Summary: Jon offers Sansa everything, when he comes to the Vale, during the winter war for Westeros, but what she wants and what she can let herself accept aren't quite the same.
It doesn't take long to fall in love with him. It might be the uncertainty of war or the ever growing catalog of disappointments in life that have made her desperate for goodness and kind words in a familiar face, but Sansa finds herself in love with her cousin not eight days after the Targaryen army arrives in the Vale. She was only told Jon Snow was not her bastard half-brother eight moons ago, but it was time enough to come to terms with the fact. When she did see him again, she found she was as glad to see him as if he was still and always had been her brother. Perhaps even gladder that he was not, for he was impressive with a faithful army behind him and was handsomer than she remembered and did not begrudge her his affection, though she was not always so kind to him as she ought to have been when they were children.
It was a hasty development this love she feels for him and one she knows she can't indulge, for he is to leave and she has responsibilities that outweigh romance. It is easier to discount her feelings and push them down to the darker parts of herself, when she believes herself the only one affected. Until he kisses her.
They're alone in the corridor leading to her chambers. He's followed at her heels, speaking stiltedly about the upcoming campaign that will lead the army away from her door in two days time, when his hand closes about her wrist, stopping her short.
She knows enough of men to understand the look he wears, when she turns towards him and he gazes down at her with his brows slightly furrowed and his eyes trained on her lips. She should disengage herself as gently as possible and pretend she did not see what it was he intended to do so as to spare his pride and not alter things between them. She has the skills to manage it and have him be none the wiser. But being desired by someone she wants too is so novel, such a heady rush, that she sways towards him, drawn to him like the pull of a loadstone. The shifting of her body towards him is enough to embolden him.
He pulls her the rest of the way, giving her wrist a tug that causes her to rock into his chest, her hand splaying against the leather of his over tunic, as he wraps his arm around her back and dips his head down to hers. His lips are chapped and his fingers are calloused and rough against her skin, when he releases her wrist to cup her cheek. The way he touches her, the noise he makes as his kiss turns from soft to demanding must be what it feels like to be cherished and wanted by someone worthy, someone gentle, she thinks, as she tucks into his chest and brings her other hand to his waist, where he is narrowest. His fingers slip into the unbound, artificially darkened hair that spills over her shoulder. The scrape of his teeth on her lips and the parting of her hair around his fingers makes her head fall back and her lips open to willingly give way to his eager exploration. The drag of his tongue draws an answering needy sound from her. Her fingers curl and her belly flips. Everything is perfect. Until he stops.
"Sansa. Dearest," he says, his lips still close enough that she could reclaim them and put an end to disillusion and disappointment, but she can't be his dear one.
He must feel her body go stiff in his arms and take note of how she lifts her hands off of him, as if he might burn her, leaving them hovering before his body. He must see how her eyes dart to some distant point over his shoulder, as she drops a mask over the emotions his kiss has fired up inside her chest. None of this must escape him, for he lowers his arms, letting them hang dead and lifeless at his side, and she can see, though she won't meet his eye, how the contentment drains from his face, leaving him looking tired and drawn.
"Forgive me. That was…badly thought through." Sansa doesn't believe for one moment that Jon did not think this moment over endlessly, worrying the notion over in his careful, judicious mind. "Forgive me. It won't happen again. I won't…"
He doesn't finish. Red faced, he turns on his heel, stalking back the way he came with long legged strides that she would have trouble matching if she gave chase, though she is only shorter than Jon by an inch or two.
With her heart in her throat, she calls his name, not knowing what she means to say should he stop. He doesn't.
He avoids her assidously and with only hours left before he leaves, Sansa can't live with the thought that she will never see him again and he will forever think he acted dishonorably in kissing her. He may not be Lord Eddard Stark's son, but he is enough like him that such a thought would be a painful one for him to bear. She doesn't want that on her conscience; she must put an end to this misunderstanding even if it means exposing herself for what she has become. She finds him in Petyr's study with several of his men and she uses her smile and a flutter of lashes to ask if she might not speak with her brother alone.
She's cornered him, for she can see by the set of his mouth that he doesn't wish to be left alone with her, but to stop his men from filing out would be awkward. So he allows it without voicing his objections and they are alone for the first time since his lips touched hers.
"Jon, I want to speak with you," she says, taking the seat closest to him and covering the parchment spread before him with her hand. "If you can set this aside for just a moment. You must forgive me. I know it's more important than anything I might have to say."
