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Only One

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Sansa had a lot of time to think, while her brother and the queen of dragons made their way to and from King’s Landing. She never slept a night through, her rest always broken by nightmares that left her unwilling to sleep again until exhaustion claimed her just before the sun rose.

She kept Winterfell running as though she were born to do it, which after all, she had been. They were prepared for Winter beyond what should have been possible, though it would likely still not be enough.

Before he even became King in the North Jon had promised that Sansa would never again be forced to marry. Sansa had long since become accustomed to ruling as Lady of Winterfell, needing no man making decisions alongside her, overseeing the day to day needs of the people and the town while Jon focused on larger concerns like the threat from beyond the Wall.

But now Jon was a Targaryen. And he had bent the knee.

Daenerys was a hard ruler. Not without empathy, but Sansa had no doubt the queen would bargain her away for strategic alliance or political stability, should the realm have need. Jon would be overruled, and Sansa would find herself again a gamepiece strategically placed in a stranger’s bed, a sacrifice for the greater good.

But there must always be a Stark in the North. Bran would not have children, and Arya seemed unlikely to do so. Jon’s children would be Dragons. The fate of the Stark name seemed to lie with Sansa.

As the ravens announced each step bringing the returning party closer to Winterfell, Sansa formed a plan. No one could marry off a married woman. She would take a husband of her own choosing before one was forced upon her.

And only one man would do.


He saw her, standing with the little wolf above the gates, watching their weary return. But for the flaming banner of hair snapping in the wind he’d not have recognized her, this woman of steel wrapped in furs and harshness. Her gaze pinned him briefly, before they passed underneath and out of sight.

His mouth went dry at the thought of facing her again, different as they both were, fucked as their last parting had been. Him blind drunk over her meek terror, both of them beneath a sky blazing emerald with wildfire.

Fortunately, the Lady of the keep had little reason to speak with any of the weathered travelers dragging themselves to a meal and a bed.

Or so he thought, pushing away from the dregs of his dinner with a mind toward finding his own place to sleep.

“Clegane,” a voice cut through his thoughts like the wind, quiet dignity over steel.

She came around from behind him, much less elaborately dressed than she had ever been as an almost-princess in the Red Keep but infinitely more regal. Dark velvet and trailing furs wrapped her near in shadow, but for the auburn hair loose around her shoulders, echoing the torches along the walls.

Sansa steeled herself against the weakness in her knees as he unfolded to his full height, unnerved to be so close to him again, both of them half-strangers with an intimate past. His thunderous frown almost overruled her resolve.

“Would you walk with me?” She bit her tongue on the Ser that wanted to follow, knowing how he felt about her “Sers” and “my lords” and wanting just for once to start a conversation with him without raising his hackles.

He paused, uncomfortable in an unfamiliar place, looking around to see who watched them. “Is that seemly, Lady Stark?” No longer a “little bird,” not here, not to him.

She laughed, but the sound had a brittle edge, aimed at which of them he could not tell. “I decide what is seemly here, Clegane.”

Her addressing him thus was odd to his ears, but he wouldn’t ask her to call him “Hound”, and “Sandor” was too familiar.

He made no further comment, but gestured for her to lead them where she would.

He flinched in surprise when she took his arm, but did not pull away.

She had walked with him so many times, but never in these halls, never like this. Never when she was not always afraid. Never when he was not trying to intimidate her out of her idealism. In boiled leather and furs his gait was as silent as hers, and she missed the familiar clink of full plate armor rallied to protect her. She hadn’t realized how comforting she found that sound, but only when she was with him.

She led him out to the godswood, well away from prying eyes and ears, for her own pride as much as anything else, should he refuse.

In a curve of trees, sheltered from the worst of the wind, she faced him straight on, deciding that a direct and truthful approach suited them both, they two who had had their fill of court intrigue and pretty falseness.

What came out instead was, “Did you mean it?”

“What?” he barked in surprise, the sound more harsh than he intended against the hush of snow around them.

She ducked her head, but instantly raised it to meet his eyes again, Tully blue overlaid with iron.

“That night. You said you would take me away, and kill anyone who would hurt me.”

He felt like an insect pinned under her gaze, unable to turn away or even blink, despite the intensity of his instant shame at the memory. “Wasn’t in my right mind,” he ground out. “I should never’ve--”

She made gesture of impatience, cutting him off. “But did you mean it ?”

He exhaled slowly, laid bare before her, with only the truth to give. “Yes, little bird.”

She closed her eyes, not before he saw tears gather there. But none fell, and her voice was steady when she said, “I should have gone with you.”

She looked away across the sea of trees around them, and continued, “men did hurt me, worse than Joffrey could dream.” Her voice was as placid as though discussing the weather. “I could never forget I’d had a different choice.”

The smile that came after hurt him to see on her face, cold and triumphant. “You won’t need to kill anyone, though. It’s been seen to.”

The girl in King’s Landing, the one he’d protected and despised -- despised because she was the mirror of a boy who’d believed in Knights until one set him on fire -- she was as gone as if she’d never been, iced over and forged like steel into the woman before him, a total stranger with the face of someone he used to know.

But then she twisted a lock of hair around her finger, instantly young and uncertain again, the little bird he’d never let himself forget. “I want to ask you something.” She paused. “A favor.”

“What could the Lady of Winterfell possibly want from me?” There was almost no bite in his tone, just honest bafflement.

“I would ask you to marry me.” It was a neutral request with a hopeful lilt at the end.

He was dumbstruck. He finally managed, “You can’t be serious,” and suddenly angry, he added, “Don’t fuck with me, girl, I’m too tired for this.”

He tried to turn away, but she grabbed his hand. “Listen,” she implored, implacable rock against the storm of his fury. “I have never been more serious.”

He didn’t respond, but he didn’t leave, so she took that as a sign to continue. “After... Ramsay , Jon promised I would never have to marry again.”

She swallowed. “But Jon has bent the knee, and no longer has the authority to uphold that promise.”

She held his gaze even though it hurt her, the pain and rage in it. “If I am to marry again, it will only be to a man I trust, who will never hurt me.”

His rebuttal was automatic. “Surely there is someone else--”

Sansa was resolute. “The only man outside my blood who ever defended me, protected me, saved me from disaster, and told me the truth though it was ugly to my ears and I resented him for it.”

“You can’t honestly want to be married to this ,” he said, gesturing angrily at his scars.

She didn’t flinch from his anger. “My father never wanted for me a beautiful man, but one who was brave, gentle, and strong. I’ve met too many men far uglier than your mere scars.”

More softly, she continued, “If we marry, you’ll see you're not the only one with scars.”

His stubbornness wouldn’t give in, though he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. “I’m not of rank enough for you. A minor House sworn to an enemy, besides.”

She had a will to match. “I’m not marrying any man’s House, or rank, or holdings. And I’ll not have anyone who wants me for mine.”

He would not be a husband only in name. “I’ve pride enough not to spend my life as your guard dog, Lady. You’ve got a sworn shield for that.”

She wanted all of him, and for him to know it. “I’m offering a true marriage. I only ask that any children bear the name Stark.”

He laughed at that. “The world won’t miss more of the name Clegane, for sure.”

A long moment of silence stretched between them, before she finally asked, “Will you refuse me?”

His answer was a long time in coming. “No, little bird,” he said, head bowed over the hand she still held. “I could never.”

Chapter Text

Planning and strategy had never belonged to summer Sansa, but it was Winter, now. As the late Littlefinger should have realized: I may be a slow learner, but I do learn .

The next step was getting Brienne on board. She needed witnesses loyal to her above all others, and no one would worry overmuch about Sansa’s brief absence with her sworn sword along.

On the eve of a coming storm, she asked Brienne to walk with her to the godswood, to stretch their legs before the leisurely flurries became a driving snow forcing everyone indoors for the night.

Brienne fidgeted at the slow pace, awkwardly shortening her stride to match her lady’s. The warrior would clearly have preferred spending her last few storm-free hours in the practice yard, but was devoted to her duty nonetheless, sharp eyes continually scanning silent trees for lurking danger. Flakes of white dusted her hair, shoulders, and eyelashes, softening a face careworn by hardship and hard rations, until it was almost lovely.

“Brienne.” Sansa had a theory.

Brienne’s gaze flickered to Sansa’s, a striking blue deep as lazuli. The same veins of gold ran through both. A kinder soul had never looked out of such eyes at Sansa, and she hoped not to be cruel to someone she held dear.

The Lady of Winterfell took a breath, and asked, “Have you ever loved a man, Brienne, because you knew a side of him he showed no one else?”

It was a question, and not a question. Sansa had known Brienne a long time, and her sworn sword’s devotion to Renly ran deep, so deep it cut through the core of her, though the poor man was long dead. The youngest Baratheon must have been kind to a woman who knew little kindness from men, and in general he had not been known for such.

Brienne sucked in a breath, shocked. “My Lady,” she answered, uncertainty. “I--”

The rising blush and alarm in Brienne’s pale face suddenly brought to mind another friend of the lady knight who might fit such criteria. An oathbreaker and Kingslayer, somehow highly respected by the honorable Brienne.

Sansa spoke quickly to spare her friend the choice of dishonor by lying, or confronting a truth she was clearly avoiding. “Forgive me, I don’t mean to pry. You don’t need to answer, it’s just that I feel you might understand my situation.”

Brienne looked away, gathering composure around herself like a cloak. “I’m listening. Please go on.”

Sansa spoke her heart. “I want a man truly known by almost no one. If I declared my intentions openly, no one would approve .” she spat, a little bitterly. “Even you,” she added, without malice.

