dedication: this is all Emily's fault, so I guess it's to her?
title: crocodile farm
summary: Whoever decided it was a good idea to allow Robb Stark and Theon Greyjoy to become friends was an astounding, blithering idiot. — Sansa, Robb, Theon, Jon.
They're very clever, Robb and Theon. Young, too, but mostly clever. And cruel. They are cruel and young and clever.
Sansa is young and naïve and kind.
She really can't keep up.
And this is why she secretly likes Jon the best of her siblings. Arya is too wild, Bran is too annoying, Rickon can't tell left from right on a good day, and Robb and Theon are cruel. Jon is the only decent one of the bunch—and Sansa kows that he likes Arya best, but it doesn't matter.
After all, he is only secretly her favourite brother.
Sansa pushes needle through cloth, and listens to her Septa gossip with the baker when no one thinks she's listening. They forget she has ears in her head—years later, this will serve her well when Petyr Baelish tucks her away in the Vale with Sweetrobin and all his other dirty secrets. No one thinks that a girl at her needlework is any threat.
If only they knew.
And this is how the children of the Stark family work—they trade bits of information for string and fluff, and use it to get the things they want.
Or at least, that's how they would work if Sansa was in charge.
But Arya doesn't care for anything other than swords and fighting, and so Sansa can't count on her backing. She can feel it in her bones; Sansa is ten years old and she's never known a real secret in all her life.
And so when Theon and Robb corner her, all smiles and eyes glinting with something that Sansa can't quite identify, she smiles back uneasily in return. They are her brothers and they have protected her her entire life, but Sansa is not stupid. Jon is not there to temper them, and so they will be young and cruel and far too clever for their own good.
"Guess what, Sansa," says Robb.
His smile is entirely too large, and it is all Sansa can do to eye him warily. "What've you done now? Do I have to tell Mother?"
"Awww, Sansa, it's not like that!" Theon laughs like a shark, sharp and dangerous in the teeth. She doesn't shrink back, though every instinct tells her too—her gut tells her to duck under Robb's arm and run to find the safety of her mother's lap.
But Sansa is ten, now, and she cannot cower forever.
So she tips her face up, and looks her older brothers straight in the eye. Their cleverness will not keep her from knowing everything she wants to know. "Fine then. What is it?"
"We—Theon found something, little sister," Robb says sagely. If Sansa were a little older, if she were a little wiser, she would have ignored them entirely. But Sansa is ten and still believes in heroes, so she looks up at her brothers and believes, believes, believes.
"What?" she asks.
"We found letters," Theon says, smirking over the words in his eagerness.
Sansa tilts her head, eyes wide. "Letters? From who?"
"Aunt Lyanna," Robb says, straight-faced (but if the corners of his mouth twitch, Sansa pretends she doesn't notice. Letters from Aunt Lyanna are much more romantic, that way).
"What do they say?" Sansa breathes.
Theon, still smirking, bends down to whisper in her ear. "They say that Jon's a prince."
For a month, Sansa can't look at Jon without turning red.
Quiet, tall Jon, a prince?
(Later, her first thought when she meets Joffrey is compared to Jon, you're not a prince at all. But she smothers it down, and pretends she never thought it in the first place. And she wants for nothing more in the world than to go south.)
One day after supper, he looks down at her, and sighs. "What did they tell you, Sansa?"
"I—Theon and Robb—they didn't say—"
"Of course they did," he grumbles. Jon kneels down in front of her, and Sansa is struck by how much he looks like their father—but his hair is curlier, and his nose isn't the right shape.
"Sansa," he says, and takes her hands. "What did they tell you?"
"They said that you're a—you're a prince," Sansa blurts, then flushes at her own audacity. Blurting things out like that is an Arya trait, and Sansa is too much a lady to be anything like her eight-year-old hurricane of a sister. "Were they lying, Jon?"
Jon's face is very still.
"I'm no prince, Sansa," he says quietly.
He doesn't tell her than she should know better than to listen to her older brothers—he's her older brother, too, though most like to pretend that he's not. Instead, he sort of awkwardly touches the top of her head, and Sansa thinks he's trying to say I'm sorry, but he just can't get the words out.
"Says you," Sansa replies, and now she smiles because she thinks Jon needs a smile, once in a while. She reaches up and pats his cheek. For now, it'll do—Jon is Arya's prince, really, and Sansa didn't quite want him anyway.
His eyes go warm, though, and he holds onto her hands for just a moment longer.
Sansa flushes, and runs off.
Jon goes to find Theon and Robb, probably to knock some sense into them—they can't go around telling lies like that, especially not to little girls who believe in being saved from dragons. It's really rather cruel.
He sighs, and walks.
Sansa watches him go. She ducks her face into a pillow and expels a great long breath. Robb and Theon were lying. Of course Robb and Theon were lying—that's what Robb and Theon do when Jon's not around to temper them. Of course they were lying.
She doesn't quite forget the words though.
A lifetime and a half later, she mentions it offhandedly to Littlefinger.
"My brothers once told me Jon was a prince," she says. "Funny, isn't it?"
He looks at her like she's strange—she is—but he leaves the Vale not long afterwards. She has no idea where he goes, nor does she mind. Being alone is good, for a little while.
Sansa can't know that her little comment will incite a rebellion.
She can't know it will change the world.
(She's always changing the world, even when she doesn't mean to. Sansa breathes deep, and starts again.)