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a fairytale ending

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Can you believe this? Sansa had captioned the screenshot she sent to her friends.

 

Tinder isn't a thing Sansa does all the time – she and Myranda had set up an account for her two years ago after she and Harry split and she uses it occasionally. Sometimes it's nice looking at guys and even flirting with a few of them, though she's never had the nerve to go through with any meetups (she has left more than one guy on read after even the slightest hint they wanted to take things into the real world).

 

But this is new, or at least she's never seen it before.

 

His photo had made her pause in her bored swiping (curled up on her couch, blanket wrapped around her like an old woman, heating pad on her lower back, six different snacks on the coffee table that she had sampled and ultimately decided weren't doing it for her or her uterus). Most men on this app take terrible photos, or choose terrible photos, and honestly, this one is no different. At least he's cropped out whoever he's in the photo with, most guys don't even bother to do that. He's not smiling, holding a beer in one hand with his other arm around the cropped out person that is clearly a woman.

 

He is pretty, though.

 

She's gotta say, the man bun, the beard, the flannel shirt, the cheap beer – none of it should be doing anything for her. Maybe it's her hormones all out of whack, but for some reason, she paused on his photo.

 

It wasn't his photo, though, that made her screenshot the profile and send it in a group text to her friends. Can you believe this?

 

Jon, 29, it starts. Good, fine. Well within her acceptable age range. But the rest of it...

 

Looking for a date to a wedding. I'm not kidding. Must pretend to be my girlfriend. Some PDA required (holding hands, etc), but feel free to punch me in the face if you're ever uncomfortable. Or just tell me and I'll stop.

 

**Warnings**

-the bride is my ex and the groom is my half brother

-I am desperate not to show up alone to my ex's wedding

-my dad is a dick and he WILL try to hit on you

-I'm terrible in large groups, extrovert with good social skills preferred

-this will be a full weekend and it's unclear if I can get a room with two beds this last minute

-did I mention the wedding is the third weekend in May?

-I will buy you a new dress for the occasion. You actually won't have to pay for anything, though now that I type this it sounds like I'm looking for an escort and I think that's illegal?

 

Sansa stares at the profile for too long. Why has she not swiped left?

 

The first text from one of her friends comes in, followed quickly by more, her phone buzzing almost constantly.

 

Omg do it

 

He's hot!

 

Ok you HAVE to go to this wedding, it sounds like something straight off of Maury

 

Yes! Go and then live tweet it for the rest of us

 

Am I the only one that thinks this sounds like a trap? Like she'll actually end up in someone's basement?

 

Shhh Mya, you're ruining all the fun

 

Free dress! Hot boy!

 

I literally NEED to know how the ex & half brother happened. I might die if I don't

 

Does he have more photos? That one's too blurry

 

By “blurry”, Randa means she can't see if he's fit or not

 

Sansa switches back to Tinder and sees that he does, in fact, have another photo. It's definitely not the shirtless selfie Myranda is looking for, but it makes something in Sansa's chest flutter. Against her better judgment, she screenshots that, too, and sends it.

 

Ok, so you've definitely swiped right on him then?

 

Of course she has, when has Sansa ever been able to resist a cute dog? I've literally watched her stop mid convo to cross the street and pet a strangers dog. It's honestly rude

 

Was it a match???

 

PLEASE FIND OUT HOW THE EX AND THE HALF BROTHER ENDED UP TOGETHER

 

Sansa's heart is pounding in her chest, because she hasn't swiped on him, either way. And now, for some reason, she thinks if she swipes right and they aren't a match, she'll actually feel shitty about it. But she gathers what little courage she has, bolstered by the glass of wine she had with her snack sampling, and swipes right.

 

They're a match.

 

Fuck! Is all she can think. She sends a silent, panicked fuck!! right to the heavens as she hits the chat button. She doesn't have to send a message. She could leave it up to him to message her. But...

 

::that's a really cute dog, what's its name?

 

Good. She can pretend she was only interested in the dog and that'll be it.

 

Why did she swipe right?

 


 

Alright.

 

Look.

 

She swiped right on this Jon and she was even so bold as to send him a message and he has the audacity to not respond?

 

Her panic last night had slowly eased, giving way to relief when he didn't respond and then, at some point, annoyance. He swiped right on her first! And now he's too good to message her back?

 

Maybe he already found a date, she tries to reason, but she won't lie and say that her ego isn't a bit bruised when she wakes up the next morning and still doesn't have any response from him. She's also a bit embarrassed because her group chat keeps asking for updates and she has to tell them that there aren't any.

 

It's three days later, when she's practically forgotten about the whole thing, that her phone buzzes with a message. There's a notification on her Tinder app and it sends something like anticipation shooting through her stomach.

 

::his name is Ghost. Sorry it took me so long to respond, I was drunk when I made this profile.

 

Sansa frowns at her phone and tries to decide what to say. In all honesty, she just got home from work and she had a pretty shit day and all she wants to do is sit on the couch with a bag of cheesy puffs and watch Bake Off. She's not really in the mood to flirt.

 

:: and you just remembered it now?

 

She winces at her response because it's sort of bitchy, which she didn't really intend. She is definitely not on her A game right now.

 

:: to be honest, I saw the notifications for it but I was too scared to open it and see how much of an ass I made of myself

 

That gets a laugh out of her.

 

::verdict?

 

::highly embarrassing. I should not be allowed to use my phone while drunk and sad. I'm really selling myself, huh?

 

Sansa finds herself smiling as she drifts over to her couch and sits.

 

::if it helps, Ghost is too adorable for words and tips the scales a bit back in your favor

 

::I knew getting a dog would be good for something.

 

The conversation quickly devolves into how he got Ghost, and then dogs in general and before she realizes it, she's slid down on the couch so she's on her back, phone held above her face, grinning like mad at his story of training baby Ghost not to pee in his apartment and his very angry landlord.

 

::oh shit, I didn't realize what time it was, I have to meet someone for dinner

 

When Sansa looks up at the time display at the top of her phone, she's shocked to find they've been talking for almost a half hour. And now he has to go meet someone for dinner. (A part of her wonders if he's been talking to other girls on Tinder, she can't be the only person to send him a message. Hadn't he said notifications originally? As in multiple? Is he meeting one of them for dinner? Is he even interested in meeting someone off this app now that he's sober? Does he still want a date for this wedding? She can't believe they haven't talked at all about that – just dogs. She hates herself sometimes.)

 

::have a good dinner!

 

There. That's casual. And definitely doesn't betray the fact that she desperately wants to know what his deal is.

 

::thanks, I will

 

And then, after a few seconds:

 

::I'll talk to you later?

 

Later. He wants to talk to her more? That little zing of anticipation flits through her stomach again and her fingers type out a response before she can really think it through.

 

::definitely

 


 

“I love you dearly,” Mya says as she leans against the cubical wall that borders Sansa's desk, “so if you're really thinking about this, please be safe. I do not need my best friend murdered in some guy's basement.”

 

Sansa spins back and forth in her office chair idly, lost in thought. She knows Mya can be a bit paranoid, she watches way too many murder shows and so she's convinced everyone is a murderer, but Sansa knows her advice isn't completely off the mark.

 

“What if he gets offended?”

 

“That you're making sure he's not catfishing you? If he's offended by that, then he's definitely catfishing you.”

 

Sansa groans and stops spinning her chair and leans her head back to stare at the tiled ceiling and the bright fluorescent lights overhead.

 

She's figures there's about an eighty percent chance that Jon is not who he says he is. For one, he's too good looking to be that nice. His dog is too cute. He's too funny (ok, she's not actually sure he is funny because when she had relayed one of their conversations to Myranda and Beth over the weekend, they had both sort of blinked at her in confusion. Maybe only Sansa finds him funny.)

 

But ugh. They've been talking nearly nonstop since that first day and she can't stop thinking about him and they'd finally gotten to the topic of the wedding (she's been trying not to be weird about it, even though that's what his whole profile had been about. She doesn't want to be nosy). Jon had mentioned that yes, he does want a date for this wedding (or, more specifically, he said he doesn't want to show up alone, she thinks there's a distinct difference), and that had started an awkward should we meet up conversation. Which is why Mya is so concerned.

 

Because in all the years she's been casually using Tinder, Sansa has never once even thought of meeting with someone. She doesn't know why Jon is different. Maybe it's the mystery of the wedding, of the ex and the half brother. Maybe because he's so different from most of the men she talks to.

 

When their supervisor walks by a second time with a pointed look, Mya sighs and heads back to her own desk and Sansa spins again to face her computer, but instead she picks up her phone and opens Tinder.

 

::do you have a facebook or something? Instagram?

 

It's about an hour later, as she's heating up her lunch in the office microwave, when he answers.

 

::have a facebook, don't really use it. No instagram.

 

She doesn't even have to ask, he sends her a link to his Facebook page, and sure enough, it hasn't been updated in almost a year. But the photos are of the same guy as in his Tinder profile and now she has his last name. Jon Snow.

 

::ok not to be weird, but I'm just not sure how to tell if you're you or not

 

::who else would I be?

 

She can't tell if he's joking. Or maybe men genuinely don't think about this kind of thing. Or maybe he's a catfish trying to throw her off the scent.

 

::I don't know. Sorry, my friend got in my head and she thinks you're not who you say you are and that you're going to try and murder me or something

 

After she hits send, she stares down at the last message in horror. She's usually so good at flirting, saying exactly the right thing to make guys fall for her, so why can't she be like that with Jon?

 

::do people do that? Not murder, I know that happens. I mean pretend to be other people?

 

She stares at her screen for a few seconds, wondering if he's really that oblivious to online dating culture. Or just online culture in general. Instead of responding, she sends him a link to the Wikipedia page for the show Catfish.

 

By the time he responds, she's back at her desk with a mouthful of lemon chicken.

 

::yikes. Look, I'm going to send you my number. I'm in meetings all day, but I'll be done by 7 tonight. You can do with it what you will, but if you want to make sure I am who I say I am, you can facetime me then

 


 

By the time seven rolls around, Sansa has done her makeup three times, each time deciding it was too much and too forced, wiping it off in frustration only to start again. She opens the camera app on her phone and checks her appearance, fluffing up her hair and trying to find the best angle. She's being ridiculous, she knows, but she is full of nervous energy and it needs some outlet.

 

There's no way Jon isn't who he says he is, right? Because why else would he tell her to do this? Although, if he has any sort of connection issue and can't take her call, she'll be sure he's a catfish. She's watched the show. Always having connection issues so you can't Facetime is like catfishing 101.

 

She sends a quick text that she's going to call, just so she doesn't catch him off guard, and he sends back a simple ok.

 

Then she sits on her couch and calls him.

 

For three brief seconds that feel like a lifetime, it just rings and her stomach clenches until his face pops up on the screen.

 

“Hi,” she starts, her voice coming out slightly higher pitched than it usually does.

 

“Hey,” he says back and he's real. His voice is deep and it has a Northern lilt to it that gives her a pang of nostalgia (she really needs to call her parents soon).

 

“So... Jon, huh?”

 

“I'm really who I say I am,” he confirms, one side of his mouth tilting up in a smile. “Jon. Twenty nine. In desperate need of a date to my half brother and ex girlfriend's wedding.”

 

She lets out a huff of laughter at that, though it's more out of nerves than actual humor. She's not sure what to say next, this is so weird. She's not big on talking on the phone in general, even with people she's close to. Jon seems to feel the same, because he says, “would you like to have lunch with me this weekend? We could do this in person?”

 

They decide on brunch (her idea) at a restaurant downtown (also her idea). Jon seems to be fine with letting her set the course of this date and she's eternally grateful for it. It means she gets to pick a place that she's familiar with, but isn't one of her regular spots close to her apartment (just in case he turns out to be the creepy stalker type). They're both quick to say their goodbyes, and she's also thankful for that. It seems that they're on the same page with how awkward this Facetime call was, but she's glad she did it because now she can stop worrying.

 

(Or, at least stop worrying that he has a different face. He still could be an ax murderer.)

 


 

She shows up to their date in a blue romper that she hopes looks casual and not like she spent all morning with half her closet spread out on her bed debating what to wear.

 

Except, she's quickly getting the sense that this isn't a date.

 

The initial bit is awkward, because of course it is, they're meeting for the first time. But as they settle into their table, jammed in a corner near the windows in the overcrowded restaurant, it starts to feel a bit more normal. Just not like a date.

 

Jon is nice and polite and she likes that even though their waitress takes forever, he doesn't seem to get annoyed and he's not rude to her at all when she finally gets to their table. He declines the traditional brunch mimosas, making a joke about alcohol not doing him any favors, but she orders one to hopefully settle her nerves a bit.

 

It's all very by the book, but the longer it goes on, as their drinks come and then their food, it begins to feel more like... well, a business transaction.

 

“So I'd be your girlfriend?” she asks, taking a sip of her mimosa. “Wouldn't your family question why you suddenly have a girlfriend they've never heard about?”

 

He shifts in his seat and gives a little shrug and says, “I'm not really close to that side of the family. The only person who I would ever tell about a relationship is my half sister, and she just had a baby so she'll think she forgot I told her or something. And as I said, I don't really use social media, so it's not like they would have seen me posting about it.”

 

“I have to ask, why are you going? It sounds like you're not really that close to your half brother.”

 

He sighs and rubs a hand over his face for a moment, sitting back in his chair. “I almost said no, when I got the invitation. But then all I could think about was how everyone would talk about how I didn't go. Anytime I see one of them, they're going to bring it up. So I decided it would be better if I showed my face. And... well, I checked the plus one box without... I didn't really have a plan. Then I couldn't decide if it was more embarrassing to just go by myself or back out completely.”

 

“You weren't dating anyone at the time?” He shakes his head. “What about any friends that could go with you?”

 

“The bride happens to know who all my female friends are,” he deadpans and she winces. How could she have forgotten?

 

“Right.”

 

They sit in silence for a bit, her pushing bits of crepe and strawberries around on her plate as he stares out the window. Then he finally looks back at her and sighs.

 

“You haven't asked yet.”

 

“Asked what?” He gives her a look and she cringes a bit. “I feel weird prying.”

 

There's another pause before he speaks again. “Do you know why I responded to you? To your message on Tinder?”

 

“You didn't respond to them all?”

 

“Only yours.”

 

“Oh,” she breathes, feeling something bloom in her chest that she tries to push down.

 

“You were the only one who didn't immediately ask what happened with my ex and brother.”

 

“I'm not going to lie and say I'm not curious,” she says slowly, cautiously, “but you don't have to explain it if you don't want to.”

 

“It's not that complicated,” he says, his voice going a bit dull as his eyes stray back to the window, to the street outside. “We dated for five months. She broke up with me, then a month later I found out she was with Egg.”

 

Sansa makes a sort of noncommittal humming noise as she takes another sip of her mimosa instead of asking the question she wants to ask.

 

He seems to hear the question anyway, because he says, “they never really clarified the... timeline.”

 

“Right.”

 

After another moment, there's a heavy sigh and he looks back at her. “I wasn't lying when I put the warning there. My family is... unpleasant to deal with and a lot of people are going to be watching me and talking about me and judging... you need to know what you're getting into. It's not just that she's my ex, I'm also sort of the black sheep of the family – our dad cheated on his wife with my mom and had me.”

 

“That's... a lot,” she says, because she doesn't know what else to say.

 

“I also didn't take a job in the family business, so that didn't help matters. I'm a huge disappointment.”

 

“You're really selling this,” she jokes and it takes a second, but it finally lands and he lets out a small laugh. “I'll go.” He makes a face like he doesn't believe her. “I'm serious.”

 

“I don't understand why you'd agree to help me out. I guarantee you, this is going to be a terrible weekend.”

 

She shrugs and brings a hand up to play with her dragonfly pendant that she only wears on special occasions because it's good luck. “I mean, I guess there's something to be said for wanting to watch this trainwreck of a wedding.” It's only half a joke and he seems to take it as one, because he's smiling again. “Or maybe I'm just a bleeding heart and the idea of you going alone makes me want to... I don't know, save you?”

 

His smile grows, it crinkles up the corners of his eyes and transforms his whole face. “My knight in shining armor,” he says, and she feels the heat rise in her cheeks.

 

What she won't tell him is that she's only met him once, they've only been talking for eight days, but she already has a crush on him. He makes her pulse race and her stomach swoop and her breath catch.

 

But as they leave, after they split the check and walk back out onto the street and part ways, she understands that a real relationship isn't in the cards for them.

 

Because he's clearly still not over his ex.

 


 

They meet a few more times – a dinner the next Wednesday, beers at a local pub Sunday afternoon. He gives her the details of the wedding, the when and where and how of it all.

 

The more she finds out, the more she realizes that he really did mean his warnings. The wedding is at a resort nearly two hours away, they'll be going down Friday morning, the rehearsal dinner will be that night, then the wedding will be the next day. They'll leave Sunday.

 

Jon isn't in the wedding party, but apparently his brother had still asked him to be a part of the rehearsal and the photos and she can tell Jon wants no part of it, but as with everything else, couldn't say no.

 

When the subject of a dress comes up, the ease she feels around him disappears and their conversation grows a bit tense.

 

“You don't need to buy me a dress.”

 

“I just don't want you to be out any money because of this,” he scratches at his beard and can't meet her eyes and she gets the sense he's incredibly uncomfortable with this, too.

 

“I have dresses.”

 

He takes a deep breath and plays with the napkin under his drink for a moment before he responds. He turns on his stool to face her a bit more and his knee brushes hers and it sends a shiver down her spine. His voice dips low so that she has to lean forward to hear him over the noise in the bar. “It's just that I don't want you to feel uncomfortable. Around my family, I mean.” Sansa has no idea what that even means, but he continues. “I guess I have one last warning. Do you... have you heard of the Targaryens?”

 

The name rings a bell and she nods slowly, though she can't quite place it.

 

“You've probably seen their name around. It's mostly real estate and stuff, but they're... well, they've got money. Everyone at this wedding will be in designer clothes and I don't care what you wear, but I don't want you to feel out of place.”

 

Something falls heavy in the pit of her stomach when she realizes he's not just offering to buy her a dress for the occasion, he's offering to buy her a designer dress. Something expensive. Something she could never afford on her own.

 

And then the shock of – wait, does that mean he's rich? He doesn't look like the type. He doesn't act like it.

 

She makes some excuse to go to the bathroom and while she's in there, she pulls out her phone and Googles Jon Snow. It's a generic name, so she adds Targaryen and sure enough – there, on her screen, is an article about some fundraiser and there's a picture of Jon with his arm around a gorgeous brunette, standing next to two men with pale blond hair, one older, one younger. The caption reads: Rhaegar Targaryen (center) with sons Aegon Targaryen (left) and Jon Snow (right).

 

A few more clicks and she's at a Google search of the name Targaryen and just reading their Wikipedia makes her stomach clench because they aren't just rich. They're rich. Like generational wealth, owns half of King's Landing real estate, twenty car garage rich. So rich that common people like her have barely heard their name.

 

And then she finds the wedding announcement for Aegon Targaryen and there, in the photo with him, is that same brunette and Sansa feels a pang of hurt for Jon. Aegon Targaryen and Margaery Tyrell.

 

When she finally comes out of the bathroom, he gives her a once over and then sighs. “You looked me up.”

 

“I'm sorry,” she breathes, hands still shaking a bit.

 

“You can back out of this anytime you want.”

 

Yes! her logical brain screams. Back out!

 

But then she thinks about those photos – of Margaery on Jon's arm and then with Aegon. She thinks about the way Jon's face turns to stone every time he talks about her or his brother. She thinks of how hurt he must be. He must have really loved her. He must still love her.

 

This is a terrible idea. She barely knows him, she doesn't know any of these people and she'll be completely out of place, and she knows he only wants her there to make his ex jealous.

 

(Maybe he wants her back? Oh gods. Is that an option? What if he and this Margaery run off together and Sansa is stuck at a resort in the Reach by herself with a bunch of people who are essentially Westerosi royalty?)

 

“No, I'll go.”

 

He looks up at her and the hope on his face solidifies her decision. It may be the worst one she's ever made, but that isn't going to stop her, common sense and self preservation be damned.

 

“About the dress...” he starts.

 

She thinks again to the photo of Jon at that fundraiser, the dress Margaery had been wearing in it and suddenly the idea of walking into a room full of people like that, even in the most expensive dress she owns, makes her want to throw up.

 

“When are you free this week?” he asks when she doesn't answer. “We can go pick one out then.”

 


 

The thing about movies is they have montages and you don't have to watch the tedious process of trying on dress after dress – the zippers and the ties and the restricted breathing and the spinning and turning and trying to figure out if it's flattering or if the store mirrors are those trick carnival ones.

 

If only this were a movie.

 

It felt a bit like one at first, meeting Jon at a boutique that he said his half sister had recommended, one that Sansa would never in a million years walk into herself, though she would absolutely stare longingly at the window displays. It's all glass and chrome and white and she has her own personal shop attendant with her, running out to fetch different dresses or sizes.

 

She should feel like a princess, this should feel like a dream, except when she finally steps out in a red dress that clings to her, that is cut lower than anything Sansa has ever dared to wear before, and Jon looks at her and gives a low whistle, it feels like anything but.

 

“This is it,” the attendant says with an approving nod and Sansa turns to look at herself in the mirror. Even without her hair and makeup done, she has never looked better, she thinks. But this isn't a fairytale and she isn't a princess and all of this feels empty because the person she truly wants to appreciate it only does because he wants her to look nice on his arm.

 

Which is what she agreed to.

 

Sansa changes back out of the dress and the attendant takes it and gives it to Jon and by the time Sansa is dressed in her regular clothes, Jon is already up front paying for it.

 

“You'll outshine the bride,” the sales clerk whispers as Sansa makes her way up front and she forces a smile onto her face and swallows down her disappointment.

 

The dress is nice, but Sansa has seen the bride. There is no outshining Margaery Tyrell.

 

“Ready?” Jon asks, handing over the bag that's worth more than Sansa's rent.

 

Is she ready?

 

Is she ready to leave in five days, on a two hour road trip to a resort in the Reach, with a man she just met three weeks ago, to play his doting girlfriend while he pines over his ex and maybe ruins the wedding?

 

No, she is absolutely not ready. But of course that's not what she says.

 

“Definitely.”

Chapter Text

When Jon comes to pick her up on Friday morning, she mutters a quiet oh fuck off to herself when the black sports car comes to a stop at the curb in front of her building. He gets out and doesn't notice her at her window, looking down at him, and she watches him type something into his phone. Hers buzzes almost immediately.

 

I'm here

 

No shit, she wants to text back. You just pulled up in the most obvious car.

 

Instead she sends, be down in a sec!

 

Her suitcase is by the door and the garment bag hangs off the coat rack and she grabs both before heading out, saying a quick goodbye to Ursula, her snake plant (the only one she has yet to murder).

 

Jon meets her at the front door of her building and immediately takes her suitcase despite her protests, then loads it in the trunk of the car (she's surprised it even has a trunk) and she lays her garment bag gently on top. Thank the gods Jeyne had a portable steamer to lend her, just in case.

 

Also in the bag is her other dress, the one she had lied and told Jon she already owned. He'd offered to buy her a second dress for the rehearsal dinner, but she couldn't bring herself to accept it and so she'd lied and said she had something appropriate to wear. In reality, she and Myranda and Beth had gone out and panic bought a dress that was much too expensive. She hasn't removed the tags. She feels like shit for doing that, but she'd rather return it after wearing it once than let Jon buy her another. As it is, that red dress has been haunting her, sitting in her garment bag for the past five days.

 

You'll outshine the bride.

 

No, she won't, and Jon wasted good money on trying.

 

Jon opens the car door for her and she gets in gingerly, trying not to touch anything. She has to put her seatbelt on and so she does that, then folds her hands in her lap and sits as still as she can. The interior of the car is all leather and hi-tech gadgetry and she is convinced that if she moves, she's going to break something. As Jon pulls away from the curb, he tells her she can change the radio if she wants, but she declines as that would involve touching the center console.

 

It's not until they're out of the city that he finally says something beyond their initial small talk. “You can still back out of this. There's plenty of time before the rehearsal dinner, I can turn around and take you back.”

 

“What? No, it's fine.”

 

“It's not fine,” he sighs. “You've been sitting there like a statue, it's pretty obvious you don't want to be here.”

 

“Oh, no, I just...” she shrugs with a slight grimace, “I feel like I'm going to break something if I touch anything.”

 

He lets out a sharp bark of laughter at that and she watches him shake his head like he's amused by her. “It's a rental, first of all, and I got the damage waivers on it. But also, you aren't going to break anything by changing the station.”

 

After a moment of debate with herself, she reaches over and plays with the radio until she finds some pop station and the mood in the car finally shifts. His talk radio was really depressing, she decides.

 

“I'm afraid to ask how nice your real car is if this is the rental you use for travel,” she tries to joke, though she's not sure it lands.

 

There's a moment where Jon glances at her, mouth pressed into a line like he's thinking hard about something. “My regular car is a mid-range SUV,” he finally says, rolling his shoulders like he's trying to release tension.“Look, this weekend is about... it's about playing their game.”

 

“Game?”

 

“This car, your dress, my suit that I spent hours being fitted for. It's all so we stick out as little as possible. I just... I just want to get through this.”

 

Sansa takes a moment to think about that. She supposes she has to believe him about his SUV, because why would he lie? Honestly, she cannot figure him out – he dropped money on her dress like it was nothing, but seems to loathe the idea of it all and drives a mid-range SUV and he doesn't act like someone who is richer than the gods. He doesn't dress like it, she thinks, eyeing up his jeans and black t-shirt (she's definitely just checking out the outfit and not the way it fits him).

