, keeping her voice soft. “Arya.”

Arya narrowed her eyes, clearly having not forgiven her for not happened on the Kingsroad, even if it was Arya’s fault, in truth.

I tried, Jon, she thought, bitterly, and it lost me my wolf, so, I thank you.

Ned’s smile dimmed. “Sansa?” he questioned.

“My chambers are elsewhere,” she told him. Her face twisted. “I am a married woman, after all.”

Ned scowled, his eyes clouding with worry. “Sansa, you need not do anything you are uncomfortable with,” he said, gently.

Sansa cocked her head. “Why do you believe I am uncomfortable, father? ‘Tis my duty to be a good wife to my husband,” she reminded him.

Ned muttered something under his breath, and she wagered it was something unfavourable to do with Jaime Lannister. Of course, it begged the question why he thought the man an appropriate husband for Sansa if he disliked him so, but Sansa bit her tongue.

“I just…” Ned sighed and for a moment, she saw his age, felt pity for him, but it faded when she remembered what could have been done to her on her wedding night (if Jaime had been crueller and if she had been more of a maid than she was). He shook his head. “Sansa, you will always have a home with me. Do not think you must shut yourself away with the Lannisters. You will always be a Stark first, love.”

Sansa gave him a phantom of a smile. “I thank you for your kind words, father,” she said, sweetly.

I am a Stark of Winterfell, and I will not allow you or Mother or the Lannisters or that fat, old King take that from me. You have already taken too much.

She curtsied once more. “I beg your leave. My husband is waiting.”

She turned to leave, when her father caught her once more.


She turned, slowly. “Yes, father?”

Ned’s eyes bored into her. “Is he good to you, Sansa?” he asked, his voice low and halting.

No, because he is not Jon. He can never be Jon, so he will only ever be a bitter disappointment to me, she wanted to say, but it could never leave her body.

“My husband is very kind to me, father,” she said instead.

Ned swallowed compulsively and believed her immediately (she found it laughable her father thought her so honourable that she was above lies – if he knew what she did in the dark with his bastard son, her own brother, he’d only find a stranger in her).

“If you are certain,” Ned said, gently.

No, I am not, but you have never been interested in my objections.

The king’s steward approached them, informing her father that Grand Maester Pycelle had convened an urgent meeting of the small council, and her father’s presence was requested as soon as it was convenient.

Her father reacted in frustration, his voice threading with something dark, before he changed his mind.

“I will see them. Pray give me a few moments to change into something more presentable,” he told the steward, tersely.

The steward nodded, backing away from them, and Ned turned his attention back to Sansa.

“Will you stay here a while longer, love?” he asked, hopefully.

The way Arya’s face twisted in displeasure told her that, in her father’s absence, her presence would not be very welcome. Sansa would snort if she didn’t feel so cold on the inside and instead, shook her head.

“I fear my husband will linger on my absence if I am away for much too long,” she replied, sedately.

Ned grimaced. “I very much doubt that Jaime Lannister is so attached to his young bride,” he said, bitterly.

Then, why in seven hells, did you agree for me to marry the man? Sansa wanted to demand, but remembers her courtesies, keeping silent.

“You would be surprised, father.”

“Sansa, I-” Ned’s eyes drifted to the side and whatever approached him seized his attention. “I apologise, Sansa. It seems the council has urgent need of me.  But, perhaps, we will see you later.”

Sansa swallowed hard. It would be so easy to agree, to come to the tower that night and eat with her father and sister as she had a thousand times over, but every action of hers was in her husband’s hands, and only the Gods knew what he wanted from her that day.

She knew a man’s kindness could only go so far, and she wasn’t tempted to lay her wager on Jaime Lannister’s respect for her privacy.

“I will… try my best to join you, father,” she hedged. “But I will, of course, have to see if Ser Jaime will give me leave.”

Ned grit his teeth at the idea of Sansa having to ask her husband for anything, but nonetheless remained silent, because as much as this was her bed and her lot in life, it was her father’s as well, when he had given her away to these people.

He has no one to blame but himself, Sansa thought, bitterly.

“Very well, Sansa,” Ned said, heavily. “I hope you will join us.”

Sansa inclined her head and curtsied low, head dipping. When she came up, she mustered up a little smile for her father, as tired and old he looked to her in this moment, and even the kindest look she could manage for her sister, before slinking away, back to her husband, who waited dutifully, if not happily, for her, on top of his horse.

