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i could offer you a warm embrace

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“Hopefully it won’t have to come to that.”

Oddly, those were the words that followed Jon around in his idle moments. They’d seclude themselves within a stack of musings and memories, ready to reveal themselves when he’s least expecting it, making him wince. 

The words had been Sansa’s. 

He’d not really registered her saying them at the time, all those many moons ago, on the wrong side of the bloody war. They hadn’t seemed misplaced or out of the ordinary at the time either because of course – of course – marrying the man whom she had known as a brother would and should be considered a very last resort. Unfortunately, with the rising ire of their people, and the advancing army of the dead, it was a measure they’d been forced to take.

And so, Jon Snow went into the great war with a few things he had long ago thought never to possess; the Stark name, and a wife who’d given it to him.

***

He’d lost his sword. Where was his fucking sword?! The wight was advancing again and Jon’s hand had automatically gone for the dragonglass dagger tucked into his belt. That was missing too.

A sickening gurgle escaped the dead man’s throat as he neared, blackened fingers reaching out to wrap themselves around his neck as jaws sporting a few rotted teeth yawned and snapped. Frantic, Jon’s eyes swept the room he found himself in for a weapon of some sort - any sort. It was the Lord Commander’s chambers he realised, but, strangely enough, everything was set the way it had been when the rooms had belonged to The Old Bear.

“Corn! Corn!” Mormont’s raven shrieked, dark wings flapping hysterically as the bird panicked among the rafters. “Corn! Corn! Corn!”

Dead fingers gripped Jon by the shoulders and poured that most ancient of fears straight down his gullet. Survival. 

Shoving at the corpse with a grunt, Jon’s desperate eyes quickly swept the room for anything he could use to his advantage.

Mormont’s raven landed on its perch. Only, it’s perch was now Longclaw. “Corn! Corn!”

The wight advanced again, determined to keep him from his sword and for Jon to join him in his death.

“Corn!” the bird cawed, “Corn! Corn! Jon! Jon! Jon!”

Eerie pale blue eyes fixed him for a moment or two before they were close - too close. Using all his weight, Jon propelled himself forward and barrelled into death with a roar. The man’s back hit the wall with loud thump and a crack, allowing Jon to reach for his weapon. 

“Jon!” the bird screamed as he tried batting it away, “Jon! Stop!”

Twisting around quickly, now armed with the bite of Valyrian steel, Jon felt whole again.

“Jon! Please! Stop! Jon!”

The wight took a step towards him and he almost felt glad of it. Come on then, you shit, he thought, squaring himself and raising his steel. He was ready for this. He has trained for this. This is what he knew.

The pallid skin of the dead man’s face framed lips blackened with decay. Those lips parted as the figure took another step forward and Jon found himself excited to slice his flesh. But then, a voice, so sweet, so at odds with the scene before him came from the monster’s unmoving mouth. “Jon! Wake up!”

His breath stuck at the back of his throat. He knows that voice. But it cannot be. 

“Wake up! Please wake up!” Mormont’s bird shrieked behind him. Except, the raven sounded sweet and feminine now too. Jon’s sword began slipping from his fingers, turning to dust and disappearing in a swirling plume as if it had never even been in his hands at all. His chest heaved as he stared down at his fingers still curled into a grip on a phantom weapon.

“Jon, it’s me,” the dead man said, and just as he looked up, the wight burst into searing hot flame, shrieking a heart-jolting scream of a dying woman as it continued its advance upon him.

Sansa! Jon’s soul shouted, suddenly knowing itself.

“Sansa!” he yelled, raising his arms at the oncoming unbearable licks of heat. Sansa’s scream went shrill and curdled off into a noise that made Jon feel as though he’s soon to empty the contents of his stomach. “Sansa!” he screamed back at the burning flesh, falling to his knees, his vision clouding over with tears and a sob crawling up his throat. “Sansa!” he choked, “I can’t save you from fire! I can’t save you from fire!”

“Jon! Wake up!”

The flames melted from bright, painful bursts into shimmering, warm copper dancing before him. “I can’t-“ he heard himself whisper, a wet tear rolling down his temple to seep into his hair. “Fire.”

“The fire is gone now,” that sweet voice shushed him, his thudding heart slowing its brutal pace while a gentle passing of cool fingers smoothed his hair from his brow. And oh Gods, Jon could’ve wept from realising it was all but a dream. But not all nightmares stay confined to sleep.

With slowing panted breaths, Jon’s unsteady hand automatically moved to rub at his eyes, his fingers meeting with the linen of his bandaged dressing over the right one. The material suddenly felt itchy on his skin as the reality of part of the price he’d paid during the war came sharply to mind. With so many losses, Jon tries to remind himself that the sight from one eye should be counted as near to nothing. He tries – he’s tried to tell himself this every damn day since the fighting came to an end.

He was twisted up in his furs and sheets, he realised. His limbs must have sliced and thrashed here in his bed just as he was doing in that place of nightmares. With one last shake of an exhale, he tilts his head to look at his wife who seems to have joined him in his chamber this night. He’s not so sure when she’d arrived.

The shade of concern in Sansa’s blue eyes is what comes into focus first, doubling and dancing before finally staying put where they ought to be. She had taken to sleeping beside him again and Jon suspects she’s worried for him and these dreams of his. “You don’t-“ Jon began to say, clearing his throat to dislodge the grog and husk of the midnight hour, “you don’t have to stay here with me.” He’s sure she’d enjoy a much more restful night in one of the other chambers that Lady Jonelle Cerwyn has generously allowed them the use of while Winterfell’s now fire-blackened stones are being restored. The ashes of war being swept aside to make way for a new ruling King and Queen.

“Who were you fighting this time?” Sansa asked softly, ignoring his previous statement. She was laid on her side facing him, elbow propped on the goose-feather pillow. Jon could feel the weight of her atop his furs as she leant forward, closer to him. Sansa seemed to prefer laying above his furs and bringing her own to cover herself so that his bed would result in piles of various bedclothes. It made everything seem unbearably hot, like he were fighting flames again. In addition, it was like sharing a bed with his wife, and yet not. He’s unsure why that irks him a little.