Sansa’s fists clenched until she felt the seams of her finely stitched gloves biting into her skin. “Yet somehow my marriage to Ramsay met with approval , and I’ll be damned if I let myself be bound again to anyone but whom I choose.”

Brienne looked a bit stunned by the naked violence in her lady’s voice. “Surely Jon--”

“Surely Jon will have no choice but to obey his Queen’s wishes.” Sansa's eyes, and her tone, were ice. The fury of winter.

Brienne could not argue with that, and did not try.

Sansa grabbed Brienne’s gauntleted hand in her own, though the near-frozen metal burned to touch. “You don’t understand,” she pleaded, almost frantic. “I don’t know if I can.. be with anyone, anymore, as a wife should be with a husband. I don’t know!”

Brienne’s face was anguished, still clearly guilt-stricken over her perceived failure to rescue Sansa sooner. For once Sansa did not reassure her.

Sansa took a calming breath. “But I trust this man. I know he will never, never hurt me, and I want to be with him, that way. Or at least, I want to want that. And I know he will wait however long I need.”

“Who is this man, for whom you have such high regard?” asked Brienne, honestly at a loss.

Sansa pinned all her hopes on a breath, and exhaled: “Sandor.”

“Sandor Clegane! ” Brienne could say nothing else for a long moment, thoughts all tangling together and tripping on the way out of her mouth.

Finally, she plucked one from the mess, though possibly not the most relevant. “You do know that I almost killed him?”

“Yes. It pained me to hear you’d injured each other, but I’m glad Arya had two defenders to fight for her.”

Brienne felt reluctantly compelled to argue with her mistress in the interest of truth. “He seems the exact opposite of what you say. The Saltpans--”

“That wasn’t him. As you’d know better than most, he was gravely wounded. By then he was recovering on the Quiet Isle.”

Brienne wanted to believe, for Sansa’s sake, but… “I’ve never known him to say a kind word, or any kind words said about him.”

Sansa looked out at the last of the disappearing sun, wordlessly agreeing with Brienne’s gesture to turn back, retracing their steps home. “He was the closest thing I had to a friend in King’s Landing. One who told harsh truths, but saved my life more than once.”

Sansa swallowed, and continued, “No one else knows this. He offered to save me, to take me away the night of the Blackwater, but I was too much a coward to go. If I had...”

If I had, neither Littlefinger nor Ramsay would have been able to hurt me. But neither would the Lords of the Vale have come to restore Winterfell. No use moaning about what’s done, Sandor would say.

Sansa changed tactics. “You’ve sworn to protect me from harm. Surely you can see that any possibility other than this one will lead to my harm.”

Brienne knew she was being outmaneuvered, but she had no solid counter-argument, and no real desire to stand against what her lady so clearly wanted.

“As you will, my lady.” The lady knight wasn’t going to entirely roll over and show her belly. “But know that should he ever harm you, the next time I will kill him.”

Sansa badly hid a smile. “You and Arya both, I’m certain.”


She stole into his room like a whisper, such that he turned around and nearly jumped out of his smallclothes at the sight of her.

“Seven hells, little bird!” He swore. “The fuck are you doing here?”

Behind her the paneled wall was cracked open, revealing a passage likely known only to the little feet of infuriating creatures raised within its walls. The hem of her dressing gown danced in the draft.

“So this is why you insisted I have a room of my own, instead of bunking with the rest.”

The smile of a devil shone from the face of an angel, gilded by the single candle in her hand. “I wasn’t lying about our gratitude for the way you looked after Arya. It’s certainly not what Jon had in mind when he agreed to it.”

“I’m sure it fucking wasn’t.” The flickering golden light turned auburn hair to living flame, and he retreated to the piles of blankets and furs on the bed to give himself room to breathe.

She waved a hand. “I’m no blushing virgin, with virtue in need of guarding ,” she almost snarled. “For all the men who claimed to protect it, it was freely bargained to a monster, and not by me.”

She stalked over to sit at the foot of his bed, unafraid, utterly unconcerned by the skin revealed by the action, unaware of the blow it dealt him. “I’ll damn well live only by my rules of propriety, now.”

She lapsed into silence and seemed to falter when he made no move to speak.

Finally, he asked, “Why are you here tonight, little bird?”

That brought her back to herself. “I came to tell you that everything is ready. We can be married whenever we want.”

“You’re still on about that?” He asked, still not entirely believing it.

“Of course I am,” she said, somewhat sharply. “I’d have us leave tomorrow.” She wanted to reach for his hand, but both fists were pulled close to his body, an ocean of furs between them.

His voice was emotionless, because allowing any would give all of himself away. “You want me as a shield, between you and the one thing that lady knight can’t save you from.”

She flinched, because it was both true and not true all at once.

She crawled closer, nearly but not quite touching him, and he closed his eyes as her knees on cloth dragged the neckline of her shift lower.

She touched his foot through the blankets, hesitant. “I want you.”

His leg twitched under her hand, but he said nothing, trusted himself to say nothing, wanted to say everything.

She almost pleaded. “What would convince you that my intentions are real? That my feelings are real?”

He couldn’t bring himself to answer out loud, but somehow she read his mind anyway.

“A proper kiss?” she whispered. His eyes cracked open.

Like a boy asking for a sweet, with no real hope of getting one, he nodded slowly.

She moved forward, with a real smile, until it fractured and broke, leaving anxiety behind. “Will you understand, if I ask you not to touch me? Not yet, not until I ask.”

He was well familiar with the lingering, inconvenient terror born of violence done by those who should have been family, in a place that should have been home.

She floundered, miserable. “It’s just, I--”

“I’ll understand,” he interrupted, softly.

He was finally meeting her eyes, finally acknowledging her heart, and she moved to give what he asked before he could doubt her again.

Settling between his knees, she pulled at his arm until he sat up for her, face half in shadows from his hair and the candle on the night table.

Moving slowly, as though not to spook a nervous horse, she raised her hands and gathered his hair away from his face, leaning in when he flinched away, until he stopped, their breath mingling.

The dark strands ate up the light, soft under her caressing fingertips. She moved to his face, both sides at once. He tensed, but did not stop her.

“Am I hurting you?”

“No.”

Slowly, so slowly, she closed the distance between them and touched his lips with her own. It was tentative, almost clumsy at first, for neither of them had ever known a real kiss, of real feeling, before. Her hands came to his shoulders for support, but his remained on the bed, twisting into the sheets.

Time melted away, until kissing him felt like the most natural thing in the world. He pressed for nothing further, not even leaning into her, but made a noise of pure longing that pleased her beyond measure, drove her to want more.

She couldn’t tell which of them trembled. Pulling away, she asked only, “Do you believe me now?”

“Yes,” he said, hoarse. In such close proximity, there was no hiding how affected he was, and while she seemed unbothered, he felt it would soon be awkward. “You should go--”

“Can I touch you?” she asked, hesitant. Her voice was low, husky, sparking fire along his skin with only sound. “I know it’s not fair--”

“If you want.” Just the desire in her words , her tone, had him harder than he’d been in his entire life. Please.

“I do. Want,” she said. For the first time, ever.

He threw his head back when she grasped him, and while she was no stranger to the mechanics, it was a new wonder to find pleasure in his pleasure, in the sounds he made under her hand, the astonished agony on his face.

When he came, she felt an echoing pull, the first taste of a pleasure inconceivable to her until that moment, a sweet but unsatisfied ache.

“Tomorrow?” She asked, still holding him, still hearing him gasp her name.

“Whatever you want,” he sighed, in blissful defeat.

Chapter Text

To bring Brienne was to bring Pod, and so it was that four horses and their cloaked riders stole away from Winterfell after midnight, a light snowfall conspiring to fill their tracks. In Sansa’s chambers a letter to Jon waited to be found by her maids in the morning. She and her shield were to be on a short retreat, praying for the fate of Winterfell in the oncoming war, and back in two days’ time.

Their actual travel would be a brief stop in the godswood, and then off to a mostly-forgotten family hunting lodge, in the opposite direction of the woodsy sept mentioned in the letter.

Sandor wasn’t quite looking at her, riding as rear guard as Brienne took the lead with Pod at her heels. Sansa had tried to catch his eye and smile once or twice, but he barely met her gaze, his expression grim.

It was hard to blame him, as just the act of riding out with her thus could land him in hot water with Jon and his queen, should they be caught. As a former Lannister liegeman he had few friends in the North as it stood. Even having approved the plan Brienne was still a bit frosty to him. Pod was wisely silent for most of the ride.

Closer to their destination, the younger man looked back at Sansa with a shy smile. He paused to let Sansa’s mount draw alongside his and whispered, “I’ve a present for you, m’lady, when we stop.”

Of her three companions, Pod was surprisingly her most fervent ally in romance, and his gift was lovely: a bridal wreath of hothouse flowers somehow ferreted away from Winterfell’s last surviving blooms.

He blushed furiously when she asked how he’d managed it. “It’s, er, not the first time I’ve asked for flowers for a lady. I mean, a girl , not a lady , of course, my lady--”

She stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Thank you, Pod.”

“Brienne made it though, I couldnt’ve done that,” he added.

“It’s lovely,” Sansa told her, pleased at the gesture of acceptance and its implied wish for their future happiness. While she didn’t need approval from those sworn to her service, it was nice to have it from people she might in other circumstances have called friends.

Brienne looked up from securing her horse, uncomfortable but pleased. “It’s not like I was completely hopeless at all of the skills a highborn lady is supposed to learn,” she grumbled.

In fact, Brienne had been quite good at them: a graceful dancer, a passable singer, a steady hand at the sewing arts. Right up until she realized how ridiculous everyone thought she looked, playacting at a role she could never properly fill -- that of a delicate, desirable, and potentially marriageable lady.