“Are you done?” he asked, thinly, cocking an eyebrow at her.

She nodded.

For a moment, she wondered if he pitied her, for having to leave her family so absolutely, for having to become a Lannister so soon, but it all smoothened out and she was left with his handsome face, devoid of anything kind.

“Come, then. I will show you to our chambers.”

Their chambers were quite nice, even if Sansa wished she were anywhere else but here. The carpets, the drapes, the tapestries hung on the walls, all spoke of vain, Lannister pride, though, richly furnished in red and gold and with many a lion painted all over the place.

Sansa’s stomach churned.

This would be her home until the king saw fit to let them leave for Casterly Rock, and she imagined the chambers awaiting her there would hardly be better than this.

“I hope you like your new home,” Jaime said, his voice dry.

Sansa turned to him, the skirts of her dress swishing about her ankles. “I am glad for anything provided to me, my lord.”

“Jaime,” he corrected, immediately.

Sansa grit her teeth. “Jaime, if that is what you wish,” she agreed, inclining her head.

Jaime eyed her, carefully. “Tell me, little wife, do you show anything but courtesy, or are you just the perfect lady?” he asked, almost mockingly, like he finds her amusing and somehow lacking.

Sansa’s hackles rose. “On occasion, I show anger,” she retorted, coldly.

His smile was fleeting but obvious, genuine in its lie. “Clearly,” he exhaled.

Sansa held herself close, her hands splayed on her waist, forearms crossing over one another. “What am I to do…” she swallowed hard, biting her lip raw.

Now. What am I to do now?

Jaime’s brow furrowed. “Whatever you please, little wife. You are a lady of a great house now.”

Sansa narrowed her eyes. “I was always a lady of a great house,” she reminded him, thinly.

Jaime gave her a smug, knowing smile. “You were, yes, but it’s quite different being the daughter of the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, and being the future Lady of the Rock,” he told her, arrogantly.

Why? Because you somehow think I am lacking as a lady of the North? Father was right; the Lannisters think themselves quite big, indeed.

Sansa stared at him through her eyelashes. “I am sure,” she replied, politely. She cleared her throat and looked away. “Will you go and guard the king now?”

Jaime sighed and sank heavily into a chair. “Alas, my days as a Kingsguard are over,” he said, almost resentfully.

She wondered if he hated leaving the Kingsguard, would hate leaving Kings Landing, as much as she hated marrying him, hated leaving Winterfell and the North.

She didn’t much care for whatever venom he feels – it would never compare to what she has lost.

“I have been told there will be a tourney,” Jaime said, suddenly, his gaze needle-sharp. “To commemorate the King’s appointment of your father as Hand of the King.”

Sansa made a face. “Whatever for?” she asked.

Her father absolutely hated tourneys; he found them an unnecessary expense and a useless frivolity – she doubted he’d be pleased when he heard of the King’s plans. She, on the other hand, had once dreamed of being witness to a true Southern tourney, in the capital no less, but those dreams had turned sour the day she turned her back and let Jaime Lannister cloak her in Lannister red, while Jon was forced to watch her given away to another – all of her dreams of a great Southern life, as a lady of court, seemed so damnably stupid in comparison now.

Jaime directed a smile at his own lap, toothy and all threat. “The King is a great enthusiast of a tourney; he uses any and all excuses for one, if only for a good, prodigious feast that he can gorge himself on, a number of serving girls to paw at and the sight of men trying to kill each other. If his blood is up, he is so very happy. And my father, of course, will indulge him.”

Sansa frowned. “I fear I do not understand.”

Jaime leaned forward. “You should know, for this will be our debt one day, dear wife, but the Crown owes around three million gold pieces in debt to Casterly Rock,” he said, conspiratorially.

Sansa recoiled, her stomach rolling. “You jape, surely, husband.”

Jaime huffed, amused. “On my honour, I do not,” he murmured, holding a hand to his heart.

What honour? Sansa would snort if she were a different woman, a stupider woman, perhaps.

“But, but, how?” she licked her lips.

Jaime shrugged and his armour clinked. “The King is not one to listen to miserly counsel,” he mused. “He loves tournaments and feasts, and loathes the words that he cannot fund them. And my father is ever available for a loan, one that will inevitably need to be paid back, of course. It was six million gold pieces, you know.”