“I was fightin’ one of them,” Jon answered a little irritably, pushing his furs along with hers down to his waist to allow the air of the night to cool his skin. When he turns to glance at Sansa, Jon catches her eyes on his chest and then falling to his stomach before briskly looking away. The apple of her cheeks almost seem to colour a little, even in the dim molten light from the hearth. That pleases him somewhat and there’s the beginning of a smile on his lips and a tease on the edge of his tongue before he catches himself, the familiar conflict rolling through his mind, replacing everything with a well-worn frown. Sansa is his wife. By all rights, he should enjoy an element of playfulness and intimacy with her. He should feel certain attachments, desires and lusts.

And he does.

They haven’t always been there - he doesn’t think. He can’t be sure. But whatever it is, he’s noticing it more and more.

And with it, comes an uneasy sort of guilt. Because cousins they may well be now, but it was not so many passes of the moon ago that the woman he calls his wife was once his sister. And what kind of man feels these confusing stirrings for someone who should be a sibling? A Targaryen, a voice hisses at the back of his mind. A filthy sister-fucking Targaryen.

Not that they’ve come anywhere near to performing the practices of the marriage bed. And they may never.

“Hopefully it won’t have to come to that.” The words she’d said all those nights ago came back to him unbidden. Back when the plan had been hatched to keep their lords happy, keep control over how they were to fight the dead men coming for them all.

“They’ll demand heirs,” Jon remembers gritting out between his tensed jaw. He’d seen the whisper of fear on Sansa’s features right before she extinguished it with her cool mask of duty.

“We can do what must be done,” she’d answered with a sniff. 

Arya had scrunched up her face at the notion. The expression might’ve made him laugh at another time, during an entirely different conversation. “This is foul. How can you two even consider it?” she’d spat, leaving the room.

The slam of the door still echoed in Jon’s ears all these nights after – as well as the next words to fall from his mouth.

“You can take a lover if you wish,” he’d told her, voice low and measured, eyes intent on the grain of the oak table before him.

“What?”

“It’ll be difficult for you – for us to… get you with child. When the time comes that the lords start demandin’, then you can choose a good, discreet man that you’re comfortable with and I’ll claim the babe as my own.”

They’d not spoken of it since, but he’d meant it, and still does. No matter his perplexing feelings towards Sansa, it was he that was the Targaryen, not her, and Jon would never force his wife to share these… sickenings of his.

The decision is hers, he tells himself, and I shall not dwell on her choice.

“You wear your eye dressings to bed?” Sansa asked, resting her head back down on the soft pillow. “Aren’t they uncomfortable?”

They are. 

“They’re fine,” he lies. 

The fire in the hearth is slowly dying down to embers but gives the night a few last bursts and crackles before it decides to slumber. Just as Jon begins to think that Sansa has decided to succumb to sleep, he hears her quiet voice again. “I could make you something,” she says, “a cover. For your eye. Sam says that you needn’t keep it bound any longer but…” there’s a pause and Jon can feel her watching him as he in turn stares up at the canopy of his bed. The fire spits its final dying snap. “… but if you’d prefer to keep it covered then I can find a softer fabric… if you’d like?”

Of course he wants to keep his newly earned grotesque covered. He’s seen it in the looking glass; a sightless milk-white eye surrounded by angry puckered red scarring from brow to temple. Jon is not a vain man, but no one wants to witness their king’s weaknesses, least of all his wife who had once dreamt that her husband should be a beautiful, fair-haired prince.

Well now you have a half-blind brother king.

“Thank you, Sansa,” he whispers to the velvet drapes above them before rolling on to his side away from his wife.

***

The training session should have finished around half an hour ago. He has a chamber meeting to prepare for and yet somehow he can’t seem to put down his blunted blade. It feels right, to have a sword in his hand again, to be parrying and striking, blocking and grunting. This is what he knows.

If only his balance could return to how it once was.

It’s the eye. It’s always the damned eye – it’s still throwing him off. He’s fine when in a defensive stance, his weight firmly placed, but in attacking Jon is a little less graceful and a little less accurate than he once was.

“Some say that you’re the greatest swordsman the North has ever seen,”someone not worth remembering once said to him. A shiver went down his spine and his gaze moved up to the courtyard entrance, where Sansa stood observing and most likely waiting for her husband to finish his swordplay.

Whilst only distracted for a mere second or two, Jon’s opponent, a young Cerwyn soilder, managed to get a blow in, the practice sword smacking into the side of his face. Had it been live steel, the swipe would’ve made an ugly slice straight through his cheek. He staggered back slightly, hand raising to cup his face.

“Forgive me, your Grace,” his opponent said, instantly lowering his blade.

There’s nothing to forgive. The fault was my own, Jon thought to say but before he could utter a word, Castle Cerwyn’s Master of Arms stepped forward to clout the lad over the head. “What did I tell yer ‘bout attackin’ on the king’s blind side?!” he yelled. Jon’s gut jolted in realisation of what the old man’s words meant. His opponent pressed his lips together in a thin line and looked ready to argue. “You!” the sword master bellowed before the man could utter a single word, pointing to one of the on-lookers, pick up your weapon and come train with your king!”

“There’s no need,” Jon grunted, shoving his practice blade into the barrel with all the others, “I have other things to attend to,” he muttered before stalking off, looking to where Sansa had been stood to find her gone.

Kicking the door to his chambers shut behind him with a slam, Jon almost growled in frustration as he yanked his cloak off and threw it onto a nearby overstuffed armchair. He stopped and rubbed at his face with calloused hands, one set of rough fingers smoothing over the lid of his good eye, the other gliding over the now soft material of the cover Sansa had made him.

His men would not fight him. Not truly. They see his weakness and they’re allowing for it. That would not help him reach anywhere near his swordsmanship as it had been going into the war. Damn this injury to all the seven hells!