 

She doesn't ask, though, because she's not sure what kind of answer she'll get and he seems to hate talking about it, so she changes the subject.

 

“So how did we meet?”

 

“What?”

 

She lets out a sigh. “How did we meet? What's our story?”

 

“Tinder?”

 

Sansa suppresses another sigh at the confusion on his face. He's hopeless, she decides. “Look, if we're going for the whole fairytale romance thing, Tinder isn't exactly a great start. You can't tell me people won't hear that and judge.”

 

“Yeah, I guess,” he agrees, a little line forming between his brows like he's just realizing how much people will judge. Especially the kind of people she suspects will be at this wedding.

 

“You drink coffee right?” He nods. “Ok, so we both go to the same coffee place and we see each other there every day, but neither of us have the courage to be the first to talk. But then one day, the barista switches up our orders. I get your... what do you drink?”

 

“Usually just regular coffee? Black?”

 

“Of course you do,” she huffs. “Ok, I get your bitter, disgusting black coffee and you get my delicious hazelnut latte and even though the barista offers to remake our drinks, we decide to just swap and then we grab a table together and the rest is history.”

 

“You're really against unsweetened coffee, huh?”

 

“It's a crime,” she nods and it makes him laugh.

 

There's a bout of silence as she turns to stare out the window at the passing scenery, now that they're out of the city - the rolling hills and open fields and endless sky. She can feel a question building up in her, one she shouldn't ask. It comes out anyway.

 

“How did you and Margaery meet?” When she looks back at him, there's a new tension in his shoulders that wasn't there before. “I just want to make sure our story beats hers.”

 

He finally clears his throat and says, “the resort we're going to, her family owns it.”

 

“Her family owns Rose Resorts and Hotels?”

 

Ugh. Of course. Why not.

 

He nods. “I told you I'm an engineer, right? I work for a consulting firm?”

 

“And I told you I don't know what that means,” she reminds him. They'd been on their second non-date, discussing what they did for work, and she'd told him she didn't know what that meant and he had laughed and told her it was boring anyway.

 

“We do consultations for new construction and sometimes for older buildings that are having issues and... well, we were hired to look at one of their hotels in King's Landing. She was there to show us around. After the consultation was done, she called me and asked me to go out to dinner with her.”

 

It's not exactly the stuff dreams are made of, all things considered. Her coffee shop scenario is much more likely to be in some made for TV romcom. Except it's a lie. All of it's a lie.

 

She tries to picture meeting Jon like that – imagines seeing him every morning at her local cafe, not having the courage to go up and talk to him, their eyes meeting and then looking away. The glances, the blushes, the shy smiles, the pining from afar. The inevitable, I think you have my drink.

 

Sansa's scenario might be more romantic, but Margaery's is real.

 


 

“Ok, my siblings in age order, go!”

 

“Fuck,” he swears, “ok, Robb, you...” a hesitation, “Bran?” She makes an obnoxious buzzer sound and he groans and corrects himself. “Arya, then Bran, then Rickon.”

 

“Ding ding ding!”

 

“That's too many children.”

 

“My parents couldn't be stopped,” she shrugs and it makes him laugh. She likes making him laugh.

 

In fact, they've been laughing a lot this past hour, playing get to know you games and quizzing each other on the smallest, most insignificant details. She's avoided the topic of his Targaryen side and he's been smiling and laughing a lot more. The only time it had faltered was when they talked about their education, and she learned he went to a private, all boys boarding school for most of his childhood. When he told her, it seemed like there was something more he wanted to say, but he didn't and she hadn't asked.

 

It's not her place to ask. She's his rent-a-date and he has no obligation to explain himself if he's not willing to offer it up on his own.

 

“Ok, when I was a kid, what did I want to be when I grew up?”

 

Sansa turns to look at him and says, “did you tell me that?”

 

“Yes. I'm deeply offended you don't remember.”

 

She tries with everything in her to remember, thinking back through their conversations about school, about growing up in the North, but she comes up blank. “I don't know.”

 

“A wolf.”

 

“That's not an occupation!”

 

“I never said what job did I want. I asked what I wanted to be.”

 

She attempts a glare at him, trying to suppress her smile, though it's hard when he's grinning like that. He's not even turned to face her since he's driving, she's not getting the full force of his smile but it still hits her hard, making her stomach go all fluttery.

 

Whatever her response was going to be dies in her throat when his smile fades, and she turns to look out the window at the sign they're passing.

 

Rose Resorts at Highgarden, next exit.

 

She debates telling him to keep driving, to pass the exit. Just keep going and going until they reach the western shores. But she doesn't and so he doesn't - he puts his blinker on and takes the next exit and they both don't speak again for the rest of the ride.

 


 

A valet takes their car and she tries to pretend like she doesn't see Jon take a deep, steadying breath after it's gone and they're alone under the covered portico. The day is sunny and there's a gentle breeze to ensure it's not too hot - perfect weather at a perfect resort for a perfect wedding.

 

She really needs to get a handle on herself.

 

Just because the guy she's crushing on is still in love with his ex and has to watch her get married to his half brother doesn't mean Sansa gets to be petty and wish for a storm to ruin the day. Right? Because that would make her a terrible person.

 

Or maybe she should be hoping everything goes perfectly? Maybe if Jon sees Margaery get married, he can finally get over her and then... And then what? And then Sansa gets to be his second choice? The girl he turns to because the one he wants isn't available?

 

She's getting way ahead of herself – Jon has yet to do anything to make her think he's even remotely attracted to her (except for that one appreciative whistle when she stepped out in her dress, but that was about the dress and not her).

 

The double set of doors slide smoothly open and then closed behind them and Jon heads up to the front desk to check in. She stands at his side and tries not to ogle the lobby.

 

“You ok?” he asks as the desk clerk takes Jon's card and starts typing something.

 

“There's so much gold,” she whispers, eyes wide. It's everywhere. Golds and blues and greens. It's... a lot. “They really like their roses.”

 

That gets a snort of laughter from him. “Nothing says luxury like a baby with a flower crown,” he murmurs to her so the clerk can't hear and nods off to the left. Sure enough, at the end of the counter is a small marble statue of a baby covered in roses and Sansa has to press her lips together, hard, so that she doesn't laugh. She aims an elbow at his side as the clerk shoots both of them a look.

 

The clerk is just about to hand Jon the set of keys for their rooms when Sansa hears a female voice behind them give a dramatic gasp and a, “Jon?

 

“Fuck,” she hears Jon swear under his breath before he paints a neutral expression on his face and turns. Sansa turns with him to see two women standing in the lobby in matching workout gear, though they don't look like they've done any actual working out.

 

“Alla,” Jon greets with a polite smile, “Elinor.”

 

“It's so good to see you,” the blonde one says, eyes wide and innocent and Sansa feels something unpleasant unfurl in her stomach. “We weren't sure you'd actually come. But you did!”

 

“Well, it is my brother's wedding,” he deadpans. Neither of the girls seem to notice his sarcasm.

 

“And who's this?” the brunette asks, her eyes sliding to Sansa. “I didn't know you were bringing someone!”

 

Sansa turns to look at Jon and from this angle, she can see the muscles in his jaw clenching, like he's actively stopping himself from speaking. She wonders what he wants to say.

 

“Hi, I'm Sansa,” she decides to introduce herself. “Jon's girlfriend.” The words feel strange in her mouth and she can sense Jon go slightly stiff next to her, like he wasn't totally expecting it, either, and she realizes - this is it. They're really doing this.

 

“Girlfriend! Oh-em-gee,” the blonde gushes, Sansa has no idea which one is which. “You two are just too cute.

 

“Thanks,” Sansa tries to keep her smile on, but these girls seem... intent on something. They're looking at her with a little too much interest.

 

“Well, we've had a long drive and we need to get our bags up to our room,” Jon cuts in, already reaching down for his suitcase. The brunette gives him a playful little pout that turns Sansa's stomach.

 

“You have to tell me your Insta handle,” the brunette says, pout disappearing as she turns back to Sansa. “I'll be tagging everyone in photos this weekend! And when you post yours, don't forget to use the hashtag TheDragonAndTheRoseUnite.” Sansa has to physically stop herself from making a face and she hears Jon let out low sound of disgust that she thinks the other girls can't hear. “Plus,” the brunette continues with a sly smile. “I need to see all the cuteness of you two!”

 

Fuck.

 

“Oh,” Sansa waves her hand vaguely, brain scrambling for a lie. “You won't find any pictures of Jon on there. He's the worst at photos.” To her absolute joy, the two girls simply nod like this is not a surprise and Sansa rejoices that she has read Jon well enough to guess that.

 

“I can't imagine not being able to show off my boyfriend,” the blonde gives a pitying little frown. “But I'm sure you're used to it.”

 

Sansa mostly likes to pretend that she isn't a competitive person, but this is a lie. She has a stubborn streak that rivals any of her siblings, and it's this that makes her say, “oh, I post him to my stories all the time.”

 

“I get it,” the blonde says with a nod. “Don't want to ruin the aesthetic. I keep telling my parents that's why I never post any family photos. Like, sorry, grandma does not belong on my Instagram.”

 

Sansa has no idea what to say to this. She posts a photo of her family every time she goes back to Winterfell (she makes them all stand together and take one even though they all whine like babies about it, except her mother).

 

“Well,” Jon cuts in again, “this has been great, but we should head up. We'll definitely do that hashtag thing. It's good. Concise. Really rolls off the tongue.”

 

Sansa attempts to elbow him for the second time since they arrived without making it look obvious.

 

They're finally able to get away once Sansa (reluctantly) gives them her Instagram handle and when the elevator doors finally close behind them and block out the lobby, Jon slumps against the wall with a pathetic groan.

 

“Friends of Margaery?”

 

“Her cousins-slash-best friends. I was hoping that getting here this early in the day would mean we didn't have to see too many people checking in.”

 

“Sorry about the Instagram stories thing,” she says as she watches the light for the floors work its way up.

 

“I don't actually know what that means,” he shrugs. “Are those the ones that disappear?”

 

“Yeah. I don't know why I said that. I could've just left it at you don't like your picture being taken.” Sansa can feel herself frown and the annoyance creeps back through her. “She was just being so weird and condescending!”

 

Jon laughs at that, his smile wide and his eyes closed, head tilted back against the wall of the elevator. It finally dings for their floor.

 

“Let me know when it happens,” he opens his eyes and grabs his bags again and exits the elevator. She grabs her own and follows him.

 

“When what happens?”

 

“When you decide you've had enough,” he throws over his shoulder as they walk. They get almost down to the end of the hallway before he turns and keys them into their suite.

 

“I told you, I'm fully committed to this,” she reminds him, following him in. The suite is... one entire wall is windows that overlook sweeping gardens, a view that almost takes her breath away. Lots of blues and golds and plush fabrics. Plush bedding that she tries not to stare at. She knew there was only one bed, but being in the room with Jon, alone, with it right there...

 

He drops his bags and turns to face her, with a smile that he's trying to suppress. “I bet you don't make it to the ceremony.”

 

She gasps in mostly fake outrage. “I will have you know, I can be incredibly stubborn when I want to.”

 

“I have no doubt,” he says solemnly, though the corners of his mouth are still fighting a smile. “But I also don't doubt my family's ability to break even the strongest of wills.”

 

“I will take that bet.” Her hands are on her hips, feet set apart, eyes narrowed. “I bet I make it through the whole weekend and I bet I can keep my cool better than you and your snarky little comments.”

 

He holds out his hand and she takes it and they shake on it and she ignores the little zing of electricity that shoots through her at his touch. Once they've let go, his smile fades and he says, “seriously though. Anytime you want out, you just let me know and I'll call you a cab and get you out of here.”

 

“Even if we're in the middle of the ceremony?” she tries to joke around the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

 

“We'll have to come up with some secret way for you to let me know,” he keeps his voice light, but she can tell he's serious.

 

“Like a safeword?”

 

“Yeah, like a safeword,” he lets out a small, breathy laugh and turns away from her to grab his smaller duffel bag. He drops it on the desk, unzips it, and starts rooting around in it. For what, she has no idea. She's not sure he knows, either. She wonders if he just feels awkward being alone here with her.

 

“How about...” she hesitates, looking around for inspiration. On the wall above the bed is a painting of an oceanscape and she turns back to Jon and says, “manatee.”

 

“Manatee?”

 

“That will be our safeword. If I need to leave or if you do.”

 

“I can't leave, it's my brother's wedding.”

 

“I meant a situation,” she shrugs and then moves her own bags to the side of the bed she's decided she's sleeping on. Jon hasn't claimed a side yet. “If you need to get out of a conversation or a situation, say manatee and I'll pretend to faint or something.”

 

That gets him to laugh again and she watches the line of his shoulders change, relax. He's too tense whenever they talk about the wedding or his family - she wishes she could do something to help, something more than just make dumb jokes.

 

She decides to take her toiletries into the bathroom to have something to do, because she suddenly feels intensely aware that she and Jon will be alone in this hotel room for hours until the rehearsal dinner tonight. Just as she's walking in, there's a knock on the door and she hears Jon mutter something under his breath and she turns and looks back over her shoulder and says, “play nice!”

 

That earns her a glare, but he straightens his posture and puts that neutral, polite expression back on his face and heads out of sight to the door.

 

“You are here,” a female voice says.

 

“I'm here.”

 

“I ran into Margaery's henchmen in the hall...”

 

“Rhae,” there's a warning tone to Jon's voice and Sansa hears the woman sigh. Sansa goes back through their conversations, Jon's explanation of his family tree, and remembers that Rhae is his half sister - the only one he seems to get along with, and Sansa feels a bit of relief at that. She stays in the bathroom, though, unsure how Jon wants to handle this.

 

Rhae sighs, and then there's another noise, like the gurgling of a baby, and Sansa hears footsteps further into the room.

 

“There's my niece,” Jon's voice changes and Sansa's heart flutters a bit at the tone. She moves so that she can see into the room at an angle through the bathroom mirror, and when she does, she watches a woman with dark hair settle a baby into Jon's arms.

 

This is unfair, Sansa decides. How is she supposed to get over this dumb crush when he's being so adorable, rocking his niece back and forth and making faces at the bundle in his arms that get little squeals of delight from the baby.

 

“You're coming to the luncheon, right?” Rhae asks, moving to lean against the room's dresser.

 

“Clearly not, since I have no idea what luncheon you're talking about,” Jon keeps his voice light and doesn't look up from his niece. Rhae makes a sound of distress.

 

“I am too tired for this,” she groans. “You know my mom brought Arthur, right?”

 

“I knew they were dating,” Jon shrugs and looks over at her.

 

“Well, dad apparently decided if mom was bringing a date, he had to one up her or something and do you know who he brought?”

 

“I assume whatever model or actress he's currently fu-” Jon stops, looks down at the baby in his arms, and chooses a different word. “Seeing.”

 

Cersei Lannister.

 

Sansa's mind whirls at the name - she's definitely heard Lannister before, though she can't place where right now. Probably another family rich as sin that keeps their name out of the press as much as possible.

 

“Oh, good,” Jon can't seem to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

 

“You need to come to this luncheon. Dad is in a mood because mom's here and you know Vis and Dany aren't really helping and Egg is... well, Egg, and I swear Uncle Obie is actively trying to make things worse. I wouldn't be surprised if he interrupts the wedding to challenge dad to a duel or something.”

 

Jon keeps his expression blank, though Sansa can see the tension in his shoulders again. “And you think dad's bastard showing up uninvited would help?”

 

Another groan from Rhaenys, but Sansa barely notices it - hearing Jon call himself bastard in that carefully neutral voice makes a lump form in her throat.

 

“I just can't believe we all have to sit through this charade-”

 

“Rhae,” Jon's voice is a sharp warning and his head turns towards the bathroom and his eyes catch Sansa's through the mirror.

 

“Oh gods, that's right, you brought a date! I can't believe I forgot,” Rhae gasps. “The henchmen couldn't shut up about it...”

 

“You can come out,” Jon directs this at Sansa, as she hesitates at the door to the bathroom.

 

She takes a deep breath and steps out, giving a smile and a little wave to the other woman. “Hi, I'm Sansa.”

 

“Rhaenys,” the woman says, and then turns back to Jon with a little frown. “Did I know you were seeing someone? Please tell me I'm not that terrible of a sister.”

 

“Nah,” Jon shrugs. “I didn't say anything at first because you were so busy with Sara, and then I guess I forgot you didn't know.”

 

Rhae nods and for a split second, Sansa can't believe how easy this is. No one is questioning this relationship – is Jon really that closed off from this side of the family? Even Rhae, who he said he was the closest to?

 

“Well,” Rhae sighs and turns back to Sansa, “sorry to dump a bunch of family drama on you. Not the best first impression.”

 

“Don't worry, I've given her plenty of warnings,” Jon bounces his niece a bit when she makes an unhappy gurgling noise.

 

“I can't tell if you're very brave or very stupid,” Rhae directs at Sansa.

 

“Definitely stupid.” It isn't necessarily a joke, Sansa thinks, but Rhae takes it as one and laughs.

 

“I guess I should be going,” Rhae groans, pulling out her phone to check the time. “You two have fun not at this luncheon. Give me my baby back.”

 

Jon hands over the bundle of fussing baby and Rhae gives one last sigh before heading out.

 

“She's nice,” Sansa says after Jon shuts the door behind his sister.

 

“She's tolerable,” he amends, but there's a small smile tilting his mouth up and she knows he doesn't mean it. “She was always closer to her mom so she saw through dad's bullshit early on.”

 

“They're divorced then?”

 

“Yeah, when Rhae and Egg were kids, I think. The Martells are well off in their own right so Elia had no problem leaving his ass when she found out about the cheating. I think she got a lot in the settlement, too. It's why he says he'll never get remarried, too much hassle.”

 

“They didn't have a prenup?”

 

“Oh, they did, but I think he paid her to keep her mouth shut about...” he blinks, like he realizes what he's saying and stops talking. Sansa doesn't say anything, but her mind screams about what!

 

He watches her for a bit, then goes and picks up both of their garment bags and walks over to hang them up in the closet. There's silence in the room for what seems like ages, though Sansa knows she's just being dramatic. She decides to start unpacking her bags – she normally doesn't unpack in hotels, especially for only a few days, but she wants something to do.

 

“You're really not gonna ask?” he finally says, turning to her, where she's rooting through her bag.

 

“Ask what?” That earns her an eye roll and she shrugs. “If you wanted to tell me, you'd tell me. You don't owe me anything.”

 

She's not his girlfriend. This isn't real. She's not even sure they're friends.

 

She can feel him watching her and it sends her pulse racing madly.

 

“I was a secret.”

 

She turns to look at him, where he's leaned against the dresser like Rhae was earlier. “I guess that makes sense,” Sansa says slowly, cautiously. “If your dad wanted to keep it from his wife.”

 

“No, I mean...” he sighs and runs a hand through his hair, eyes shifting to stare at the opposite wall instead of her. “I didn't know he was my dad until I was eighteen. It was this whole... he and my mom agreed that he'd fund my education, but I wasn't allowed to know who he was and he wasn't allowed to have any contact with me.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“I thought I was on an academic scholarship at school.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“I guess somewhere along the way, Elia found out and divorced him and he paid her to keep it quiet because there was a contract between him and my mom.”

 

There are a million questions burning in her throat, but she keeps her lips pressed together. When he finally looks back at her, he seems to see it, because he gives her a little smile and says, “go ahead.”

 

“How did you find out?”

 

So much for not prying.

 

“He changed his mind,” Jon shrugs. “Or so he said. When I turned eighteen, he showed up and told me who he was. Gave me...” a hesitation, “gave me a lot of money. Just handed it over. Told me he was my dad, that he wanted to be a part of my life.”

 

“Oh, that's... nice?” She cringes at her own words. It sounds nice, but the way Jon talks about his father...

 

“The money came with a lot of strings.”

 

That stiffness is back in his shoulders, jaw muscles clenching, hands tight around the edge of the dresser. Without really realizing she's doing it, she walks the few steps over to him and takes one of his hands and forces it open, forces it to relax out of it's fist. He looks down and she feels some of the tension bleed out of him.

 

“You mentioned you were considered...”

 

“A disappointment? Yeah. He wanted to pick what university I went to, what major I chose. He didn't like who I was dating at the time. It turns out, if I wanted to be his son, I had to be... not me, I guess.”

 

She realizes she's rubbing circles into his palm with her thumb. She has no right to this, she thinks, but she can't stop – not when he isn't pulling away.

 

“Manatee?” he asks, finally looking up from their joined hands.

 

“If I wanted to say it, I would've said it,” she chides softly. The air feels thick around her, a different kind of tension that she thinks is all her – she needs to break it before she does something truly stupid. “But you are going to have to go over your family tree again, because Rhae spouted out a bunch of names and I got really lost.”

 

He laughs, then, a surprised burst of it that finally gets him to smile – his real smile, she's starting to learn the difference.

 

She really, really, needs to step away from him, and so she does. She takes a step back and lets go of his hand, but he reaches out and catches her wrist before she goes too far and energy hums through her at his touch, her breath catching in her throat.

 

“Thank you,” he says, smile fading again. “It's nice having someone here who's... on my side, you know? Even if it's just-” he cuts himself off with a slight shake of his head and lets her wrist go and it's like the light dims in the room, though she knows it doesn't.

 

“Of course!” she pastes on her best smile.

 

Silence descends over the room again and she sits on the bed and checks her phone. There's nearly thirty missed texts from the group chat, all various requests for updates on how it's going and what the Targaryens are like. There's a small bit of guilt as she exits out of the messages without responding; she doesn't have the energy for it right now. When she opens Instagram, her stomach swoops in horror because she has notifications for three new followers – two of them are the blonde and brunette from downstairs, and the third is another brunette.

 

“Who is Taena?”

 

Jon looks up at her from his own phone, from where he's sitting in a chair across the room. “One of Margaery's friends, why?”

 

“She followed me on Instagram. They all did.”

 

Jon's face goes carefully blank and she's really starting to hate that look.

 

“We should post something,” she decides. She doesn't know why she's playing this game – she doesn't have to convince these girls of anything, it doesn't matter if she doesn't have photographic evidence of their relationship.

 

“Ok,” his eyebrows scrunch together like he doesn't really know what that means and she remembers that he's hopeless.

 

“Here,” she gets off the bed and walks over to him. “We're gonna take a selfie, ok? No, sit,” she puts a hand on his shoulder when he tries to stand and then, in a move that surprises even herself, she sits on his lap.

 

The way he stiffens up beneath her makes her instantly regret the decision, but she decides it would be more awkward if she got up – better to pretend she doesn't think this is weird. Better to pretend like she isn't completely aware of the heat of him, how perfectly she fits him. “Smile!” she chirps, opening her camera and flipping it to front view so she can see them in the screen. She leans into him, like they're snuggling in the chair. Like a real couple.

 

His body slowly relaxes under her and a hand comes to rest on her hip, though she thinks he doesn't even notice he does it. She notices, though, and that same electricity pulses through her from every point where they are connected. (She did not think this through – she really needs to stop touching him. What is wrong with her.)

 

It takes him a moment to school his face out of what she assumes is confusion and horror, and he finally turns to face the camera, though his smile seems too forced. It absolutely looks fake.

 

“Ok, maybe don't smile? Maybe scowl at me like you're annoyed I'm taking your picture.”

 

He looks at her and tries to scowl, but he can't quite manage it and he ends up smiling instead – his real smile. She snaps a picture before it disappears.

 

“Perfect,” she says and slides off his lap. He stays seated and doesn't say anything and she focuses on her phone, on the photo that she likes just a little too much.

 

They really do look like a couple, she thinks. He really does look like he's smiling at her.

 

She wants to delete it.

 

Instead, she posts it to her Instagram story with the caption weekend getaway! and a bunch of heart emojis.

 

There. It's Instagram official, at least, and maybe it will hold Margaery's friends off a bit.

 

“Alright,” he finally says, “we have a few hours to kill, what do you want to do?”

 

It takes all of Sansa's willpower not to look at the bed.

Chapter Text

Jon orders them room service after they have a debate about what to do – Sansa suggests going to the pool, which Jon turns down because that would involve him going into the public spaces of the resort, which he's trying not to do. When she thinks about it, she understands his hesitation and secretly decides it's for the best because when she suggested it, she clearly didn't think through the whole Jon in a swimsuit thing. As it is, she's already having a hard time keeping her healthy imagination at bay.

 

So staying in the room, ordering food, and watching TV for the next few hours it is.

 

Their food's just arrived when her phone pings and she sees an Instagram message from Robb and her stomach does a swoop of anxiety.

 

Shit,” she whispers, unlocking her phone and hoping it isn't what she thinks it is.

 

“Everything ok?” Jon asks as he wheels the cart of food into their room.

 

She looks down at the message Robb sent in response to her Instagram story.

 

Who is this???

 

“Um,” she winces, “I may have, sort of, forgot to mention this to my family?”

 

“Mention what? This weekend?”

 

“It didn't even cross my mind to call them up and be like hey, you'll never need to know this, but I'm being someone's fake date to a wedding this weekend. I didn't think I'd be posting anything on social media.”

 

Robb sends a set of question marks when she doesn't respond and her panic morphs into annoyance.

 

Jon, she responds, with no other context.

 

It's not ten seconds later when the Stark Clan group chat starts going off.

 

Robb: who is Jon?? Does anyone know who this is and why our sister is on a weekend getaway with him???

 

“Unbelievable,” she mutters, staring down at her phone.

