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Other Joys

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Once, he would have rejoiced in this. He would have thanked the gods and the stars and anything else that might bring luck to the likes of someone like him. He’d thought of marrying her once, after all. He’d longed so fiercely to be a Stark in any way possible that the thought of Sansa coming to him and asking him to lie with her would have filled him with the sort of happiness he doesn’t think he’s ever known.

Now, it only makes him sad.

“I can still feel his hands on me,” she’d told him, staring out her window with her arms wrapped around her as if they could serve as armor. She’d had him summoned to her room late in the evening, like a true lady of the castle, something that would have thrilled Theon once.

He doesn’t need to ask who he is.

She’d been a maid before him. She’d never said as much, but Theon knew. She’d always been such a tender girl, her head full of romance, her heart open and ready to love. It had been too much for him to bear the thought of that girl knowing nothing but the cruelty and pain of Ramsay’s bed, rather than the care and love she deserved, and so he’d turned away when she begged his help. If their lives hadn’t turned down such dark roads, if his youthful imaginings had come true and he’d married her, he wouldn’t have been capable of giving her what she deserved. He’d been so callow then, so selfish and brash. He’d wanted her for what she meant for him, not to him. It’s a cruel irony that it took Ramsay to change that.

Her hand is cool on his cheek and he could nearly weep with it. He can’t remember the last time he was touched in such a way. “Tomorrow…” she says, and neither need complete the thought. They both know that tomorrow may never come.

She leans forward, dropping her hand to cover his heart and pressing her forehead to his. They stand that way for what could be an eternity. He can feel the feathery brush of her breath over his lips. His heart pounds beneath her hand so hard he almost imagines he can feel it resounding from the stone walls of her chambers like the heavy beat of a drum. She’s not the only one who can still feel the hands of another on her, and for a moment, a wild need to flee beats in his throat like the wings of a bird trapped in a cage. Then she sighs and tilts her head to brush her lips over his, and the urge fades.

There’s little skill to it. For all that Sansa has been through, this simple act seems new and strange to her, and his heart breaks all over again for what she’s lost. Kissing had never been something Theon had done much of himself; he’d been a young fool with baser things in mind. Always before, he bedded women out of lust, out of pride, out of the desire to possess. The thought of bedding a woman out of love seemed foreign, nearly foolish. What grows between them now isn’t love, or at least not the sort that binds lovers in passion, or a husband to his wife, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.

He coaxes her, guides her, leading her in a gentle, tentative dance. Her mouth tastes like the thin soup they’d shared earlier, her lips are soft and dry until he wets them with his tongue. He tries not to flinch when her tongue finds the gaps in his teeth, and again when she tugs his gloves from his hands, her mouth still not leaving his. The soft, comforting sound she makes in her throat as she ghosts her touch where fingers used to be is like a balm, and Theon knows that he’d never truly begun to heal until now.

Her gown is like a fortress and she laughs softly at his confusion. “There are buckles on the side,” she offers, raising her arm and helping him with her other hand. Instinctively, he understands the complexity of the fastenings; for a long time, if he could have sewn himself into his clothes so that no one could touch him even with their eyes, he would have.

She stiffens her spine when she stands only in her shift, her chin trembling even as she lifts it in steely resolve. Theon is struck again by her bravery, her resilience. She did not lose herself as he had. She had stayed Sansa. She was always a Stark.

Ducking his head, he works with fumbling hands at the laces of his jerkin. He’s keenly aware of the differences between them. She was always beautiful, only becoming more so with time. Theon does not want her to be frightened when she sees his mangled body, but more than that, he’s terrified of her pity. As if knowing his heart, she reaches out to ruffle his hair, smoothing the tangle of it with steadying fingers.

His tunic joins his jerkin on the floor with her gown. She doesn’t question that he still wears his trousers, just as he makes no comment on her shift. This is why she chose him, he realizes. And this is why he came. Only they can give this to each other. Only between themselves can they turn their pieces into a whole.