The people need much more than a king that can fight, but, for most of his life, fighting was the one thing that Jon had. He was comfortable with it, he was more than good at it - he was in his element. What was his element now? Now that someone could so easily take him by surprise by being on his right side? It made him feel vulnerable and the fact that his own men were allowing for his vulnerability made him question the whole point of it all.

It was like letting a child win at a game of cyvasse.

He let out a long sigh. “Did the blow hurt?” said the unexpected voice of his wife, startling Jon. She was sat in an armchair under the window, he hadn’t noticed her as he’d strode in, too intent to brood on his thoughts.

“What are you doing here?” Jon blurted, only to be met by a single raised brow. He’d not meant to be brusque with her. He never means it. And yet somehow, he always is. “I’m fine, my lady,” he says on a sigh, answering her original query. His remaining eye searching the room for want of something to do. His gaze lands on the bathtub that the maids had prepared for him for after his training. It’s bound to have gotten cold by now, but he’s grateful for the distraction at least. “I should wash the training yard off of me,” he says, moving to dip his fingertips in the water. Oddly, it’s not as cool as he’d expected.

“I had the maids add two more buckets of hot seeing as you’d overstayed in the yard,” Sansa said, standing up and walking over to him. Her hands went to the laces of his jerkin as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to do so.

It takes a moment for Jon to find his tongue again, and in that time, Sansa has pulled his lacings from at least three eyelets. “I can undress myself.”

Her hands still. “I know, I just…” there’s a hesitancy in her eyes – eyes that can’t seem to stay fixed on him, so they stare at the lacings at his throat instead, “…I want to be a good wife,” she tells him, “mother always helped father with these things. So, I thought… Let me… let me do this for you too. Please, Jon.”

An uncomfortable swallow bobs his throat as Jon nods in agreement and her deft slender fingers start working on him again.

Jon tells himself that this is alright. That this is just perfectly normal and that he shouldn’t feel… stirred by it in anyway as he watches her with his one good eye and swears that the apple of her cheeks are turning a shade more rosy. 

He mulls over her words as she helps him from his clothes. Sansa had dreamt of caring for a fine high lord husband and raising her own brood of children ever since she was a child herself, her own mother’s shadow. She has been in training to be a great Lady and wonderful wife and mother from almost infancy, but more than that, it was in her nature, down to her very bones. What must it be like to have this life-long dream bent out of shape and reconstructed in the form of the man who was once your bother? Jon watches her even more closely for signs of discomfort but his vigil is strangely side-lined by the sight of her teeth sinking into the plump of her bottom lip as she concentrates. It’s all rather distracting.

For her part, Sansa’s gaze seems firmly set on his clothing as she carefully helps remove his jerkin, then his doublet and finally his cotton undershirt. He watches as she folds each one neatly and places them in a perfect pile on his bed. Is this what wives do for their husbands? Jon has no idea. When she comes back over to him her hands stretch towards the laces of his breeches before she pauses.

“Oh, you still have your boots on.”

“Yes,” Jon murmurs unhelpfully and sits to takes care of those himself, promptly standing to see to his breeches too before Sansa has a chance to resume her aid. He’s down to just his smallclothes and still Sansa has not made a move to leave him to his bathing. 

“I could wash your hair for you,” she offers, and Jon regards her with his hands on the ties of his under-things. He’s not shy. Not after having grown with Robb and Theon, bathing naked in Winterfell’s hot springs and running around the Godswood as bare as babes. But this, this is wholly different. This is Sansa, and, quite frankly, Jon is surprised that she’s electing to be here at all with him in such a state of undress.

“You don’t have to.”

“I’d like to.”

Well that settles it then, he thinks as he slides his smallclothes down his legs and kicks them off to the side somewhere to be collected later. Sansa’s eyes stay determinedly fixed firm to his face, and if she hadn’t had a more than uncomfortable history with unwanted husbands in states of undress that Jon did not want to think about, then he may have teased her for it. But she has, so he definitely won’t.

Instead, he gets into the tub and seats his back to her. The water is warm, but not quite at a temperature to seep into his muscles and make him sigh with relief. The tub is deep and made of shining hammered copper. Jon thinks it must be the finest one in the Cerwyn’s household, and of course it is afforded to their new king and queen. 

Sansa comes to stand beside his bath, looking down on him and he fights the urge to cover his manhood. Instead he looks up to her and finds her gaze flick hastily from between his legs beneath the water up to his face. Sansa blinks and then reaches out towards the patch of fabric covering his injured eye. With the thud of his heart, Jon’s instant reaction is to rear back with a sharp jolt of his head.

“I need to take it off if I’m to wash your hair,” she tells him and honestly, Jon wants to tell her that he doesn’t need her help with his hair, he’s done it himself since he were a lad learning his numbers and his letters. Sansa hasn’t seen under his eye covering since he was first brought back for medical care from the war, and back then he’d been hazy from pain and milk of the poppy the Gods know what else Sam was giving him to help recover. She won’t want to see this. Perhaps its best she leaves.

Jon looks at her for a long while, taking a steadying breath. She wants to help. She wants to look after him and be a wife. No matter how strange that is for them both. Is this what wives do too? Wash their husband’s hair?

In all honesty, Jon is so used to not having someone to care for him in such a way that the thought terrifies him a little.

But if it’ll please her.

He says nothing but nods his head, watching with his good eye as she reaches forward tentatively and begins to unwrap the soft fabric bandaging. It is as if there is layer upon layer upon layer as she unfurls it from around his head. Jon holds his breath, finally feeling the open air on his scarred skin. His eyelid slowly lifting to show his wife the sightless milk-white eye. Jon’s heart withholds a beat as he waits for some reaction of revulsion and disgust.

But none came.

Instead, Jon swears her blue eyes look a little glassy for a blink or two as she surveys his face in its entirety for the first time in moons. Jon eyes the delicate hand that raises towards his face. She pauses, her fingers outstretched in mid air before they began to retreat. 

Curiously, despite feeling wary, Jon finds himself disappointed.