After that she had been much more interested in following her own interests and pursuits, turning dance into swordplay, sewing into strategy. Armoring herself in steel instead of exposing her vulnerability in dresses.

Brienne tucked the woven circlet of blue roses into her lady’s hair, with an honest smile at the bride’s glow. Sansa deserved this bit of happiness. While Brienne had long since accepted the consequences of her own appearance, it was a recent revelation to her that beauty did a woman no favors in this world, either.

Sandor stood apart from the group, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He felt lost, as though caught in the mental vertigo of wild dreaming, where events take place so quickly the mind struggles to catch up, to understand.

Then she turned to him, and he was certain it was all a dream, this creature of fire and flowers in the middle of Winter night, a fey thing come to steal his life while he thanked her for it. But there was no evil in the smile she gave him, no guile or malice. Only joy. He’d never seen such a smile, not for a man like him.

Pod dug candles out of a saddlebag and stuck them in jars, creating a circle of softly glowing snow at their feet.

“Careful Pod, let’s not light anyone’s cloak on fire,” Brienne warned, immune to romance.

Sansa took his hands before the largest tree, and Sandor heard himself speak as from far away. They must have said the vows, but he couldn’t remember a word of it.

Sansa waited expectantly for something.

He faltered. “I’ve got no bridal cloak for you, lady wife,” he said. “Not that you were t’be a Clegane, anyway.”

Sansa looked a bit uncertain. “I hope it’s all right, but I have a cloak for you , my lord husband,” she said.

It was a gorgeous thing, fit for Winter, lined with fur and embroidered more finely than any garment he’d ever owned. Somehow it was the perfect size. And strangely familiar. “Wait--”

“It’s yours,” she confirmed. “Your old cloak, that you left.” That Blackwater night.

“You kept it?” he asked, stunned. “Gods, why?”

“Do you still need to ask, even now?”

He said nothing further, staring at the cloth bunched in his hands. The white fabric had been cleaned and dyed Stark colors, stitched with the direwolf sigil, but yellow and black dogs ran along the border, side by side with slate grey wolves.

“My name is yours, too, if you want it. Or you can keep Clegane. It matters not to me; I only want you.”

He bent to give her a chaste touch of lips before the witnesses, but she flung her arms around him and would have none of it, kissing him for real.

“By the old gods and the new,” she repeated as she drew away, a refrain of words only moments old.

Pod surreptitiously wiped his eyes. Even Brienne looked moved. Sansa was a sunrise.


 

The lodge was tucked away in a secluded corner of forest, surrounded by rocky crags and sheltered from the worst of the biting wind. It smelled like pine and winter, the lingering echo of old woodsmoke and crushed dry leaves.

The main building held enough rooms for a large hunting party, with three smaller one-room cabins for accompanying household staff. Brienne and Pod took the cabin closest to the house, with the squire offering to take the first watch.

“See you at breakfast,” Pod called.

“Maybe,” Sansa smiled.

Sansa drug Sandor inside to the grandest room. One of the other cabins might have been a warmer prospect, but none of them had a bed larger than a cot, and Sansa wanted privacy .

He dropped their bags unceremoniously in the middle of the floor, and turned around, aimlessly, wondering whether to sit or speak, finding himself unable to do either. Sansa pulled out a flagon of Dornish red, which he accepted with only slightly shaking hands.

“Let’s warm up the room,” she said, kneeling before the hearth to start a fire.

“You’re getting your skirts dirty.” He put the wine down. “Let me do it.”

“Fuck my skirts,” she said. “I’ve got it.” She knew he hated to be near open flame.

Striding over, he groused, “You don’t need to coddle me. I can start a fucking fire.”

She stopped him with a look. “Will it kill you , to let me do this one thing? There’s little enough else I can do to keep you safe. We’re all like to die any day now, anyway.”

She stood up, facing the fledgling fire, mad at him for being difficult, mad at herself for bringing up their inevitable doom on a night she wished only to think of happiness.

“Sansa.” He touched her shoulder, gently. ”I’m...sorry.” The words sounded rusty, unused.

Putting her hand over his, she turned to face him. “I know. Me too.” She took a sip of the wine herself, wishing it were Arbor gold. It felt fortifying, though, and she was glad of it.

The worst of the chill had fled the chamber, and she felt brave enough to speak her fears.

“I want us to be married, in truth, that no one can doubt us, but I don’t know if I...can. Yet.”

“No one’s expecting a bloody sheet from a widow, little bird. There’s naught to prove otherwise if we say it’s done,” he said.

“I also don’t,” she paused. “I don’t want to be... difficult , but--”

“We’ll do whatever you want and no more,” he said. “No man’s ever died of having to take himself in hand.”

She smiled again. “Help me with my dress?”

He fumbled with her stays, helping slip the heavy outer dress over her head and then stepping back to let her remove the rest.

Left in her stockings and chemise, she started at his buckles and buttons. “It’s too cold to stand here. Let’s at least get under the blankets until we’re warm.”

She stopped at his smallclothes, hesitating, then gave him a gentle push toward the bed. He crawled in and held the covers back for her.

At the edge of the bed, she took a deep breath and then paused to remove each stocking, and then her shift.

He almost daren’t breathe as she let the last of the fabric slip away, afraid to spook her.

He’d resolved not to ask about any of her scars, but his voice shattered the reverent silence before he could stop himself.

“Seven hells, Sansa, what did he do ?”

She froze, stiffening, following his gaze to the raised mark on her right buttock. It was a burn mark, a brand , still pink and healing.

He winced. “Shit. I’m sorry. You don’t have to--”

She smiled at his awkwardness, unbothered. “It’s okay. This one is mine .”

After a pause, she said, “He carved his initials into me. Like a tree . “ She swallowed. ”Marking his property,” she laughed, “as though even the maid who helped me dress wasn’t afraid to touch me and offend him.”

He wanted to swear and smash things, but this was her pain and horror, not his. He stayed silent, listening, but clenched his teeth until they hurt.

“I reclaimed myself, after I killed him.” She turned, so that he could see the entirety of the scar. It was a dire wolf, in profile.

“How?” He couldn’t imagine the Maid of Tarth agreeing to this.

“Arya.” Of course.

“And the pretty-boy smith, no doubt,” His voice darkened. The mark was clear; the tool had been well-crafted.

She frowned. “Don’t blame Gendry. He didn’t want to, but I told Arya I’d do it with a poker.”

He nodded, once, and patted the mattress. “Come here, bird. You're like to freeze.”

She slid between the sheets, lying next to him but not touching, not yet. Shivering from nerves or cold or both.

Sandor rolled over to face her, all of his bulk in shadow, only the flickering fire shining back at her from his eyes.

“Put my hands where you want. I want to touch you -- but you’ll be in control.” His voice was rough, the sound a spark that caught deep in her belly, smoldering. It sounded like a very good idea.

Chapter Text

Sansa crawled between his knees, nudging them apart to make room, the bedclothes a rich mantle of warmth over her shoulders. She quaked from nerves, but then, so did he.

“What I want,” she said, “is to touch you .”

“Do as you must,” he croaked. “Wife.” The new word hung between them, resonating like a bell into silence, and she smiled.

His bare torso was a feast for her eyes, and a knife to her heart. Violence and pain had carved their way across the map of his skin, paths she traced with her fingers, watching him jump.

The scars on his face were not so bad. Well, they were , but not to her, not anymore. They were a familiar landmark on the only face that had ever been kind to her in the lions’ den, however long it had taken her to recognize that kindness buried under sarcasm and derision. His breath hitched as she ghosted her fingers across them, and then bent to kiss each cheek, saltwater-wet.

His hair was a spill of ink across the pillowcase, the silver of his eyes narrowed and unfathomable in the near-dark, but everything about him radiated hunger .

Yet he was patient still, unmoving but for the involuntary twitches from her touch, silent except for the muted noises outside of his control. She found herself increasing her efforts to hear them.

He finally broke. “ Please , Sansa.”

She had no wish to be cruel, at last taking his hands as he’d asked. The calluses were rough under her fingertips as she explored his palms, drawing them closer, uncertain. Where did she want him to touch her?

She started just above her knees, dragging slowly up each thigh. He gasped at the silk of her, so smooth he feared his fighter’s hands would snag on it. Leaving one hand curled around her hip, she drew the other up over her belly, slowly, across her breastbone and the to the back of her neck, into her hair, sighing.

He tightened his fingers into her hair, then backed off and asked, “That okay?”

“Yes,” she breathed. She closed her fingers around his and pulled, tugging the fistful of strands firmly, but not roughly.

The rasp of his fingers over her skin caught like a match, scattering sparks along her spine, igniting a thing she couldn’t yet name. Heat pooled in her belly, and lower.

She directed him next to her breasts, lightly, for she could bear only the gentlest of touches there, after everything. For now.

And it was enough, as she’d never felt any touch like it before. Without thought, she reversed their limbs, her knees outside his thighs. Leaning forward, her body wanted to push against him, to relieve the ache he’d kindled.

His back arched off of the bed as she pressed against the hardness of him, wrenching a raw sound from his throat.

Yes , woman. Gods , yes.”

She wanted, she wanted…

She wanted to rock against him, a sweet friction gone undiscovered her whole life until now. She wanted his hands on her hips as she did so, the span of his grip so huge he reached almost to the core of her from behind. She wanted the sounds he made at her mercy, the incredulous pleasure in each catch and sigh.

