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Into the Long Night

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Prologue

The hour was exceedingly late as Jaime Lannister arrived at the inn on the kingsroad about a day’s ride from White Harbor.  He had been riding for days and had slept very little in all that time.  The moon was high and full tonight, and he had taken advantage of its brightness to help him navigate the road long after the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon.  But even the notorious Kingslayer could not ride forever, and so he had reluctantly stopped, intending to allow himself a few short hours of rest before continuing on to Winterfell.

Jaime had ridden hard on his way up north, encountering more snow than he had ever seen before in all his life, but it hadn’t fazed him in the least.  His heart was broken, his soul turned to ashes, and nothing mattered to him but doing what little he could to redeem himself before his time in this world was at an end.

No matter how far he rode, no matter how much distance he put between himself and King’s Landing, Cersei continued to haunt him.  She was there every time he closed his eyes.  He could see her before him, hear her voice.  No one walks away from me.  He could see the look in her eyes as she’d nodded to the Mountain, giving the command to end his life.  Although Jaime had been able to walk out of the Red Keep alive, he felt dead inside.  Never again would his heart be whole.  It was just a matter of time before he dissolved into nothingness.

The inn was quiet as Jaime entered, the only sound the soft tinkle of the bell above the door ringing to let the innkeeper know that a traveler had arrived.  A lone lantern burned on a small table just inside the doorway, and Jaime waited to be attended. 

It wasn’t long before a portly man appeared from a back room, shrugging into his robe as he approached.  He looked Jaime up and down.  “Evening, Ser Jaime.  It is an honor to have you here in my humble establishment.”

Jaime scowled at the innkeeper.  He was suddenly regretting not camping beneath the stars as he’d originally intended.  Of course, had he camped outdoors, he would have had a blanket of snow for a bed, but he suspected it would have been better than renting a room from a sycophantic northerner who probably wanted to slit his throat as he slept.  Jaime didn’t wonder how the man had recognized him.  He was too tired to be thinking clearly, and all he wanted was a good night’s sleep.  “I’d like a room for the night.”

“But of course.  I will show you to my best room.”  The innkeeper scrambled from behind the table, fumbling to grab a single key from the rack behind him as he moved.  The key slipped through his fingers, and Jaime waited impatiently as the man bent down to pick it up.

The innkeeper was nervous, that much was obvious.  But whether it was because he didn’t like the idea of hosting a Lannister in his establishment or something else was going on, Jaime didn’t know.  All he knew was that once he was alone in his room, he was going to bolt the door and sleep with one eye open until morning.

The innkeeper led him upstairs to a door at the far end of a long corridor.  “Here is your chamber, Ser Jaime,” he said as he passed him the small iron key.  The instant the key was in Jaime’s hand, the innkeeper offered him a quick, “Sleep well,” and toddled off back down the hallway. 

Jaime didn’t know why the man hadn’t stayed around to show him his room.  An unexpected apprehension prickled down his spine as he wondered what awaited him on the other side of the door.

Jaime put the key in the lock and turned it.  He then pocketed the key and drew Widow’s Wail, expecting to find danger waiting for him.  Of course, no one had known he was making his way to this particular inn, not even himself, so there was no possible way any kind of trap awaited him inside.  Even so, he wasn’t taking any chances.

Slowly, Jaime pushed open the chamber door and peered inside.  The room was dark and quiet.  The shutters had been left open to allow the moonlight into the room, but not a single lamp burned and there was no fire in the hearth.  Still, it was enough light to see by.  If anyone was hiding in the small space, the moonlight would easily expose them.

Jaime rounded the door and stepped fully into the room, his sword still at the ready.  He scanned the shadows, taking in every last inch of the chamber, and that’s when he saw her.

Jaime’s heart halted in his chest, and for a moment, he disbelieved his own eyes.  After all, he hadn’t slept in ages, and as such, he knew he was susceptible to hallucinations.  But there was no denying the truth that stood before him.  She was as real and as solid as he was, and he wished she was anywhere in the world right then but there in his chamber.  Although he was more than ready to fight the Night King and his entire army of the dead, he was not ready to fight Cersei Lannister.

“Are you planning to use that on me?” she asked, nodding toward the sword still gripped in his left hand.

Jaime thought for a moment.  He had never held a weapon on his beloved sister before, but tonight, he questioned the wisdom of facing her without one.  “Are you alone?” he asked.  “Where’s your monster?  The one you ordered to kill me back in King’s Landing?”

“Ser Gregor is outside the inn making sure that no one enters without my approval.”

“You expect me to believe that?  Don’t you need him by your side at all times?  Isn’t that how you operate now?”

“I knew if you saw him standing outside the door, you wouldn’t come in, and I wanted to speak to you alone.  It’s why I came all this way.  It’s why, despite my better judgement, I left King’s Landing and ventured north.  I didn’t like the way things ended between us, and I needed to see you.”

Her voice had softened, and there was genuine emotion in her tone, though Jaime knew he couldn’t trust a word she said anymore.  He didn’t know if Cersei was there to make amends or to take her revenge, and until he did, he didn’t think he could put his weapon away.

The door still stood open beside them, and Jaime kicked it closed, wanting to put something between himself and the Mountain should Cersei’s living corpse come to her aid.  Had Jaime had two working hands, he would have locked the door as well, but he didn’t want to let go of his sword, so he reluctantly left the door unlocked.

“That’s better,” she said.  “Now, would you mind putting that thing away?”  She nodded toward Widow’s Wail.

“Not until I know why you’re really here.”

Cersei laughed.  “What is it that you’re expecting me to do, dear brother?  Draw my own sword and engage you in combat?  You have nothing to fear from me.  I promise.”

A cynical laugh escaped Jaime’s throat.  “I fear everything about you, dear sister.  Everything.”

She stepped forward, closing the distance between them, and it took all of Jaime’s resolve not to retreat.  He stood there, stock-still, as she approached.  She reached up and placed her fingers against the edge of his sword, then gently pushed the blade to the side so that Jaime was forced to point it toward the ground.  Of course, had he really wanted to keep his sword on her, his hand would not have moved so easily, but the truth was, Cersei was still his one great weakness, despite everything she had put him through.

Reluctantly, Jaime sheathed Widow’s Wail, his gaze breaking hers for the briefest of moments.  When he looked up at her again, she was impossibly close and his whole body ached to touch her.  He clenched his jaw, steeling himself against the primal urges building up inside him.

“Now, maybe we can talk like civilized adults, yes?” Cersei said, her voice as sweet as honeyed wine.

“What do you want?” Jaime asked.

“You know what I want,” she said as she placed her hand against his chest and slowly slid it lower.

Jaime’s cock instantly stirred, but he stayed resolved.  He took a step back, breaking the contact between them before she could touch him too intimately.

“You wound me, dear brother.  All I want is to love you.”

“The only person you love is yourself.  I’m not about to lie with you again.  Not ever.  You’ve made your choice, and I’ve made mine.  I’m headed north to help put an end to this war, and if I survive, I shall choose a different path when the war is over.”

Cersei laughed. “Oh, you will survive.  I have no doubt about that.  And you will come crawling back to me, just as you always have because you can’t live without me.  You’ve proved it time and time again.  It will always be me, Jaime.  There will always be something for you to come back for.” 

She rested one of her hands against her belly, immediately drawing his attention there.  Jaime wondered if Cersei really was pregnant or if she was just trying to manipulate him again.  He wanted to believe that his child grew inside her, but he had long since lost all trust in her.  He knew that the babe might be just another one of her machinations, or worse, it might be Euron Greyjoy’s.  Jaime prayed that it wasn’t.

“Do you really think that you can desert us, Jaime?”  Cersei’s voice cut through his musings. 

He looked up at her again.  Her eyes were just as cold and unsympathetic as before.  Had they always been that way, he wondered.  Had there ever been a shred of genuine feeling in her at all?  It was difficult for Jaime to remember.  It had been so long since she had been soft or yielding or hopeful.  She was no longer the woman he had fallen in love with all those years ago.  She was a stranger now, a stranger whose company he could barely tolerate.

“You cannot tempt me with the promise of another child,” he replied.  “I can no longer trust you.  If you are expecting, how am I to even know if it’s mine?”

Her eyes turned stormy, but her voice belied none of her anger.  “I would never bear another man’s child, you know that.”

“You bore Robert’s.  What’s to stop you from bearing someone else’s?”

Cersei laughed, though the sound was bitter, and Jaime knew he had struck a nerve.  “I bore Robert’s child back when I was young and foolish and had hope for the future.  But I quickly learned the folly of such hope, and I made sure that his seed would never again take root.  I would never bear any man’s child but yours, my beloved brother.  Even now, after all that’s happened, you cannot doubt that.”

But he did doubt it.  He doubted everything as he had never doubted before.  Suddenly, the veil had lifted, and he saw things as they really were, saw Cersei as she really was, and it horrified him.  “I have no faith in you anymore.  And you certainly can’t expect me to.  We are done, Cersei.  It’s over.  I am heading north.  If I survive, maybe I’ll take the black and go live at the Wall.  But either way, you will never see me again.”

He turned away then, intent on leaving, but she reached for him, grabbing his arm and stopping his retreat. 

Jaime stared at her from over his shoulder.  “I am leaving, and there’s nothing you can do or say that will stop me.”

“Nothing?” she asked, letting go of his arm.

“Nothing.”

“In that case, will you grant me one favor before you go?”

Jaime was wary of everything Cersei did and said now, but he could not walk away without at least hearing her request.  He turned back toward her.  “What is it that you want?”

“A kiss before you go.  Just one last kiss, and we can say goodbye forever.”

Jaime laughed.  “How stupid do you think I am?  Do you think I would forget so quickly how Myrcella died?  Do you think I would ever be so foolish as to let you use such a despicable trick on me?  The fact that you would even think of such a thing disgusts me.”

Cersei’s face turned dark with rage.  “And the fact that you think I would try to kill you in the same way our beloved child was murdered is unforgivable.  Get out of here.  I can’t even stand the sight of you.”  She turned away, waiting for him to leave, but he couldn’t.

Jaime stood there, suddenly feeling remorseful.  Myrcella’s death had been the worst tragedy either one of them had ever suffered.  Their daughter had been a pillar of beauty and virtue.  She had been everything good about this world.  And she had died so senselessly.  Even Cersei could not be so stonehearted as to use the means of Myrcella’s death to end his life.  He had misjudged her, and he instantly regretted it.

“I’m sorry,” Jaime said, the words low and quiet.  “I should never have—”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” she snapped.  “Just leave.  I never should have come here.  I should have stayed in King’s Landing and just awaited reports of your death.”

Jaime wanted to reach for her, to pull her into his arms and kiss her, but he feared the consequences of giving in to that impulse.  If he kissed her, he’d end up bedding her.  And if he bedded her, he’d be vulnerable to any manner of manipulation.  He had already made up his mind to leave Cersei.  To falter now would only mean disaster.

“Even so, I am sorry, Cersei.  I never meant to hurt you.”

She turned her head to look at him.  “All you ever seem to do anymore is hurt me.  Ever since you chose loyalty to that traitor Tyrion over loyalty to me.”

“One thing has nothing to do with the other.”

“Of course, it does.  Go,” she said, nodding toward the door.  “Go to him and never come back.  I shall rule the Seven Kingdoms without you.”

Jaime longed to stay behind, to tell her that he loved her and that he would always be by her side.  But he had long since made his choice, and so he resisted the call of his own heart and turned toward the door. 

As he reached for the handle, Cersei flew at him.  “You bastard!”

Jaime turned around just in time to see a dagger brandished in her hand.  She lunged for him, and he caught her wrist just in time to spare himself a fatal wound.  Cersei struggled, trying to twist her arm free, but Jaime held her tight.  She clawed at his fingers with her free hand, but he would not relent.  He increased the pressure on her wrist, squeezing it tightly and finally forcing the metal from her hand.  The dagger fell, clanging loudly against the bare wooden floor.

“Damn you,” she said, her voice like poison.  “I told you no one walks away from me.  You need to die.”

“I am not going to die.  At least not here, not now.  And you are not going to be the one to kill me, dear sister.”

“Let me go.”

Jaime stared at her for a long moment.  He knew he should leave as quickly as possible.  No doubt the Mountain had already heard them struggling and was on his way to rescue his queen.  But Jaime wasn’t ready to go.  He had never imagined that things could be so bad between them, and he was still in shock. 

“If I let you go,” he said, “what is to stop you from trying to kill me a second time?”

“I’ve lost the element of surprise.  Besides, I don’t have another weapon.  I am completely helpless.”

Jaime laughed.  “You’ve never been completely helpless.  Not even when you were a newborn babe.”  He released her wrist.  He was suddenly tired of this game and simply eager to make his escape.  “What are the chances that the Mountain isn’t waiting for me on the other side of that door?” Jaime asked.

“He isn’t.  I told him this was something I needed to do alone.  He’s an excellent watchdog.  He always does as he’s told.”

“Well, that makes one of us, I suppose.”  Jaime turned toward the door.  He held his breath as he pulled it open.  The corridor beyond was empty and quiet.  There was no sign of Gregor Clegane.

Jaime looked back at his beloved sister.  “Goodbye, Cersei.  I know you won’t believe this, but I do still love you.  And I always will.” 

She didn’t reply, and he didn’t wait for an answer.  He simply turned and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.

As he walked down the hall, he heard glass shatter against the closed door.  Cersei’s temper was just as violent as ever.  He prayed that he would never again be the victim of her wrath.

Chapter Text

Chapter One

Tyrion Lannister had thought he would never see Winterfell again.  It had been years since he’d last visited the keep on his way back from the Wall.  Now, he sat on horseback, standing behind his queen and her new lover, staring up at its walls, waiting to enter the castle once again.  Circumstances could not have been more different than when he had last visited.  Robert Baratheon was long dead, as were half the Starks of Winterfell, and the world was a much more dangerous and frightening place.

Slowly, the gate opened, and Jon and Daenerys urged their horses forward, riding straight into the yard to be met by an army of Stark bannermen.  Tyrion had no desire to join them, but he had little choice.  He was Hand of the Queen after all, and his presence was required at all meetings of diplomatic importance.  Even though Winterfell was Jon’s home, Tyrion knew that the people of the north might not be welcoming of their Targaryen queen, and he might be called upon to use his sharp tongue to persuade them otherwise.  Of course, he was certain Jon would have no problem speaking up on Daenerys’ behalf, especially after what they had shared on their trip northward.

Tyrion had not yet confronted Daenerys about her dalliance with Jon.  He had wanted to, but the opportunity had yet to present itself.  He could tell that she was smitten with the boy, and he feared how that affection would affect her judgement.  Daenerys was already in a tenuous position here in Westeros.  She did not need her feelings for Jon complicating things.  Love was a weakness the young queen could simply not afford.

Reluctantly, Tyrion spurred his horse onward, passing through the gate, the remainder of their party following behind.  His heart beat faster as he entered the yard, a thousand memories flooding his brain of a long-ago time.  Once again, he was struck by just how different the world had been the last time he had set foot in Winterfell, and the force of it almost took his breath away.

“Need some help, my lord?”

Tyrion looked down to see Podrick Payne staring up at him.  It had been a long time since Pod had been his squire, and a very different flood of memories came rushing back at him all at once.  Tyrion shook it off, a bittersweet smile on his lips.  “Thank you, Pod.  I could use the help.”

Podrick helped Tyrion dismount.  By the time Tyrion reached the ground, his queen and her consort were already making their way toward the Great Hall.  Despite his personal misgivings, Tyrion followed, determined to do whatever was required of him.

The hall was crowded, though eerily quiet, as they passed through the doors.  The room was flanked on either side by a horde of northern lords, eager to greet their king upon his return.  Tyrion could not see clearly past Daenerys and Jon, but even with his view obscured, he could tell that there was a clear path down the center of the hall, and he was certain he knew who waited at the other end of it.  It had been a long time since he had seen his former wife, and he wondered if she would look upon him with kindness or suspicion.  He hoped for the former but expected the latter.

Tyrion moved to the side so that he could get a better view of what awaited them.  His heart nearly stopped beating at his first sight of Sansa.  She had changed so much since he had last seen her at Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding.  He knew that she had suffered greatly at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, and that suffering, it seemed, had robbed her of her innocence.  She looked older, wiser, harder.  Gone was the silly little girl who had once fancied herself in love with Joffrey Baratheon.  Before him stood a woman, full-grown, seasoned and shrewd.  Although Tyrion was certain she was now a strong and capable woman, he grieved her lost innocence just the same, for her sake.  Sansa Stark deserved better than what the world had given her.  He wished that things had turned out differently between them.  He would have liked the chance to make her happy.  He felt that he had failed her in every possible way, and for that, he would always be sorry.

Sansa stood before them with the dignity of a queen, her shoulders back, her head high.  Even as her eyes found Jon, she stayed stalwart, putting on an admirable show for all the lords present.  Tyrion wondered if she was dying to throw herself into her brother’s arms or if she truly felt nothing at his return.  Either way, she cut a regal figure, and Tyrion couldn’t help but feel proud of her.  She had come so very, very far.

It took great effort, but Tyrion finally dragged his eyes away from Sansa and scanned the rest of the party present.  Arya Stark stood beside her older sister, dressed in men’s clothing, a sword at her hip.  She looked like a tiny warrior, ready to do battle at the slightest provocation, and Tyrion knew it was best to steer clear of her as much as possible.

Behind Arya, seated at the table, was a young man who looked oddly familiar.  It took Tyrion a moment to realize just who it was.  Bran Stark.  Although they had received news from Winterfell that the boy was alive, seeing him now was still a shock.  The last time Tyrion had visited Winterfell, Bran had been just a child.  Now, he was a man with a coldness in his eyes that cut Tyrion to the bone.  He knew Bran had endured a great deal north of the Wall, he just hadn’t realized how much that experience had changed him. 

Not long before their arrival, Jon had received a raven from Winterfell informing him that Bran had seen a vision of the Wall being destroyed by dragonfire.  Tyrion didn’t quite understand why Bran was having visions.  He just hoped that they were nothing more than fevered hallucinations and that they held no real truth.  Because, if they were real, it meant that Viserion now belonged to the Night King and that there was no longer anything standing between the living and the dead.

When Jon and Daenerys finally reached the far end of the hall, they stopped, and Sansa finally spoke.  “Welcome home, Jon.”

“It is good to be back,” he replied.  He was silent for a moment, his head turning first to Arya, then to Bran.  Tyrion was certain he wanted nothing more than to throw his arms around them and never let go, but there was no time for that now.  He still needed to present their new queen.  He turned his attention back to Sansa.  “I have brought someone I wish you to meet.”  He looked at Daenerys.  “Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, may I present my sister, Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell?”

Tyrion chose to ignore the fact that Jon had decided to forgo reciting all of Daenerys’ many titles.  Instead, he concentrated on watching Sansa as her eyes trailed down the length of her new queen in bold assessment.  He wondered how Daenerys had taken it but could not see her face from his current position.

When Sansa’s eyes finally met the queen’s again, Daenerys said, “Your brother has told me much about you, Lady Stark.  I hope that you are as loyal and devoted as he says you are.”

“I can assure you that I am every bit as loyal and devoted to the north as Jon says I am.”

A heavy silence hung over the room as everyone held their breath, waiting to see how the Targaryen queen would reply.  Tyrion held his breath as well, fearing that the Lady of Winterfell had just made a grave misstep. 

Tyrion had expected Sansa to welcome them with open arms, not because he thought she approved of Daenerys but because Jon had already sent a raven informing her that he had bent the knee.  It was Sansa’s duty to present a united front with her brother, and yet, she had chosen to act defiantly, and Tyrion wasn’t sure why.  Was she so terribly angry with Jon?  Was that it?  Or was there something more that Tyrion could not yet fathom?  He watched her keenly, hoping to discern some hint of why she had chosen to antagonize her new queen.

In a calm voice, Daenerys replied, “Well, let us hope that when the time comes for you to follow your brother’s dictates, that you shall obey his commands dutifully, as a loyal subject of the north.”

“I will always be loyal to the north.”

“And what about to the rightful heir of the Seven Kingdoms?”

“The rightful heir of the Seven Kingdoms will always have my allegiance,” Sansa said coolly. 

“Good.  I would hate to think that you don’t support your brother’s decision to bend the knee.”

“I think Jon was misinformed when he made that decision.  But I will support it. For now.”

There were startled gasps about the room and low murmurings of both support and disapproval.  The old Sansa Stark would never have said anything so treasonous to Daenerys Targaryen, but the old Sansa Stark was long dead.

“For now?” Daenerys asked.  “You mean as long as it suits you?”

“I mean as long as the world believes that you are the true heir to the Iron Throne.”

“And why would that ever change?”

The hint of a smile ghosted Sansa’s lips.  “One never knows.”  Then, without waiting for Daenerys to reply, Sansa turned toward Jon.  “Once you get settled, we would like a private word with you,” she said, gesturing toward Arya and Bran.  “Please, join us in Bran’s chamber as soon as you can.  There is Stark family business that must be seen to.”

Sansa didn’t wait for a reply from Jon.  She turned on her heel and headed toward the door.  When she finally caught sight of Tyrion, her feet faltered.  For a single instant, their eyes locked, and all he saw reflected back at him was shock.  But the moment was fleeting, over almost before it had begun.  Sansa quickly recovered, masking her emotions again and gliding out of the Great Hall as if nothing had happened. 

Tyrion’s heart pounded furiously in his chest, and it had nothing to do with the tension Sansa had caused with Daenerys.  No, it beat wildly for a very different reason. 

“I think I should like to be shown to my chamber,” Daenerys said. 

Tyrion turned his attention away from the empty doorway and looked up at his queen.  Her eyes were on Jon. 

“Of course, Your Grace,” Jon replied.  “I shall take you there myself.”

Jon led Daenerys from the Great Hall, the queen’s private retinue of Unsullied soldiers following behind them.  The rest of their party remained in the hall.

Ser Jorah caught Tyrion’s eye from across the room, sending him a quizzical look as if to ask what the hell had just happened.  Tyrion wished he had an answer, but he didn’t.  He was as clueless about Sansa Stark’s motivations as everyone else.  He just shook his head and turned away, without saying a word.

Tyrion headed toward the empty doorway, determined to escape the Great Hall before he was forced to speak to anyone, but he was not quick enough.  Before he could retreat, Lord Varys approached, and Tyrion was forced to stop and face him.

“That was something of a surprise, wasn’t it?” Varys said with mock disinterest.

“For all of us, yes.”

“What do you think she’s thinking?”

Tyrion didn’t have to ask Varys who he meant.  They both knew he was talking about Sansa.  “I only wish I knew.”

“She’s playing a dangerous game, that one.  Perhaps you should warn her against it before she finds herself in real peril.”

Tyrion could see genuine concern in Varys’ eyes, but that was only because he knew him so well.  To the casual observer, he would have seemed completely unmoved by Sansa’s plight. 

“I doubt she will listen to me,” Tyrion said.  “We hardly know each other.”

Varys gave him a skeptical look but said nothing.

“What?  It’s true.  You know we never consummated our marriage.  We hardly even spoke to each other while we were married.”

“And yet, you are the best husband she’s ever had.”

Tyrion laughed bitterly.  “It’s hardly a fair contest.”

“Perhaps the years have made her grow fond of you.  Odder things have happened.”

“Not that odd.”

“Whatever she feels and whatever you feel, I’m certain your queen would appreciate you intervening on her behalf before it causes even more trouble between her and the King in the North.”

“Sansa Stark doesn’t look prepared to listen to anyone about anything, least of all me.  No, I think Jon would be much better suited for the job.”

“If he can find the time.”

It was a casual allusion to Jon’s dalliance with Daenerys, but it didn’t surprise Tyrion in the least.  Varys had spent just as much time aboard ship with their queen and her lover as Tyrion had.  Of course, Varys knew what was going on.  And Tyrion was certain they weren’t the only ones who knew.  Anyone who looked at Jon and Daenerys together could see the connection between them.  It was almost preternatural.  And it was definitely dangerous. 

“I’m sure Jon will make time,” Tyrion replied.  “Just like I am going to make time for some wine.  I think I’ve had quite enough drama for one day.  If you would excuse me.”

“Of course.” 

Varys graciously bowed his head, and Tyrion turned away.  He left the Great Hall as quickly as he could.  He didn’t want to think about Daenerys Targaryen or Jon Snow or Sansa Stark.  He just wanted time to himself to think and to plan and to drink, before the White Walkers were at their door and the entire world came crashing in around him.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Jon escorted Daenerys to her quarters in the Guest House.  His heart was beating faster than usual, knowing that he would face the queen’s wrath the moment they were alone together.  He didn’t know why Sansa had behaved the way she had, but it was obvious that Daenerys was livid, and he didn’t know how he was going to quell her anger.

The instant Jon closed the chamber door behind them, Daenerys swung around to glare at him, her bright eyes alight with fire.  “Do you want to tell me again how devoted and loyal your little sister is?  How she will support our alliance and whatever decisions we make together about the future of the Seven Kingdoms?  How she will gladly accept me as her new queen?”

Jon stepped forward, his arms outstretched, hoping to pull Daenerys into his embrace.  “Now, calm down—”

“Don’t tell me to calm down,” she said, stepping back, staying just beyond his reach.  “The northern lords respect your sister.  From what I’ve heard, they follow her as much as they follow you.  We cannot have her openly defying me in front of them.  She’ll ruin everything if she continues trying to undermine us.”