“Was the blow hard enough to bruise, do you think?” she asks, and it takes him a few seconds to realise that she’s referring to what had happened in the yard. “Because I can make a witch hazel ointment that should help with that. It won’t stop the bruise from forming, but it’ll heal quicker.”

Grabbing the washcloth hung over the edge of the tub, Jon wet the material and began rubbing the sweat and dirt from his arms and shoulders. “Learn to make that from Sam, did you?” he asked conversationally. 

“No, I used to-”

Jon felt as though he’d been hit square in the chest by the way her face hardened a fraction. He paused his scrubbing.

He knew where her mind had gone. His mind had gone there too.

Jon’s gut prickled with fierce anger before he watches Sansa with his good eye. He will never utter that man’s name, and he is loathed to evoke his memory in any way. So he waits. He’ll take Sansa’s lead on this because if she’d rather ignore that fear and anger over what was done to her then who is he to tell her otherwise?

She says nothing, only smoothing her hands down already impeccable skirts before moving to kneel behind him. “Move forward a bit so I can do your hair,” she tells him. Jon obeys, staring at his distorted legs under the water’s rippling surface as he shifts.

All is quiet in the room apart from the soft slosh as Sansa scoops a small horn jug into the water and then gently tips the warmth over his head. She’s a damn sight more tender in her movements than Old Nan used to be when he were a lad, dumping a half bucket of water over his head to make him and Robb splutter and laugh.

Wordlessly, Jon feels his wife’s fingers glide and sink into his hair. The smell of rosemary soon follows as her fingertips slowly massage and her nails lightly scrape at his scalp. The feeling is pleasant, and he’s struck by the unfamiliar instinct to groan and lean into her touch.

He’s not used to this.

“I have scars too,” she says, breaking the thick blanket of silence between them. Jon’s eyes pop open, both seeing and unseeing. “He didn’t just beat me. He cut me. He’s left his mark almost everywhere.” Her voice was low but steady and Jon wonders if she’s been wanting to tell someone this for some time. Her fingers are still in his hair.

“If I could bring him back to kill him a thousand times, I would, for what he’s done to you.” Jon does his best to keep the pernicious tone from his voice but in all honestly the words tumble out in a growl. 

Sansa’s hands still for half a heartbeat before she starts massaging him again. “That would do no one any good,” she says and Jon’s not sure how to respond to that. He can’t fix what’s happened to her anymore than she can give him his sight back in this ghostly eye of his.

The silence between them as Sansa rinses the rosemary oil from his hair is thick and lays heavy on Jon’s chest. 

Once she’s done and rising from her knelt position, Jon feels oddly bereft. “Thank you, Sansa,” he says to the water in front of him, although his words don’t sound half as grateful for her small gesture as he feels.

He hears a small “you’re welcome,” before the latch on the door signals her departure.

***

It’s somewhere between the hour of the bat and the hour of the owl that Jon’s sleep is stirred by movement in his chambers. His very first instinct is to reach for Longclaw but as he sits bolt upright, his good eye lands on his wife, paused on her journey past the foot of the bed. She clutches her robe together tightly even though the thing looks secured well enough. Her other arm is wrapped around a bundle of her own furs.

“Sansa,” Jon breathes, his heartbeat slowly returning to a normal thump in his chest.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

He wants to ask her why she comes at all. He’s not experienced a terror in the night for a good sennight or two, and yet still he’ll find her asleep atop his furs and burrowed beneath her own as he rises in the morning’s pale light. Jon has wondered if she has dreams of her own that she’d rather not face in solitude, but if that were the case, then she’s rather capable at cloaking it from him.

“You don’t have to sneak in,” he hears himself say. “If you’d like to sleep here, you can retire with me.” Would that be altogether far too familiar? Jon wonders, watching the barely perceptible swallow at her throat. Man and wife they may be in name, but they are hardly typical and he’s still uncertain of exactly what it is that Sansa wants them to end up being – especially behind closed chamber doors.

She answers him with nothing more than a slight up-tilt of her lips, a small twitch in the low amber light of the room before she climbs atop his bed and arranges the furs and blankets she’d brought with her.

Jon lays back against the feather pillow again, staring up at that wretched canopy above them as Sansa curls herself into a tight ball and gives him her back.

“You’re not wearing your eye cover,” she says after a few minutes of silence press down on them both.

It was true. After showing Sansa the extent if his injury a few days past, back when he was sat naked in the copper bathtub, Jon had not seen the sense in wearing the cover to retire with. “Aye,” he answered.

“That’s good.”

Unsure if there was more to be said, Jon allowed the quiet to stretch on and on, until, quite suddenly it seemed, darkness stepped aside for dull morning light and Jon found himself blinking away his sleep.

Sansa had turned around at some point during the night and as his one good eye came into focus, Jon woke to his wife’s serenely slumbering face a few inches from his, as if in sleep she had crept closer and closer to him like a little wolf cub snuggling for warmth with its littermates. Jon smiled at the notion, suddenly not all that keen to rise from his bed.

***

Helping him bathe has now become somewhat of a habit for Sansa, and Jon is surprised to find that it has developed into a wholly welcome one. The way she spears and strokes his hair as her fingertips massage oils into his scalp makes him want to purr like a rather content fat kitchen cat. He lets slip a satisfied hum here and there and hopes that Sansa takes it as a compliment.

Sometimes Sansa hums too, although it is normally a sweet melody of some song that Jon has long forgotten the words to. Other times they discuss matters from a council meeting, a recently received scroll, or the repairs on their home. A lot of the time neither of them talk at all and yet the quiet is not uneasy.

Whenever Sansa’s finished though, she places her palm on his shoulder as she rises, and Jon has taken to reaching up to grasp her hand in his - a silent offering of gratitude. Sometimes he allows himself to hold onto her longer than is strictly necessary.

And sometimes she squeezes his hand in return. 

He likes those times, though he tells himself that he’s being utterly ridiculous for even noticing.

Sansa has taken to retiring to bed with him too, his chambers and bed are now theirs and Jon wonders if he’s the only one who is pleased at the notion.