Sansa startled. “Six million?” she exclaimed, aghast.

Jaime’s mouth twisted in amusement at her reaction. “My father waived some of the debt, three million to be exact, in exchange for Robert dismissing me from the Kingsguard and offering House Lannister your hand in marriage.”

Her stomach twisted, but she believed she hid her disgust well – she was truly sold, then, and for three million gold pieces, quite a price.

“So, you see, dear wife, you are a most expensive bride,” he drawled.

Sansa grimaced.

“But not so expensive so as to do away with all the debt, which my father will demand in full, of course.”

Sansa’s brow furrowed. “But surely, Lord Tywin would not expect his own goodson to pay back three million gold pieces?” she asked, incredulously.

Jaime gave her a beautiful, lazy grin. “I await the day you meet my lord father, wife; I fear everything you believe about the world will fall apart at your feet.” He uncurled his long fingers, poised on his thigh. “Goodson or trueborn son, my father will have his debt paid. Even when the King dies and my nephew sits the Iron Throne, my father will have his debt paid.”

“Even from his own grandson?”

Sansa couldn’t imagine such a thing occurring in her own family; her father was not so calculative, so callous so as to insist upon such an outrageous payment; his honour would not allow it.

“Even from his own grandson,” Jaime exhaled. He narrowed his eyes. “Does that surprise you, wife?” he asked, curiously.

Sansa didn’t dare to do something so uncouth as shrug, instead fixing him with a bland smile. “I suppose I will have to become accustomed to my new family, husband,” she returned, plainly.

Jaime’s lip curled. “Yes, I suppose you will.”

“Tell me, Jaime, will you ride in the tourney?” Sansa asked, curiously, settling in a pile of skirts on an armchair situated opposite to the one Ser Jaime is currently ensconced in.

“Yes, I believe so.” Jaime’s face twisted. “These lads become too high-handed if they are not cowed every now and then.”

“And I imagine you will be the one cowing them,” Sansa said, airily, watching him with playful indignation.

Well, perhaps not so playful.

Jaime huffed, amused. “It is a good sport,” he murmured. “Will you attend the tourney, my lady?”

Sansa threaded her fingers over her lap. “If the tourney is in honour of my lord father, and my husband shall ride, it would not be sound to be absent, would you not say?” she offered.

Jaime’s nails tapped a rhythm onto his armour plating. “Yes,” he said, quietly. “I would say so as well.”

“Jaime,” Sansa began, bravely, and fell silent, looking down at her lap, as her so-called wolf courage failed her (she is more heart than hand, she fears, and it shows in inopportune moments).

Jaime narrowed his eyes, leaning forward. “Yes?” he pushed.

Sansa swallowed, compulsively, and look away. “It… it is nothing. Forgive me,” she said, thinly.

Jaime cocked a neat, golden brow. “I fear not. Tell me,” he ordered, sternly, with all of the right of a man raised to believe he is a lion amongst sheep.

Sansa took a deep breath, feeling her heart pound in her ribcage. “My father has asked me to dine with him and my sister. I would ask for your leave,” she said, slowly.

Jaime leaned back. “You hardly need my permission,” he pointed out, slyly.

Sansa’s thumb dragged back and forth across her pulse point, as she stared down at her lap. “A good wife would-”

“Sansa,” Jaime cuts her off before she can finish, and she’s pinned to silence by the sound of her name slipping off his tongue. “You do not need to ask my permission,” he said, firmly, his voice softer than anything she has known since their wedding night. “You are my wife, yes, but you are not my chattel. If you want to dine with your father and sister, you should dine with them.”

Sansa bit her lip and nods, looking away. “Thank you, my lord.”

“Jaime,” he corrected, again.

Sansa dug her nails into the thin flesh of her wrist. “Jaime, then,” she said, dutifully, dully.

It felt like betrayal, sour and bitter in her throat, to be grateful for his kindness, to feel any sort of softness for this man who she’d been tied to so irrevocably now; it was something that she was giving away to him that was not his, that would only ever be Jon’s, but she parted with it, the faithless fool that she was.

She thought she may vomit.

