The most ridiculous thing is that the first thing she thinks is, but I look like crap. Her hair's still wet from the shower, and her eyes are slightly puffy from crying, and even though she loves these pajamas, they're a little pilled with age, and wrinkled from being in her suitcase. But before she can protest, the knob is turning.
"Wait, I'm not—" She's about to say she's not decent, but then the door is open, and Jon is standing in the doorway. He's still dressed, in a grey tee and jeans, and his split lip looks darker.
The room is silent. Somewhere she can hear traffic. The fact that the rest of the world is simply carrying on right now is somehow both unbelievable and utterly hilarious. Jon is in her bedroom, looking at her like that. And they're all just living their lives! Impossible!
There is something electric, something alive, about his presence. He closes the door quietly and leans against it, regarding Sansa. His eyes trace over her, and she silently thanks whatever higher power of personal grooming there is that she shaved last night, because her pajama bottoms are shorts and there is no hiding right now.
Her heart is pounding, and her knees are jiggly and loose. Why does he have to look like that? Why can't he simply speak to her through the door? She crosses her arms and wishes that she had put on her bra. "Um. Right. You wanted to talk?"
"I didn't know you weren't speaking with your family."
Okay, not what she expected, but then again, she isn't sure what she expected. She can't read his face so she isn't sure why he means to bring this up.
"Well, it didn't happen overnight," she admits slowly. "And like I said, I still get the angry voicemails from Arya—"
"—But I do too," Jon interrupts angrily, stepping away from the door. "I promised I'd let you go, and I thought I was making that promise so you could have your family." He rakes a hand over his hair. "Fuck, Sansa, if I had known you were going to—"
He halts abruptly and turns, pacing. His back is to her, his hands on his hips, that thoughtful, frustrated posture she's seen him adopt on the ice. "What was the point?" he asks at last, his voice breaking. "What was the point of us not speaking anymore, if you were going to give up your family anyway?"
"I didn't mean to give them up," she argues, forgetting her braless state and pacing away from him. "But it just got to be too much. I could tell Mum and Dad felt badly about it, and that they were always trying to reassure me that things would be better this way... When I changed my focus to law, Dad was so proud," she remembers bitterly. "He left me a voicemail saying that he was so proud I had chosen to grow in the face of adversity. And I never returned the call, because I was so angry. It was just, like, oh—now I'm good enough?"
The fury courses through her again and she blinks back tears. "Now that I'm less girly, now that I've given up the things you find boring—now I'm worthy? Now that all of the things that gave me joy, that made me who I am, are gone—now you're proud?"
She thought she was done crying, but these are tears of rage, and she covers her face. "And honestly, a part of me did crave that approval, too. A part of me really, really wanted Dad to finally be proud of me, to see me as a person, not me as just his silly, helpless daughter. And a part of me understood his worries. He finally felt like I could stand on my own, that he could trust my decisions. ...All it took was the destruction of everything I held dear.
"And at the same time, Arya and Robb wouldn't stop pushing me—Arya kept confronting me and telling me I was acting like a coward, and Robb kept looking at me so sadly, like he felt so sorry for me. He kept offering to help me go after you, and I just—I couldn't. Because you never came after me, and I never went after you, and at first I wanted to give you space, and then I was mad that you had given me space. And all the while, Bran was recuperating so slowly, but any time he was lucid, he had to tell me it wasn't my fault, and I still felt like it was my fault, then, all of it. And it just felt like every time I went home, I stepped into this—this maelstrom of emotion, of feelings, of all of these forces pushing me in different directions. Do this, don't do this—it was too much, alright? I couldn't do it anymore. No matter what I do, someone thinks I'm acting like an idiot. No matter what I do, I'm the villain."
She hears Jon's steps on the soft carpet and realises he is behind her.
"I know a bit of how that feels," he says wryly, his voice soft. When he lets out a sardonic laugh, it ruffles the back of her neck, and again she feels that damned pleasurable clench in the pit of her belly, and remembers she is braless. She furiously wipes at her cheeks and crosses her arms over her chest, though she is facing away from Jon. "Sometimes I'm grateful for what happened," he adds quietly. "It pushed me further into hockey than I ever would have gone on my own. And maybe you needed to pursue law, to prove something to yourself, too."
