You know sh*t is getting real when the rating has to be upped on the story. To those who have waited patiently for 17 chapters... Here's the smex (kinda). I hope I don't disappoint.

Two more chapters to go, I think... *thinks*

For this chapter, I was inspired by the moment when Catelyn Stark apprehended Tyrion and Ned tells everyone that she did so under his orders, even though she clearly didn't. I like these Northerners with their loyalty towards redheads who do what they please. Also, marriage ain't easy.

Thank you everyone for your encouraging reviews.

Warning: This chapter is NC17



Chapter 18 - Diligence l : Because It takes Effort


Truly, she is besotted.

When the sun rises, Sansa is the Queen in the North, ruling beside her King as they prepare for his journey South. She tends to the matters of the castle with Ser Davos beside her, scratching Ghost behind his ears if he deigns to appear after hunting beyond the walls. She sees to the men and the horses, to the carriages and the food. She sees to those ailing from the cold and the stocks of provisions they must conserve.

She does not see Jon until supper, and that is a horrid affair. Her cheeks warm when he looks at her; her skin sings when he kisses her hand. She can scarcely eat more than a few mouthfuls, expectation thrumming in her veins whilst Jon calmly has his meal the way he always had, his attention drawn to Ser Davos and Tormund, the latter giving her suggestive looks and winks.

It is after supper when she waits for him in her bedchamber that has now become their own.

She need not trouble her ladies for it is Jon who undresses her himself. Jon, whose breath warms her cheek, his fingers teasingly light as they loosen her bindings. He removes each item of clothing from her slowly, his kisses light against her neck, her cheek, her chin, until she stands in nothing but her shift, her smallclothes, her woollen hose and garters.

She kisses him deeply then, her fingers curling into his hair and her body arching towards him. His touch is still light, teasing, and oh, how she despises him for it.

She then does the same to him, taking pleasure in the way his breath hitches when she kisses his ear, or the way he tries to capture her mouth with his, but she kisses the base of his neck instead. He assists her by disrobing until he wears only his tunic and breeches, and it makes her giggles how he lifts her easily to carry her towards their bed. She loves it more when he smiles because she laughs.

Her laughter stops when he kisses her, his weight resting comfortably above her. She thinks of that first night when they had done nothing but kiss, and the second night when she had lifted his hand towards her breast. He had pulled down her shift until his mouth was over her naked breast, wet and warm and oh so good. She had keened, her thighs rubbing together for something she did not quite understand until he had settled between her legs and she had pushed up against him.

The third night, she had wanted more. His hands burned her as they pulled her closer, having pushed up her shift until it was bunched around her waist and his fingers circled around the edge of the hose that rests around her thighs. She had rubbed against him and he had groaned against her neck, and it was the knowledge that she could give him pleasure that made her place her hand down his breeches and into his smallclothes, her fingers circling around him experimentally whilst he had shuddered against her.

He had rocked against her hand, groaning, his fingers moving closer and closer to her own smallclothes, and she had found herself lifting her hips and rubbing against him, wanting something more while they kissed deeply. He had spent into her hand, and even though his voice was loving against her ear, it had reminded her too much of another. And so when Jon apologised for treating himself first and promised to treat her next, she had stiffened when his hand had touched her between her thighs.

Sansa had spent that night, and the night after with his arms respectfully around her and his chest rising and falling innocently under her cheek. She had missed his touch vehemently. And she had thought of nothing else from the moment the sun had risen.

As tonight is the last before Jon is to depart, Sansa had been the one to kiss him when he had entered their bedchamber, and it had been Sansa who had begun removing her dress until Jon had gently set her hands aside and taken to undressing her himself.

Now as she kisses him, she cannot help but sigh happily beside his cheek, their movements practiced and comfortable. He is settled between her thighs, his hands respectfully on her waist. But she wants more, she realises quickly. She needs more. When she moves his hand to her breast as she had once done, Jon understands and by pulling down the top of her shift, he kisses and licks at her breasts until her toes curl and her hand tightens at the base of his neck.

She needs more, she thinks, as she writhes under him. She feels his length just over her lower belly, and Sansa cannot help but move her hips so that she feels his length against the juncture of her thighs. Jon's breath pauses, and Sansa knows that she wants more. She is delirious with his kisses, with the way Jon nips at the bottom of her breast and the way he moves above her so that she feels his length over and over. She barely realises that she pulls up her shift, her hand leading Jon's hand until he can touch her above her smallclothes.