More often than not, they wake facing each other, turned inward as though they’d been whispering secrets in their sleep. Once, Jon awoke on his back with Sansa’s head resting on his chest. He’s not sure how she came to be laid like that, but whether it was by design or accident, he does not mind. A smile tugs at his lips as he watches her copper head rise and fall with each of his breaths. 

Sansa and he share the very same furs now too.

And then, a handful of moons since his last, Jon’s sleep is visited by a night terror. Creatures bringing darkness with their chilling pale blue eyes and baying for life with their eerie gurgled growls. He was fighting them, thrashing his sword into their dead flesh, until everything changed and all of a sudden he was surrounded by a different sort of death. 

Stone kings peered down at him from what seemed to be an impossible height. Statued wolves at their feet began to snap at him as their masters glared and whispered his unworthiness. He could taste the musty chill of Winterfell’s crypts. He didn’t belong down here. They knew it. He knew it. He didn’t belong anywhere. Perhaps the stone kings knew that too.

A rusted sword swooped in a huge downward arc and slashed at Jon’s face. His eye throbbed in memory of the pain and yet he did not make a move to counter the attack. Sneering, one of the huge kings of winter raised his weapon once more and Jon held his breath, preparing for what surely must be a killing blow.

Dragonseed,” the stone king snarled. Jon shut his eyes to accept his fate.

“It’s alright, it’s alright,” he heard faintly in the blackness behind the deafening pant of his own gasping breaths. “Shhh, shhh, it’s only a dream.”

His sightless eye was buried against something soft and warm. The other eye opened to slowly reveal a river of silken copper against ivory cloth. Sansa’s touch was in his hair, stroking with one hand as the other cradled his head against her chest. “It’s not real… I’m here,” she murmured and this time he felt her words against his cheek. 

Instant relief flooded him before his brow scrunched. He is not a child. Even when he had been, he’d never received a calming embrace from anyone to chase away the terrors of the night. Why then, is this so welcome? Why does he want to accept it and melt into her? Why does he feel like sobbing into her nightshift like a small boy?

Can a man still be brave when he is afraid?

His arms go to circle her. They are hesitant and unsure but once he gives in and wraps himself around her frame, holding onto her like she’s the only lit torch in an endless sea of night, Sansa squeezes him back in return. His heart does an odd sort of crash in response, like there was thunder in his chest where his heart ought to be. It’s confusing and frightening and welcome all at once, but Jon is far too ragged and tired to try and pick it apart, so he allows Sansa to carry him off to a peaceful sleep in her arms as he continues to cling to her, hands fisted at the back of her shift.

Is this what wives do for their husbands also?

They don’t speak of it when they wake, limbs all a tangle, his face nestled into her collarbone, the ivory skin at the base of her throat hot and damp from his breath and her fingers still entwined in his hair.

He dresses while she waits in the bed for her ladies to arrive and help her into her gown and whatever else it is that ladies’ maids do. Jon almost offered to help her himself a few mornings ago, but what does he know of preparing a queen for her day?

“You should leave it off,” her voice says to his back as he sits on the bed, hand reaching for his eye cover ready to tie it around his head.

He’s unsure how to respond to the suggestion. None of his lords have seen his eerie ghost-white eye and the angry scarring beneath. All they’ve known since he came to power was a king with one eye always bound in soft Stark grey material. As soon as anyone sees him – sees this – then they will know that it cannot ever be healed, that their king will forever have this physical weakness. It is ridiculous, he knows. The longer he wears his patch, the more and more of his people will come to suspect that he’ll never regain his sight on his right side. And yet, the cover offers him some sort of nonsensical comfort.

“The lords and ladies need to see me as strong,” he says without much thought, staring at the material in his hand.

Jon feels the mattress dip and shift as Sansa alights to come and walk around to him. He looks up to her as she stands before him. Her hair is unbound and beautiful, rumpled from sleep. “You are strong,” she offers and Jon opens his mouth to answer, only for her to continue over him. “You are,” she affirms, reaching out to touch the scarring beneath his eye, this time without hesitation. She traces the marks and smooth, barely healed skin with a gentle brush of her cool fingertip. Jon takes slow measured breaths as he looks up to her, her eyes tracing her own movement.

He hadn’t felt strong last night when he’d clung to her like a child.

“There are always going to be some who seek to find weakness in you, their king,” she says, “but what I see, and what many will see will just be one of the sacrifices you made to keep us all safe.”

A small huff escapes his nose and a ghost of an amused smile touches his lips. “The shield that guards the realms of men,” he repeats the old vow.

Sansa’s lips quirk upward and her head nods down to him. “Exactly that.”

“Well, this shield is wearing a fair few more dents and nicks these days.”

“But it still works,” she said leaning down towards him. For a baffling moment Jon thinks she means to kiss him as lovers do, and he’s shaken by how his mouth parts a little in wanting. Instead, her lips press to his temple, right beside his white sightless eye and Jon quickly brushes away that odd feeling of disappointment with a gulp of his throat. “Thank you, Sansa,” he says in earnest.

His eye cover gets left in a drawer that day – and for all his days yet to come.

***

Jon gave his wife a rose. 

Lord Glover had come to visit the king and queen to beg an audience and Jon had had enough of stone walls and stiff hard-backed chairs. He suggested that he and the lord go riding. Glover can discuss his matters with him in the saddle, under the grey skies of the gods.

He’d spotted a thicket and a snarling overgrown bramble climbing up some dying trees. But amongst all of that, was a small, blue winter rose, looking most foreign amongst its drab surroundings. Jon alighted his horse and cut through thorns to reach it. He knew Sansa would enjoy the bloom.

Is this what husbands do for their wives?

The pleasure Jon felt from seeing Sansa’s face happily aglow when he offered her his gift was a little surprising. He’d done that. He’d put that smile there upon her face. It was only a flower, why did it mean so much to him that the rose had brought her happiness? He remembers a time, long, long ago, when Sansa had forced Robb and himself to play ‘knights and maidens’. Of course, his sister required a circlet of flowers for the game and Jon had helped her by finding some coldsnaps and frostfires in a meadow outside of the castle walls. She had been pleased with him then too. But this felt entirely different.