“She is not trying to undermine us.”

“Yes, she is.  She told everyone that your decision to bend the knee was misinformed.  She obviously thinks she can change your mind once you’re alone together.”

“That isn’t going to happen.  I have made my choice.  I will not be swayed.”  Jon moved closer.  This time, Daenerys stayed just where she was.  He reached out for her, wrapping his hands around her upper arms, holding her close.  “Daenerys, listen to me,” he said in a calm, soothing voice.  “My sister has been through hell.  She is not a very trusting soul, nor should she be after everything she has endured.  She just needs time to come around.  That’s all.”

Daenerys shook her head but made no attempt to pull away.  “No.  She will never come around.  She’s already made up her mind.  Otherwise, she would not have orchestrated such a public display of defiance.  She knows what she is doing, and she chose every one of her words carefully.”

“You didn’t trust me when we first met, and now look at us.”  Jon couldn’t help but smile.  There was something about Daenerys Targaryen that set his blood on fire.  Making love to her had been a revelation, and even now, as they stood there arguing, all he wanted to do was take her to bed again, if only she’d let him.

“You cannot charm me with a smile, Jon Snow.  Your sister is our enemy, and you need to admit that.”

“She is not the enemy.”

“Yes, she is.  Anyone who is against us is the enemy.”

“But she’s not against us.  She’s devoted to me and to the north.  Once I’ve had a chance to talk to her, to explain my decision, she will follow gladly.”

“Jon,” Daenerys began, her tone finally softening, “I know how much you care for the girl, but you can’t be blinded by your feelings.  She is dangerous.  From what I hear, she has learned a great deal from Cersei Lannister.  She knows how to play the game, and we must be on our guard.”

“I’ll admit, she’s a great deal shrewder than she was before she left for King’s Landing, but she is still just a girl.  And the only thing she is more devoted to than her family is the north.  She will follow us.  Both of us.  I promise you.”

“And if you are wrong?”

“I’m not wrong.  Just trust me.”  Jon reached for a stray lock of Daenerys’ hair that had fallen out of place.  He tucked it behind her ear and then gently caressed her cheek.

She sighed, the sound half frustration, half contentment.  “I want to trust you, Jon.  I do.  But with things as bad as they are right now, I can’t afford to take any chances.  Viserion is gone, and your brother claims—”

“I know what my brother claims.”

“I refuse to believe it until I see it,” she said, her voice trembling ever so slightly.

Jon didn’t want to point out that the last time she had doubted what her eyes could not see, she’d been wrong.  He hoped – no, he prayed – that Bran’s vision was wrong, that the Wall still stood, and Viserion had not been resurrected by the Night King.  He prayed for it, even though, in his heart, he knew it to be untrue.  But he couldn’t tell Daenerys that.  She was suffering enough, and he didn’t want to make matters worse.  “I’m sure we will know the truth soon enough,” Jon said, not knowing what else he could say.

“I don’t know what I would do without you, Jon Snow.”

“Well, let’s hope we never find out.” 

Jon closed the space between them and kissed her deeply, his cock pulsing to life with urgent need.  His fingers slid to the clasp holding her cloak together.  He unhooked the latch, and the heavy garment slid down her shoulders to the floor.  He pulled Daenerys flush against him, the heat from her body fueling his desire as his hands moved to divest her of her gown.  But she suddenly broke the kiss.

“Aren’t you supposed to be meeting with your dear sister right now?  Isn’t that what she commanded?”

“I don’t take commands from anyone.  You know that.”

A sly smile spread across her supple lips.  “I am your queen.  You are sworn to take commands from me.”

“Am I?  We are in the north now, Your Grace, and here I am king.  Or had you forgotten?”

“But the north is one of my kingdoms, Jon Snow, which means you must still bend the knee to me, even here.”

Jon laughed, his eyes trailing down the length of her.  When he met her gaze again, he said, “I’ll only bend the knee if I want to, not because you command it.”  Then, slowly, he undid the ties of her gown and watched as it slid down her lithe body, pooling in a puddle at her feet, leaving her naked.  Jon knelt down before her and leaned forward, placing a chaste kiss against her stomach. 

Daenerys inhaled a sharp breath, and Jon couldn’t help but grin.  He moved lower, kissing her softly as he made his way toward the nest of white-gold curls between her thighs.  He could feel Daenerys holding her breath as she waited for him to make contact with her sex.  Jon continued to kiss her chastely but did not torture her for long.  Without warning, he kissed her low between her legs, sliding his tongue along the length of her.

Daenerys gasped.  Her hands reached for his hair, pulling him closer as he explored her depths with his mouth.  They had not made love since their ship had docked in White Harbor, and he was desperate to drink her in.

“Jon,” she whispered his name, her voice full of pleading, not command.  She wanted him as much as he wanted her, and he couldn’t deny her anything.

Jon pulled away then, standing in an instant.  He swept Daenerys up into his arms and carried her to the large bed in the center of the room.  There was no time for him to undress.  Their need was too urgent.  He laid Daenerys down on the mattress and then climbed on top of her, holding himself above her just long enough to stare down into her eyes.

“Jon, I need you.  Now.”

That was all he needed to hear.  He leaned forward, kissing her passionately as her fingers found the ties of his breeches.  She quickly freed his pulsing flesh, stroking him gently as she guided him toward her entrance. 

Jon didn’t even try to resist.  The instant she moved her hand away, he thrust inside her, reveling in the feel of their bodies becoming one.  Although he had loved Ygritte with all his heart, there was something about Daenerys that made him feel as if their relationship had been destined by the gods.  She completed him.  When they were together, he finally felt whole, and never more so than when they lay together as one flesh.  Jon knew Daenerys Targaryen held the key to his future, and whether that ended in glory or tragedy, he didn’t care.  All he knew was that she was his destiny and he would gladly allow her to burn him with her fire.

Their passion exploded quickly, and soon Daenerys was calling out his name as she reached the heights of ecstasy.  Jon instantly followed, crashing over the edge with startling intensity. 

Jon lay still against Daenerys’ breast, his heart pounding against his ribcage, his brow covered in sweat.  When he finally had the strength to move, he opened his eyes and pulled back so that he could look down at the goddess lying beneath him.  He stared into her vibrant eyes, overcome by her beauty. 

“I love you,” he whispered before he could stop himself.  “I love you.”

Daenerys reached up and gently caressed his cheek.  “And I love you,” she replied softly.

The hint of a smile pulled at Jon’s lips.  He’d never imagined hearing such words from the woman beneath him.  But he knew she meant them.  He could feel it in the pulsing of his own heart.

Jon leaned forward and kissed her tenderly, and Daenerys wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer.  They kissed for what seemed like ages, until Daenerys finally broke away.

“You should go,” she said, the words a breathy whisper against his lips.

“Go? Go where?”

“To attend the dictates of the lady of the keep.  You’ve dallied here too long.  If you don’t go soon, she might break down that door herself, and I don’t think either one of us is ready for the world to know about this yet.”

Although Jon wanted to argue with her, he knew he couldn’t.  Daenerys was right.  They had to keep their love a secret for now.  It would not do to have his loyalties questioned by his northern brethren.  He would have to be more careful as long as they stayed in Winterfell.

“You know I don’t want to go,” Jon said.

“I know.”

He kissed her again, then reluctantly untangled himself from her limbs and climbed off the bed.  He didn’t look at her as he put himself to rights, afraid that if he did, he’d never be able to leave.  Once he knew that the danger had passed, he looked at Daenerys again. She was sitting up in bed, her pale skin beckoning to him, despite his resolve.

“You must go, Jon Snow.  Before it is too late,” she said with a knowing smile.

Jon couldn’t bear to look at her another moment.  He turned around and headed toward the door.  He needed to see Sansa before she came looking for him.  There would be time for pleasure again later, but for now, duty called, and Jon had no choice but to answer.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

Sansa paced the floor in Bran’s chamber in quiet agitation.  She didn’t know what was taking Jon so long, but she had half a mind to hunt him down and drag him to this little meeting that he had so carelessly chosen to ignore. 

The large room felt surprisingly cramped with so many people present.  Bran was seated by the fire in his wheeled chair, Arya stood sentinel beside the door, and Samwell Tarly sat beside the bed, patiently waiting for his dearest friend to join them.  They had much to share with Jon if only he would grace them with his presence.

“What is taking him so long?” Sansa asked, not expecting any kind of answer but desperate to exorcize some of her frustration.

“He has just left Daenerys Targaryen,” Bran said.  “He is on his way to us.”

Bran said it with such authority that Sansa was certain he was seeing Jon now, even though they were separated by a considerable distance and the stone walls of Winterfell.  Sansa was not entirely comfortable with Bran anymore.  She prayed to the gods that she would someday love him as she once had, but now, he seemed like a foreign entity, an otherworldly creature incapable of feeling any kind of meaningful emotion.  Although the world had changed both Sansa and Arya irrevocably, Sansa couldn’t help but feel that Bran had gotten the worst of it.  He was no longer Brandon Stark.  He was the Three-Eyed Raven now, and although he still looked like her brother, in her heart, it was difficult for her to think of him as such.

“No doubt he has been appeasing that woman’s vanity,” Sansa said.  “Convincing her that our bannermen will follow her.  Well, that will change when Jon learns the truth, when they all learn the truth.”

“He was not appeasing her vanity,” Bran replied.  “He was bedding her.”

“What?” Sansa’s gaze snapped to her brother’s face. 

He looked as placid and impassive as ever.

“Jon was fornicating with the Targaryen Queen, but he is done now and on his way here.”

A warm blush rose in Sansa’s cheeks.  It had never once occurred to her that Jon and Daenerys Targaryen might be more than wartime allies.  She had assumed that Jon was still celibate, even though he had left the Night’s Watch behind.  Perhaps that had been a foolish assumption, but it was the one she had made, all the same.  To dally with the Dragon Queen was dangerous, and Sansa intended to tell Jon just that as soon as he arrived.

Sansa pulled her eyes away from Bran, unable to bare his vacant stare any longer.  She looked at Arya, who just shrugged.

“You know this is dangerous, don’t you?” Sansa said in response to her sister’s apathy.

“Of course, it’s dangerous.  And foolish.  And what’s worse is she’s his aunt and he doesn’t even know it yet.”

Sansa’s breath caught in her throat.  She had been so stunned by the revelation that Jon was bedding Daenerys Targaryen that she had completely ignored the fact that they were blood relatives and their relationship was incestuous.  Almost as incestuous as the rumored relationship between Cersei and Jaime Lannister.  Sansa was sure that it was a bad omen that Jon and Daenerys were committing the same offense as the Queen and her brother.  It did not bode well for their future or for the future of the north.

Sansa’s shock was so complete that she couldn’t find the words to reply.  She just stared at Arya in disbelief, a thousand dark thoughts reeling through her mind.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.  Arya looked to Bran, and he nodded.  She stepped to the side and opened the door, revealing Jon on the other side. 

Sansa glared at him.  She couldn’t help herself.  She was furious, furious that he was late and furious that he had jeopardized the safety of his family and everything he loved for something as selfish and meaningless as an illicit affair with the Dragon Queen.  Sansa was ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.

“I see I’ve angered more than one woman today,” Jon said.  “What have I done now?”

“Close the door,” Sansa replied, in no mood to banter with him.

Jon entered the room, and Arya closed the door behind him.  It took a moment, but his eyes finally left Sansa and he scanned the room.  His gaze softened when it alighted on Sam, but then, he saw Bran, and everything else was completely forgotten.

Jon bounded across the room and bent to hug his brother, nearly pulling Bran out of his chair in his joy to see him alive again.  Jon held him tightly, as if he never intended to let him go.  “Bran!  Thank the gods!  I never thought I’d see you again.”

Bran didn’t return Jon’s hug, and it took him a long while to notice.  When Jon finally did notice, he pulled back and stared down at Bran. 

“Bran, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Are you not happy to see me?”

“I am not happy to see anyone or anything.  I am beyond feeling.  I am something more than that now.”

“The Three-Eyed Raven,” Jon said.

“Yes.”

“Bran doesn’t feel what we feel,” Arya interjected, finally stepping out from the shadows.  “He’s beyond our worldly suffering and our worldly emotions.  He is not what he once was.”

Jon stared at her as if he was just as stunned to see her as he had been to see Bran.  Finally, he held out his arms, and Arya rushed into them.  He squeezed her tightly, sobbing with relief at finally having her in his arms again.

Arya returned the hug just as fiercely.  There were tears in her eyes, and Sansa felt a pang of jealousy.  She knew that Jon and Arya had always been close, and for a moment, she felt like an outsider, spying on their long-awaited reunion.

Jon kissed the top of Arya’s head.  “I never thought I’d see you again either.  For the longest time, I thought you were dead.”

“Well, you were dead,” Arya said with a laugh.

Jon pulled back just far enough to get a good look at her.  His gaze scanned down the length of her, and when he met her eyes again, he said, “You’ve changed a great deal.  I knew you never wanted to be a lady, but I certainly never expected this.”

Arya smirked.  “And I never expected you to be the King in the North, so I guess that makes us even.”  She pulled out of Jon’s arms then, the smile fleeing from her face.  “But then, there’s a lot of things none of us ever expected.”  She looked at Sansa, and Jon followed her gaze.

Sansa held her breath, knowing the time had finally come.  Seeing Jon reunite with Bran and Arya had dissolved some of her anger, but not all of it.  It was still there, just below the surface, but she knew now was not the time to press the issue.  Jon needed to hear the truth, the sooner the better.  “There’s something you must know, Jon.”

He looked about the room, his eyes moving to each person in turn as if he felt like a cornered animal being hunted by a pack of wild hounds.  “What is going on?”

“Jon,” Sam said gently, “you’d better sit down.”

He shook his head.  “I don’t want to sit down.  I want someone to tell me what’s going on.”

Sansa replied, “You already know about Bran’s visions from my letters.  He sees things now.  The past, the present.”

“The Wall being destroyed.”

“Yes,” Sansa said, her voice breaking with unspoken fear.  “But there’s more.”

“More?  What could be worse than the Wall falling?”

“Not worse, I assure you.”

“What is it?” Jon asked, obviously growing impatient.

“Bran knows the identity of your mother.”

Jon stared at Sansa, his eyes wild with disbelief.  “My mother?”

“Yes, Jon.  And your father as well.”

“I already know who my father is.”

“No, you don’t.”

Jon turned to look at Bran again.  “Will you tell me what is going on here?  What is she talking about?”

In a cool, even voice, Bran said, “Your father was Rhaegar Targaryen.  Your mother was Lyanna Stark.  They were married before you were born, and you are the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.”

Sansa watched Jon as he stared at Bran.  The words seemed to wash right through him as if he had not comprehended a single syllable.

After a moment’s silence, Jon said, “I don’t . . . I don’t understand.”

“I’ve told you everything,” Bran replied.  “I’ve seen all of it with my own eyes.”

Jon shook his head, turning away from Bran and staring blindly out into the room.  “No, no, it isn’t possible.”

“It is, Jon,” Sam said softly.

Jon’s gaze settled on Sam, but it seemed to take a moment for his eyes to fully focus.  “But Rhaegar Targaryen was married to Elia Martell.  Every child knows that.”

“Yes, he was.  But then, he wasn’t.  The marriage was annulled before he ran off with Lyanna Stark.  It’s just that no one ever knew.  That’s all.”  Sam shrugged.

“I . . . I can’t believe this.  I refuse to believe this.  Just because Bran saw it in a vision—”

“It isn’t just Bran’s vision, Jon.  While I was at the Citadel, I transcribed a High Septon’s diary.  The same High Septon who annulled Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage and wed him to Lyanna Stark.  And the truth about that marriage was written as clear as day in those pages.  I can’t imagine the High Septon having any reason to lie in his own private diary.  Why should he have lied when he never expected anyone to read it?”

“No, it can’t be.”

“It is the truth, Jon,” Sansa said.  “And it means that not only are you King in the North, but you are entitled to sit on the Iron Throne as well.”

“No.  I have no desire to sit on the Iron Throne.  I don’t even want to be King in the North.  I don’t want any of this.”

Arya finally interjected, “But it is your birthright, Jon.”

“No, it isn’t.  Who knows about this?” he asked, scanning the faces around him.

“Only the people here in this room,” Sansa replied.

“Then it must stay that way.  I don’t want anyone to know, and I don’t want anything to come of this.  Is that understood?”

“But Jon—” Sansa protested.

“Is that understood?”

“For now, yes.  But we can’t keep this secret forever.”

“We can, and we will.”

Sansa took a step toward him.  “Jon—”

“Don’t!”  He held out his hands, stopping her.  “Just don’t.  We’re done for now.  With all of this.  I have to go.”  Jon headed toward the door, and before any one of them could stop him, he threw it open and barreled out of the room.

Sansa swung around to glare at Arya.  “Why didn’t you stop him?”

“He needs time to think all this through.  I’m just giving him what he needs.”

“He doesn’t need time, Arya.  He needs us.  He needs his family.  Before that Targaryen queen digs her talons even deeper into him.”

“Sansa, you forget, she’s his family too.”

Sansa was more than happy to forget that part.  She didn’t trust Daenerys Targaryen, and she was loath to acknowledge that she too was Jon’s kin.  “I’d hardly call her that.  They may share blood, but they’ve only known each other a short while.  Do you think she will care that they’re related when she discovers that Jon’s claim to the throne is stronger than her own?  Of course not.  She won’t see him as family then.  She’ll see him as an obstacle that needs to be overcome.”

“You don’t know that,” Arya said.  “Maybe they’re in love.”

Sansa laughed.  “Only little girls believe in things like that.  Stupid little girls.  And neither one of us is little or stupid anymore.  No, she will turn on him when she discovers the truth.  It’s only a matter of time.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Tyrion entered the Great Hall, surprised to find it nearly deserted less than an hour after he had left it.  He’d already emptied the flagon of wine he’d found waiting for him in his chamber upon his arrival, and he was now in search of more.  He had thought about calling a servant to his room to replenish his supply, but he’d been too restless for that.  He’d wanted to stretch his legs and reacquaint himself with Winterfell before things got too complicated and the opportunity escaped him.

Having no luck in the Great Hall, Tyrion set off towards the kitchen, hoping to find something to numb the disquiet in his soul.  As he traversed the corridors, he suddenly heard heavy footsteps headed his way, and he quickly ducked around the corner, keeping an eye on the end of the corridor.

Soon enough, Jon Snow came into view.  Wherever he was going, he looked hellbent to get there, and Tyrion didn’t want to stand in his way.  Besides, Jon was headed in the opposite direction of the Guest House, meaning that he was not on his way to see Daenerys again, which was all Tyrion cared about.

Tyrion waited until he was certain that Jon was long gone before stepping back into the corridor and heading off to find Daenerys.  They hadn’t shared a private moment together in ages, and it was well past time that they talked.

It didn’t take Tyrion long to find the queen’s chamber.  It was the one with two Unsullied soldiers standing guard outside.  They let him pass without a word, and he knocked on the door, waiting for a reply.

“Who’s there?” Daenerys’ voice carried to him from within the room.

“It’s Tyrion.”

There was a long pause, and he wondered if Jon Snow had left her naked and disheveled and it was taking her time to put herself to rights.  Tyrion scowled at the thought.

Finally, Daenerys said, “Come in, Tyrion.”

He pushed open the door and stepped into the room.  Daenerys was standing in the center of the room, fully dressed, not a hair out of place.  Perhaps he had been wrong about her latest encounter with Jon.  Then again, perhaps not.  Missandei stood by her side, and Tyrion was certain that with the girl’s help, Daenerys could have made herself presentable quite quickly.

“I’m sorry if I’ve interrupted you,” Tyrion said.

“No, you haven’t.  Missandei was just leaving.”

The girl bowed her head in deference to her queen, though her mouth quirked in a secret smile.

Tyrion wondered what they had been discussing before he’d interrupted them.  He was certain Missandei knew more of the queen’s secrets than he ever would.  And he knew there was no way she would ever share them.

The girl left the room without a word, closing the door behind her.

An oppressive silence fell over the chamber the moment Tyrion and Daenerys were alone.  This was a conversation that Tyrion had been dreading, and he wasn’t certain how to broach the subject.  How did a Hand tell his queen that she had made an unwise choice in a lover?  It was a delicate subject and one he was certain Daenerys would feel he had no business meddling in.  But the game she was playing with Jon Snow was dangerous, and it was Tyrion’s job to tell her whenever he thought she was doing something dangerous.

“I’m certain you didn’t come here just to stare at me,” Daenerys said, breaking the silence.

Tyrion cleared his throat, finally forcing himself to speak.  “No, I did not.”

“Would you care to sit down so that you can lecture me in comfort?” she asked, motioning toward a pair of chairs beside the hearth.

Tyrion’s first instinct was to protest, to deny that he was there to lecture her at all.  But they both knew the truth of the matter, and it was better to just get on with it now that she had broached the subject herself.

Tyrion crossed the room, pulling himself up into one of the chairs, his feet unable to touch the floor.  Daenerys seated herself across from him, shoulders back, spine straight.  She looked regal and dignified and wholly unconcerned with what she knew he was about to say.

Tyrion looked up at her, and Daenerys raised one dark brow in question, waiting for him to begin.

“I’m sure you know what it is I want to speak to you about,” Tyrion said, feeling more foolish with each word he spoke.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” she replied coolly, feigning ignorance.

Tyrion couldn’t help but laugh.  “Oh, of course you don’t.  Why would you?”

“If there is something you want to say to me, just say it.  You are my Hand after all.  You are permitted to speak freely.  In fact, you are dutybound to do so.”

Tyrion shifted uncomfortably in his chair.  “It’s about Jon.”

“Yes?”

“And your . . . relationship.”

“You mean the fact that I’ve taken him as a lover?”  There was a hint of a smile on her lips, and Tyrion could tell that she was enjoying making him uncomfortable.

“Yes, that,” he answered.

“And why should it concern you?”

“Why should it concern me?  Because you’re the rightful queen and he’s been declared King in the North.  Even though he has already bent the knee, he still has an army of northern men to fight for him.  If things go wrong – and in my experience, they usually do where love and power are concerned – he will be a formidable enemy and he may be your downfall.”

“Jon may have an army at his back, but he is not as formidable as you think.  No matter how many thousands of men he might command, they are still only men.  I have dragons.  And dragons will win a war every time.”

Tyrion was tempted to point out that that wasn’t always the case, particularly after what had happened to Viserion, but he held his tongue.  He didn’t wish to incur the queen’s wrath.  He wanted her to remain calm so that he could speak sense to her.

“That may be true,” Tyrion reluctantly conceded, “but do you wish to invite war with the north?  Because that is what you’d be doing.”

“Jon has no desire to sit on the Iron Throne.  We both know that.  There is no danger that he will betray us.”

“There’s always a danger that he will betray us.  There’s always a danger that each and every person loyal to us will betray us.  It’s called war.  That’s how it works.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“Do you?  We’re already down one dragon.  And if Bran Stark is right—”

She held up a hand, stopping him in mid-sentence.  “I refuse to believe that he is.”

“Yes, I know.  And I understand why, of course.  But if he is right, if the Wall has fallen and the Night King has Viserion, we are already at a distinct disadvantage.”

“All the more reason why we need Jon on our side.  I trust Jon, and I believe the connection between us shall only make our alliance stronger, not weaker.”

Tyrion narrowed his eyes on her as an intriguing thought wound itself through his brain.  “Are you thinking of wedding Jon Snow?”

Daenerys smiled as if she found the thought amusing.  “Of course not.  Why would I give up half my power to anyone?”

“Because Jon isn’t after power.  Jon just wants what’s best for the people.  If you married him, there would be no reason for his bannermen to ever rise up against you.  The entire north would fall in line without a single drop of blood ever being shed.  And he’d become your own personal lapdog, doing as you commanded as long as nothing you asked of him offended the Stark sense of honor.” 

“Are you encouraging me to take him as my king?”

“I—” Tyrion stopped, knowing that he needed a moment to think things through before responding.  Yes, there was a danger in offering Jon Snow a share in Daenerys’ power.  But then again, there was a gentleness to Jon that Daenerys sorely lacked.  He was always cool and calm, and she could easily be swayed to anger by the dragon blood coursing through her veins.  Since the day they had met, Jon had always tempered her.  Tyrion wondered if he was exactly what Daenerys needed to keep her from becoming cruel and power-hungry like her father.  Perhaps a marriage between them would do more good than harm.  “I think it is something to take under advisement.  After all, for those in Westeros who see you as a foreign invader, there would be no better way to ingratiate yourself than by taking one of their own as your husband.”

“And only a moment ago you were trying to convince me to forsake Jon Snow.  Now, you ask me to marry him.”

“I asked you to forsake him as a lover.  But taking him as a husband is something very different.”

Daenerys seemed more amused than annoyed by Tyrion’s words.  “I shall take the idea under advisement,” Daenerys said as she stood.

Tyrion scrambled from his chair.  Daenerys was standing so close to him that he had to crane his neck back to look up at her face.  “Thank you, Your Grace.  That is all I ask.”

Tyrion knew Daenerys was done talking.  He bowed his head to her and then left the room.  Outside her closed door, he stopped, staring out blindly into the corridor before him.  When he had entered Daenerys’ chamber, he had never imagined that before he left, he would be encouraging her to take Jon Snow as her husband.  He hoped he had done the right thing.  It seemed right, but it was difficult to know for certain.  He had the feeling that he was missing something, that there was some hidden piece to the puzzle that he simply couldn’t see from his current vantage point.  Had he done something for the good of the realm, or had he just doomed them all?

