Eventually Jaime stirred in his bath, washed and returned to his allotted chamber. The room was small but the pallet was dry, soft and extremely tempting. After changing into clean smallclothes the servants had left in his room – the first time for a long while he wouldn’t sleep fully clothed – he sank onto his bed and fell into a deep sleep.
He woke up in the middle of the night when a lithe body sneaked in next to him. Jaime didn’t need to guess who it was, but he narrowed his eyes and the candlelight revealed a tumble of red hair on his pillow. “Sansa, what are you doing here?” he hissed. It wouldn’t be good for either of them to be found together.
“Please let me stay here. I feel so lonely by myself,” Sansa murmured. She had squeezed under the blankets and her body was pressing slightly against Jaime. He noticed she had also bathed and smelled nice. He breathed in her scent and allowed her company to console him - he had been selfishly worried about how she would regard him now that Sandor was gone. Jaime was not blind and had observed them on their journey, and had become well aware of the undercurrents of their complex history and relationship.
Jaime gingerly placed his arm around Sansa’s shoulders, ready to withdraw if she flinched, if the closeness was too much. She didn’t, and Jaime could feel the side of her breast brushing against his bare chest and noticed she was wearing only a light nightshift. The memory of the last time he had shared a bed with a woman so dressed came to him unbidden, and he found his current situation both discomforting and thrilling.
He pushed any thoughts on Sansa’s state of undress aside and patted her shoulder gently. He knew Sandor’s absence weighed heavily on both their minds and most of all they needed to comfort each other. With his touch he wanted to convey the strength he knew he didn’t possess, but hoped it would be enough to soothe her, even if just for a while.
“I miss him,” whispered Sansa after a while.
“I know. And so do I.”
“He was the bravest man I have known, and better than any knight,” Sansa continued. Jaime could hear from her voice that she was crying. He wished he could do the same, crystallise his pain into clear droplets and allow them to flow freely, taking some of his hurt away. He had tried, but crying was something he had never had reason to do before and it came to him with difficulty. It was in his nature to scoff at pain, to deny it and to laugh at it rather than to admit it.
“Don’t say ‘was’. We don’t know for sure yet, and he may have survived,” Jaime tried to assure her even though his own heart was heavy.
“If he has, and he comes back to us… what then?” Sansa breathed through her tears. “Can we continue as before, all three of us?
Jaime sighed. Her trust touched him. He could sense her despair and her need to cling to something, to someone. If he could be the one, he would do all in his power to ease her sorrow. “What are you talking about, little bird? Do you mind if I call you ‘little bird’?”
Sansa leaned closer to him and raised her hand to touch him softly on the chest, tracing an old scar which travelled from his shoulder to his navel. “I don’t mind. It is a name he gave me in King’s Landing. I know initially he meant it as a slight, telling me I was like those pretty little talking birds from the Summer Isles, repeating all the pretty little words my septas taught me.”
“You are much more than that. You are a wise young woman, a true princess,” Jaime whispered into Sansa’s ear. “I knew a girl like you once; she was brave, clever and strong, but then the men of this world caged her and killed her dreams.”
“You are talking about Cersei again, aren’t you? I met her after she had already become a bitter woman.” Sansa sounded genuinely sorry.
“Yes, Cersei. She was not always the woman she is now. I hope you never have to travel the same path, and if I can help you, I will. I couldn’t do anything for her, but I promise I will not fail you.” Jaime swore to himself that this would be one oath he would keep. He gave no more assurances, knowing how words were wind, but the vow he had made sank deep into his soul.
“I will not. No man will cage me or force me to do things I don’t want to do. I may need some aid though, and with Sandor gone, I only have you.” Sansa was still fingering the hair on Jaime’s chest and he felt a jolt of arousal despite his best intentions of staying in control. He tried to hide his hardening manhood by arranging the blankets on his lap.