For a moment there is a question in his eyes, but Sansa kisses him deeply. If she is to answer, she will have to think of it, and she does not want to think. She wants to feel, she wants to forget; she wants to be loved.

"You're wet," Jon whispers hoarsely against her ear, the tips of his fingers lightly brushing her centre, over her smallclothes.

Embarrassment colours her cheeks. "Is that bad?"

"No," he says before he kisses her, his touch firmer. "Gods no," he groans.

Sansa writhes under his touch, panting with every stroke he makes. She whimpers in dismay when Jon's hand circles her thigh instead, and her eyes widen when he looks at her seriously.

"Do you trust me?"

Sansa falters, suddenly unsure. But she nods a moment later, even as her face betrays her confusion. Jon's smile is kind and his kiss gentle before he pulls away from her. Her legs fall from his hips and bending her knees, she sits up and leans on her elbows to watch the way Jon kisses her knee.

"I would like to try something," he says thickly, and something deep and dark and tight, pools inside her lower belly.

His eyes are on hers whilst he places another kiss on her leg, his lips lightly brushing the inside of her thigh. Sansa cannot help but twitch each time his lips move lower, her body heating up like a fever.

"What are you doing?" she whispers, when Jon's lips pass the edge of her hose. His other hand having circled around her other leg, his fingers lightly tracing the same path downward until he is gripping her inner thigh under the warm wool of her hose. "Jon…" she whispers again, when his lips move even lower, surpassing the garter, and causing her whole body to tremble.

Jon raises his head, his eyes dark. "You trust me, don't you?" he asks thickly, and Sansa can only nod, finding the way he is caressing her skin under the hose very distracting. She continues to watch as he moves lower still, and even though she suspects it, the first time she feels him kiss her above her smallclothes, she collapses, her eyes widening and her breath completely leaving her.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"I… No," she says impulsively, her heart beating maddeningly, and she is rewarded with his tongue.

Sansa does not know quite what to do with herself. She cannot stop the sounds she realises she is making, nor can she stop the way her body practically leaps from the bed each time she feels the way Jon's tongue licks a strip up her centre. She squirms under him, her hands fisting the bedding, and then his hair, and then the feather pillow under her head. She says his name over and over, and he attacks her with his mouth, moving faster, harder, his lips sucking and nipping, until his tongue touches a place that makes her moan so loud, she moves her head to the side until she can bury her face in the feather pillow.

When Jon moves her smallclothes aside so he can touch his mouth to her curls, Sansa loses all her senses. She arches against him, her voice louder as she says Jon's name. She does not quite know if she wants him to stop or continue, because her thighs have tightened around him and her hands are now buried in his hair. She finds herself following his mouth when he releases her, but pulling away when his mouth is on her. She thinks she cannot take it anymore, but she wants more.

When she finally speaks, her voice is breathless. "Jon… I… I want…"

Jon leans over her, his fingers rubbing against her centre. Her body shivers and trembles, but it's not the same. "What do you want?" he asks her. His voice is gentle, but there is an underlying need in him and Sansa cannot help but raise her hips so that his touch is firmer.

"I…" she says softly, and she shakes her head, for truly, she does not know. She has never felt such a need and she does not know how to appease it.

Jon leans even closer, his forehead resting on hers as she feels his finger against her centre. "Do you trust me?" he asks again, and this time, Sansa nods without a thought, her eyes closing as she feels his finger enter her slowly. She breathes deeply, her hands tightening around his dark curls as she feels the slight pinch. It does not scare her, however, and when Jon moves his hand so that his finger pulls out only to push back in, her hips buck against his hand.

When he enters a second finger, she feels the pinch worse, but the pain gives way to pleasure quickly, and she finds herself moving against his hand in a rhythm that is building something inside her. He kisses her then, the taste of his tongue different, and Sansa cannot help but be breathless when he sucks at her breasts whilst his hand moves faster. Her hips rise to meet his hand with every thrust, a warmth curling inside her until she finds herself whimpering through his kisses. She loses focus quickly, her head falling and her back arching, nonsensical words coming from her mouth. The moment his thumb touches the apex of her thighs, she comes undone, the coil inside her belly snapping as she shudders through a few glorious moments of immeasurable pleasure.

