Robert had seen Ned's bride exactly once before, at the wedding itself - Catelyn Tully had been a pretty girl, lissome and flame-haired with eyes like the river, but she had been tense and pensive at the wedding. He supposed he didn't really blame her; Brandon had big shoes to fill. Afterwards she'd been quickly shipped off to the cold, bleak, North, and Robert hoped she'd bring some fire to that place instead.
He'd never been to the North, it was just Ned always coming down to see him. When he brings the court to the North to ask Ned to step up as Hand, he sees her for the second time, standing beside her brother: sweet and gentle, every bit the perfect lady - and he realizes that the girl he's looking at must not even be twelve-and-ten, and he blinks in surprise.
Catelyn materializes before him, a hand on her daughter's shoulder. He meets her eyes, and her smile is relaxed and welcoming. "Your Grace," she murmurs, embracing him like a brother. "This is my daughter Sansa," she says, and right on cue Sansa gives a perfect little curtsy, says "Good day, Your Grace," in a thin, sweet voice. She smiles widely and proudly. Catelyn had not smiled that widely and that proudly at the wedding.
"A pretty girl," Robert heartily chuckles, bending down to meet her eyes. "Good day to you, too, Lady Sansa, and may you have all the happiness in life your mother had and more."
The first time he sees Sansa his eyes widen, and it is not just from the swoop of her neck and the grace of her movements and the breadth of her smile; even if Sansa Stark has quickly garnered a reputation for being quite the beauty at the age of one-and-ten, everyone murmurs about how lovely she would look with the Prince. He knows better, of course. He's been at court long enough.
The first time he sees Sansa his heart crumples, for she is Catelyn's daughter through and through – nobody can deny that, it is in the waves of her fiery hair and the sparkle of her blue eyes. She is beautiful and sweet and graceful, he has heard Tommen and Myrcella quickly took to her. The first time he sees Sansa she curtsies deeply, a blush gracing her pink cheeks. "My lord," she says, and all of a sudden he remembers duels near riversides and flashing eyes, of Catelyn Tully's hair falling over her shoulder and the way she had run after Brandon –
The first time he sees Sansa Stark, she is standing behind the man who, in the end, had gotten Catelyn Tully after all. He resists the urge to frown, and instead bows at her. "Good to meet you, Lady Sansa," he tells her. "You look quite a lot like your mother."
She beams, and his fingers linger a little longer on a lock of Sansa's hair than they should.
He almost mistakes her for someone else, but the girl in front of him has dark, dark hair and bright, bright eyes, almost begging him not to recognize her. But who is there to recognize, he reminds himself, for though it is not often he sees Catelyn Tully's face in a stranger's, it is not often he thinks of Catelyn Tully. There were talks of betrothing him to her insipid sister, but it had been Catelyn he'd played at kissing with in Riverrun, Catelyn who had fiery hair to go with his own gold – the Lannister colors, he'd joked, and Catelyn had laughed. Her laugh was simple and beautiful. Most things about her were. It is times like this when he nearly misses her, a woman he could have loved - she was so unlike Cersei and so like her all at once. She was laughs and rivers and mothering touches, of simple jokes and bright eyes. We were young, and foolish. She is dead and gone.
He doesn't know what compels him to save the strange, sad girl with eyes like hers and ruddy brown hair, but he finds out soon enough, and his heart folds up on itself.
The Kingslayer turns up in the middle of the night, his long-lost niece in tow. It is a page who tells him this, and Edmure hurriedly gets out of bed. Roslin does not move, just continues laying on her side, her back to him. Perhaps the Young Wolf's sister would not take kindly to her presence.
Edmure has seen Sansa all but once; she was a little girl who had just reached her fifth name-day. He keeps her sweet face in his mind as he briskly walks down the corridors, trying to picture what she must look like now. She would be tall, he reasons, beautiful, her hair would be darker, but she'd still have the Tully eyes. I must show her love and affection, she is Catelyn's daughter. He tells himself this until he reaches the halls, and Sansa Stark stands before him, Jaime Lannister behind her.
"Catelyn," he whimpers, and her eyes fill with tears.
"Uncle Edmure," she sobs. "You look like Robb."
Osha describes Winterfell to him as best as he can, telling him of the smell of buns cooking in the fires, the sound of boys playing at swords in the yards, telling him of his brother who was a King and his brother who was a Lord. It is all he can do to piece everything she tells him with what he remembers – flashes of red hair, songs rocking him to sleep, deep throaty laughs. On his seventh name-day he is sent back, Osha fussing over him and trying to tell him how to behave. Behaving is difficult, he would much rather run with Shaggydog, but he is to meet his family again, Osha says, which is ridiculous because Osha is his family.
The woman who takes care of him now is very pretty; she wears blue and white and gray dresses and has a nice smile. She has a nice voice, too. She's busy, though, spends an awful lot of time in that chair listening to people talk. He had a brother or two who might have done it, maybe. Sometimes he dreams of time on Skagos, Shaggydog hunting with him, and it is all he can do not to run and scream. He misses it, hates being confined in the rooms of the castle, and he does yell out. Instantly the lady is by his side, shushing him, telling him everything is going to be fine.
"I can't sleep," he lies, not looking at her. "Sing me a song, mother."
At that point her face crumples, and she bites her lip, unsure how to answer. "Oh, Rickon," she says. "I am not your mother. I'm your sister, Sansa. Don't you remember?"
He doesn't get it. "No," he says, honestly this time, and Sansa cries and holds him closer. He hugs her back, and he's not sure why.
NOTES: Crossposted to archiveofourown. Title from the Snow Patrol song of the same name.