When Sansa strode into the Small Hall, the guards were all seated on the lower tables, while her sister and Septa Mordane sat at the front. She sighed and nodded at the guards, plated in red and gold, that Jaime had insisted she take with her. She had, lamely and more out of courtesy than anything else, invited him along for the meal, but his look of disdain was enough to make her stomach turn. She grit her teeth and looked away and thanked the Old Gods that he thought himself too grand to dine with his new goodfather and goodsister.

The guards inclined their heads at their new lady and backed away, choosing to remain by the edges of the long room.

Septa Mordane slid to her feet. “Sansa, or should I call you Lady Lannister,” she said, cheerfully.

Sansa almost shuddered from the name, the disgust that claws at her. She managed a taut smile. “Septa,” she replied, stoically.

Arya, beside her, tugged at her itchy woollen dress, unbecoming for such weather found in King’s Landing, and levelled a dark look at Sansa, to which she rolled her eyes.

“Come, sit with us,” Septa Mordane urged.

“If it pleases you, Septa,” Sansa murmured and elegantly slid into her seat beside Arya. “Little sister,” she couldn’t help but taunt Arya a little, tilting her head to the side.

Arya scowled at her and stared down at her thick pumpkin soup.

Before she was forced to make conversation with her sister, her father strode into the Small Hall, darker, deeper lines in his face.

She could only imagine how the Small Council meeting went.

“My lord,” Jory called out, and the entirety of her father’s guard, decked in grey, stood with him.

Ned shook his head. “Be seated,” he said. “I see you have started without me. I am pleased to now there are still some men of sense in this city.” He climbed the length of the hall, settling in a seat on the other side of Sansa, giving her an unbearably soft look. “Hello, Sansa, I am glad you were able to join us.”

For a moment, Sansa relented, all that sour anger and hurt and confusion melting away, and she had the sudden urge to throw herself in her father’s big, deft arms and sob her heart out – she shook with the thought, but she quailed in the face of all the terrible, awful things he’d allowed her to feel since he tore her wolf, her Lady, from this world and had not the courage to seek her out, which was what an honourable man would have done.

“Yes, my lord husband was kind enough to give me leave,” she answered, simply.

Sorrow lined his face quickly at her lukewarm words, and she wondered if he despised the idea that Jaime Lannister owned her now, the way his face went dark and closed off.

The meal resumed, amidst the taut, thick tension, and the servants began bringing out platters of ribs, roasted in garlic and herbs.

“I see your husband sent along his guards in lieu of his own presence,” Ned commented, cutting into his meat with gleaming silver knife.

Sansa sipped at the wine in her glass. “I imagine he thought that a Lannister, married Lannister though she may be, warranted Lannister guards,” she said, dryly. “And I believe he is dining with the Queen, the Princes and the Princess this evening.”

She remembered what her father once said to Robb, in front of her: “Know the men who follow you and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.”

She doubted the Lannisters held to such things. The Queen was too proud, and her son equally arrogant.

Ned snorted, impolitely, much to Sansa’s amusement. “I can’t imagine he is in such a great rush to become acquainted with his family by law.”

Sansa’s mouth twitched despite herself. “I can’t say I’m in such a great hurry myself, Father,” she pointed out, surveying the distance between her and the nearest Lannister guard at the front of the hall.

Ned chuckled. “Their company does leave a bit to be desired, doesn’t it?” he murmured. He hesitated. “Although, love, if you wanted guards, I could spare a few. You wouldn’t have to stomach the Lannister ones. The Queen has the Kingsguard, yes, but she also has guards her father has given her. I’m sure Jory could arrange a troop for you.”

Hope rumbled to life in her chest and for a moment, she forgot her fury, her resentment, all that sour bitterness, and thought she’d be much happier surrounded by Northmen than she ever would surrounded by Lannister men.

She dipped her head, staring down at her full plate. “If you could spare the men, Father, I would be ever so grateful,” she said, demurely, and saw Septa Mordane’s approving gaze at the other end of the table.

Ned softened and reached for her, patting her hand quick under his thick, sturdy, calloused fingers. “Of course, love. Jory will see it done.”

Jory nodded, giving her a warm look. “I’ll have a troop sent with you, Lady Sansa.”

Sansa nodded.

Ned sighed and ran a hand over his lined face. “Would that I could have sent Jon with you,” he murmured.

Sansa startled, but hid it quickly.

“But a bastard would not have been treated well this far south, I am afraid, and I would spare him that if I could,” he went on to explain. “The Watch is best for him.”