"Oh, so it's fine, because it all worked out in the end?" she snaps, and Jon laughs sadly again, his breath fanning along the little downy hairs at the nape of her neck. She wishes he wouldn't do that, because it's highly distracting, and she'd like to focus on being angry right now, thanks much.
"I mean, would it have hurt so much if a part of us didn't sort of believe them?" he wonders. "I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying we believed them, and that's what wasn't right. Your mum told me I'd never amount to anything, and it was just the worst thing she could have possibly told me. The most painful thing. And when your dad even seemed to wonder about my prospects, my abilities..." He draws in a breath. "What I mean is, maybe our own insecurities would have split us apart soon anyway."
"Oh, I see. You're saying they were right, it was always futile, and we were just two morons after all. Thanks. At the end of this very long, very painful night, that is just the sort of thing I'd like to hear," she forces out, her voice taut.
"I'm saying maybe we weren't ready for each other, Sansa!" Jon snaps back. "I dunno, I've spent a lot of time trying to find meaning in it, trying to see it as something other than this painful bomb going off in my life. And this is just what I managed to come up with."
"What you came up with is not very good," Sansa points out.
"Yeah, it's crap," Jon agrees, to her surprise. "But I'm here now. Why do you think I'm here right now?"
Curiosity killed the cat, after all, and before Sansa can stop herself, she turns to face him.
Well, that was a mistake. He's so close. Her belly drops. She considers taking a step back, but her feet are rooted to the soft carpet and she seems to have forgotten how to do simple things like walking or breathing.
"Well," she blusters. Where is the cool, steely woman who steps into court in immaculate Manolos and a cloud of custom perfume? She is gone, gone, and there's just Sansa, a mess of longing and love and hope and regret and embarrassing, unbridled wants. "I don't know. I offered that we could stay in each other's lives, earlier, and you never really responded—"
"—I don't want fucking coffee," Jon blurts out suddenly, saying coffee like it's some sort of vulgar, offensive term, like she's offered they meet up to dine on sheep brain or shoot rodents. "That's such bullshit, Sansa. What the hell did you expect me to say to that? I don't want to catch up once in a while. I don't want to be friends and watch you date morons like Dickon—no offense, but—"
"—None taken, but he's really not that stupid, just a little—" Sansa says quickly, but halts when Jon gives her a really? sort of look. "Right. Anyway." She bites her lip again, watches him watch the motion again. "You don't want coffee." Her knees are outright trembling now, and she locks her legs and digs her toes into the carpet, hoping to hide it. "Then what do you want?"
Jon cocks his head to the side.
"What do you think, Sansa?" he asks slowly. "Do I really have to spell it out?"
"Y-yes," she stammers. There is something unfurling in her, something blossoming in her. Oh, right. Arousal. As it turns out, she hasn't been this turned on in a very, very long time, and apparently there's no blood left in her brain. "You do have to spell it out. I want you to."
Jon draws in a breath, and she watches his shoulders rise and fall. Then he relaxes, and there is a look of curious resolve about him. But his eyes look darker than ever. Oh, but he's pulled this shit before on her, with the smoldering thing. Wanker, she thinks furiously, and then she wonders why she's so angry with him, and dimly wonders if the damp heat between her legs and the swollen feeling in her breasts have anything to do with it. But he's looking at her with such heat that she can't really detail it further than that.
"I realised from the moment that Sam asked me to be his best man, I've been thinking about you," Jon begins in a low voice. "I started a fake relationship, for fuck's sake. I was angry, and bitter, and humiliated, but I was still consumed. I thought I'd gotten past it, I thought I'd moved on, but I haven't. Because the only part of that night that I haven't let go of is the fact that I walked away without you."
Jon is not a man for speeches, so he halts here, staring at her, trying to read her. "So if you want me to walk away now, I will," he continues, less certain, "and I swear that'll be the end of it. But I can't be friends with you. I can't get fucking coffee with you."
