Title: that my lips could build a castle
Word Count: 2221
Pairing: Jon Snow/Sansa Stark
Prompt: The request was for a post-series fic that had Sansa happy with someone around her own age. You guys know how well I do 'happy' so this probably fits more in the 'hopeful' vein. They're on their way!
The sept remains the last building left to rubble.
That it had fallen during the castle seige does not surprise Sansa – if walls that have stood for thousands of years, weathered hundreds of winters, could collapse, why would the sept remain standing? Her father had built it for her mother, a southron lady of Winterfell, a mere twenty years past. The morter is still new, the stones have not taken root like trees, and Sansa imagines it collapsing like a house made of straw, of sand, when Winterfell had been put to the torch.
The rest of the great seat’s ruins had been rebuilt first, out of necessity – there was a need for a Hall, for an armoury, for living quarters for guests and the ragtag northern army. The Seven are not worshipped by the people here, and though she had once held to her mother’s gods, Sansa has found little aid from either the old gods or the new, so that her primary concern is not her manner of worship but that she be seen as properly northern, the winter queen they proclaimed her when they put the crown upon her brow. The rough, wild lords who follow her and serve her so faithfully would obey, but grumble and question the wisdom in wasting the labor to rebuild a place to pray to foreign gods.
But it is a piece of her childhood that she cannot help but yearn for – sitting quietly beside her mother, learning the hymns so that she might add her young, high voice to the songs sung by her ladies, watching the twinkle of the northern sunlight as it shone upon the stained glass windows and sent prisms of a thousand colors dancing upon the rough, stone floors. Once she had found as much peace in the sept as her father used to find in the godswood, before his weirwood tree – perhaps it is appropriate, then, that it lay in ashes, for it has been a long time since Sansa has known any true peace.
Sometimes she stands in front of the ruins, as though they will whisper an answer to her, and it is there that Jon finds her one morning, with a white fox-fur cloak wrapped around her shoulders that she holds closed at her throat, to ward against the winter chill. Silent as ever, Ghost lopes at his side and comes to brush lightly against her leg, his fur and that of her cloak blending together into a blanket of white, like the snow that coats the ground and crunches beneath her boot.
“Is all well, Your Grace?” Jon greets her, as he always does in public, much as she may hate the homage from his lips. She much prefers – nay, she craves, she needs – the quiet evocation of ‘Sansa,’ whispered in her ear when they lie in bed together, when he is buried inside her, or the name murmured against her thigh when he uses his mouth on her, like a prayer or mantra, SansaSansaSansa…. In those moments, she nearly forgets the loneliness of being a queen.
But here, in the public eye of the North, outside the privacy and intimacy of her bedchamber, he is not her lover or confidante but her most staunch supporter, her most loyal Lord Commander. His every action is an echo of the first, when he returned beyond the grave, as her cousin and not her half-brother, to lay his sword at her feet and swear fealty to her upon bended knee. Winterfell is yours, Your Grace, he had told her, his head bent and his posture straight and she had shivered on the great seat of Winterfell as she remembered another dark-haired, grey-eyed man saying the same words to another monarch, a thousand years ago – or so it felt, to Sansa.
Winterfell is yours, he had whispered the words again in her ear moons later, when the walls around her heart had fallen as surely as the walls of the castle had gone back up, when she had awoken from one of her nightmares and found solace for the first time in his arms – it had been so long since Sansa had found true solace in anyone, anywhere. You are safe. You are where you belong.
And you are, too, she had thought, with a silent prayer that it may remain so; for all the Dragon Queen may try to take him away, Jon’s place is the North, is at her side. We are home, and here we shall stay.
She clears her throat, pushing down the lump that rises there and composing her face into a serene mask – she has become a master in that sense, having learned from the greatest of players. Here, in the courtyard, where everyone may see, her defenses do not fall so easily, not even in front of Jon. “It seems that there always remains yet more to rebuild,” she admits in quiet, smooth tones, nodding her head in the direction of the crumbled stones, the broken glass, the piles of dust and memories.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Jon’s brow furrow as he beholds the remaining ruins, and Sansa feels a pang of loneliness rawer than any she has felt since he had rejoined her at Winterfell as she realizes that he is trying to recall what once was there. Though none of Sansa’s siblings came to the sept as often as she did, Jon came not at all – he held fast to the Old Gods alone and her lady mother would not have welcomed him in any case. But it was part of the Winterfell of old, the words linger on her tongue and she bites them back. The Winterfell that once was.
She remains silent, letting him think, and with his lips pinched down in thought, his fingers coming up to stroke his beard in thought, he so resembles their father for a moment (for he shall always be their father, the truth of who may have sired Jon cannot take away the years raised as Ned Stark’s son) that Sansa must look away. Her eyes burn in the winter chill, and she blinks, thinking that she would cry if she had not taught herself so long ago how to keep her tears at bay. Queens do not weep.
She wonders, briefly, if the pain will ever truly abate.