The sensation built, and built, like climbing a mountain, nearing the summit with his fervent encouragement in her ears, and then it became the long, agonizing moment of an ocean current pulling away from shore -- away, and away, until finally rushing back in to crash--

She screamed, a full-throated sound, a thing she didn’t know could happen apart from pain, and

He bucked under her, desperate, neck corded and every muscle taut. “Fuck! Oh, fuck!”

It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen, all of him vulnerable and straining beneath her, from what she had done. The Warrior himself under her power, subject to her, quivering for her.

She was a conqueror, finally the victor , and this was a battle she wanted to win again, and again, and again.

When she collapsed against him, the storm of weeping was inevitable, because it should always have been this way, for her, and for him, for every soul in this world that deserved to love and be loved. But gods, what they had each gone through to get here, and the tears that came were not hers alone.

Chapter Text

What passed for morning in Winter was near dark as midnight. Too long a soldier, Sandor woke at the hour he always did, but the sun and his wife would sleep a while yet. The oppressive silence trapped him alone with his thoughts in a way he normally avoided.

In his life, he’d had many names. To a sister long since dust, he’d been Sandy , which had crumbled away with her. To the House that had held his leash, he’d been Dog or The Hound . To the one he hated most, he’d always been a mocking little brother . Briefly he’d been the silent Brother Gravedigger , and since the Brotherhood he’d been only Clegane .

He was none of those, anymore, but a husband and a Stark . Was any such thing ever less likely?

Still not a lord, but Lady Stark lay in his arms. He had to piss like a warhorse but wouldn’t have dislodged her for all the coin in the Iron Bank.

Was this how it was, for newly-wedded women? This shift of self, a tentative new belonging tinged with odd regret? House Clegane hadn’t always been hell, but those memories were so old as to be mist around the edges. For the most part he was glad to sever the last tie -- to Gregor, to the Lannisters, to the fucking Westerlands -- but was surprised at how unmoored it left him.

Maybe time would change that, or maybe the root of his problem was that every Stark not currently in this bed had no idea his wife had decided to make him one. No bloody idea, and plenty of reasons to object.

Was it too much, to hope that at least the little she-wolf might be on their side? Alone for so long, it was terrifying now to want acceptance from a family he’d never thought he’d give two shits about.

“I can hear you thinking,” she said, head still pillowed on his chest. “What troubles you?”

“Only everything, little bird,” he sighed, loath to broach the topic when it could be avoided a few days yet.

“Fuck them all, if they’re against us,” she murmured. “You’re mine.”

He was a bad influence on her lady mouth.

A sudden knock made both of them jump. “Breakfast!” Pod called through the door, then cheerfully stomped down the stairs.

They reluctantly parted to shyly fumble through morning routines normally done alone, reconvening half-dressed on the bed to share Pod’s honeymoon offering. For a feast packed in saddlebags it was surprisingly lavish -- a crock of lavender honey hoarded like gold since the death of Summer, along with bread, cheese, and dried fruit. A pot of tea waited to be poured into mismatched but clean mugs.

Sansa poured his tea and filled a plate for him, leaving him flustered and pleased at being fussed over as wives did to husbands. It splintered tiny cracks into his heart, how much he enjoyed this small thing he’d never thought to have.

The finally-risen sun painted her in golds and reds, gilding the curve of bare legs peeking out from her shift as she drizzled honey into her tea. He’d never seen her hair so wild and disheveled, straight from bed bereft the touch of maids or brushes. Light shone straight through the sheer fabric such that she may as well have been naked still. He was hard and wanting her desperately long before the end of breakfast.

She finally noticed his stare, and his situation. The prolonged, wicked grin overtaking her lips only made it worse. She leaned back on her elbows, slowly, indolently, arching until her nipples pressed through the fabric, allowing her knees to splay open in invitation.

He’d stopped breathing for want of her. He couldn’t move at all, afraid to spook her with the fury of his barely-controlled lust. So far he’d managed to keep her late husband out of their bed, and he wanted to keep it that way.

His knuckles were white on the mug. “Sansa,” he ground out. A question. A plea.

She held out a hand to him. “Have me.” The other dragged the hem of her shift higher, and higher, teasing. “Take away any room for doubt, that no one may say we are else but man and wife.”

He went to her, one knee on the bed between hers, still not touching her. “Are you sure?”

She sat up, hands at his belt. “ Have me , then have me again, until there’s no doubt left for you either.”

He would never tire of touching her skin, the finest thing he’d ever felt under his hands, the warmth and the scent of it. He watched her face carefully with each caress, learning what pleased her and what made her tense in warning.

She kissed him, and kept on kissing him, for all that he fumbled at it like a green boy. She gave equal attention to the scarred and unscarred parts of his mouth. He’d have thought her unaware of the difference but for the care she took with the burnt side, not knowing she couldn’t hurt him.

He wondered when this would stop feeling like a dream from which he feared to wake. Then she took him in hand with a firm grip, and he finally stopped thinking, choking on a groan.

He brought his hand to the top of her thighs, questioning. She nodded, pulling him closer. He gasped at the heat of her, slick and wanting.

He couldn’t stop exploring the silk of her, drinking in the sounds she made, the sigh as he sank a finger inside.

“Please,” she moved against his hand. “I need more .”

Gods, so did he. It took all he had to enter her slowly, taking his time as he was sure no one had done for her before. Each inch was torture for him, but her face showed only pleasure, and he knew the fierce pride of a man pleasing his wife well.

Watching the place they joined was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen, and almost ended everything right then and there. He went perfectly still, eyes slammed shut, holding the base of his cock until he was sure he could make this what it needed to be for her. The way she grasped at him as she squirmed wasn’t making it any easier.

She locked her legs around his waist, bringing him deeper, to the hilt, and he cried out. “Gods, Sansa, if you keep doing that I’ll never--”

She only tightened her grip, throwing her arms around his neck for good measure.

It was too late, it was too much, he was going to--

He brushed the pad of his thumb over the spot she needed, thinking desperately of sword drills, or shoveling dirt, or anything but the squeeze of her as she arched to meet each thrust, crying his name while he sounded like an animal in a trap.

It was enough; he held control by a thread until she wailed and clenched hard around him like a fist -- breaking him, shattering him to pieces that didn’t regather for a small eternity, or longer. When he came back to himself, crushing her with his weight and struggling to breathe with his face in her hair, he knew he'd not been put back together the way he was before, and he’d never be the same again.

Chapter Text

 Sandor’s first clue that his wife was more changed than he knew came when she rolled out of bed in the middle of the night and said, “There’s men in the forest, get up.”

“What?”

“I saw them. They’re close, I’m going to wake Brienne.”

His second clue was the knife she slipped from her pack on her way out the door, long as her forearm, a bright edge of moonlight.

His little bird -- half-awake, barely-dressed, and armed.

What the fuck?

He threw on pants and caught up with her as she emerged from the cabin with Brienne, joining Pod in the courtyard. Only the squire wore armor, but they all carried naked steel.

“--only two of them,” Sansa was saying, “I think, one injured, heading directly toward us on foot.”

“How do you know this, little bird?” Sandor asked, exasperated, missing something.

Brienne and Pod exchanged A Look, and he realized he was the only one who didn’t know.

“What?” he demanded uncertainly.

“I warg, sometimes. Usually when I dream -- I’m not very good awake yet.”

The girl he remembered would have sounded apologetic, a trapped little bird twittering to placate lions. Now, she was coolly matter-of-fact, with the unspoken assurance that her skill would improve.

“Bran’s been teaching me,” she added.

His whole spine shivered at the idea. “Seven hells, Sansa...why?”

“I’ll not be easy prey again,” she said, chill as Winter.

“I guess that explains that glorified toothpick, as well,” he said sourly, sick to his stomach at the idea of her bringing a knife against a full-grown man with a full-size sword.

Her eyes flashed, but instead of speaking she twirled the blade in her grip with an unnecessary flourish, switching hands and back again. For the first time in the years he’d known both of them, he saw a resemblance to her younger sister.

“I suppose this is your doing,” he said nastily at Brienne.

“Mostly Arya’s, you great idiot,” Sansa snapped at him, “but there’s no time for this.”

Looking to Brienne and Pod, she ordered, “Douse the fires and lanterns, I’ll try to see where they are now--”

She sat against the building, eyes rolling white in her head before anyone could respond.

Fuck, Sansa,” he grumbled, moving to stand guard over her, willing his eyes to adapt to the dark faster.

The three of them waited a moment that seemed to have no end, barely daring to breathe, until Sansa came back to herself with a shuddering gasp.

“It’s Jaime Lannister,” she said, uneasily. “And one other. Maybe half a league south.”

Jaime? Are you sure?” Brienne asked, hating the squeak in her voice.

Sandor didn’t like it. “Why would the Kingslayer be here, with none of his cunt army?”

“I’ll go to meet them,” Brienne said. “Pod, with me,”

“What if it’s a trap?” Sansa objected.

“I trust him,” Brienne said.

"All right," Sansa said reluctantly, willing to trust Brienne if not a Lannister.

Sandor scoffed, but said nothing further at Sansa’s glare.

Brienne leapt onto her horse, hooves flying before Pod had a foot in the stirrups.

It couldn’t be good news, they all knew that, but Brienne's heart leapt at the thought of seeing him again, anyway.


Jaime was feverish enough to think her a vision when she first appeared, moon-pale astride a giant horse, bare steel a gash of light across her lap.

But no, he didn’t usually include Pod in his imaginings of her, and Tyrion’s former squire waited just behind her to the left, solemn in the dark.

“Ser Jaime,” she greeted him, neutral, though he wanted to read a thousand things in his name. “And Ser Bronn. What’s happened?”

Where to even start?

“You said, ‘fuck loyalty,’ Brienne.” he laughed, or tried to. “So I did.”