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

After Jon had stormed out of Bran’s chamber, it had been difficult for Sansa not to follow him.  She had wanted to hunt him down and talk some sense into him before he did something stupid.  But Bran had advised her against it, and she was quickly learning that even though Bran seemed less and less human with every day that passed, his advice was always sound.  And so she had resisted the urge to go after Jon and had retired to her own chamber for the evening.

But Sansa’s mind was too fraught with worry for her to rest.  She paced the floor nervously, a thousand disastrous scenarios running through her head, one after another.  She knew she needed a distraction, something to take her mind off Jon and Daenerys Targaryen and the army of White Walkers that would doubtlessly be marching on Winterfell any day now.  She needed to find something else to occupy her mind, lest she run mad.

Sansa stopped.  There was one thing she could do that would distract her from her other worries, but she wondered if she had the courage to do it.  Of course, she was a Stark, and Starks were nothing if not brave, but still, her courage wavered.  She knew she would have to speak with Tyrion, eventually.  But did she wait until they found themselves in the Great Hall again, surrounded by a hundred other people?  Or did she go to him now and speak with him privately?  To wait would be to take the coward’s way out.  And Sansa was no coward.  She would go to him now, and they would talk.  Whatever happened, whatever embarrassment or humiliation awaited her, she would survive it.  She had learned a long time ago how to survive such things, and tonight would be no different.

Sansa left her chamber without another thought and made her way to the Guest House.  As the lady of the keep, she had instructed the servants on all the sleeping arrangements, so she knew which chamber had been assigned to Tyrion.

Soon, Sansa stood outside his door.  She raised her hand to knock but hesitated.  The truth was, despite the fact that they had once been husband and wife, she knew Tyrion very little.  The past four years had changed her irrevocably, just as she was sure they had changed him.  Would he be receptive to her visit?  Did she even have a right to visit him?

Of course, she was the Lady of Winterfell, and it was her right to visit any of her guests whenever she wanted to, but it wasn’t a right she felt the need to impose.  If Tyrion had no desire to see her, she would go.  But she at least had to try.

Sansa finally knocked on the door.

“Come in?” Tyrion replied, his words more question than command.

Sansa held her breath and opened the door. 

Tyrion was standing in the center of the room beside a large trunk.  He had a book in his hand, and his things were spread out around him as if he was in the midst of unpacking.  “Lady Sansa?”  There was surprise in his voice as he stared up at her from across the room.

Sansa’s breath hitched in her throat.  It had been years since they had been alone together, and so much had changed.  He had changed.  And the change wasn’t just physical.  Yes, his hair was darker and he now wore a beard, but it was more than that.  He looked wiser somehow, world-weary.  The years had aged him more than they should have.  Sansa wondered if he thought the same thing when he looked at her.

It took her a moment to compose herself, but finally, she said, “May I come in?”

“Of . . . of course,” he stammered as he placed the book gently down on the table by his side.

Sansa stepped into the room, closing the door behind her.

The chamber was eerily quiet as they both stared at each other.  There was so much Sansa wanted to say, but she didn’t know how to begin.  Thankfully, Tyrion broke the silence, alleviating some of the tension.

“Tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?  Not that I’m not flattered, but I am a little surprised.”

“We didn’t get to speak earlier, and I thought perhaps we should.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you.  But I can’t imagine what we really have to say to one another.  Unless, of course, you’ve come to talk about the impending invasion.”

Sansa was surprised by his response.  After everything they had been through together, she had thought he might greet her a little more warmly.  But then, she had abandoned him when he’d been arrested for Joffrey’s murder, and she couldn’t blame him if he never forgave her for that.

Sansa replied, “I would prefer to leave such conversations for when Jon is present since he will be making all the important decisions moving forward.”

“He and Daenerys,” Tyrion corrected.  “He has bent the knee to her after all.  She will be involved in all aspects of preparing for the coming battle.”

Tyrion didn’t know yet that Jon was the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms.  And it was not Sansa’s place to tell him.  So she would let him go on believing that Daenerys Targaryen still had a chance to take the Iron Throne, at least for the time being.

“Be that as it may,” Sansa said, “that isn’t why I’m here.”

“Why are you here?”

“I . . .” Sansa didn’t know what to say.  That she was there to apologize?  To inquire after his welfare?  To find out if he was still the same man she had started to trust back in King’s Landing?  What could she possibly say to the husband she had abandoned and betrayed, even if it was through no fault of her own?  “I just wanted to make sure that you understand that I didn’t know what was going to happen to you when I left King’s Landing.  Littlefinger—”

Tyrion held up his hand.  “Don’t.  You don’t have to say anything.  I know why you left.  And I don’t blame you for going.  Had you stayed, I’m sure my sister would have found some way to put you on trial for conspiring to murder Joffrey.  You did the right thing.  You wouldn’t be standing here now if you hadn’t.”

“Still, I owe you an apology.”

He shook his head.  “No, you don’t.  You don’t owe me an apology for anything.”

“Not even for marrying Ramsay Bolton?”

The look in Tyrion’s eyes hardened, and Sansa was certain that he was angry at her for having abandoned their marriage so completely.  So she was surprised when he said, “I feel like I’m the one who should apologize for that.”

“Why?  You had nothing to do with it.  Nothing at all.”

“True.  I wasn’t involved in you being sold to Lord Bolton, but had I done my duty as a husband when I’d had the chance, you would not have been free to marry him, and you would have been spared the horrors you suffered at his hands.  And for that, my dear lady, I will never forgive myself.”

Sansa was stunned by Tyrion’s words.  It didn’t surprise her that he knew what Ramsay Bolton had done to her.  The entire north knew.  But it did surprise her that he felt responsible.  He wasn’t angry with her, he was angry with himself.  And yet, there was no reason for it.  He hadn’t done anything wrong.  All he had ever been was kind to her.  She had been the one to turn away from him when he’d needed her most, not the other way around. 

Sansa was so overcome with emotion that it was difficult for her to speak.  But somehow, she managed.  “I was only a child when we were wed.  You didn’t do your duty as a husband because you knew I didn’t want you to.  You knew I wasn’t ready for it.  You were kind and gentle and understanding when that was exactly what I needed you to be.  Had you forced yourself on me, I am certain you would feel just as guilty as you do now, perhaps even more so.  And I know I would not be able to look on you as an ally, even though we are fighting on the same side.  You did the right thing, Tyrion.  You are blameless in this.”

He laughed bitterly.  “I don’t feel blameless.  I feel like I failed you.”

“You didn’t.  I failed you.”

He shook his head.  “No.  You did what you had to do to survive and to reclaim Winterfell.  Everything you did, you did for honor and family, just like your father before you.  You’ve proved yourself a Stark, through and through.  Don’t ever be sorry for that.  Be proud of it.”  His gaze moved down the length of her in obvious appraisal.  When his eyes met hers again, he said, “You’ve grown into a fine woman, Sansa.  Use the lessons of the past to your own benefit, but leave the pain behind, and you shall have a promising future.  I am certain of it.”

“And what about you?  What kind of future do you intend to have?”

“If we survive this?”  He shrugged.  “I suppose I will go wherever Daenerys goes.  Whether that’s to the Red Keep or to Dragonstone, I don’t know.  But wherever it ends up being, I will stand by her side as long as she needs me.  And when she no longer needs me, I shall retire to some nice, quiet place in the country and happily drink myself to death,” he said with a devilish smile.

“Is that really what you want?”

He paused for a moment as if thinking it over.  “Yes, actually, I think it is.  And what do you want, Sansa Stark, if this war ends in our favor?”

“I don’t honestly know.  I still doubt whether it can end in our favor, and until I’m certain that we’re all going to survive, I can’t even think about the future.”

Tyrion gave her a disapproving look.  “I’m disappointed in you, Sansa.  I thought you were smarter than that.  Anyone in power, anyone who hopes to stay in power, must prepare for all eventualities.  Even victory.  You do the people of the north a disservice by not planning for their victory against the White Walkers.  You should plan for both success and failure, so that whatever happens, you may make the most of it.”

Sansa didn’t like having her leadership abilities criticized, especially by a Lannister, but Tyrion had a point.  She had been so worried about surviving the impending attack that she hadn’t even prepared for what might happen if they won.  If they survived, their numbers would be decimated and their food stores depleted.  There would be much rebuilding to do, and the north would need a strong leader to see it through the long winter.  If Jon did take the Iron Throne, it would be Sansa’s responsibility to rebuild the north, and it would be best if she began preparing for that eventuality sooner rather than later.

When Sansa remained silent, Tyrion said, “I can see I’ve overstepped my bounds.  I do apologize, my lady.  I hadn’t meant to criticize, only to give you some friendly advice.”

“You haven’t overstepped your bounds, and there’s no need to apologize.  Everything you have said is perfectly sound.  I shall take it under advisement.”

Tyrion laughed.  “You flatter me, Sansa.  Thank you.”

“It’s not flattery.  Whatever else you are, Tyrion Lannister, you are a wise counselor.  Whoever sits on the Iron Throne when this is all over, would be wise to heed your advice.”

Tyrion arched a brow in question.  “And who do you think is going to be sitting on the Iron Throne when this is all over?  Daenerys or my sister?  Or someone else?”

It took great effort, but Sansa remained perfectly calm, allowing nothing to show in her face.  “Who can say who will survive the coming war?  Any one of us may fall to the White Walkers.  We will not know for certain until this is all over.  Until then, we can be sure of nothing, including who will sit on the Iron Throne.”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed on her.  She could tell that he was suspicious of her response, but he didn’t question her any further.  “Well, let’s hope that Daenerys survives the coming threat.  And Jon, of course.”

Sansa suspected that Tyrion knew what she was hoping for.  She could see it clearly reflected in his eyes.  He knew that if she had her way, it would be Jon ruling over all of Westeros when the war was over.  Of course, he had no way of knowing why she was so certain it was Jon’s rightful place.  But still, he knew all the same. 

“Let’s hope we all survive,” Sansa replied.

A wry smile quirked Tyrion’s lips.  “But of course.”

Sansa was done talking about the future and who would be in control when the war was over.  It was dangerous territory, and she feared that the more she talked, the more she would reveal.  After all, Tyrion Lannister was one of the smartest men in the Seven Kingdoms.  She didn’t have to confess anything to him directly for him to discover it.  He had a way of uncovering the truth just by watching and listening and drawing conclusions.  She would not give him anything more tonight.  She had already given him too much.

“Well,” Sansa said, “I have taken up enough of your time.  I shall leave you for the evening.”

“You really haven’t,” he said, surprising her.  “And you are more than welcome to stay and talk.”  He motioned to the small table in the far corner of the room.  “I’ve replenished my wine stores, so if you’d like, you may stay for a drink.”

Sansa didn’t know how to reply.  She had not expected Tyrion to ask her to stay.  She wondered what he hoped to gain by inviting her to have a drink with him.  Did he think that if she were intoxicated, she might reveal some vital information that he could use to his queen’s benefit?  Or did he simply desire her company?  She couldn’t imagine it being the latter, so she was certain it must be the former.  And she had already given him enough information for one night.

“While your offer is very kind,” Sansa replied, “I do have other guests to attend to.  Perhaps another time.”

He smiled.  “Don’t think I won’t hold you to that.”

Sansa nodded, having no intention of ever returning to Tyrion’s chamber.  “Good night, Tyrion.”

“Good night, Lady Sansa.”

She turned around and left the room as quickly as she could, afraid that if she stayed even a moment longer, he’d use his golden tongue to convince her not to go.  Tyrion Lannister was a very dangerous man.  He had the ear of both a queen and a king, and he had the ability to manipulate anyone who would let him speak for more than a minute.  Sansa both admired and feared him.  She knew he could be a great ally but also her worst enemy.  She wished they were fighting on the same side, but she knew that was no longer true.  Once Tyrion learned that Jon was the rightful heir, and once Jon was convinced that his place was on the Iron Throne, everything was going to change.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

Jon lay prone in the snow before the old heart tree in the godswood.  He had been there for hours, screaming and praying and begging the gods for what he knew to be true to be untrue.  He didn’t want to be the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.  He wanted to be Jon Snow, Ned Stark’s bastard.  It was all he had ever been and all he had ever wanted to be.  He had never aspired to be King in the North, and he had certainly never once wanted to sit on the Iron Throne.  Everything he had worked for, everything he had built with Daenerys, was now in jeopardy because his true parentage had been revealed.  Everything was going to change and not for the better.

Jon closed his eyes, and an unbidden sob escaped his throat.  Somewhere in his ravings to the gods it had occurred to him that if Rhaegar Targaryen was his father, it meant that Daenerys was his aunt.  And although Jon had never imagined that he and Daenerys would have any kind of meaningful future, he had thought that there was nothing wrong in expressing their love for each other.  But now, now he knew it was wrong.  Very wrong.  If they continued on as they were, they’d be no better than Cersei and Jaime Lannister, and Jon couldn’t abide that.  He had made love to his own aunt, and although the Targaryens had wed brothers to sisters for centuries, Jon could not involve himself in an incestuous relationship, no matter how much he loved Daenerys.  Their affair was at an end, and he had no idea how he was going to explain why without revealing the truth.  And once he revealed the truth, he feared what would come next.

Hot tears slid down Jon’s cheeks as he began to sob in earnest.  For the first time in ages, he wished that Melisandre had never woken him from the dead.  Had he never returned, there would have been no question of Daenerys’ sovereignty and Westeros might have been better off.  Of course, no one else would have been able to convince her to move north with her dragons, but still, he would have been spared all this pain, and for that, he would have been grateful.

Heavy, uncertain footsteps broke Jon from his reverie, and he pushed himself up to his knees, quickly wiping the moisture from his eyes, lest whoever had come to collect him see the remnants of tears on his face.  He turned toward the footsteps, exhaling sharply when he saw that it was only Sam.  Jon relaxed a little and waited silently for his old friend to approach.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt you,” Sam said when he finally reached Jon. “But you’ve been out here for hours, and I was beginning to worry about you.”

“It’s all right, Sam.  I finished praying long ago.”

Jon made no move to rise, so Sam awkwardly lowered himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged in front of him.  Sam looked up at the canopy above.  Even in winter, the heart tree had its full accompaniment of bloodred leaves, and he seemed awed by it.

“The weirwood where we took our vows was ancient and beautiful,” Sam said, “but nothing compared to this.  It’s positively stunning.”

“It’s always been a great comfort to me.  Now, I don’t know what to feel.”

Sam looked at Jon.  “Well, I suppose, you should feel however you’re feeling.  How are you feeling, Jon?”

“Cold,” he said with a bitter laugh.

“Of course, you’re cold.  We’re always cold.  We live in the north.”

“No, I mean on the inside.  I feel cold inside, as if everything that I have ever taken comfort in has just been stolen away from me.”

“Ah, I see.”

“What am I going to do, Sam?  You know I never wanted any of this.”

“Oh, I know, Jon. But sometimes these things get thrust upon us for a reason.  I never wanted to join the Night’s Watch, but I did.  And look what’s become of me because of it.  I killed a White Walker.  Who would have ever thought such a thing was possible?  And now, I’m on the front lines in the greatest war ever fought.  What’s more, thanks to my time at the Citadel, I’m actually capable of bringing something meaningful to the fight.  You underestimate yourself, Jon.  The gods, whether they be old or new, have chosen this path for you for a reason.  You shouldn’t fight it.  You shouldn’t fear it either.  You’re more than capable of meeting the challenge.”

“But I don’t want to meet the challenge.  And I don’t want to take anything away from Daenerys.  The Iron Throne is hers, not mine.  And I don’t want it to come between us.”

Sam smiled knowingly.  “You mean you don’t want her to kick you out of her bed because of it.”

“What makes you think I’ve ever even been in Daenerys’ bed?”

“Your brother Bran sees all.  And when I say all, I mean all.”

“Great.  Just great.”  Jon looked away, staring blindly at the weirwood tree behind Sam.  He could feel his cheeks heating with embarrassment.  It took him a moment, but finally, he asked, “Who else knows?”

“Just your sisters.  Well, I suppose they’re really your cousins now.  But just them.  No one else.”

Jon was surprised that Sansa had let him leave Bran’s chamber without having first subjected him to a lecture about his relationship with Daenerys.  Now, he understood why she had been so hostile to Daenerys upon their arrival.  She saw Daenerys as his rival for the Iron Throne, and no doubt she disapproved of the intimacy between them.

Jon looked back at Sam again.  “Tell me, Sam, what am I going to do?”

“That’s up to you.  Though I doubt you can continue to carry on with Daenerys Targaryen the way you have been.  After all, she is your aunt.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I’m sorry, Jon.  I can tell that you care for her.”

“I more than care for her.  I love her.  More than I thought I could ever love anyone again.”

Sam nodded, and Jon knew that his friend understood just how difficult this all was for him.  No one knew him as well as Sam did.  They had been brothers of the Night’s Watch, yes, but they had been more than that.  Sam was like blood to him.  He was as close to Jon as Robb, Bran, and Rickon had ever been.  Though now, Jon supposed none of them were truly his brothers anymore.  His whole world had shifted, and he knew it was going to take a great deal of time and effort for him to come to terms with it.

“I can’t tell her,” Jon said.  “I just can’t.  I will end our affair.  I have no choice.  But I can’t tell her why.  I don’t want to take anything away from her, and I don’t want the truth to come between us.”

“The truth can’t stay hidden forever,” Sam said.

“It’s stayed hidden this long.  It can stay hidden another decade or two.  Maybe longer.  No one need know the truth.  And if it does come out, better that it happens after the war is won and Daenerys is on the throne.  Once Westeros is at peace and the people of the north are happy, there will be no call for an uprising, no pressure to put me on the throne.  Let Daenerys have her glory.  Then the truth can be revealed, once it no longer matters.”

“It will always matter, Jon.  It will always matter to someone.”

“In that case, we must keep it a secret for as long as we can because I have no interest in sitting on the Iron Throne and Daenerys Targaryen must become queen.”

Sam shook his head.  “Lady Sansa wants you to be king.  She’s made up her mind—”

“I don’t care what Sansa wants,” Jon snapped, his voice sounding harsh even to his own ears.  He took a moment to collect himself before continuing.  “I appreciate the fact that Sansa believes so strongly in my ability to rule, but I have no desire to do so.  Daenerys is a better ruler than I will ever be, and she is what Westeros truly needs, regardless of who has a stronger claim to the throne.”

Sam looked doubtful.  “I think you underestimate your abilities, Jon.  After all, you started out as Ned Stark’s bastard and managed to become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and then the King in the North.  That didn’t happen by accident.  It happened because it’s in your blood.  You were born to rule, Jon.”

“No, I wasn’t.”

Sam offered him a sympathetic smile.  “I know you’d like to believe that, but it isn’t true.  I don’t know anyone better suited to rule Westeros than you.”

“I appreciate your faith in me, Sam.  I truly do.  But this isn’t the life I want.”

“Well, it’s the one the gods have given you.  And instead of sitting here in the snow freezing yourself to death, maybe you should think about all the good you could do if you were ruling from King’s Landing.”

“I know all the good Daenerys could do, and that’s all I need to know.”  A sudden chill ran down Jon’s spine, and he pulled his cloak tighter around himself to ward off the cold.  “Now, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.  I just want to go back inside and forget all about it.  Will you join me?”

“I’ll join you inside,” Sam said, “but I can’t agree to forget what I know to be true.  And you can’t either.  Sooner or later, you’re going to have to face the truth, Jon.  And I think it would be better for everyone concerned if you faced it sooner rather than later, that’s all.”

Jon appreciated Sam’s frankness, but he simply couldn’t agree with him.  Daenerys had been destined to rule Westeros from the day she’d been born, and Jon had no intention of standing in her way.  She was an amazing woman – kind, fair, seasoned in the ways of the world.  She was everything that Westeros needed, and Jon was going to do everything in his power to make sure that when the war was over, she was sitting on the Iron Throne.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

Daenerys had expected Jon to return to her that night, but he hadn’t.  She wondered if she should send Missandei out to find him but then thought better of it.  They were at Winterfell now, and Jon had his own responsibilities that didn’t involve her.  Besides, they had to be cautious around one another from now on, lest the wrong person notice the intimate connection between them.

And so Daenerys called for Missandei to keep her company instead.  While she waited, she sat by the fireplace drinking a cup of warm tea and trying not to let her mind wander to dark places.  She knew Jon was certain that his brother’s visions were real, but she couldn’t bring herself to accept it.  Not yet.  She didn’t care so much about the Wall.  She’d known the White Walkers would find a way through it somehow.  No, what she cared about was Viserion.  What she cared about was the fact that Bran Stark claimed to have seen the Night King riding Viserion.  Daenerys didn’t want to believe it – she couldn’t allow herself to believe it.  If she did, she knew the weight of her own grief would crush her, and she simply couldn’t afford to mourn at that moment.  She had to remain strong.  She had to stay focused on winning the war.  She could not let herself entertain the idea that her beloved child had died only to be brought back to life to fight for the dead.  If it had happened, it was her fault, and she didn’t know how she was ever going to live with it.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, and Daenerys was startled from her thoughts.  She realized then that there were tears misting her eyes, and she quickly swiped them away.  She sat up straighter in her chair and put her cup aside.  Then, she bid Missandei enter.

Missandei opened the door and stepped inside.  She joined Daenerys by the fireplace, sitting in the chair beside hers.  When Missandei was finally settled, she began to brief her queen on all she had learned as she’d fleetingly acquainted herself with Winterfell and its people.  Within an hour’s time, Daenerys knew the name of every lord and lady who had been present to greet her and Jon in the Great Hall.  She knew how many men they had pledged to the fight and what their personal weaknesses were.  Including Sansa Stark.

“They say she has been a different woman since Lord Bolton’s death,” Missandei said.  “There are rumors in the keep that she killed him herself, that she was the one to release the dog on him, and that she stood and watched as the beast tore him to pieces.”

“Well,” Daenerys said, “if what they say about Lord Bolton is true, then I cannot blame her for staying to watch.  Any man who can rejoice in such cruelty deserves to suffer a fate as vile as the ones he’s inflicted upon others.”  Daenerys had never been fond of inflicting pain on anyone, but she understood, better than most, that sometimes it was necessary to be brutal when dealing with your enemies.  There were some people who only understood cruelty, and to offer them anything less would be a wasted effort.

“They say she is fiercely loyal to the north,” Missandei continued, “and intends never to leave Winterfell again.”

“Let’s hope that is true.  I would hate to think that she has designs on the Iron Throne herself.”

“No, I don’t think that’s her intention.  From what I hear, it seems that it is Jon she would like to see rule, though I don’t know if she wants to see him on the Iron Throne or just as the King in the North.”

Daenerys leaned back in her chair, thoughtful for a moment.  “I wonder what Lord Tyrion has to say on the matter.  After all, he was Sansa Stark’s husband for a short while.”

“Have you never asked him about her?”

“In general terms, yes.  But I’ve never asked what he thought of her as a woman.”

Missandei’s lips quirked into the hint of a smile.  “I’m certain, as a woman, he thinks she is very beautiful, and he’s probably sorry that he never took her to his bed.”

Daenerys laughed.  “Yes, you are probably right.  But I’m sure he can offer me more insight than that.”  Daenerys looked out the window, hoping to gauge how late the hour was.  “I wonder if he is still awake.”

“The hour is late, Khaleesi, but if you would like me to call him—”

Daenerys held out a hand, stopping her in midsentence.  “No, that’s fine.  I am sure he is resting by now.  I will speak with him on the morrow.  We have all had a long journey, and I am sure he could use his sleep.”

“Well, from what I hear, he has certainly had enough wine tonight.  You’ll be lucky to be able to speak to him in the morning.  He’ll probably have to be dragged out of bed.”

“He’s more than earned one night of drunken revelry after everything he’s done for me.  I will not begrudge him that.”

“But will he begrudge you your own revelry?” Missandei asked, raising one dark brow in question.

“You mean Jon?”

“When he discovers what’s been going on—”

“He already knows.”

“And?”

Daenerys fought the urge to laugh.  “He thinks I should offer him marriage.”

Missandei gasped, but quickly recovered from the shock.  “He isn’t serious, is he?”

“Oh, very serious.  I assure you.  He thinks Jon would make a perfect consort, that he would gladly stand by and let me make all the important decisions as long as I was able to keep peace in the realm.”

Missandei shook her head.  “If you marry him, you’ll relinquish half your power.”

“If I marry him, I share my power.  There is a difference, subtle though it may be.  Tyrion is right about one thing though, if I were to marry Jon, it would take care of the problem in the north.  If Jon and I were wed, his bannermen would follow us both and the Seven Kingdoms would be at peace.”

“But at what cost?”

“Possibly a very high one.”

Daenerys was surprised to find that she was actually considering Tyrion’s suggestion.  And although she could pretend that it was strictly for the sake of the realm, the truth was, there was a part of her that wanted to marry Jon because she loved him and wanted to be his queen.  What she felt for him was different than what she had felt for Drogo.  So very different.  But no less real and no less valuable.  She and Jon had a connection that felt otherworldly, as if everything they had ever been and everything they had ever done had been orchestrated by the gods in order to bring them together.  If she allowed herself, she could imagine having a very happy life with him, side by side, sharing the throne.

“You want to take the chance, don’t you?” Missandei asked, breaking Daenerys from her reverie.  “Because you love him.”

