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You Can't Go Home Again

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He finds her waitressing in an all-night diner. It’s absurd, Jon thinks. As absurd as her now brown locks and the nametag that says Alayne.

But Jon would know Sansa anywhere no matter how unlikely, knew her by her face and those crystal blue eyes from her mother’s side of the family. She’s wiping down a table when he enters, collecting her tip money, the ring of the bell as he slips inside doesn’t lead her to turn her head toward him. “Sit anywhere,” Sansa said amiably. “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Jon is already making his way over to her. “Sansa,” he whispered at her shoulder.

She stiffened, but only for a moment. She turned to face him, and the shock of recognition passes through her remarkably fast. Almost as if she somehow knew he was on his way here, for her. Sansa plastered on a smile. Not the Sansa smile of childhood and Winterfell. Something different. “No. I’m sorry, you must have confused me with someone else. I’m Alayne,” Sansa said, nodding her head minutely to her nametag.

Jon narrowed his eyes. Did she really think he wouldn’t recognize his own sister right in front of him?

Half-sister.

Still.

But no. Sansa and Jon both knew, he could tell by the way her eyes bore into his—begging him not to blow her cover—that she would go on with the charade here. There were some employees back in the kitchen, and two waitresses who seemed to be outside for a smoke break. “Why don’t you take a seat and think on what you want. I’ll be back in a moment to take your order,” she said, again with her new, affected smile.

“I’ll just have a coffee, thanks,” he said, sliding into a vinyl booth.

“How do you take it?” Sansa/Alayne asked, notepad in hand.

Like she didn’t already know. She was good, he had to give her that.

“Black,” he said.

Sansa rushed off to get his order. Some of the waitresses got back to work so Jon took his opportunity when she came back with his coffee. Jon lightly grabbed her wrist, the booth hiding the contact from others.

She looked at him testily. That look, he remembered.

“When is your shift over?” he asked quietly.

Sansa pulled her wrist from his hold. “Twenty minutes. Are you going to wait?” she asked, almost disbelievingly.

“Obviously,” Jon said. What the hell did she think he was here for, if not her? None of this had gone the way he thought it would.

Sansa sighed and went back to work.

---

When Sansa finished her shift, Jon noticed her two women coworkers casting glances toward them both, and suggestive winks at Sansa. Jon’s ears grew warm for some stupid reason.

They don’t know who we are. Of course they think it’s some kind of pick up.

“Do you have a car with you?”

“Not here,” Jon said. He’d left it at the hotel he was staying at. Honestly, the place was not great, and he hoped she’d let him stay at her place.

She breathed deeply through her nose. “Alright, c’mon,” she said, pulling out her keys and heading toward a small blue car.

They didn’t speak for the drive.

They got to a small apartment on the other side of town, up two flights of stairs before reaching Sansa’s door. They walked inside the dim room, a soft yellow light from the kitchen area casting shadows around the foyer.

Sansa closed her door before abruptly throwing herself into Jon’s arms.

For a moment, he stills from the shock of it. This was the kind of reunion Jon had expected. But Sansa was waiting until they were somewhere truly private. He would need to unpack what that meant later. For now, he wrapped his arms around her, crushing her even closer against him. He can feel her whole body sag against him and he holds her like that. He rubbed a hand up and down her back, trying to soothe her.

Jon wasn’t sure he was ever very good with that.

He felt a hot puff of her breath at his shoulder. “Jon,” she sighed brokenly.

“Sansa,” he croaked, feeling himself tear up along with her.

Eventually, Sansa pulled back, but not before he could memorize the feel of her against him. A warm familiarity—some kind of home.

She cupped his face in her palms, eyes flickering across his features. Jon’s fingers wrapped lightly around her wrists as his own eyes studied her face. Now that they were alone. Now that they could.

“What are you doing here?” Sansa asked, eyes wide like when she was a little girl. That, he remembered too.

 “What do you think? For you, Sansa. Do you have any idea how long I’ve been looking for you?”

Sansa smiled sadly, then pulled away from him. She took off the jacket over her waitress uniform and tossed it onto the sofa. The Sansa he knew would not be so careless with her clothing. He decided this must be an Alayne thing. She turned on a lamp in the living room, dug her keys from her pockets and dropped them in an empty candy dish by some pieces of unopened mail on a side table.

“That’s the whole idea. Not to be found,” she said, looking back at him.

“I get that, I do. But it’s not like you were trying to hide from me or Arya or Br—”

She held up a hand, squeezing her eyes shut, silencing him abruptly. Jon understood. Neither of them wanted to speak the names of their siblings—ones they didn’t know were alive or dead. To speak it was to conjure up the fear and the undeniable grief.

“It’s not like you were trying to hide from me,” Jon corrected.