No, it isn’t. It’s the best for you, Sansa wanted to rage. You traded his life, his happiness, for your own comfort, Father. Do not lie now. Do not pretend you thought much of Jon, for he would not be at Castle Black, doomed to a life with no wife and no children and no home but for the blistering cold of the Wall, if you had not wanted it so.

“The talk in the yard is we shall have a tourney, my lord,” Jory chimed in. “They say that knights will come from all over the realm to joust and feast in honour of your appointment as Hand of the King.”

Sansa gulped down her wine and awaited her father’s response. As she had thought, her father’s face quickly grew dark.

“Do they also say this is the last thing in the world I would have wished?” he grumbled.

“My lord husband was speaking of it earlier,” Sansa added, spooning some of the meat onto a fork before popping it into her mouth.

Ned’s mouth thinned, as it usually did when anyone spoke of her lord husband. He directed his glower towards his meat, though. “Will he ride?” he asked, gruffly.

Sansa bit back a smile. “I believe so,” she replied, blithely. “He said something about cowing arrogant young knights.”

Ned snorted. “He’d know a lot about that, wouldn’t he?” He cleared his throat, pretending as if he hadn’t insulted his new goodson in front of his family and his men. “Will you go, then, love?”

Sansa hummed. “I asked. He believed it would be best if I did.” She looked him through thick, dark lashes. “Will you go, father?”

Ned sighed and leans back in his chair, squeezing his fingers to rid himself of an ache (Sansa had seen him do such a thing a thousand times over; she couldn’t imagine that being Hand of the King is any less work than being Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North).

“You know my feelings, Sansa. It seems I must arrange Robert’s games and pretend to be honoured for his sake. But I would not have you or Arya subjected to this folly, if I could.” He shook his head. “But I can no longer dictate what you do, can I?” he asked, bitterly.

Sansa agreed. If you could, I would not be married to Ser Jaime. I would be asking you with wide eyes and my heart in my throat if I could go and see all those handsome Southern knights try and kill each other on the field. The Kingsroad has done away with any desire I might have to see any more death.

Instead, she nodded. “My lord husband has asked it of me. I should obey.”

Ned grit his teeth and looked away.

She looked across the table and saw the stubbornness on Arya’s face, as she cut into her meat with fervour, but there was no hiding the want there either.

She mulled it over in her head, before saying it out loud.

“If I may, Father,” she began, a little haltingly, unsure of how her words will be taken, if he’ll think her too bold, too proud, only a married woman for days and still very much a child in truth.

Ned blinked and made a sweeping gesture, for her to continue.

“Princess Myrcella will be there, Father, and her younger than me. All the ladies of the court will be expected there, and the tourney is in your honour. It would be odd if your household did not attend.” She splayed her hands out on the table, rolling her shoulders. “The Queen would see it as another insult,” she pointed out.

And you would make my life harder was what she didn’t say, even if it was on the tip of her tongue.

Arya scowled. “Who cares if the Queen sees it as an insult?” she demanded, leaning forward to fix her with a dark look.

Sansa returned the angry glower. “Because we live in their city, stupid,” she said, scathingly.

Arya went red, her small hands clenching around the table, as if she would have very much liked to have lunged across the table and throttled her, but her father quickly put an end to it.

“Enough, both of you,” he declared, a flash of anger to his eyes. “More of that and you will change my mind. I am weary unto death of this endless war you two are fighting. You are sisters. I expect you to behave like sisters, is that understood?”

Sansa dragged in air through her teeth and gifted her father with a fickle little smile, hoping he’ll take it for the truth. In her periphery, she saw Arya lower her face to stare sullenly at her plate, tears threatening to spill over, which she angrily rubbed away.

Sansa softened a little – her sister was always determined to be so strong.

Ned dropped his knife and fork down onto the plate with a clatter, his appetite clearly having been stolen. “Pray excuse me,” he announced to the table. “I have small appetite tonight.” He pushed himself from his chair and walks from the hall.

Arya glared at her. “This is all your fault,” she snapped.

Sansa cocked a brow. “Pray tell me how?”

“If you’d just told the Queen the truth on the Kingsroad, Micah would still be alive,” Arya flung at her.

Sansa, despite how much she tried, couldn’t help the full-body flinch that came at Arya’s careless words.