The rose lay nestled to the side of Sansa’s simple braided bun that adorned the back of her head, the vivid blue catching everyone’s attention against her red locks all day. In the evening, Jon caught her placing the flower between the pages of a particularly heavy-looking book.

“I’m going to press it so I can keep it,” she tells him with a bashful smile after realising he’d been watching her actions with curiosity. 

Jon is utterly baffled as to why thispleases him too.

***

A gasp rips itself from her lips as Jon steps over the threshold. He’d not expected her to be in their chambers, yet here she is – and bare from the waist up.

“I’m sorry,” he says in a rush, eyes wide at the sight.

“Close the door!”

He does as she asks. Sansa has her back to him, her arms crossed over her chest, hands covering her breasts and shoulders almost hunched over in a bid to conceal herself further.

“What are you-“ his throat dries up the instant he sees the pinkish lines criss-crossing her back and shoulder-blades, her beautiful skin marred by a cold, systematic blade.

An anger rises in him so white-hot, he almost feels faint from it.

“Sam gave me a salve,” she tells him, though it takes a moment and a shake of his head for Jon to hear her. “I didn’t expect you to come back so soon.”

“Will it help?”

“I doubt it. The scars are old and as healed as they’re ever going to be,” she turns her face, chin almost resting on her shoulder. “Is it vain of me to still try?”

“No.” His answer is instant. This isn’t vanity. This scrubbing every last vestige of Ramsey Bolton from the north. From his wife. “Can I help?”

The silence that follows for a beat or two has Jon wondering if she’ll simply ask him to leave, but it is broken by a “could you do my back…perhaps?” and Jon takes a few steps closer.

Sansa twists awkwardly, trying to bend to pick up the little glass pot containing the salve and keep her breasts covered all the while. She hands it to him with a pinkish stain on her cheeks and Jon thinks he may be sporting a matching shade on his. 

The substance is thick as Jon scoops some onto two fingertips and pauses to seeks out which area he should apply the mixture to first. There’s a particularly thick-looking scar on her left shoulder-blade that appears as though it had taken a deep cut to create it. Whichever of the seven hells Ramsey Bolton is in, Jon hopes he’ll never receive a moments rest from his comeuppance.

“It’s cold!” Sansa jolts forward at the first touch and Jon murmurs an apology before smoothing his fingers down across the offending brand.

Jon’s focus remains on rubbing the salve into Sansa’s skin in gentle circles. His fingertips seem to glide smoothly across the red traces of another man, until Sam’s balm is almost all absorbed, and he feels the resistance of his skin upon hers. “Sorry, my hands are rough,” he says, removing his touch to slather his fingers in the mixture again.

He gets to work on another long scrape that scores down alongside her spine, watching his hands – hands that had pummelled Ramsey into the dirt, hands that have ended lives in a number that Jon cannot stand to hold in his head, hands that now wish he could use to heal.

“I like the rough skin on your hands,” Sansa says in a quiet voice and Jon stills for a blink or two before carrying on.

He’s almost done – just one last mark that curls around her rib and under her arm on her left side when she speaks again. “I don’t want to take a lover.”

Jon pauses again.

“I wouldn’t force you to.” No. He’d never do that. But we need heirs. The words are left unsaid but he knows that they are running through Sansa’s mind just as well as his.

“I trust you,” she says next, peering at him awkwardly over her shoulder “only you.”

Jon swallows and nods. But as what? A brother or a husband?

There’s a prominent knot at the base of her neck and the start of her spine that Jon has an odd longing to press a soft kiss to. He’s not at all sure that he’d be able to keep that kiss brotherly and has to shake the notion from his head. He sees that knot more clearly as Sansa looks away and tilts her head downward. “Would that be too difficult… for you?” she asks.

“I-“ he pauses and sees Sansa shiver, her opal skin has been exposed to the air for far too long. “I don’t think it would be too difficult for me.”

***

It has been almost a moon since Sansa revealed that they should try for heirs together. She is not ready to be active in that regard just yet, and Jon respects and understand that. However, shame floods him when he begins to think of Sansa whenever he takes himself in hand. He knows that even as man and wife, he should resist this Targaryen desire of his. Sansa is accepting this as duty. Desire should have no place here. Yet still he pictures her face flush with pleasure and her eyes dark glittering sapphires as though she wants him.

That shame became almost unbearable when, in one instance, Sansa catches him, mid act and torrid from his lust. It was nothing more than an ill-timed opened door and a yelp of surprise – they did not speak of it afterwards – but Jon could barely look his wife in the eye for almost a sennight. 

On a clear indigo night, the northern winds are howling through Castle Cerwyn, but Jon and Sansa are warm beneath their shared furs. Sansa is restless. It’s a rare occurrence. His wife usually turns from side to side once or twice but soon sleep comes to claim her, her breathing gradually becoming deep and steady. But not tonight.

“Jon,” she finally says, turning over one last time to face him. The dim amber light of the room was casting glowing highlights on the peaks of her bundled body beneath the furs.

“Yes?”

“That time when…” Sansa hesitates, “… when you were… and I’d walked in-“

Jon huffs and looks to those blasted drapes above them again. He can feel his face aflame like the fire in the hearth. He had hoped that the both of them could forget the incident altogether. Sansa seemed to have other ideas on the matter.

“Why do men do that?”

Sansa.” Jon’s unsure whether he utters her name in exasperation or warning but it’s all he can muster right now as he stares up to the dark canopy of their marital bed.

Feeling her wiggle closer, Jon wonders what new mortifying depths this conversation could plunge to. “Does it feel… good?”

Oh, Others take me!

Huffing once more for want of a better thing to do, Jon’s mouth opens to answer – and then promptly closes again before he feels himself shake his head and accept this peculiar torture. “Aye,” he admits, still not able to look to her right by his side. “Aye, it feels good.”

