This is another one of those 'character development' chapters; thought I'd let you guys know, so as not to disappoint those awaiting something... less pure LOL!
As always, thank you so much for all your lovely praise on this fic! You don't know the level of elation I get to see/respond to all your wonderful comments!
Ramsay wasn't sure exactly when he'd let himself drift off as Sansa had slowly dressed herself, but somehow the feeling of her eyes upon him now didn't make him feel afraid as much as they gave him a sense of security. He'd allowed himself to trust Sansa and know that she would always be true to her word. Ramsay had known this fact before; it was one of the reasons his smile had faltered at the parlay when she'd told him he would die the next day.
The clarity that she had killed that man as promised came days later, but when it had finally settled in Ramsay's mind to be truth, it had been a revelation that as rumor had always said, a Stark truly does always keep their word even if not in the way Ramsay might have assumed. Ramsay's own mind had had trouble comprehending the righteousness and candor that Sansa represented, and up until this point, he'd still found himself doubting. Ramsay didn't doubt her anymore; he couldn't in the face of what she had shown him, strength of will coupled with compassion.
He surely didn't deserve her benevolence, Ramsay had thought quite perplexed when she'd shown him mercy and comfort in the wake of everything he had done to her. This too was an alien emotion, regret and guilt, but Ramsay felt both now acutely. In those moments where he had been sure that Sansa would sate her hunger while he'd wilted under the pressure of facing the punishment he'd so willingly placed on others, Ramsay couldn't help but to see himself as a reflection of this moment so many times over.
All those women, their eyes had been terrified, fear stricken as they'd bleated for a reprieve, and it had felt like a victory to him to take them as a well won prize. He'd given them a chance to get away after all, and it was but a sport. Their feelings never mattered, their pain only scratched some far off itch within himself to take from them, and to be the one taking from them poured something else into him. Like liquid fire in his veins, he felt a rush of adrenaline and power, but he was feeding a hole that could never be filled. As Sansa pressed against him, and he felt helpless, Ramsay realized what it was to be truly at the mercy of another, and to know what it was now made him hate himself with a bitter loathing.
Ramsay's eyes shot open at the sound of water filling into the tub from across the way. The tub had been drained after its first use, and the memory of what had preceded his first bath, here in this place, shot a shock of cold to run down Ramsay's spine followed by a wash of humiliation at the memories held there.
He'd been so thoroughly used for hours on end, and even now those recollections haunted his waking thoughts. Ramsay still felt the ferocity of how he'd been taken throughout the night proceeded by the derisive comments and the looks of disapproval and disgust from more than half of the angry men.
Two of the men had been of his own regiment; he'd remembered seeing them march into battle with his sigil of the flayed man raised valiantly on their shields. That was the last he'd seen of them as the knights of the Vale had ridden in to demolish his standing army like a powerful wave sweeping through them in devastating numbers.
Ramsay hadn't stuck around to see if any of his soldiers had survived the bout, nor had he'd cared; they were after all quite expendable. Or so Ramsay had thought then; those men surely didn't think so, and they had made sure he knew their feelings of him thinking them to be so disposable. His own men had been some of the most vicious to take him that night. There had been no sexual desire there only contempt and a wish to see him brought low, and they'd worked extra hard to accomplish that goal in their brutality and vulgar commentary.
They had of course, all of those men pouring their hate and avarice upon Ramsay, spilling their seed in him and across him; it had demoralized him in a way that Ramsay had never thought possible, pounding (quite literally) his old self away and leaving a tattered remains. He had been stripped of his arrogance and pride so thoroughly that he'd become a shell of the man he'd once been; Ramsay now knew full well his place in the world and wanted nothing more than to never be reminded again so thoroughly. Sansa had broken his will into a million pieces, and what she'd taken from him, Ramsay could never take back.
The residual fears these thoughts instilled left Ramsay in a numb silence as he lay eyes wide open and listening to the servant whom over the next twenty minutes quietly moved in and out of the dungeon to dump pail after pail of hot water into the tub. He correlated the sound to the last hour of his suffering in the burgeoning hours of dawn. Ramsay had all but left his body at that point dully feeling the continued pain of his rape by the remaining two men that had once been his own men. They had managed to take the most affront to his battle tactics having lost most of their friends and able bodied kin to have fought for him. He shuttered as his emotions coalesced with the retentions of the events that still reminded him what failure to please Sansa could bring.