“Yes,” she began, dully. “And if you’d just kept your mouth shut, Lady would still be alive.”

Arya recoiled from her, her face going pale. Then, she pushed away from the table.

Septa Mordane gave her a disapproving stare. “Pray, where do you think you are going, young lady?” she demanded.

“I’m not hungry,” Arya declared. “May I be excused, please?” she recited, stiffly.

Septa Mordane baulked. “You may not. You have scarcely touched your food. You will sit down and clean your plate.”

“You clean it!” Arya shouted at her and bolted for the door, Septa Mordane calling loudly after her, her voice rising higher and higher.

Finally, the Septa sighed and sank back in her chair. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that girl,” she muttered.

For a moment, Sansa thought that neither did she, the anger still burning hot in her stomach. But then, it all faded, just as quick as it was ever there, and she thought, what a miserable idiot she always was, because the Lannisters were not her family. The only family she had in this monstrous city both walked away angry from the table, because of her, because they didn’t understand her, why she did the things she did.

She abruptly felt like sobbing and she didn’t think she’s ever wanted Jon more than she does now – he’d understand her; he always understood her. He’d pull her close and call her sweet girl and kiss her until she couldn’t breathe and all she could do is smile and everything would be okay again.

If she closed her eyes and pretended, she’d be back at Winterfell, with Jon and Robb, her perfect twin, and Bran and Rickon, and the idea, the concept of her being married to Jaime Lannister, a man eight and ten years older than her, would be a terrible nightmare that would’ve been wiped from existence the moment she opened her eyes to the daylight.

But it was no nightmare that she could run away from.

She dropped her knife onto her plate with a shrill sound and turned to the Septa, calmly.

“I will go and speak with her,” she said, politely.

Septa Mordane’s face flickered with relief, and Sansa bristled a little on the inside – Arya was a pain to deal with, but she was her sister. She slipped out of her chair with a whirl of her skirts and padded along the length of the hall, just as the Lannister guards left their places along the wall to follow her.

“Wait out here,” she ordered, when they reach the chambers in the Tower of the Hand.

“My lady,” one of the guards began to argue. “Ser Jaime ordered us to-”

“I will deal with my husband,” she cut him off. “But you will all wait out here, understood?”

The guards exchanged a look between each other, but ultimately nodded and turned to stone, crowding the entrance. Sansa sighed and made her way over to Arya’s chambers, rapping her knuckles on the door.

“Go away!” Arya shouted from inside. “I don’t want to talk to anyone!”

“Arya, it’s me, Sansa. Please, let me come in.”

“You’re the last person I want to talk to, Sansa!” Arya said, in an ugly tone.

Sansa took a deep breath. “Please, Arya. I don’t want to fight. I just want to talk,” she soothed.

She heard the sound of footfalls on the other side, before the door swung open, revealing Arya’s pale, drawn, furious face, her eyelids damp with tears.

“What?” she demanded.

Sansa wrung her fingers together and rolled her shoulders, standing up to her full height, more than a good head taller than her sister. “May I come in?” she asked, formally.

Arya narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“I just want to talk, Arya. I don’t want to keep fighting with you,” Sansa insisted, earnestly.

Arya grit her teeth but stood aside, letting Sansa flounce in, who surveyed the room that Arya was given with interest.

“I like it,” she said, approvingly.

Arya rolled her eyes. “I don’t care if you like it or not.”

“Are you going to act like this forever?” Sansa demanded, crossing her arms over her chest.

Arya gave her a triumphant smile. “Well, if you don’t like the way I’m acting, feel free to leave,” she drawled.

Sansa cocked a brow. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, little sister,” she said, dryly.

Arya shook her head. “What do you want, Sansa?”

“I want to talk about what happened on the Kingsroad,” Sansa explained, heavily.

Arya looked away. “I don’t.”

“I just…” Sansa licked her lip. “Arya, I am so sorry about Micah. I didn’t mean… I didn’t think they’d hurt him. I didn’t think…”

Sometimes, she dreamt of that boy, smiling and playing with wooden sticks with Arya, but he quickly turned bloody and his eyes milky white, like a corpse; he always died in her dreams and she didn’t think she’d ever forget.

“Why didn’t you tell the Queen the truth?” Arya barked at her, sniffling a little.

Sansa softened and sank down onto the mattress of Arya’s featherbed, beckoning Arya to join her.