"No coffee. Got it," Sansa says, but she's smiling, the sort of smile that she had on her face when Jon said, I do. Her joy is senseless, shivering, brilliant joy, and she watches, with profound pleasure, as Jon's grey eyes read her as easily as if she were a book. "I think you know what I want." Her voice is embarrassingly breathless, but whatever. She is braless and visibly turned on; she has no dignity left. Jon's gaze lowers to her mouth.
"Spell it out," he says softly. Gods but something about the way he is ordering her around now makes her want him even more, but she has learned how to argue—she has crafted a backbone, dammit!—and for some reason he's making her want to use it.
"Remember when you were drafted for the minor league? That night in your car?"
"Vividly," Jon replies with heat, his gaze settling on her neck—precisely where he gave her the love bite.
"You said, just think what'll happen if I get drafted for the major league," she reminds him, as Jon tears his gaze from her neck. "And—not that I've been following along—but I believe you were drafted."
"Right, that's embarrassing," Jon says sensibly. "That was ten years ago and I never followed up."
"It is embarrassing," she says just as sensibly, her voice straining. "All this talk about proving my mum wrong, yet here—"
He cuts her off with a searing kiss, and her bare legs brush the back of the bed. His calloused hands are on her jaw, fingers twining in her hair, lean hard chest pressed against her breasts, and she can feel the slick line of the gash in his lip. And she closes her eyes and twines her arms around him, breathing in his scent as he guides her back down onto the bed and then balances over her as she clumsily grapples with the hem of his shirt. There is no hiding, now; there is no way to stay cool and collected and composed. She is nineteen again, desperate and needy and swooning, starry-eyed, and utterly in love. It is as if no time has passed at all.
Jon pulls his tee shirt over his head and tosses it aside, and slides one hand beneath her top, along her back, guiding her to arch her back as he presses his lips to her collarbone, to her neck; as he rakes his teeth along her neck in just the way that makes her shudder and writhe against him, because he knows her body and perhaps it's changed a bit, but she is still the same Sansa she was eleven years ago, even if she looks a little different now.
He is the same, too, but also different: he still gasps when she rakes her nails along his shoulder blades, the same way he did eleven years ago; but those shoulder blades are different now. More muscle shifts along his back, and he's broader, too, just like her breasts are a little fuller and her hips a little wider; her thighs perhaps a bit softer. But he still bites his lip when she kisses the inside of his forearm where those freckles are, just like he did the first time she did that; and he still likes to tease her: lips grazing the peak of her breast through the fabric of her top, teeth on her hipbone, the softest touch between her legs, maddeningly gentle and almost sly.
It is nothing like the cool, rhythmic, dull sex with Dickon: it is clumsy, and uneven, and she is slick with sweat in even odd places like her knees, and when Jon pulls off her pajama top, one of the buttons gets stuck in her wet hair, and Jon lets out a breathless laugh as he hovers over her, carefully untangling her hair from the button. "Knew you weren't wearing a bra," he mutters as he tosses the top aside and inhales her skin.
"Looking closely, were you?" she gasps giddily as he moves lower, hair grazing her breasts, and hooks his fingers in the waistband of her pajama bottoms.
"Always," he jokes, pulling the shorts down her legs, and she is embarrassed by how obvious her need is—and then he seems to be giving her a love bite between her legs, and all rational thought flees her brain. Her fingers are twined in his thick curls—she thinks of #freethemanbunjon and laughs, but then he does a thing with his tongue that makes her back arch and the laughter get stuck in her throat, and she stops thinking about Twitter, thank goodness.
He brings her over the edge and she dizzily reaches for him as he pulls away from between her legs, wiping his lips and hovering over her. His face is flushed and his hair is wild, and she blindly reaches to unbutton his jeans, and there's some awkward kicking as he struggles out of his jeans and underwear, and then—and then—
He breathes her name so she breathes his as they move together. Her heels trace along his strong calves and she remembers, just a few days ago, Talla shrieking about Jon's calves. But the thought doesn't linger, because he shifts his hips against hers in a different way, and she only has time to dearly thank the Direwolves for their rigorous training program which has clearly done very, very happy things for Jon's hip muscles—she doesn't have the brain power to remember the muscle name, which is embarrassing, but—oh, fuck it.
