chapter title: when the cold winds blow

summary: The game has changed, not ended – but by the time they realise she's playing, it's too late to stop what she's set in motion. Or, How Sansa and Arya Save the North Despite Being on Different Continents.

The Tenderness of Wolves

She isn't sure, even now, if she is doing the right thing.

The morning comes, cold and harsh, with a pale dawn, and today they are taking Sweetrobin away. Away from her.

Fostering is good, she thinks. It's an old tradition, her father told her once, meant to forge good relations between the great Houses of Westeros. Her father himself was fostered here, she remembers, wandered these halls, grew up on this cold, lonely mountain.

Theon was fostered, too, though, and that ended with the deaths of her younger brothers and the ruin of her ancestral seat. And it hits her, then, that when she retakes Winterfell, what awaits her is nothing more than that – a ruin.

It doesn't matter, she tells herself, making sure that her expression betrays nothing of what she feels. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell and I am all that's left.

"I don't want to go, Sansa," Sweetrobin cries into her skirts. He's finally remembered to call her by her real name, and she bends, wraps her arms around him because he has already lost his mother and father, and she understands what it means to be alone.

"I know," she tells him quietly, stroking his hair with an ungloved hand. "I don't want you to go either, Sweetrobin, but I do want you to be safe. And you will be safe with Lord Royce, that I know. And one day, when the war is over, I will come back for you."

"No one ever comes back," he sobs, clutching tighter to her waist. She thanks the God's that this is happening in her solar and not in the yard, where all his Lords and Ladies will see. Rickon would have made a scene, too, she thinks – but he would have kicked and screamed instead of crying.

Bran would not have made a scene at all.

The thought of her younger brother's stabs at her, makes her clutch Sweetrobin closer for a moment.

"I will," Sansa promises, wondering if Robb said the same thing, once. "I will come back. Would you like to see Winterfell, sweetling? You can come and stay with me when it's safe and I'll show you everything…the glass gardens, the godswood and the heart tree…all of it. It's a beautiful place."

He nods just once. The Eyrie has not been kind to him, but she has – mayhaps that means he'll follow her anywhere. However difficult, she has made Robert Arryn love her.

"Come then. Wipe your tears away." She dries his face with a wisp of white silk and combs his hair. She herself braids her hair in the style of the North and wraps white fur around her shoulders. Last night she washed the last of the dye out – she has become, again, Sansa Stark.

They descend the steps together, greet Lord Royce, and say their goodbyes. And it is hard – much harder than she thought it would be – to watch her cousin's small figure ride away on horseback with men she hardly knows. It feels like losing Bran and Rickon all over again – like waving one last time at Robb before she rode out between Winterfell's gates, like watching Arya leave the table on that last morning before everything went wrong, and never seeing her again.

Oh Arya, are you dead too? She must be. The Lannister's must have killed her quietly – Joffrey hated her enough, after all.

"Lady Stark," she doesn't realise Mya is there until the older girl is cupping her elbow gently.

"I am doing this to save him," she says, not quite able to draw her eyes away from Sweetrobin's steadily retreating back.

"It is the right thing," Mya tells her what she already knows. "The Eyrie is no place for a sickly boy when preparing for war."

It is not difficult to see what would happen should she leave Sweetrobin here and one or more of the Houses turned on her. Sansa knows a great deal about the treatment of hostages. Lord Royce is her father's man, though, honours the bond of friendship between House Stark and House Arryn.

She can only hope it will be enough.

"Come, the Lords and Ladies are waiting for you."

Sansa shakes away any signs of doubt and straightens her shoulders, head raised proudly. "It would not do," she says, "to keep them waiting."

"The Lannister's are besieging Riverrun," Lord Nestor tells her. The fire crackles in the hearth and Sansa sips at her water. No wine.

"The Frey's have got Edmure Tully, Lady Arryn's brother. They threaten to hang him every day if the Blackfish does not yield."

"They say the Frey's are all disappearing though. The Brotherhood Without Banners –"

"Everyone involved in the Red Wedding –"

The Riverlands are in chaos, still, despite the annihilation of her brother's army. The stragglers still loyal to a dead King rebel and the Lannister army pushes back. The smallfolk are mostly gone, hiding or dead. The crops have burned.

All this, while the might of the Vale hid behind its towering walls.

"No," she says, speaking for the first time in hours. It's just a murmur, really, but somehow they all seem to hear. Ser Lothor, Lord Nestor, Myranda Royce – they all turn to look at her with curious eyes.

"No," Sansa repeats, setting her goblet down gently. "We can't let that happen. I will not sit back and watch the Riverlands burn like my Aunt did. We cannot let Riverrun fall."

Riverrun is her mother and a family she has never met – a family she can still save. Riverrun is the only throne her brother had ever known.

The Lannisters have taken everything from her, she thinks, calm and still and quietly, quietly angry. She will not let them take this, too.

By the time Bronze Yohn Royce returns, the Eyrie is preparing itself to march. Sansa watches the bustling of the courtyard below with careful eyes, ever watchful for someone she does not recognise, someone who does not belong.

Even here, there is no telling who might be spying for the Queen. Her solar is empty without Sweetrobin and in the silence she feels as alone as she ever did in Kings Landing, the little bird in a den of lions.

No one can know of the Vale's intentions – their strategy relies largely upon surprise; they will scatter the Lannister troops and liberate her mother's childhood home.