Ramsay heard her familiar gait and the swish of trailing fabric move across the stone floor far before he saw her, and his throat tightened mouth running dry. He honestly didn't know what to expect from Sansa after their last encounter. She'd kissed him, it was soft and gentle leaving Ramsay thrown by the action. He'd been astounded further when she'd leaned in to do it a second time lingering a moment and retracting away from him with a smile. This smile was the first he'd seen from her that hadn't reflected a hint of cruelty to what she could or would do that he was yet to discover. In fact, her smile was an unfamiliar one to him altogether that reflected fondness, and a want to assuage the inner pain he'd so haplessly let stream from himself like a breaking damn.
Ramsay didn't cry anymore (until now that was.) It had been many years since he'd been moved enough to cry, and that was a bitter pill after the elation of finding out who his father was and meeting the man only to realize that the man was far from impressed with Ramsay. Roose Bolton had been sure to remind Ramsay his place as a Snow meant that he wasn't a true Bolton, but now that he'd been brought to the light that he'd be allowed to stay with his smelly servant in one of the dilapidated wings of the castle. Ramsay was told not to show his face to any of his visitors until he'd been trained well enough to be civil. He hadn't said this unkindly, but Roose was always rather indifferent concerning the boy. He did have a rightful heir already, but now that Ramsay's existence was made known, word that Roose had a bastard son was already circulating, so he'd make sure the boy was educated enough not to embarrass him further.
The world had been more callous to a nameless bastard of a raped miller's widow though. In his early life, Ramsay had sought comfort from his own mother, but his attempts to seek refuge was met with despondency and neglect. His mother suffered because of him he knew, she spoke of her loss quite often, the happiness that was ripped from her with his conception and the death of her only love. He learned it was better to find other things to do with his time and to leave his mother alone. It was best not to bother her lest she retreat completely and not acknowledge him at all.
Ramsay remembered clearly the event that had changed his life; one of the barnyard's feral cats had been maimed by some wild animal, and Ramsay had taken it to her. The animal had been mostly unconscious when Ramsay had set it at the foot of her rocking chair. She hadn't taken notice of him or it from her knitting, but as the rocking chair came down to crush the subdued creature's tail, in its terror it lashed out to scratch and bite her. She'd screamed a surprising shrill that rang through the house as she'd jumped to her feet crochet needles haphazardly thrown across the room.
It was the most reaction he'd ever seen from her as she wrenched the animal from the floor angrily and tossed its yowling form out the door. She'd locked him in his room for two days for that. No matter how Ramsay pleaded to be released, he'd heard nothing; the house was barren and listless. He'd thought she'd left for good this time. Sometimes she needed to get away from everything, and during those times, Ramsay could expect to spend most of the day in his room. He'd stopped calling out to her by the age of three knowing that to cry for her would not evoke a response but seemed to keep her at bay longer. It was better to just wait until mother felt better.
When she had finally set him free, she'd had brought him a new friend. His new friend smelled funny, but he also listened to Ramsay. He told Ramsay that he would serve him and that he would do anything for his new master. Ramsay had told him of the cat incident, and they found it still under the foundation of the house too weak to have gone very far in its last throws of life. His new friend had made the cat pay for hurting his mother and making her angry with him! By the time the creature had expired, his new friend had taught it well that to hurt Ramsay meant it would suffer dearly. Ramsay had liked his new friend, he didn't need mother now because Reek would be there to help do what needed to be done, and he would help Ramsay make them hurt.
In this way, Ramsay knew companionship, Reek would never leave his side! It was a far contrast to mother, and Reek always had interesting things to teach him. The games they would play made the other children afraid of them, but Ramsay didn't need any of them Reek had told him. He was to be a great man that all would respect because a little bird had told Reek that Ramsay was special. Ramsay had believed him, and Reek, although simple, was deathly loyal not unlike a hound that would lie at his feet. He'd told Ramsay that's where he belonged, and Ramsay had liked this game to.
Sansa was standing over him now, and for a moment Ramsay's eyes seemed vacant as he reminisced on a long ago memory of his personal understanding of attachment. He was back with Sansa in an instant staring up at her with curious blue eyes that regarded her with a sense of wariness even now. Ramsay couldn't help the inner cringe that swept through him at the thought of displeasing her.