 

“There a problem?” Jon frowns at her, eyes flicking between her and her phone.

 

“No, Robb is just the nosiest person. If he isn't like... the keeper of all our secrets, he has a meltdown. He's such a little gossip.”

 

Another buzz of her phone.

 

Arya: you don't know? It's jon.

 

And then a text comes through solo from Arya, not in the group. So who's jon lol.

 

A friend. He needed a date for a wedding, I'm pretending to be his girlfriend.

 

Oh ok, Arya texts back. Have fun and get laid! I'm gonna go make robb's life miserable now.

 

The group chat starts up again.

 

Arya: I can't believe you don't know jon

Rickon: yeah robb, don't you remember jon?

Bran: you're a terrible brother, of course it's jon

Robb: what is happening. WHO IS JON

Arya: he's jon

Bran: obviously it's jon

Robb: am I having a stroke? Stop saying jon like that means something

Rickon: but it's just jon

Sansa: I'm muting this until after the weekend. Love you all!

 

“My siblings are the worst,” she sighs, then looks up to see Jon staring at her, one eyebrow quirked, face impassive. “Oh,” she laughs, “alright, fine, clearly not the worst.

 

“Thank you,” Jon nods, like he's the gracious winner of a competition. She will concede that brother marrying your ex sort of beats out overprotective brother.

 

They eat their room service in relative silence, with the TV on as a buffer to the awkwardness that is... well, this. The two of them sitting on a hotel bed together, passing the time before they have to pretend to be dating and in love in front of some of the worst people Sansa expects she will ever meet.

 

Before she got here, she'd been fairly certain that she could get through this, no problem. Well, she didn't have as much faith in keeping her chill about her crush, and she'd worried about having to meet the infamous Margaery, but Jon's family hadn't bothered her, not really. But now, after meeting Margaery's friends and hearing everything Rhae and Jon had to say, it's... ok, she's doubting herself more than she thought she would.

 

Her stomach roils at the idea of this rehearsal dinner, and she can barely eat the slice of chocolate cake she'd ordered. It tastes like nothing and feels thick and dry in her mouth and sits heavy in her stomach and she hopes Jon doesn't notice when she puts her fork down and doesn't eat anything else.

 


 

Hours later, she stares at herself in the mirror and whispers, “stupid.

 

She cannot get the zipper of this dress up. How had she not thought of that? She remembers, distinctly, having to call Beth into the dressing room to zip her up.

 

Or, that traitorous little voice in her mind whispers, you wanted this to happen.

 

As much as she wants to be a smart, practical, adult human being who always makes good decisions, she can never help but let her romantic little heart get the better of her sometimes, and it is completely possible that standing in that dressing room, she consciously ignored that she couldn't zip the dress up herself so that this exact scenario would happen.

 

It all plays out in her head: she'll go out into the room and ask Jon for help. He'll agree, because he's a gentleman, and she will turn her back to him and pull her hair over her shoulder. He'll hesitate. And then he'll stand behind her, close enough that she can feel the heat of him, and he'll take the zipper and slowly drag it up. His fingers will brush her skin. She'll feel the ghost of his breath on the back of her neck. When he's done, he won't move away. He won't be able to move away. Sansa, he'll breathe, lost in the curve of her shoulder and the smell of her hair and the softness of her skin. His resolve will break – he's been holding himself back this whole time. He'll breathe her name and she'll look over her shoulder at him, look up at him through her lashes. He'll turn her slowly, their eyes never breaking contact, and then he'll kiss her and-

 

“For fuck's sake,” she mutters to herself, closing her eyes and forcefully trying to shake the daydream out. That's never going to happen.

 

But even so, this dress isn't going to zip itself up, so she goes over and cracks open the door and calls out, “Jon? You dressed?”

 

“I'm decent.”

 

She opens the door fully and it takes half a second for her to register that he is a liar. He may be clothed, technically, but he is far from decent - he's got his suit pants on, and his shirt is (again, technically) on, but completely unbuttoned so she can see his white undershirt and she gets a good look at the way it clings to him. It isn't fair, she decides. He should have some flaw. It isn't his face, it isn't his wallet, it isn't his brain, and it's certainly not his abs.

 

“You need help?”

 

His question brings her back to reality as he gestures to where she's pressing one hand to her chest to keep her dress up.

 

“Do you mind? I can't reach.”

 

He hesitates.

 

That little romance devil is back on her shoulder, whispering horrible, hopeful things into her ear. (He wants you. ) Jon nods once, jerkily, and moves around the bed and she steps fully out into the room and turns. ( He's been holding himself back this whole time. ) She sweeps her hair over her shoulder. ( This is it. ) He steps up behind her and she can feel the heat of him. It makes her breath catch in her throat and butterflies erupt in her stomach. And now-

 

He pinches the fabric at the bottom and then grabs the slider and swiftly pulls it up. There's a small hook at the top as well, and she opens her mouth to say something, but he clearly sees it and deftly secures it and then steps back and it feels like all the air rushes out of her. No slow movements, no accidental brushing of skin, no desperate whisper of her name.

 

She's an idiot.

 

When she turns, she watches him start to button his shirt and she thinks if she were his girlfriend, she'd offer to help. She is such an idiot, and she feels completely off center with the loss of her dream and she blames this for what she does next.

 

“We should probably kiss.”

 

He freezes, mid-button, and turns to her. “What?”

 

“Well, you mentioned PDA in your Tinder profile. I assume that means kissing?”

 

“Sansa,” he sighs. “We'll do whatever you're comfortable with. You call the shots here.”

 

“Well I don't know what you're like in relationships,” she shrugs, “but I'm... I like touching?” She winces at her phrasing and Jon just sort of stares at her like he can't believe she said it, either. “I'm just very physical in relationships!” she tries to correct. She has never had to explain this out loud to anyone before. It's just who she is, she likes physical touch. And not just with her boyfriends – with her friends and her family. She's a hugger, a cuddler, a hand holder.

 

“You can touch me as much as you want.”

 

He says it with a completely straight face and she has to suppress the feral noise that tries to work it's way out of her throat. How dare he? How dare he offer that when he doesn't really mean it? She composes herself.

 

“Well, I think a normal couple would probably kiss, especially in a romantic setting like a wedding.”

 

“Alright,” he concedes, and she cannot read any emotion on his face, which is infuriating.

 

“We should probably practice.”

 

“Practice?”

 

“First kisses can be weird,” she says, pulse thrumming – she can feel it in her neck and in her fingertips. “If we kiss for the first time in public, especially in front of your judgy family, don't you think it'll be pretty obvious we've never done it before?”

 

There's a bit more staring on his end, he's completely still and silent and she's nearly vibrating out of her skin with anxious energy. She's upset and embarrassed and desperately hopeful and then ashamed at that hope and it's all a mess of confusing emotions that makes her want to turn around and flee back into the bathroom.

 

“Yeah, ok.”

 

That's it. Just ok. Kissing her is just ok.

 

She never should have swiped right on him. This is not going to end well for her.

 

(She really never learns, does she?)

 

“So...” he continues when she doesn't say anything, “now?”

 

“No, I figured in like five minutes. Really let this awkward tension build for a while.”

 

There's a slightly wounded look on his face and she wishes she could take back the words, or at least the biting tone. It's not his fault she went all lovesick on him - he's been nothing but honest and up front with her from the start. He has never given her any indication he wants more, that's on her, and now she's snapping at him.

 

“Sorry,” she sighs. “I'm just nervous all the sudden.”

 

That gets a smile out of him and his face changes into something soft. He walks back over to her and comes to stand in front of her and she tries to tamp down that fluttery excitement. “Honestly? Me too,” he laughs, a gentle thing that makes her heart ache. “You don't have to do anything you don't want.”

 

“No, it's... it's fine. I trust you.”

 

She does, she realizes. Even if she didn't have this crush, she would be fine with Jon kissing her and touching her as much as the charade needed, because she trusts him.

 

He seems to steel himself, one hand coming to rest on her hip like he's not sure what else to do with it, the other coming up to cradle her head, tilting her face up towards him as he leans in. Its then that she realizes her mistake, because there's really no turning back from this. She's been on the precipice of this crush for weeks and she understands now that the moment his lips touch hers, she'll be gone – she'll fall right over that edge into full blown feelings.

 

Manatee! her brain screams, but no words actually come out and his lips ghost over hers, just the slightest brush. It almost isn't even a kiss at all, but it shorts out her brain anyway, turns her legs to jelly and sends her heart stuttering.

 

He pauses there, their lips just barely touching, like he's waiting for her to pull back. It takes no effort at all to lift up on her toes ever so slightly to press her lips more firmly against his, and her hands come to rest on his shoulders like they're at some sort of middle school dance because that's the safest place to put them. She's a bit afraid of what she'll do if she touches him anywhere else.

 

When he finally pulls back, he doesn't go far, and his eyes search hers for a moment before he says, “I guess that's that, then,” his voice just a bit rougher than normal.

 

She doesn't want him to stop, she doesn't think she can take it if he leaves her now, so instead she whispers, “we should probably do that again, just to make sure we've got it right.”

 

“Practice does make perfect,” he agrees, and kisses her again.

 

It lasts longer this time – or, she thinks it does, she's not really sure, her mind is solely focused on how soft his lips are, how firm his shoulders are beneath her hands, how achingly close their bodies are without actually touching. At some point, she pulls back to breathe, lips parting in a short gasp and it seems like he's barely thinking when he leans forward and kisses her again. When his tongue touches hers and his hand slides around to the back of her head, she finally closes that gap between them and presses into him, her own arms curling around his neck. He uses his hand to tilt her head, deepen the kiss, and she makes an embarrassing whining noise in the back of her throat.

 

And then suddenly he's gone, seemingly all at once – his lips, his hands, his body, they pull away from her so fast she tips forward and nearly loses her balance.

 

“That's probably convincing enough,” he says, though she barely hears it as he turns from her and walks over to the windows. He stares out at the gardens, facing away from her, and she watches him finish buttoning his shirt. She can't actually see him do it, but she watches the way his arms move, the way his shoulders flex. Then he starts at the buttons at his wrists and she turns and goes back into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

 

Her reflection looks just like she imagined – kiss swollen lips, her smudge-proof lipstick not doing it's job, her cheeks flushed and eyes bright. With shaking hands, she fixes her makeup, and supposes she's lucky Jon didn't mess up her hair (though she wishes he had).

 

Eventually, there's a knock on the door and Jon calls through that it's time to leave, his voice soft and low like he wishes he didn't have to do this. She takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders and opens the door.

 


 

The rehearsal dinner isn't at the resort, for reasons Sansa can't quite figure out. That's where the wedding will be, and it's not like the resort doesn't have it's own restaurant. But instead, they drive out into the countryside and finally get to a botanical garden. A valet takes their car and Jon stares at the sign that reads Aegon + Margaery, with an arrow pointing towards a massive glass conservatory.

 

There are others walking towards the conservatory, but Sansa has no idea who any of them are. None of them stop to talk to Jon, which she hopes is a good sign. She thinks he has the right of this – just get through it.

 

“Ready?” Jon asks as they approach, his arm sliding around her waist, and he looks over at her like he's making sure she's alright with the contact.

 

“I should be asking you that,” she takes the hand at her hip and presses it more firmly against her. He nods, swallows, she watches his throat work as he mentally prepares himself for this.

 

Then they enter, and Sansa feels like she's walked into a fairytale – a dream world made of flowers and vines and fruit bearing trees. Long tables form a U shape at one end, clearly where they are meant to eat later, and Sansa watches waiters flit through the gathering with trays of drinks. It's not dark out yet, but she can see fairy lights strung up at the glass ceiling. It makes something catch in her throat – it's perfect, exactly like a dream, and she wonders if Jon wishes this were his rehearsal dinner.

 

And there, in the center of it all, is Margaery.

 

Sansa recognizes her immediately, she's seen enough photos by now. She's gorgeous, all tumbling curls and brilliant white and gold dress. At her side is Aegon, and Sansa stares at him to try and see the resemblance between him and Jon. Rhae at least had dark hair like Jon, but with Aegon, there's nothing. Aegon is all pale blond hair and light eyes and sharp, angular features. He's beautiful, she thinks, in a sort of inhuman way. Together, he and Margaery look like how she used to imagine kings and queens looked.

 

“We should probably go say hi and get that over with,” Jon's voice is tight, his hand at her waist is tight. He doesn't want this.

 

He starts walking, and as they make their way towards the couple, who are greeting another set of guests, Sansa notices the people standing at either side – she assumes the one older couple are Margaery's parents, the Tyrells. On the other side is an older man with the same pale hair and sharp features as Aegon and recognition makes her stomach twist into knots. He's got an arm around a woman with blonde hair, but where the Targaryens are pale silver, she's golden.

 

It's Rhaegar that sees them first, and Sansa can't figure out the expression on his face as he turns and says, “ah, Jon, you made it.”

 

This gets everyone else's attention. “Rhaegar,” Jon greets, tone politely cool.

 

“And this is...” Rhaegar's eyes slide to her and Sansa feels them like a physical presence. His tone and smile have changed, something warmer. Something that may have even been charming if she hadn't heard the things she's heard about him.

 

“This is my girlfriend, Sansa.”

 

If she could feel Rhaegar's eyes before, she absolutely feels more on her now and she pastes on her best smile and holds out her hand. “It's so nice to finally meet you.” Her voice doesn't waver and she can't believe that her hand isn't trembling as Rhaegar takes it. Instead of shaking it like she intended, he steps forward and brings it to his lips, placing a light kiss along her knuckles. It takes everything in her not to rip her hand from his. She can hear Jon let out a long breath through his nose, like he's trying to keep his cool. Beside Rhaegar, the golden woman's face twists into something sour.

 

Just get through this.

 

When it's appropriate, she pulls her hand back and gives Rhaegar as bland a smile as she can.

 

“Jon,” another voice says, and she looks over to see Aegon stepping forward. There's a smile on his face, but she can absolutely see the hesitance in his eyes, in the way he moves.

 

“Hey, Egg,” Jon greets back, his tone light and unassuming, and Sansa thinks maybe they can actually do this. They shake hands, Aegon looking a bit like he's not sure if they should hug or not. From the way he doesn't take his arm from her waist, she can tell Jon has no intention of hugging anyone.

 

Margaery doesn't get this memo, though. Before Aegon has even pulled his hand back fully, she steps forward. “Jon,” she greets, her voice is throaty and rich and smooth as honey and Sansa hates her for it. Her arms go around Jon's neck and Sansa finds herself having to take a small step back to avoid an elbow in the face. Jon's arm comes loose from around her waist.

 

There's a brief flash of annoyance on Aegon's face before he smooths it back over, and his eyes meet Sansa's. She can't figure out what he's thinking, but she doesn't care. He's the one who chose to marry his brother's ex. There's a part of her that thinks – but true love! For once, though, her romantic side doesn't win out, because on the other side is Jon. Jon and his broken heart.

 

It's Jon, though, who pulls back first, broken heart or no. Sansa watches his hands gently push Margaery back and she steps away and back to her fiancee's side.

 

“And you brought someone!” Margaery continues, turning her smile on Sansa.

 

“Well, I did say I was going to,” Jon's tone is clipped and Sansa moves back to his side, his arm curls back around her waist. “I hope you're not a place setting short because you thought I was joking.”

 

“Of course not,” Margaery doesn't falter. “Jon plus one! And look at you, aren't you just the cutest?”

 

There it is again, like her friends – cute. It sounds just as condescending when it falls from her lips.

 

“Sansa?” the golden woman asks with a little quirk of her lips. “Just one name? Are you like that singer – Marillion?”

 

“Sansa Stark,” she corrects.

 

“I don't think I've heard the name,” Mrs. Tyrell, standing on Margaery's left with Mr. Tyrell, says with a little frown, like she's thinking hard.

 

“Oh, that's alright,” Sansa says airily, though anger curls through her, “before this weekend, I hadn't heard your name, either.”

 

Jon's fingers dig into her waist and he chokes on what she thinks is a laugh, bringing his fist up in front of his mouth and coughing into it as a cover. Mrs. Tyrell's face falters, before she settles it back into a fake smile.

 

“Where are you from, Sansa?” Mr. Tyrell asks, his voice just a tad too loud – she can tell from the way Margaery winces and her smile goes a bit stiff that she's embarrassed by him. “What does your father do?”

 

“I'm from Winterfell,” she answers, feeling something ugly settle in her stomach. What does her father do. Not her, not even your parents. She really does not like these people. Play nice, she reminds herself. “My family owns a lumber mill in the Wolfswood.”

 

“How quaint,” Mrs. Tyrell simpers. “The North is just so quaint, isn't it dear? We've never been, but it seems so... rustic.”

 

“There's not a bad profit in lumber,” Rhaegar cuts in smoothly. “Perhaps I'll look into the company, we're always looking for new suppliers.”

 

“Oh, my family isn't worried about profits,” she says, which is a lie. Of course her family is worried about profits, they need to make a living. Capitalism exists, after all. She just hates the implication. “Stark Industries is more interested in committing to the sustainable sourcing of lumber so that the Wolfswood's ecosystem isn't harmed.”

 

Dad would be proud, she thinks. If she's being honest, Sansa has never been too interested in the family business – it'll fall to Robb's to take it over one day, and she knows Bran has really gotten into it as well, especially the environmental side. But Sansa had other dreams and she used to tune out a lot of her dad's business talk. She guesses she retained more than she realized, likely during one of dad's many rants about the Boltons and how they were destroying their section of the Wolfswood.

 

“Good on them,” Aegon nods, though she thinks he cares less about the environment and more about ending this interaction. She can't help but agree.

 

“I see Rhae,” Jon says, also clearly in agreement. “I'm gonna go say hi.”

 

He doesn't wait for approval, he starts walking and the arm locked around her means she has no choice but to follow (and honestly, if she were truly able to choose, she would run from that group of people).

 

“Jon!” Rhae's greeting is much warmer than the others had been. She's standing with a group of people that Sansa assumes are the Martells - Sara is being held by a woman who looks like an older version of Rhae. They all take note of her and Jon, and even though Jon is the product of Rhaegar's infidelity, the atmosphere here is distinctly less tense. She can't tell if it's because the Martells are actually decent people, or if the Targaryens and Tyrells are just that awful. Both?

 

Jon finally lets Sansa go and moves over to his sister, resting one hand on her shoulder as he leans in and places a kiss to her cheek in greeting. “Rhae. Elia,” he nods. The older woman nods back as Sara fusses in her arms.

 

“This is Jon's girlfriend, Sansa,” Rhae introduces. “Sansa, this is my mom, Elia. That's Arthur Dayne. This is Uncle Oberyn, Aunt Ellaria, and Uncle Doran, my cousins Quentyn and Arianne. Trystane is around somewhere. And of course, my husband Tycho.”

 

“A pleasure,” Tycho nearly bows, and Sansa hears the Braavosi accent. She remembers Jon mentioning he was some sort of international banker.

 

“Speaking of, how was your exchange of pleasantries with the happy couple?” one of the uncles says, leaning casually against a large, vine-covered planter.

 

“Oberyn,” Elia scolds with a sigh. “Be respectful.”

 

“I'll be respectful when my idiot nephew earns it,” the man named Oberyn's eyes find Aegon and Margaery, still greeting guests at the entrance of the conservatory. “He's got too much of his father in him. Too distracted by a pretty face to see-”

 

“You could at least be respectful to Jon,” Rhae cuts in.

 

“It's fine,” Jon shrugs, though Sansa has no doubt none of them believe it.

 

There's a slightly awkward pause after that. For all that the Martells are better company, she can tell there isn't much of a relationship between Jon and anyone else but Rhae.

 

“We're gonna go find our seats,” Jon tells Rhae. Her mouth tips down a bit in a frown, but she doesn't stop him.

 

They head over to the tables, where a few guests are already seated – mostly the elderly who don't want to or can't stand around to mingle. She and Jon are the youngest by far to take their seats. Jon is an outcast here, that is obvious. He's not kin to the Martells, the black sheep to the Targaryens, and to the Tyrells... well, he's a reminder that the bride jumped ship from one brother to the next. No one really wants an ex at a wedding. His only ally is Rhae, but she's got her own family to look out for.

 

“Here,” Jon finds a place card with his name. Sansa's just says guest. They sit and Jon lets out a sigh and relaxes back in his seat. A waiter with a tray walks by and offers them two glasses of sparkling wine, which she and Jon take.

 

“That wasn't so bad,” she half lies. “From the way you talked about them, I expected them to rip their faces off halfway through to show their demon selves underneath.”

 

He laughs for real for the first time since... well, the kiss, she thinks.

 

“It definitely could have been worse,” he agrees. “Sorry for the stuff about your family. I forgot to warn you they'd probably ask. They're big on family names.”

 

“Seems like it,” she hums in agreement, turning to look out at the guests. She wonders what other names are in that crowd, if she's ever heard them.

 

“Sometimes it's their whole personality,” he deadpans, eyes scanning the room.

 

“Let's talk about something else,” she turns to face him. “Something stupid that doesn't matter.”

 

He grins at her and shifts to face her, too, closing them off to the rest of the party. It doesn't matter if he's an outcast here, she thinks - he has her. Hopefully it's enough for a few hours.

 

“Tell me about where Ghost is staying.”

 

He launches into a story about his best friend Sam, who is currently watching Ghost despite being slightly afraid of him. Jon's just finishing up the story of the first time Sam saw Ghost after his growth spurt from a puppy into a giant, and he nearly has her in tears with it when they're interrupted.

 

“...and he spends the whole night sitting completely still on the couch and it's like Ghost senses he's terrified, because he just goes up and sits at Sam's feet for the whole movie, and Gilly's trying her best not to laugh and-”

 

“Snow!”

 

Jon's story and smile falter. They turn to the new arrivals, standing in front of them with the table in between. Two men about Jon's age, with impeccably tailored suits and matching smug smiles. She dislikes them immediately.

 

“Martyn,” Jon nods, “Cortnay.”

 

“It's been ages, Snow,” the one says. Just like with Margaery's friends, she can't tell who is who.

 

“Has it? Feels like it hasn't been nearly long enough.”

 

She kicks Jon under the table.

 

“We're surprised you came,” the other says. “And you brought a date.” He turns to look at her and shoots her a conspiratorial smile. “Another redhead, though you're much prettier than that townie he used to run around with.”

 

She hears Jon take a deep, steadying breath through his nose.

 

“Is this a pity date?” the first one asks. Jon stiffens up next to her.

 

“Only in the sense that it's a pity we have to be here,” she responds, and this time, it's Jon that kicks her under the table.

 

“I had bets you wouldn't show,” the brunette one says.

 

It's at this moment that Aegon makes an appearance, Margaery trailing behind with a few of her friends (Sansa still can't remember which one is which). They have an audience now, which only makes Jon more tense. Aegon also looks a bit tense, and she wonders if he came over here when he saw the two men approach them.

 

“Sorry to disappoint,” Jon says through clenched teeth.

 

“Oh, cheer up,” the blond says as he takes a much too large drink of his wine. “You always were such a downer.” He puts his empty glass on the table and gestures at a waiter for another.

 

“Maybe calm down on the wine, Martyn,” Aegon drawls, but there's a sharp command underneath. Martyn ignores him.

 

When he has a new glass of wine in hand, he turns again to Sansa and says, “don't know how you put up with him, always such a bummer. Hey Margie, how did you put up with him?”

 

“She didn't,” Cortnay snorts.

 

It's the first real acknowledgment that Jon and Margaery dated and she watches absolutely everyone else in the group go a bit still at it. Martyn doesn't seem to notice, and he turns once again to Sansa.

 

“You know what we used to call him at school?”

 

For a second she can't connect the words, and she looks over at Jon. He isn't looking at her, his eyes are locked on Martyn, his jaw tight with either anger or annoyance.

 

School. Jon went to school with them. And Martyn and Cortnay aren't related to anyone, which means if they're at this wedding, if they're at the rehearsal dinner, it likely means they're groomsmen. Which means they're friends with Aegon. There's a sort of dawning horror as she realizes that Jon and Aegon went to school together – before they knew who the other one was. She is absolutely certain of it.

 

“The Bastard of Winterfell,” Martyn answers his own question, and then lets out a too loud laugh.

 

“I forgot about that!” the other one, Cortnay, joins in laughing. Margaery's henchmen let out some giggles, though they seem unsure if they should be laughing or not.

 

There's a pounding in Sansa's head that she's never really felt before – anger. True anger, something bordering on hatred. She forces herself to fold her hands calmly in her lap and she tilts her head and opens her eyes wide and says, “I don't get it.”

 

Martyn's smile falters. “It's a joke,” he says, like that wasn't obviously his intention. “Cause he didn't know who his dad was and he's from Winterfell.”

 

“He's actually from Castle Black,” Sansa corrects, something like ice sliding through her veins.

 

“Same thing,” Martyn waves away.

 

It's not.

 

“I'm still not sure how it's funny,” she says, keeping her face carefully innocent.

 

Martyn falters again, looking around at the group gathered with him for assistance and not really finding any. “Well, we used to joke that he was secretly one of our dad's bastards,” Martyn laughs again, awkwardly, before adding, “and then it turns out...”

 

“I think you've had enough to drink,” Aegon's voice sounds as icy as Sansa feels and he grabs the glass out of Martyn's hand, wine sloshing over the sides. It gets on the sleeve of his suit jacket. He looks furious and there's a heartbreaking moment where Sansa understands that his fury isn't for Jon, it's for himself. He's embarrassed that it was his dad with the bastard.

