It starts out in the same way, a look, a touch and suddenly you’re both rushing head first in to something and it’s like you’ve both forgotten how to stop before everything you’ve worked to build comes crashing down around you .
But you remember, and you pick yourself up off the stone floor and depart with a nod and a meaningful glance because the words don’t need saying.
He’s been lifting stones for nearly an entire day now. She watches the way the muscles of his bare back contract as he heaves one of the great rocks and places it down next to the others he’s worked on all day. He looks thinner than she remembers; his skin stretches a little tighter over his bones and whenever he glances up to look at the winter’s burning sun, she can see that his cheeks are hollow and his skin is paler than someone’s who has lived all their life in the South should be. She sometimes wonders how he spent the long years of war. Then she remembers that she isn’t supposed to care.
It was supposed to be a kindness, sparing him from a traitor’s death and sending him to live out the rest of his days working for the family he despised. A Lannister always pays his debts. The young Queen had mocked him, never letting him forget that it was he who had crippled her brother and that he came from the family who tried to take Westeros for their own, all others be damned. He’s hated by all of Winterfell, but he’s loyal to the Lannister words, unofficial as they may be, and so he copes.
In the evenings he is expected to dine alone, whether for his own safety or so that Lady Stark does not have to look at him, he doesn’t know. So he retires to his room, a tiny hovel with no glass in the windows so the cold winter air chills his summer blood, yet he is a soldier and has faced worse than ice.
Sometimes they’ll pass each other in the grounds; she’ll respond to his greeting because courtesy is her art but he can still see the frost in her gaze. Occasionally, they’ll have a conversation; they’ll discuss the progress of the castle, or make passing comments on how the first signs of spring are appearing. These are always brief; she’ll suddenly turn to leave as though she has remembered that she shouldn’t be speaking to the Kingslayer. Recently, he can’t help but notice how he now turns to watch her walk away, her Tully red air tangling itself up in the breeze.
Jaime finishes lifting the last of his stones for the day; he feels a sense of pride now that he can see the outline of the castle beginning to take shape. He’s been laying the base for a tower, the same tower he pushed the Stark boy from all those years ago. He wonders if it’s a sign from the Seven that he has not been forgiven, or if it’s just a cruel jest. As he puts the rock in to position he looks over to the arch of the Sept, the first building the workers completed. Sansa stands underneath it, sheltering herself from the wind. As she notices his gaze upon her she looks away suddenly, and even from where he stands, Jaime can tell that the pink flush in her cheeks isn’t from the cool air.
“My Lady,” he calls out to her, tilting his head slightly, watching her to see if he will get any reply. He’s rewarded with a stiff nod and a cold, “Ser Jaime.” He can already tell that this is not going to be a day where they talk for long, yet that does not prevent him from trying.
“I am no knight anymore, Lady Stark. Your Sister saw to that.” Before he would have seen being stripped of his title as a breach of his manhood, and would have felt the shame deep in his core. Yet, as he knelt before the iron throne in front of the Bull King and the She Wolf he felt as though his shackles had been lifted, released from his oaths and a freeman, under the rules his Lady sets him that is.
Sansa only nods in response yet stands her ground watching him closely. Jaime turns back to his work, surveying the day’s achievement. Not bad for a one handed cripple. It seems Lady Stark was thinking along the same lines.
“I…admire your perseverance.” She pauses before speaking, and winces as though the words are sour on her gentle tongue. He appreciates them none the less.
Before he can utter a thank you, she turns smoothly and retreats back in to the Sept. And once again, he finds himself watching the autumn leaves of her hair fan out behind her.
And while he eats alone in his room that night, Jaime replays her words. I…admire your perseverance. I…admire…
It wasn’t her forgiveness, but for now it is just as good.
She’s sitting in her Father’s chair when it arrives.
The woman would have scared her once, the rotting flesh and the smell of death would have made her cry and make her pray to the Seven that a brave, true knight would appear.
She doesn’t scare easily these days. She can’t bring herself to cry either. And she knows better than to wish for a true knight, they don’t exist.
It rasps, speaking in an unnatural voice that she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t need to.
"I rebuilt it." Sansa tells the corpse. "I wanted it back the way it was. Ser Jaime helped a little…" Her mother utters a guttural scream; her arms begin to flail wildly at the mention of the Kingslayer’s name.
"He helped me build Winterfell. He kept me safe. Jaime is nothing like his sister.” she says, almost tenderly. She can see the remains of her Mother’s face harden at the softness of her tone.
Catelyn offers another impossible response as she starts to walk closer to her daughter. She can see she’s changed, become more beautiful, she looks every inch the Southern beauty, but as she looks in to her eyes, the same blue she once had, there’s an iciness. Winter rolls off her: A true Stark.
Sansa rises and walks down the small steps that lead to the grand chair that seats the Lord, now the Lady of Winterfell to stand face to face with the woman who raised her.
"Can you die?" she asks, not unkindly, reaching out to touch what is left of her mother’s hair. She doesn’t flinch at the coarse feel like she might have done once before. "I mean…again…” Catelyn nods, watching the way her daughter’s eyes grow soft, then thoughtful and then sad. "Does it hurt, being like this?" Her mother nods again, making a slight noise, wishing she could explain the pain of being dragged back to life only to be a rotting corpse, to feel the pain of death again and again. Her daughter moves her hand to stroke her face, still betraying no hint of fear or revulsion at the peeling skin. Sansa calls to a girl who looks a lot like Jeyne Poole, Catelyn had never stopped to think about what would have come to her. As the girl approaches, she can see that this girl also has eyes that have seen more than they should have. Catelyn watches as the girl shies away slightly from Sansa’s touch, as if she fears the worst of everyone.
"Ice." Sansa tells her simply, watching sadly as she walks down another corridor. Before the wars it would have led to the cellar. Now? Catelyn could not say.
"Arya’s safe." Sansa utters the words Catelyn never thought she’d hear. "She’s with the King. She’s coping better than we thought. She came to visit while we were rebuilding, the first thing she did was ask us whether she could create a practise ground for dancing lessons." A brief smile flitted across Sansa’s lips. "Rickon’s safe too. He’s a knight now, across the narrow sea as one of the Dragon Queen’s guards." her brow furrowed. "He’s very wild. Bran’s with his new wife, he wouldn’t tell me where he was in his last letter, but he seems happy." Footsteps approach behind Catelyn, Jeyne Poole returning. "I thought you’d want to know that they’re all safe, and that they’re happy. We’re all happy now." Her eyes say that this is a lie; a deep rooted sorrow floats nearer to the surface as she reaches out behind Catelyn to receive something from Jeyne. "It’s wonderful to see you after so long," she strokes her face again, "I love you, Mother. Know that." She holds up a broad sword, the rippled pattern in the steel is familiar. It reminds Catelyn of days in the Godswood, where she would find Ned clutching his sword as though it were the only thing holding him to the earth.
“It was returned to me as a gift. King Gendry reforged it for me, he has a great talent.” Sansa raises her Father’s old sword towards the light, letting the candles dance over it. Sansa looks her Mother straight in the eyes, she doesn’t need to ask her, Catelyn knows straight away. She nods just once and rasps what could be a word of forgiveness? Acceptance? It could be a goodbye.
As the cool steel runs through her she doesn’t call out. As she sees her daughter before her crying, the daughter she thought she’d lost, she knows it is not going to be painful. Ice is in her and it is just like being with Ned again.
It doesn’t feel like a death. It feels like relief.