Daenerys’ first instinct was to deny it, but she was no coward.  She was not afraid to admit the truth of her feelings, especially to her closest friend and confidant.  “I do love him.  And yes, the idea of being his queen has an emotional appeal that I cannot deny.”

Missandei fought back a smile.  “I understand how you feel.  Though I know Grey Worm and I can never wed, I would be lying if I said I had never imagined what it would be like if we could be husband and wife.”

“And why can’t you wed?”

“Because he is commander of the Unsullied and he is forbidden from taking a wife.”

“By whom?  I am in command of the Unsullied now.  No one else.  I decide what code they live by.  And if I say they can marry, then they can marry.”

Missandei shook her head.  “No, Khaleesi.  If you allow it for one, you must allow it for all.  And then, the Unsullied will no longer be the Unsullied and your army will weaken.  No, I would never ask you to do such a thing for me.  Nor would Grey Worm.  My point is, I understand wanting to be with the man you love, but I am not sure that we live in a world where that is ever truly wise.”

“Khal Drogo and I were very much in love, and had things turned out differently, he would have made a great king of Westeros.  I know he and I would have been very happy together, no matter what we faced.  But I do see your point.  I have much to consider.”

“Perhaps it would be best to retire for the night.  It is quite late, and it has been a very long day.”

“And tomorrow will be even longer, I’m sure.  I bid you good night, then.  I will see you in the morning.”

“Good night, Khaleesi.”  Missandei stood.  She bowed her head deferentially and then took her leave.

Daenerys sat alone in her borrowed chamber, gazing into the fire, its warm glow a comfort to her on an almost preternatural level.  She did have a great deal to consider, and she was certain that there was much she still didn’t know about the north and what the future might hold.  She would proceed cautiously, just as she had always done, and make her decisions based on advantage and necessity, not the dictates of her own heart.  No matter how strongly they called to her.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

The next morning broke bright and cold.  Tyrion had forgotten how difficult it was to drag himself out of a warm bed in the bitterness of winter, and it was a struggle just to open his eyes and get his feet on the floor.  He’d awoken late, his head aching from the wine he had drunk the night before.  He’d missed breakfast and was forced to dress quickly in order to meet Jon and Daenerys in the Great Hall for their morning audience with the Stark bannermen.

Tyrion’s stomach grumbled as he entered the hall, but just like the pounding in his head, he chose to ignore it.  He had more important things to worry about than his own physical discomfort.

The hall was more crowded than Tyrion had ever seen it before.  It seemed as if the entire north had gathered in that single chamber to plan for the coming battle.  The lords who had been present to greet Jon and Daenerys the day before had all returned, along with nearly everyone who had taken up residence within the walls of Winterfell within the last fortnight.  Some of them Tyrion recognized, some he didn’t.  He caught a brief glimpse of Brienne of Tarth among the crowd, and for a moment, it made him think of Jaime.  Cersei had pledged her forces to join them on the battlefield, but so far, there had been no word of her sending reinforcements.  He wondered if she truly meant to send her troops north and if he would ever see his beloved brother again.

Tyrion moved along the edges of the room, making his way toward the front of the hall.  He passed Ser Jorah and Lord Varys as he went, avoiding meeting their eyes.  He’d had enough of their questioning looks the night before, and he was in no mood for it now.  Even though he had spoken with Sansa, he still didn’t understand why she was so hostile toward Daenerys, and he doubted he ever would.

As Tyrion neared the table at the front of the room, he finally caught sight of his queen and her lover.  They were sitting in the center, side by side, looking as regal and beautiful as if the gods themselves had orchestrated their union.  Tyrion was awed by the sight of them.  Daenerys was dressed in an ice-blue gown and matching cape with fur at the collar.  Jon was all in black.  The contrast between them was stunning.  If asked at that moment, Tyrion would have sworn fealty to the both of them and followed them to the edge of the world, regardless of the consequences.  He just hoped that they inspired the same confidence in everyone else present.

Tyrion’s eyes shifted down the long table.  Ser Davos was at Jon’s right, and beside him was Sansa.  Tyrion’s heart skipped a beat at the sight of her.  He had been stunned the night before when she’d visited his chamber.  He had expected to speak with her for the first time in the Great Hall, before the other lords and ladies present, not alone in his bedchamber.  He knew why she had chosen to speak with him privately, and he was grateful for it.  Even so, he regretted that she hadn’t stayed just a bit longer.  He would have liked to have spent more time alone with her.

Tyrion knew he could not allow himself to dwell on such thoughts for long.  There was serious work to be done, and he couldn’t waste his energy pining for something that could never be.  So he dragged his eyes away from Sansa and moved his gaze farther down the table.  Next to Sansa was Arya, and beside her was Bran, looking just as impassive as he had the day before.  Tyrion was still startled by the change in the boy, and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get used to it.

Afraid he was staring for too long, Tyrion turned his attention to the other end of the table.  Missandei stood behind her queen, and there was an empty chair beside Daenerys that he was sure was reserved for him.  Without further delay, Tyrion approached the table and took his seat beside his queen.

“Missandei told me you’d be late,” Daenerys said as she turned her head just far enough to look down at Tyrion.

“Did she now?”

“She said you’d had too much to drink last night.”

“There’s no such thing as too much to drink.  Nor enough to drink, for that matter.  One can never have enough wine.”

The hint of a smile quirked Daenerys’ lips as she turned back toward the crowd in front of her. 

Jon raised his hand, and soon, the room fell silent as he brought the gathering to order.  “There’s been a report this morning that the White Walkers have been seen south of the Wall.  A farmer and his son arrived just an hour ago, cold and frightened and near death, telling stories of the undead making their way south.  I have already sent scouts northward to confirm the reports.  It is quite possible that the Wall has been breached.”

There was a low murmuring of voices throughout the hall, mostly words of disbelief.  Although Bran Stark claimed to have seen a vision of the Wall being destroyed, as far as Tyrion knew, that information had yet to be shared with Jon’s bannermen.  This was the first they’d heard of it, and they were not taking the news well.

Jon raised his hand again, silencing the entire hall.  “Now, I know that some of you find that impossible to believe, but if I have learned anything during my time in the Night’s Watch, it’s that anything is possible.  The dead can walk among the living, dragons can fly across the sky, and even the great and mighty Wall can crumble.  Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility anymore.  Including victory.  Including defeat.”

Tyrion was struck by how well-spoken Jon was and by how well he commanded the room.  Tyrion sat back and observed quietly as Jon began to invite his bannermen to speak up regarding their concerns.  Soon, there was an open dialogue between Jon and his men, with Jon carefully weighing their concerns and countering them with his own solutions.  When everyone had been given a chance to speak, he turned the proceedings over to Daenerys, allowing her to address the men who had, through their commitment to their chosen king, devoted themselves to her cause as well.

“The coming war will be one that affects us all,” she began.  “Northerner, southerner, Stark, or Targaryen, smallfolk or noblemen, it doesn’t matter.  We are all in danger, and if we lose, we all will die.  Everything Jon has said is correct.  Defeat is still a possibility, but so is victory.  We will ride north, and we will defeat the White Walkers before they reach Winterfell.  We will destroy them before they can lay waste to a single town or village this side of the Wall.  We have two dragons and several armies under our command.  We will destroy the White Walkers and the Night King, and when that is done, Jon and I shall usher in a reign of peace for the Seven Kingdoms that shall last for generations.”

Tyrion was surprised by Daenerys’ declaration.  He wondered if she had decided to take Jon as her king and if she had already posed the question to him.  Tyrion eyed them both shrewdly, trying to discern any change between them.  Although Daenerys looked upon her consort with thinly veiled affection, Jon avoided meeting her gaze, and Tyrion was certain that something had changed between them, but what it was, he had no way of knowing.

There was a cry of assent from the crowd, and Daenerys continued on, detailing her plans for winning the war.  As Hand of the Queen, Tyrion would have been within his rights to interject, but there was no need.  Daenerys was more than capable of commanding a room, and she certainly didn’t need his help. 

Tyrion leaned forward, resting his arms on the table in front of him and daring a glance at Sansa.  She was watching Daenerys, not with anger or contempt, but with disinterest, as if Daenerys had no more power over her or the men present than the lowliest servant.  Why was it that Sansa refused to accept the inevitability of Daenerys’ rule?  Did she merely doubt the queen’s ability to triumph over the White Walkers and claim the Iron Throne, or was she planning to stand in Daenerys’ way somehow?  He knew Sansa had spent a great deal of time with both Littlefinger and Cersei.  He hoped that if she was planning something, it was more honorable than anything the two of them had taught her.

Sansa must have felt his eyes upon her because she suddenly lowered her gaze and looked across at him.

Again, Tyrion’s heart skipped an unexpected beat.  He wanted to believe it was because he had been caught staring, but he knew it was because Sansa Stark had an undeniable power over him.  Despite the years they had spent apart, he was still attracted to her.  Perhaps even more so now than he had been back in King’s Landing.  She was no longer a foolish little girl.  She was a strong, confident, beautiful woman, and everything about her captivated him far more than it should have.

Sansa arched one finely shaped brow in question.

Tyrion offered her a half smile, shaking his head at having been caught.  He looked away first, afraid that if he continued to hold her gaze, she might read too much into it.  Instead, he leaned back against his chair again and turned his attention to Daenerys, intent on playing the part of the dutiful Hand.

Altogether, the meeting lasted no more than an hour.  By the time it was done, the decision had been made to start moving north first thing on the morrow.  Although there had been no word from Cersei regarding the reinforcements she had promised, they could not wait another day.  Jon and Daenerys would be riding into battle with their men at dawn, whether the Lannister army was behind them or not.

Daenerys had decided to lead the charge atop Drogon.  Just as when she had ridden north of the Wall, Tyrion was against the idea of her heading into battle, but he held his tongue.  He hadn’t won the last argument, and he knew he wouldn’t win this one.  Daenerys would never allow anyone else to take her children into battle without her, but the only way they were ever going to win was if her dragons were at the head of their armies.  Tyrion prayed that Daenerys would survive the war because if she didn’t, the future of Westeros looked bleak indeed.

Soon, both Jon and Daenerys took their leave of the Great Hall, followed by the Starks.  Tyrion trailed after them, hoping to have a private word with his queen, but by the time he reached the corridor, she and Jon had disappeared.  Tyrion didn’t know what was going on between them, but he hoped that whatever it was would not bode ill for the fate of the realm.  Westeros was on the brink of disaster, and the last thing it needed was strife between the Dragon Queen and the King in the North.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

“Come to my chamber,” Daenerys said to Jon the moment they were beyond hearing distance of the crowded hall.  “We need to talk.”

Jon didn’t want to talk.  He wanted to retreat to the godswood once again, to pretend that Daenerys Targaryen meant nothing to him, that she was just an ally in battle and nothing more.  He wanted to forget that there had ever been anything between them.  Most of all, he wanted to forget that he loved her.  But he couldn’t because every time he looked at her, his heart beat a little faster and his blood ran hot through his veins.  Even now, even knowing what she was to him, he still loved her, and he still wanted her.  He knew he had to end their affair.  He just didn’t know how.

And so despite his desire to run, Jon followed Daenerys in the direction of the Guest House, knowing that he must face the truth.  He was no coward.  He never had been.  He would do the honorable thing, even if it killed him.  Again.

They reached Daenerys’ chamber without another word spoken between them.  The instant they were safely alone together, Daenerys turned to him, her eyes bright and clear as they met his own.  “You didn’t return to me last night.  Is everything all right?”

Jon wanted to pretend that everything was fine.  He wanted to take her in his arms and love her one last time before telling her the truth.  But he couldn’t.  His honor wouldn’t allow it.  “I find that my family has made it impossible for us to continue on as we are.  I’m sorry, Daenerys.  There’s nothing I can do.”

Her eyes narrowed on him as if she was struggling to comprehend his words.  He was being intentionally obtuse, hoping that he could somehow avoid explaining exactly why they could no longer be together, and he knew he was failing miserably. 

“If your sister has a problem with me,” Daenerys replied, “then she should tell me so herself, instead of working to undermine our relationship behind my back.”

Jon shook his head.  “It isn’t Sansa.”

“Isn’t it?  She clearly doesn’t want me here.  She clearly thinks you would make a better ruler of the Seven Kingdoms than I would.  You cannot tell me that she doesn’t have a hand in this.”

“It’s not just Sansa.  It’s all of them.”

Daenerys laughed.  “If they all loathe me so much, then why did they send you to Dragonstone to ask for my help in the first place?”

“They don’t loathe you.”

“Oh, really?  They haven’t exactly greeted me with a warm welcome. I have not had a private visit from a single one of them.  And now, you are telling me that you and I can no longer be together because they say so?  Tell me, Jon, how do they know about us?  Have they told you we can no longer be lovers?  Or have they just told you how much they disapprove of me and you’ve taken it upon yourself to end things before they discover the truth?”

“I didn’t tell them anything.  They already knew.”

“How?  Does your sister have spies tracking your every move?”

“No.  It isn’t that.”

“Then what is it?  How did they know?”

“It’s Bran.  It’s his visions.”

Daenerys’ eyes turned cold with understanding.  “He saw us?  Your brother saw us?  Together?”

“Yes.”  The word was barely a whisper.  Jon was already embarrassed that Bran had seen him and Daenerys together.  But he felt a hundred times worse telling her about it.  She was a very private woman, and he felt as if Bran had been spying on them.

Daenerys broke his gaze.  She drifted toward the hearth on the far side of the room, staring down into the flames with unseeing eyes.  It took a long time for her to finally respond.  “Are you sure he saw us together?  Are you sure someone didn’t just tell him about us so that he could convince you that his visions are real?”

“I’m sure.  I’ve never been surer of anything in all my life.”

Daenerys finally looked up at Jon again.  There was a pain in her eyes that he didn’t quite understand.  And then, she said, “If your brother had a vision of us together, that means his other visions are just as real.  That means—”  She choked on the words, and Jon was across the room in an instant, wrapping his arms around her and holding her close. 

“I’m so sorry, Daenerys,” he whispered against her hair.  “You have no idea how sorry I am.”

She began to tremble in his arms, and although he could not hear her tears, he was certain she was crying. 

“It’s going to be all right,” Jon murmured softly.  “I promise.  We’ll get through this somehow.”

Daenerys shook her head.  “I don’t want to get through it.  I don’t deserve to get through it.  Not after what I’ve done.”

“You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I took my children north of the Wall.  I put them in danger.  And I led Viserion to his death.  And now—” 

Her voice broke on a sob, and Jon pulled her even closer.  He rested his head against hers and just held her for the longest time.  He wished there was some way to take away her pain, to make things better, but there wasn’t.  All he could do was hold her and comfort her as best he could.  He didn’t think he had ever felt more helpless.

When Daenerys finally stopped trembling, she reached up between them to dry her eyes.  By the time she pulled away, all evidence of her tears had disappeared, and all he saw was cold resignation in her eyes.  “You don’t need to comfort me, Jon Snow.  I no longer mean anything to you, so you need not pretend.”

“That isn’t true, and you know it.”

“Of course, it’s true.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be walking away from me right now, you wouldn’t be putting this wedge between us.”

“If I had any other choice—”

“You do have a choice.  I understand that your family doesn’t approve of us being together, but I don’t understand why that matters to you, why you are letting them dictate our future.  Your people have named you King in the North, not Sansa Stark.  What kind of king takes orders from other people?”

“I’m not taking orders from anyone.  They’re my family, and that means something to me.  Why can’t you understand that?”

“I have had very little experience of family, Jon Snow.  I lived with only my brother until he sold me into marriage, and he was a cruel and selfish man who cared only about his own glory.  Beyond that, I’ve never lived with my own blood, and I don’t understand why you would put your family’s wishes above your own when we are doing nothing wrong.”

“But we are doing something wrong.”  The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, and Jon’s heart thudded painfully against his ribs.  He wished he could take the words back, but they hung heavily in the air between them, ready to destroy everything they had built together.

Daenerys looked at him in disbelief.  “Please don’t tell me that you have some ridiculous northern code of honor that forbids you from lying with a woman to whom you are not wed.  Or worse, that you are suddenly holding yourself to the vows you spoke when you took the black.  You are no longer a brother of the Night’s Watch.  You are no longer fettered by those vows.”

“It isn’t that.  It isn’t any of that.”

“Then what is it?  Because I am trying very hard to understand.”

Jon hadn’t wanted it to come to this.  He hated himself for having made such a terrible mistake, but there was no going back now.  Perhaps it was best if Daenerys knew.  After all, on the morrow, they would be heading into battle together.  It was best if they didn’t do it while keeping secrets from each other.

Jon had barely slept the night before, and as he’d tossed and turned in his bed, he’d had the opportunity to think.  Although it had never been his ambition to be the King in the North, he knew it was what his bannermen wanted, even though he had already bent the knee to Daenerys.  He owed his bannermen a great deal, and he would not go against their wishes if it was within his power to stay faithful to them.  And so he had decided that if Daenerys ever discovered the truth, he would offer her a reasonable compromise, one that he hoped they both could live with.

“All right, I will tell you,” Jon said, “but first, there’s something I need you to understand.  When all of this is over, when the war is won – assuming we all survive – all I want is to be able to come home to Winterfell and protect the north as is my duty and my right.  For the sake of the men pledged to me, I would prefer to return as king.  I have no desire to sit on the Iron Throne.  Being the King in the North is more than enough for me.  Do you understand?”

“I understand that you want me to relinquish one-seventh of this kingdom to you.  I am not certain that I am prepared to do so.”

“Perhaps after I tell you what I know, you’ll see things differently.  In the end, all things considered, what I’m asking for is the least I am due.”

“Meaning?”

Jon inhaled a girding breath.  He looked Daenerys square in the eyes, determined to keep his voice steady and his manner calm.  “Some information has come to light regarding my parentage, and it seems that I have as much right to the Iron Throne as you do.  Perhaps even more so.”

Jon had expected her to be angry.  What he did not expect was for her to laugh.  But she did.

“Do you expect me to believe that the tavern wench who bore you was a lady of noble birth?  That you are not, in fact, a bastard, Jon Snow?”

“Ned Stark was not my father,” Jon said, his tone deathly serious.  “And my mother was no tavern wench.  She was Lady Lyanna Stark.  And my father was Rhaegar Targaryen.  Your brother.”

Daenerys instantly sobered.  Her eyes narrowed on Jon as if with those last words he had just declared war on her.  “You expect me to believe such lies?”

“They’re not lies.  Bran can see the past as well as the present.  He saw them being wed in secret after Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage to Elia Martell was annulled.”

Daenerys laughed again, though this time the sound was hollow.  “Oh, so now you expect me to not only believe that you are the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark, but that you are their legitimate son?  That you are the rightful heir to the Iron Throne?”

“I am.”

Daenerys shook her head, her composure beginning to crack.  “No, you are not.  This is a ruse your family devised to see me deposed and to put you on the throne.  That is all.  There is no proof beyond your brother’s word.”

“There is some proof.  Samwell Tarly, one of my brothers from the Night’s Watch, has just recently returned from the Citadel.  While he was there, he uncovered the private diary of a High Septon who wrote about annulling Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia Martell and wedding him to Lyanna Stark.  It’s concrete proof—”

“It proves nothing.  Just that all your family and friends are good liars.”

“It’s all the proof I need.”

“Well, it is not all the proof I need.  I will not stand aside simply because you’ve made some ridiculous claim that you are a Targaryen.  I will not relinquish my claim to the throne for you or for anyone else.”

“And I’m not asking you to,” Jon said, his tone softening.  “I don’t want to sit on the Iron Throne.  You already know that.  All I want is for you to understand why we can no longer be together.  That’s all.”

“And why is that?”

Jon was surprised she hadn’t figured it out already, but then, she seemed too angry to be thinking clearly.  “Because if Rhaegar Targaryen was my father, that means that you are my aunt.”

Daenerys stared at him, her vibrant eyes giving no hint of what she was thinking.  He half expected her to laugh at him again.  After all, thus far, she’d seemed to find all his claims absurd.

When she finally did speak, all she said was, “That cannot be.”

“It can, and it is.  I am your nephew.  I am your blood.  And as such, we can no longer lie together.  I’m sorry, Daenerys.  I truly am.” 

There was nothing more Jon could say, so he turned to go, but Daenerys reached out, touching his arm and stopping him.  Jon turned back to look at her. 

Daenerys pulled her hand away, now that she had his full attention.  “If what you say about your parentage is true, and if you truly have no designs on the throne, does it really matter that we are aunt and nephew?  If the rest of the world is kept in the dark about the blood we share, does it even matter?”

“What do you mean?”

“The Targaryens have married brothers to sisters for centuries.  Although your Stark pride may not allow it, there is nothing in the Targaryen code of honor that forbids you and I from continuing on just as we are.”

“Are you mad?”  The instant he said it, Jon wished he hadn’t.  Daenerys’ eyes turned stormy at the mere suggestion that she might be anything like her father.  Jon scrambled to find the words to make amends.  “What I mean is, things have changed since the last Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne.  The people of Westeros would never accept such a relationship.  If you wish to endear yourself to them, you must respect their sense of honor and decency.  And to the average man or woman, being in a carnal relationship with a member of your own family is considered indecent.  Just look at Cersei and Jaime Lannister.”

“We are nothing like Cersei and Jaime Lannister.”

“I know that.  But will the people believe it?  And really, that’s what you’ll need to be most concerned with when all of this is over.”

“If I save them from the Night King, the people will be so grateful that they will accept me on whatever terms I offer.”

“No,” Jon replied, shaking his head.  “People have short memories.  They will always be grateful, yes.  They will sing songs about you for generations to come.  But sooner or later, they will find things to complain about, and you will have to be just as careful as any ruler who has come before you.”

“I don’t want to lose you, Jon.”  The sincerity in her voice was unmistakable, but there was nothing he could do to comfort her.

“I am still your ally.  I will still fight beside you—”

“But you will never love me again.”

“No.  I’m sorry, Daenerys.  I just can’t.”

Jon turned away then, afraid that if he continued to look at her, his resolve would crumble.  He wanted to reach out to her, to hold her, to love her.  But he couldn’t.  He left the room as quickly as he could, his heart shattered beyond repair.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

Daenerys stared at the closed door without seeing it.  All she could see was Jon turning away from her.

Every nerve in her body was numb, and she felt the overwhelming urge to cry again.  But she fought back the tears.  She was the Mother of Dragons after all.  There was nothing wrong with her crying over the loss of one of her children, but she would not cry over the loss of a man.  Never again.  Not even Jon Snow.

Daenerys forced herself to move.  She crossed the room and lowered herself into one of the chairs by the fire, knowing that her legs would not hold her for long.  Even though she was determined to be stalwart in the face of Jon’s abandonment, her body was still in shock, and it would be some time before it recovered.

Daenerys stared into the flames, their familiar dance comforting her in a way that little else could.  She didn’t want to believe that what Jon had told her was true.  After all, his assertions had been so absurd, and he had absolutely no proof of them other than his brother’s word.  But then, if he had simply wanted to end their relationship, he could have come up with a much more plausible excuse.  No, Jon had told her the truth.  Or at least, what he believed to be the truth.  Now, Daenerys just had to prove him wrong.  If she could prove that Bran Stark was lying, then perhaps she could convince Jon that there was no reason to end their affair. 

And if Bran Stark was lying that meant that there was still a chance that Viserion was resting in his icy grave and that the Wall still stood between the living and the army of the dead.

Fortified by her newfound resolve, Daenerys stood and went to the door.  When she opened it, she found Missandei waiting for her on the other side. 

“Where is Lord Tyrion?” Daenerys asked.

“I am not certain, Khaleesi.  Would you like me to go find him?”

“Yes, and bring him straight here when you do.”

“Of course.”  Missandei nodded and set off in search of her queen’s Hand.

Daenerys closed the door and paced the floor in silence.  If anyone could find out the truth, it was Tyrion.  She still had Lord Varys at her disposal, of course, and his collection of little birds, but Tyrion had a much more personal connection to the Starks, and she wanted to speak with him first before she consulted the Master of Whispers.  Besides, the fewer people who knew about Bran Stark’s claims, the better.

It wasn’t long before there was a knock at the door, and Tyrion entered the room.  “You sent for me?”

“Come in.  We have much to discuss.”

He closed the door behind him and made his way across the room.  Just as they had done the night before, they settled into the matching chairs by the hearth so that they could speak more intimately. 

“I’ve been wondering all morning,” Tyrion began as he made himself comfortable in the high backed chair, “what happened between you and Jon last night?  I can’t imagine it was good.  He barely looked at you in the Great Hall.”

“How very astute of you.” 

“Well, it is my job to notice such things.”

 “Jon and I are no longer . . . involved,” she said, wanting to get straight to the point.

“I see.  And was this decided before or after you offered him your hand in marriage?”

A pang of regret stabbed at Daenerys’ heart.  Just that morning, she had been considering asking Jon to be her husband.  Now, she couldn’t imagine him ever agreeing to such a proposal.  It was stunning the difference a few short hours could make. 

“Before.”

“I see.  And if it was not a marriage proposal that did it, pray tell, what has caused this rift between you?”

“The absurd assertion by Bran Stark that Jon and I are kin.”

Tyrion stared at her as if trying to wrap his agile mind around her reply.  Finally, he said, “And what would make young Lord Stark make such an assertion?”