 

“Well!” Margaery cuts in, all placating smiles, “I think it's almost time to take our seats, dinner will start soon.”

 

They disperse and Sansa doesn't know what to do. Part of her wants to turn and say manatee – not for herself, but for him. She wants to get Jon out of here.

 

“Jon-”

 

“It's fine,” he breathes. When he finally looks at her, he must see the doubt, because his expression softens. “Honestly, the bastard stuff... high school was over a decade ago. That word doesn't offend me anymore.”

 

He's lying, at least partially. Maybe he's come to terms with it, but things like that tend to stick inside you, in the deep dark corners, waiting. But he clearly doesn't want to talk about it, so instead she says, “well I'm offended. Winterfell and Castle Black aren't even close.

 

He barks out a laugh and leans back in his chair and runs a hand over his face, grinning. “Seven hells,” he breathes. “I can't wait for this to be over.” And then without prompt, he reaches over and takes her hand and brings it up to his chest and lays it flat over his heart, his own hand covering hers to keep it there. She can feel the steady thump thump of his heartbeat. “Thank you for being here. I know I've already said it, but...”

 

“You don't have to thank me,” she cuts in, breathless. “I want to be here with you.”

 

It's as close to the truth as she thinks she'll ever get.

 

Around them, the other guests are taking their seats, but Sansa barely notices. She can only see Jon, and he's only looking at her. The rest of the world drops out and it's just them – his heartbeat beneath her palm, his eyes on her. He leans forward and she knows he's going to kiss her.

 

A clinking sound stops him – a knife against glass and a voice calling for attention. Jon pulls back and drops her hand and turns away from her and she forces herself to look up at the head table. To her surprise, she catches Margaery's eye before the bride turns away to look at her father, who appears to be making a toast. Of all the timing, she thinks, slumping back in her chair. Jon was about to kiss her and...

 

And Margaery was watching them. No wonder he was going to kiss her.

 

Everything catches up with her then and she has to curl her hands into fists and press her nails into her palms to try and stave off the lump in her throat and the sudden burning pressure behind her eyes.

 

Stupid.

 

Stupid, silly little girl and her stupid, romantic little heart. She never learns.

 

For a moment, she thought it was real.

Chapter Text

She's able to calm down before Jon notices she's nearly in tears because Mr. Tyrell makes such a long winded speech that she's actually bored out of her self pity. At one point, she leans over and whispers, “he does know this is a wedding and not a business merger, right?”

 

Jon kicks her gently under the table, but she can see the little smile on his face.

 

While Mr. Tyrell talks, she takes the opportunity to observe the guests. Margaery has that same pinched look on her face that she did earlier when her father spoke too loud – something like embarrassment. Mrs. Tyrell seems oblivious. An older woman that she thinks is Margaery's grandmother looks like she's about to stand up, march out there, and drag her son back to his seat by his ear.

 

The Martells look equally annoyed, and Sansa has no idea what that dynamic is all about. She understands why the Martells and Targaryens don't get along, but what did the Tyrells do? She doesn't know enough about these families, about the dynamics of high society to understand, she thinks.

 

Sansa always knew she was lucky – lucky that her dad made enough to support a family of seven. They never went hungry, they never truly lacked for anything, though her parents were very careful with their money. As she got older, though, she realized that while the Starks definitely are well off enough to be comfortable, they are not wealthy – not like the Targaryens, the Martells, even the Tyrells. Modern day royalty. The kind of rich that have their own set of laws.

 

Her eyes move to Rhaegar, who doesn't even seem to be paying attention. He's on his phone, typing something, and the golden woman to his right looks furious about it. What was her name? Lannister, she remembers. Cersei? Well, Cersei Lannister looks like she's about to bite her date's head off. How one person can hold so much disdain in a single look – narrowed eyes, mouth set, hand curled around a glass of wine... honestly, Sansa thinks she might admire the woman just a bit.

 

When Mr. Tyrell finishes his speech and sits down, the food arrives and she hears Jon mutter, “finally.”

 

“That was brutal,” she agrees as a plate is set in front of her. The portion is small, she should have expected it, and she regrets not eating more of the room service earlier. At least the wine is good, high quality and strong, though she does hear one of the Martells going on about how Dornish wine is better.

 

“Mace is an idiot,” Jon tells her after he's swallowed his first bite of food. “I couldn't stand him.”

 

“Margaery didn't look happy about it,” she offers, keeping her eyes on her plate as she cuts into her chicken. Her voice is carefully light and she's not sure why she's even bringing it up. It's like she can't help but press at it – at Margaery. She both does and doesn't want to know what Jon is thinking about all this. It's like she's pulling at a loose thread and she knows she's going to be upset when it all unravels, but she can't stop doing it.

 

“I'm sure Margaery's furious,” Jon says casually. “Mace never knew how to play the game.”

 

That's not the first time Jon's said something like that. “Playing into rich people stuff?” He nods. “But they are rich. They own the largest chain of hotels in Westeros.”

 

“It's different,” Jon shrugs.

 

“How?”

 

A hand comes up to rub at his beard, like he's trying to figure out the best way to explain. “I'll tell you the way I learned it in school.” He brings that hand up to eye level, like he's ranking. “There's kids like Aegon – old family, old money. Still in power.” He lowers his hand a bit. “Then there's kids like my friend Sam – old family, old money, but lost most of it at some point. They still put on all the frills of society, they still send their kids to the best schools and attend events. Well respected, but everyone knows they're scrounging.” His hand lowers again. “New money. The Tyrells. Accepted because they're gaining power and the old families need them, but considered tacky and classless.” He lets his hand drop to the table. “And then there's the rest of us.”

 

It's interesting to her that though Jon says he learned this hierarchy in school, when he would have been the rest of us, he hasn't changed his classification of himself in the years since. He still thinks of himself as the rest of us. Maybe because he doesn't have the name, she wonders.

 

Sansa doesn't know what to say to any of it, and she can't help but look over at the head table, where Margaery is leaning over Aegon to talk to Rhaegar and Cersei, all smiles and wide eyes, and Sansa feels something twist in her stomach.

 

It must be such a boon for them, having one of their own marry into such a powerful family.

 

At one point, after he's done eating, Jon's arm comes to rest along the back of her chair and his hand brushes her skin as it goes. It sends a shiver down her spine and she can't help but wish it was because he wanted to touch her, and not just because they're pretty much constantly being watched.

 

She's noticed it – the way people look at them. Sideways glances, usually, though sometimes more direct. A lean in to their neighbor and a whisper. She can just imagine what they're saying – isn't that the ex? I heard she dated him before landing Aegon. Is that his new date? Quite a step down, isn't it?

 

Between the eyes on them and Jon's fingers tracing the edge of her dress along her back, she's about to lose her mind. And then he goes stiff, freezing for a moment, before turning to her. His brows furrow and she's about to ask what's wrong when he leans back a bit and looks at where his hand is and she can feel him tugging at something on her dress and-

 

“What's this?”

 

Embarrassment flushes through her and she reaches behind her back and knocks his hand away and tucks the tags back inside. She thought she had them taped down, they must have come loose sometime between him zipping her up and now.

 

“I thought you said you already owned a dress,” Jon's voice is low and rough, almost dangerous.

 

“I did,” she lies.

 

“So you've just had this dress laying around with the tags on for a while, then?”

 

“Yes.”

 

He's staring at her but she can't look at him and she knows her face must be bright red under her makeup.

 

“So you'd have no problem if I just find a pair of scissors somewhere and cut them off?”

 

Her heart is beating in her throat as she pushes the garnish around on her plate.

 

“Sansa-”

 

“Leave it alone, Jon,” she hisses, making sure their neighbors have heard none of this.

 

“I said I'd-”

 

“I know what you said, but I'm not some sort of charity case, ok? I can afford things.” She keeps her voice low so no one hears, which has the added effect of making her sound less hysterical.

 

“You kept the tags on,” he points out. He knows she's going to try and return it. He knows it was too much. (And she can afford it, technically, she has savings, it just means she'll have to be more careful in the coming months to build it back up.) He shifts in his seat, leaning closer, also keeping his voice low, “how much was it? I'll-”

 

“I swear to all the gods, Jon, if you offer me money, I will punch you in the face.”

 

There's a moment where he pauses, blinks, then eases back in his chair and says, “that offer was only for unwanted PDA.”

 

“Well, I'm changing the terms of our agreement,” she says as airily as she can, picking up her wine glass and taking a sip to cover her residual embarrassment. (She actually may need to stop with the wine at some point – between the tiny portions here and not eating much earlier and how many glasses she's had so far to deal with her nerves, she's well on her way to tipsy and that isn't going to end well.)

 

“Fair enough,” he rolls his shoulders like she's seen him do when he's trying to release tension. A few minutes of awkward silence goes by before he sighs. “I'm sorry, I just didn't want you to be out anything. Not for this, not for me.”

 

“I'm not an idiot, Jon,” she keeps her voice soft so he knows she isn't truly angry. “I didn't put myself into debt or anything over this.” (Just a few months of spending a bit less, but she can do that, if she's not able to return it. It'll be like when she graduated and started living on her own for real.)

 

“I know you aren't,” his mouth curves into a smile and the rest of the awkward tension dissipates. His eyes flick down to the dress again and his hand moves to her shoulder, finger tracing along the strap there. “You look beautiful, by the way. I didn't say it at the hotel. I should have.”

 

At that moment, a waiter comes by and takes their plates and she can see more waiters standing by with dessert at the ready.

 

“Thank you,” she takes another sip of her wine to give herself a moment (seriously, she should probably stop). “I should've said you look very handsome.”

 

By now the sun has gone down and the fairy lights have lit up and it gives the conservatory an eerie glow – soft like moonlight but too strong to truly be. It almost feels like a moonlit forest in a different world where magic is real and there are still princes and princesses and knights.

 

Their dessert is an incredibly light rose flavored pavlova with little piped rose meringues on the side and it's annoyingly beautiful and delicious. Sansa wishes just one thing weren't so perfect about this. It's giving her a complex.

 

“This is barely even dessert,” Jon grumbles, stabbing at one of the meringues with his fork so that it cracks in two. “This is just air.” He looks so put out by it that she can't help but laugh.

 

“Maybe there's something in the minibar back at the hotel for you to eat later,” she soothes, patting him on the arm.

 

He lets out a wistful sigh and says, “how soon is too soon for us to make an escape?”

 

“Well, I'd say before the dessert is even over is probably too soon.”

 

He nods glumly, eyes on the exit.

 

Sansa decides if he's not going to eat his meringues, someone ought to enjoy them, and she reaches over and delicately picks up the one he'd broken in half and pops it in her mouth. It dissolves slowly on her tongue and Jon turns to her with an incredulous look.

 

“Please, like you were going to eat them,” she challenges with a raised eyebrow and he scoffs.

 

“I was,” he lies, “but I'll be generous and let you have them.”

 

“What a hero,” she sighs and reaches over to pick up the other half of the broken meringue. She stares him dead in the eye as she eats it, trying not to smile at his feigned scowl. It's like a contest of who can keep a straight face the longest and there's a moment where it almost feels like she's having a good time. Like she's having fun – but she understands that it's only here, in this little bubble that she and Jon have while everyone is busy eating. It won't last.

 

He sits up straight suddenly and then reaches into his jacket and pulls out his phone, unlocking it and she watches him read a text. He types out a response and then looks up at her and says, “my mom,” with a little wave of his phone.

 

If she's being honest, Sansa sort of forgot about his mom – she's been so focused on his dad's family that the fact that he has a whole other side completely slipped her mind.

 

“Everything ok?” she asks, because she doesn't know that much about his mom, but she's pretty sure from the things he's said that they have a good relationship.

 

“She's just checking up on me,” he says with a shake of his head, but she can see him still fighting a smile. “She doesn't really understand why I came to this.”

 

It must be hard, she thinks – to be caught between two sides of your family. Sansa's parents have always been together, she's never had to deal with anything like this, and she can't even imagine what it must be like. She's still not even sure herself why Jon felt like he had to show his face – at one point, she wondered if he was coming here to try and get Margaery back, but that has since faded to the background. He may still be in love with her, want to make her jealous, but now that Sansa's spent this much time with him, she doesn't think Jon is the type of guy to ruin a wedding – or his brother's happiness.

 

“She's up in Castle Black, right?” When he nods, she tilts her body towards him until their knees almost touch and asks, “how did they even meet?”

 

“The Targaryens were looking to expand,” he says, leaning back in his chair and angling his own body and now their knees really are touching, but he doesn't shift away. “They were looking to develop some land in the Neck. She was in an activist group in college and she chained herself to this big tree that had been there for thousands of years.” There's a fond smile on his face now.

 

“Did she save the tree?”

 

He laughs and shakes his head ruefully. “Not technically. She got arrested, they cut her out of the chains. The tree's still there, though. They had so much trouble breaking ground in the marshes that they lost a ton of money and eventually gave up and ran back south and never even got around to taking down that tree. But at the time, dad had noticed her, I guess, and he bailed her out of jail.”

 

Sansa can only imagine the rest – a handsome man comes and bails his mother out. Despite the fact that she's opposed to everything he stands for, she's seduced by his charm and falls into bed with him. There's a part of Sansa that can't help but think it might have even been romantic, except she knows it's not. Because Rhaegar was married, and instead of falling in love with the young activist and having a change of heart, he remained the same man he was and denied his son for eighteen years. It's not a love story.

 

“She's glad you're here,” Jon says softly, looking back down at his phone.

 

“You told her about me?”

 

“She was worried about me coming on my own, so yeah, I told her I was bringing a friend. I didn't mention tinder, though, so if you're ever questioned in a court of law, that's not how we met.”

 

She snorts out a laugh and then reaches over and takes his phone out of his hand. “We should show her that you've survived so far,” she tells him and finds his camera app and switches it to the front facing camera. Then she leans in and Jon lets out an annoyed huff that she thinks is mostly for show. So is the exaggerated roll of his eyes, but he leans into her, too, and his arm goes around her shoulders. “Smile!” she says brightly, and this time he really does – there's no forcing it and she thinks it's because he knows this photo is just going to his mother and not being posted to Instagram for Margaery's friends to see.

 

He takes the phone from her when they're done and makes a show of begrudgingly sending it. She almost asks if he can send her a copy because it's a good picture, she thinks. The lighting is low, but it's soft and with them both leaning into one another, they really do look like a couple.

 

Jon's just about to put his phone away when it buzzes rapidly a few times in a row – not a ring, she recognizes the sound as a string of texts (between her siblings and her friends, she hears that sound often enough). She watches him unlock his phone again and read. He stares at the screen for just slightly too long, one hand coming up to scratch at his beard, before he puts the phone away. She wonders if it was his mom – wonders what she had to say about the photo. But Jon doesn't offer and so Sansa doesn't ask.

 

“Ah, fuck,” he breathes, and she looks over to where his eyes are focused. While they'd been talking and taking a photo, it seems like dessert is over and people are now standing up and mingling again – including Margaery and Aegon. “We should've left sooner.”

 

“Can we leave without saying goodbye?” she asks, eyeing up the group of people she'd rather never speak to again.

 

“It's probably bad manners, but I can't seem to care right now,” he takes her hand and stands up. “We'll wait until they're distracted and slip out.”

 

She follows Jon as he moves around one of the fountains. Margaery, Aegon, Rhaegar, and the Tyrells are all standing in the center of the room – she's not sure they can actually get out without notice. “Maybe if we keep to the edges,” she whispers.

 

He nods and starts to make his way to the edge of the room, but immediately stops in his tracks. “Not that way,” he mutters, and she looks past him. To the left, nearer to the glass walls, are two people with the Targaryen look – a woman about Jon's age and a man slightly older. She tries to think back to Jon's family tree that he's explained to her too many times at this point, but it's all a jumble in her brain.

 

The left is out, the center is out, so Jon changes course and heads to the right. There's a latticed fence that they head towards, covered in vines and when they get close, she can see it's blocking off what appears to be a catering section. She can see the servers quietly cleaning up and there's a table with leftovers and what looks like about ten extra bottles of wine.

 

“How much did they think we would drink?” she whispers.

 

“Margaery's mom's side of the family owns vineyards, this is their shit,” he waves at the table. “I'm surprised they don't have a display near the front to advertise.”

 

“I know we're not supposed to like them, but it was good wine,” she admits. “I wish we could steal a bottle.” The caterers are all now staring at them as they make their way through the back area, where guests are clearly not supposed to be. “Sorry!” she calls to the staff, hoping they're not causing the workers too much of a disruption.

 

“You want some wine?” he asks, eyeing up the table. And then, before she realizes what he's doing, he moves towards it and she gasps.

 

“Jon!” she hisses, but he doesn't stop. He looks around to see if anyone is watching (the entire catering staff is, but they look more amused than anything), and then he grabs a bottle of wine and turns towards her and holds it out triumphantly. “Seven hells,” she mutters to herself and hurries over to him. The catering section is mostly blocked off from the main area, but they aren't invisible.

 

He's grinning at her as he tucks the bottle into his suit jacket, where it forms a weird and obvious lump. There's a laugh bubbling up in her, working it's way up her throat that she tries to suppress. She's just this side of tipsy, and he looks so pleased with himself that she can't help it and she tries to press her lips together to stop it.

 

“Come on, let's get out of here,” he holds out his other hand, the one that isn't keeping the bottle of wine precariously in place.

 

“If we get arrested-” she starts, but she can't finish the sentence because he grabs her hand and starts walking towards the exit.

 

By this point, they're out in the open and heading towards the exit at a pace that is too fast to be subtle. Her heels are clicking loudly on the tile floor and a giggle has worked it's way past her lips and Jon is pulling her along, determinedly towards the door, the bottle tucked into his side.

 

She watches as the group they're trying to avoid notices them – Margaery, Aegon, Rhaegar – they turn their heads to watch her and Jon, but Jon doesn't stop. She blames the wine for what she does next, as she turns to them and gives them a wave while unsuccessfully trying not to laugh, and then they're out of the conservatory and into the night.

 

Jon finally slows when they reach the valet station and he turns to her, still grinning. She's not sure he's stopped since he stole the bottle of wine.

 

“My lady,” he says, pulling the bottle from his jacket and presenting it to her with a slight bow.

 

“That was the least stealthy thing I've ever seen,” she giggles, bringing one hand up to cover her mouth to try and control her laughter, the other reaching out and taking the bottle from him. “Very bad manners.”

 

“I don't care,” he says, his grin fading and he tilts his head back to the sky. “Fuck, I don't care.”

 

She's not sure if he actually means it, or if he just wants to mean it.

 

The night air is colder than she expected and she suppresses a shiver, but he sees it anyway. He slips his arms free from his jacket and settles it over her shoulders – it's warm from his body and smells like him and her head is already a little fuzzy from the alcohol and she hums in satisfaction. Before she realizes what she's doing, she steps forward and leans into him – for warmth, she tells herself - the wine bottle awkwardly clutched in one hand between them. His arms find their way around her and they stand there, at the curb, silent, until the valet comes back with his car.

 


 

“One down,” Jon sighs and collapses face first onto the bed once they're back in the hotel room.

 

“You're very dramatic,” she giggles, still feeling pleasantly warm and soft from the amount of wine she's had. There's a part of her that wants to open this bottle, keep drinking, fall deeper into the abyss. She wants to drink enough so that her stomach stops doing that little swoop it does every time she remembers she has to sleep in the same bed as him tonight.

 

“You take that back,” he points a finger at her and rolls over with a scowl.

 

“Wine?” she offers. If he wants it, she'll drink more, too. They can get drunk together, though she knows that is a terrible idea.

 

“You can,” he sits up and looks over at the little living area of their suite. Then he gets up and walks over to the minibar and starts eyeing up the alcohol. “I'm more in the mood for-” He holds up a bottle of what looks like whiskey. The minibar has full bottles of top shelf whiskey. Unreal.

 

Though, when she moves closer herself, she thinks this is not the standard minibar. It looks more like it was set up deliberately for the wedding, because it has a welcome card with information about the events and accommodations. The card also has a photo of Margaery and Aegon and she watches Jon flip it face down with a grimace.

 

He pours a glass and downs it in one go, then pours himself another. Then he heads back over to the bed, tugging at his tie with one hand, before he sets the glass down on the side table and sits to start taking off his shoes.

 

“There's no bottle opener,” she tells him after giving the minibar a brief glance. No more wine for her tonight. Probably a good thing.

 

“Take whatever you want,” he gestures at the minibar.

 

She feels weird not drinking when he is, though she thinks she's just nervous in general, so she ends up fixing herself a vodka soda and tells herself she's just going to sip at it. By the time she's done, he's got his shoes and tie off and he's working the buttons of his shirt open.

 

There's silence as he divests himself of his button up and she stands near the minibar, taking small sips of her drink. Finally, he groans and gets up and heads towards the bathroom and Sansa doesn't really know what to do with herself.

 

“I didn't know you wore glasses,” she says when he finally comes back out, and he gives a little laugh and rubs at his eyes under the frames.

 

“I'm full of secrets,” he says casually, though the words ring true. “TV?”

 

“Oh, sure,” she nods, glancing at the little clock on the bedside table. It's not really that late and it's wild to her that they haven't actually been here for very long. Was it really only twelve hours ago that she was sitting in her living room, waiting for him to come pick her up? It feels like a lifetime since then.

 

Jon turns on the TV and starts scrolling through the menu until he lets out a little laugh and points at the TV. “Look, it's that show,” he says, and when she reads the title, she can't help but smile. Catfish.

 

She would like to relax, she thinks, and that means getting out of this dress. She likes this dress, wishes she weren't going to return it, but she's been wearing it for a few hours now and the corseted top and tight skirt are starting to feel constricting.

 

“Do you mind?” she asks, setting her drink down and moving to where he's sitting and turning her back to him, gesturing as best she can at the zipper. Like this, his face is level with her mid-back and he rests a hand on her hip for a moment to steady either him or her, she can't tell, but it makes her feel hot and restless and she really wants out of this dress.

 

When he pulls the zipper down this time, it's slower, and her heart sits in her throat as he reaches up and undoes the little hook. She can feel his breath on her back and there is a brief moment where she debates shoving the dress down and turning to face him, but she fights against it and instead lets out a breathless thanks before grabbing a change of clothes and rushing into the bathroom like a coward.

 

It takes nearly her entire nighttime routine to calm down and she almost considers putting makeup back on after she's washed her face. She wants to look pretty, even though she hates herself for wanting it. But she doesn't do it, because it'll just get smudged off during the night and she'll wake up looking like a nightmare anyway.

 

Despite her romantic tendencies, she at least brought a sensible outfit to sleep in (no whoops, I only have this silk nightie, can you believe it?), and it's a relief when she's finally in her sweatpants and Robb's old lacrosse team t-shirt.

 

Out in the room, Jon has also changed into his own sweatpants and t-shirt, and he's lounging back in bed, his glass of whiskey looking like it's been refilled. He didn't drink much at dinner because he had to drive, and it feels like he's trying to make up for it now – erase the day from his head.

 

“Was it as bad as you thought?” she asks, climbing onto the bed and sitting on her knees, facing him.

 

“So far it's funny,” he gestures vaguely at the TV and she looks over to see that Catfish is still playing. It makes her laugh.

 

“I meant tonight,” she scolds, and reaches out to gently punch him in the arm for deliberately misunderstanding her.

 

He sighs and lets his head fall back against the padded headboard. “Yes and no,” he picks up his glass and takes another drink. “I built it up a lot in my head,” he explains, and she notices that his voice is lower, words a bit slower than normal. The whiskey is getting to him. “And you helped,” he turns to look at her then, and the expression on his face nearly steals her breath.

 

“I'm sure it was nice to have someone with you,” she concedes, folding her hands in her lap.

 

“No,” he shakes his head, brows scrunching together a bit. “Not just someone. I don't know many people that could...” he gestures vaguely and doesn't finish his sentence. She has no idea what he means. “You were great. But they're still... it's been a while since I've seen most of them. And even longer since I've seen all of them together. I knew they were gonna be awful, but I'm still stupid enough to be disappointed.”

 

She shifts closer and reaches out to take his hand because she doesn't know what else to do.

 

“I do it every time,” he continues, almost like he doesn't realize he's still talking and he takes another drink and she thinks maybe she should stop him. “You think by now I'd realize he's never going to really be my dad, you know?”

 

“You aren't stupid,” she whispers as a lump forms in her throat and the familiar pressure of tears builds up behind her eyes.

 

She's surprised, though, when he lets out a harsh laugh and pulls his hand from her and says, “I really am.”

 

Then he downs the last of his drink and gets up and heads over to the minibar and picks up the whiskey bottle and she wants to stop him, but she also feels like she has no right to tell him what to do. He half turns and looks at her as he's opening the bottle and he seems to catch something in her expression, because he stops – looks at the bottle, looks at her, and then puts it down.

 

“I've probably had enough,” he says, and she can hear the tinge of embarrassment in his voice.

 

“You've had a long day,” she tries to soothe as he walks back to the bed and settles in. There's a weird tension now and to break it, she says, “also, I should probably warn you that I'm a cuddler.” He turns to look at her with a raised eyebrow and she feels her face heat. “Don't be surprised if you wake up and I'm spooning you.”

 

That makes him laugh, and the tension dissipates and she relaxes to sit back against the headboard with him.

 

“I've never been spooned before, should be interesting,” he says, a lazy smile on his face that sends butterflies through her stomach.

 

“Never?” she scoffs. She needs to keep making jokes, keep the tone light, or she'll do something stupid.

 

“Nah, none of my girlfriends were ever that touchy-feely,” he shrugs.