"That's not true at all," he says with a heavy exhalation. "But go on."
She swallows, steeling herself for whatever his response might be to what she must say. He won't want her after this, of that she is certain.
"I wanted you to kiss me. If you're imagining that I didn't, I did, but it can't be like that between us."
"Of course," he says, his words muffled by his hand, which comes up to scrub roughly at his face.
Despite his mumbled agreement, she can see the hope that springs to his face at her profession in the way his eyes flick to hers and dance away. She'll handily squash that too.
"It isn't that we were children together or thought each other brother and sister. I've accepted who you are, and I know you must have accepted it too. Otherwise you wouldn't have kissed me like that."
"What is it then?"
"I'm with child." His lips part, as his gaze lowers to her middle. "You wouldn't be able to tell. I'm only two moons gone now."
She talks over him before he has a chance to say something sweet and generous that will make her chest ache with the impossibility of it all.
"I'm afraid I don't know who the father is. It could be my husband Harry's or it could be Petyr's, and it doesn't much matter to me either way, for I poisoned them both. No use hoping that one might be the father instead of the other."
His throat bobs. "You killed them?"
"First Harry at Petyr's command and then Petyr because I could."
He reaches across, seizing her hand. "I haven't properly said how very sorry I am that you were left undefended. I regret that."
"There wasn't a thing you could do about that, Jon."
"Well, I know that whatever it is you did, you did because you had to."
She's angry with herself, when she feels the prick of tears in the corner of her eyes, and yanks her hand free to wipe them away.
"No matter," she says with a flick of her wrist, dashing away her traitorous tears, which she had thought long since mastered. "But you can see now how we can't be together no matter what I might want."
Unless it was just the once. They could be together tonight before he leaves. What damage could it do? She's already with child and hasn't been a maid in some time. No one would even notice if he came to her chambers with the movement of armies ranking ahead of petty human needs. The memory of it might keep her warm on the nights when she's alone. It's a temptation, but she's not quite up to suggesting a liaison to someone as honorable as Jon.
"I'm afraid I don't see why not."
She sniffs and frowns at him. "I'm with child, Jon."
"I'm not deaf." His tone makes her flinch. "I'm sorry. Forgive me. It's a lot to digest, but you shouldn't think that matters to me…I'll marry you."
Her hand goes to her throat, trying to tamp down the sob that threatens to choke her. The weak part of her wants to hear his proposal, and yet, she can't fathom why he would offer it to her, when she's just confessed to adultery.
"You don't mean it."
"Of course I do. I love you."
She shakes her head. "That worked so well for our parents…my parents, having a bastard in their midst."
His eyes flash darkly and he stands, stepping away from the table and putting his back to her with his arms crossed over his chest. She can stare at him like this without him knowing; trace the lines of his body, the heft of his shoulders, and the curl of his hair. She's lost enough people to know that this memory will fade too like all the rest no matter how hard she tries to hold on to it. She'll begin to forget what he looked like feet astride here amongst the smell of parchment and leather binding. She's sorry to have hurt him, but inflicting pain comes so much easier than it used to.
"You're born to great things. A figure of prophecy. A hero reborn." He grunts at this, but he is the man who carries a flaming sword. "You can't have me trailing after you with a bastard in tow. You'll have to marry an honorable woman."
"Don't speak of your honor as if it is in question."
"I must, for it seems that you have been too long at the Wall, where such things must not mean as much."
"You're a woman recently widowed. It's your husband's babe."
He would willfully insist on such a thing. "Or Petyr's," she says, hoping and fearing in equal measure that he might really understand what sort of woman she is. "There are servants here that saw how we were together, Petyr and Alayne Stone. They might suspect."
"No one need know the babe wasn't mine," he says, turning his head enough that she can see his long face in profile. "The timing of the birth won't matter with the threat from the North and a war to fight."
So he is capable of some deceit, but then, her lord father was too, when it was necessary to protect those he loved. Jon Snow is proof enough of that. These reminders of how alike they are only make it more difficult to push him away.
"Others might not suspect, but you'd know, and the child would be in line for the throne. I'm sure I shall be quite fond of the babe, being its mother, but could you live with the knowledge that it isn't your child that will sit the throne, but the get of a man you didn't even know?"
His hand flexes at his side. "I don't like the way you speak about yourself and the babe."
She lifts her shoulders in resignation, though he can't see the gesture from where he stands.