A very long time later they at last collapse together beneath the crisp sheets. Dawn is already turning the room pale blue as Jon reaches for her and pulls her against his chest.
"We are going to be completely useless at this wedding tomorrow—today," she corrects, laughing against his skin, and Jon laughs into her hair, his voice still a little ragged from exertion.
"I think all we have to do is show up," he reassures her, his hand smoothing along the line from her breast to her thigh reflexively, possessively.
They fall quiet. Sansa's eyelids grow heavy with exhaustion, but she cannot relax just yet.
"And after that?" she asks sleepily, relishing Jon's rough hand moving along her skin so drowsily. "What happens after that?"
Jon toys with her still-damp hair.
"I think," he says quietly, "whatever we want."
"Is that Jon Snow?" Aemon Targaryen, cataracts for days, is peering at Jon with interest.
"Yes, it is," Sam interrupts, uncharacteristically impatient. "Captain of the Direwolves, Arthur Dayne trophy winner, etcetera. The thing is, Aemon, we've only got this room for about eight more minutes, and—"
"Yes yes, of course," Aemon wheezes, and Sansa and Gilly exchange a grin.
They are in the Lannister Foundation Museum, a magnificent collection of jewels, artifacts, ancient weapons, and uncovered bones, attached to the Citadel Library. This room—full of ancient scientific instruments—is Sam's favourite, and is where he proposed to Gilly by accident months ago, when he was carrying too many books and the ring box fell out of the pocket of his cargo pants.
("Cargo pants!" Gilly wailed, slightly drunk on joy and margaritas, when she first told Sansa about it. "This is how you know I love this man!"
"Cargo pants!!" Margaery had shrieked with glee and horror, and Sansa remembers Margaery sliding under the table, laughing too hard to sit up, as Gilly wept into Sansa's shoulder with joy and mirth.)
There is a medallion in the mosaic tiling in the floor, depicting a rearing lion; the palladian window lets in golden light from the humid August day, and sets the room in a fae glow. They are positioned between a glass display of long swords ("Stiff competition?" Val teased Dickon earlier, when she'd caught him peering at them, and Dickon turned bright red, stammered something, and Jon snorted so hard he had to be pulled away by Sansa to get a grip), and a case of fabulous jewels: an emerald collar, a hairnet dripping in amethysts.
Gilly is dressed in a floaty lace dress that skims her calves and moves dreamily even in the stillness of this room, and Sam, Jon, and Dickon are all in the tuxedos they were going to wear for the Tarly wedding. Val looks gloriously rumpled yet somehow still polished and pristine in a daring crop top and midi skirt pairing that would look good on approximately zero other people; and Sansa is wearing the dress she set aside for the rehearsal dinner, a periwinkle guipure number that stops just short of being princess-y; the perfect union of teen and adult Sansa.
"Stand there, I don't trust that lion," Aemon explains, directing Sam and Gilly closer toward the window, Gilly mouthing to Sam, what lion? and Sam mouths back, the floor, and Gilly rolls her eyes. The sun hits Gilly's brown hair, edging it in gold, and Sam quite visibly swoons (he is already crying, of course). "It looks so hungry. Greedy. This museum, as a matter of fact, was built on gree—"
"—Yes, it's all very interesting, isn't it," Sansa sweeps in, touching Aemon's arm. "Tell us all about it over lunch, later. For now, how about we read through those vows?"
Jon is trying very hard not to grin at her, and keeps biting his lip to make himself look serious and focused. He looks infuriatingly hot in his tux, especially with that split lip, and Sansa amuses herself with thinking of all the many sub-Reddits dedicated to ranking Jon's formalwear as they all get into position. From behind Gilly, Sansa meets Jon's eyes, and he flicks his brows up briefly, making her grin even more broadly, as Aemon ponderously reads through the vows, and Sam's sniffles grow ever louder.