She looked confused, appalled, the line he used to mock appearing between her eyebrows. “Tell me,” she said only.

His laugh was bitter. “She lied, Brienne. To me, to all of you, to everyone but Euron-fucking-Greyjoy, who’s on his way to court the Golden Company with Tyrell gold.”

He went on, “I was planning logistics with my men, because I believed her, I believed we were marching North. She sent them away and reminded me I’ve always been the stupidest Lannister.”

“Then she tried to kill me.” He said the words lightly, to make them hurt less. They didn't.

"Cersei did this?" she gestured to the bandage wrapped around his leg.

"No, she ordered her monster to kill me, but I left in one piece." He paused, grimacing at the wound. "This was a disagreement with some bandits. They wanted our horses, you see, and we disagreed."

"You can see how that went," Bronn finished.

The line of her lips was grim. “We’ve got to warn the Lord Commander.”

Bronn waved a hand at Jaime. “That leg needs seen to, if you’ve got supplies. Send me and the lad on ahead.”

Brienne nodded, “All right. Go.”

“Pod,” she warned. “Say only that we’ll be along come morning.” She didn’t want the boy grilled about Lady Sansa’s escapades.

Bronn climbed up with Pod and they were off in an instant, but not before she had to hear Bronn joke about riding in back as not to crowd Pod's "huge magic cock.” Men.

She rolled her eyes and asked Jamie, “Can you mount?”

“Probably,” he said. “Maybe.” The poor approximation of his old cocksure smirk wasn’t fooling either of them. He looked depleted -- physically, emotionally, mentally. Heartsore.

She got down to help him. His face was white as a sheet.

A wolf watched them, eyes gleaming from beyond the path, unusually still.

Brienne put him before her on the saddle to make sure he’d not fall off.

He should have felt unmanned, perhaps. But she was the taller of them both, and it was nice to lean against her armored chest, allowing his head to rest on her shoulder. He felt secure; he felt safe, and that was not a thing he’d felt since the undead thing had leapt from the Hound’s crate straight at their faces.

He could see up her nose, this way; it wasn't the most flattering view of a face with few flattering angles to begin with -- but moonlight made a bright halo of tangled hair, turning her lashes unearthly gold, and he imagined himself borne away in the steel arms of an avenging angel.

He felt himself pitching into blackness, but knew she’d never let him fall.


 Sansa dug herbs from her saddlebag, the kind to prevent festering wounds, along with needle, thread, and a tiny vial of milk of the poppy.

“Are you a fucking maester now as well?” he asked, surly. “What else have you been hiding?”

“I’ve not been hiding anything,” she retorted. “You never asked.”

After laying her neat stitches in the Kingslayer's leg with all the fuss of embroidering a handkerchief, she took him back to their rooms and let Brienne deal with the rest.

“You can’t seriously be angry I’ve learned not to be a victim,” she said. “You, who never tired of telling me how stupid I was, and how weak.”

There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. If you can't protect yourself, die and get out of the way of those who can.

His harsh words stood between them like a wall.

“Of course not,” he sighed. “Of course not. I just--” he stopped, collecting his thoughts. “I hate that you’ve been hurt. I hate to see you--" his voice dropped. "Like me.”

“You’ve not spent time enough with Arya yet,” she said, eyes far away. “Do you know what happened to the Freys?”

He had not. When she told him, the feeling in his gut was a cross between pride and nausea. Sansa’s eyes held feral joy.

His wife toyed with the fabric of the quit as she went on. “I’ve had many teachers. Cersei. Littlefinger. I’ve learned to plan and how to use the plans of others."

She drew the knife and caressed it, almost fondly. "Arya teaches me the uses of a blade, and how a fingertip of poison tasted every morning leaves it unable to touch me anymore.”

She unwrapped a leather scroll to show him a line of tiny glass vials arranged in a row, a lethal rainbow of powders within.

”Bran isn’t the best teacher -- he wargs as easily as breathing -- but I learn anyway. I watch Jon and learn how to command the hearts of men, how to find their loyalty, but also how fickle it can be.”

Her face was porcelain, her eyes ice-over-steel. She explained herself for his benefit, but did not seek his approval. “I am the Lady of Winterfell, the Warden of the North, and I’ll not fail in my duty.”

After a minute of silence, he said, “I wish I could wrap you up, hide you away, keep you safe.” He met her gaze. “But that’s not you, a fragile thing to be coddled. It’s never been you.”

She leaned into him. “You’ve taught me, too, you know.”

“Have I? Surely nothing good.”

“In spite of yourself,” she smiled. “You taught me true knights do exist, you and Brienne, though they may never be called Ser, and swear at ladies, and drink too much wine.”

He snorted, and allowed her to pull him toward the bed, that they might rest a bit more before the ride home.

She went on, softly, “The gods as well, for how else would you explain us together, here, tonight? After all that's happened?”

For once he had no answer, no scathing response. Her words weren’t the blind faith of a child in love with stories, but the conviction of a soul that's plumbed the hells and back. Not sure what to believe in, no certain truths, but somehow finding a diamond of hope among ash.

When she reached for him, the look in her eyes unmade him. What else could he call this but the mercy of gods, for a dog like him?


Jaime felt more himself with his wound seen to and food to refresh him. He also appreciated the bit of anesthetic taking the edge off the pain, and probably his wits.

It almost blunted the extreme awkwardness of being alone and half-naked in a small space with Brienne.

Alone, with the mountain of unspoken words between them.

She oiled her sword and pretended to ignore him while he pretended not to watch her.

He remembered the dry crunch of gravel underfoot, the sun beating down on them as they crossed steel on the bridge.

He remembered the incredulous realization that she was stronger than him, that she was about to beat him, even with the handicap of not being able to kill him. How furious he’d been then, and how much more it made him want her, now.

He was cursed to remember every ugly thing he’d ever said to her, every insult, and cursed to know that she remembered them all, too.

How he wanted to tell her other things, how much he admired her, how much he’d thought of her, wanted her -- since the baths, yes, but before that too. Since she called him coward and demanded he eat and live, or when she jumped off a horse to face his tormentors, arms bound and only legs as weapons.

Now, sitting across from him in her loose-necked linen shirt, he could see the lines left on her by the bear, disappearing under the fabric, and he wanted to trace each mark with his tongue.

Brienne was remembering the arrogance of him, reeking and unshaven, taking out his impotent frustration on her with ridicule and insults. How they'd stung, in spite of the thickened skin she thought she’d grown by then.

She remembered the bath, the desperation of his confession to her, as though -- contrary to every word he’d ever said to her until then -- her opinion of him mattered very much. She thought of the lines of his body, unfairly beautiful even after every abuse it had seen.

She remembered him jumping into the pit between her and the bear, weaponless, handless, refusing to be pulled out until she was safe.

She remembered him handing the sword back to her, saying “It’s yours--it’s always been yours,” and her wistful fancy it might be more than the blade of which he spoke.

It was intolerable, sitting together again now, neither of them able to speak.

“Brienne--”

“Ser Jaime--”

Their eyes met, sheepish. “You first,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she began. “About her. You didn’t deserve such mistreatment.” She couldn’t approve of their past entanglement, obviously, but it must hurt to be so betrayed.

“It was a mess,” he sighed. “She’s a monster now, truly, but I’m the only one who’s seen what made her that. If she’d been born a boy, if Father had cared, if Robert had ever been kind--”

He stopped, swallowed. “It doesn’t matter now. I don’t know why I stayed so long. For the love I used to bear her? For the children I couldn’t save? Duty to the father murdered by my mistakes, and the House he valued above all else?”

He was distraught now, tongue loosened by the poppy. “The Sept of Baelor, Brienne," he moaned. "She’s Aerys reborn, fire-maddened as any Targaryen, why did I stay?” The last was a cry.

Even road-weary and drug-addled, he was so beautiful it hurt to look at him. The green of his gaze pierced her cruelly, as did the loathing he bore himself.

She crossed over to the cot. Slowly, she sat at his side. “You were honoring your promise to serve her,” she said carefully. “It’s not like you’d have been welcomed anywhere else.”

He smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes. “Yes, I am a bit worried about that, my welcome with your mistress and her brother. And his new queen.”

“Sansa will listen to me. Tyrion will speak for you.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” he sighed, muscles working in his jaw. “But let us hope so.”

“In spite of that, you came North anyway,” she said, a question and not a question all at once.

“I gave my word,” he said. “To them, and to you.” He shifted, curling until his head rested in her lap. Her hand found itself in his hair quite on its own, rich gold through her fingers, and he sighed at the touch.

“Where else would I go,” he said, “but to you?”

Chapter Text

Brienne's hand in his hair felt like magic, gentling the turmoil in his breast with each stroke. Her eyes, when she could look at him, were the midnight blue of the sky above, reflecting the same stars. He knew she was still ugly, that others would find her so, but there was no face in all the world he held more lovely or dear.

We can’t choose who we love, he’d told her once, and had thought about that many times since.

We can’t choose our faces, either, or our family. We can only choose our actions and our honor, and he’d never met anyone else whose choices so consistently broke him with awe or shame, who’d made him long to live up to her ideals, to be the person she already believed he was. Who encouraged his efforts, instead of mocking his failures.

She’d avenged Renly, saved Sansa, almost slain the Hound in defense of Arya. She’d seen both Catelyn Stark’s daughters returned and thriving in Winterfell. She wielded Oathkeeper like it had been forged for her hand. He knew no one who deserved a knighthood more than Brienne, and many who deserved it far less.

For so long he’d wanted simply to be with her again, just to exist in the same space, breathing, no imminent battle or political morass or impending disaster. He wanted this quiet moment to last forever, but he knew what he had to say next would probably ruin everything.