“According to Jon, it was one of his visions.  He claims to have seen proof of Jon’s true parentage.”  Daenerys laughed, the sound undeniably bitter.  “And he expects us all to believe that Jon Snow is not the son of Ned Stark after all, but the son of his sister, Lyanna, and my brother, Rhaegar.”

Tyrion’s mouth slumped open, and he stared at her again, although this time his gaze seemed clouded with disbelief.  When he spoke, Daenerys expected him to decry the idea as absurd, but he didn’t.  Instead, all he said was, “Why would Bran Stark make up a lie like that?”

“To bolster his brother’s claim to the Iron Throne.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “But Jon doesn’t want the Iron Throne.  He barely wants to rule the north, much less all of Westeros.  Besides, if it is true, if your brother Rhaegar did impregnate Lyanna Stark, that doesn’t change the fact that Jon Snow is still a bastard.  Though rather than being Jon Snow, I suppose that would make him Jon Sand.  Either way, a bastard is still a bastard.”

“But Bran Stark claims he is not a bastard, that Rhaegar’s marriage to Elia Martell was annulled before he ran off with Lyanna, and that Rhaegar and Lyanna were married before Jon was born.”

“Making him a legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.  An heir with even more right to the throne than you.”

“Quite convenient, isn’t it?”

Tyrion eyed her thoughtfully.  “What does Jon have to say about all this?”

“He says he doesn’t care about the throne, that he has no interest in ruling Westeros.”

“I truly believe that he doesn’t.”

“And yet, he believes everything Bran Stark has told him, including that he and I are blood.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “Not just blood.  Aunt and nephew.”

“As if it makes any difference.”

“But it does make a difference.  There are those in Westeros who believe that it was the years of inbreeding – marrying brother to sister for generation upon generation – that led to your father’s madness.  They don’t want to see that happen again.  Jon is right to be concerned.”

“Even if it isn’t true?”

“Are you sure it isn’t true?”

Daenerys was frustrated by Tyrion’s apparent determination to side with Jon on the matter.  Tyrion was her Hand.  He needed to be on her side.  “Of course, I am sure.”

“But why would the Starks lie about such a thing?  The Starks, in general, are not known for their ability to deceive.  Their sense of honor usually stands in the way of it.”

“Because they were displeased when they learned that Jon bent the knee to me, because they want to see Jon on the throne.  I realize that Jon does not care one way or the other, but I am certain that Sansa Stark does.  If I had to lay the blame on anyone, it would be her.”

Tyrion’s eyes darkened, and Daenerys couldn’t tell if he was angry or just pensive.  She knew he had a rather complicated relationship with the current Lady of Winterfell, but she didn’t know how he felt about the girl one way or the other.

“Sansa would never dream up such a lie,” Tyrion said, his tone betraying none of his emotions.  “She is Ned Stark’s daughter after all.  And even after everything she’s been through, that will never change.  No, this is not Sansa’s doing, and I seriously question whether it is a lie at all.”

Daenerys was disappointed in his answer.  She wanted assurances from him, not for him to defend the Stark family honor.  “Perhaps you think too highly of the girl.  It’s been years since you’ve seen her.  A lot can change even in a short time.”

“No, not Sansa.  Never.  She is an honorable woman.”

“Is she, now?  And what of the rumor that she was the one to release a ravenous dog on Lord Bolton?  That she stayed and watched as it devoured him?”

Tyrion flinched.  It was only a momentary lapse in his stalwart façade, but it was enough for Daenerys to catch a glimpse of what he was feeling.

“If that is true,” Tyrion said, “I can only assume it was a matter of honor for her.  Ned Stark believed that he who imposes the death sentence should also wield the blade.  No doubt Sansa was just following in her father’s footsteps, delivering the deathblow herself to a man who, by all accounts, rightfully deserved it.”

Daenerys looked at Tyrion for a long moment, studying him thoughtfully.  He had changed so much since they had first met.  When he’d first come into her life, he’d looked like nothing more than a drunken beggar.  Now, he was one of the most powerful men in the world, and he looked every bit the part.  There was a seriousness about him, a weariness, that hadn’t been there before.  And it seemed it was joined by an undying admiration for Sansa Stark.  Daenerys didn’t know why he felt so strongly about the girl, but it was readily apparent that he would doggedly defend her honor no matter how foul the accusation.  Daenerys wondered if admiration wasn’t the only thing her Hand felt for the Lady of Winterfell.

“You’re very good at defending her,” Daenerys said.  “I thought you were supposed to be on my side.”

“I am on your side.  And being on your side means giving you my honest, unbiased opinion.”

Daenerys fought the urge to laugh.  “On a woman you clearly have feelings for?” 

Tyrion shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  “I . . . I don’t have feelings for Sansa Stark.  Don’t be absurd.”

“Why is it absurd?  She’s a beautiful girl.”

“Yes, she is a beautiful girl, and I am an ugly dwarf.  I would never dare to have feelings for Sansa Stark.  That way lies heartache and disappointment, and I’ve had more than enough of both in my life.  So, no thank you.”  Tyrion pushed himself off his chair, clearly desperate to escape Daenerys’ scrutiny.

“Where are you going?” she asked, instantly stopping his retreat. “I haven’t dismissed you yet.”

Tyrion looked up at her, his feet still planted firmly on the floor.  “I had assumed our conversation was over.”

Daenerys smiled.  “Oh, it’s not over.  It’s not anywhere near over.  Sit down, Lord Tyrion.”

“Wouldn’t you rather that I go uncover this great conspiracy that the Starks have concocted?  Because, after careful consideration, I am now certain that they are plotting against you, and I must go investigate.”

“Sit down,” she said more firmly.

Reluctantly, Tyrion pulled himself back up onto his chair and looked at her again.

Daenerys knew she was making him uncomfortable, and she was glad.  There was more to his relationship with Lady Stark than he was willing to admit, and as his queen, she had a right to know.

“Tell me about the Stark girl,” Daenerys commanded.

“You already know everything there is to know about her.”

“Then tell me how you feel about her.  And don’t lie.  I will know if you are lying.”

Tyrion inhaled a long, slow breath.  He took a moment to compose himself before answering.  “I met her when she was very young, just a child really.  And she wasn’t much older when my father forced me to take her as my wife.  Despite all that she has been through, she has always been a sweet girl, a kind girl.  When we were wed, all I wanted was to protect her, to offer her some shelter from the madness that was life in King’s Landing.  And I succeeded fairly well.  At least, I thought I had succeeded.  But no matter how kind I was to her, how patient and understanding, I could not protect her from the machinations of my own family.  While we were married, my father conspired with Walter Frey to butcher her mother and brother.  It’s a miracle that she was even able to look at me after that.  It’s a miracle that she’s even able to look at me now.”

“Do you think you failed her?”

“I did fail her,” Tyrion said softly, his gaze drifting toward the flames in the hearth.  “I should have protected her better.  At the very least, I should have done my duty by her and consummated our marriage so that Littlefinger couldn’t have sold her to Ramsay Bolton.  Of course, she holds me blameless, but I still blame myself.”

“Are you in love with her?”

Tyrion’s eyes snapped back to Daenerys.  “Of course not.”

“Are you sure?  Because you seem to care for the girl a great deal.”

“She was my wife.  I feel an obligation to be concerned for her welfare.”

“I am your queen, and she is on the opposing side.  I’m the one whose welfare you should be concerned for.”

“And I am.  Besides, Sansa Stark is not on the opposing side.  We are all on the same side.  We are all determined to destroy the Night King and restore peace to Westeros.”

Daenerys shook her head.  “But we have very different ideas about what that peace will look like.  And who will sit on the throne when all is said and done.”

“I don’t think the Starks are plotting against you, and I will prove it.  If it pleases you, Your Grace, I would like to be excused now so that I may begin my investigation in earnest.”

Daenerys knew she wasn’t going to get anything more out of Tyrion just then, so she decided to take pity on him and allow him to leave.  “Very well, you may go.  But I reserve the right to revisit this conversation again very soon.  Who knows?  If it turns out that your beloved Sansa is not plotting against me, perhaps I shall arrange an advantageous marriage for her.  Perhaps she may even end up a Lannister again.”

Tyrion eyed Daenerys warily.  “And who would you imagine marrying her off to?  My brother Jaime?  One of my cousins?”

A knowing smile quirked Daenerys’ lips.  “Oh, I think you already know, Tyrion Lannister.”

Tyrion cleared his throat nervously and pushed himself off his chair again.  “Yes, well, I would hope that you would take more pity on the girl than that.”

“I don’t see what the problem is,” Daenerys said.  “She’d be marrying the Hand of the Queen.  She could do a lot worse.”

Tyrion laughed bitterly.  “I sincerely doubt that, but I will leave that argument for another day.”  He bowed his head to Daenerys.  “For now, I shall take my leave of you.  When next we meet, I shall have information to share on the Stark conspiracy.  You have my word.”

“I eagerly await your report.”

Tyrion quickly scurried out of the room, leaving Daenerys alone.  She had little doubt that if he put his mind to it, he would uncover the truth.  And she expected that truth to implicate the Starks because, if it didn’t, it meant that every word that Bran Stark had spoken was true and that Jon was lost to her forever.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

The moment the door to Daenerys’ chamber closed, Tyrion’s feet faltered, and he stopped, dead still, Daenerys’ words swirling through his head, completely immobilizing him.  When she had sent word for him to join her, he had never expected what awaited him.  He had thought that she’d wanted to discuss her marriage proposal to Jon.  He had never expected to learn that Jon Snow was, in fact, a Targaryen.  Of course, Daenerys doubted Bran Stark’s words, but Tyrion didn’t.  If Bran said it was true, Tyrion believed him.  And it changed everything.

If Jon’s bannermen discovered the truth, they would never support Daenerys’ claim to the Iron Throne, despite the fact that Jon had already bent the knee.  They would accept her help in defeating the White Walkers, of course, but they would never stand by and watch her usurp power from the rightful king of Westeros.  As soon as the threat beyond the Wall was eliminated, a new civil war would begin, and the kingdom would be lucky to survive.

“Is everything all right, my lord?”

A familiar voice startled Tyrion out of his reverie.  He blinked the confusion from his eyes and looked up to find Missandei staring down at him.

“Is everything all right?” she asked again.

“Yes, yes, everything’s fine.  I must see Lady Stark.  I am on a mission from our queen.”

Tyrion didn’t wait for her to reply.  He started off down the corridor, passing the two Unsullied guards and leaving Missandei behind.  He didn’t want to confront Sansa about what he’d just learned, but he had no choice.  He was the Queen’s Hand.  It was his responsibility to investigate any threats to her position and to report back on what he discovered.  He just wished that, in this case, investigating didn’t involve another private conversation with his former wife.  It would have been much easier to let Varys handle the situation, but Daenerys had not given Tyrion leave to discuss the matter with anyone else, and so he had no choice but to do the job himself.

Tyrion’s heart beat a little faster as he made his way to the Great Keep in search of Lady Stark.  It was midmorning, and he had no idea where she might be, so he set his sights on the Great Hall, hoping that someone there might be able to point him in the right direction.

He had been surprised when Daenerys had begun to interrogate him about his feelings for Sansa.  Of course, she had a right to know what he thought of the new Lady of Winterfell from a diplomatic standpoint, but beyond that, he was uncomfortable with her delving further into his feelings for Sansa.  Although Daenerys had accused him of being in love with the girl, he would admit no such thing.  Not to himself, not to anyone.  Love was a curse, a crippling weakness that could destroy a man in a single heartbeat.  Tysha and Shae had both taught him that.  He would never leave his heart open again.  Never.  No matter how beautiful or brilliant the lady in question.

Tyrion finally reached the Great Hall.  When he entered, the room was alive with activity in anticipation of the morrow’s mass exodus northward.  Lords and servants alike filled the chamber, all scrambling to finalize their preparations.  In the far corner of the room, he spotted Sansa, Winterfell’s new maester by her side.  She was giving orders, and Tyrion was tempted to turn around and leave.  He didn’t want to disturb her if she was in the midst of something important.  But before he could make his escape, she spotted him from across the crowded room.

Tyrion stood there frozen, captivated by her gaze.  He couldn’t bring himself to look away.

It was Sansa who finally broke the spell.  She turned to the maester to speak a few final words.  The instant she was done, she turned back toward Tyrion and headed in his direction.  He waited in nervous anticipation for her to approach.

“Good day, my lord,” she said when she finally reached him.

“My lady.”

“Is there something I can do for you?  You look a bit lost.”

Tyrion laughed.  “Do I?  I suppose I am a bit lost.”

“I have a great deal of work ahead of me today so if there is something that you want . . .”

“I would like a private word with you, please.  Some information has come to light, and I think you and I need to talk.”

Her eyes narrowed on him slightly, but she made no protest.  “I think I can spare a moment.  Will you join me in my solar?”

“Of course.”  Tyrion stood aside, allowing her to lead the way. 

He followed her out of the Great Hall and into the adjoining corridor.  She kept her pace purposefully slow so that he could keep up.  They walked in silence, side by side, until they reached her solar. 

Tyrion opened the door for her and stepped aside, allowing Sansa to enter before him.  He followed behind, closing the door, shrouding the chamber in silence.

Tyrion turned around and looked up at his former wife.  Her posture was stiff, as if she was preparing for battle, and her expression was serious.  He wondered if she knew what he wanted to speak to her about.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me privately,” he said, for lack of something better to say.  Being alone with Sansa in her private chamber was surprisingly discomfiting, and he found that his wits were beginning to fail him.

“Tell me, Lord Tyrion, are you here as Tyrion Lannister or are you here as the Hand of your queen?”

“A little bit of both, I suppose.”

“Then I suppose you should begin by telling me what your queen wants.”

Tyrion sighed heavily.  He didn’t know how to broach the subject of Jon’s parentage.  He knew Sansa must be aware of Bran’s vision.  How could she not be?  And then, suddenly, their conversation the night before began to make more sense.  Sansa had seemed adamant that Daenerys would never rule the Seven Kingdoms.  If she had already known the truth about Jon, it would explain why she had been so certain.  She knew Jon had a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys, and she had already made up her mind about who she wanted to see wear the crown when this was all over.

“You already know about Jon, don’t you?” Tyrion said.

“He’s my brother.  I know everything about him.”

“But he’s not your brother, is he?  And you’ve known that for quite some time.”

Sansa eyed Tyrion shrewdly.  “That’s a rather peculiar assertion, don’t you think?”

“No, not at all.  Jon has confessed to Daenerys that, according to your brother Bran, he is the lawful son of Rhaegar Targaryen and your aunt Lyanna.  But I’m sure you already knew that.”

Sansa sighed, and her shoulders slumped ever so slightly.  “I should have known Jon couldn’t keep it a secret for long.”

“This is why you were so certain last night that Daenerys wouldn’t sit on the Iron Throne.  It’s because you believe Jon has the stronger claim, isn’t it?”

“He does have a stronger claim.  Even you cannot deny that.”

She was right, of course, but as the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen, he could never admit it, even in private.  “I am not here to debate whose claim is stronger.  I just want to know if what Bran said is true.”

Sansa’s posture stiffened again.  “Do you think my brother would lie?”

“No, of course not.  He’s a Stark.  I know you Starks find it very difficult to lie, but I have to be sure.  I have to know where things really stand.  We are all heading into battle together, and it would be best if we did it with our eyes wide open.”

“Everything Bran has said is true.  Jon is not really Jon after all.  He’s Aegon Targaryen, and he is the rightful heir to the throne.”

“And what does that mean for him and for you?”  Tyrion already knew what she wanted for Jon, but he wondered what she wanted for herself.  Would she sit beside him in the throne room of the Red Keep, advising him on how to play the game, or would she remain at Winterfell and rule as Wardeness of the North?

“For me, it means nothing,” Sansa replied.  “When this is all over, I shall stay here at Winterfell for the remainder of my days.  But for Jon, for Jon it means he will no longer be the King in the North, he will be the King of the Seven Kingdoms.”

“And you think Daenerys Targaryen is just going to step back and let him take the throne from her?”

“She may have been born in Westeros, but to the people, she is a foreigner.  They will not rally around her the way they will rally around Jon.”

“Even with her dragons?” Tyrion countered.

“She has already lost one dragon.  Who knows if the others will survive the war?  And if they don’t, what will she have?”

“Several thousand Unsullied and the entire Dothraki horde behind her.”

Sansa looked at him for a moment in quiet contemplation.  Finally, she said, “In that case, if she doesn’t stand down, there shall be a war.”

“And you think that’s what Jon wants?”

“Jon hasn’t had time to think about what being king will mean.  He will be able to do a lot of good once he takes his rightful place as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.”

“I could say the same thing about Daenerys.  Would you start a war, let thousands die, simply to decide which of the two most just and righteous people in all of Westeros should sit on the throne?”

“And what would you suggest?  That Jon yield his birthright without a fight?”

“I can hardly say.  But I think, if all you say is true, the decision should be left to Jon and Daenerys, and the rest of us would be wise to stay out of it.”

Sansa laughed.  “As if you could ever keep your opinion to yourself.”

“Still, I think it would be best if we let them decide between themselves.”

“If we leave it up to them, they’ll end up married and ruling Westeros together.”

“And would that be so bad?”  Tyrion knew it was not the ideal answer.  He knew that most people would probably take issue with it.  But he wanted Sansa’s opinion just the same.  She had spent enough time in King’s Landing to know how the game was played, and she herself played it quite well.

“You would have Jon marry his own blood?  But of course.  You are a Lannister after all.  That is what Lannisters do, isn’t it?”

Tyrion clutched at his heart.  “You wound me, my lady.  That is only what Lannister twins do.  The rest of us are much less incestuous, I assure you.”

The hint of a smile pulled at her lips, and Tyrion could tell she was resisting the urge to laugh.  “Weren’t your parents cousins?”

“Well, yes, I suppose they were,” Tyrion stammered, “but even Starks have married their own cousins.  There’s nothing all that scandalous about it.”

Sansa’s smile faded.  “Would you really have Jon and the Dragon Queen wed?”

“I honestly don’t know.  But it is a possibility.  Especially if it means the difference between war and peace.  Once the Night King has been defeated, the last thing Westeros will need is another war.  But that will be for Jon and Daenerys to decide.  I was just curious where you stood on the matter.”

“I am not fond of arranged marriages, as you can imagine.”

Tyrion laughed.  “Nor am I.  Though I must say, my arranged marriage worked out far better than the one I chose for myself.  So I have no complaints.”

Sansa’s eyes narrowed on him in curiosity.  “You’ve been married more than once, my lord?”

“Oh, yes.  Long before you and I ever met.  And just like our marriage, it ended in its own disaster, but that’s a story for another day.”  Tyrion sighed.  “Well, I believe I have taken up enough of your time, Lady Stark.  I shall bid you good day.” Tyrion turned to leave, but Sansa’s voice stopped him.

“Sansa.  My name is Sansa.”

A smile tugged at Tyrion’s lips.  “I bid you good day, Sansa.”

“Good day, Tyrion.”

Tyrion turned and left the chamber, making his exit as hastily as he could.  He enjoyed Sansa Stark’s company far too much, and if given half a chance, he might have stayed with her all day.  Unfortunately, there was a war coming, and he had more important things to do than spend his time bantering with a beautiful woman.  He had to do all he could to protect Westeros and to help his queen win the battle ahead.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

Sansa lingered in her solar long after Tyrion was gone, staring out one of the high windows that lined the far wall of the room, reluctant to return to her duties.  She realized now that there was much she didn’t know about Tyrion Lannister, and she was sorry that she would never get the chance to know him better.  Back in King’s Landing, she had been reluctant to get close to him, but now, she felt differently.  Now, she appreciated his wisdom and his worldliness, his cunning and his shrewdness.  She knew she could learn a great deal from him if only she had the chance. 

But Sansa also knew that all of her chances might be running out sooner rather than later.  Most of the north was heading to war on the morrow, and most of them would not return home.  Sansa wanted to be among those going into battle, at least to help rally the troops, but there always needed to be a Stark in Winterfell, and with Jon and Arya going off to fight, that only left Sansa and Bran to hold the castle.  Of course, Bran had been the reigning Stark in Winterfell once before, but that had been before he’d become the Three-Eyed Raven.  Now, he was in no condition to oversee the keep, and so it fell to Sansa to undertake the task.  In the morning, she would say goodbye to nearly everyone she loved, and she might never see any of them again.

The uncertainty of it all nearly overwhelmed her, but she resisted the urge to succumb to her emotions.  She would not shed a single tear, lest anyone think her weak.  It had taken a great deal of suffering and fortitude for her to have gained the trust of the Stark bannermen.  She would not jeopardize it now by showing even the slightest sign of weakness.  No, she would not cry.  She would remain stalwart in her despair, just as her dear mother would have done had she been in her place. 

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, and Sansa started.  She turned away from the window and stared at the door, reluctant to give up her solitude, but certain that she had no choice.  “Who is it?”

“Arya.  May I come in?”

Sansa sighed, relaxing just a bit.  It wasn’t even midday yet, and already she was tired of playing the Lady of Winterfell.  It was a relief to know that she would not have to perform for Arya.  “Come in,” Sansa said.

The door opened, and Arya stepped inside.  Even though she would not be leaving for battle until the next day, she already looked prepared for the fight.  She wore men’s clothing, as was her usual way now, and Needle at her side.  Looking at her now, Sansa was struck by just how proud their father would have been of his youngest daughter.  After all, he was the one who had arranged her dancing lessons.  He would have been proud of her skill as a warrior.

“You look positively miserable,” Arya said as she shut the door behind her.

“Do I?”

“I saw the Imp just leave.  What did he want?”

“To know if what Bran had told Jon is true.”

Arya arched one fine, dark brow.  “So he knows?”

“Jon told the Dragon Queen, and she told her Hand.  I suppose we should have expected as much.”

“And what does Lord Tyrion intend to do, now that he knows the truth?”

“He wants to see Daenerys Targaryen on the Iron Throne, and I expect he will do whatever he has to do to put her there.”

“Even if that means leading an army against us?”

“If it comes to it, yes.”

Arya nodded thoughtfully.  “It would have been better if Jon had kept this to himself until after the Great War was won.  Once the Night King is dead, what’s to stop Daenerys Targaryen from turning her dragons on us?  Now that she knows he is a threat, why should she allow him to return to Winterfell alive?  I certainly wouldn’t.”

Sansa was struck by Arya’s coldness, even though it was what she’d come to expect from her little sister since their reunion.  Arya had tasted blood more than once, and she now thought nothing of choosing murder as an option in a difficult situation.  Of course, after all she’d endured, Sansa couldn’t blame her, but still, she found the idea quite unsettling. 

“Well, let us hope that she is less rash than you are,” Sansa replied.

“I am not being rash, just practical.  She wants the Iron Throne.  Jon has a better claim to it than she does.  They are heading into battle together.  Only one of them need return.  It’s all quite simple, really.  She would be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity the gods have given her.”

“You make it sound as if Jon’s only hope is to kill her first.”

Arya shrugged.  “I certainly wouldn’t advise him against it.”

Sansa shook her head.  “I think Jon’s too smitten with the woman to ever do her any harm.  Besides, we need her dragons if we’re going to win this war.  And if she dies, there will be no one left to control them.  They might destroy Winterfell and half the north before they can be stopped.  No, I don’t think killing Daenerys Targaryen is the answer.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

“Lord Tyrion thinks marriage might be the most prudent option, though I don’t know if I agree with him.”

“I don’t follow,” Arya replied.  “Who does he think should be married?”

“Jon and the Dragon Queen.”

Arya’s nose crinkled in disgust.  “But they’re aunt and nephew.  That would be like having Cersei and Jaime Lannister on the throne all over again.”

“Not quite.  But if it means the difference between peace and another civil war—”

“Absolutely not.  I’d rather kill Jon myself than see that happen.  No, let’s just pray to the gods that Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons die saving us all.  That way Jon can take the Iron Throne without a single drop of blood being shed.”

“I don’t think we’re supposed to pray to the gods for anyone’s death.”

Arya smiled wryly.  “I thought you’d outgrown your naivete, Sansa.  Of course, we can pray for the deaths of our enemies.  After all, it’s most certainly what our enemies do.  Don’t tell me you never prayed for Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton to die.”

“Of course, I did.  But although I may not like Daenerys Targaryen, she has never abused me the way they did, and I simply cannot condone praying for her death.  Not until she proves herself worthy of such prayers.”

“Suit yourself, but I shall make a special trip to the godswood just to make sure that the gods hear my prayer.”

“You do what you feel is right.”

“I always do,” Arya replied.  “Now, I’m off to the yard for some last-minute sparring.  I want to be in fine form tomorrow when I head into battle.”

“You’re eager to go, aren’t you?”

“I’m eager to save Winterfell and our people.  If I could leave tonight, I would.”

“Have you no fear?”  Although Sansa couldn’t admit it to Arya, she was terrified of what might happen even if their forces proved victorious.  There was no way that everyone she loved could possibly survive, and she had already begun preparing herself for more heartbreak.

“What do I have to fear?” Arya asked, her words clear and calm.  “If I live, I help save Winterfell.  If I die, I die a hero’s death.  Even if I die, at least I’ll know that I did my best, that I fought my hardest, and that’s all that matters.  Who knows?  Maybe they’ll write ballads about my bravery and my sacrifice.  Wouldn’t that be something?”