It all happens in a blur, like happiness inevitably does: one minute she is beaming at Jon, the next she finds herself discreetly trying to wipe away her tears as Sam and Gilly say, I do, and reach for each other in a clumsy, desperate kiss. Dickon is blinking away tears and Val is rolling her eyes at Sansa as she nods to Dickon, in a can-you-believe-this-idiot sort of way that Sansa is beginning to see is a trademark of Val.
And then they're being chased out of the museum by a very hassled-looking employee, and spilling out into the humid street.
Sansa watches Gilly and Sam through eyes blurry with tears, as she and Jon follow them down the large, shallow steps of the museum. And Gilly stops at the foot and turns back to Sansa with the most brilliant smile, and pitches her bouquet at her, rapid-style, and Jon catches it for her with the lightning-fast reflexes that have won him more than a few games.
"Good thing you caught it," Sansa jokes, "because I already told Gilly I'm not the marrying kind," and Jon says, "she must not know you like I do," and pulls her close and kisses her long and slow and deep, like he knows her, like he is drawing her from the deepest well, like he is shining sunlight on all of her hidden parts.
6 months later
"This is my favourite part, wake up," Sansa says, elbowing Jon in the side, and he groans and lifts his head from her shoulder. On screen, Florian is professing his love for Jonquil, and Sansa sniffs at the romance of it all, but Jon rubs his face blearily.
"Very sweet," he yawns. Normally he is nearly as wrapped up in a good romance as she is (though he would rather die than admit it) but he has played three games in the last week, and he is exhausted.
She doesn't mind; she likes these nights, where she waits up for him and he comes into her flat with a casualness, a familiarity, like it's his home, too. He drops his Direwolves-branded bag on the floor of her entryway with a thud, and staggers to the couch or the bed, wherever she is, and drops down against her with a bone-deep, pleasurable exhaustion, usually burying his face in her neck.
(Sometimes, though, he is is electric when he comes home, and those nights, they do not get much sleep. Sometimes she is electric when she comes home from court, and the last time she was, they did not even make it to the bed.)
He's cuddly and sweet now, in a worn grey jumper that she wears when he's away, and his hair is wild. But last night, he was a demon on the ice, slicing his way up and down the rink. She watched from her living room and shrieked when Sandor Clegane of the Knights, his old rival, smacked into him and tackled him against the plexiglass; he has a purple bruise on his face but he's smug as ever, pointing out that he still scored anyway.
"S'your mobile vibrating?" Jon asks sleepily, relaxing back against her. Sansa glances over; her mobile is indeed vibrating, buzzing its way along the cushion, and she squints to see who it is.
"It—it's Dad," she says flatly, her stomach dropping.
Jon is alert at once. He sits up and together they stare at the little buzzing mobile, until at last the buzzing stops, and the call is sent to voicemail. Neither Jon nor Sansa can speak, and they watch the screen light up with a new voicemail alert.
"You don't have to listen to it. You don't have to share it with me," Jon says immediately. Sansa looks at him, feeling her nose prickle. He's biting his lip as he studies her. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to do."
"I know." Her voice is raw. She flips her mobile over, and presses play on the movie with a shaking finger. "Let's—let's just finish the movie."
As always, Jon is ever in her corner, and he sinks back against her like nothing has happened. But her mind is buzzing like her mobile was, buzzing with the word 'dad', and she cannot focus on the movie.
But she doesn't listen to the voicemail.
The movie ends, and they get ready for bed, and they lay awake together, hands clasped as they stare at the ceiling.
"What if—what if something bad's happened," she eventually wonders at about four am.
"Arya'd call, or Robb," Jon says immediately. "I don't think anything—anything is wrong."
(Arya left her usual voicemail at Christmas, and this time, Sansa listened.)
(She only said, "I'm so sorry, I love you," and rung off, and Sansa has listened to it perhaps a thousand times.)