 

Sansa can't believe it, honestly – she can't believe that anyone would date Jon and not want to touch him all the time. Then a memory slithers it's way to the forefront of her brain, Margaery stepping forward and throwing her arms around Jon and keeping them there for too long, and Sansa can't help it when she tugs at the thread again. “Even Margaery?”

 

Jon's face closes off and she wishes she had just left it alone. “Well,” he says dully, “none of my other girlfriends were like that, so of course Margaery wasn't.”

 

On the TV, the hosts are confronting the catfish and there's an argument going on, but all she can do is stare at Jon, trying to make sense of his words. It takes a few moments, but he finally notices and he mutes the TV and turns to look at her and they stare at each other for a few beats. He's looking at her in that way he has, like he's appraising her – like he sees all the questions she's not asking and debating if he's going to answer them anyway. It's like she's taking a test that she doesn't know the answers to. She's not even sure she knows the questions.

 

“When she asked me to dinner, I agreed because I didn't see any reason not to,” he starts, voice still that dull mimic of his real voice. “I'd dated a few rich girls before that, nothing serious, and she was beautiful so I thought, why not?” His eyes move away from her then, back to the muted TV, though she can tell he's not really seeing it. “That first date surprised me. She was nothing like the others, I couldn't believe how well we got on. And the next date, and the one after that – we liked all the same movies, the same shows, the same bands. She liked sports and I couldn't believe how lucky I was to find someone who rooted for all the same teams I did. She liked going to sports bars and hanging out with my friends and she was so down to earth and chill and I couldn't believe it.”

 

Sansa feels something icy curl in her chest, a sense of foreboding.

 

“You know, I didn't even question why a girl from the Reach would root for Northern teams. I didn't question a lot, I guess.” Another harsh laugh, and he brings a hand up to rub at his face. “My only other real relationships had been... none of them were ever that easy and I remember thinking – this is what a healthy relationship must be like.”

 

“Jon-” she whispers, but he keeps going, like he's so lost in thought he's forgotten she's there.

 

“I've spent a lot of time wondering if I'm such a selfish prick that I never noticed anything was off, or if she was just that good.”

 

That iciness solidifies into horror, sits like a stone in her stomach. He finally turns to her and his eyes shift back into focus a bit, though his pupils are still blown wide and his blinks are slow and she knows the alcohol is clouding him.

 

“That's how stupid I am,” he tells her. “I was planning a trip to take her north to meet my mom when she broke up with me. I didn't see it coming at all. The next time I saw her, she was with Aegon and it... that girl getting married tomorrow? That isn't the girl I dated. I don't know who that is.”

 

The tears are building behind her eyes again, the pressure is too much and they work their way to the front and she takes a shaky breath to try and stop them from falling.

 

“Don't,” he says, his voice dropping an octave, a deep rumble from his chest as his brows furrow and his mouth twists into a frown. He half turns to her and reaches out a hand to cradle her cheek and his thumb brushes against her cheekbone. “Don't be upset, not for me. I didn't mean...” he shakes his head and pulls his hand back to rub at his eyes under his glasses. “Pretend I didn't say anything.”

 

Then he takes his glasses off and sets them on the side table and shifts so that he's laying down. “You can keep the TV on if you want,” he pulls the sheets and comforter over him and turns on his side, facing away from her.

 

She doesn't know what to do or say, so all she says is a pathetic, “Jon,” again, with no real follow up.

 

“It's fine,” he mumbles, and she can tell he regrets saying anything. “It's not a big deal. Nothing I didn't deserve.”

 

It takes her jumbled brain a few seconds to catch up and she finally whispers, “deserve?”

 

For a few seconds she thinks he's asleep, before he says, voice so low and slurred with sleep she almost doesn't hear it, “for the way I was. For what I did.”

 

She sits on the bed with the quiet of the room thick around her, the TV flickering and silent. The question sits on her tongue for too long that by the time she finally gets the courage to ask, he's asleep.

 

She turns off the TV and her bedside lamp and settles down, pulling the comforter and sheets over her. The bed is possibly the most comfortable thing she's ever laid on, but she knows she won't be able to sleep. She can feel Jon next to her – the heat of him, his presence – and her question that hangs heavy in the air.

 

What did you do?

Chapter Text

She wakes up in the middle of the night exactly like she feared – all her limbs wrapped around Jon and clinging to him like a needy little starfish, face buried into the back of his neck. How embarrassing, is the first thing her half awake brain thinks. The second is that she's pretty sure he's still asleep and she can untangle herself from him and hopefully keep to her side of the bed until morning and he never has to know.

 

Legs first, she decides – she unhooks her left leg from over his and pulls it back. Her right leg is harder, she has somehow managed to shove that one between Jon's, and she works it slowly out, careful not to wake him. Her left arm she unwraps from around his waist, her right has been curled under her own head. Once she's removed her limbs, she starts to roll away, but freezes when he makes a noise.

 

She's still only half awake, and worry that she's woken him up battles with her urge to fall back asleep; it makes her feel cloudy and her brain takes a while to process what's happening. And then he makes another noise, something that sounds almost like a whine, and his arm flails out behind him – it's a jerky, unconscious move and she realizes she hasn't woken him at all. She watches his hand making a slow grabbing motion and he lets out another distressed sound and... does he not want her to move away?

 

Carefully, she moves back to him – front pressed against his back, arm around his torso, leg hooked over his – and he relaxes and makes a satisfied little hum and his hand grabs onto the arm around him as if to keep her there.

 

She settles back down, finding a comfortable position, and presses her forehead against the back of his neck and closes her eyes and slips off into sleep.

 


 

When she wakes again, she's alone.

 

Jon's side of the bed is disappointingly cold and empty and she's sprawled on her front, arm outstretched like she was looking for him. As her brain unfogs, she hears water running and that answers where he went.

 

She groans and pushes herself up and turns to sit against the headboard. Her mouth feels dry and fuzzy and she has a slight headache, but it's nowhere near the worst hangover she's ever had. Just too much wine and not enough water and some emotional distress thrown on top for good measure.

 

It comes rushing back to her then – for what I did.

 

Ugh. She never got the answer to that question. She'd lain awake in bed last night, long after Jon fell asleep, trying to stop her brain from coming up with a million different scenarios of what he could have done that was so terrible – all way over the top and implausible at best. She doesn't think he's any sort of criminal; she has a feeling if he was, the Targaryens would know about it and none of them treat him like a criminal. No, whatever he did, she thinks, it was something personal. The idea jars with the man she's come to know over the past month, she doesn't know what to make of it all.

 

The water in the bathroom shuts off and she picks up her phone to give herself something to do while she waits. Her heart is pounding in her chest and she can't tell if it's excitement or dread at seeing him.

 

Her phone is filled with texts from her friends and her siblings (she checks the Stark chat that she had muted yesterday and sees that the conversation had devolved even further after she left. Poor Robb – she'll have to make it up to him the next time she sees him. She'll bake him those brownies he likes.)

 

Everything's going fine, no casualties yet, she texts her friends.

 

Pls send pics of the dress, Beth is the first to answer. Sansa hadn't shown any of her friends the dress Jon got her, she'd been too embarrassed at the time.

 

How's the sex? Myranda sends, and Sansa wishes she could reach through the phone and strangle her.

 

Nonexistent. she responds, hoping the period at the end conveys just how much she doesn't want to pursue that line of conversation.

 

The door to the bathroom opens and she looks up to see Jon – just in his sweatpants from last night, shirtless, his hair dripping water onto the towel he's blotting it with.

 

“You're awake,” he says, pausing in the doorway and she forces her eyes to stay on his face.

 

“That tends to happen in the morning,” she agrees and it makes him smile.

 

“I forgot my deodorant,” he gestures over at his bag. He waits for her to nod, like he needed her permission, before heading over. “There's a breakfast this morning,” he says as he roots through his bag. “Rhae texted me asking if we'd come.”

 

“Are we?”

 

He turns to face her again and sighs. “I don't want to. Besides Rhae, there's no one I care to see. But I figure maybe you'd want that instead of ordering room service and being holed up in here with me again.”

 

“I don't mind...” she starts, but his phone buzzes and he looks over at the desk where it is and frowns.

 

As he checks his phone, she takes the opportunity to ogle him because she thinks she deserves some reward for all her self control. It's a mistake, she knows, as her eyes follow the trail of dark hair down his stomach to-

 

“That's Egg,” Jon's scowling at his phone. “Apparently he'd appreciate it if we came to breakfast since we left without saying goodbye last night.”

 

“I suppose it was a bit rude,” she murmurs, though her eyes find the bottle of wine on the TV stand and she can't bring herself to care all that much.

 

His phone buzzes again and she watches annoyance cloud his features. “And there's dear old dad,” his voice goes flat. “Once again, our departure last night was noted.”

 

“Then I suppose there's nothing for it,” she sighs, flinging the covers off her and swinging her legs out of bed. “When is it?”

 

“Started ten minutes ago,” he winces. That's why everyone's texting him, she guesses.

 

“I'll grab a shower after,” she decides, then heads into the bathroom to pee, brush her teeth, and maybe slap on a new layer of deodorant herself. She showered yesterday morning and she's not in the worst shape, she decides. She at least doesn't smell, even if she's not at her best. There's not enough time to do her makeup well, so she swipes on some mascara and dabs on some under eye concealer to try and hide the dark circles and calls it good enough.

 

“Photos are before the ceremony,” Jon tells her when she comes out. He's apparently decided to stay in his pajamas. “No sense in getting changed until after breakfast.”

 

Pajamas it is, then, though she also wonders if it's just one more small rebellion on Jon's part. His logic about waiting to change until after breakfast is fine, but the stubborn glower on his face makes her think it might be more than that. Like he's trying to prove to his father and Aegon that they can make him come to breakfast, but they can't make him look presentable while doing so. He really is dramatic sometimes, but she doesn't tell him that.

 

Downstairs, they follow signs to one of the formal dining rooms and they're clearly the last to arrive. Once again, she feels like everyone is staring at them and she wishes she'd maybe changed out of Robb's old lacrosse t-shirt.

 

Jon sits her at one of the only empty tables left and then goes up to the coffee bar where it looks like they have an actual barista making drinks and she's annoyed all over again by how lovey everything is here. She watches him stop off and talk to Aegon and Rhaegar, though Margaery and her gaggle of friends are nowhere in sight. When he comes back to the table, he sets a cup down in front of her and says, “hazelnut latte, right?”

 

“Right,” she nods, staring down at the cup for too long until she remembers their conversation in the car yesterday. She's surprised he remembers.

 

“What do you want to eat?”

 

“I don't know what they have, I'll go with you,” she stands and follows him to the elaborate buffet.

 

She picks out a blueberry muffin and also decides to get some eggs because she thinks she could use the protein. They have a chef making personalized omelets and crepes because of course there is. She also grabs a bottle of water.

 

“Good idea,” Jon grabs his own. “Remind me not to drink that much whiskey that fast again.”

 

It's the first hint that he remembers last night, though he doesn't say anything else. If he remembers the rest, he clearly doesn't want to talk about it. She wants to ask, but she still has a little over twenty four hours here with him, she'd rather not make things awkward if he wants to pretend last night didn't happen.

 

(Is she also sort of a coward and terrified of what he'll say? Maybe.)

 

“You made it,” Rhae joins them at the buffet, Sara in her arms. She lifts one of Sara's little hands and moves it in a wave.

 

“Wasn't given much of a choice,” Jon grumbles, eyes flicking over to the table where Aegon and Rhaegar sit.

 

“It'll be over soon,” Rhae reminds him. “And at least you don't have to spend all day playing nice with the bride and her minions.”

 

Of course she's a bridesmaid, Sansa thinks. Jon isn't a groomsman, but she guesses circumstances are different there. Or maybe Jon was asked and turned it down? He'll still be in the family photos, though.

 

“Where is the blushing bride?” Jon turns back to the buffet and starts shoveling bacon and scrambled eggs onto his plate. He seems like he doesn't want a freshly made omelet, which she thinks is a poor choice – they look infuriatingly delicious.

 

“In her room, hopefully she'll stay there. I managed to put off going up until breakfast is over.”

 

Rather than say anything else, Jon sets his plate down, turns, and pulls a face at Sara, who squeals in delight and makes grabby hands at him. He leans forward and presses a kiss to her forehead, which makes her fuss even more.

 

“Is Uncle Jon being silly?” Rhae coos. “Is his beard scratchy?”

 

Sara kicks her little legs in response.

 

Sansa takes a very deep breath and turns back to the buffet because if she has to watch Jon being adorable with a baby for one more second, she might scream.

 

“And how are you holding up?” Rhae asks and Sansa turns her head to see that the question is for her.

 

“A little worse for wear, but still alive.”

 

It makes Rhae laugh and she shifts Sara into one arm and slings the other around Sansa's shoulder in a brief hug. “I like you,” Rhae whispers in her ear. “Be good to him.”

 

Guilt spears through her and she has the sudden urge to apologize, but she keeps her mouth shut.

 

“What are you saying about me?” Jon huffs.

 

“That was an innocent hug, not everything is about you,” Rhae scoffs and pulls back. At Jon's incredulous look, Rhae holds Sara out and says, “would I lie in front of my baby?”

 

“Yes, absolutely,” he deadpans and picks up his plate of food again and starts making his way back to their table.

 

“He's very dramatic,” Sansa picks up her own plate and Rhae laughs.

 

“You know, when I was younger, I used to wish I had a brother I could get along with.” Rhae turns her gaze to the head table, where Aegon and Rhaegar sit. “Don't get me wrong, I love Egg, but he's always bought into the Targaryen greatness narrative just a little too hard. Jon... he's a good kid, he's had it rough.”

 

“At least he has you,” she murmurs, looking to find Jon across the room. He's standing at their table, looking back at her like he's surprised she didn't follow, eyes flicking between her and Rhae.

 

“We're not all bad, I promise,” Rhae sighs. “My mom doesn't hate him, it's just-”

 

“You don't have to explain,” she cuts Rhae off. “Honestly. Jon has nothing but good things to say about you and your family.” It's not totally a lie – Jon doesn't say much about the Martells, he mostly says he barely knows them, and the positive things he has said she thinks are mostly for Rhae's sake.

 

“You should get back,” Rhae says softly. “Otherwise, I think he might come over and pick you up and carry you back to the table himself.”

 

“Not all Northerners are barbarians,” Sansa teases and she begins to cross the room with Rhae's laughter trailing after her.

 

“What was that about?” Jon asks once she's sat down.

 

“We were talking about how nice the weather is today. Not everything's about you.”

 

“Gods, not you, too,” he mutters and stabs at a bit of egg with his fork as she tries to suppress her smile.

 

They settle into a companionable silence and she tries not to think too hard about what reason Jon is going to eventually have to give Rhae about their 'breakup'.

 

Everything is going fine until a group of giggling women rush into the room and chaos descends. Sansa freezes mid-bite and it takes her a few seconds to realize it's Margaery's cousins and friends – they're all wearing matching robes, some with bridesmaid embroidered onto the back, and they've got their hair in curlers and they swarm Aegon at the head table. The giggling continues as one of them (which one is it? Sansa still can't tell them apart) ties a silk scarf around Aegon's eyes as she sing-songs, loud enough for the whole room to hear, “it's bad luck to see the bride before the wedding!”

 

And then Margaery makes her entrance, now that she has the entire room's attention. She sweeps in wearing a white silk robe and her hair is also in curlers and she somehow manages to look like a movie star, even half dressed.

 

“I just had to get out of that room for a moment, darling,” she purrs and leans down to place a kiss on Aegon's cheek, just underneath the blindfold.

 

“Aren't you guys doing photos before the ceremony?” Sansa leans over and whispers to Jon. “So he's going to see her before the wedding anyway?”

 

“Don't question the logic of any of this,” Jon whispers back. His shoulders are tense again and she hates Margaery for ruining the peaceful, mostly pleasant breakfast they were having. She manages to look over at a table full of Martells just in time to catch Oberyn mid-eye roll and Elia mid-elbowing him in the arm. Do they know about Margaery? About what she did to Jon?

 

Does Aegon know?

 

One of Margaery's cousins, the blonde one (Elinor? Alla?), starts loading a plate with fruit as Margaery begins chatting with the guests. She moves from table to table, smiling, greeting – the perfect picture of a gracious host.

 

With dread, Sansa watches her get closer and closer to their little corner table and she hopes they'll be overlooked, but of course they aren't.

 

“Jon, you're ready for pictures, right?” Margaery's voice is syrupy sweet, with just a hint of that purr she used on Aegon.

 

“Sort of have to be,” he leans back in his chair with a face that could be made of stone.

 

If Margaery is put off by his clipped response, she barely shows it, and instead turns to Sansa. “Oh dear. Was there something wrong with the room?”

 

Sansa has no idea what she means and so she lets out a confused, “what?”

 

“I just meant, was the bed not comfortable? Not enough pillows? You look like you haven't slept a wink.” And then Margaery leans forward and drops her voice, eyes darting from side to side like she's making sure no one can overhear, though her voice isn't low enough to keep all of her minions and Jon from hearing. “If you'd like, I can have the spa set you up with a facial, to maybe help with those dark circles under your eyes? Oh, and that pallor.” With that, Margaery gestures at Sansa's face with an exaggerated look of sympathy, and Sansa feels like she's been punched in the gut, the breath knocked out of her. “And please, if there's anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable, let one of the staff know.”

 

“Huh,” Jon's tone is carefully light, and he turns his gaze from Margaery to her. “I think you look beautiful,” he directs this at Sansa, hand coming up and tucking a piece of her hair behind her ear. There's a suggestive lilt to his voice as he says, "though I guess if you are tired, that's on me. I shouldn't have kept you up so late.”

 

His eyes never leave her face, he barely even acknowledges Margaery or her minions, and Sansa suddenly feels breathless for a completely different reason. “I didn't mind,” she manages to say without stuttering. Her cheeks feel hot – all of her feels hot.

 

“Well, I'm so glad to know your rooms are acceptable,” Margaery's voice is back to it's normal, overly bright volume. When Sansa finally breaks eye contact with Jon and turns to look at the bride, she thinks Margaery's smile is just a bit too stiff. A bit too forced.

 

Congratulations, Jon, she thinks, her heart sinking. Margaery is sufficiently jealous.

 

“But maybe you should go to the spa while we're doing photos,” Jon continues, like he barely even notices Margaery said anything. “I'm sure Margie would be happy to make sure there's a spot for you.”

 

Margaery's smile is sickly sweet as she says, “of course, just tell them I sent you and it'll be on the house,” and then she sweeps out of the room, skipping over the last two tables, her gaggle of friends trailing behind her.

 

“I should've told her to fuck off,” Jon seethes after she's gone. “I should've-”

 

“No,” she cuts in, laying a calming hand on his arm. “She was looking to get a rise out of... well, probably me, but I'm sure she would've been just as happy getting a reaction from you, too."

 

On some level, Jon has to know that. It's why he didn't tell her to fuck off, why he barely acknowledged her at all, even if he's not completely aware of the reason. Margaery was looking to get under his skin and it makes her sad to think he had to learn that lesson the hard way.

 

“You know she's full of shit, right?” he seems to settle under her touch, relaxing back into his chair.

 

Beautiful, he'd called her, though she doesn't exactly feel it – slightly hung over, hair in a messy braid, wearing sweatpants and a decade old lacrosse shirt that she stole from her older brother, and with definite bags under her eyes, despite Jon's protests. But then he turns to look at her again and he seems so earnest that she suddenly does feel it.

 

She tells herself she's just playing the game when she leans forward and presses a soft kiss to his lips. She knows Jon's playing the game when he kisses her back and then tugs gently on the end of her braid when she pulls back. Margaery may not be here anymore, but there's still a room full of people they need to trick.

 

They finish breakfast in silence, though once again, it doesn't feel uncomfortable. It should, she should feel on edge and uncertain – and part of her does, a small piece of her brain that likes to panic. But mostly she just likes being around Jon; she feels calm in his presence, even when he's making her pulse race and her insides melt.

 

The romantic part of her brain tells her she's falling in love; the practical part tells her she's going to get her heart broken.

 


 

“I can't believe these photos are three hours,” she says as she fixes Jon's tie in their suite bathroom. Her hair is still wet from her shower and she's wearing yoga pants and one of her own t-shirts this time, but Jon's got his full suit on and it's doing it for her. He's slicked back his hair and with the tailored suit, it makes him almost look like a different person (though she actually misses his curls).

 

“Well, we have to drive out to the gardens and there's a million people to take photos of and I'm sure Margaery wants everything to be perfect,” he grumbles, then looks down at his phone when it buzzes on the counter. “They're headed down, I guess it's time.”

 

She grabs her own bag with her phone and room key and heads out with him, and they take the elevator down. In the lobby, she can see Rhaegar in the center, Elia standing a distance away, those two groomsmen she'd like to punch in the face, as well as two other men who she recognizes from the rehearsal dinner, but never got the names of. She thinks Margaery has brothers. Sansa guesses the bridesmaids and the Tyrells are with Margaery.

 

“Did he ask you?” she asks as they hover at the edge of the lobby.

 

“No,” Jon brings a hand up to scratch at his beard, eyes moving over to the wedding party and then back to her. “He made some excuse about uneven numbers and said he knew I wouldn't want to do any of the groomsmen stuff anyway. Made it sound like it was for my benefit.”

 

“I wish it meant you didn't have to do photos, either.”

 

He laughs at that and his shoulders finally relax a bit. “Yeah,” he moves to run a hand through his hair, stopping only when he remembers it's styled. “I wish you could come.” His voice is low when he says it, she almost doesn't catch it as she watches Aegon step out of a different elevator than the one they'd used.

 

“You'll be ok,” she tells him, smoothing her hands over the lapels of his suit. “It's just a short ride and then Rhae will be there and you'll have someone to talk to.”

 

“Yeah,” he sighs, and then her breath catches as he leans forward and rests his forehead against hers, closing his eyes. “But don't be surprised if I jump out of the limo on the way there.”

 

“You're very dramatic,” she whispers, because she doesn't trust her voice with anything more.

 

“I prefer brooding,” he corrects, a small smile twitching his lips, though he keeps his eyes closed.

 

She tries to tell herself that this is all for show, for the people waiting in the lobby, but it doesn't feel like it is. It feels like he really doesn't want to go, like he wants her there, like he takes comfort in her presence. It feels real.

 

“Jon,” a voice interrupts, and he opens his eyes and they both turn to see Elia standing before them.

 

She looks hesitant, wary, as she says, “it's about time to go, I thought perhaps you could escort me.”

 

“Oh,” Jon jerks back a bit, and his gaze flicks over to Aegon, who is talking with Rhaegar and his friends and doesn't seem to notice that his mother has left. Jon's mouth curves into a frown and Sansa is reminded, suddenly and fiercely, of that soft smile he'd had while talking about his own mother. “I'd be honored,” he finally says, and he steps away from Sansa and holds his arm out to the older woman.

 

“Thank you,” Elia nods, though Sansa can sense the stiffness in her. It must be hard for Elia, she thinks – her daughter is with the bride, her family not invited to the photos, her son more concerned about his father's attention. She's just as alone in this group as Jon is.

 

“Have fun!” Sansa calls after them. “Don't jump out of the limo!”

 

Elia turns to shoot her a confused look over her shoulder as Jon lets out a snort of laughter. As they walk away, she watches Jon lean in to explain. And then they're gone, out the doors and into the waiting limo, though Jon turns one last time to wave at her before he gets in.

 


 

The clerk at the front desk of the spa doesn't have a reservation for her, but when Sansa drops Margaery's name, the woman hustles to find her a table and a free masseuse.

 

If Margaery's going to offer her a free spa treatment, even out of false pity or spite, well, who is Sansa to turn that down? Plus, what else is she going to do? Sit in the hotel room and pine over Jon? She can pine just as easily in a spa.

 

The massage eases tension out of her that she hadn't even known was there. She has to hand it to the Tyrells – they may be annoying social climbers, but their facilities are immaculate. Their hotel suite is beautiful, the bed is insanely comfortable, and the spa is out of this world. She'll have to thank Margaery later.

 

There's a sauna and it's unisex, but she keeps her towel on and is pleased to see that she's alone here and she relaxes back as the steam envelopes her. She doesn't even need to worry about keeping track of time – one of the attendants assured her they would come get her at two, so she would have time to go upstairs and get ready.

 

“Excuse me.”

 

She's snapped out of her meditation by a smooth, clipped voice and she opens her eyes to see a man and woman standing in front of her.

 

“Are you with the Targaryen-Tyrell wedding?” the man asks. He and the woman are both wearing robes, though Sansa feels like they somehow cover less than her towel.

 

“I'm a guest,” she sits up a bit straighter, making sure her towel is covering her properly. She's not entirely comfortable with the appraising look the man is giving her.

 

“You don't look familiar,” the man says with a smile that makes her stomach turn.

 

“I'm sorry?”

 

“They closed the hotel for the wedding,” the man explains smoothly. The woman next to him, a buxom redhead, looks bored out of her skull. “So I knew you must be here for it, but I know I have never seen you before. I would have remembered you.”

 

His tone is oily smooth and it sends a chill up her spine.

 

“Ok,” she says, trying to pull her towel lower on her thighs, though it's useless because it only has so much fabric. She has no idea what this man wants her to say.