“No, I wasn’t. But if you found me then who else?” She took off her nametag and set it next to the candy dish. She undid the tie that held back her brown hair, letting it fall in soft waves down her back. Sansa had always had beautiful hair. She still did, though he preferred the natural auburn. She collapsed onto the couch and patted the seat next to her.

All of this was next-level weird. To be here, sitting like this with Sansa. In Sansa’s apartment in Sansa’s town after watching Sansa where she worked. Yet, that wasn’t Sansa but Alayne. After all this time, finally he’d found her.

“That doesn’t matter, Sansa. Because we’re not staying here,” Jon told her.

Sansa smiled at him bemusedly. “What, do you think I’m going to just pack up and leave?” she asked softly.

“Well, yeah. I mean, you can’t be planning to stay here.”

“Why not?”

“Why not? Sansa, you’ve got your hair changed, and you’re working at a dead-end diner under a fake name. How long did you mean to keep this up?” Jon asked.

She shrugged and shook her head, as if she’d given the matter little thought. “However long I can.”

Jon looked at her incredulously. “You can’t be serious.”

Sansa squinted her eyes at him. “Why would I not be serious? I can take care of myself.” Her arms crossed her chest defensively.

“That’s not what I—” Jon paused and took a breath. Even now, it seemed very easy for them to misunderstand each other.

And why is that? A little voice inside asked, but Jon ignored it. It’s not that Jon and Sansa didn’t get along as kids. It’s just that they never had much in common. Out of all his half-siblings he was probably the least close with Sansa. Sometimes conversations were stilted, and other times, they’d talk right past each other. But none of that mattered. They were family and they loved each other.

“That’s not what I meant. Sansa, I’m getting Winterfell back.”

Now she was the one to look at him as if he grew a second head. “What?”

“I came into some money,” he began.

She pinched her temple, confusion scrunching her brow. “The Boltons—”

“Roose and Ramsay are dead, murder-suicide, or they might have killed each other, police aren’t sure,” he said, reveling for a moment in delivering this bit of news. The police had never been able to prove the Boltons were behind the murders of Ned, Catelyn, and Robb, nor the disappearances of their younger siblings. Yet Jon knew they were behind it—all the calamities that felled their family. Roose, their father’s erstwhile business partner turned betrayer who reaped profits from the deaths of Ned and his heir, taking their home. Ramsay, his mad dog of a son who likely did most of Roose’s dirty work.

Sansa looked at him with wide eyes. “What about Dom?”

Jon frowned. Domeric was the eldest son of Roose. Domeric wasn’t awful like his father and brother, and before the Boltons’ betrayal he’d even dated Sansa for some time, but Jon always disliked him. He disliked the familiar way Dom fell from Sansa’s lips still after all these years. “Domeric begged off to Essos, renounced all claims to the Bolton fortune and lands.”

“That sounds like him,” Sansa said with a soft smile.

Jon scowled and tried to get back on topic. “The point is, we don’t need to run or hide like this,” he said, gesturing to her dark hair. “Not anymore with the Boltons gone.”

Sansa didn’t appear convinced, and he had to wonder if there was something else she might be running from. “You said you ‘came into some money’?” she asked skeptically.

“Yes.”

Sansa looked at him warily.

“I took care of this elderly man at Castle Black, Aemon. He never married or had kids, and it turned out he accumulated a small fortune. He left it to me when he died.”

Sansa reached for his hand. “I’m sorry.”

Jon squeezed her hand in his. “Thanks. But the good news is we can go home. I put in a bid, so they won’t be auctioning the estate.”

Sansa shook her head. “I can’t go back, Jon. There’s too many memories.”

“You can. You won’t be alone. We’ll be there together, Sansa,” he told her.

“My name is Alayne now. And Winterfell means nothing to Alayne,” she said with a blank expression, pulling her hand from his.

“Horseshit, Sansa,” Jon said emphatically. “And I’m not leaving without you.”

Sansa narrowed her eyes. “You really mean to stay here until you convince me?”

Jon shrugged. “I’ve got the time.”

He could see Sansa hadn’t expected this. Eventually she sighed. “The couch is a fold out,” she said, motioning to the cushions beneath them.

Well, that was something. She wouldn’t fight him about it. Not now, anyway. And he was exhausted. Jon did have the time, and he would bet his stubbornness would win out against hers eventually. Sansa stood and helped him pull the couch out into a bed, and brought him some sheets from her closet.

It was around four in the morning when they were finished talking. Before heading to her own bed, she doubled back and hugged him again. “It really is good to see you, Jon,” she whispered.

The words do something funny to his chest. He hugs her tighter to him, not wanting to let her go, as she presses a kiss to his cheek. He stares up at the ceiling once it’s dark and quiet, unable to sleep, still feeling the warmth of her lips on his skin.