Like Reek, Ramsay would give her his full attention because even though she had been kind when they last saw each other, he didn't know if that kindness would be stripped away in an instant if he did not afford her the deference she deserved. After all, his first Reek had demanded pain for any slight, and he'd shown Ramsay that Ramsay had to be the one to deliver this pain to his undeserving servant. It was an important part of making him respect his master he had told Ramsay. Ramsay didn't want Sansa to ever feel slighted again as he knew well her ire and wanted no part of it. She too knew how to teach respect far greater than he'd ever imagined she could.
She looked down for a long moment inwardly contemplating the myriad of expressions that passed over Ramsay's face as she announced, "Guards, undo his chains."
The two men that had accompanied her were quick to move into action as they tossed the fur blanket from him with a sudden jerk, and Ramsay froze stiffening as they moved to fulfill Sansa's command. Once the manacles were removed, Ramsay remained lying still and watching her raptly awaiting direction.
Sansa took this in as well, "Come Ramsay; I wish to bathe you now." She didn't order the guards to bring him to the tub as she moved away from Ramsay over to the steaming waters.
Ramsay's eyes jolted to each guard that gave him grave glares that spoke of pain if he tried to do anything stupid; he hadn't intended to do anything to upset Sansa, but the threat was well noted as he found himself rolling up and off of the bed to quickly pad over to her. His head remained bowed all the while, and his shoulders drew up slightly with apprehension as he approached her.
Ramsay was already half a head shorter than Sansa, but he'd always stood so boldly she'd hardly noticed the height difference. Seeing Ramsay now, reduced into this vulnerable state, made him seem that much smaller to her now. With the weakness he projected, Sansa couldn't help feeling another pang of covetous towards him in a want to protect this new fragility Ramsay encompassed.
Ramsay's eyes flitted up to her questioningly, and Sansa nodded towards the tub, "Go on; get in."
As Ramsay moved to comply, the serving girl that had filled the tub, furnished the grooming supplies Sansa had asked for situating them on the small table that had been left by his bed before moving and placing both at the head of the tub. A short stool was provided for Sansa to sit on; once Ramsay had moved into the tub and sat, Sansa also seated herself as she casually worked to undo the buttons on her sleeves and carefully roll them up so she could reach into the waters easily. Sansa had decided that she'd wanted to perform this given task personally.
Her hair had already been neatly woven into an artistic display of braids pinned on top of her head so as not to have her long tresses dragging through the water. Sansa had intended all along to wash him herself (which had surprised Ramsay having assumed she'd have made a servant or himself do it when she'd mentioned the bath before leaving him earlier.)The fact she was going to do it herself made Ramsay feel slightly awkward for some unknown reason.
He'd been bathed by servants in the past, most of them were stiff and quite afraid of what to expect from him if they performed poorly. Word had gotten around after a couple serving girls had disappeared mysteriously, and it was made quickly known to never displease the bastard of Bolton. He'd enjoyed making the young women reach down to wash him and seeing them bashfully comply. None of them ever expressed an undo want to bathe him (outside of Miranda, and when she came to bathe him, the two had never made it very far before other things ensued that were far more pleasurable than bathing.)
Ramsay watched Sansa under his bangs now, his eyes reflecting interest in her every move where he otherwise fought to keep his face remaining neutral. His lips still pursed absently as he watched her meticulously prepare herself to bathe him. Once ready, Sansa stretched to grab the bar of soap and the washcloth from the table plunging the washcloth into the waters and lathering it well before setting the soap back onto the tray.
She glanced Ramsay's way taking his form in once more; he was scrunched practically into a ball within the waters and very much exuding anxiety by the tenseness he held himself with over what her intentions may be. Sansa supposed that she couldn't blame his expectations for her to hurt him after everything she'd done to him so far, but it still served to bother her that she was now trying to show Ramsay that she wouldn't be heavy handed with him unless he'd given her reason. Obedience would be rewarded she wished to relay to him now because she wanted to be kind to him even if she still wanted him for other purposes.
Sansa drew the cloth across his back, and unlike the first experience he'd had with her where she'd scrubbed him raw with a floor scrub brush, this time she moved languidly with a light pressure that fulfilled the purpose she intended of cleaning him, but also with a tenderness that exuded care. Ramsay could feel she was taking her time with him. Her fingers moved across his skin with the cloth in tow fluidly shifting over his tense muscles with light squeezes meant to help him relax under her ministrations. Ramsay reflexively braced himself at first when she did this, and Sansa leaned in close to his ear in an intimate fashion saying softly, "I'm not going to hurt you now, Ramsay. This is one of the ways that I will take care of you."