 

“I pride myself on information,” the man doesn't falter. His arm is around the bored-looking woman, but his eyes land on where Sansa is clutching her towel to her chest. She has the sudden thought that she wishes Jon were here. “My name is Petyr Baelish, I'm Rhaegar Targaryen's chief financial planner. I'm sure you understand, he pays me very well to know everything and everyone. And even if he didn't, how could anyone not want to make your acquaintance, Ms-”

 

He leaves it hanging as an unasked question that she doesn't want to answer. But there's already enough tension between Jon and his father, she doesn't want to add to it, so she says, “Stark. Sansa Stark.”

 

“Are you a friend of the bride?”

 

“I'm Jon's date,” she explains, and she watches his brow furrow for just a moment, so she clarifies, “Jon Snow?”

 

“Ah,” Mr. Baelish gives her a smile that seems more like a smirk. “There are so many Jons, one never knows.”

 

Sansa thinks she remembers Jon mentioning someone, a Jon... Connington? One of his dad's friends that he insists he wasn't named after. She's sure there are others, too.

 

“That's Rhaegar's illegitimate son,” Mr. Baelish turns and explains to the woman at his side, who feigns a smile of interest in his general direction. Sansa can feel her hand tightening around her towel at the unnecessary distinction. “If I may be so bold, Ms. Stark, I'm surprised he came at all, after everything.”

 

“It's his brother's wedding,” she says as calmly as she can.

 

“Well, he's proven he doesn't care much about family,” Mr. Baelish gives her a condescending little smile, like she's too stupid to understand how the world works. “And after everything Rhaegar has done for that boy, you think he'd be more grateful.”

 

There's a moment of clarity where Sansa realizes they aren't talking about Jon and Margaery dating. That's not why Mr. Baelish is surprised Jon came. She wants to say something, but she doesn't know what. How can she defend Jon when she doesn't know what she's defending him from?

 

With as much dignity as she can muster in this towel, she stands up and pastes on her best placating-creepy-men smile and edges her way past the couple. “I really should start getting ready, Jon will be done with the photos soon.”

 

A lie, but she wants to get away from this man and the way he looks at her like his eyes are peeling the towel off of her against her will.

 

She changes as quickly as she can and makes some excuse to the attendant who was supposed to come get her and hurries back up to the room, only able to relax when the door clicks shut behind her.

 


 

She's already in her dress when Jon comes back.

 

She'd been pacing the room, an anxious mess, but she turns to face him and watches as he freezes in the entryway.

 

“Wow,” he breathes, letting the door swing shut behind him. “I forgot how incredible you look in that.”

 

She almost says something idiotic about how much tape is holding her boobs in place, but she actually can't form words right now. Not with him looking at her like that – like he means it.

 

“Do we need to go down now?” she finally manages, the butterflies in her stomach are a mixture of nerves and fluttery desire and she wishes they would just stop.

 

“In about fifteen minutes,” he says, shaking himself loose and heading over to the large wall mirror, where he checks to make sure his hair is in place and he readjusts his tie.

 

“Can you take a photo of my dress?” He looks over at her with a quirked eyebrow and she clarifies, “I promised my friends I would.”

 

He laughs and comes over and she holds out her phone to him and then stands awkwardly as he takes a few photos before handing it back. “Should we get one of us?” he asks. “For Instagram or whatever?”

 

She nods and goes over to the mirror and opens her camera app again. Jon stands behind her and she catches his eye in the mirror. He steps into her space and curves an arm around her waist so that his hand is resting on her stomach, right where the butterflies are.

 

“Photo?” he murmurs eventually and she realizes she's just been staring at him through the mirror and she feels like a fucking idiot. All she can do is nod and hold up her phone and smile as best she can.

 

Jon feels so solid behind her and his hand is hot against her and he finally looks away from their reflection, down to her. She watches him look at her and she tries to hold her smile as she snaps the photo.

 

“One more?” he says, voice so low it's barely a rumble in his chest and he dips his head to press a kiss against her neck, in the hollow behind her ear, and she has just enough sense left to remember to take the photo.

 

He pulls away from her then, stepping out of her space and letting her go and she feels suddenly empty.

 

“Time to go,” he tells her, voice still that same rough timbre and she nods dumbly and follows after him and all she can think is that he's very good at this game and she's not sure she wants to play anymore.

 

As they take the elevator down, there's a word that sits on the tip of her tongue. Manatee, manatee, manatee, her brain chants. Get out before he breaks your heart.

 

But of course she doesn't say it, because she is both very stubborn and very foolish and that little romance devil on her shoulder keeps poking at her and whispering, but what if it's not a game? What if it's real?

Chapter Text

In the elevator, she focuses on posting their photo to her Instagram story, then sending the full length photo of her dress to her friends. Even when she's done, she keeps her eyes on her phone because Jon is silent the whole way and won't even look at her.

 

They step off the elevator and find the stream of guests, which they follow down a hall and eventually they come to an outdoor patio, shaded by a large pergola twining with flowering vines. White chairs are set up in rows on either side of the aisle, soft violin music streams from a small quartet, and the whole thing overlooks one of the massive gardens. It's absolutely breathtaking and she once again feels that same annoyance that not one thing has gone wrong this entire time.

 

Looking around at the assembled guests, she's suddenly, incredibly thankful that Jon insisted on buying her this dress. Everyone is immaculately dressed and styled and she feels out of place enough as it is. The dress feels like a protective barrier. Like a set of armor.

 

“Where do we sit?” she asks as they stand in the back and watch the other guests start taking their seats. One side is clearly the groom's; she can see some of the Martells already seated, and there are the two Targaryens she had seen last night at the rehearsal dinner – the ones Jon wanted to avoid. She's pretty sure that's his aunt and uncle, she remembers him mentioning that he and his aunt were the same age. Dany and Viserys, she thinks.

 

Jon's just about to answer, eyeing up the last row, when Oberyn Martell turns and sees them. He gives them a grin and waves them over and she feels Jon hesitate next to her, and when she looks at him, he seems confused. But he goes anyway, and they take the two seats that Oberyn offers.

 

“You two made quite the exit last night,” Oberyn gives them an eyebrow waggle.

 

“I have no idea what you mean,” Jon keeps his voice casually neutral, but she can see the way his mouth twitches with a suppressed smile. Oberyn lets out a bark of a laugh. On the other side of Oberyn is his... well, Sansa doesn't acually think they're married. His partner, Ellaria, also laughs.

 

Jon looks at his watch and gives a sigh and Sansa wishes she knew what he was thinking. She decides she needs a distraction, so she pulls out her phone and opens Instagram and she's actually a bit surprised to see that all three of Margaery's henchmen have looked at her photo. Shouldn't they be a bit too busy with wedding prep to be checking some random girl they just met's Instagram story? Robb has also looked at it and she cringes a bit. She posted the one with Jon kissing her neck (because she's a masochist, apparently), and she's surprised she hasn't gotten some outraged message from Robb about it. Maybe he learned his lesson the last time.

 

“I remember this,” Jon murmurs, and she looks up from her phone to see him staring at her neck. He reaches out and taps at the dragonfly necklace she's wearing. “You wore this on our first date.”

 

Her throat feels a bit dry as she says, “it's my good luck charm. I thought we might need it.”

 

Jon smiles then, something soft that makes her heart ache as he stares at the necklace, the pendant now held gently between his thumb and forefinger.

 

“I guess it has a good track record,” his voice is low and rumbling and it makes other parts of her ache. Then he lets the necklace go and she immediately misses the way the backs of his fingers had brushed against her skin.

 

She distracts herself by looking around at the guests again and she makes eye contact with the man from the spa. Petyr Baelish and his date are just entering and she wishes she hadn't turned around, because the second they make eye contact, she feels a shiver of disgust go through her.

 

“You ok?” Jon asks, voice low, and he dips his head nearer to her ear.

 

“That guy,” she says, turning to face Jon again, though she can still feel the man's eyes on the back of her neck. “He talked to me in the spa.”

 

Jon glances back and his jaw tightens. “Baelish,” he grumbles. “I can't stand him.”

 

“He gave me weird vibes,” she whispers, and Jon's hand finds hers and he laces their fingers together.

 

“Stay away from him,” Jon warns. “There's been...” he stops and seems to remember that they're in a crowd and people are sitting all around them. He leans even closer to her, his breath ghosting along her neck as he brings his lips near her ear. “There's been some allegations against him from some of Rhaegar's employees. I don't want you anywhere near him.”

 

She's so distracted by how close Jon is, by the memory of his lips on her neck, that it takes her a moment to process the words. Allegations, Jon had said, but she hears the unspoken sexual harassment. She can believe it – Baelish had made her uncomfortable within minutes of meeting him. She can't imagine what it would be like to be around him for longer than that.

 

“You don't have to worry about that,” she manages to keep her voice steady as Jon pulls away from her, his eyes fixed over his shoulder, jaw tight. She doesn't want to turn and see if Baelish is still looking at her. Her hand is still in Jon's and she gives it a light squeeze.

 

She doesn't turn around again, but she also doesn't feel eyes on her anymore and slowly she relaxes back into her seat. Whether he's aware of it or not, Jon doesn't let go of her hand; he keeps hold of it as the guests quiet down in their seats, and a Septon begins to walk down the aisle.

 

“I hope this doesn't take too long,” Jon sighs. “I know some of these Seven ceremonies can take forever.”

 

“Oh gods,” she whispers, eyes widening. “Are they traditional?”

 

Sansa has, thankfully, never been to a traditional Seven wedding, herself, but she's heard about them, about how they can take hours.

 

“Not that I'm aware of. At least Egg isn't,” he frowns. “But who knows about Margaery.”

 

“It'll depend on who she wants to be today,” Oberyn mutters from next to Jon, and she watches the two men share a look. That solidifies it for her, the Martells absolutely know what she did to Jon.

 

Why has no one tried to stop this? Why has no one warned Aegon?

 

Did Jon? She can maybe understand why Aegon wouldn't believe or trust what Jon had to say, thinking it was out of jealousy or anger. But why haven't the Martells tried?

 

She wants to ask, but won't – especially not with all these people around.

 

It seems as though everything is starting, with the Septon up at the front. The set of violins that have been playing softly as the guests took their seats pick up a bit and Sansa turns to see Aegon start down the aisle, with Rhaegar and Elia on either side. She's at least happy to see that Aegon kisses his mother's cheek before she goes and sits in the first row, next to Arthur. Rhaegar follows and sits next to Cersei, and Sansa has never been more thankful to be a few rows back from that disastrous group of people.

 

The music changes again and the wedding procession begins. Jon leans in to her, and she suppresses a shiver. She's still holding his hand and she wonders if he notices at all.

 

Rhae is out first, with one of the Tyrell brothers. “Willas,” Jon murmurs to her and she feels that eruption of butterflies in her stomach at how close he is. She keeps her eyes trained on the procession, though. He keeps naming the wedding party for her as they go: Taena and Loras, Elinor and Cortnay, Alla and Martyn. She never quite gets used to Jon's whispers in her ear, each one making her pulse flutter wildly. Next comes a little boy, the ring bearer, and Jon's low, “that's Loras and Renly's kid.”

 

The last two need no introductions – Rhae's husband Tycho walks out pulling Sara in a little cart and Sansa suppresses a squeal of delight at how adorable she is in her fluffy white dress and flowered headband. She thinks Jon hears her, though, because he gives her hand a squeeze and when she looks over, he's smiling at her, something soft and warm. Sansa feels her face heat as Jon keeps staring at her, and she forces herself to look back at where Tycho is sprinkling flower petals since his daughter is too young to do it herself.

 

The music changes again and then Margaery is here, with Mace at her side. She's absolutely stunning in her gown, the veil over her face doing nothing to hide how utterly gorgeous she is. Thankfully, Margaery keeps her eyes straight ahead and doesn't look at the assembled guests and so Sansa doesn't have to deal with any weird eye contact.

 

The ceremony starts and this is where Sansa starts to zone out. It's bringing her back to Sunday lessons at the Sept that her mother had tried to force all the kids to when they were little. It never really took for any of them, much to her mother's dismay. Sansa was always the most devout of their siblings because she'd wanted to make her mother happy, but that wasn't saying much and any faith she'd had has worn thin over the years.

 

At one point, Jon leans back over and whispers into her ear, “this is so weird.”

 

It almost makes her laugh – out loud – which is not good in the middle of a wedding ceremony, and she presses her lips together in an effort to stifle it. She risks a glance at Jon and he doesn't look upset or angry at the fact that his ex is currently, actively, marrying his brother. He mostly just looks a bit baffled that it's actually happening.

 

It goes off without a hitch and before long (it's not a traditional wedding, thank all the gods), the Septon announces that they're married and she watches Margaery and Aegon kiss. They look happy, and a piece of her hopes that they are. A piece of her hopes that everything that happened with Jon was just one big misunderstanding and that Margaery and Aegon are truly in love, because the alternative is just... depressing. The alternative is that these two people will be married for a name and money and spend their lives miserable with each other.

 

Sansa knows she's too much of a romantic, she blames her parents - she's never seen two people more in love than them and it makes her ache for that. Jon's hand in hers makes her ache for that.

 

It's all she can think about as Margaery and Aegon walk back down the aisle to the cheering of the guests.

 


 

Jon swears under his breath as he and Sansa finally find table five. Jon Snow & guest, 5, the little card had read when Jon found his name among the table assignments. When they finally reach it, though, there's already four people sitting there, four empty seats, and that's when Jon lets out the curse under his breath.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me,” Jon mutters to himself, arm tight around her waist.

 

At the table are the two Targaryens, the ones Sansa thinks are his aunt and uncle, along with their dates. This is confirmed when Jon pulls the chair out for her and she sits and he sits next to her, then nods his head and says, “Dany, Vis,” in greeting.

 

“I think you have the wrong table,” Viserys sniffs, lips curling in disdain. In response, Jon holds up his table assignment card.

 

“Take it up with Egg,” Jon shrugs.

 

Viserys opens his mouth to say something, but Dany cuts in. “Do not make a scene,” she snaps with a glare at her brother.

 

“Well, this ought to be fun,” the man at Dany's side says with a grin, then leans across his date to hold out his hand to Jon. “Daario Naharis.”

 

“Jon Snow,” Jon shakes his hand. “And this is my girlfriend, Sansa.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Sansa gives everyone her best smile. They just need to get through this dinner. Once the dancing starts, they can leave the table, at least.

 

“Since Vis here doesn't seem to be making introductions,” Daario continues smoothly, one arm around Dany, his other gesturing at Viserys's date, “this is Irri, and she's a saint for putting up with Vis.”

 

There's a snarl that curls Viserys's lips even further, and he leans forward as if to say something cutting, when Dany once again hisses, “do not make a scene.”

 

“Yeah, Vis,” Jon keeps his voice cool and light and he looks casual as he leans back in his chair, slinging an arm over the back of Sansa's, but she can absolutely feel the tension rolling off of him. “Your nephew's wedding isn't a good place to wake the dragon.

 

Sansa has no idea what that means, but Daario lets out a sharp laugh and she thinks she hears Dany mutter, “he's no dragon.”

 

“No,” Daario grins. “Not quite a dragon – more like a lizard. Maybe one of those little geckos.” Dany snorts out a laugh into her wine glass as Viserys's face turns an ugly shade of red. Sansa feels bad for Irri, who looks massively uncomfortable and like she'd rather be anywhere else.

 

“You fucking-” Viserys starts, but then another couple joins them at their table, one that Sansa has never seen before, and Viserys closes his mouth.

 

Soon, the door of the ballroom opens and the wedding party starts walking in and up to the head table, followed by Aegon and Margaery.

 

Sansa barely listens to the speeches by Alla and Martyn – though she hears enough to know that Martyn truly has never moved past high school. Their food arrives and, thankfully, the tense atmosphere dispels a bit once they're all eating. Sansa can't quite figure out Dany and Viserys's relationship – they looked cozy enough at the rehearsal dinner, standing and whispering together, but they're seemingly quick to turn on each other. (She doesn't think she'll ever understand the Targaryens. Do they all refer to themselves as dragons? It's not the first time she's heard that word thrown around this weekend.)

 

The two seem to have slipped right back into conspiratorial best friends as they look around at the other tables and talk shit on almost every other guest. It continues through most of the meal as Jon sits silent next to her. The couple she doesn't know spends the whole time only talking to each other in whispers, Irri also sits silent, and Daario jumps in occasionally to talk shit on those people that he does know. It's one of the most unpleasant dinners Sansa has ever been to.

 

“There's Baelish,” Vis scoffs, nodding at table thirteen. “I guarantee that woman is a hooker.”

 

“Sex worker,” Dany corrects, eyeing the woman up. “And of course she is – like that piece of slime could get a real woman to fuck him. The only way he can get a date is by buying one.”

 

Sansa hears Jon take a deep, steadying breath through his nose and she sees that his hands are tight and white knuckled around his silverware. She thinks maybe he's upset that Baelish is being brought up again, so she reaches over and places a comforting hand on his knee, under the table so neither of the Targaryens can see – she doesn't want them knowing Jon is upset. Instead of being comforted, though, he stiffens up even further and looks down at her hand with a frown, and she quickly yanks it back and focuses her eyes on her plate of food as embarrassment swirls through her – what was she thinking?

 

The problem is, she's been thinking too much lately, and it's all been about Jon, about what it would be like if they were really dating. She's getting too deep into her daydreams and she let herself stupidly believe her touch would bring him comfort.

 

Viserys and Dany move on to other guests and Sansa eventually tunes them out, too busy wallowing in her own self pity. That is, until Jon's voice snaps her out of it.

 

“Shut up, Vis,” he grits out.

 

“Oh look, it's white knight Jon, here to defend Elia's honor. You know she despises you, right? Everyone does,” Viserys sneers. “No one can stand you, even though you love to pretend you're better than us.”

 

“Well, I know I'm better than you,” Jon voice is tight with anger.

 

“Are you?” Dany asks casually, swirling wine around in her glass. “Why are you even here?”

 

“Seems to me, he's come slinking back for daddy's forgiveness,” Viserys begins to smile, a cold, terrifying thing.

 

“I came because Egg asked me to,” Jon sets down his silverware and lets his hands drop below the table, where Sansa can see him flexing them, like he's trying to calm himself down or stop himself from doing something stupid. She can see a flush creeping up the back of his neck and turning the tips of his ears red.

 

She wants to jump in – say something to defend him, but she feels like she's missing pieces of what's happening. Jon hasn't told her everything, that much is abundantly clear.

 

Viserys leans forward, the smile dropping from his face. “You will never be allowed back in the will, I'll make sure of it. You aren't a Targaryen, you're just my idiot brother's mistake, and if you think you're getting your bastard hands on my inheritance-”

 

“Viserys, shut up,” Dany snaps. “Don't let him rile you, he isn't worth it.” She says it with such casual disdain that it feels somehow crueler than any of the vitriol Viserys just spouted.

 

There's silence at the table after that, and it at least gives Sansa time for her brain to process everything.

 

Jon isn't in his father's will, but he was, at some point. Something made Rhaeger remove him – does it have anything to do with what Jon talked about last night, whatever it was that made him deserve the way Margaery treated him? Did he come here for forgiveness? To get back in the will? She honestly feels more lost than ever.

 

When dinner is over, the dancing starts, but she barely pays attention. At some point, Jon stands up, offering her his hand, and says, "we might as well, right?". She takes it and he pulls her out onto the floor and curls his arms around her waist. She loops hers around his neck and tries to ignore the distance he keeps between their bodies.

 

“I'm glad we can finally get away from them,” she tries to joke.

 

“Sorry about all that,” he says, jaw tight and eyes staring off over her shoulder, a bit unfocused.

 

She doesn't want to ask, she doesn't want to pry, but she honestly can't stand it anymore.

 

“I know we're not really dating,” she keeps her voice low, “and I know this weekend is a lot for you, but I just... I keep feeling like I'm being blindsided here and it would be nice have some idea of what's going on.”

 

Jon tenses for a moment before his shoulders seem to sag. “I'm sorry, Sansa,” his voice is a low rumble, she almost feels it more than she hears it. “I'm not... there's just so much family shit, I don't... I'm not keeping things from you on purpose, I just don't know how to explain it or what would be important. I didn't think the inheritance stuff would even come up.”

 

She nods slowly, because she does get it. She tries to think about what it would be like if she suddenly dragged Jon to a family function to be a fake boyfriend – what would she even tell him for background info? Her family isn't horrible, but there's still a lot of people and history and inside jokes and family business, there's no way to tell someone all of it in such a short amount of time.

 

“Whatever you want to ask, ask,” he continues. “I promise I'll tell you whatever you want. Even if... even if I'm not exactly proud of it.”

 

“I want you to tell me whatever you're comfortable telling me,” she decides.

 

He nods, and there's a bit of silence as they dance before he finally speaks. “Rhaegar made a big deal out of adding me to his will when he came into my life. He gave me an allowance, started inviting me to family functions... He told me it's because he changed his mind and wanted to be a part of my life, but I'm not sure that's true. Apparently he was in the middle of some contract bidding war at the time and there was some corporate espionage shit going on and his big rival found out about me since I'd turned eighteen and my records became public. I guess the Baratheons were going to use Rhaegar's secret bastard to win the bid, but Rhaegar decided to out me publicly as his son himself to cut down on the scandal.” Jon gives a rueful laugh at this. “But that's just what my loving Uncle Viserys told me, so who actually knows.”

 

Sansa feels something horrible twist in her stomach, and her eyes find Rhaegar in the crowd of dancing couples. A part of her wants to believe that Viserys was just being cruel, that Jon's dad really did want him, but she understands why Jon seems to believe it.

 

“What made him remove you?” she asks, fingers smoothing up and down the back of Jon's neck like she's trying to soothe him. He closes his eyes for a brief moment before continuing.

 

“I told you he had a lot of opinions about my life, right? And he was annoyed when I didn't choose to work for him, but that doesn't mean he disapproved of my major or my job.”

 

“Engineering?”

 

He nods. “I got a position at Rayder Consultants and for a while, everything was fine.” Another pause, like he's trying to find the best way to explain something. “Have you ever been to Baelor Avenue?” he asks and waits for her nod. She's been once, when she and her friends had gone shopping downtown and decided to take a detour to see where the rich people lived. Billionaire's Row, it's nicknamed. “Did you see the big tower there?”

 

She nods again, mouth tilting in a frown. “The really ugly one?” That gets a soft laugh out of him.

 

“That's the one. 432 Baelor Avenue. It's a Targaryen property.”

 

“Of course it is,” Sansa sighs, which makes him smile wider, but it fades away quickly.

 

“The company spent... a lot of money and time on that fucking building. They even figured out a way around city height restrictions to make sure they could build and advertise the tallest building in the world.

 

“Is it?”

 

“It was,” he laughs, though there's no real humor in it. “Pentos beat them within two years.”

 

“Ok, so your family built an ugly building that isn't even the tallest in the world,” she sums up.

 

“An ugly building with an insane price tag for the units. I'm talking millions to live there, and a lot of publicity behind it. And then the complaints started coming in - flooding in units, elevators getting stuck, extreme noise from the wind...” Sansa feels herself shiver at that – she cannot imagine living in such a tall building. She's heard they sway in the wind. Who would want to live in that? “Eventually, it got so bad, they hired a consultant firm to inspect the building.”

 

“Yours,” she guesses, and she knows she's right before he even nods.

 

“Mine. I...” he hesitates and looks away from her again. “I didn't tell them about my connection to the owners. They put me on the team.”

 

“Oh,” is all she can think to say. The current song ends and a different, more upbeat one starts. Jon's arms drop from her waist and she decides to pull him over to their table, which has luckily been vacated, and she sits him down.

 

It takes him a long time to continue, but eventually he does. “We found a lot of design and construction flaws,” he runs a hand over his face. “There was talk of a lawsuit from the tenants, that the city might even get involved. The Targaryens stood to lose billions from it. And Rhaegar... he asked me to change the report. Not a lot – just enough so that it was under a certain threshold, so the city at least wouldn't start meddling.”

 

“Did you?” she whispers, heart in her throat and a horrible weight in the pit of her stomach.

 

“Almost.” He sounds so defeated when he says it, so she reaches over and takes his hand.

 

“But you didn't.”

 

“No. But I almost did. In the end, I couldn't, and Rhaegar was... he told me I wasn't a real Targaryen and took me out of the will, stopped giving me an allowance. I guess he thought that would make me change my mind or something. Through the whole thing, he kept hinting about me changing my last name, officially. Then suddenly I wasn't a real Targaryen, I didn't have the family's best interest at heart.”

 

“That's bullshit,” she whispers harshly, thinking back to what Petyr Baelish had said in the sauna. He's proven he doesn't care much about family. You think he'd be more grateful.

 

Jon shrugs. “So I'm out of the will and still a Snow.”

 

“Being a Snow suits you,” she tells him, and he finally looks back at her. “I like Jon Snow.”

 

“Yeah,” he finally says, looking down at their joined hands. “I'm glad I never changed it.”

 

“Is that...” she hesitates, “is that why you think you deserved it? What Margaery did?” He stiffens up and she feels him try to pull his hand back, but she doesn't let him. She grips it tighter and says, “you said you deserved it, last night, before you fell asleep. For the way you were and what you did.

 

He stares at her like he always does – appraising, hesitant. She refuses to look away.

 

“I almost changed the report,” he tells her.

 

“But you didn't,” she reminds him.

 

“Do you know why I didn't? I was doing one last walkthrough, trying to figure out which errors and numbers I could change the easiest without anyone noticing, and I saw this woman with two kids get on one of the elevators. There had been issues with the elevators, someone had even gotten trapped in one during high winds, and all I could think was – what if that happened to them? What if the elevator got stuck, what if it failed altogether? What if those kids got killed because I changed some numbers, just so my dad would be proud of me? Sam and Gilly had just had a baby and that's all I could think about.” Jon's brows furrow and he shakes his head and it feels like he's talking to himself. “It shouldn't have taken that to snap me out of it.”