“I was, I promise you, I was, but it was Ser Jaime who took me down to see the King and everyone else at the inn after everything had happened, and well, he said…” Sansa bit her lip. “He said the Queen would see someone punished for what happened to the Prince, no matter who it was. She and Joffrey were out for blood the whole time. There was no way that I could’ve told the truth and protected you at the same time. The Queen would’ve come after you, and I was trying to spare you that.”

"I told the truth," Arya snapped. "I was brave. I didn't care what they thought of me. Why couldn't you be? If you had been, if you had just told them what Joffrey did, the Queen couldn't have argued. Joffrey would've looked like an idiot, and maybe Micah and Lady would still be alive." Arya rubbed her hands over her eyes, her palms coming back wet. "Why'd you choose them over me?" she asked, hurt and furious, parsed out in equal measure.

Sansa's chest hurt and she didn’t delay in throwing her arms around her little sister. Arya fought her at first, valiantly, ever the wolf girl, but she quietened soon enough – Sansa realised, with a pang of regret, that however lonely, scared, she might've felt, with the Lannisters, without Jon and Robb and Mother and Bran and Rickon, without even her father and Arya, who were so close yet so untouchable now, Arya would've felt worse, child that she is in truth.

"Oh, Arya," Sansa said, gently. "I would never choose anyone over you, I swear it," she insisted. "But if I had told them what Joffrey did, the Queen would never have stopped. Nymeria bit Joffrey. The Queen was always going to see her dead for that. She wouldn't have stood to see Joffrey brought so low in front of us, in front of you, the girl he will one day marry. And if she couldn't get her hands on Nymeria, well," her voice was rough, tears threatening to sting her eyes. "Well, Lady and Micah was the next best thing for her."

Arya shook her head, bitterly. "I hate them. I hate all of them. The King, the Queen and Joffrey. They're all evil."

Sansa pulled her sister in close, lips pressing against the tumbleweed that is Arya's hair. "You can't say such things, not in front of anyone else, not in this place; do you understand me?" she urged.

Arya pulled back. "What do you mean?" she asked, confused.

"Arya, this isn't Winterfell and these people aren't friends of ours. Anyway, a maid, a guard, could tell anything you say to me, to Father, to the Queen or the Prince, and they won't forget an insult."

"Father's guards wouldn't betray us," Arya immediately argued.

"Father's guards wouldn't," Sansa agreed. "But there are Lannister guards all around us."

Arya narrowed her eyes. "Because you brought them here!"

Sansa scowled down at her. "I had no choice. I'm one of them now," she snapped.

Arya scoffed with all the confidence a girl of nine can have. "No, you're not. Just because you married the Kingslayer doesn't mean you're any less of a Stark."

Sansa gave her sister a trembling smile. "That's not how they see it here," she said, bitterly. "The moment I let him wrap me up in a Lannister cloak, I became theirs, to do what they like with, when they like."

Arya chewed on her lip. "I don't want to marry Joffrey, Sansa," she confessed. She wrung her fingers together on her lap. "He's not kind."

Sansa flinched and tightened her arms around her sister; the only comfort they had in this hellish place was each other, after all, and even then, they were tied to short moments in bedchambers where they could whisper without anyone finding out – not for the first time since they had ridden into this filthy city, Sansa wished she were back in Winterfell (in truth, she wished she could see Jon again, just once).

"You're right," Sansa agreed, her voice cast low, sending furtive glances in the direction of the closed door. "He isn't very kind. And I'm sorry, but as I had no choice marrying Jaime Lannister, I don't think anyone's going to give you a choice in marrying the Prince, Arya. I'm so sorry."

Knowing what she knew now, knowing what the Lannisters were, she remembered the tears that came to her on her wedding night: please, Old Gods, let him be kind to her. Let Joffrey be kind to Arya. Let him be brave and gentle and loving, like a Prince ought to be, like Father is, like Robb is, like Jon is.

But she knew it was a prayer in vain.

She had seen the evil, the blind, hungry cruelty in Joffrey’s eyes, and she didn’t think she’d ever forget it again.