Jon’s hands landing on her shoulders interrupt her wonderings – it is a touch more intimate than they would normally afford in public, but to the onlooker, Sansa thinks, it would seem no more than brotherly affection. But there is unmistakable intimacy in his voice, a coaxing gentleness that had taken her a shamefully long time to trust. “The sept,” he tells her. “I remember.” He squeezes lightly, and his voice is gentle as ever as he reminds her, “We have the men.”
“I know,” she replies dully, for she knows Jon could never understand her fear that she does not have the men, that their bodies may do her service but their hearts not yet won. He could never understand a woman’s fear of not being seen as enough, the fear of a misstep that would brand her weak or sentimental, or strange and foreign, an unfit ruler of the North.
Jon’s hands fall away, settle at his side, and at the absence of their warmth, Sansa pulls her cloak tighter around her to ward against the chill. “It is your command, Your Grace,” he reminds her, and the corners of her lips curl into the smallest of smiles - oh, Jon, she should tell him, have you not learned that sometimes leading is not as easy as merely giving the command?
But she does not rebuke him – he is so earnest, so honest in his council and his well wishes for her that she cannot help but soften. She loops her arm through his, heedless of eyes that may be watching. “No,” she says finally, “it would receive little use. A waste of time. Walk with me, Jon?” It is a request, not an order, and they turn towards the godswood, to the old trees and the secrets they keep, things that could not be crumbled to the ground.
Her heart is not troubled by her decision; if she is honest with herself, it is not longing for the sept that pulls at her heart, but for the steady warmth of her mother seated beside her. It is not the glass windows themselves that she longs for, but the way that Rickon would try and grab at the beams of light with his fat little fists, entranced by the colors, when Sansa would bring him there as a babe and pull him into her lap. Morter and stone cannot alone rebuild Winterfell, will never again make it whole. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell, Sansa thinks, but there should not be one alone.
“I need an heir, Jon,” she says softly, when they are far from earshot, and she feels him stiffen beneath her touch, his posture go rigid. She can hear the instinctive denial on his lips even before he opens his mouth, and she presses on, surprised by the sting of tears that fill her eyes as she clarifies, “I need a child.” The need is a raw ache, a hunger that meat and mead cannot fill, and she imagines a babe with her father’s eyes, her mother’s long fingers, Robb’s curls and Arya’s laugh – all the pieces of Winterfell that a thousand men could never rebuild or replace.
“But you will not wed,” Jon points out wryly, and Sansa settles her lips into a firm line, an instinct born of arguing with her bannermen who constantly urge her to marry one suitor or another, who parade them like pampered dogs before her eyes. But she determined long ago to never again be any man’s pawn, and the only one who stood a chance to persuade her differently is similarly disinclined to wed; Queen Daenerys had accepted Jon’s refusal of her hand in order to lead Sansa’s Queensguard, but Sansa knows the queen’s vanity would not stand for Jon wedding another.
“No,” she reaffirms, “never.” Her fingers curl into his arm, and Jon sighs, passing a hand over his face wearily. It has been a subject they have danced about, once or twice before, but never has she been so forthright in her request, and she can tell it leaves him unbalanced, unsettled.
“Do not ask me to give you a bastard, Sansa,” he says quietly. “It is not the life I would pass to another.”
“He would be no bastard, ser,” she replies, defensive already, over what does not even exist. But the more she presses the matter, the more her certainty grows – it is her family that is the missing piece, and much as Jon has meant to her since the day he first knelt at her feet to swear fealty, he alone cannot fill the void her family left behind. “He would be mine own heir. A prince.”
“A bastard prince,” Jon warns, “is not much better, as I have found.” But his gloved hand covers hers at the crook of his elbow, large and warm, and she can see the turmoil on his face as he wars with himself.
“Do you not think of it?” she whispers. “We were all so happy here, once. I cannot imagine another way to make Winterfell whole, but to fill it with our family, with our children.”
And the look he gives her at that strikes her to the bone; there is reluctance remaining there, yes, but it is overshadowed by a fierce, naked longing that she recognizes as the expression that she sometimes catches reflected in her looking glass, when she tallies all that still must be done to set the castle to rights. There is a part of him, she thinks, that longs as desperately as she for the love a family would provide, a part that grapples for dominance with his unwavering sense of honor.
There is no dishonor in this, she is certain – Sansa has seen enough of dishonor and treachery to know that this is nothing of the sort. He is tempted, she knows, close to relenting, and she turns to him, to clasp his hands fiercely in her own.
“I do not ask it as your queen,” she clarifies, and this time she does not bother to blink back the tears, but lets them escape and spill down her cheeks. They sting and freeze against her skin in the cold, biting air, and Jon flinches before reaching out to wipe them away with a gentle touch. “I ask it of you merely as Sansa.”
His eyes remain conflicted, but his lips quirk up in the barest hint of a wry smile. “They say only a fool would deny a queen,” he tells her, and with a pang of worry, Sansa recalls the last queen he denied. The fear dissipates like a thousand butterflies when he adds, “And yet, I find Sansa even harder to refuse.”
it is not agreement – not quite – but it feels far greater than any other victory that has been her own since retaking the ruins of her home.