He guides her backwards towards the edge of her bed. It’s a finer furnishing than anything he’d ever had, twice as wide with a mattress piled half again as high with rushes. Once he would have envied her such a thing. Maybe even resented her. Now he wishes she had more such fine things, even greater luxuries. When the backs of her calves collide with the edge of the mattress, she sits instinctively, looking up at him so plaintively that it brings him to his knees. He gathers the hem of her shift with both hands. At some point, she’d taken off her boots, and her stockings bunch at her knees, the garters untied and dangling. The ribbons match her eyes, thin twists of blue among the blacks and greys she wears; his heart hurts at how it reminds him of the girl she once was, and he’s only more determined to give that girl what she should have had instead of what she did. He looks up at her, but before he can even ask, she nods and gives him a shy smile.

“I trust you,” she says. It’s the most humbling gift he’s ever received.

“Spread your knees,” he tells her, the words coming out sounding like a plea rather than a command. She shivers and complies, her eyes slipping closed and her hands clutching convulsively in the linens at her sides.

Slow, he goes so slow, even slower than he intended to be. He starts with one hand stroking her through her shift, letting the cloth be a barrier, a shield, as long as she needs one. Her eyes stay closed, giving him the luxury of looking his fill at her, storing the sight of her away in a locked place in his heart, something bright and beautiful to hold back the darkness when it comes. At first her brow twists into pleats; it’s an adjustment for her, he knows, a struggle. He trusts her enough to know she’ll tell him to stop if that’s what she wishes.

He can tell when the first spark of pleasure comes. Her breathing changes, her brow smoothes. Her knees shift, first closer together, then outwards, letting him move his hand closer, touch her more firmly. He coaxes her pleasure the same way he coaxed her kisses, slowly, gently, more patiently than he’s done most anything in his misbegotten life. It becomes his sole purpose in the world, the war to come fading away, the whole world narrowing to this one room and this one girl and the roughening sound of her breathing.

“Sansa,” he says when she jerks and twines her fingers through his hair, her forehead creased again as she strains for something she almost has. Her eyes flutter open, and he sees a thousand emotions there, some he couldn’t name if he tried for a million years. Her tongue wets her bottom lip and she slides her hand to his cheek.

“Theon,” she says. “I still trust you.”

It’s a trust he knows he doesn’t deserve, which makes it all the more precious to him. He presses his forehead to her belly, for a moment needing only to be comforted like a small boy who’s skinned his knee. Sansa strokes his hair, and for one brief, wretched moment, he allows himself the indulgence of imagining her doing the same with their child, the child Theon can never and will never have. Then he lowers his head and presses a kiss against her over her shift, at the shadow of her maidenhair beneath the fine, thin fabric.

She gasps and he freezes, ready to retreat, ready to do anything for her. But then she shifts her legs father apart to let him settle between them, her hand in his hair giving him gentle urging, and he presses his lips to her again before opening his mouth and giving her his tongue. At first it’s only linen against his tongue, the smell of her faint and tantalizing. Then the cloth dampens until it’s molded against her, and she gasps and then gives a shaky laugh at the feel of it. Theon’s never devoted such care to anything in his life as he does to Sansa now, using his lips and tongue to build her up to such a height she could forget the depths she’d known with Ramsay. The wonder of it is that it works; her every gasp and cry and twitch could make him forget too.

He doesn’t know if she moves her shift up or he does, but suddenly he feels her skin, tastes her pleasure. She’s wet from more than his tongue, her hips rocking towards him, and Theon knows a fierce pride unlike anything he’s ever felt. When she comes apart with a cry, falling heavily upon his back with her cheek pressed to his spine even as he urges her on to her next peak, Theon knows his House Words are a lie. We Do Not Sow. Not anymore, he thinks, not tonight. Tonight, something has taken seed and sprouted, something new and tentative and hopeful, not just in Sansa but in himself as well. Tonight, Theon Greyjoy has made something grow.