It was clear Sansa hadn’t noticed anything as she murmured into his ear. “I know that you are not interested in me as a woman. I may not be very experienced but I have seen men looking at me, and how I affect them. Tyrion, and of course Petyr… and Sandor.” She buried her face in Jaime’s neck, betraying the heat in her cheeks. “I know he often reacted to me when we were sleeping next to each other. He tried to hide it but not always successfully. I also noticed it sometimes when we rode together, although he always pushed me away.”
“I hope you didn’t hold it against him. You are a beautiful woman and that reaction is only natural. Why are you bringing this up now?” Jaime moved slightly away from her, trying to create some distance between their bodies. He appreciated the irony of the contradiction between her words and his reaction.
“I don’t know. I just know that many men respond to me like that. I saw that in some of the Kingsguard members when they beat me, and in soldiers in the Vale – but in you, never. I guess I only wonder why that is so.”
Jaime felt speechless. Seldom ladies questioned men for their lack of desire, and the absurdity of it would have made him laugh had circumstances been different. It was true he had not lusted after her as other men in his position might have, but now as she was resting in his arms he felt arousal, strong and hard. Instead of longing for a hard muscular body as he had so many nights before, he now felt her roundness and softness equally inviting.
“You are a very alluring young lady and the last thing you need is yet another man leering at you. You must know I would never dishonour you.” Jaime removed her hand from his chest in order to restore some decorum between them.
“Sandor would never have dishonoured me either, I know.” Sansa was weeping again. Jaime held her, just stroking her arm gently and allowing her to cry at will. With every sob he could feel some of his own grief diminish. Somehow a shared sorrow lessened the ache. Eventually Sansa stopped and gathered herself, sniffling softly
“You had better go to your room, Sansa. We are back in the real world and it is not proper for you to be in my bed. People talk and any hint of impropriety will damage your reputation.” Jaime lifted his blankets and pushed her away, patting her on the back and feeling the curve of her hips as he did so.
Part of him wanted to call her back and spend the night with her in his arms. What would be the harm in it? They had shared so many nights together already. Yet another part - the side he had not recognised in himself before, the part that considered the good of others and strived towards honour – knew that wouldn’t have been right. Yet another part – the basest animal in the deepest recesses of his mind –wanted to keep her and take his comfort from her supple body, no matter the consequences
The candle Sansa had brought flickered behind her on a small table, and as she leaned over, Jaime could see the silhouette of her body within the loose nightshift. He swore silently as she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, but kept his composure.
“I know, but I will miss our shared nights just the same. Sleep well, my lion, and we will see in the morning.” Just like that, as quickly as she came, she was gone.
Jaime wasn’t sure whether to curse or welcome her visit. He had not really stopped to consider it before, but his feelings towards Sansa so far had been nothing compared to what he felt at that moment. For want of a better word, he thought his previous feelings could have been described as…almost brotherly.
It didn’t take long before he realised his blunder and he groaned inwardly. Bloody hells!
Once again he found himself tossing and turning in his bed for a long time before eventually falling asleep.
Sansa woke up the next morning wondering for a while where she was. She instinctively turned on her side but not sensing the familiar strong figure, she suddenly remembered. And wished she hadn’t.
She curled deeper into the mattress and hoped she could sleep forever, never getting up. Maybe she could remain here, maybe Howland Reed would agree to that? She was so weary and sad and tired of running. Staying here she wouldn’t have to be a pawn in Petyr’s plans anymore, nor the player in the game of her own choosing. She could just be just Sansa.
The thought appealed to her, but after a while she had to acknowledge that as tempting it sounded, it was not her path. She was a wolf and she couldn’t give up so easily. The winter is coming. Family, duty, honour. She had a duty to both of her parents, and that duty could not be fulfilled by hiding in Greywater Watch. The Dragons had arrived and somebody had to look after the North. If it had to be her, then so be it.