“There’s more, Brienne,” he croaked. “She says she’s pregnant.” He paused, too long. “It could be mine.” Though he thought it just as likely a kraken roiled in her womb, if she carried any child at all.

Her hand stopped cold, slipping away.

Her eyes stung, but she was surprised at herself for being surprised. There had been no promises between them, no expectations. She’d always known he loved Cersei, and he’d never claimed otherwise. Why would she have expected him to leave her bed? She hadn’t, really -- she’d only hoped he might.

“It wasn’t like before,” he said, haltingly. “We weren’t together, but--” he stopped, struggling for words.

“You don’t owe me any explanation,” Brienne said, without inflection.

“I do,” he said, with urgency. “Surely you know, you can tell, that for a long time my regard for you has been more than mere admiration.”

She had not known, could not tell. She’d dared hope -- but only late at night, fleeting moments between wakefulness and sleep, when she let herself remember his last wave to her from the battlements of Riverrun, or the way his eyes ran down her body in the baths of Harrenhal.

How could a woman like her believe such a thing, unless it was plainly spoken?

“What are you saying, Jamie?” she nearly pleaded. “Say what you mean.”

“Gods, wench, must you press me so in my weakened state?” His face was red, a fever, a blush.

He fought the blankets to sit up, to face her properly. He wanted to grab her hand, but her fists were woven together, forearms flexed with tension, jaw tight and facing away from him.

He touched her cheek instead. “Brienne.”

Shocked into meeting his eyes, she was consumed by their fever-bright green of wildfyre and want.

“I’ve never stopped thinking about you,” he said.

“I’ve dreamt about you,” he went on, fervently.

“I don’t pray, and I’ve prayed for you.” He leaned toward her, weary, falling against her strong shoulder, again. “That you wouldn’t get yourself killed, that I’d see you again, and not on the other side of a battlefield.”

His voice caught. “Never that.” It was a plea.

“Jaime,” was all she could manage, her heartbeat ringing in her ears.

“You could hold me,” he wished out loud.

So she did.


The four of them set off at dawn, on three horses, with Sansa behind Sandor. A much more somber procession than had left Winterfell at midnight only days before. Sansa peered back over her shoulder wistfully at the lodge, trying to believe they’d ever be able to visit it again.

At her sigh, Sandor touched her arm, an admission that he wished, too.

The weather made no allowances for them, a storm blowing in while they were an hour yet from Winterfell’s gates. They plowed on, no option but to continue.

The snow fell so thick they almost trampled the smallfolk before they saw them, a pair of figures struggling ahead of them toward the keep. Sansa leaned out to apologize, until two sets of unnaturally-blue eyes snapped to her face, and she screamed.

“Wights!” Two more materialized out of the white gloom on their flank. “Brienne!”

Sansa drew a dagger from her boot and passed it to Sandor, with his longer reach. The other she kept for herself, just in case.

“Meant to give you before,” she shouted through the wind. “Dragonglass.”

Brienne and Jaime both held Valyrian steel, and even with him wounded and feverish they fought as one unit, turning three to dust in the time Sandor had to stab the one lunging at Sansa. It was not much of a fight, but she was shaken all the same.

“They’ve never been this close to Winterfell,” Sansa said in his ear. “Something’s happened.”


The storm died shortly before they reached the gates, but they rode directly into the violet-eyed wrath of Daenerys Stormborn instead. The dragon queen confronted them in the yard as they dismounted, not even waiting for them to enter the hall.

It seemed Pod and Bronn had broken the news, whether they'd wanted to or not. Between Sansa's small rebellion and Cersei's betrayal, Daenerys was enraged, convinced the two events were related.

“You dare,” she fumed, “to run off and marry a Lannister liegeman, and then bring my father’s killer right to our gates?"

“It’s not like that,” Sansa began reasonably. “Well, all right, it’s exactly like that, I suppose. Your Grace.”

"Is this some Lannister plot, to sow discord in the North?"

The more the Queen raged, the calmer Sansa became. "No, Your Grace. I've married for love, to a husband of my own choosing, as Jon promised I could."

The slight silver-haired woman whirled on Jaime. “Where is your army, Kingslayer?” Daenerys demanded, though she knew the answer.

Taking his cue from Sansa, Jaime responded in placid tones. “I’m afraid it’s not coming, and it’s not my army anymore.”

He spread his hands wide, theatrically. “I must have been declared a traitor to the realm, by now. Surely you’ve gotten a raven or two?” He paused. “No, I suppose not.”

He addressed Daenerys, but found the eyes of Jon and Tyrion as he spoke. “Cersei never intended to join you, and Euron Greyjoy’s not fled to the Iron Islands. He’s gone to fetch the Golden Company, to conquer from the South while you die for the North.”

“And what about you?” the queen asked, coldly.

Jaime shrugged, as though it hadn’t cost him everything. “I said I’d come North to fight, and so I have.”

She laughed, a mocking, joyless thing. “You really think I would trust you, a man with no honor?”

"Ser Jaime is a man of honor, Your Grace," Brienne dared to interject. "He kept his word to Catelyn Stark."

"It hardly negates his other deeds," Daenerys responded. “I’ve a mind to let Drogon decide.”

Her smile was a dreadful echo of her father, and Jaime shuddered. Drogon had probably not forgotten Jaime's ill-fated run at him when last they met.

“Yes, I think I shall.” She spoke a sharp command, in Valyrian, and the night-black creature descended as though it had been waiting.

“He’ll decide the fate of the Kingslayer -- and perhaps his Hound, too.”

Tyrion and Jon both spoke at once, attempting to appeal to reason without raising her ire further. Meanwhile, Drogon turned to face them fully, flames already kindled in his belly and licking out of his fearsome snout.

Sansa knew the fire wouldn’t touch them, that the queen cared too much for her nephew to risk harming his family, and would never risk losing the support of the North. Even now Sansa stood between Sandor and Jaime, Brienne at her back. This was a play for power and domination. Jon’s queen was as threatened by Sansa’s audacity and agency as any purported fear of Jaime or Sandor being loyal to Cersei.

Sansa was not afraid. She was overcome with a fury colder than Winter, colder than death.

Of all things, to threaten her husband with burning alive, he who had already been nearly destroyed by fire. Of all things. I’ll never forgive her.

This one fear, Sandor couldn’t hide, not his terror of fire in the face of a creature breathing flame, who roasted men in their armor and ate them whole. He shook at her side like Sweetrobin with a fit, and Sansa would not have it. She cast out her mind with a desperate determination she hadn’t felt since jumping into the void with Theon.

But Lady, Lady was gone, Nymeria was wild and far, and Ghost was locked to her, close at Jon’s heels. There was nothing nearby that might defend them.

She despaired, until she searched above--

She opened her mouth to shriek, but the sound that rent the sky was no human sound, as her eyes opened white.

She was a dragon, meant to rule the sky, tethered by a chain of ice.

She was a dragon, breathing blue flame and rage.

Chapter Text

Viserion touched ground amid complete, stunned silence, wings shielding the four humans behind him. Even Drogon had gone still in a shocked, defensive crouch.

The blue-white dragon blew a gout of cerulean flame straight at the sky, a warning, a declaration. Come no further!

“Blue fire,” observed Samwell Tarly, in awe. “I wonder if it’s hot, or cold?”

Both, Sansa could have told him. Both, and neither, and it tastes like despair.

Daenerys regained herself first. “You dare!” she shouted. “You dare to bring my child against me, the Mother of Dragons!”

At her voice, the night-black dragon raised his head and hissed, spreading his own, greater wings in challenge.

The gathered crowd roiled uneasily, Dothraki and Unsullied among Wildlings and Northmen. The North felt no loyalty to Jamie or Sandor, but Sansa was their Lady, limp and seemingly defenseless in the Hound’s arms.

Jaime and Brienne put Sandor and Sansa between them, waiting. Daylight shone sapphire through Viserion’s membranous wings, armoring his Maid of Tarth in plate of summer sky.

In this light, she could almost be a beauty; in this light, she could almost be a knight.

The whole courtyard was one drawn sword from a match set to wildfire, a low roaring rumble of unease.

“That’s enough.” Bran ordered, from the threshold of the great hall. The massive doorway dwarfed the youth in his wheeled chair, but his words were a crushing command, two voices at once, the lower echo rumbling the foundations below.

“All has happened as it must,” he continued, in a more normal tone, “to reach this moment.”

He looked directly at Jon. “It’s up to you, now.”

“What, me? What can I do?” Jon was tired of being expected to fix every problem on a massive scale. How was he supposed to solve opposing dragons and a dissolving alliance?

Bran was unfazed. “She’s brought him here, pulled him from the Night King.”

“She--” Jon struggled to understand. “You mean Sansa?”

“While she has him, you can set him free.”

“How do you expect me to do that?”

Bran was resolute. “You’re a Dragon, and a Stark of the North. You’re a warg who has visited the other side of death. If anyone can reach a creature of fire turned ice and undead, it’s you.”

“Jon, it’s too dangerous,” Daenerys said in a low voice, grasping his arm in concern. “I can’t reach him at all, I don’t know what he’ll do--”

Jon looked to Bran, protesting, “I’m not a warg, not really.” Fuck me.

“Hurry, Jon. The longer she fights the Night King for control, the harder he’ll reach back into her mind.”

He was right; the white of Sansa’s eyes had begun to flicker ice-blue.

“But you’re the Three-Eyed Raven!”

“Only you can do this!” Bran’s too-old-for-his-body composure was finally fraying.