Sansa nodded.  The idea of Arya not returning from battle was something she didn’t even want to consider.  She was terrified of being the last Stark left alive.  She secretly hoped that if Jon and Arya didn’t survive, she wouldn’t survive either.  Of course, Bran would be staying with her at Winterfell while everyone else headed north to fight, but Bran no longer felt like family, and his presence was little comfort to her.  Sansa didn’t want to be alone ever again.  She’d spent more years than she cared to remember without her family, and she didn’t think she could survive even one more day without them.

“Well,” Sansa said, “I don’t want to keep you any longer.  I know that you have much to do before you leave on the morrow.  And I have a great deal to keep me busy as well.  I will see you at the evening meal.”

“It might be our very last one,” Arya said.

Sansa tried to ignore the sudden knot in the pit of her stomach.  Back in King’s Landing, she had thought she might die every single day, but somehow, this was worse.  Perhaps it was because, in this instance, she wasn’t the only one facing death.  The lives of everyone she loved were at risk, and there was no guarantee that any of them would survive.

Sansa swallowed the lump in her throat.  “If you do visit the godswood, perhaps you should pray that it is not.”

“I can do that.” Arya smiled, then she turned on her heel and left the room without another word. 

Sansa stood in the silent chamber, her heart sinking in her chest.  It had been a long time since she’d felt such an overwhelming sense of despair.  She knew succumbing to her fears would not serve anyone well, but she couldn’t seem to muster any hope that those she loved would survive the coming war.  The Starks of Winterfell had suffered nothing but tragedy for the past eight years, and she was certain they would suffer a great deal more in the days to come.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

The rest of the day felt like the longest of Jon’s life.  He spent it with his bannermen, plotting and planning and pretending that he hadn’t just walked away from the love of his life.  The battle preparations were a welcome distraction, but not enough of a distraction to keep his heart from aching.  He loved Daenerys more than mere words could express, and instead of spending what might be his last night on earth with her, he had to keep his distance for the sake of honor.  It was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do.

After sundown, when all the battle plans had been finalized and all the arrangements had been made, the Starks and their guests retired to the Great Hall for a boisterous feast to celebrate their impending victory.  The truth was, of course, that no one knew whether or not they were going to succeed, but at the very least, every last one of them deserved a celebratory feast before heading off into near-certain death. 

The food tasted like ashes in Jon’s mouth as he did his best to pretend that he was completely unaffected by the beautiful woman who sat beside him.  He and Daenerys played their parts admirably.  Jon was certain that not a single person present knew their relationship was strained.  But he knew, and he wished there was something he could do to rectify the situation before it was too late.

After giving the men a rousing speech, Jon took his leave and retired to his chamber.  He had no desire to keep company with anyone.  He sat in the chair by the fireplace, happy to be alone.  He was happy that, at least for a little while, he didn’t have to pretend that he was calm and in control.  He could be miserable in peace.

The sound of footsteps rang through the corridor beyond his chamber door, and Jon was instantly on alert.  He knew whose footsteps they were.  He would recognize the sound of Unsullied soldiers anywhere.  And if there were Unsullied soldiers heading his way, he knew there could be only one reason. 

Jon held his breath, silently praying that they would pass by his chamber.  But they didn’t.  The footsteps stopped, and a moment later, there was a soft knock against the door.

Jon wondered what would happen if he didn’t answer.  Would Daenerys simply go away?  Would she return to the Guest House and leave him be until morning?  Or would she have her soldiers break down the door and force her way inside?  Had she been any other woman, Jon would have assumed it was the former, but with Daenerys Targaryen, it might just be the latter.  And since he was no coward, Jon decided he had no choice but to answer.

With deep regret, Jon pushed himself up from the chair and crossed the room to the door.  When he opened it, Daenerys was standing on the other side, her bright eyes staring up at him expectantly.

She said, “We need to talk.”

“We’ve already said everything that needs to be said.”

“That isn’t true, and I refuse to take no for an answer.” 

Daenerys swept into the room as only a queen could, and Jon quickly stepped out of the way to let her pass.  He closed the door behind her, not because he wanted to be alone with her, but because he knew that whatever she intended to say to him was private, and he didn’t want the guards or anyone else to hear.

Jon turned around and looked at Daenerys.  She held her head high, her eyes dark with emotion.  He half expected her to shout at him, but she didn’t.  Instead, she said, “I need you to do something for me, Jon.”

He shook his head without even thinking.  “If it is not something you could ask me in front of my bannermen, then do not ask it now.”

“Is this really how you want to spend what might be your last night in this world?  Playing the martyr?”

Jon laughed.  “I’m not playing at anything.  We go to war tomorrow, and I would like to do so with my honor intact.”

“And I would like to die without regretting how I spent my very last night on this earth.”

“You’re not going to die.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Of course, I do.  You were destined to sit on the Iron Throne.  The gods wouldn’t let you come this far without letting you reach your goal.”

“The gods are cruel, Jon Snow.  Don’t you know that?”

“To most of us, yes.  But you’re the Mother of Dragons.  The gods favor you.  They always have.”

“I don’t think I’d say always.  I’ve suffered a great deal in my life, and just because the gods gave me my children and got me this far does not mean that I hold any more favor with them than you do.  I may not survive the coming war, and if I don’t, I’d rather not be alone on this last night before I die.”

Jon wanted to turn her away.  He knew it was the right thing to do, the honorable thing.  After all, she was his father’s sister.  But Rhaegar Targaryen had never even known Daenerys.  Although they were connected by blood, there was nothing more than that between them.  Rhaegar had died before Daenerys had even been born, and he was no more real to her than he was to Jon.  To Jon, Rhaegar Targaryen wasn’t a father, or even a man, he was a story, a cautionary tale, a phantom.  And it was very hard to believe that he was real when he had been dead for so long and Daenerys was standing right there in the flesh.  Somehow, the past suddenly seemed unreal and unimportant, and all Jon wanted was to comfort the woman he loved.

Without allowing himself a moment to reconsider, Jon reached for Daenerys, pulling her into his arms and kissing her hard.  One more night wasn’t going to change anything, he told himself.  Just one more night.  And if either of them died on the morrow, it was a sin they would never have a chance to repeat.

Daenerys’ arms wrapped around his neck, her fingers twisting into his hair.  She drew him closer, parting her lips and inviting him inside.

Jon deepened the kiss, reveling in the taste of her.  She tasted like the sweetest Dornish wine, and he knew he could drown in her if only she’d let him.

They undressed each other quickly, nimble fingers working buckles and ties.  Soon, they were both naked, and Jon was carrying her to his bed.

He lowered Daenerys down onto the mattress, lying beside her, his whole body burning with desire.  He wanted her so desperately, but he knew this was the last time he would ever love her, and he wanted to take things slowly. 

Jon gazed into Daenerys’ eyes, entranced by her beauty.  She was everything he had ever wanted, everything he had ever dreamed of.  He loved her more than he could express with words alone.  He had to show her, just once more, how very much she meant to him. 

“This is the last time,” he whispered, barely able to catch his breath.  “Just one last time.”

“One last time,” she repeated just as softly, and it was nearly Jon’s undoing.

He reached up to caress her cheek, and Daenerys leaned into his touch.  She covered his hand with her own, drawing him even closer.  Jon leaned forward, kissing her tenderly, her breasts pressing against his chest.  Her skin felt so warm, so inviting.  The breath caught in his throat as he was overcome by the realization that after tonight, he would never touch her again, never feel her warmth or know the joy of her caresses or the pleasure of her sighs.  It was almost too much for him to bear.

Tomorrow would bring death and misery and grief.  But tonight, tonight they had each other.  Daenerys Targaryen was in his arms.  She loved him, and he loved her, and nothing else in the world mattered.  She was everything Jon had ever wanted.  She was his destiny, and whether it was a sin or not, he loved her, and he would never repent it.

Daenerys slipped her hand from beneath his and ran her fingers into his hair.  Jon knew she was impatient for him.  He could feel it in her kiss.  But he would not be rushed.  He wanted to love her properly while he still had the chance.

Despite the fire raging inside him, Jon ended the kiss, pulling back so he could look down at her.  Daenerys stared up at him, her eyes dark with desire, and he was tempted to give her what she wanted right then and there.  But he resisted the urge.  Instead, he broke her gaze, allowing his eyes to trail down the length of her, taking in every last inch of her almost mythical beauty.  She was like a goddess come to earth, all milky white skin and soft curves, and he ached to touch her. 

He looked up at her again only to find her watching him with keen interest.  He reached out, caressing her cheek once more, only this time, he didn’t kiss her.  No, this time, he trailed his fingers down her throat and across her collarbone, his eyes following the same path.  Then, he moved lower, skimming down between the valley of her breasts, and lower still, to the flat planes of her stomach.  Daenerys gasped in pleasure as his fingers glided along her silken skin, her flesh quivering at his touch.

Jon slid his hand down her thigh, going just as far as her knee before moving to the other leg and working his way back up again.  He took his time touching her, exploring her, enjoying the feel of her tender flesh beneath his fingertips.  When he reached her breasts again, he teased one taut nipple, pinching it lightly and making her whimper in response.

Jon leaned forward and placed a chaste kiss against her nipple.  Then, he kissed her again, only deeply this time, pulling the tender bud of flesh into his mouth and sucking on it gently.

Daenerys’ hands were instantly in his hair again, holding him to her breast, begging him for more.  She shifted on the mattress, leaning into him, encouraging him to make closer contact.

Jon’s cock pulsed painfully, but he ignored the discomfort, instead choosing to concentrate on worshiping the woman he loved.  He swirled his tongue around the rosy peak, over and over again, until she was squirming beneath him.  Then, he broke the contact, leaning over her and kissing a path to her other breast, eagerly claiming the dusky nipple with his mouth.

Daenerys trailed her hands down his back, kneading his flesh with greedy fingers.  She hooked one knee over his leg, pulling him closer and pressing her sex against his hip.  Jon’s cock grazed her stomach, and he groaned deep in the back of his throat.  He was desperate to be inside her, but he hadn’t had his fill of her yet.

Jon tore himself away from her breast, kissing a path up her collarbone and along her neck.  He settled himself there, kissing the sensitive flesh just below her ear, his hand dipping between her legs.  Daenerys moaned wantonly as he slid his fingers along her entrance, teasing, coaxing.  He wanted to pleasure her in every way possible before he finally found himself inside her.

“Jon.”  Daenerys clutched at his shoulder.  “Jon, please.”

But he was too enraptured by her to realize what it was that she really wanted.  It wasn’t until Daenerys urged his hand away that he finally stopped.

Before Jon knew what was happening, she slipped from beneath him, maneuvering onto her knees.  Jon sat up, afraid something was wrong.  But it most definitely wasn’t.  An instant later, Daenerys was on top of him, one knee on either side of his hips, lowering herself down onto his cock. 

Jon’s hands went to her waist, holding her steady as he stared up at her in wide-eyed wonder.  He could feel her all around him, warm and inviting, pulsing with need.  He sank into her depths, the breath catching in his throat.  He was so captivated by her that he could barely move.  She was so beautiful, and he loved her so very much.

Daenerys’ eyes locked with his, dark pools of vibrant color, and he knew that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.  She was just too impatient to wait any longer.

Slowly, she began to ride him, moving her hips in a calculated rhythm.  Jon ran his hands up her back, drawing her closer, desperate to kiss her, but her lips were just beyond his reach.  Daenerys hovered above him, her mouth mere inches from his own, her breath fluttering against his lips. 

Jon couldn’t wait to kiss her a moment longer.  He snaked one hand up into her glorious mane of silver hair and pulled her to him, crushing his mouth against hers and delving his tongue inside.  He could feel her breasts pressing against his chest, soft and yielding, and it made his cock pulse with need.

Daenerys’ hands curled around his shoulders, clinging to him for support as she quickened the pace.  She rode him hard, like he was a stallion and she was Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, and it was glorious!

Daenerys tore her lips from Jon’s and threw back her head, crying out in pleasure.  She moved against him with wild abandon, taking command of his body.  She knew what she wanted, and she knew how to get it, and nothing was going to stop her.

Jon clung to her for dear life as she rode him to the heights of ecstasy.  He knew she was close.  She was gasping for air, her walls tightening around him.  And then, it happened.  In a single instant, her passion exploded, and she screamed out his name. 

Jon was now desperate to come.  Without thinking, he flipped her onto her back so that she was lying beneath him and drove into her deeply, over and over again, overcome by his own desire, the fire in his blood urging him onward as if he himself were a full-blooded dragon.

A few more thrusts and he crashed over the edge, words of love pouring from his throat.  He collapsed against her, burying his head in her neck, and lying there helplessly, her walls still pulsating around him.  He was reluctant to retreat.  He wanted to stay buried deep inside her for the rest of his life.  He wanted to be one with her for as long as he could before reality once again claimed them and he had to walk away from her forever.

Daenerys gently ran her fingers through Jon’s hair, and Jon drew back, just far enough to look down at her.  In the same movement, he withdrew from her warmth, shifting his weight slightly so that he wouldn’t crush her.  He stared down at her in silent awe, amazed by the love he saw reflected in her eyes.

“Will you let me stay?” she asked, her voice hoarse from their lovemaking.  “I don’t want to be alone.  Not tonight.”

Jon knew it would be wrong to let her stay, but he couldn’t ask her to go.  And he couldn’t get up and walk away from her.  He simply wasn’t strong enough.

“If I refused, would you go?”

“No.”  Daenerys slipped her hand behind his head and drew him close, kissing him softly.  When she let him go, she slid from beneath him, turning onto her side so that her back was toward him. 

Jon quickly snuggled up behind her.  He molded his body to hers, reveling in the feel of her naked flesh against his own.  He wrapped his arms around her and drew her as close as he could, his head resting against her shoulder.

Jon sighed.  He was exhausted, but he didn’t want to sleep.  Not yet.  He wanted to enjoy the feel of Daenerys nestled in his arms.  He wanted to remember this moment for the rest of his life, however long that might be.

“I love you,” he whispered, suddenly overcome by the urge to confess his feelings. 

“And I love you.  And that will never change, no matter what happens tomorrow, no matter how this war ends.  I will always love you.”

Jon placed a light kiss against her shoulder and then settled down to rest.  He was certain that neither one of them would sleep through the night.  In an hour or two, he was sure Daenerys would wake him with a kiss or a caress, and he’d have his chance to love her all over again.  For tonight, they weren’t the Mother of Dragons and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.  They were just Daenerys and Jon, two people who loved each other very much.  Jon was done fighting for one night.  There would be plenty of fighting on the morrow.  So for now, he would enjoy the blessings the gods had given him, and he would worry about the consequences another day.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

The sun had long since disappeared below the horizon by the time Jaime Lannister reached Winterfell.  He had ridden hard for more than a week, desperately trying to put as much space between himself and Cersei as possible.  Although she had told him that she intended to return to King’s Landing, he wasn’t at all certain that was her true intention.  He was waiting for her to reappear before him, just one more time, so that she could finish him off once and for all.

He knew now that she truly did want him dead.  She felt he had betrayed her, and although he knew he hadn’t, that was enough for her to want to end his life.  Jaime’s heart was shattered, and yet, he still wished that things had ended differently.  Fool that he was, he still loved Cersei, and he would continue to love her until his dying day.

There was a great commotion among the guards manning the parapets of Winterfell as Jaime came into view.  He stopped at the East Gate, still astride his horse, as a small group of armed men surrounded him, ready to attack at the slightest provocation.  He knew he didn’t have to announce himself.  It was clear to anyone who looked at him just who he was.  He was the enemy.  He was Jaime Lannister.  He just hoped that these northerners could see past that long enough to let him inside.  After all, as far as anyone at Winterfell knew, Cersei still intended to send her army north to join their cause.

One of the guards stepped forward, a large, burly man who looked like he’d survived one too many rough winters.  “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Kingslayer himself.  Come to murder us all in our beds?”

Jaime laughed.  “I realize I’m not exactly the reinforcements you were hoping for, but I am here to offer my services in fighting the army of the dead.”

The guard looked around Jaime as if searching for something.  “Just you?  Where’s your Lannister army?  Don’t tell me.  I know.  They’ve all been burned to death by dragons.”

The men around them all laughed, but Jaime stayed stoic.  It had been a nightmare watching so many of his men burned alive.  He knew, of course, that was the price of war, but it didn’t make the memory any easier to bear.

“I have come here without an army.  It’s just me.  I have come to seek an audience with my brother, Tyrion Lannister.”

The guard laughed again.  “Do you really think we’re going to let you inside so you can conspire with the Imp?  So you can plot against us?”

“Are all you northerners so suspicious?” Jaime replied, his patience wearing thin.  “I don’t think it’s too much to ask to speak with my own brother, under the circumstances.  You clearly know who I am.  You clearly know who he is.  Just go in and ask him if he’ll see me.  If he refuses, I shall be on my way.  I shall head north on my own and confront the Night King with your army long behind me, and all the glory shall be mine.  Besides, how do you think the Dragon Queen would feel if she discovered that you lot made a decision for her Hand without consulting him?  I doubt she’d be very forgiving.”

His inquisitor turned to the man beside him, and they silently conferred between themselves.  When the guard finally looked at Jaime again, he said, “You will wait here.”  He then turned and disappeared beyond the gate, leaving his army of men behind him.

Jaime sat there, tall and proud on the back of his horse, being scrutinized by two dozen northern men.  He knew they all hated him, knew they were all itching to raise their swords and end his life, but it wasn’t their place to do so, not unless their “king” gave the order.  And so they contented themselves with staring and snickering and sharing the occasional joke at his expense while Jaime waited to be granted access to the keep.

As he sat there waiting, Jaime couldn’t help but wonder if Brienne of Tarth was holed up behind the walls of Winterfell.  He knew she was loyal to the Starks, so he imagined she must be inside preparing for battle.  He longed to see her.  There was so much he wanted to say before they both marched northward to their inevitable demise, but he doubted he would ever get the chance.  Perhaps it was best if it was all left unsaid anyway.  He had been such a fool, and although he was able to admit it to himself now, he couldn’t admit it to Brienne.  He wished that things had been different between them, but he’d chosen the wrong path, and now there was no turning back.  If she somehow managed to survive the coming battle, he hoped that she would only have good memories of him, though he hardly deserved it.

It wasn’t long before the guard returned, a scowl marring his face.  He offered Jaime no words of apology, just a curt, “This way,” before leading him through the gate. 

It had been years since Jaime had been at Winterfell.  In truth, he had hoped to never see the castle again.  He wished he could go back, all those years ago, and do things differently.  He would have resisted Cersei’s urgings to join her up in the broken tower.  He would have stayed firmly on the ground below.  Then Bran Stark would never have seen him and his sister together, and Jaime never would have had to push the boy out the window.  Had he just done that, the course of everyone’s lives would have taken a very different path.  But he could not go back.  He could only go forward.  And at that moment, forward was leading him right to Tyrion’s chamber in the Winterfell Guest House.

The guard stopped at a closed door and rapped upon it solidly. 

Tyrion’s voice carried to them from within.  “Enter.”

The guard pushed open the door and stepped aside, allowing Jaime full access to the room.  He crossed the threshold without a word, and the guard silently closed the door behind him, leaving him alone with his brother.

Although the hour was late, Tyrion was sitting at the table in the center of the room, still dressed in his tunic and breeches.  The table was piled high with open books and unfurled scrolls, as if he’d just been pouring over them.  A half empty flagon of wine sat on the edge of the table, and Jaime wondered just how many flagons Tyrion had already emptied before he’d gotten there.  He was used to his brother being drunk most of the time, but tonight, he looked as sober as a septon.

“I must say,” Tyrion began, “there’s nothing quite like riding in at the last moment to save the day, is there?  I trust you’ve brought an army for us, as promised.”

Jaime shook his head.  “You should know our sister better than that.  I should have known our sister better than that.  She’s staying in King’s Landing, along with the entire Lannister army.  I’m all you’ve got.”

Tyrion’s expression darkened, and his hands tightened into fists where they rested on top of the table.  It was subtle, but Jaime could tell that he was furious.  “That lying bitch.”

“Yes, well, there’s nothing really new about that, is there?”

Tyrion exhaled a long, slow breath.  He unclenched his fists and slumped back against the chair in defeat.  “Do you want to tell me why you didn’t stay in King’s Landing with her?  I thought you took Cersei’s side in everything.”

“Not this.  I gave my word that I would be here, and I’m here.  Besides,” he said with a bitter laugh, “Cersei tried to kill me.  That made me reevaluate my priorities, just a little.”

Tyrion’s brow furrowed.  “I must say, I am surprised.  Although I believe our sister capable of a great many evils, killing you has never been one of them.  Are you certain that was really her intention and she wasn’t just trying to manipulate you?”

“She gave the Mountain the order.”

“If that’s so, how is it that you’re standing here now?”

“He let me walk away.”

“Then she didn’t truly give him the order.”  Tyrion reached across the table and began pouring a glass of wine.  When it was full, he held it up to Jaime.  “You look like you could use this.”

“All I really need is a place to lie my head for the night.  That’s all.”

“Drink first, then you can sleep.  If I decide to let you stay.”

Jaime was suddenly taken aback.  “If?”

Tyrion put the glass down and poured another.  “This is Winterfell.  I am not in command here.  I am not even second in command here.  There’s a whole list of people who have more power here than I do, starting with Jon Snow.  If you give me a good enough reason, I can make a case for allowing you to stay.  Cersei has just betrayed us, and everyone knows how close the two of you are.  If you don’t give me a good enough reason, I may have no choice but to turn you out in the cold.  And I’m sure you know I’d really rather not do that if given a choice.  So,” he held up one of the full glasses again, “sit, drink with me, and let’s sort this whole thing out.”

Jaime was in no mood to talk, but he knew he couldn’t refuse Tyrion’s offer.  Winterfell was full of people who would be more than happy to see him dead, and the only person who might be able to protect him was Tyrion.  Although they didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things, they weren’t enemies.  The least Jaime could do was join his brother for a drink as he pleaded his case.

Jaime crossed to the table, taking the glass from Tyrion’s hand before sitting down.

Tyrion picked up his own glass, holding it aloft. “You look like all seven of the hells,” he said.  “You really need a drink.”

Tyrion gulped the contents of his own glass, and Jaime reluctantly took a swallow from his.  The warm liquid burned down his throat, warming his whole body in an instant.  It wasn’t often that he took advice from Tyrion, but in this case, his little brother was right.  The wine did wonders for him, and he emptied his glass before either of them could speak another word.

When Jaime finally returned the cup to the table, Tyrion said, “Now, isn’t that better?”

“I hate to admit it, but yes.  Now, I only feel half dead and not nearly completely dead.”

Tyrion laughed.  He cradled his own empty cup between his hands but made no move to refill it.  Holding it seemed to give him some sort of comfort, and Jaime wasn’t surprised.  Tyrion had lived his whole life with a goblet in his hand.  It suited him.

“So do you mind telling me what it is you’re doing here at Winterfell?  Even if you’ve split from Cersei, you haven’t got an army.  What is it that you intend to accomplish?”

“I intend to offer my services in the coming battle, and if the gods are feeling generous, to kill the Night King.”

“Ah, I see.  Another great hero who believes he is the Prince Who Was Promised.  Why am I not surprised?”

“I’m no hero.  You know that better than anyone.  And I don’t think I’m the Prince Who Was Promised either.  I just want to do one good thing in my life before I die.  Just one good thing.”

“You’ve done a lot of good.”

Jaime laughed.  “Oh, really?  Following Cersei around my entire life, obeying her every command?  No good ever came of that.  None at all.”

Tyrion eyed him thoughtfully.  “You haven’t always obeyed her commands.  In fact, you’ve done quite a few things that our sister did not condone, like helping me escape the executioner’s block, for one.”

“I’m still not sure that was a good thing.”

Tyrion smiled at Jaime because they both knew he didn’t mean it.  Although Jaime still grieved for their father, he knew he could not hold Tywin’s murder against Tyrion forever.  Someday, if he lived long enough, the pain and the anger would fade, and it would be replaced with acceptance, acceptance that Tywin Lannister had deserved to die for what he’d done.  Their father had known that Tyrion wasn’t guilty of murdering Joffrey, and yet, he’d pushed for his execution anyway, an unforgivable act, particularly as it was perpetrated by a father against his own son.  No, Jaime didn’t hate Tyrion for what he’d done, and one day, he might actually be able to forgive him for it.

“Well, I think it was,” Tyrion said.  “So that’s one good thing you’ve done.  I’m sure there are others.  I’m sure you could think of a few if you put your mind to it.”

“I don’t feel like putting my mind to much of anything right now.  I just want to rest, and then, when I wake up refreshed, I want to start killing things.”

“Do you really think Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are going to want you by their side tomorrow when they head off into battle?”

“I don’t really care what they want.  If they won’t accept a truce, then I shall go it alone.”

“And you shall die alone,” Tyrion said somberly.

“If need be, yes.  Anything is better than standing by and doing nothing.  Which is why I left King’s Landing in the first place.  I asked Cersei to join me, but she wouldn’t.  She had some ridiculous notion about staying in the capital and reaping the rewards of everyone else’s defeat.  All she’s going to reap is death.  That’s all she’s ever done.”

Jaime was quiet for a moment, lost in thoughts of Cersei.  He could still see her face as he’d turned away from her at the inn.  Even though she had tried to kill him, he was certain that she still loved him.  And he knew that he still loved her.  He longed to see her just one more time but knew it would only bring him more heartache.  

“You care a great deal about a woman who you believe just tried to kill you,” Tyrion observed.  “Are you sure you’re ready to move on without her?”