As the desire subsides, as she catches her breath and Jon takes his hand away so he can lightly caress her over her shift, Sansa shudders. There is a sense of embarrassment inside her chest and she buries her face under his chin to hide it. "I should not have…" she begins breathlessly, her cheeks red. .

"You were perfect," Jon whispers thickly, as he drops light kisses on her hair, eyelids and cheeks.

But Sansa shakes her head, her skin too warm to breathe. "I was loud."

"Aye," Jon chuckles as he pulls her closer. "That you were."

She tries to hit him then, only to have her wrist caught. Placing a light kiss to the inside of her palm, he kisses her mouth gently, her lips parting and her arms inviting. She can still feel him hard against her, and when she begins to remove his own bindings for his breeches, he stops her, like he always has.

"Not today," he says gently, his eyes vibrant.

"I'm ready," she says the words, but she is not yet sure if she is.

Jon knows, she thinks, from the way he looks at her. "I know," he whispers, appeasing her, and she cannot help but wish he wasn't quite so noble all of the time.

She kisses him, and he responds, but when her hands reach for his tunic he pulls away, his gaze apprehensive. "Sansa…"

"You ride South at first light," she says softly. "Many who ride South never returns."

She watches the way his eyes lower in despair, and the way he smiles, despite his sadness. "You returned."

"You can always send someone in your stead—"

"I must go. You know this." Sansa is silent, and Jon's uneasiness increases. "Sansa…" he says again.

"I want a family," she says quickly, and she feels her heartbeat quicken when his brows furrow in thought.

"These are times of war…" he says with confusion.

"Is that why you will not put a babe in me?"

Perhaps her words are too harsh, but he pulls away from her, and Sansa sits up as he does, her hands moving her shift to give her some semblance of modestly.

There is suspicion in his gaze and Sansa thinks she had been too willing. "Is this about Lord Baelish?"

Her eyes widen and he curses, standing from their bed to pace away from her.

"How…?" She stops, her hands fisting in her shift.

"You think I didn't know?" he asks her harshly. "How could I not know that he was at Moat Cailin? I assumed that he was doing this at his own behest." She looks away and he curses under his breath once again. "I should have known you had asked him to hold the Neck."

"You didn't listen to me," she says again. "I know you think that what happens in the South does not matter, but it does."

"So you go behind my back?" he asks angrily. "You made a deal with him?"

"I didn't," she says softly. "He offered and I accepted. He still thinks that he wants me. But if… if I'm with child…"

Jon's eyes widen, and he curses once again. Sansa flinches. She has never seen him so angry, and she had never known he could be this angry with her.

A moment later, his shoulders fall as the fight leaves him, and she watches the way he sits beside her stiffly on the bed. "I don't want to fight," he says softly, his voice defeated. "We always fight."

"I didn't want to make you angry. I wanted to—"

"Do what was right," he finishes for her, his voice flat.

Sansa nods, her hands aching to touch him, to take away the anger she had given him.

She winces when he speaks again, his voice harsh as he turns to face her. "You can't just do things like this and not tell me."

"You would not have agreed," she says desperately.

"Aye, I wouldn't have. Is that not my right?"

"Father always said we must keep our enemies close."

"I tried that once," Jon says darkly. "It doesn't work. You bring them close enough, they come close enough to slit your throat."

She is silent for a while, as she watches the way he tiredly rubs at his eyes. "What will you do? Will you demand he leave Moat Cailin when you meet him?"

Jon says nothing for a while, until he sighs with defeat. "No. Let him hold the Neck for as long as he wishes. Winter will drive him South before too long."

Sansa fears that he will choose to sleep in his own bedchamber, but Jon proves her otherwise.

Yet, it is the first night they spend in silence, without stories, kisses or laughter between them. It is the first night she spends without his arms surrounding her, her heart aching with the loss.

Jon sleeps without issue, and Sansa watches him, the space between them too vast, in her mind. She understands his anger, and his displeasure, but he does not understand the gravity of what might occur if they chose to ignore their enemies to the South. She might anger him with her choices, but so long as Winterfell is safe, so long as they are safe, she knows that her decisions will never change.

It takes her a while to fall asleep, and when her eyes finally rest, it feels like only a few moments before she finds herself blinking awake. She awakes to the sound of her husband—a thought still too foreign—as he places the fastenings of the leather he intends to wear for the journey. She watches his back for a moment, squinting at the lack of candlelight in their chambers while staying silent until he turns and stills when he sees her looking at him.