 

“Jon,” she whispers, though she has no idea what to say.

 

“It shouldn't have taken that for me to realize what a shit person I was.”

 

“You aren't,” she starts, but he's still shaking his head.

 

“You don't know what I was like,” he lets out a harsh, low laugh. “Did you know I had plans to move in with my girlfriend right out of high school? We had plans to go to White Harbor, I got into WHU and she was going to come with me. We had an apartment lined up, this shitty little studio that barely had room for a bed. She found a waitressing job, I was going to work part time to help cover rent. Then suddenly my dad shows up out of nowhere, tells me I'm the son of a billionaire, and throws more money at me than I've seen in my entire life.”

 

She thinks back to yesterday, to Jon telling her that Rhaegar's money came with strings attached. At the time, she thought that meant Jon had turned it down. Now she's not so sure.

 

“He liked my major, engineering, because the family is in land development,” Jon continues. “But he didn't like my school, he didn't like my studio apartment, and he definitely didn't like Ygritte. He wanted me to go to the Citadel. Pulled a ton of strings and got me in, even though acceptance letters had already been sent out. I'm sure some kid lost their spot so I could have it. I was... I want to say I went along with it because I wanted to make my new dad happy, and that is part of it, but part of it was also...”

 

The money. That's what he can't bring himself to say.

 

“I dumped Ygritte. She couldn't pay for the apartment on her own, so I-” he stops and clears his throat and won't look at her as he says, “I gave her money. I dumped her and gave her money so I wouldn't feel as guilty about leaving her homeless. She called me a lot of names and said she didn't want it, but she took it in the end because she had nowhere else to go. And I went to the Citadel and forced myself not to think about her or what I did.”

 

“You were eighteen, Jon,” she says when he's done talking. “You were still a kid.” And money can make people do terrible things – isn't that what her father used to say? That was always in reference to the other lumber mill owners, but she thinks it's a fairly universal statement.

 

“I can't say I was much better after that, either," Jon continues. “I tried to be exactly what my dad wanted, tried to be like Egg. I started dating girls he'd set me up with. I stopped talking to my mom as much, stopped visiting as much. The only thing I ever did for myself was not take a job with the Targaryens, and that's only because my mom begged me not to. I think that's the only time I've ever seen her cry. Even Sam called me out on my shit at one point, but it took me standing in that lobby and weighing the option of falsifying a report versus the lives of actual people to realize that I just... fucking hated myself. I spent seven years trying to be everything Rhaegar wanted me to be and it was all for nothing.”

 

“Rhaegar's an idiot,” she says, and that seems to surprise him, because he frowns at her. “I didn't know you back then, and it honestly sounds like I wouldn't have liked you very much.” Jon nods and his eyes move away from her again, but she brings her free hand up to his chin, pressing gently so that he has no choice but to turn his face back to her. “But the man I've been talking to this past month? The one I've spent the last thirty six hours with? I like him. And Rhaegar's an idiot if he doesn't see you.”

 

“You remember Egg's friends? I was just like them, for a while. I almost lost my mom, I almost lost Sam,” Jon says it like a plea, like he's begging her to understand. Like he needs her to think he's a bad person. Like he still thinks he needs to atone.

 

“You know, when I was younger, all I wanted was to go south,” she says quietly. “I hated Winterfell. I didn't want anything to do with the family business. I thought it was so lame that we had a lumber mill. It wasn't sophisticated at all, and dad invested most of the profits back into the company or the the land. He spent a lot of time and money fighting for environmental protections, and I used to get annoyed because we could've had a bigger house, or better cars. Better everything, if only he'd just be like the other mills. I went to KLU for college and left them all behind and it's taken me years to realize that I'm not embarrassed about where I come from. That I'm proud of my family and what they do. That I'm proud they put their money back into the land instead of keeping it all for themselves.” Sansa takes a deep breath and her free hand goes to her dragonfly pendant, worrying it back and forth as she tries to find the words to say what she means. “I know it's not totally the same, but I think sometimes people get lost. Sometimes people forget who they are. Sometimes they need help finding their way back.”

 

“Sam said something like that, once,” Jon finally says, voice so low she almost doesn't hear it over the music.

 

“Well, you did say Sam was the smartest person you know,” she teases gently. “And I'm pretty smart myself.” (Another thing it has taken her years to accept.)

 

“Yeah, you are,” he finally smiles, though it's small and tentative.

 

“And you're still friends with Sam. You still have a good relationship with your mom. Seems to me that maybe you aren't as unforgivable as you think you are. Maybe you weren't as horrible as you think.”

 

Jon doesn't say anything for a while and she watches him process it all. She had joked before that he was dramatic, but she thinks she's not totally off the mark – Jon is outwardly reserved, but she thinks underneath that, he feels things deeply. More than he lets on – maybe more than he's even aware of, or more than he thinks he's allowed to feel. She thinks underneath it all, he's incredibly sensitive. She knows what that's like.

 

“I think when I realized what Margaery was, it felt like I was finally getting what I deserved. For Ygritte. For all the girls my dad tried to set me up with - I didn't like any of them, but I still slept with them and then never called again. Told myself it was fine because I never made them any promises.”

 

“I'm not going to excuse your behavior,” she tells him. “That does sound pretty shit, but I also don't think it means you deserve to have someone treat you poorly.” What she doesn't say is that she thinks there's also a difference in that Jon hated himself and his behavior, but she's not so sure Margaery does or cares. “It sounds to me like you've not been that person for years now.”

 

“Gilly says I'm too hard on myself,” he admits.

 

“Gilly also sounds very smart.”

 

That gets her a full smile. “You'd like her, I think. Sam, too.”

 

That makes her heart stutter and she tries to tamp down the swell of hope. Does he want her to meet his friends? She has no idea what to expect past this weekend – do they continue on as friends? Does he stop talking to her now that their arrangement is complete? The idea makes her feel sort of hollow.

 

“You're a good person, Jon Snow,” she says with as much conviction as she can. She's only known him for a month, but she feels it like a certainty. She knows it, somehow.

 

He takes a deep breath and she swears his eyes drop to her lips and he sways forward like he's going to kiss her – but instead, he sits up straight and pulls his hand from hers, so she must have been mistaken. “I'm gonna run to the bathroom,” he says, eyes finding the door of the ballroom.

 

“Yeah, ok,” she sits back and tries to ignore that hollow ache in her chest, how cold and empty her hand feels.

 

“If I'm not back in five minutes, send a rescue team,” he jokes. “That means I've been caught by some long lost relative and I need help.”

 

She can't help but roll her eyes at his dramatics. “Fine, if you're not back in five minutes, I'll come rescue you.”

 

“My hero.”

 

Despite his jokes, she thinks maybe he just needs a few minutes alone, after everything.

 

She watches him get up and leave the ballroom and she sags back in her chair, head spinning. She feels like all she wants to do is go back to their room and lay down – she's exhausted from this day and the constant flux of emotions, all the new information, and she's more certain than ever that she's falling in love with Jon. It hurts to think that once this weekend is over, the most she'll get is a friendship, but she knows she would rather have that than nothing at all. She can't imagine not having Jon in her life after this.

 

Her eyes scan the crowd and find Margaery, in the middle of the dance floor, with one of her bridesmaids whispering into her ear. There's a small pang of something in her chest, some feeling she can't place as she watches, and it only grows and the feeling gets worse as one of Margaery's friend-cousins (Elinor, she thinks), grabs Aegon and pulls him a bit away to dance. Alla and Taena then seem to herd Margaery out of the room and she watches them leave through the same exit Jon did and that's when that something feeling solidifies into dread.

 

Before she has time to think about whether this is a good idea or not, she stands up and follows. Out in the silence of the hall, her heels click loudly on the tiled floors and she hesitates for only a second before stepping out of her shoes and picking them up in one hand. As silently as she can, she follows the clicking of three other sets of heels and whispered voices. When she finally catches up, she peeks around the corner and watches Margaery stand outside the entrance to the men's bathroom as her friends stand by.

 

They're far down the hallway, so when Jon finally comes out, Sansa can't hear what Margaery says to him. Sansa wishes desperately that she were closer, but all she can hear are the vague, indistinct voices of Margaery and Jon. She can't even really see Jon's face, just the tense way he's holding himself, arms crossed and feet set apart. As Margaery talks, Sansa watches Jon's posture shift into something less defensive.

 

And then Margaery holds out her hand and Jon takes it, and she turns and leads him down the hall, around the corner, and out of sight.

Chapter Text

This is insane, she thinks as she rests her hand on the handle of one of the massive double oak doors. Really, she should not be doing this – Jon isn't her boyfriend and so she has absolutely no right to the unfiltered jealousy that is coursing through her, crawling up her throat and threatening to choke her.

 

And yet.

 

When Margaery's giggling henchmen had run past her (or, run as well as they could in their heels), whispering something about distracting Aegon, Sansa had made up her mind. She'd slipped out of the alcove she'd hidden in and followed down the hall, around the corner, just in time to see these doors close behind Margaery's dress.

 

Part of her wants to open this door just to tell Margaery how absolutely terrible her henchmen are at their job – if they're meant to keep this meeting a secret, they've failed. They hadn't even noticed Sansa in her little alcove, though it wasn't that hidden and she's wearing a bright red dress. How blind do you have to be?

 

Part of her wants to open the door and stop whatever's happening behind it. March in there, slap Margaery in her stupid, perfect face, and drag Jon out. Go full wildling on them and steal Jon back.

 

Part of her wants to run away. Call a cab, leave her luggage behind, and just get out of here. Go home and sob on her bathroom floor while eating the leftover pint of mint chocolate chip in her freezer like a romcom cliché.

 

The thing is, though, she's having a hard time imagining Jon doing anything with his brother's new bride. That isn't Jon, that isn't the man she's come to know. But that horrible little part of her that wants her to suffer can't stop projecting images into her brain of the two of them, together. She hates how jealous she is, over someone that isn't even hers.

 

This is stupid and she should leave. She has nothing to do with Margaery and Jon's relationship and she has no right to know what's going on behind those doors.

 

And yet.

 

What if Margaery knows everything? About Ygritte and Jon's lingering guilt, about how he keeps hoping that Rhaegar will somehow, magically become a real father. What if she somehow used that, manipulated Jon into following her?

 

Well, then Sansa needs to see what's going on behind these doors. She promised to rescue him.

 

She slowly, carefully, presses down on the handle until the latch disengages – a small click, but hopefully one that the occupants of the room don't hear. And then, just as slowly, she lets the door swing open a fraction, just enough for sound to come through, just enough for her to peek inside.

 

It's an office, which she already knew, considering the plaque next to the doors had labeled it a manager's office. She guesses Margaery has every right to be in there, since her family owns the resort. It's all plush carpeting and a huge dark wood desk and bookcases filled with books that she assumes are mostly just for show.

 

And there's Jon and Margaery.

 

Jon's standing there, arms folded across his chest and that closed off expression he wears - she's seen it all weekend. It seems as though they're already in the middle of the conversation, but she doesn't think she's missed much, she wasn't too far behind them.

 

“...am sorry that I hurt you,” Margaery's saying, her voice buttery soft. Sansa can't see her face with the way they're standing, only Jon's.

 

“Alright,” Jon sounds guarded. Margaery reaches out and lays a hand on one of his crossed arms and Sansa watches him look down at it like he's not sure what to do about it.

 

“It's my biggest regret,” Margaery's voice cracks ever so slightly, and there's a sick feeling in Sansa's stomach. Something she doesn't like, something that just feels off. “Seeing you again, it brought up all those old feelings...”

 

“What feelings?” Jon huffs, almost incredulously. “You can't expect me to believe you actually felt anything for me. Our whole relationship was a lie.”

 

“It wasn't.”

 

“You pretended to be a completely different person.” Jon's voice is calm and even – too calm and even. Sansa is nowhere near him, but she can feel the anger, despite the way he's trying to keep himself under control.

 

Something in Margaery's posture shifts and her voice takes on a slightly different tone, Sansa can't place what it is exactly that changes. “Oh, come on, Jon, I'm not the first girl who ever acted like she was into something so a boy would like her.”

 

Jon's face twists in confusion before he says, “there's a difference between... I don't know, pretending to be into hockey and changing your whole personality, Margie.”

 

“You wouldn't have liked me, otherwise,” Margaery's voice is pleading now. “I wanted you to like me so much. I tried so hard to be perfect for you because I loved you.”

 

There's silence in the room then, and Sansa's heart feels like it's struggling to beat – a heavy, labored pounding in her chest. She wonders how they can't hear it inside the room, how they don't know she's here.

 

“I never asked you to change.” Jon says lowly.

 

“You don't know what it was like dating you,” Margaery's pleading voice cracks again, an edge of tears to it. “You're so... I spent every day trying to make you happy. I loved you so much, I couldn't stand the thought of you not loving me back if I wasn't perfect.”

 

Again there's silence and Sansa wants to throw the door open wide and stop this. But she can't – she won't. There's unfinished business here – Jon's unfinished business and... and what if this is everything he's wanted to hear for the past two years?

 

“I guess I'm a little confused,” his words are carefully chosen, “you say you loved me so much, but you dumped me and ran off with my brother? How does that work?”

 

“You made me do it,” Margaery is crying now, and Sansa thinks if she could see her face, there would be two perfect tear tracks down her cheeks. “I couldn't take it anymore, and Aegon was there for me when I needed someone. You were so cold, Jon, all I wanted was your love, but you withheld it from me. Aegon found me when I was weak.”

 

Cold? Sansa thinks. Jon isn't cold. Maybe he's not completely open with his feelings all the time, maybe he keeps a lot to himself, but she'd never categorize him as cold. She has a sudden, vivid memory of him laughing in the car, smile wide and the corners of his eyes crinkling. His triumphant grin as he held up the stolen bottle of wine. She thinks about how warm his real smile is, the earnestness with which he talks. No, Jon isn't cold.

 

“Cold?” Jon asks, in a near perfect imitation of the voice in her head. “I was planning a trip to introduce you to my mom, how is that me being... withholding? I don't introduce anyone to my mom. Don't try to turn this... I didn't make you do anything! I never once asked you to be someone else. How could I have? You were faking it from the first date, I never got a chance to know the real you.”

 

“Jon,” Margaery reaches out for him again, placing a hand on his chest as she steps in close. “I put pressure on myself to be perfect. I loved you. I still love you.”

 

Sansa feels the words like a punch to the gut, but when she looks at Jon's face... it doesn't seem to hit him the same.

 

“No,” he says slowly, “you literally just said it was my fault. Now it's your fault?”

 

“I didn't mean that, I was just upset,” Margaery backtracks. “Seeing you again... I pretended for so long that I wasn't in love with you, but I am. I am, Jon, and I can't pretend anymore. I miss you.”

 

“It's pretty convenient that you've realized this after you married my brother.”

 

“I couldn't stop the wedding,” she begs. “You don't understand the pressure! Everyone was already here, both of our families wanted this to happen. I had to go through with it, but it's you I want.”

 

And then, to Sansa's horror, she watches the delicate hand Margaery has resting on Jon's chest begin to slide down. When Margaery speaks again, her voice has taken on that honey-rich quality. “I miss you,” she repeats in a throaty whisper, and her hand slides down to cup him through his suit pants.

 

Jon backs up so fast, he almost trips over one of the chairs in front of the desk.

 

“The fuck, Margie?” he huffs.

 

“I know you miss me, too,” Margaery seems unfazed. She seems... focused. Her posture, her voice, it's changed again – just like it has every single time Jon hasn't responded positively to what she's saying. It's taken Sansa too long to realize what's really happening. Margaery has tried pleading, accusatory, soothing, and now she's apparently trying for seduction – each change just a bit more desperate than the last. A new tactic after the last one fails. It makes Sansa feel a bit nauseous, makes her head spin.

 

“I really don't.”

 

“You can't tell me that girlfriend of yours is satisfying you. I know you, Jon, you're too tense. But I know what you like.”

 

With that, Margaery steps forward so that Jon is backed up to the massive desk. All Sansa can see is the back of Margaery's head, but Jon looks both horrified and confused as Margaery starts to sink to her knees in front of him.

 

“Gods, fuck, Margie, stop,” he grabs her arm and hauls her up. “I don't know why I have to say this, but you are married. To my brother. And even if you weren't, this,” he gestures between them, “wouldn't happen. This isn't ever happening again.”

 

“You always were so honorable,” Margaery sighs, and her voice changes again. “So loyal to your little girlfriend.

 

Jon closes his eyes and Sansa watches him take a deep, steadying breath. “Even if I didn't have a girlfriend, this wouldn't happen.”

 

He walks away from her, then, putting almost the entire width of the room between them, running a hand through his hair without seeming to remember that he'd slicked it down for the wedding. It sticks up in odd angles and Sansa almost lets a hysterical burst of laughter slip from her, but she manages to suppress it.

 

Her heart is hammering in her chest, she can't figure out the tangle of emotions in her – hope, maybe? Relief? But also outrage, horror, and an overwhelming sadness that she cannot explain.

 

Jon turns to look at Margaery again. “I'm surprised, Margie, usually you're a lot better than this.” There's silence as Jon seems to search Margaery's face for something, and he lets out a small huff of laughter. Then, in an incredulous tone, “you really didn't think I was bringing anyone this weekend.”

 

“It was... a surprise,” is Margaery's clipped response. Her posture is now ramrod straight, and she's turned enough that Sansa can see the thinly veiled annoyance on her face.

 

“You really thought I'd walk in here by myself and just... what? Throw myself at your feet? Beg you not to marry him? Or be so lovesick over you I'd agree to be your... side piece? Fuck buddy? What exactly were you hoping to get out of this?” When Margaery doesn't answer, Jon continues, hand running through his now thoroughly ruined hair, “if I thought this was even remotely about me, I might be flattered, but I think you just can't stand the idea of someone not falling at your feet.”

 

“What can I say, you were just so easy before,” Margaery hisses.

 

“There you are,” Jon laughs, all the tension leaving his shoulders, like it's a relief to hear the truth. “Now that we're being honest with each other, just tell me - when you called me and asked me out, did you know who I was?” Margaery is silent for too long, and that seems to give Jon the answer he needs. “Did you know I had been cut out of the will? Was the plan all along to get to Egg?” More silence, the annoyance on Margaery's face becoming more obvious, her mask slipping even further. “Wait, maybe it was Rhaegar you were aiming for? He's a more direct route to the money. But I guess his whole 'I'm never getting married again' thing would have ruined that.”

 

“You know no one's ever going to believe you,” Margaery seems to regain her composure, face smoothing over. “If you try to tell Egg, I'll just say you tried to force yourself on me and you're upset I said no.”

 

“We both know Egg wouldn't listen to me anyway,” Jon shakes his head, sounding... not quite defeated. Resigned. “He doesn't listen to anyone.”

 

“He listens to me,” she taunts, and Sansa watches Jon tense again, hands clenching into fists before he seems to get control of himself.

 

“You know what? Thank you for this. This has been... I think this really clears everything up.”

 

With that, Jon turns and begins walking towards the door and Sansa almost lets out a surprised gasp as she steps back from where she'd been eavesdropping. Without her heels on, though, the dress is just slightly too long and she ends up stepping on the hem and nearly tripping backwards and by the time she manages to get her balance back, it's too late to run. The door is flung open and Jon sees her.

 

She feels suddenly ridiculous, standing in the hall, one hand clutching her heels, the other trying to pull the hem of her dress up enough so that she doesn't trip again. Eyes wide, heart pounding frantically.

 

“Sansa-” he starts, and she doesn't think she's ever seen such open surprise on his face.

 

It's then that Margaery follows him out, and she takes one look at Sansa, cold and expressionless, before she walks back down the hall towards the ballroom.

 

“Sansa,” Jon says again, “I didn't-”

 

“I know,” she cuts him off, wanting that look of panic off his face. “I heard everything.”

 

“Everything?”

 

“Almost everything,” she amends, feeling her face heat as she realizes she just admitted to listening in - eavesdropping on a conversation that didn't involve her, wasn't about her, that she had no right to. “You told me to come rescue you,” she whispers, as shame claws through her stomach.

 

“You have a weird interpretation of rescuing.”

 

“I... I thought you deserved closure,” she tries to explain, though it sounds lame to her ears. It's the truth, or part of it – she didn't interrupt because she thinks Jon did need that. She didn't interrupt because Jon handled it himself. “I was going to come in if she started getting to you.” Jon just stares at her, so she finally admits, “and I'm nosy.”

 

“There it is,” he says, but it's soft – she thinks she almost hears a tinge of laughter behind it, though she's not sure if he actually finds it funny.

 

“I'm sorry,” she whispers.

 

“You aren't wearing your shoes.”

 

His observation takes her off guard and she hastily sets them back on the ground to step into them; he moves forward and his hand comes to steady her as she does. “I didn't want them to hear me following,” she explains, eyes on her feet even after her heels are on. At his snort of laughter, she looks back up at him.

 

He's just about to say something when the distant noise of the ballroom gets a bit louder and then there's voices in the hallway – people on their way to the bathrooms, Sansa guesses. They won't need to come down this hallway, but Jon's hand tightens around her arm and she watches his face go pale. His eyes find hers, pleading, as the voices grow louder, and all he says is, “manatee.”

 

Without really thinking it through, she takes his hand and leads him away from the voices. She has no idea where she's going, but at some point she sees a door to the outside and she pushes it open, thankful that it isn't some sort of emergency door and no alarms go off. Out in the gardens, she moves through an open hedge, until the lights of the hotel are gone from sight.

 

The night is crisp and the sky is dark, and Sansa takes a moment to appreciate the stars that she rarely gets to see in the city. Somewhere in the distance, she can hear a fountain, and the slight breeze carries the scent of night blooming jasmine.

 

“Fuck,” Jon breathes, closing his eyes and letting his head tip back. Sansa opens her mouth to say something, but she doesn't get the chance as Jon continues. “I don't know what I expected,” he lets out a self deprecating laugh and finally opens his eyes again. “She said she wanted to explain... and I believed her, I guess? I should've known she just...”

 

“Jon,” she tugs gently on their still connected hands, and without really meaning to, she steps forward into his space.

 

“You think I would've learned,” he shakes his head, eyes not really meeting hers. “I never fucking learn.”

 

His hair is wild now, and she can't help but lift her free hand to start smoothing it back. For a moment, his eyes flutter closed and she releases his hand to bring her other up, running her fingers through his hair to brush it back into place. They stand like that for a few seconds – his eyes closed, her hands in his hair, standing so close it would take no effort at all to kiss him.

 

“I don't think wanting an explanation or closure is bad,” she says gently when he's silent. “I don't think it makes you stupid. I'm just sorry that she turned out... I know you loved her.”

 

Jon's eyes snap open at that, confusion furrowing his brows. “I didn't love her.”

 

Sansa's heart does a strange, hopeful flutter. “But you were going to introduce her to your mom...”

 

“Yeah, cause we'd been dating for almost six months and it was the longest relationship I'd had since high school and I thought... I don't know, at the time I thought I saw a future with her, so introducing her to my mom seemed like the next step. But I didn't love her. How could I? She wasn't real.”

 

“I think you can love an idea,” Sansa whispers, her voice sounding painfully thin against the silence of the garden. She sounds pathetically hopeful.

 

Jon shakes his head. “The thing is, once we broke up and I saw how she was with Egg – when I found out what she was, I remember looking back and just... realizing there was nothing there. I keep thinking maybe a part of me always knew something was wrong, because it didn't hurt that she was gone. What hurt was that I'd been so easy to trick. What hurt was that Egg started dating her. I was embarrassed and angry, but not... not heartbroken.

 

“You were so nervous to come here,” Sansa says, trying to think back to all their interactions before this weekend. Jon had never said he loved her, she'd just assumed it.

 

Jon sighs and his hands find her waist – she doesn't think he even realizes it, it seems almost like an unconscious movement. “I was a wreck before Rhae's baby shower, too,” he tells her. “I remember I stopped in for about a half hour before leaving, I felt like such an ass. But I knew if I came to this wedding, I'd be here for days and... and I couldn't handle that by myself. If we hadn't gone out for Tor's birthday that night, if I hadn't gotten wasted and sat in the bar and made that tinder profile... I don't know if I would've come this weekend. If I hadn't found you.”

 

“Do you wish you hadn't?”

 

“I wish my dad weren't... the way he is. I wish I could have a real relationship with Egg, but that was ruined long before we even knew we were brothers. I wish the shit with Margaery hadn't happened, I wish she could have just found a way to meet Egg on her own without me. There's... there's a lot of things I wish, but honestly? I wouldn't take this weekend back.”

 

Sansa can feel her heartbeat through her whole body; it thrums in her veins, right down to the tips of her fingers that are still carding gently through Jon's hair. “Me neither,” she admits.

 

“Yeah?” he gives her a small, lopsided smile. “You don't want to run screaming from me yet?”

 

“Nope,” she shakes her head. “You're the one who used the safeword,” she teases, which makes his smile stretch wider.

 

“I don't think I did,” he tries to school his face into something serious and innocent.

 

“It was like five minutes ago, you liar,” she rolls her eyes. “That means I win our bet.”

 

He makes a humming noise that sounds like an agreement and his eyes drop to her lips and Sansa feels that heartbeat, that thrumming in her veins grow wild.

 

“Did we ever decide what the prize was for winning?” he asks, voice so low it's just a rumble from deep in his chest.

 

Kiss me, she wants to say. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me.