Jon walked slowly to Viserion, eyes never leaving the glacier-blue gaze of the ice dragon. “Hold on to him, Sansa,” he murmured.

“You’re still a beauty, you are,” he told him, chattering soothing nonsense as though he were a spooked horse and not a raging undead dragon. “Prettier now than your brother, don’t you think he’s jealous?”

He reached out to touch the icy snout, and fell forward into vastness.

Such rage, he thought. Betrayal and pain, the longing to return to death with which he himself was well familiar. A free thing in chains, and all the sky a prison.

Come with me, he told the wyrm. Come back to us, be free. I know, I know. Jon shared memories of the stabbing blades, the creeping cold, of choking on his own blood as it froze on his face. The burning of lungs forced to process air, after peaceful hours of stillness.

Me too.

Viserion closed his eyes, lowering his head until it came to rest against Jon’s chest, knocking him back a step.

The great eye, when it opened again, was no longer blue, but silver.

The head nudged at him until he understood, climbing the frosted scales to complete the bond, and fly.

Daenerys and Drogon were not far behind, and for a time the Northern skies echoed with draconic cries of joy.


Reunited in the great hall, an uneasy peace smothered the attempt at an evening meal. Daenerys had not forgotten Sansa’s rebellion, but her anger was tempered by the return of her lost child. Once the plates were cleared, she called her council together, along with all of the Starks, Sandor, Jaime, and Brienne.

They waited on her to speak. Finally, she did. “I do not forget your defiance,” the queen said, “but because of you Viserion is restored to us.”

A long pause followed, leaving Sansa and everyone else gathered there to wonder what more was coming. Daenerys was expressionless, motionless, a marble goddess upon whose whim they all waited.

Finally, Dany said, “I will not speak against your marriage, as I am told he has taken the name Stark,” Dany paused. “And I do not forget his service in retrieving the wight.” It was as close to an apology as Sandor was likely to get.

Fire finally entered her tone, as the queen of dragons turned to face Jaime. “But someone must tell me why it is I should suffer the Kingslayer in my presence without the benefit of his armies.”

She expected Tyrion to speak, or perhaps the lady Brienne, but--

Bran spoke again. “Jaime Lannister’s work is not yet finished.”

Dany frowned, motioning for him to elaborate.

“Draw your swords,” Bran asked Jaime and Brienne, “and cross them.”

As the steel kissed, the reunited halves of Ice seemed to catch flame, sparking blue iridescence and astonished murmurs.

Bran went on, near tonelessly, “It’s no coincidence that the two swords forged from Ice have met the hands that wield them now, nor that both are together here in Winterfell.”

“So it must be, for the survival of the North, and the world. The Wall has fallen.”

“Yes--” said Sansa and Jon, at once.

“I saw it,” Jon continued. “Viserion, at Eastwatch.”

“That’s why we found wights so close to Winterfell,” Sansa said.

“Yes,” Brandon said, simply. “We should rest, tonight--”

“--and march at dawn,” finished Daenerys. “Let it be done.”


Brienne took Jaime to her chambers, small as they were. Winterfell was overflowing with Winter refugees, and he could take Pod’s cot, as the squire spent few nights in his own bed these days. She hoped there was a plentiful supply of moon tea for the chambermaids of Winterfell.

Jaime was safer with her than anyone else, and Sansa was safe behind her own barred door with her new husband.

Brienne had no expectations, but she did have wistful hopes. Tomorrow they could all be dead. Tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, stretching out into the unknown future where either the Night King died, or they did.

Jaime had hoped for a word with Tyrion, or with Bran, but there was more to say than a week of evenings could address, and only a handful of hours before dawn. Brienne had stammered through her invitation, and he'd accepted immediately, before she could rescind it.

She stood now in the center of the room, staring back at him with her unreadable, astonishing eyes.

“Let me help you with your armor,” he said.

“I’m good, I do it myself often enough,” she replied, starting at the buckles and ties as though to demonstrate.

“Ah, but why twist yourself in knots when you don’t need to,” he returned, reasonably. “Besides, I’ll need your aid with mine.” Somehow his voice held both innuendo and bitterness, still for the lack of his hand and the mundane tasks made so much harder.

Everyone forgot -- he commanded armies, wielded a sword in his offhand better than most knights with two, but he couldn’t cut his own meat.

He had not forgotten her aid at the dreadful meal with Roose Bolton. He hadn’t had to ask; she hadn’t made a big deal out of it. She saw a need and she filled it, and that was all.

He lifted a pauldron away and replaced it with his lips, a whispered kiss against her neck. She jumped as though he’d branded her.

“Jaime!”

Not Ser Jaime, he noticed, which was a start. “Should I not?” he asked. Teasing, husky.

“Why did you do that?” she demanded, uncertain.

He was amused. “You know that I want you, Brienne.”

“I don’t know that,” she said, sharply. “When have you ever said that?”

He’d said it with every look, every incidental touch, and countless interactions over their last few meetings, but he was a fool for not realizing that someone so mocked and tormented by men -- including, alas, him -- would need to be certain.

“I’m saying it now,” he amended, his mouth slowly descending back to her skin when she did not object or move away, punctuating each word with a kiss. “I. Want. You.”

“What do you want, Brienne?” he drew back to ask. “Am I truly to spend the night in Pod’s bed, all alone and freezing?”

“We can’t have you freezing,” she managed. “Your middling technique will be even worse if your muscles seize up overnight.”

“I have some ideas on how we can stay warm,” he offered.

“Do tell,” she returned, sarcasm undermined by the breathy tone of her voice, pupils blown wide.

“We take off our armor,” he began, continuing with the buckles and straps, following every piece removed with a kiss or caress. “And as promised, I’ll show you that I’m strong enough--”

She swallowed the rest of his sentence in her kiss, and he couldn’t help but moan, already hard as steel.

Down to only skin, their scars retold the story between them. Her lip, split the night they meant to violate her. His missing hand, taken because he dared to convince them not to. The awful, parallel gouges from the bear she’d faced alone with a wooden sword, before he jumped between them with no weapon at all.

He put his hand against the scars on her chest, a finger on each ridged line, and she shuddered. He traced the cut of her muscles with his fingertips, the dip of her shoulders, the tight curve of breast. Feasting on the freckled satin of her skin with eyes and lips until she could not help but know how much he wanted her. Until there was no room left to believe otherwise.

She knew him better than anyone; she’d cleaned and cared for him when they were tied together and he’d been so ill he’d soiled himself, a thing he was not convinced Cersei would ever have done, in any circumstance. He wasn’t convinced Cersei had ever known him at all, only the idea of what she’d wanted him to be, and for a while, in trying to please her, the two Jaimes had been close enough it had not mattered. Not to anyone but him.

Brienne was looking at him with those eyes again, lazuli blue swallowing his soul in the dark, until he wanted to beg and confess, as though he hadn’t confessed all to her already. She knew, and she still wanted him. She knew, and she still thought he was good.

He found himself near tears and did not hide it. Instead, he applied himself to her pleasure, that this one night might make up for all the ones she should have known already, and all the ones they might never find again. His fingers stroked, caressed, circled her most intimate places, echoed by his tongue against her breasts.

“Gods, Jaime,” she gasped, and he knew she was close.

“Yes, Brienne, like that,” he said in her ear. “Just like that,” he purred, drowned out by her startled shout, as she clamped like iron around his fingers.

“Show me,” she demanded, once she recovered. Lying back, she pulled him down with her, with a strength he couldn’t have resisted if he’d wanted to.

“Show me how to please you,” she repeated, almost shy, though she drew him wantonly between her knees, arching against him until he gave a strangled moan.

“You please me just fine,” he said, “but I do have some ideas.”

Muffled sounds came through the wall, cries of passion from her lady’s adjoining chamber, and even through Brienne’s furious blush he watched it arouse her further.

When he took her, she was a furnace, she was flame squeezed around him, and he lost everything but the anchor of her eyes. He locked onto them, their faraway look of building pleasure, reveling in the fierce pride of knowing he’d put it there, it was his cock making her shatter and scream, and he was the only one, the only one to know this sublime fire and die from it, he’d gladly die from it, all other men were fools --

He came so hard he lost time, lost coherence, could only gasp her name in a half-stifled sob that had no end.

She said nothing, cheeks wet with her own tears, only wrapped her arms around him and did not let go ‘till morning.

Chapter Text

“Let it go, wife,” Sandor said, finally alone together in her rooms. He was unlacing her stays, still amazed they were his to unwrap, a gift he’d never deserve. “You got her damned dragon back, you got to keep your damned husband -- as far as I can tell you’ve managed to get everything you wanted, with no ill consequence.” There was a bit of awe in his tone.

“She threatened you,” Sansa seethed, ice and fire at once.

He had to admit, seeing her so incensed on his behalf warmed him in a way he’d never felt before. Before her, when had anyone cared if he’d been threatened or hurt? It was a way of life for him, in a family like his.

“And you put her in her place, little bird -- backed down a queen and lived,” he marveled. Appalled, astonished, unmistakably turned on.

It helped him forget how out of place he was in her chambers, a high lady’s personal space, every inch of it finer than anything he’d ever called his own. He felt even more a dog among such finery.

But it was his now, along with the name she gave him. He was Sandor fucking Stark. Whoever that was, or would prove to be.

He seized her hands and dragged her toward him, toward the giant, canopied bed.

“Show me what it is wolves do to dogs,” he cajoled, rough and uneven with want. “Show me how the Lady of Winterfell commands.”

Sansa gasped, his request piercing straight through her anger, a bolt of fire struck true at her center.