Arya looked at her with grey eyes, as big and round as the moon. "Does he hurt you, Sansa?" she asked, quietly, as if she'd never thought of that possibility, when her sister turned her back for a Lannister cloak, for the Kingslayer's cloak. "The Kingslayer, does he hurt you? Surely, Mother and Father wouldn't have-" she cut herself off, unable to bear the thought of her parents selling her sister off to a man that would hurt her; it was unthinkable, the concept, as it should be.

Sansa didn’t want her sister as sour as she had become (it was not something she wished on her sister).

Arya should believe that their father could save her from everything and anything that might hurt her; for as long as she could, she should believe.

“Ser Jaime has been very good to me,” she soothed, instead, and she hated that she was not exactly lying (Jaime didn’t think much of her, but he hadn’t put his hands on her to this day – she had to be grateful for that; he could’ve been very different).  

Arya poked her flat belly with suspicion. “Are you pregnant?” she demanded. “Is that why you’re being so nice to the Lannisters?”

Sansa laughed – it came out fake and sweet and genuinely amused, but she was still so mindful of her duty and what she had to do one day, the children that she had to bring into this world, named Lannister and not Stark – it felt so wrong that all she could do was laugh (perhaps she would go mad one day with the thought).

But something twisted in her belly and she couldn’t hold onto that venom, no matter how much she tried, because even if she would hate having Jaime Lannister on top of her, handsome though he may be, she would love all the children he gave her – she promised she would love all the children he gave her.

She wouldn’t let a child grow up like Jon.

She wouldn’t ever have his children; she wouldn’t ever feel him inside her ever again, but any child she bore would know they were so loved by her, even if all her children should be Jon’s, if this world was any just world. 

“I’m not pregnant,” she reassured.

Arya huddled up against her warm side and the weight was comforting; Sansa had missed it. She cupped her small head in the palm of her hand and pressed her lips to Arya’s straggly hair, before smoothing it back. She slid to her feet, gracefully, and made for the door.

“Sansa,” Arya said, in a small voice.

Sansa hummed and turned around.

“I’m sorry I said what happened on the Kingsroad was your fault, and I’m sorry that Lady’s dead.”

Sansa swallowed hard. “I’m sorry too, Arya. I should’ve…” she bit her lip, her hands shaking. “I should’ve said something. I should’ve told the truth. I’m so sorry about Micah. It’s not… It’s not fair,” she finished, heavily.

Arya wrapped her arms around her bony knees. “I hate this city,” she said, bitterly.

Sansa took a deep breath. “So do I,” she said, honestly, and slipped out of the bedchamber, just in time for her father to come marching forwards.

His eyes flickered with surprise.

“Sansa,” he murmured, shooting the closed door an uneasy look. “I didn’t expect to see you here. Have you two been fighting?”

Sansa shook her head. “No, we were just talking,” she said, simply, unwilling to offer anything further.

She gave him a little smile and edged around him, walking away.

“Sansa,” he called out and she stopped, closing her eyes.

She turned around, fixing him with a blank look – Arya was only nine, but her father betrayed her, and she would not forgive that.

“Yes, Father?”

“I just…” he looked away, his jaw clenching. “I hope you know that you are always welcome here, in my home, love. I won’t… just because you married him, doesn’t mean you’re any less of a Stark. This is still your home, Sansa.”

She gave him a smile, honey-sweet; but in truth, it was thin and false and nothing but a terribly good mockery of what happiness was.

“Thank you, Father. I hold your words close to my heart,” she said, courteously, curtseying, and slinked away, her guards following her like the train of one of her dresses, as she made her way out of the Tower of the Hand.

She should forgive him. She should. It would be the kind, just, merciful thing to do, what the Mother and the Maiden would preach were a lady’s virtues. He was her father, and she knew he loved her, even if he had betrayed her.

She rubbed her sternum, over the ache that settled the night Lady was killed.

She will forgive him, she reasoned, just not now.

Let her stew in her venom a little longer.

Chapter Text

Dear readers,

As a result of my fervent brainstorming and GOT Season 8 and further reading into ASOAIF and GOT fanfiction and theories, I have come up with a major plot point that will actually change the direction of this story starting from Sansa I (Chapter 2). As such, I have decided to eventually delete this story, considering I am still quite early on in the narrative, and repost it, right from the beginning. Sansa's POV chapters are the ones that will change, because it is her that the major plot point concerns.

I will, of course, warn in advance when this story itself will be deleted, but I just wanted to give you all some notice!


Simi (deathsweetqueen)