Jaime’s eyes refocused on Tyrion.  His mind had been far away, and for a moment, he’d nearly forgotten where he was.  “She did try to kill me.  Twice.  The second time was by her own hand.  She followed me on the road.  Though,” he said thoughtfully, finally putting the pieces together in his head, “she must have traveled by ship because she reached White Harbor long before I did.”

Tyrion pushed himself to the edge of his seat, his eyes intently focused on Jaime’s face.  “Cersei has traveled north?”

“Yes, but she said she was returning to King’s Landing immediately.”

“When did you last see her?”  There was an urgency in Tyrion’s voice that bordered on alarm.

“Ten days ago.  She was waiting for me when I stopped at an inn about a day’s ride from White Harbor.”

“Was she alone, or did she have her army with her?”

“Just the Mountain.  At least, that’s what she said.  But I didn’t see him or anyone else.  Only Cersei.”

Tyrion jumped off his chair and scurried to the door.  He pulled it open and called down the corridor, “Podrick!”

Jaime reached across the table and grabbed the flagon of wine.  He poured himself another glass as he listened to Tyrion give orders to his former squire.

“Find Ser Bronn and bring him here,” Tyrion said.  “I need to send him out on an exploratory mission.”

“Of course, my lord, though I doubt he’ll want to go.  He’s already looking forward to tomorrow’s battle.”

“Don’t worry about that, Pod.  I have something much more important for him to do than decimate White Walkers.  Now go.”  Tyrion closed the door and turned toward Jaime, though he made no move to return to the table.

“What is Ser Bronn doing here?  I expected him to still be in King’s Landing.”

“So did I, but we met him on the road to Winterfell.  Apparently, he got tired of waiting for that castle you promised him and thought he’d try his luck up north.”

“You don’t believe that Cersei left, do you?” Jaime said.

“I know my sister.  Nearly as well as you do.  No, I don’t think she left.  I think she is quite possibly on her way here right now, the entire Lannister army marching behind her, ready to destroy Winterfell the moment our forces head north.”

Jaime shook his head.  “How little you do know her.  The Lannister army is stationed outside of King’s Landing waiting out this battle, waiting to see who the victor will be, who their next opponent will be.  Cersei cares more about protecting King’s Landing than she does about taking Winterfell.  She doesn’t care who rules the north.  All she cares about is keeping the Iron Throne for herself.”

“If that were true, why did she follow you to White Harbor?”

“Personal reasons.”  Jaime downed the contents of his glass, wishing he could get the image of Cersei brandishing that dagger out of his mind.  But no matter how hard he tried, it just wouldn’t go away.

Tyrion finally returned to the table though he didn’t sit.  He watched Jaime cagily.  “No offense, but I don’t think even you are more important to Cersei than getting what she wants.  If she came north, it wasn’t just for you.  It was for something else.”

Jaime put down his glass.  “You’re wrong.  She’s alone now.  She has no one.  Not even me.  That’s why she came north, to try to win me back.  And when that didn’t work, she tried to kill me herself.”

“How?”

“With a dagger.  She tried to catch me unawares, but I was able to stop her before her blade made contact.”

Tyrion laughed.

“I don’t see what’s so amusing about it.  She nearly killed me.”

“No, she made a weak attempt at pretending to try to kill you.  She knew what she was doing.  She always does.  I’m sure it was just another manipulation.  If she really wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.”

“I could say the same thing about you.”

Tyrion shrugged.  “That’s probably true.”

Jaime was tired of talking.  He was sure, if he let him, Tyrion could talk circles around him all night.  He pushed himself up from the table, his body weary from the road.  “I think I’ve had enough wine and conversation for one evening.  Is there a chance that you can offer me a place to sleep for the night, or should I find a spot out under the stars, a blanket of snow for my bed?”

“No, of course not.  You can stay here in my chamber,” Tyrion said, holding his hand out toward the bed in the center of the room.  “I doubt I will sleep at all tonight, and if I do, I will simply make myself comfortable in a chair.  I’ve certainly slept in worse places.”

“Are there no more rooms available in the Guest House?”

“If there are, I’m not at liberty to start assigning them to people, least of all you. Stay here, that way I can tell my queen that I’ve kept an eye on you all night.  Otherwise, both your presence here and my loyalty might be questioned.”

“Mightn’t they be questioned anyway, just for agreeing to meet with me?”

“Of course.  But I am the Hand of the Queen.  I am granted some discretion.”

Jaime was too tired to argue any further.  All he’d wanted for weeks was a warm bed, and he’d finally found one.  “All right then,” he said.  “I’ll stay here.”

“Good.  And while you rest, I shall figure out what to do about our sister because I am certain that she did not return to King’s Landing.  I am certain that she is just lying in wait, preparing to strike.  And when she does, we’ll be ready for her.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Less than a half hour later, there was a knock at Tyrion’s door.  Jaime was already fast asleep, and Tyrion had no desire to wake him, so he opened the door as quietly as he could and slipped out of the room.

Bronn was waiting for him in the hallway, clearly annoyed.  “Pod said you wanted to see me.”

“We need to talk.  But not here.”

“Why not here?  What’s wrong with here?”

Tyrion didn’t answer.  Instead, he turned and closed the chamber door, being careful not to make a sound.

“Take me to your chamber.  We need someplace we can speak privately.”

Bronn laughed.  “That serious, is it?”

“Just lead the way.”

Bronn shook his head but didn’t say another word.  He headed off toward his own chamber, and Tyrion followed.

Tyrion couldn’t help but think about Jaime.  Even after everything they had been through, Tyrion trusted Jaime implicitly.  He knew his brother was not at Winterfell on some secret mission from Cersei.  Jaime was too smart for that.  He was a military man after all.  He understood that, under the current circumstances, the wisest course of action was to join forces until the Night King was defeated.  No, Jaime had not come to spy on the Starks of Winterfell.  He had come to join them in their fight.

Tyrion wondered why he hadn’t heard rumors of Cersei’s betrayal before Jaime’s arrival.  After all, Varys’ little birds seemed to be everywhere in King’s Landing.  But Tyrion supposed Cersei had been extra careful to keep the information secret.  Or perhaps the news had just not reached Lord Varys yet.  They were all quite far from home now, and word did not travel quite as quickly this far north as it did in the capital, even for a Master of Whispers.

It wasn’t long before Tyrion and Bronn reached their destination.  The moment Bronn closed the door behind them, he turned and said, “So, now you wanna tell me what all this secrecy is about?  Why, on what might be my last night on earth, you had me dragged from that pretty little whore’s bed?  I’d say you’re not paying me enough for this, but then, you haven’t paid me anything yet, have you?  You’re just like your brother.”

Tyrion reached into his pocket and pulled out a small purse.  “Here,” he said as he threw it at Bronn.  “It’s not much, but it should buy me a few hours of your time.”

Bronn deftly caught the bag with one hand.  He weighed it thoughtfully in his palm.  “A few hours of my time?  Exactly what did you have in mind?  I mean, I like you and all, but you’re not really my type.  I prefer big tits and a nice ass.”

Tyrion couldn’t suppress the smirk that spread across his lips.  “I don’t want you in my bed,” he said.  “I want you to head south and do a little scouting for me.”

“South?  But I thought the threat was to the north?”

“Not all the threats.”

“Who?” Bronn asked.

“Cersei.”

Bronn’s expression instantly sobered.  “What makes you think that bitch is within riding distance of Winterfell?  I know she’s sending an army, but you don’t really think she rode north with them, do you?”

“It turns out, she’s not sending anything.  It was all a lie.  But I do think she has come north, if only to lure Jaime back into the fold.  She told him she was heading south again after he refused to return to King’s Landing with her, but I don’t trust a word she says.  I need to know if she’s still in the north and if she’s brought an army with her.”

“And just how do you know what she told Jaime Lannister?”

“Because Jaime is here at Winterfell.  He arrived less than an hour ago.”

Bronn laughed.  “And knowing that his lover betrayed them, how do the Dragon Queen and Lord Snow feel about that?”

“They don’t know yet, and there’s no reason for them to know until morning.  Jaime is safely ensconced in my chamber for now.  That’s all that matters.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

Bronn shrugged.  “What do you want me to do if I find her?  Wring her pretty little neck?”

“If only it were that easy.”

“I don’t see why it wouldn’t be.  I know the rest of you think of her as a force of nature, but she’s really just a woman.  Flesh and blood like the rest of us.  All it would take is a little bit of pressure,” he said, mimicking the movement of squeezing the life out of Cersei with his free hand, “and problem solved.”

“We have bigger problems than Cersei right now.  I just want you to find out where she is and who’s with her.  Jaime swears she’s traveling alone with just the Mountain.  But I’m doubtful.  I want to know if there’s an army approaching from the south as well as the north.  And I want to know tonight.”

“Why call me?  Why not call your Master of Whispers?”

“Because Lord Varys relies on other people to provide him with information, and I need answers now.  I can’t wait for him to make inquiries.  This is urgent.”

Bronn tossed the purse Tyrion had given him into the air, the coins jangling as he caught it again.  “I think this will buy a few hours.  I’ll be back before you can finish that flagon of wine,” he said, nodding toward the full decanter on the table across the room. 

“I doubt you’ll be back that fast.”

Bronn smirked.  “You just don’t have enough faith in me.”

“I have more faith in you than you’ll ever know.  Now go, before we get murdered in our beds by Cersei and the entire Lannister army.”

“Right.”  Bronn pocketed the purse and quickly slipped out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. 

Tyrion sighed heavily.  He looked about the room, wondering if he should wait out the night there or return to his own chamber.  The truth was, he had no desire to sit quietly in his own room watching Jaime sleep.  He wanted to be alone so that he could think.

Tyrion crossed the room and poured himself a glass of wine.  He sat down in the chair beside the table and slowly began to drink.  His mind wandered to thoughts of Cersei, to their last encounter back in King’s Landing.  She had admitted to him then that she was pregnant, and in that moment, he had suddenly understood why she had stalwartly refused to leave the Red Keep and join the fight against the Night King.  Family mattered more to Cersei than anything, except perhaps protecting her own skin.  Jaime and her unborn child were the only family she had now – barring Tyrion, of course – and she had been determined to keep them both safe at all costs. 

Of course, she had then returned to the Dragonpit and pledged her aid, but he should have seen that for what it was even then, just a ruse.  If Jaime hadn’t left her, Tyrion was certain she would have remained in King’s Landing until long after they were all dead.  But she’d had no choice but to follow after him.  As hardened as Cersei had become, there was still a trace of humanity left in her, small though it was.

Even so, Tyrion had been surprised when she’d let him leave her chamber alive the last time they’d met.  At first, he’d thought it was because, despite her hatred for him, they were family.  But the more he’d thought about it, the more he’d realized that she was keeping him alive for other reasons.  After all, he was the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen, and Cersei knew she could have his ear anytime she wanted it.  Had his own position been less strategic, he was sure he would already be dead.  But Cersei was biding her time, lest his current appointment prove useful to her at some point in the future.

Tyrion emptied the last drop of wine from his cup and closed his eyes, trying to rid his mind of such troubling thoughts.  He fought the fatigue that was slowly wearing him down, but it was no use.  Within moments, he was fast asleep.

Several hours later, the chamber door suddenly burst open, jolting Tyrion awake.  The glass he was holding slipped from his hand, and he quickly scrambled to catch it before it crashed to the floor.  Tyrion grabbed it just in time, sighing in relief as he hung over the side of the chair, the glass mere inches from the carpet.

“Did I scare you?” Bronn asked with a laugh as he closed the door behind him.  “I thought you were a lot braver than that.”

Tyrion pulled himself up in the chair, the glass still in his hand, and turned to look up at Bronn.  “You didn’t scare me.  I seem to have fallen asleep.  How late is it?”

“Not as late as you’d think,” Bronn said, ambling into the room and easing himself down into the chair across from Tyrion’s.  “She was pretty easy to find because, as you suspected, she is not, in fact, headed back to King’s Landing but on her way here.”

Tyrion shook his head, the effort making his temples throb.  “Is she alone?”

Bronn leaned forward, grabbing the flagon and an empty glass and pouring himself a drink.  When he sat back, he said, “She’s got the Mountain with her, just like Jaime said.  Though I didn’t see evidence of any army.  If she’s here, she’s here alone.  I think whatever mission she’s on is personal.  She’s probably here to kill you, and then Jaime, and then Daenerys.”

“And then Jon, and then Sansa, and then you.  I get it.”

Bronn laughed.  “No, not me.  That bitch doesn’t even know I exist, and I’d like to keep it that way.”  Bronn downed his glass of wine in one gulp.  When he finished, he said, “Now, if that’s all for this evening, I’d like you to get the hell out of my chamber so I can get some sleep.”

“All right, all right,” Tyrion said, pushing himself off the chair.  He put the glass on the table and looked up at Bronn.  “Do you mind telling me where you found my dear, sweet sister tonight?  I like to know where my enemies rest their heads so that I can rest my own in peace.”

“An inn in the winter town, though she’s traveling incognito at this point.  If anyone knew it was her, they’d burn the place down just to be rid of her.”

“The winter town?” Tyrion asked in disbelief.  “That close?”

“That close.”

Tyrion was horrified that Cersei had been able to get so close to Winterfell without being detected.  Of course, she was the shrewdest woman he had ever met, and he knew her ability to plot and scheme was unrivaled, but still, he was surprised there had been no warning of her approach.  Her proximity changed everything.  No doubt she was getting ready to ambush them, to reveal herself only after she’d undermined their cause in some unimaginable way.  Tyrion needed to warn Jon and Daenerys before it was too late.  But first, he had to tell Jaime.

“You look like you’ve seen a White Walker,” Bronn said.  “Scared Cersei’s going to invade Winterfell while everyone sleeps?  She’s one woman with one guard.  How much trouble could she be?”

“I can see you don’t know my sister very well, do you?”

Bronn shrugged.  “I know enough to steer clear of her.  In that regard, I have more sense than you.”

Suddenly, a new idea began to take shape in Tyrion’s mind.  Instead of putting out the alarm and waking all of Winterfell on the eve of battle, he would visit Cersei himself.  He would sneak into the winter town and meet with her privately.  At the very least, he might learn something useful.  At worst, he might lose his life.

“Oh, fuck,” Bronn said, pulling Tyrion out of his own private musings.  “You’re not planning to go see her yourself, are you?”

“What makes you think that?”

“The look on your face right now.  You are planning to see her.  You stupid bastard.  You’re just asking for it, aren’t you?”

“I’m not asking for anything.  If there’s a way to avoid more conflict with Cersei, I’ll take it.  I at least have to try.”

“And get your head cut off in the process?”

“She didn’t order me killed the last time I visited her.  I doubt she will do so this time.”

Bronn shook his head.  Tyrion knew that his friend thought he was a fool.  And maybe he was, but he still had faith in his own ability to talk circles around his sister.  If anyone could make her listen to reason, it was him.

“If you’re gonna go,” Bronn said, “I’ll go with you.”

“No.  I’m afraid I’m all out of gold, and I simply couldn’t afford the protection.”

“I can’t believe I’m sayin’ this, but I’ll do it for free.”

Tyrion nearly choked.  “You can’t be serious.  I didn’t even know you knew that word.  Are you sure you’re feeling well?”

Bronn laughed.  “I’d like to stand there and watch while you have it out with Queen Bitch.  I think just seeing you two together might be payment enough.”

Tyrion was tempted to bring Bronn along with him, after all, he himself was no match for the Mountain.  But Tyrion didn’t think Cersei would appreciate the intrusion, and it was more likely that he would be granted an audience with her if he went on his own.  Tyrion shook his head.  “As much as I would love the company, and the protection, I think I shall go alone.”

“You can’t go alone,” Bronn said, leaning forward and putting his glass down.  He rested his forearms on the table, closing some of the distance between them.  “If you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll return.”

“Even if I don’t, there is still no guarantee that I will return, and I would rather that only one of our lives be in danger tonight, not both.  Jon and Daenerys need you to fight White Walkers on the morrow.  I can handle Cersei on my own.  It’s the least I can do.”

“Well, if you’re not going to take me, take Ser Jaime.  After all, he’s the one who lured her here.  Maybe she’ll take one look at him and forget you’re even in the room,” Bronn said with a shrug.

Tyrion stared at Bronn for a moment, weighing his words carefully.  As far as he could tell, Cersei had come north to find Jaime, that was all.  Perhaps if she found him and they settled things between them, she’d turn around and go back to King’s Landing.  Or maybe she would even reconsider her decision to withhold her troops and she’d join them in their fight against the Night King.  Of course, she might just as easily try to kill them both, but Tyrion thought he’d have a much better chance of surviving if he brought Jaime with him.

“Well,” Bronn said when Tyrion didn’t reply, “will you be asking the Kingslayer to join you on this doomed mission?”

“Perhaps if he joins me, it won’t be doomed after all.”

“Wise words spoken by a true fool.”  Bronn reached for the decanter again.  He poured what was left of the wine into their glasses.  “Drink that,” he said, nodding toward the cup in Tyrion’s hand.  “You’re going to need it.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

It was just a few hours before sunrise when Jaime and Tyrion reached the inn in the winter town.  Jaime had been startled to learn that Cersei had not, in fact, returned to King’s Landing as she’d promised.  He’d been even more startled to learn that Tyrion intended to head into the village to meet with her.  Jaime had argued that he alone should go, but Tyrion had been adamant about accompanying him.  Tyrion seemed to believe that the only chance either one of them had of surviving Cersei’s wrath was to go to her together.  Alone they were both vulnerable, particularly with the Mountain an ever-present threat.

Jaime knew it had been years since Tyrion had been to the winter town, but the innkeeper still remembered him.  Jaime wasn’t exactly surprised.  After all, it wasn’t every day that a dwarf made it this far north.  Thanks to Tyrion, a few well-chosen words and a couple of coins later, they were granted access to the first floor, no questions asked.

“How do you do that?” Jaime asked as they climbed the narrow stairs to the floor above them.

“Do what?”

“Charm everyone with your golden tongue.”

“I think you’ve already answered your own question,” Tyrion said with a wry smile.

When they reached the top of the stairs, they entered a dimly lit corridor with at least half a dozen doors on either side.  At the end of the corridor was a single door with a mountain of a man in front of it.  Even across the near darkness, Jaime could see that Gregor Clegane had spotted them.  His black eyes, sunken as they were beneath his helmet, seemed even darker across the distance.

“Well, it seems Bronn was right,” Tyrion said, his eyes fixed on the Mountain.  “So, shall we forge ahead, dear brother, and try to get ourselves killed?”

Jaime wasn’t sure what to do.  He was tempted to draw his sword but feared the Mountain would immediately draw his own and that either he or Tyrion would die before Cersei was even aware of their presence.  But if he approached the Mountain without his sword, he might just as easily find his head separated from his body before he made it to the door.

“What’s wrong?” Tyrion asked.  “Having second thoughts, oh brave knight?”

“Not second thoughts.  Just wondering how to get past the Mountain without getting my head chopped off.  That’s all.”

“Oh, well, if that’s all you’re worried about.”  Tyrion didn’t say anything more.  He simply started walking down the corridor with the confidence of a man three times his size.

Jaime reluctantly followed, wondering just what kind of trouble his brother was going to get them into.

Tyrion stopped a foot in front of the Mountain, craning his head back so he could look up at the giant.  “Good to see you again, Clegane.  I trust my sister is treating you well.  Letting you kill all the hapless traitors your sword arm can handle.”

Clegane stared down at Tyrion through the openings in his helmet, though his head didn’t move.  He was completely silent, as always.

“Ah, I see,” Tyrion continued.  “Well, it’s been wonderful chatting with you.  Now, if you don’t mind—”

Tyrion took a step forward, and the Mountain instantly drew his sword.  Jaime’s heart caught in his throat for a split second as he waited for the blade to fall.  But it didn’t.  Instead, in that same moment, the door opened, revealing Cersei behind it.  Even though it was the dead of night, she was still fully dressed, almost as if she had expected their arrival.

“Still your sword,” she commanded, and the Mountain instantly obeyed.  She stared at Jaime as if they were completely alone.  “I see you’ve found me.”

“You said you were returning to King’s Landing.  Why didn’t you?”

“I have my reasons.  As I’m sure you have your reasons for being here.”

“Yes,” Tyrion interjected, “like trying to stop you from attacking Winterfell when our forces head north tomorrow.”

Cersei didn’t even bother to look at their younger brother as he spoke.  Jaime knew she was none too pleased to see Tyrion.  Now, he was sorry he hadn’t come alone.

“I am planning no attack,” Cersei replied, directing her answer to Jaime.  “How could I be?  As you can see, it’s just me and the Mountain,” she said with a wave of her hand in the giant’s direction.  “No one else.”

“Still,” Jaime said, “you did lie about your intentions, and we want to know why.”

Cersei’s eyes darted to Tyrion but only for a moment.  Looking at Jaime again, she said, “We will speak privately in my chamber.  Just you and I.”

“Are we still playing this game?” Tyrion asked.  “We’re not children anymore.  You can’t pretend that I don’t exist just for your own amusement.”

But Cersei continued to ignore him.  She took a step back into her chamber, making room for Jaime to join her.  “Shall we?”

Tyrion groaned in frustration, but he didn’t say another word.  Yes, Cersei was being childish, but under the circumstances, they had no choice but to play her games.  Jaime knew he’d get a lot further with her if he met her on her own terms than if he resisted.  She wanted to have him alone all to herself.  Even if she was plotting his demise, he was willing to take the risk.  They had to know why Cersei had stayed in the north and just what she was planning.

Jaime looked down at Tyrion.  He could tell his brother wasn’t happy with the current turn of events, but there was nothing either one of them could do about it.  “Stay here,” Jaime said to Tyrion.  “I’ll be all right.”

“You might be all right, but I’ll be lucky if that thing doesn’t kill me,” he said with a nod toward the Mountain.

“Then go downstairs and have the innkeeper pour you a drink while you wait.  I won’t be long.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “No.  I am not leaving you here alone with either of them.  I shall stay in this very spot until you return.”

They both knew there wasn’t much Tyrion could do if either the Mountain or Cersei decided to attack, but it was a reassuring sentiment just the same.  Jaime knew his brother cared for him and would never betray him.  He wished he could say the same for their sister.

Jaime nodded, then looked at Cersei again.  She was glaring at him now, her patience having long since worn away. 

Jaime left Tyrion’s side, walking past Cersei and entering the room.  She closed the door behind him, and he immediately turned around, knowing better than to ever turn his back on his sister, even for a moment.

“Why did you bring that thing here?” she asked, her voice cold.

“He’s not a thing, he’s our brother.”

“He’s not my brother.  Not anymore.  He lost that right when he murdered our father.”

Jaime knew that Cersei was hurting.  There was a pain in her eyes that he had rarely seen.  It only ever surfaced when she lost someone dear to her.  Whether she was feeling it now because he had walked out on her or because they were discussing their father’s death, he didn’t know.  All he knew was that he had the overwhelming urge to close the distance between them and comfort her.  But he couldn’t.  That road would only lead to disaster.

Instead, Jaime said, “I didn’t come here to argue with you about Tyrion.  I came here to find out why you didn’t return to King’s Landing.”

“You know why.”

“Do I?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice softening just a little.  “You’re my whole world.  You’re all I have left.  I couldn’t leave you behind.”

Jaime wanted to believe her, but he had no reason to.  He feared the real reason she had continued north was to put an end to all her enemies, including him.  He couldn’t trust a word she said.

“You say that now, and yet, the last two times we saw each other, you tried to kill me.”

Cersei laughed.  “If I had really wanted you dead, you’d be dead already.  No, I don’t want to kill you.  I want to preserve what’s left of our family.”  She moved her hand to her stomach as she spoke, a less than subtle reminder of the child she claimed was growing inside her.

“And what of the Night King and the war for the north?”

“You know I don’t care what happens to the north.”

“And when the Night King wins and he leads his army straight to King’s Landing?  Then what?  Shall we hole ourselves up in the Red Keep and wait for spring to come and drive them away?  If the north falls, spring will never come again, and we will all perish.  You must know that.”

“If Ned Stark’s bastard and the Dragon Queen are defeated and the White Walkers take King’s Landing, we shall sail across the Narrow Sea and make a new life for ourselves.”

Jaime laughed.  “You can’t be serious.  A queen in exile?  You could never live like that.  You’d have no power, no land, no one to rule.  You’d go mad.”

“It wouldn’t be forever.  Given time, we could rally additional forces and reclaim the Seven Kingdoms once and for all.”

“If you believe that, then you’re already mad.”

“I am not mad.  If Westeros falls, there are many powerful people in Essos who would offer their support.  If the White Walkers take one continent, what is to stop them from taking another?  We will not be alone in our fight, and that is how we will win.”

Jaime stared at his sister, trying to decide if her scheme was brilliant or insane.  She had a point after all.  If Westeros did fall, the rest of the world could not simply stand back and ignore it.  They would have to provide aid in order to avoid the risk of falling victim themselves.  And yet, Jaime doubted Cersei’s ability to secure such support on her own.  Without wealth, without power, she only had her own cruelty with which to manipulate people, and even that could only get her so far.

“I see you still doubt me,” Cersei said when he failed to reply.