Sansa wriggles closer still, like a curious child enraptured by a tale. “I want to feel good too. Can-“ Jon turns his head to look at her now as his heart’s song picks up its pace. Sansa averts her eyes and briefly chews her lip. Jon’s mind quickly decides that ur is the most becoming sight he’d ever seen. “Can a woman feel… good… like that?”

Jon swallows uncomfortably as his good eye watches her gaze slowly reach back up to his. She’s embarrassed, curious and brave - so brave. And, Seven save him, he feels himself begin to harden. “Aye,” Jon rasps, his voice low and gravelled. “A woman can feel good… like that.”

I want to feel that,” she whispers and for a long moment after, all they do is take each other in as the fire pops and spits at the other end of the room. Jon turns onto his side and watches the golden glow cause her eyes to glitter in the dark.

“You can,” he tells her, pulse thrumming in his veins.

Sansa’s eyes drop to his lips – but perhaps that was because he’d wet them with his tongue? “I’m not ready to-“ she takes a steadying breath, “I don’t want to be held down.”

“Why would you be-“ their bed is no place for Jon’s rage and yet he feels it rising from deep within his gut. “I will never hold you down, Sansa,” Jon vows on an earnest whisper, and he means this pledge, more than any he ever remembers making. “I would never do anything with you that you do not want.”

Sansa considers him, her shining eyes bouncing back and forth between his, seeing and unseeing both. Jon hopes she finds the sincerity of his words, he hopes she knows that he means it right down to his very bones. “I want to feel good,” Sansa whispers for the third time now and Jon feels that she must be asking for him to help her. 

“Alright,” Jon breathes, his voice sounding quiet and husky as his mind brings base images to life. “You’re not ready for-“ he doesn’t need to finish his words. Sansa shakes her head and presses her lips together. “What… what would you allow?”

“I don’t know, I…” Even in the dim light Jon can see her eyes flitting all over as if looking for hidden answers in their bedchamber. 

There are many things he’d like to do with his wife. Many things he’s tried to keep from his mind. “Perhaps-“ Jon’s heart suspends its rhythm for a beat as his hand gently goes to her outer thigh. She is warm beneath the thin material of her shift and suddenly he has no care for how he’ll burn for all his sins. “Is this alright?” Sansa nods and Jon finds himself licking at his lips nervously. “Move a little closer.”

As Sansa does as requested, Jon pulls her leg over his and pushes his thigh towards the heat between her own. He hears her pull a sharp breath at the contact. 

“Is this alright?”

“Yes,” Sansa answers, although she sounds unsure. His hand flexes as it curls around her thigh and Gods, he wants to pull her closer still and press his lips to hers, push her back into the goosefeather pillows and taste her all over.

He truly is a Targaryen.

Slowly trailing his hand higher to Sansa’s hip, Jon tries not to excite himself by the way her nightshift rucks up slightly at the movement. “Here,” he whispers, guiding her with gentle pressure, “move against me.”

Her cheeks colour a little in the firelight. “Do… do people do this?” 

In all honesty, Jon doesn’t know what people do or don’t do, only that Sansa should be in control and that he’d give her anything she wanted. Anything at all.

“Aye,” he told her, “aye, they do.” He presses his palm a little more firmly to her hip, guiding her tentative rocking against his thigh. Sansa’s hand came up to grip the sleeve of his nightshirt and her hips bucked a little harder. “Does it feel good?”

“I’m not sure, I- oh!”

‘Not sure’ wasn’t the sentiment that Jon was aiming for with his wife, so he’d pulled her closer and pushed his thigh firmer against her clothed womanhood. “How about now?” Jon heard himself rasp, his hand helping Sansa to move over him. Jon was as hard as valyrian steel now with the heat of her grinding down wantonly on the muscle of his leg.

“Yes,” Sansa whispered, her eyes closed and her pretty lips parted.

Jon wriggled his head closer on the pillow. He only need stretch his neck a fraction and their noses would touch. “Good,” he told her, “just do what feels good, Sansa. You’re in control.”

Her eyes slowly open and Sansa stares back at him as she grinds and rubs herself against the thigh between her own. His wife is seeking her pleasure and by the Gods, Jon wants to help her find it.

With haltingly panted breath, Sansa watches him and he her in return. Not for the first time, he wonders what she sees and although he’s beguiled by the cant of her hips and the way he can feel her arousal begin to dampen her smallclothes, he can’t help but be conscious of his unseeing pearl-white eye that must be staring back at her sightlessly. It cannot be something that would stir desire, so Jon presses the injured side of his face to sink into the down of his pillow and it’s like he’s almost a whole man for her.

Sansa’s brow pinches and her mouth frames a small silent ‘oh’ as she moves fast, rubbing herself harder against him. Her thrusts seeking, chasing her own bliss as Jon watches and she stares back at him. In their room there is only the fire popping in its grate, Sansa’s laboured breathing and the heat passing between their held gaze.

That’s it,” he urges, voice hoarse from his own longing. Sansa gasps and bites down on her lip, her eyes fluttering closed. 

Fucking hell, he wants to kiss her. He wants to kiss his wife. He wants to love Sansa with everything he has until there’s nothing left and then do it all over again.

It builds and it builds. Jon can practically feel the tension in her mount with each back and forth of her hips before she’s gasping, “oh-oh!” and he knows that the pleasure snapped within her as the cadence of her movements began to stutter and slow like echoes of a dying thunderstorm.

His thigh is damp, and his manhood is hard and wanting as his dewy wife pants with her face turned into her pillow. She is beautiful. Gods, she is beautiful. 

“I… that... that felt… very good.” Sansa sounds almost breathless with surprise. She does not open her eyes again, and Jon watches her drift off to a blissful looking slumber with his sightless eye still pressed into the pillow and her grip still in his nightshirt.

***

They do not speak of it in daylight hours. The subject is not broached once darkness creeps into the castle either, and Jon has to wonder if Sansa regrets asking for his help to ‘feel good’. Has she, in the dull light of a grey northern day, felt shamed with what she had done in the dark with her brother-come-husband?