One day slips by, then another. Sansa feels every moment like a brush burn. She does not delete the voicemail, but she doesn't listen to it, either. Jon follows her lead, never bringing it up unless she does.
On the seventh day, Sansa decides, at last, to listen to the voicemail. It happens like this:
Jon has just got back from a game down in Dorne, and he is in the shower. Sansa is getting dinner started; when Jon is out of the shower, he will come out and help. She is in a strange mood: she is exceedingly happy, as she always is when she and Jon have these quiet nights, but she is still aware of the voicemail, like it is a bug bite or a bruise, something that she can forget about until it is accidentally touched, and then suddenly she is hyperaware of it.
She hears Jon's hockey bag slide off the bench by the entryway, and she rolls her eyes good-naturedly. He always just drops it there like that's its place, and it's not. She wipes her hands on a towel, and picks up the bag and carries it to the bedroom. She's not paying attention when she starts grabbing his clothes out of it, throwing them in the hamper, and that's when her hand hits something hard and small, and she freezes, her fingers lingering on the object.
There is a small, hard box in Jon's bag.
She moves her finger a smidge, and is met with the soft resistance of velvet.
Naturally, she shrieks and drops the thing as though stung, and smacks backward into the wall, staring at the innocuous bag, heart pounding, eyes burning with a profound happiness.
"You alright?" Jon calls from the shower, and Sansa bites her lip to hide her furious, senseless joy.
"Y-yes," she calls back. "Stubbed my toe!"
She backs out of the bedroom as though hiding a live animal in there, and pours herself a glass of wine but doesn't drink it, she just paces back and forth in the kitchen, pulling at her hair. It's not like it's a surprise, necessarily; this was always the plan; but it is a surprise, and it's not like she's some silly girl who cares about this crap—oh, but she is. She wants the ring, she wants the romance, she wants the fairytale, and that Jon knows this about her—knows it, loves it, respects it; honors it—is all the better. It fills her with brimming joy, it strengthens her—
—And that is when she calmly walks to the counter where her mobile is charging, unlocks it, and presses play on the voicemail.
"Sansa," Ned Stark begins, "it's been almost twelve years. And I try to be an honorable man, but I haven't been honorable. I try to be a good father—but I've been a shit one, haven't I? I'm so sorry. Your mother is so sorry."
She hears him let out a long exhale. Her hand shakes on the mobile. "You don't owe us anything. But I wanted to tell you I'm sorry, and I love you, and whatever you're doing, I hope it's exactly what you want to be doing. And I hope I'll get to hear your voice again one day, but if not, I understand."
She registers Jon's light footfalls behind her, but she cannot move. "I'm sorry, I love you," he says, and the voicemail ends.
Jon's arms slide around her waist, and he presses a kiss to her shoulder. He smells like soap, and his skin is still warm from the hot shower.
"Yes," she says, setting the mobile down, and, strangely enough, it's true.
"What are you going to do about it?"
"Don't know yet," she admits, looking down at Jon's lean forearms. They belong to her again. "I'll see how I feel."
They stand like that for a long time, until at last Jon kisses her neck once more and lets go of her.
He is put on tomato-chopping duty, and they work side-by-side, rehashing the events of last night's game (Jon scored a goal almost entirely by accident and was called out by Twitter for it; Loras got punched in the face by Oberyn Martell and finally lost his teeth) and talking about Sam and Gilly's latest ultrasound (Gilly sent the pictures in the group Whatsapp and Renly sent back "eh" and inspired a lot of outrage before Loras—his secret boyfriend!—explained, with exasperation, that he was trying to be funny).
She loses herself in the perfection of her life, and notices how there is a certain secret mischief about Jon, like he's looking forward to something, like he's nervous, like he's got a secret. She knows his secret, and she suspects that he knows that she knows, and every time their arms brush or their eyes meet, she is pulsingly aware of the beauty of her life, which is slowly unfolding and blooming like a flower, or maybe like a ruin rising from the sand, silt falling away, revealing the palace that is hers to explore as she wishes.
She doesn't know yet what she will do about the voicemail; whatever it is, it will be exactly what she wants.