"I will not let you win," she tells the winter air, seeing her breath mist before her despite the fire roaring in the grate. The cold is in her bones and she is a child of the North, of Winterfell. She was a wolf, and they all forgot, even she forgot, in her gilded birdcage with the swords and the beatings and the heads mounted on the wall.

Arya wouldn't have forgotten, she thinks, and the thought of her missing sister is enough to make her chest throb with fear, with regret.

"Would you be proud of me, now?" she murmurs into the wind, as if it will carry her words to wherever Arya is, alive, or dead in a ditch somewhere, half buried in the mud. "Would you forgive me for trusting in lions?" She is not sure she will ever be able to forgive herself.

"Lady Sansa?" Myranda asks, slipping into the room quietly, a viper in the grass, or so Petyr would have her believe. If Littlefinger thinks Myranda Royce is dangerous, then she probably is, and that can only be useful.

"He tried to take my name away," she tells her, turning away from the window. "He dyed my hair and called me Alayne and thought that would be enough to make me forget."

"Oh, I imagine he thinks he has you right under his thumb," Myranda agrees, stepping forward to wrap a thick fur mantle around Sansa's shoulders to keep the chill away. "It's a very clever game he's playing – first Harrenhal, then the Vale…"

"Very clever," Sansa repeats, feeling ice in her fingertips, in her bones. "He is. Cleverer than the Queen by far." And much more terrifying.

There is silence for a long time and Sansa feels Myranda slip her hand into her own, squeezing gently. She could almost cry for the simple touch – she's been alone for so long. Friendless for so long. And now she has Myranda with her cleverness and daring, and Mya with her kind words and hands.

"He won't survive this war," Myranda promises. "Not after what he's done here."

She thinks again of her aunt's ramblings before Littlefinger shoved her out the Moon Door, hysterics about letters and tears and Lannister's. She remembers how the King asked her father to be Hand – why he asked him to be Hand.

She remembers her father on the steps of the Sept, and news of a wedding which filtered down from the Riverlands. She remembers Bran falling.

She remembers.

"I think," she says, quiet and trembling with suspicions she cannot yet prove. "I think he started it."

Myranda looks at her in surprise, hand tightening reflexively. "Started what, sweetling?"

"The war."

Outside, they gather steel and food and men and Sansa begins to pack up the household. Dresses are folded hastily into trunks, warm furs cleaned and wrapped up.

She wonders when Harry the Heir will come.

He is handsome, her almost-husband. Fair haired, but not golden blond like Joffrey – if he was, Sansa thinks she might have been sick. When she enters the room, he bows low like she once dreamed knights would.

"It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Stark," he murmurs, looking up at her with grey eyes that remind her, for a moment, of her father. It is only the colour though; Eddard Stark's eyes held none of the casual laughter that Harry's did.

"And you, Lord Harrdyng."

"I was told that I might wed the bastard daughter of Petyr Baelish," he begins. "But I fear a princess is a little out of my reach."

"Most men see my claim as a challenge, a prize to be won," she says, surprised. He only smiles sheepishly, crooked and not unkind. She thinks of the bastards he is rumoured to have sown.

"Alayne Stone might have stayed in the Vale with me, but Sansa Stark will not. Winterfell is a treasure, my lady, but I already have mine."

It clicks for her then, in the wistful turn of his mouth, the look in his eyes. "You love her."

"She is the mother of my children. My Aunt will not allow me to wed her though, lowborn as she is. I fear I would not have been a loyal husband to Alayne Stone."

The relief she feels is almost palpable, she is sure. All the air crashes out of her lungs, because she will not – she will not be made to kneel again, will not be forced into a union she has not chosen. Tyrion Lannister was not unkind to her, to be true, but he was still a Lannister and she could not love him.

Despite herself, she smiles at him wide and bright, because this man – this is the first time since she left Winterfell, since her father lost his head, that someone has seen her as something other than a puppet they can use. She is heir to the North, and Harry doesn't care at all.

"I fear also that Alayne Stone would not have been a good wife, my lord," Sansa admits.

The smile he returns to her is almost blinding – he is free, they are both free, and she thinks that if they were better acquainted, he would pick her up and spin her around the room for joy.

"Perhaps not," he replies, taking her hand and pressing a chaste kiss to her skin, the only one he will ever give her. She does not mind. "But I think that mayhaps I could be a good friend to Sansa Stark."

Trust no one, Petyr's voice whispers in her ear and Sansa's smile widens because she is not Littlefinger who lives for the game of thrones, and it is so long since she has known what it means to have friends to call her own. She pushes the voice aside and squeezes Harry's hand, just once, before allowing her arm to fall back to her side.

"I would like that," she says, and means it with her whole heart.

In the morning, they ride out for Riverrun with the rise of the pearly dawn. The cold wind runs its fingers through her hair as they ride, and Sansa's eyes are glued to the banners her men carry – that among all the bronze eagles of House Arryn, the grey direwolf running across a white field is the sigil that stands out the strongest. She imagines her brother on horseback riding into battle, his great host all bearing the sigil of House Stark as they fought for freedom, for justice – for her. He would have come for her no matter how long it took, this Sansa knows.

She only wishes she could have dashed to Robb's rescue the day of the Red Wedding, the way she is now racing to save what remains of his Kingdom.

notes: I just have a lot of Robb feelings. And RW feelings. And basically Stark siblings feelings.

notes2: I should definitely go back to uni tomorrow, but that's not going to happen. Bad Scarlett.

notes 3: whoops totally neglecting the Naruto fandom.

Don't forget to review mah bitches :)