His skin rippled under the sensation of her continued tenderness as Sansa drew the washcloth into the depths of the water to drag the hot water soothingly now over his shoulders and back. The movement was simple enough of course, but the touch held an intimacy that Ramsay could feel working at his damaged mind that desperately worked to comprehend the emotions Sansa was awakening in him.
His eyes shifted back and forth as a tremble moved through him; her words sang to his soul, and Ramsay's lip quivered; he wanted to feel her care for him like she was now so badly he ached for it. It wasn't an emotion he'd ever shared with another person; no one cared for Ramsay Bolton. He took what he wanted from others because that was as close as he ever got to sharing anything with another person, other than their pain. So many alien emotions were spinning him into a sea of confusion and anxiety; he felt like he had no footing to settle the shaky grounds he now walked with her.
She was touching his chin now gently lifting it to have him look at her. Ramsay drew his eyes up to meet hers, and Sansa's face shifted into a warm smile beaming a radiance that filled him with longing as she gently patted his jaw and cheekbone quite careful of the small cuts that were still mending, "You're face is healing well I see. Good, I would like to see you whole in this way," Sansa remarked absently as she slid the washcloth in small swipes across the bridge of his nose and forehead admiring physical aspects of the man she hadn't cared to notice before.
She was so mindful of every wound and contour, and as Ramsay stared at Sansa now, her eyes reflected something so much different than anything she'd ever bestowed to him; he could feel that she was not doing this out of some sense of duty to clean him. There was something more, it gave him a surge of warmth to feel it boring into him and to know that she truly wanted this to feel good for him. Ramsay worked now not to cry, but the tears found their way to loose themselves from his eyes in a single silent trek down the front of his face as he couldn't keep from thinking about the way she showered such attentions on him not because she was being made to but because she chose to. She was being so kind to him now without him feeling any fear of reprisal for her doing so; this confounded Ramsay greatly. He didn't understand what he'd done for her to give him attention in this way.
Sansa saw the tears glaze Ramsay's eyes and spill from them as he'd stared at her with that same haunted stare he'd affixed her with earlier (those impassioned eyes were beginning to take a powerful hold over Sansa through their sheer intensity of unfettered yearning projected solely at her); he'd quickly averted his eyes downward, and she felt a gentle tug from his chin to hide his face, but she held him firm, "Ramsay… what's the matter? I've not hurt you have I?" Sansa had assumed what she was doing for him would have given him a little pleasure. To see him cry now perplexed her.
"No, no! I… I'm sorry my lady. I… I don't know what has come over me," his voice shook as it moved past his tight throat. He felt himself unraveling in front of her, and Ramsay was helpless to the tide he was swept within drowning under the weight of his own feelings.
Sansa frowned trying to understand what pulled so grievously at Ramsay that to show him compassion would be such a shock to his system that it would make him cry; it saddened her to see that he was so wholly unused to a gentle touch that it served to break him further. Another action that she'd never expected to bring about such a response in him, "It's okay, Ramsay. Do not apologize for this." She pulled on his chin to get him to look back up at her once more just so he would see the seriousness in her leveled stare, "Never this. The soul needs to feel cleansed, and I will never be angry with you for baring yourself in such a way to me. Do you understand?"
Ramsay gave a small affirmative nod making her arm shake as he gulped back another wave of tears that threatened to spill by her kind words to him and what they meant regarding him. Here she was continuing to grant him such mercies even now as he couldn't help but to show her how weak he truly was. He imagined the disgust in his father's face then, and shamed, he blushed furiously.
Sansa gave him a small smile as she let go of the hold she had on his chin to caress the side of his face in a comforting gesture as she spoke, "I want your honesty; if you can give it. I would like to understand what's upsetting you now."
Ramsay's mouth worked to put into words his feelings all the while his eyes flitted up to her while his limbs moved about in the waters, "I'm not worthy of the attentions you give me lady, Sansa. I would have never appreciated them before," he sucked in air staring hard at the waters below as a wave of guilt flashed through him. It was true, he never saw Sansa as more than a trophy before… all of this. His current state granted him a clarity to see his old self in an all new light. He would have never been grateful before, and it was just a further reminder that the man he was prior to this new person he was becoming was but a grisly phantom haunting him now.