"Were you going to wake me?"

He looks away from her and she sits up. It is still dark out with the mild rays of daybreak upon them, and in the distance she can hear the sound of men reining in their horses.

"I didn't want to wake you," he says gruffly, almost dismissively as he sits beside her to pull on his boots.

"That is very kind of you." Her voice is flat, almost sarcastic, and Jon sighs before he turns towards her.

"If this is to work, you must tell me things. You can't keep them hidden from me."

"I know." Sansa rubs the sleep from her eyes before she meets his gaze. "I made a mistake and I admit to it. But I would do it again. When I suggested that you get Howland Reed to keep men at the Neck you said—"

"I remember what I said. We don't have men we can leave out there. Not when the long winter has come."

"That does not change the fact that Moat Cailin is a stronghold. It's our first gate to the North and we need to defend it."

He shakes his head, his expression defeated. "Why do you keep saying this?"

She leans forward then, her hand on his arm to keep him talking to her. "You are a soldier, you said it yourself. You are the Lord Commander and the General and that is what we need for the battle of the North. But the South does not always fight their battles with men. I have learned things; things that I wish I did not know. Let me be useful. You can handle the North but let me handle the South. I know more of the people in the South than you, Jon, you cannot deny that."

She sees the way his eyes lighten to the thought, before they darken with anger. "And Littlefinger?"

"He will be close for as long as I have use of him."

Jon does not look appeased, and so she leans even closer.

"Let him come," she says, before she smiles, her hand taking his. "Let him try. I belong to you now."

The look he gives her makes her heart beat faster, and then he kisses her. His kisses are quick, hard, his hands rising to her hair to keep her near as her own fingers pull him closer by his leather. She finds herself leaning back, pulling him with her, before the unmistakable sound of knocking makes him pull his lips from her throat.

"It's time, Your Grace." The unmistakable sound of Ser Davos carried through to their chamber. "The men are ready."

Jon's lips meet hers. "I must go," he whispers, even as his lips pull against hers over and over again.

Sansa nods. "Of course." And then she kisses him deeply, a thrill going through her in the way he grips her waist whilst his tongue practically battle hers. The kiss gets deeper, his hands splaying around her arse and it is with a groan that Jon finally disentangles himself from her.

"Will you wait until I change?" she says breathlessly, watching the way he stands and collects his scabbard. "I would like to see you off."

"No, don't." His voice is rough, and even though his words hurt her, the way he looks at her makes her think otherwise. "If you come out there, I might never leave."

He bends low to kiss her again, and Sansa meets his brief kiss before pulling away with worry. "Do you promise to be safe?"

"Aye," he says with a frown, his hand moving her hair from her cheek. "Do you promise to be careful?"

She knows he means her to be careful from one particular person, and so she nods, before their lips meet, and she feels the familiar sting of tears behind her eyes. There are words she must say, words that she has never told anyone and truly meant it. But instead she smiles, and he smiles sadly before his lips meet her crown and he kisses her forehead as if she is precious to him.

They don't say another word as he leaves her with one, final smile, as her own smile falls the moment the door closes after him.

She listens carefully to the sound of men mounting their horses, of carriages groaning as they leave Winterfell. She listens until all she hears is silence, and then the tears fall freely.

She misses him fiercely, she knows. He is her last reminder of what life was like before they had left Winterfell, and now she has no one.

A whine and the sound of scratching at the door, stops her thoughts. Curious, Sansa wipes at her cheeks and opens the door to find Ghost watching her with red eyes. She laughs, and he comes into her bedchamber, a cold nose nudging her hand before he jumps onto her bedding easily and curls into himself at the foot of her bed.

She wishes she had known that Jon was leaving Ghost to stay by her side so she could have thanked him. She makes her way to the bed to hug the direwolf instead, her thoughts on Lady, on her father, her mother, Robb and Rickon. She thinks of Arya and Bran, and how their wolves had played together. Sansa thinks of Jon trying to bid her farewell as he was about to leave for the Wall, but how she had dismissed him with barely a few words only sufficient to be civil. She thinks of the way he fights in the training yard, the way he listens solemnly to the Lords and the way his head had been between her thighs, the thought enough to make her blush.

She had been horrible to him, and he had been patient. She had been demanding and he had raised an army to take back their home. Truly, Sansa never thought that she would love a boy who always took Arya's word over hers.

She hopes that he will come back to her. And silently, she prays the same.