"All of this talk of thrones is beside the point, Sansa."
"What is the point then?"
"I want you."
"That then is your misfortune given our impossible circumstances. But you'll get over it soon enough."
She hopes she is right about that, but for her the pain seems to go on forever, when Jon goes away to fight the towering creatures that come from beyond the fallen Wall and her body grows unwieldy and heavy. She has too much time to think. Too much time to miss him and mourn what might have been. Until her babe is safely delivered.
Sansa couldn't say who the father is—and perhaps that is for the best—for the babe is all Tully with red hair and blue eyes and skin as pale as milk. She toys with naming her Lyanna after Jon's mother and her aunt, but that might be taken amiss by the Dragon Queen and it might imply a relation that Sansa herself refused to allow people to believe in and sully Jon's honor. So she names her Jeyne like her childhood companion, like Robb's wife, who Sansa never did meet. It's not a Stark name, not a Tully name either, but it's a good, plain name for a child Sansa hopes will have a good, plain life, untroubled by princes and succession.
Her thoughts still turn to Jon, when reports reach them about the course of the war and the flight of dragons, but her thoughts do not sink her into despair the way they once threatened to before her Jeyne met the world. There are too many things to think about: Jeyne's first tooth, Jeyne's first word, and Jeyne's first wobbling steps. Every perfect thing her Jeyne does consumes her, and before Sansa knows it her hair is grown out enough that she can chop her darkened hair off, leaving only red long enough to wear pulled back in braids out of the grasping hands of a cheerful toddler.
Her daughter counts three name days when the war ends and they are declared safe. Winter, however, is not at an end. Some say it will go on forever, though Sansa thinks they must be wrong. Jeyne has only ever known winter, heavy bundles of clothing, and roaring fireplaces. Even Sansa sometimes gives in to the melancholy fear that Jeyne will never see the spring and that she will never be able to take her to the North, to the crumbled seat of her forefathers. Until a raven arrives with a message.
There will be no thrones for me.
Word that Jon has willingly handed over the Seven Kingdoms to Daenerys after winning the war in the North for her spreads more slowly than the words brought on the wings of a raven. Eventually it does arrive in the Vale, however, affirming the unsigned message she knew was from Jon, for his script looked like her father's before she's traced it with her fingertip so many times that the ink blurred.
He appears older by more than the elapsed four name days when he comes to her on a shaggy pony with Ghost silent at his side. And while she has from time to time touched herself in the darkness with his face fixed in her mind, her first thought is not about reckless wanting, but about giving comfort. She bustles him inside, taking his cloak from his shoulders herself, sits him in front of the blazing hearth fire, and demands that supper be brought to him immediately, though the supper hour is not yet at hand and he swears that he has eaten on the road.
"Eaten what?" she demands.
"Does it matter?" he asks, his head lolling to the side to stare at her, where she stands, his black cloak draped across her arms.
She places the cloak on the table closest them and smoothes it out. It looks worn, full of tiny holes that need mending and ragged at the hem. From the looks of it, it might have been with him on campaign. One would think that after everything he accomplished he'd have been given fine armor and expensive clothes, but it would be like Jon to refuse such things. Although, it isn't so much his clothes that worry her about his appearance.
"You look thin."
"I am thin." His eyes rake over her without any heat behind his stare. "You're thin too."
Sansa brushes at her waist with restless hands, wishing like a foolish maid that she was not wearing her plainest gown. Jon must have an eye for beauty. Some part of him must find pleasure in looking on beautiful things as most men and women do, and she fears she does not present much for the eye to feast upon at this moment. Save her fiery hair, she looks like Alayne Stone.
He pats the wide wooden arm of his chair. "Sit with me."
She joins him, balancing on its edge, her skirts spilling over his right leg. After the amount of time that has passed and having parted on cutting words, she should feel some awkwardness with him and fear to attempt such closeness, but all that fills her chest is affection. She can't possibly be close enough to him. She combs her fingers through his curls, wanting to relearn and recall every slope and ridge of his face and catalogue every change. There are spidery lines and scars and strands of silver in his dark hair, long before they should be there, but for all of it, she knows him.
"Why did you give it up? The throne?"
"Because I want to go home."
Her fingers freeze, her body stilled by this confession. "You mean to go to Winterfell?"
Will he offer to take her with him? Though the snows are deep and she is not unencumbered? She once watched hope dawn on his face, and she hopes she is not quite as transparent in her desires. He may not want her.