"Before? You do now?" Sansa questioned curiously, and Ramsay's eyes immediately moved to meet hers as he shook his head eagerly, "Yes, I do. I really do."
Sansa grinned cheekily, "Good. I'm beginning to like you now then," it was meant as a joke, and the lightheartedness eclipsed a burgeoning smile to crop on Ramsay's face to know he was making her happy with him. Ramsay enjoyed the light in her eyes when she smiled at him as it lifted something in him as well.
She ran a wet hand through his dry hair mussing it as he closed his eyes tilting his head down shyly. The gesture was cute enough to Sansa to make her giggle at him which seemed to only make Ramsay blush further. Sansa placed the washcloth on the side of the tub grabbing the small pitcher from the table to scoop from the waters and begin dousing his head. She replaced the pitcher, and grabbed a concoction of ash, vine stalks, and egg whites that had been mixed as a cleanser for his hair, and Sansa gently tilted his chin to have Ramsay look to the ceiling as she worked the mixture into his wet strands.
The feeling of her fingertips scrubbing gently at his skull and lathering his hair left Ramsay to let go of a contented sigh. Washing ones hair was a privilege that even nobles did seldom, so to be treated to this was quite an honor for her to grant him. He let himself get lost to her touch as his breathing slowed into a serene lull that was close to the deep breaths of sleep. Once he'd been lathered well, Sansa stood to grab the pitcher of clean water left to the side of the tub to rinse Ramsay's hair. She poured slowly working carefully to remove the mixture she'd applied with the limited amount of fresh water the pitcher held. His hair was shaggy and thick, but it was short, so she was able to clear the concoction well enough to have a little left to which she playfully tipped onto his face when she'd finished.
Ramsay's eyes fluttered, long wet lashes glistening in surprise as he sputtered from the action to look up at her. Realizing she was only teasing him, he couldn't help a small smile to crack on his lips, "Thank you, my lady. That was… very nice of you to bestow upon me."
Sansa smirked, "I want you to always look presentable for me, and I'll take pains to make sure the look of you pleases me."
Ramsay's mouth twitched thinking on her words with a mix of embarrassment to have her refer to him in such a way and also pleasure that she wanted him at all and was willing to invest such care in him to please herself, "Whatever you desire, I will do as you wish," his eyes spoke devotion as they held her in their sights.
Looking at him now, Sansa could tell that Ramsay needed her, needed her care more than her anger. It was an odd thing to wrap her mind around to see how much his every gesture and movement seemed attuned to follow her seeking attention and validation.
He wanted to please her so very much now if only so that she would grace him with this side of her, a much more maternal side that was still foreign to Ramsay but a side he found to tug within him a whirlpool of unsatisfied emotions that he'd blocked from his subconscious a lifetime ago. She was giving him cause to feel, and as much as he didn't understand these feeling plaguing him, Ramsay felt that Sansa was now his salvation.
Sansa took the cloth back up and re-lathered it, "I want you to scoot back to lay your head against the back of the tub, so I can wash the rest of you."
Ramsay did as he was told watching as Sansa quietly went about the continued task of washing him thoroughly. He half expected her to grope him as she'd done before, but she did not, not this time. This time she remained neutrally careful no matter the area she'd touched while still remaining temperate with the touches she afforded Ramsay.
Sansa did linger on his entrance stroking it lightly, and Ramsay found himself tensing and holding onto the sides of the tub with white knuckles, although he didn't pull away from her. Ramsay's brow did furrow in his worry, and seeing his expression, Sansa stated gently, "I'm just checking on your condition. After your bath, I'll go gather and apply an herbal medicine that should help with the swelling."
Ramsay grimaced finding himself unable to comment as he looked away. He wanted to feel better, but the thought of such an application by her was another strike to his already tenuously held by a thread ego.
Sansa withdrew her hand from the tub, and Ramsay continued to stare up at her, "You may lay here and soak or dry yourself and return to your bed. I will return shortly."
Ramsay blinked sitting up again as he watched her go. He could have risen from the tub, but out of the two options that Sansa gave him, going back to lay on his bed was the less appealing of the two. Ramsay remained in the same spot crossing his arms around his knees and propping his chin between them as his thoughts drifted to Sansa's most recent handling of him and how it contrasted from her previous fondling. These new touches were much nicer, and the fact that she gave this side of herself to him at all was still a mystery to Ramsay. She kept astounding him on every level leaving Ramsay wholly intrigued by her in an almost worshipful manner.