Sansa laid there for a while longer and thought of Jaime. Handsome, witty, charming Jaime. The wiser, more mature, loyal Jaime. She had been drawn to his bed the previous night to find solace and understanding of her grief, but to her surprise had found something more.
Sansa had always thought him handsome, but his was a cool, arrogant charm that had not appealed to her. Only recently she had seen the person beneath the exterior and had learned to care about him as a human. Yet last night she had for the first time become aware of the man. Jaime was not as strongly built as Sandor, but he had a fine physique and his well-built chest was covered with golden hair that had felt so soft when she had combed her fingers through it. She had felt the heat of his skin and the way his pulse had quickened against her hand. Yes, he was made of flesh and blood just like any other man.
Sansa had sometimes wondered why Jaime had never looked at her with the expression Sandor had in his unguarded moments, a shadow of the look she had learned to recognise so well in her years in the court and in the Vale. The look was directed at her by men who saw her only as a desirable woman. It usually travelled from her face to her chest, then to her hips, then back to her eyes to challenge her wordlessly, daring her to respond to their needs, accompanied by a lick on their lips. She had learned to hate it; the needy look of Tyrion, the demanding stare of Petyr and the hungry expressions of so many other men. Jaime had made her feel safe, allowing her to slide under his blankets without the hesitation she might have felt with Sandor in a real bed, dressed only in her nightshift - but he also puzzled her.
Jaime’s response to her question had been honourable, but the way he had moved away from her and removed her hand from his chest had spoken otherwise. He had tensed just as Sandor had when she had pressed too close, and that spoke volumes to her. Maybe I was wrong about him after all; maybe he can just guard his expressions better than Sandor? Maybe going to him wasn’t so safe after all?
Yet she had felt at ease, and the physical closeness to a man had felt…almost natural. Petyr’s actions would always linger at the back of her mind, she knew, but hopefully in time she could dim those dark encounters with brighter ones. With memories filled with trust and respect and even love. She wasn’t ready to give up the last remains of her girlish dreams, no matter how many of them had been already crushed.
Sansa wondered if she would be able to love Jaime or maybe even marry him. It might be better than marrying a stranger, some powerful old lord or rash young lordling. She was realistic enough to know that eventually she had to marry, no matter how much she wished to rule on her own. Winterfell needed an heir and she could not allow 8,000 years of lineage to be broken only because she didn’t like the idea of matrimony
Then she thought of Sandor again. The door she had sensed narrowly opening into the soul of the man was now forever closed – or was it? She was still holding on to a slight glimmer of hope, refusing to let it go until faced with indisputable evidence. Tears came back to her but instead of heavy sobs like yesterday, this time they fell silently, forming rivulets down her cheeks, pooling to the folds of her ears and hair on their way to the pillow. Despite her earlier acceptance of her duty, she now felt it as a heavy weight pressing her down, deeper and deeper.
Later that day she had collected her thoughts and fallen back into her role as the efficient Lady Stark. She started to organise their ongoing journey with Jaime, aided by Lord Reed and his servants. They agreed to continue their trip the next day, by which time they expected the party sent to the bridge to be back with their news and hopefully their companion’s body.
They were given two horses, one for Sansa to ride and another to carry supplies to see them through the rest of the journey; bedrolls, blankets, cooking utensils and hunting gear. Kitchen maids collected food supplies to see them through as far as possible. They were also given new clothes, including a courtly dress for Sansa for the time when they reached Winterfell and she had to impress Stannis Baratheon. Luckily she still had her jewellery to complete the picture. As a stroke of quick thinking Sansa asked for, and to her relief was given, after some searching, a Stark banner bearing a direwolf. She rolled it up and packed it in her saddlebag to be used later. Jaime went to visit the smithy to make sure his weapons and their horses’ shoes were properly checked and looked after.
By early evening Sansa felt tired again and decided to go back to her chamber for a rest when she heard the commotion from the yard; shouts, horses, men. She got to her feet to see what was happening.