His worries are proved wrong one afternoon, a few days later.

“Jon,” she says, dipping the horn jug into his bathwater to gently tip over the back of his head.

“Yes?”

“When you… helped me feel good – “ Jon could practically hear her panted breaths from that night in the pause she gave herself. He’s imagined them every night since. “ – I liked it,” she told him.

“…I’m glad.”

“I’d like to help you feel good too,” she says, tipping warm water over his hair to run down his shoulders and back. She said it like it was nothing – like she’d simply offered to mend a tunic or darn his socks.

Jon swallowed. “You don’t have to, Sansa.”

“Would that… would it disgust you?” she wonders, fingers sinking into his hair as a hardness grew between his thighs.

“No.” He was perhaps too zealous with his answer.

Sansa continued to massage the now familiar rosemary oil into his hair, the action causing a tingling sensation to shoot like little quivering arrows down his spine. She finished her work wordlessly, leaving Jon almost shuddering in silent anticipation, sitting naked beneath the water.

Sansa wanted to be physical with him and give him pleasure. He hoped that the desire was born from the same place his had been (sinful as it may be), and not from some sense of duty, or repayment for what they had done together a few nights past. She may not even wish to act on it now, in this moment, but every fibre in his being was alight as the pulse of his heart almost drowned out the draw of her breath and the soft rustle of her skirts behind him.

“May I touch it?” she finally asks, words ghosting hot on the back of his neck. Jon feels as though he might burst.

“Yes. If-if you want to, Sansa,” Jon reiterates. He has to be sure. “Only if you want to.”

“I want to.” 

The words are a relief.

With the occasional soft bump of Sansa’s chin to his shoulder and a serpentine hand slowly smoothing around his ribs, Jon closed his eyes and felt her fingers brush down the centre of his chest, softly grazing his stomach, causing him to hold his breath lest he twitch and jump as his blood thrummed rhythmically in his veins. Feeling his wife’s delicate hand wrap around his cock was divine enough to make him grip the sides of the beaten copper bathtub and draw in a hiss over his teeth. Sansa pauses.

“I’m not sure how to proceed,” his wife admits, and Jon can think of a million ways in which he’d like to answer, but Sansa is touching him right now and he can hardly string two words together. “I want to please you,” she whispers, and he lets out a groan as her hand moves slowly up and down his manhood beneath the water.

“You do,” Jon manages to choke out, “Gods, you do!”

“Show me.”

Covering her hand with his, Jon guides her movements, trying desperately not to allow the loud and long groan of depravity to escape his throat. She’s a fast learner, his wife, and soon has the measure of the pace and pressure that Jon enjoys so he lets her lead as he feels his mouth hang open like a fool in pleasure.

Now their room is filled with his panted breath and the soft rhythmic sloshing of the bathwater, when Sansa’s other hand snakes around his side to be placed over his chest. Jon wonders if she can feel the beat of his heart and how it pushes and pulses and sings for her. Jon is unable to conceal the shudder that rolls through him when he feels her nose pressed into his damp hair and her lips on the slope of his neck. “Mmm, Sansa,” he moans reverently, leaning his head back towards hers. “Fuck, sweetheart, that’s so good.”

Sansa hums into his skin, pressing soft kisses to his hairline behind his ear, one hand gently stroking his chest and the other stroking something entirely different. To his embarrassment, it does not take long until Jon’s hips are bucking and he’s almost whimpering under her touch. “Sansa,” he repeats, “Oh Gods, Sansa,”

Everything bursts into a bright white light and for a few moments, both his eyes are unseeing as he’s tensed and grunting, spending his seed into the water with his wife’s hand wrapped around him.

It takes him a few thumping beats of his heart and his eyes to blink half a dozen times before he realises that Sansa is standing and making a move to leave. “Wait!” he calls, panting and flush, “Sansa, wait!”

Standing quickly, Jon’s head is spinning as he feels water race down his naked body. “Why did you do that?” He has to know. Now is not an ideal time to talk of this matter – what with him bare as a babe and having just spilled under her touch, but Jon can wait no longer. He cannot agonise over every smile, every contact, every embrace. “I need to know.”

Sansa’s looks as though she is caught between embarrassed and bemused as her lips frame the beginnings of her words and Jon can already hear the ‘what do you mean?’ about to tumble from them.

“I-“ he starts, before realising that if he’s to demand to know her heart, he should at least bare his in return. “How many ways can you love a person?” Jon asks, watching the confusion on Sansa’s face deepen as he steps out of the tub and comes to stand before her. “The way I love you now is different to how it was before,” he reaches to take her hands in his, his confession is almost done and he’s half terrified that she’ll flee once it is over. “I think I’ve been afraid to love you as a wife, and not as a sister. But… I don’t think my heart cares for my fears one bit, because it loves you that way regardless.”

He’s never felt more vulnerable then he does in that moment, defenceless against his own admission as Sansa stares at him with a dawning in her eyes. She moves forward and before Jon knows what’s what, Sansa is softly pressing her lips to his, lips that had been on his neck only a few moments ago but now felt altogether new and wonderful.

“I thought it was just me,” she murmurs into the gentle pecks, her arms coming up to loop around his neck.

Groaning into the kiss, Jon pulls her closer, wrapping his own arms against her so that he can feel the press of her clothed body against his wet, naked frame. “You feel the same?” he manages to mutter, disbelieving.

Sansa nods and pulls away, leaving Jon to chase after that smile on those lips of hers. “I thought I was being ridiculous because I felt guilt for desiring my own husband.”

“You desire me?” Jon teased, raising a brow and holding her tighter. “You desire this broken man?”

Sansa’s brow knots in concern. “Is that what you think? That we’re broken?”

Jon suddenly knows that he’s not. That when he’s with his wife, he’s anything but broken and he hopes she feels the same. He’ll ensure it as his life’s work to guarantee she never feels that way. “No, Sansa,” Jon pushes some of her hair behind her ear and it’s like he can see her clearly for the first time, never mind this ghostly injured eye. “Not when we’re together.”