"And I never wanted the Iron Throne. Never even thought to lay eyes on it. She's welcome to it."
He looks up at her, his grey eyes darkened by bluish circles. "Where's your little girl?"
She can't help the smile that tugs on the corners of her mouth. Pride and surprise blooms in her chest, tinting her cheeks pink. "You know I've had a girl?"
"I always ask after you with everyone I meet that might have chanced to hear something."
Then it didn't fade, the love he professed to feel for her, as she hoped it would for his own good. She shouldn't be gladdened by this, but she is. She leans down to kiss his forehead, brushing back a lock of hair that falls over his face with a hand that suddenly trembles.
His fingers trace the edge of her sleeve and up the seam, moving slowly. "Is she as lovely as you?"
Sansa thinks her much lovelier. She was certain since Jeyne first opened her eyes and gave shriek that her babe was perfect. The old serving woman who sleeps in Jeyne's nursery at night agrees, saying she's the bonniest babe ever born in Westeros and beyond.
"I named her Jeyne. She's asleep. You've arrived during her nap or I'd wake her for you."
"No, don't disturb her. I wouldn't want that."
His hand wraps around her upper arm, and while she waits for him to do something—drag her down into his lap, cover her mouth with his, and unbind her hair—the only betrayal of his still being aware of her is the slow rub of his thumb against the woolen sleeve of her dove grey gown.
She's so startled when he finally speaks, "Gods, I've missed you," that she jumps and he looks questioningly at her, worry lining the thin skin at the corners of his eyes.
Her smile is a false one, useless at wiping away his concern.
"Only the idea of me surely," she says, though she's missed him too and no one could convince her otherwise. "And you shouldn't have, as I was very cruel when we parted."
She has worn the memory thin, repeating the things she said to him to drive him away, because she was afraid his offer was motivated by duty. She didn't want to be saved, but loved, and she worried that he might come to regret that dutifulness, regret taking on a child that wasn't his, and regret her, an imperfect woman at best.
"No, not cruel, but you were wrong."
Since becoming a mother, Sansa has learned how often she can be wrong. It is a humbling experience.
"Tell me how I was wrong then."
"I can love your Jeyne like she's my own."
Sansa runs her hand down over his scarred cheek and cups his bearded chin. "You think so, do you?"
"It's all I thought of, when I didn't have a sword in my hand, how I'd like to be in Winterfell again with you and the babe."
He sounds so terribly sincere, his voice a soft rumble. Perhaps he's right. Jon might be just the type of man to embrace her child without qualms.
"It does sound nice," Sansa says, only barely managing to get the words passed the tightness in her throat.
He tilts his head until her hand covers his mouth and he presses a kiss to her open palm. It raises the hairs on her arms and at the back of her neck. No one's touched her like that in so long.
"Will you go with me?"
"As your sister?"
He makes a sound in the back of his throat. "Cousin. More if you like, after I've proven to you that there will be no obstacle to my loving Jeyne."
"There might be. She's sometimes very stubborn and irritable. She has a temper that rather reminds me of Arya's."
His hand settles on her knee, and she worries she's said the wrong thing, as she watches his eyes cloud over and focus on the middle distance. She only meant that Jeyne is a child with a real personality that she on occasion forcefully asserts, not some fantasy he conjured during the loneliness of his campaign.
"I loved your sister very much."
She knows it. Jeyne would be very fortunate if Jon loved her like that. She'd be fortunate to have a father. Sansa knows she'd be fortunate to have him too, as sister, cousin, lover, or wife.
Sansa slides off the arm of the chair into his lap, slipping her arms around his neck. The servants will be back bearing food soon, but she can't bring herself to care. His lap is solid and warm and his chest rises and falls against hers in a reassuring way she could grow accustomed to. There has been no one to count on except herself, a lonely, sometimes terrifying position that makes her long for her family.
"It's like having a ghost about the place at times, seeing bits of those we've lost reflected in her face and manner. I could lose myself in tracing the similarities."
His hand closes at the base of her neck and her chest swells with anticipation of his kiss.
"Come to Winterfell with me. It's yours to claim and I'll help you rebuild it. I'll love your girl and then we'll consider the rest. We'll consider us."
His kiss is not forthcoming. He means to make her wait.
"Yes. I believe that's what I want," she says, leaning in until their noses bump.
She wants it for herself and she wants it for Jeyne.
"Good. It's everything I want."