He wanted her to ride him, to use him, to bend him to her will until she had all she wanted from him. It was as plain to her as the scars on his face. It excited her beyond reason -- a man of such strength begging her to subdue him, to dominate, when those before him had wanted only her meek submission.

“Lie back,” she demanded, steel in her tone, the voice she used to get her way with the Northern lords when they were especially unreasonable.

She put her hands to the center of his chest and shoved, which he allowed, letting himself drop back into the furs, splayed nearly-naked before her. Watching him obey lit a spark between her thighs, burning.

She dug through her chest on a whim, careless of the neatly-folded Summer silks, searching for scraps of fabric.

Her smile almost scared him, the cat who’d spied the canary, and could already taste the feathers.

She tied his wrists to the bedposts, one at a time, waiting for his nod of permission to proceed. By the look of things, he was as into the idea as she was.

She stayed in her stockings but nothing else, leaving her hair tied back out of her way. Slowly, she removed the rest of his clothing, following each piece with her fingertips, teasing and exploring, everywhere but where he most wanted, until he was all but begging her to touch him there.

“Yes,” she said, nearly purring. “Ask nicely for what you want,” she murmured in his ear, “and maybe I’ll do it.”

“Your mouth, Sansa,” he panted.

“Use your courtesies,” she rebuked him, merciless, breathless.

“Your mouth, please!”

She tried things she’d never wanted to before, tasting the most vulnerable parts of him, reveling in the exposed trust of a man who’d trusted no one. She tormented him with well-placed licks, ferreting out the most sensitive spots on which to consolidate her attacks, before finally taking the length of him in her mouth. She found more of her own enjoyment than she would have guessed, without the struggle or choking force. As she worked him, her own pleasure grew. She took her time, relishing each involuntary noise he gave her.

“Sansa, Sansa, stop,” he finally gasped. Desperate. “Let me be in you--”

He broke off with a cry as she’d sheathed herself to the hilt before he finished speaking, watching him fight himself for control. She had mercy enough not to move until his eyes opened again, his breathing slowed.

“Heartless witch,” he breathed, fondness in the words. “You’re like to kill a man.”

“Is this what you want, then?” She asked, voice dangerous velvet, as though she might deny him.

She began to move, tormenting both of them with the deliberate slowness of it, each rolling wave of her belly, hips, and thighs. She moved in a way her mind couldn’t have conceived of days before, an undulation natural as breathing, now.

He pulled against the bonds, and she knew he wanted to grasp her hips, move her faster. He groaned at the restraint, flexing, enjoying every minute of it as his real strength would have ripped the fabric like paper.

“You wish you could touch me, don’t you?” she observed, sliding her own hands up to ghost over her breasts, toying with each one as he gasped and groaned.

“Yes,” he choked out. “Till you screamed for me,” he promised, low and threatening.

He drove his hips up, impaling her, another tactic to increase her pace, but she withdrew completely -- a reprimand, denying him, watching him writhe for want of her.

“We do this my way,” she insisted, voice chill with the ring of command. “Isn’t that right? Tell me you’ll obey.” Light fingers against him, unbearable touches, until he finally groaned in defeat, a victory for them both.

“Whatever you want,” he managed. “Please!”

His cries when she sank down again were more like a man under torture than anything else. He gave in to her pace, the demand in her eyes, gave in to everything, and that final submission drove him right to the edge, nearly there--

"Fuck, I’m close!” he groaned, every sinew pulled tight. “Gonna come so hard--”

When she wrested his climax from him, he could barely draw breath for sound, just the gasping echo of her name, a desperate man’s prayer.

She kept riding him mercilessly, until they’d both be sore on the morrow, fiercely pleased he’d remember this moment with each twinge of pain, wherever the battle might take him.

She imagined driving her very essence into his skin, pierced by her nails, swallowed through his mouth, infusing his cock, until he’d never be free of her — forever carrying her love with him, a golden shield to keep him safe always. In the stories, true love kept knights alive, and he was hers, her own true love.

Out of nowhere, the fire in the hearth flared brighter, painting their skin the gleaming gold of her vision, and she came, and came again, until she thought it might never stop.

Come back to me. You’ll always come back to me.


 

Arya had learned a thousand ways to kill a man, but not a single way to tell one her heart.

Hanging in the shadows unseen, she watched the young smith at his work, unwilling to waste her last night before the war, but at a loss as to how to proceed.

The old Arya Stark would have gone straight in with the most direct approach possible, but she who’d been no one had too many angles to examine, too many ways she might fail.

He had left her, before. She wasn’t sure she’d forgiven him yet.

But they were out of time.

And you’re still wasting it!

In the end maybe old Arya Stark’s approach was best. She stepped into the forge’s glow, dropping her guard, leaving her heart bare.

“Are you going to hammer that thing all night?”

“There’s a war tomorrow, you might have noticed,” he said, though not in a mean way.

“We’ve weapons enough,” she returned. “If we can’t win with what we have, a few more blades won’t matter.”

“I don’t know what else to do with myself tonight,” he admitted. “Can’t sleep.”

Now, Arya. Don’t be a craven . “I have some ideas.”

He finally looked up from the red-hot metal. “What?”

“Quench that and come here,” she demanded.

Eyes wide, he plunged the blade into the bucket between them, changing the night into steam, stealing a bit of Winter’s chill. The fog filled the shop, pierced only by stars and muted torchlight, dulling every sound but the roaring of her own heart in her ears. In this mist, only the two of them existed, had ever existed, would ever exist.

He stood in front of her, a frown on his comely face, hands awkward without hammer or ingot to fill them.

She’d loved him since he’d known Arry’s secret and promised to keep it.

She slipped under his guard, into his space, but instead of picking his pocket, she stole his lips with her own.

He hesitated, she could feel the battle in his mind, until he gave in and kissed her back. He tasted her mouth like he’d done this before; she wondered how many girls in King’s Landing knew his kisses, how many deaths she should daydream.

“Good boy,” she gasped, when he freed her lips to mouth at her neck. “I belong to no one but me, this is no one’s business but ours.”

“Not going to argue,” he said, “but--”

“If you call me a lady I’ll hit you,” she promised, and dragged his hand inside her shirt, to cup the breasts that had until this very moment been only a nuisance, something to slow her movement unless she bound them.

He shuddered and gasped with her in his hand, as though it was the first and finest nipple he’d ever touched, and she removed the faceless Southern girls from her list with a fierce joy. He was hers, only hers.


Jon hadn’t known it was possible for Winter to get even colder, but a thousand feet above the ground he felt every part of him would soon be frozen.

Again.

He signaled to Daenerys, asking for an end to their flight. She pulled up alongside him, the dragons facing each other, near as they could get while airborne.

Everything around him was ice -- Viserion, the wind, the sky, land as far as he could see -- but her eyes were fire, a blaze for him that would never die, a violet inferno poised to consume him as soon as they were aground.

Against the crystal dark of midnight sky, a crown of stars shone in hair, the crown she should already have. He knew he’d die to see it there for real.

Tomorrow.


Tyrion walked the battlements alone, nerves fraying in a way he’d usually dose liberally with wine, but tonight of all nights he would not dull his wits. He couldn’t sleep, but he couldn’t drink, either.

There was too much that could happen, too many things that could go wrong, too many things they still did not know. How would the Night King react to losing Viserion? Why was the army of the dead bypassing Winterfell to make straight for the Southern Kingdoms? Was it only to avoid the dragons, or had there been some other reason they’d left it alone?

Daenerys and Jon had taken to the skies with their dragons, who called to each other in what seemed like happy tones to Tyrion, though most would have said all dragon calls sound the same.

Rhaegal echoed their calls from the ground, somewhere outside the keep, and to Tyrion’s ear it was less joyful, almost forlorn.

Tyrion knew to stay clear of Drogon, but he’d wanted to approach the two smaller dragons ever since he’d gone to free them from the dungeons of Meereen, and they’d let him. A strong sense of self-preservation had always prevented him.

But now — well, he could die tomorrow as easily as tonight. And he didn’t really think he’d die tonight.

What did one bring a dragon? They were already on hard rations, even the dragons, and meat was scarce in Winter.

Well, there will be fewer mouths to feed tomorrow no matter the outcome. A black thought, but true.

The kitchens were abandoned, all of Winterfell making the most of its last night before war. He stole the largest cut of meat he could carry, an offering to a beast that might eat him anyway.

Rhaegal was settled near a rocky outcropping where the springs under Winterfell vented, patches of stone warmed enough to melt the ice sheeted thickly over everything else. His nostrils flared at Tyrion’s approach, wings half-raised, until he seemed to shrug and say Oh, you again, and resettle.

“It’s not fair, is it?” Tyrion said, carefully placing the raw haunch close to the dragon, but not too close. He retreated to a rock a bit further out of reach, still close enough to be warmed by the steam.

“What’ve they done to deserve finding their riders before you?”

“I was always picked last too. Being a dwarf, and all,” he said, as though this was some secret they shared.

Rhaegal chewed in silence, a better listener than Tyrion had expected a dragon to be.

Once the wyrm swallowed, his golden eye sharpened, iris scintillating, a miniature sun mesmerizing Tyrion until he found himself moving forward without conscious thought or control.

He’s going to eat me after all, Tyrion lamented, not as upset as he’d expected to be. Didn’t know dragons could ensorcell people, that wasn’t in any of the books—

But instead of the great maw swallowing him whole, the massive head came down upon his own, more gentle than a dragon had any right to be, and that was the last thought he’d ever have belonging solely to himself.

The scales beneath his fingertips felt nothing like he’d imagined, rough but warm. For the first time in his life, Tyrion felt fully seen, fully known.

He belonged to Rhaegal.

Rhaegal belonged to him.