 

She can't get the words out, though. Something stops her, some small piece of self preservation.

 

But then, like he hears her, like he knows exactly what she wants, he dips his head down and his lips brush against hers – just like they had that first time. So soft and so brief that it feels almost like nothing, and he hovers there; she counts her heartbeats, one, two, three, until he kisses her again. Deeper this time, his fingers grip her waist and she wraps her arms tight around his neck and presses herself in close and it's happening.

 

This isn't practice, this isn't the game. There's no one here watching them.

 

When he pulls back abruptly, he doesn't go far – his hands stay on her, gripping hard like he can't make them let go, but he stops kissing her and says, “fuck, I'm sorry, you don't have to-” he shakes his head, face twisted into something like regret, “you don't owe me this. I shouldn't have-”

 

“Owe you?” she asks, rearing back a bit in surprise.

 

“I...” he starts, eyes searching hers like he's surprised she doesn't understand, but when his eyes drop down to her dress, it hits her.

 

“For the dress?”

 

“You were so uncomfortable with me buying it for you,” he explains. “I know I kept insisting, I know I made you accept it, but you don't... I don't expect anything from you in return.”

 

She takes a deep breath as things start to slot into place – him telling her that she set the rules on PDA, every time he'd kept himself at arm's length from her, the way he'd reacted to the jokes about Petyr Baelish's hired date.

 

Because that is sort of what she is – this was an agreement, and he has technically paid for everything this week. She hasn't once thought of herself like that, though, and it hurts a bit that he did. Did he really think she wanted him for his money?

 

Margaery did.

 

Or, Margaery wanted his connections to his family.

 

“Jon,” she says slowly and carefully, like she's trying not to startle a wounded animal. “I agreed to come with you before you ever bought me this dress.”

 

“Yeah, but-”

 

“I agreed before I even knew who your dad was.”

 

“I know-”

 

“Do you know why I agreed?”

 

“Morbid curiosity?” he guesses, and he isn't completely wrong.

 

“Do you know that yours was the only picture I stopped on that night?” she asks, and she can't help but smile at the surprised look on his face. “Tinder is something I do for fun, like a game. I almost never actually talk to anyone. I've never met up with anyone before. I was in a bad mood that night and kept swiping left on everyone until I got to you.”

 

“You only liked my dog,” he says shakily, but the joke doesn't quite land.

 

“Ghost helped,” she concedes.

 

“I remember you, you know,” he seems nervous as he says it, though she can't understand why.

 

“Remember me?”

 

“From that night. From when I made the profile. I remember your picture. I remember thinking you were too pretty to be real. And when you messaged me, I kept wishing we'd met normally or something, not with this... arrangement. I thought maybe if I just didn't bring up the wedding...”

 

Sansa remembers this, remembers finding it strange that Jon never brought it up when they'd first started talking. She had brought it up eventually, asking about the wedding, making Jon admit that he needed a date for it.

 

“I won't lie and say I was totally comfortable with you buying me the dress,” she tells him. “But I didn't come here with you for the dress. I didn't come for the drama, either. I'm here because I want to be. Because I liked talking to you.”

 

“I liked talking to you, too,” he smiles. “My boss gave me such shit because I kept texting you during a meeting. I had to explain why I was too distracted to answer a client's question.”

 

“Oh?” she breathes, something giddy and light building and bubbling in her chest.

 

“I showed him your picture and he gave me a pass,” Jon grins. Her face feels hot at the idea of Jon showing her picture to his boss.

 

“Jon,” she murmurs, pressing herself closer to him again and reveling in his sharp intake of breath. “Are you going to kiss me again? Because I think you should, if you're done being dramatic.”

 

“I'm not dramatic,” he pouts as she tries to suppress her smile.

 

And then he's kissing her again and its everything she's wanted since she first met him in person – maybe even before that. Maybe she wanted this since the moment she saw his picture.

 

He groans against her and his hands slide around to her ass, gripping and pulling her against him and it sends heat rocketing through her. She's dimly aware that they're technically in public, but she can't bring herself to care.

 

It's only when one of his hands trails to her front and up between them to the neckline of her dress that she pulls back with a, “wait!” His hand freezes and he stares at her, eyes a bit unfocused, mouth still slightly parted. “I'm taped into this dress,” she tries to explain, but her head is spinning and she knows she's not saying it properly. “If the tape comes unstuck, I won't be able to go back inside without flashing someone.”

 

With that, she gestures at the very low cut neckline. Instead of answering, he just stares down at her chest, hand still hovering. It takes him a few beats, a few slow blinks, before he seems to process her words.

 

“What would you have done if it'd come unstuck during the wedding?”

 

“I have extra tape in my clutch,” she explains. Then she groans, “which I left on the table in the ballroom. Along with my phone.”

 

“Did you really rush out of there that fast when you got my text?” he gives her a smile, his hand moving to brush a wisp of escaped hair back behind her ear.

 

“What text?”

 

“The text I sent? About Margaery wanting to talk. Isn't that why you came to find me?”

 

“I didn't get a text,” she frowns. “I saw Margaery and her little minions whispering to each other and following you out and it... I don't know, it just didn't sit right with me, so I followed.”

 

“I was wondering how you figured out which room we were in,” he grins.

 

Maybe it's just her imagination, but Jon seems more relaxed than she's seen him all weekend, like some great weight has been lifted off of him. She thinks she understands; she feels it, too.

 

That giddy feeling falters when an idea begins to form; slowly morphing and taking shape in her mind.

 

“I think Margaery was planning something this whole time,” she says as the idea solidifies. Off of Jon's look, she explains, “do you remember when we got here? Her friends were way too interested in us.”

 

“In you,” Jon corrects with a slight frown, eyebrows furrowed like he's thinking back and realizing the same thing. “They followed you on Instagram.”

 

“Do you know they looked at that photo I took of us right before the wedding? Like, who checks some random girl's Instagram story when you're getting ready for a ceremony? And it couldn't have been more than ten minutes after I posted it.”

 

“She really didn't like that I brought you, I guess,” he's still frowning, both hands now back on her hips, pulling her close.

 

“I think I just ruined her real plans,” she whispers. “I think she wanted you anyway, I just got in the way. She couldn't ever get you alone.”

 

He lets out a deep sigh and closes his eyes again, before opening them and leaning to rest his forehead against hers. “Have I mentioned I'm glad you're here?”

 

“A few times,” she whispers back. “I can run in and get my clutch and we can leave,” she offers.

 

He seems to consider it for a moment before saying, “no, let's just go back.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah. I'm not gonna let her chase us off. Plus, I think I owe you a real dance.”

 

She can't help the smile that splits her face, so wide it almost makes her cheeks ache. “I'd like that.”

 

They find their way back through the gardens, back into the hotel, back into the ballroom. Jon's hair is no longer perfectly slicked back, but she'd gotten it down so that it doesn't look too bad, and Sansa knows she's grinning and flushed, but she doesn't care. She doesn't care what these people think of her. Of them.

 

He pulls her onto the dance floor and this time he doesn't keep any distance between them as they sway together. If Margaery or Aegon or Rhaegar are around, she can't see them. She can't really see anyone else but Jon.

 

In that moment, it feels just like a fairytale.

Chapter Text

She wakes the next morning the same way she had the day before – wrapped up in Jon. Except this time, it's his arms around her, his legs tangled in hers, his breath stirring the little hairs on the back of her neck.

 

The other difference, of course, is that they're both naked.

 

She turns her face deeper into her pillow to block out the early morning sun peeking through the curtains, as well as to try and hide her smile, though Jon isn't awake and no one else is here to see it. She doesn't know why she feels like she needs to hide it, but it just seems like she shouldn't be allowed to be this happy.

 

Last night almost doesn't seem real, she thinks, squeezing her eyes shut to try and remember it as best she can, though it all feels like a blur. Going back to the ballroom, dancing with Jon and Rhae and even some of the other Martells until the DJ announced the end of the night. Stopping by the concierge desk to buy condoms, Sansa hiding her face against Jon's shoulder while he bought them.

 

She knows if she opens her eyes and looks out at the room, she'll see her dress piled somewhere near the door, and she almost feels bad for letting something that expensive sit crumpled up on the floor all night. Pieces of Jon's suit will be around, too. She almost feels bad, but not really.

 

The night is mostly a blur, but one that she has some definite, vivid memories of – the sight of Jon's head between her thighs, her hands dug into his hair. The way his voice had rumbled about her reward for winning their bet. How she'd bitten into her wrist to keep from screaming too loud. And sure enough, when she peeks through her eyelashes at her hand resting on the pillow next to her face, she can see little red teeth marks in the delicate skin of her wrist, and she has another memory of Jon's lips brushing against it, asking if she was alright, if she'd hurt herself.

 

Jon's arm is heavy around her waist, he's still asleep, and so she tries not to shift too much, though thinking about last night has made her hot and restless and very aware of the ache between her legs. She squirms a bit, trying to relieve that ache (and maybe, selfishly, trying to wake Jon up without being obvious about it). It works, and she hears him take a deep breath, his body tensing ever so slightly as he wakes.

 

“Morning,” he says after a moment, his voice deep and gravelly and sending a shiver through her.

 

“Morning,” she breathes, trying once again (and once again failing) to keep a stupid, giddy smile off her face. “Sleep well?”

 

He makes a humming noise that she takes as agreement as he nuzzles into the back of her neck, arm tightening around her waist and pulling her even tighter to him.

 

“I think you've converted me to cuddling,” he says against her skin.

 

“Is that right?”

 

“Mmhmm,” he sighs, lips pressing against the top of her spine. “But if you ever tell anyone that, I'll deny it. I've got a reputation to maintain.”

 

“You're secret's safe with me,” she grins, turning her head to finally look at him. His hair is an absolute mess and it makes her burst into giggles – the pomade he'd used yesterday plus his hands running through it and then hers... well, it looks ridiculous and she thinks in that moment that she might love him. Maybe not completely yet, but she can see it happening – and soon. Probably too soon, but she can't quite find it in herself to care. She's too happy to care.

 

“Are you laughing at me?” he asks, trying to put on a frown, but it doesn't quite work. He can't fight a smile, like he's just as giddy as she is. Just as happy.

 

“Your hair looks funny,” she tells him, reaching behind her to tangle her fingers in it as best she can from this angle.

 

“Your fault,” he murmurs into her ear, taking her lobe between his teeth and giving it a gentle bite that does nothing but send shockwaves right to her core.

 

“You messed it up first,” she gasps, eyes fluttering shut as his hand slides down her stomach to slip between her legs.

 

“I did no such thing,” he tells her, and then, giving up on the argument almost immediately, asks, “we still have one left, right?”

 

It takes her frazzled brain a moment to understand what he means, and she opens her eyes to look at the bedside table and the last remaining condom from the three pack he'd bought last night. “One left,” she confirms, already reaching out for it. “I guess it's good we're going home today.”

 

“Home,” he sighs, letting her go so she can reach for it and flopping onto his back. “Fuck, I can't wait to be home.”

 

With fingers that feel a bit shaky from the thudding pulse she can feel everywhere, she tears open the packet and turns to him, pausing to smile down at him – laying on his back, one arm flung across his eyes, smiling so wide she thinks he might pull a muscle.

 

“Just one more breakfast to get through, right?” she asks as she moves forward and rolls the condom on him, reveling in the groan he lets out as he takes the arm away from his face.

 

“Do we have to?” he pouts. “Haven't I suffered enough?”

 

“Poor baby,” she pouts back, hands on his chest to steady herself, swinging a leg over his hips. “You promised Rhae last night.”

 

“Let's not talk about-” Jon starts, then cuts it off with hiss as she lowers herself onto him.

 

“Talk about what?” she tries to go for a light and airy tone, as if she isn't effected at all, except then he moves and she lets out her own gasp, fingers curling and nails digging into his chest as he shifts inside her.

 

“Come home with me,” he breathes, looking up at her as she begins to rock slowly. “Come home with me today. Stay with me tonight.”

 

She can feel herself nod, eyes closing as she lifts up and sinks down on him, as his hands grip her hips so hard she thinks they'll bruise, as she shifts until he hits the perfect spot that makes her cry out.

 

“Come home with me,” he repeats, like he doesn't even realize he's still saying it.

 

“Yes,” she nods again, and then - “yes, yes yes.”

 


 

They're late again to breakfast, but Sansa doesn't care even one bit when they walk in and she can feel everyone's eyes on them. She doesn't care that she's wearing a pair of old sweatpants and another giant t-shirt, this time one of Jon's that she stole simply because she could.

 

Because he's hers.

 

“You're late,” Rhaegar finds them at the buffet as Sansa waits for her crepes to be hand made. At this point, she can't even muster up enough energy to be annoyed with how perfect everything is here.

 

“And I can't tell you how sorry I am,” Jon drawls, loading his plate with bacon (she may need to have a talk with him about how much bacon he ingests, if this is normal. She'll have to keep an eye on it). “You know how I live to make you happy.”

 

The words come out laced with sarcasm, but she can hear the bite of truth underneath – Jon has, in the past, lived to make him happy, and both of them know it. Rhaegar opens his mouth to say something and Sansa can feel Jon tense, like he's preparing himself for a fight, when another person joins them.

 

“Dad,” Rhae cuts in smoothly, “your date looks lonely, you should probably go pay some attention to her.” When he doesn't immediately leave, Rhae stares him down until his mouth twists into a frown and he finally goes back to the table where Cersei Lannister has somehow managed to procure a glass of breakfast wine and is downing it at an alarming, though somewhat impressive, rate.

 

“Thanks,” Jon sighs.

 

“I didn't do it for you,” Rhae says back, a small smile tugging at her lips – a lie. “I did it because I'm pretty sure Cersei will stab him in his sleep if he keeps ignoring her, and I don't think any of us are ready for Egg to be the head of the family this soon.”

 

“Is he coming down?” Jon asks. “I should probably say goodbye to him before we go.”

 

“You aren't sticking around for the luncheon?”

 

“There's a luncheon?”

 

Rhae groans, making a pathetic whimpering noise to go along with it. Jon kisses her cheek and says he'll find her again before they leave and Sansa follows him back to their table in the corner.

 

“Once again, being the bastard son really has it's perks,” Jon says casually around a mouthful of bacon. She doesn't laugh. It's not really a joke, anyway.

 

“I can't wait to go home,” she tells him, reaching over for his hand, and she watches him shift his eyes away from her and the tips of his ears go red.

 

“You don't actually have to come over. I know I asked, but...”

 

Something pangs in her and she hesitates for a moment. “I do have work tomorrow.” Why she didn't take the day off, she has no idea. It seems incredibly stupid in hindsight, but she thinks she didn't because she hadn't wanted to sit around on Monday and sulk about Jon. But now? Now she doesn't have to sulk about it. “I could call out.”

 

“You don't have to do that,” Jon says, though she likes to think she can hear a tinge of hope underneath. She knows he took Monday off, they'd talked about it on the drive up on Friday.

 

“I have so much vacation time,” she pokes at her crepe with her fork. “And you did beg so nicely.”

 

“I did not beg,” he huffs. “I asked. Politely.”

 

“You begged,” she teases, “over and over-” She cuts off at his glare, a giggle escaping her lips before she sobers again. “Unless you're sick of me already?”

 

Before she realizes it's happening, Jon tugs on their linked hands and pulls her forward and kisses her, hard.

 

“Definitely not sick of you.”

 


 

This is the most awkward interaction of her life, she decides. Definitely this.

 

“It was good seeing you,” Aegon says, doing a small half step forward, his hand held out, like once again he isn't sure if he should shake Jon's hand or hug him. Next to him, Margaery stands like a cold marble statue.

 

“You too, Egg,” Jon says and shakes his hand, as if deciding for the both of them that they won't hug. “Congratulations.”

 

“It was a beautiful wedding,” Sansa tries to ease the tension a bit, though she regrets it the instant Margaery's eyes turn to her. “Really lovely. I did try out the spa and it was really great and the food here was-” she's babbling, she can't quite help it with everyone looking at her. She's babbling about how nice the resort is so she doesn't blurt out something stupid like Margaery tried to seduce Jon last night. She doesn't think anyone in this little circle of discomfort would appreciate that. (And the worst part? She doesn't think Aegon would even believe her.)

 

Jon lets out a low cough of laughter and puts his arm around her, pulling her in to his side, which has the added bonus of making her shut up. “We've got a long drive,” he says, like the rest of them don't also have the same drive later. “We should get going.”

 

“You're coming to Sara's birthday, right?” Rhae asks.

 

“Wouldn't miss it,” Jon gives her a hug, and Sansa can't help but watch the way Aegon watches them, the expression on his face, something sour and sad.

 

“You're coming, too, right?” Rhae turns to Sansa, which pulls her attention from Aegon. “Jon's not allowed to hide you anymore.”

 

“Definitely,” Sansa says, glancing over to where Elia stands, a bit away from the group (a bit away from Rhaegar), holding Sara in her arms as Tycho holds a little toy in front of her to grab at. Jon lets go of Rhae and heads over, a bit hesitant, until Elia gives him a small smile and he approaches and takes Sara from her, who squeals in delight.

 

“I'll see you in a few months,” he tells his niece, who makes incoherent noises back at him and reaches out to try and grab a fistful of his beard.

 

“We'll see you then,” Elia nods, taking Sara back from him.

 

Jon walks back and picks up both of their bags before giving one last wave to everyone and heading out the front doors of the resort. Their car is waiting, the valet standing ready with the keys.

 

“Home?” Jon asks.

 

“Home.”

 


 

“Ghost, Ghost, Ghost, Ghost,” she chants in the passenger seat of his car, almost bouncing up and down in excitement.

 

Jon had dropped her off at her apartment so that she could drop off her things and pack another bag for tonight. He'd gone to return the rental and grab his own car, saying he couldn't go pick Ghost up in the gaudy sports car he'd had for the weekend, because Ghost wouldn't fit.

 

He comes to pick her up later in a mid-range SUV, just like he'd said. It's not as fancy as the rental had been, but she feels infinitely more comfortable in it. It fits Jon, in a way the sports car hadn't. His simple jeans and t-shirt fit him, in a way the tailored suits hadn't. He's relaxed in a way he hadn't been all weekend.

 

They pull up in front of a neat little row home and she follows Jon up to the door, which opens before he even gets a chance to knock.

 

“I think Ghost sensed you were coming,” a female voice laughs. “He started pacing in front of the door the minute you texted Sam.” They're lead into the house and Sansa is introduced to Gilly, who immediately says, “I've heard so much about you!” before giving her a hug like they've known each other for years.

 

Ghost is bigger than she could have imagined, even after seeing his pictures, and he winds happily about Jon's legs, silently begging for attention. (It's true, she realizes. Jon had told her Ghost doesn't bark, but she hadn't believed him at the time.)

 

“Hey buddy,” Jon kneels down and lets Ghost headbutt against him, tail wagging excitedly. “This is Sansa.”

 

Sansa holds out a hand for Ghost to sniff, which he does for barely a second before seeming to decide he likes her, and he headbutts her in the hip so hard she rocks back on her heels.

 

“Whoa, bud, let's not scare her away this soon, huh?” Jon sighs, reaching out and bringing Ghost back to him.

 

A man walks out from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel that he has thrown over his shoulder. “You're Sansa,” he says, half a question and half a statement. “I don't think I quite believed it when Jon said he'd be bringing you.” There's a warm smile on his face, one that his wife matches as they both look at Jon, knelt on the floor. Jon doesn't seem to notice, too focused on giving Ghost scratches, completely unaware of the fond looks both of his friends are giving him. “I'm Sam.”

 

“It's nice to finally meet you,” she says, and she isn't even surprised when he hugs her, too. They're those kind of people, she decides. Her kind of people – huggers. Jon is outnumbered.

 

“I'm making pasta,” Sam gestures to the doorway he just came from, and when she peeks over, she sees a kitchen where, sure enough, Sam is making pasta from scratch. Her kind of people for sure. “You guys want to stay for dinner?”

 

Jon looks up at her and before he can even say anything, she finds herself nodding. “I'd love to,” she says, and Jon's face lights up with a smile so big she feels like she might drown in it.

 


 

Sam makes a noise of disgust as he heaps a serving of pasta onto Sansa's plate.

 

“I could've gone my whole life without ever thinking of Cortnay or Martyn ever again.”

 

“You and me both,” Jon laughs.

 

“Why do those names sound familiar?” Gilly asks.

 

“They're the ones that used to dump food on me at lunch,” Sam says, and Sansa's fork pauses above her plate, but neither Jon nor Gilly seem to be surprised by this statement. That rage she'd felt back at the rehearsal dinner flares to life again, and she tries to tamp it down.

 

No, Jon doesn't seem surprised, but she does watch his jaw tic, like he's barely controlling his own anger.

 

“Ugh,” Gilly mirrors Sam's earlier noise of disgust. “Wait, are those the ones Jon beat up?”

 

“What?” Sansa interjects, looking between Sam, Gilly, and Jon, whose anger seems to have morphed into embarrassment.

 

“I was fifteen,” he shrugs, stabbing a piece of pasta with his fork. “I had anger issues.”

 

“It was both,” Sam answers his wife with a small laugh.

 

“No,” Jon corrects, “I punched Cortnay. Martyn punched me. I'm a victim here, too.”

 

Sam lets out a snort of laughter. “Yeah, you were real innocent.”

 

“I was defending your honor!” Jon puts a hand over his heart, like he's offended, but Sansa can see him fighting against a smile.

 

Gilly leans over and whispers, “sometimes I think they're married, not me and Sam,” as Jon and Sam keep bickering over who punched who and who started the most fights.

 

Later, in the car on the drive back to Jon's house, as she watches the street lights out her window and Ghost sleeps in the back seat, she asks, “did you ever get into a fight with Aegon?”

 

“No,” Jon says after a bit of silence. “No, Egg didn't fight. He was too good to fight, he mostly just... I don't know, he never started anything. He never did anything that could get him in trouble, but he'd just sit back and watch it all happen. He'd watch his friends bully people. Sam. Me. Others. But he never did anything. He never called me a bastard. Not once.”

 

She can feel the implication behind it – that Jon feels like he has no right to be angry with Aegon for it all – and she remembers what he said last night. I wish I could have a real relationship with Egg, but that was ruined long before we even knew we were brothers.

 

“I'm sorry.”

 

“Don't be,” Jon sighs. “You know, I don't know if Sam and I would be friends if I hadn't punched Cortnay in the quad that day. We'd had classes together, but I was so convinced everyone at that school was a stuck up prat that I refused to talk to anyone.” She looks over at him and sees his lips quirked up into a grimace. “Martyn wasn't totally wrong. I was a downer back then. I didn't talk to anyone and I'd convinced myself they were all terrible and I was such a little shit about it all. Until we all ended up in detention and Sam and I got assigned to mopping floors together. We've been best friends ever since. We're brothers.”

 

She doesn't know what to say to that, doesn't know what she can say, so she just reaches over and rests her hand on Jon's on the center console and watches as he threads their fingers together.

 

“Aegon doesn't know what he's missing out on,” she finally says around the lump in her throat.

 

“You know what sucks the most?” Jon asks, eyes on the road, other hand tight on the wheel. “I think he does know. Not... I don't mean that like knowing me is...” he sighs in frustration, like he's not sure how to explain it. “I just... sometimes I think he wants it, you know? To be a good brother, he just can't figure out how. With Rhae. With me. I think he wants it.” And then, after a steadying breath, “he just keeps fucking it up, because he wants dad's approval more.”

 

Something slides into place in Sansa's mind and she says, almost in surprise, “you pity him.”

 

“I want to hate him, I really do. For the way he was at school, for Margaery, for not listening to any of us; but mostly I just feel sad for him. Because I got out, I got away from dad. He never will. And he'll never get away from Margaery either – they're stuck with each other. They're stuck making each other miserable now and I hate how sad that makes me. How angry that makes me. I'm not explaining this right.”

 

“You're explaining it fine,” she whispers, her hand tightening in his, making sure he knows she's here.

 

In her periphery, she sees Ghost raise his head up and give a massive yawn. Jon watches in the rearview mirror and he lets out a small laugh and says, “we're almost home, bud.”

 


 

The next morning, she calls her boss and fakes a cough while Jon shakes his head at her from the stove.

 

“That was terrible,” he teases after she hangs up, sliding a spatula under the pancake and flipping it. “Did he actually buy that?”

 

“I'm a great actress,” she sniffs, coming to sit at the kitchen island to wait for her pancakes. She'd been thrilled to find he had all the makings for chocolate chip pancakes and maybe she had given him her best puppy dog eyes until he agreed to make them for her while she called out of work.

 

Not coming in today. If anyone asks, I'm sick, she texts Mya.

 

Sure, 'sick', Mya texts back, along with an eye roll emoji. Don't worry, I'll play it up real good, so if you need tomorrow off too, the groundwork is already laid.

 

Have I mentioned how much I love you?

 

She'd told her friends (and Arya) last night about what happened with Jon, so Mya probably isn't totally surprised by this. She hadn't read their responses at the time, but she does now, skimming through the messages until a word catches her eye: Tinder.

 

Without even thinking about it, she opens her app and notices that Jon's account is deactivated, which makes her smile. And then she deactivates her own – something she has never done before, she realizes. In the years she's had it, she has never once deactivated it, even when she was dating someone. It had always sat there, on her phone, like it was just waiting for her to be single and bored again.

 

She deactivates her account and then uninstalls the app.

 

“Everything good?” Jon asks, sliding a plate in front of her with her pancakes, his eyes on her phone.

 

“Everything's great,” she beams. “Everything's perfect.”