“It isn’t you I doubt.  It’s the idea that your plan will play out exactly as you’ve imagined.  There are so many variables in that scenario.  Any one of them could go wrong, and it would mean an end to both of us.  At least if we stay here and fight, there will be no uncertainty.  We will either die trying to save our homeland, or we will win, in which case—”

“In which case that silver-haired bitch will turn her dragons on us and burn King’s Landing to the ground.”

“There is no guarantee that Daenerys Targaryen will even survive this war.  Or her dragons.  Even you have questioned whether or not all three are still alive.  If one could die, they all could die.  And so could their queen.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed, and Jaime knew she had already begun to scheme.  After a moment, she said, “And what of the much-beloved King in the North?”

“There is no guarantee that he will survive either.  But if he does and the Targaryen girl doesn’t, I’m certain he can be made to heel.  Legitimize him.  Give him his father’s old title.  I’m sure he’ll be content.  Besides, by the time the current war is over, the north will be a vast wasteland.  Better to leave the northerners to rebuild their own lands than to waste our resources.”

“Hmm.”  Cersei began to move slowly about the room as she considered the possibilities. 

Jaime knew she was working on devising a plan that would end with all her enemies dead and her claim to the Iron Throne uncontested.  He had given her enough encouragement to form a reasonably viable scheme.  He had not done it because he wanted her to kill Jon and Daenerys but because he wanted her to come over to their side, if only long enough to defeat the Night King and save Westeros from complete annihilation.

Suddenly, Cersei stopped, turning to look at Jaime again.  “If I do what you’re asking, if I join forces with that bastard and that Targaryen whore, will you return to King’s Landing with me when this is all over?”

Jaime was reluctant to agree.  Although he still loved Cersei, he no longer trusted her, and he feared what life might be like for him in King’s Landing if he returned.  But he knew agreeing to her demand was the only way to win her support in the war against the White Walkers, so he said the only thing he could say, “I will.  You have my word.”

Cersei nodded.  “All right then.  I shall call our army to the front, and I shall join the traitors on the battlefield, but only to protect my own interests.”

“And what of the Golden Company?”

Something flickered behind Cersei’s eyes, something cold and angry.  It was obvious that she’d hoped he had forgotten all about her army of hired mercenaries.  But he hadn’t, and he wasn’t about to let her hold them back when the fate of the Seven Kingdoms hung in the balance.

“What about the Golden Company?”  She said it as if she didn’t care in the least, but it was obvious that she did.

“Where are they now?  Still in Essos?  In King’s Landing?  Or are they closer than that?”

“It doesn’t matter.  When I agreed to lend my forces to these worthless traitors, I did not pledge them the Golden Company.  They can have the Lannister army, but that’s all.”

“If that’s all, you might as well kill me right here because I will not go into battle without them.  It’s all or nothing, Cersei.  Either we combine all our resources, or we part company.  It’s your choice.  I don’t want to die on the battlefield because you are hording your men, waiting for everyone else to perish so you can pick at their bones.  You give us the Golden Company, or I walk out that door right now.”

Cersei eyed him shrewdly, and he could tell she was weighing her options.  He knew that even if she pledged the Golden Company to their cause, it didn’t mean that she would actually follow through.  But he had to take the chance.  They were all fighting for their lives, and the more men on the front, the better.  Even if there was a chance that those men could turn on them at any moment.

“Well?” Jaime prompted when she remained silent.  “Do I have your word, or is this goodbye?”

“Fine,” she snapped.  “You can have them, but they will hang back, be among the last into battle, not the first.  That’s the best I can offer.”

“Where are they now?”

Cersei smirked.  “I should probably tell you that they’re back in King’s Landing, that they won’t reach Winterfell for weeks.  But as an act of good faith, I will tell you the truth, dear brother.  They are no more than a few hours’ ride south of Winterfell, just behind the Lannister army.  They can be here by sunrise, along with the rest of our troops.”

The muscles in Jaime’s gut tightened.  Of course, Cersei had brought her armies north with her.  He felt like a fool for ever having believed a word she’d said.  “Tell me, how did you manage to get them this far north without anyone knowing?”

Cersei laughed, though the sound was hollow.  “Lord Varys thinks he’s so smart.  But his little birds can’t sing with their throats slit.  Besides, these northern usurpers have been so concerned with the threat to the north that they’ve completely ignored the threat to the south.”

Jaime broke her gaze, suddenly repulsed by the sight of her.

“Is something wrong?” Cersei asked.  “You asked for the Golden Company, and that’s what I’m giving you.”

Jaime forced himself to look up at her.  “You lied to me.  Again.”

Cersei laughed.  “What?  About the Golden Company?”

“You said you came north with just the Mountain for protection.”

“And I did.  Euron Greyjoy brought the army, not me.  We are not traveling together, so I have told no lie.”

“You never do, do you?”  Jaime was disgusted, both with Cersei and with himself.  He hated the idea of entering into an alliance with her even if it was for the good of the Seven Kingdoms.  Despite everything they had shared in the past, he knew now that he could never trust her again.  Perhaps it had been the death of her children, perhaps it had been all the loss she had suffered.  Whatever it was, something had changed Cersei, and she would never again be the woman he had once loved so desperately.

Cersei smirked.  “You act as if you don’t know me at all.”

“I do.  I know you far too well.  I know I can’t trust a single thing you say anymore.  I know you are only out for yourself.”

“Not just for myself.  For the both of us and our child.  After everything that’s been taken away from us, we finally have a chance to build something new, to be a family again.  I won’t let you throw that away, Jaime.  I will continue north with you, I will lend you my armies, and when we are victorious, we shall return to King’s Landing to reclaim what is ours.  We will destroy our enemies and live the life we have always deserved.”

Jaime shook his head.  “We’ll be lucky to have any enemies left by the time this war is over.  Even if we win, life will never be the same.”

“No, it will be better.”

It was difficult for Jaime to stand there and listen to Cersei talk such nonsense, but he knew she believed every word she had just said.  She hoped the coming war would purge the land of all her enemies and she would be able to rebuild Westeros as she saw fit.  She dreamed of creating a new world, one in which she would rule with an iron fist.

“I can’t say that losing a considerable percentage of the population is going to make this world a better place,” Jaime replied.

“That’s because you lack imagination.  Trust me, when this is all over, we shall both be in a much better place.”

Jaime sighed heavily.  He looked away from Cersei, his eyes idly scanning the darkened room.  Now that they had come to an agreement, he was eager to leave.  “If everything is settled, then I shall be on my way.”

“If you want my help and you want my armies, I need one more thing from you.”

Jaime’s heart sank in his chest.  He knew what she was going to ask of him.  He didn’t even have to wait for her to say it.  She wanted what she always wanted.  She wanted him in her bed, at her command.  As always.

Jaime finally looked at her again.  “Morning is almost upon us.  If you are to join us, Tyrion and I must return to Winterfell immediately and discuss the matter with Jon Snow and the Targaryen girl.”

Cersei moved closer, glancing at the unshuttered window at the far end of the room.  The sky was still dark.  “We have hours before dawn,” she said, stopping mere inches in front of him.  She placed a gentle hand against his chest, and despite himself, Jaime’s whole body ached for her.  “You don’t have to go just yet.”

“But Tyrion’s waiting for me.”

“Let that monster wait,” she said.  “If you want my help, you must first give me a sign of good faith.”

Jaime glanced nervously at the door.  He knew Cersei wasn’t looking for a quick tumble, she wanted him to make love to her, and that could very well take hours.  It wasn’t what Jaime wanted, not really, though his body didn’t seem to know it.

Cersei lifted her hand to his cheek, drawing his attention away from the door and forcing him to look at her again.  “Go tell Tyrion to consult with his queen.  We will meet them on the battlefield at dawn.”

Jaime had no desire to do as he’d been told, but he knew he had no choice.  Cersei was giving them what they needed most from her.  She was lending both her armies to their cause, at least for now, and there was no way he could refuse her.

“All right,” Jaime said, the words lacking any kind of conviction.  He stepped away, breaking the contact, though he could still feel the memory of her touch against his bare skin.  He turned toward the door and opened it.  He found Tyrion leaning up against the wall a few feet away, the Mountain still standing sentinel beside the door.

As soon as Tyrion saw him, he pushed himself away from the wall, standing upright.  “You’re alive.  I must say, I’m actually a little surprised.”

Jaime was keenly aware of the open door behind him.  He chose his words carefully.  “Cersei has agreed to join forces with us in fighting the White Walkers.  She will send for the Golden Company and what is left of the Lannister army immediately.  They are camped just south of here and can be here within hours.”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed with suspicion.  “The Golden Company?  That’s news, isn’t it?”

“Yes, well, it was news to me too.  I didn’t expect them to be this far north already.”

“And what does our sister want in return?”

“You let me take care of that.  Right now, I need you to return to Winterfell and tell Jon Snow and the Dragon Queen.  Cersei and I will meet them on the battlefield at dawn.”

“I don’t like this.”

“It’s what must be done.”

Tyrion leaned to the side, looking past Jaime so that he could see into the chamber behind him.  Jaime was certain that Cersei was staring back at their brother.  He could only imagine the look she was giving him.

When Tyrion righted himself and looked up at Jaime again, he said, “Let me guess, she wants a few private hours with you.”

“I’m not planning to give her anything I haven’t already given her a hundred times before.”

For a moment, Tyrion’s face twisted with disgust.  “If you can stomach it,” he said, “who am I to stop you?”

“We will see you in a few hours.  Now go, while you still have time to make our case to Snow and the Targaryen girl.”

Tyrion scowled, but he made no further protest.  “I expect to see you alive and well in a few hours’ time.  Until then.”  Tyrion offered him a quick nod as he finally took his leave, disappearing down the long, darkened hallway.

Jaime turned around to find the Mountain staring at him as stoically as ever.  “Don’t you have somewhere else you could be right now?”

The Mountain didn’t reply, but Jaime hadn’t expected him to.  He walked past the hulking giant and made his way back to Cersei.  All that was left was for her to send a raven to her troops, and then, they would be spending the rest of the night together in each other’s arms.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

Tyrion returned to Winterfell in due haste.  Even though it was still hours before dawn, he headed straight to Daenerys’ chamber.  When he arrived, he was surprised to find her door unguarded.  Daenerys was protected by a retinue of Unsullied soldiers at all times.  If there were no guards at her door, that could only mean that she was not in her chamber.

Tyrion exhaled a frustrated sigh.  There was only one other place she could be, and he loathed the idea of seeking her out there.  Apparently, incest was in the air tonight.  His queen and her lover were currently engaged in it at Winterfell, while his brother and sister were in its throes back in the winter town.  Tyrion wished he could simply retreat to his own chamber and drink himself into a mindless stupor, but he didn’t have the luxury.  Battle was imminent, and he had no choice but to try to negotiate a temporary peace between his queen and his family.  It was the only way any of them had a chance of surviving the invasion from beyond the Wall.

Of course, as far as Daenerys knew, Cersei and her men were already on their way north to aid them in their fight against the Night King.  She didn’t know anything about his sister’s betrayal, and even though it would be easier to keep it to himself, Tyrion had an obligation to tell Daenerys the truth.  His loyalty was to Daenerys, not to Cersei, and she needed to know exactly what they were facing as they headed into battle.

Tyrion turned around and headed to the Great Keep, to Jon’s chamber.  There he found Grey Worm and three other Unsullied soldiers standing outside the northern king’s door, looking as serious as if they were awaiting a Lannister army.  Thankfully, as Hand of the Queen, Tyrion was the one Lannister they didn’t consider a threat, and he was able to approach them without fear. 

He addressed Grey Worm directly.  “I trust I don’t have to ask if our queen is beyond that door.  You wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t.”

“The queen is not to be disturbed.”

“Yes, and believe me, I know why.  But this is a matter of great importance.  I must speak with her immediately, before another moment passes.”

Had the request come from anyone else, Tyrion knew they would have been turned away.  But he was Daenerys’ most trusted advisor, and that afforded him some authority, even in the eyes of the Unsullied.

Grey Worm stepped aside, giving Tyrion leave to approach the door.  Tyrion moved closer, knocking loudly enough to wake his queen in case she still slept. 

It took a moment, but eventually, he heard Daenerys’ voice from the other side of the door.  “Who’s there?”

“Tyrion.  We need to talk.”

The door opened just far enough for Daenerys to peek out into the hallway.  Even though he could not see all of her, Tyrion could tell that she was dressed only in her shift, her long hair cascading freely about her shoulders. 

“Tell me you have a very good reason for seeking me out here, Lord Tyrion,” Daenerys said, her tone strained. 

“My sister is in the winter town at this very moment.  I believe she intended to betray us but has since changed her mind.  She is moving her men northward as we speak.”

Daenerys stared at him as if trying to process his words.  Finally, she asked, “And how do you know this?”

“I have just come from the winter town.  She is there now with my brother Jaime.  She has agreed to meet us on the battlefield at first light, with both the Lannister army and the Golden Company behind her.”

“The Golden Company?”

“Yes.  It was a surprise to me too, but apparently, they are in the north, and she has agreed to send them into battle.”

“And how did she intend to betray us?”

“I believe she was going to attack Winterfell once our armies moved northward, but Jaime has since changed her mind, and she is once again offering us her help in fighting the threat beyond the Wall.”

“And you think it wise to accept this offer, knowing her original intention?”

“What other choice do we have?  Her armies are only a few hours away.  She has already sent for them.  Either they will fight beside us, or they will attack us.  Either way, they are coming, and we cannot stop them.  Better to gain some benefit from my sister’s presence in the north than to only reap destruction.”

Daenerys glanced over her shoulder at the chamber behind her.  When she looked at Tyrion again, she said, “This is not a decision I intend to make on my own.  I will consult with Jon before I give you an answer.”

“Then you must wake him now because your answer cannot wait.”

Daenerys’s eyes darkened, and Tyrion could tell she was none too pleased with his command, but she made no comment.  Instead, she said, “Wait here.  I shall fetch you in a moment.”

She closed the door, and Tyrion stood there impatiently waiting for his queen to return.  He knew he had not brought her good news.  Even though they needed every man they could get for the coming fight, accepting Cersei’s help after she had intended to betray them was truly a gamble.  But Cersei was just beyond the walls of Winterfell.  Whether they accepted her help or not, she had to be dealt with.  It was simply better to get what they could from her before she turned on them again.

A few minutes later, the door reopened, and Daenerys bid Tyrion enter.  She was fully dressed now, her hair twisted in a single plait down her back, a serious cast to her vibrant eyes.

Tyrion slowly stepped into the room.  He knew he had interrupted a lovers’ tryst, and he felt more than a little self-conscious.  He hadn’t meant to intrude upon their last moments of happiness before they headed off to war, but he’d had no choice.

He found Jon standing in the center of the room, fully clothed, the bed behind him hastily made to preserve some sense of dignity for its former occupants.  Even though Jon stared at him with expectant eyes, Tyrion didn’t speak.  He waited for Daenerys to close the door and join them.  It was her right to direct the conversation, not his.

“I have told Jon everything,” she said as she moved to Jon’s side, her gaze settling on Tyrion.

He felt uncomfortable under her scrutiny.  Ordinarily, he was confident in his queen’s presence, but not now, not under the current circumstances.  He was there to defend his own family to Daenerys and Jon, and he knew he was at a distinct disadvantage, but he had no choice but to forge ahead.

“I am grateful that you have both agreed to hear my thoughts on this matter,” Tyrion said.

“You are my Hand,” Daenerys said.  “What kind of queen would I be if I didn’t at least listen to you speak?”

“Not a very good one,” Tyrion said, laughing awkwardly at his own joke. 

Jon looked at him with humorless eyes.  “Daenerys says that Cersei and Jaime are in the winter town at this very moment and that Cersei intended to betray us.”

“Yes, she did.  But Jaime has swayed her.  He has convinced her to offer us her armies once again, and this time, I believe she will make good on her promise.”

“This time?” Jon said.  “She obviously can’t be trusted.  It would be a mistake to accept her help now if she truly intended to lay siege to Winterfell.”

“With all due respect,” Tyrion replied, “it was not too long ago that we all sat in the Dragonpit in King’s Landing asking Cersei for her help.  Circumstances may have changed since then, but our fortunes have not.  We are still just as desperate for reinforcements as we ever were, so why should we refuse them now?”

“Because,” Daenerys replied, “as you’ve admitted, your sister came here intending to betray us, intending to attack Winterfell.  She’s had weeks since the Dragonpit to plan and scheme and turn this situation to her advantage.  We cannot trust anything she says, no matter how much you want us to.”

“I’m not asking you to trust her.  Gods know, I’ve never been able to trust her myself.  I’m asking you to trust me.  We need her help, and what good will it do us to turn her away?  If we do, do you think she’ll go?  Do you think she’ll simply turn her armies around and head back to King’s Landing?  No.  She will forge northward anyway and set fire to Winterfell while we are all on the battlefield killing White Walkers.  Better to keep her where we can see her than to let her go off on her own unchecked.”

“I think Daenerys is right,” Jon said, drawing Tyrion’s attention away from his queen.  “We cannot trust Cersei at this point.  It is too dangerous to accept her help.”

“It is too dangerous not to accept her help,” Tyrion countered.

“Really?” Jon said.  “Tell me, Lord Tyrion, what has changed between the time she decided to march her armies north to attack us and now?  What has inspired this change of heart in your sister?  Is it her love for you?  Somehow, I doubt that.”

Had Tyrion had a different relationship with his sister, he might have been insulted.  But he wasn’t.  He knew Cersei’s change of heart had nothing to do with him.  It wasn’t about him.  It was about Jaime.  It was always about Jaime. 

“My sister and brother had a falling out after we left King’s Landing,” Tyrion replied.  “She came north to find him, to pull him back into the fold.  He has only agreed to return to King’s Landing with her if she lends us her armies.  So if she wants Jaime – and I am certain that she does – she will keep her word, at least until the Night King is dead and her bargain with my brother has been satisfied.”

“And what makes you think you can trust the Kingslayer?” Daenerys asked, a hard edge to her voice, “the man who murdered my father?”

Tyrion looked at Daenerys again.  There was fire burning in her eyes.  He knew she hated Jaime, and rightfully so, but now was not the time for strong emotions, now was the time for reason and logic. 

“Jaime and Cersei may be twins,” Tyrion said, “but they are not the same person.  Jaime has made mistakes in the past—”

“Mistakes?  Is that what you call stabbing my father in the back?  A mistake?”

“No.  That was an act of cowardice.  One I don’t ever expect you to pardon him for.”

“When this war is over and I sit on the Iron Throne, if the Kingslayer still lives, I will hunt him down and burn him alive.  Do not doubt me.  I will do it.”

Tyrion’s blood ran cold under the heat of her stare. “I have absolutely no doubt that you will,” he replied, the words hollow in his throat.  “But we have to survive this war first, before that can ever come to pass.  Accept Cersei’s help, let Jaime fight for us, and when this is all over, we can all start killing each other again.”

Daenerys’ gaze was still piercingly hot, but she didn’t say another word to Tyrion.  Instead, she turned and looked at Jon.  “What are your thoughts on the matter?”

“I think—” Jon stopped, taking a moment to collect his thoughts.  “I think that Cersei Lannister has ulterior motives for coming north and offering us her help.  I think that she will betray us at the first opportunity.  But I also agree with Tyrion.  For now, it’s better to play her little games rather than turn her away and allow her to attack Winterfell while it’s vulnerable.  We don’t have enough men to man the keep and fight the White Walkers.  We have to take our best fighters north, which means we need our enemies where we can see them.  Otherwise, we’ll be returning to ruins and ashes.  If we return at all.”

“And if they turn on us on the battlefield?” Daenerys asked.  “What then?”

Jon shook his head.  “They won’t turn on us.  Not once they’ve seen the wights for themselves.  I know we want to believe the Lannister army is full of evil men.  I know we want to believe the Golden Company are so ruthless that they care more for gold than for their own lives.  But the truth is, they’re men, no different from our own.  When they see the true threat, they will not be able to turn on us, not until the White Walkers have been defeated.”

Tyrion was struck by how young and naïve Jon sounded.  Yes, the men of the Golden Company were mortal, just like their own men, but that’s where the similarities ended.  Those men – the men Cersei was marching toward them at that very moment – were the kind of men who would murder their own mothers for a sack of gold.  If Cersei commanded them to kill their brothers-in-arms in the heat of battle, they would, even if it meant more White Walkers for them to fight.  Their allegiance was to their purses, not to their own lives or the lives of others.  Tyrion was tempted to point this out to Jon, but he held his tongue, knowing if he did, he would lose the argument he was so desperately trying to win.

In the end, it didn’t matter because Daenerys spoke up and said nearly exactly what Tyrion had been thinking.  “I think you underestimate the power that gold has over the hearts of men.  The Golden Company will not think twice about turning on us whether they are facing White Walkers or not.”

“Well, then,” Jon replied, “perhaps Cersei will command them to do otherwise once she sees the army of the dead marching toward her.  She may have been unmoved by our demonstration at the Dragonpit, but even she will not be able to ignore the threat once she sees it in full force.”

Tyrion hoped that Jon was right.  As cold, selfish, and calculating as Cersei was, he hoped that once she saw the army of the dead in all its festering glory, she would no longer be able to stand idly by and do nothing.  Even she would have to admit that the threat was real and that something needed to be done.  Perhaps then, she would command her men to fight beside them, even if it was only for as long as the Night King lived.

But Daenerys was still unconvinced.  “And if she doesn’t command her men to fight alongside us?”

“Then we fight them too and pray that the gods favor us.  Unfortunately, we’re not in a position to turn away able-bodied men, even if there’s a chance they’ll betray us.  We need every fighter we can get on the front line if we’re to have any hope of surviving.”

Daenerys was quiet for a moment, and Tyrion held his breath, waiting for her answer.  He knew why she was reluctant to accept Cersei’s help, and he could not fault her.  But there was only one reasonable course of action for them to follow, and he silently prayed that she would see that.

Finally, Daenerys spoke.  “Very well.  We will allow Cersei Lannister’s men to fight beside us, but only until the threat to the north has been removed.  Once the last White Walker falls, I make no promises.”

“Of course,” Tyrion replied.  “I would expect nothing less.”

Daenerys glanced at Jon, and he nodded his approval.  When she looked at Tyrion again, she said, “I would like a private word with you before your brother and sister arrive.  Wait for me in my chamber.  I will be there shortly.”

“Yes, Your Grace.”  Tyrion bowed his head to both Daenerys and Jon before quietly exiting the chamber and closing the door behind him.  He wondered what Daenerys wanted to say to him that couldn’t be said in front of Jon.  Although he had never feared his queen before, a pang of unease had suddenly settled in his gut.  He knew she was angry about the current situation.  He just hoped that she wasn’t angry with him.  After all, he was only trying to do his duty.  He wanted what was best for Westeros.  He wanted to see as many people as possible survive the war, even if that meant trusting Cersei.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

Daenerys left Jon’s chamber nearly an hour later.  She had no misgivings about leaving Tyrion waiting for so long.  She felt as if he had betrayed her by plotting with his brother and sister behind her back.  Yes, they were his family, but she was his queen, and his loyalty to his queen should always come first. 

Daenerys had used the preceding hour to say goodbye to Jon one last time.  She knew they might never have a moment alone again, and so she had taken her time showing him just how much she loved him.  Hopefully, when this was all over, they would share an intimate reunion, but there were no guarantees, so she had made the most of the opportunity to be with him while she’d still had the chance.

Four Unsullied soldiers escorted Daenerys back to the Guest House.  When she arrived at her chamber, she found Tyrion sitting at the small table on the far side of the room, a glass in his hand, a half empty flagon of wine on the table beside him. 

He moved to rise the instant he saw her, but she held out a hand, stopping him. 

“Don’t,” she said.

Tyrion settled back into his chair while one of the guards closed the door behind her.

“I suppose this is where you tell me how very disappointed you are,” Tyrion said, looking down thoughtfully into his glass.  “I could save you the trouble if you’d like.  My father gave me that speech nearly every day of his life before I killed him.  I promise you, I know it by heart.”  He drank from his cup, emptying it in one gulp.

Daenerys scowled.  “This isn’t a joke.  You know that, don’t you?”

Tyrion lowered his glass and looked up at her.  “I know it’s not a joke.  I’m an expert in jokes.  I was born one after all.”

Although there was still wine in the flagon beside him, Daenerys wondered just how much Tyrion had imbibed before she’d arrived.  She wanted to have a serious conversation with him, but he seemed determined to sit there and pity himself instead.  She had made an important decision about his role in the coming battle, and he needed to hear it from her before the rest of the castle awoke.

Daenerys refused to let him continue.  “I know some people find this whole drunken dwarf act charming, but you should know by now that I am not one of them.”

“It’s no act, I assure you.  This is me.  Tyrion Lannister, the drunken dwarf.” 

Tyrion reached for the flagon, and Daenerys was instantly in motion.  Before Tyrion could refill his cup, she pulled the flagon from his grasp and slammed it down on the far side of the table.  “No,” she said.  “You’ve had enough.”

Tyrion looked up at her in surprise, clearly startled by her behavior, and Daenerys finally felt a twinge of satisfaction.  She lowered herself to the chair across from him, keeping her gaze steady with Tyrion’s.

“We need to talk,” she said. 

Daenerys waited for a witty retort, but he didn’t offer one, and she was glad.  Perhaps she was finally getting through to him.  She needed to explain herself quickly while she still had his attention. 

“Tell me,” Daenerys began, “have you prepared yourself to head into battle?”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed as if he was confused by the question, but he answered all the same.  “I have.  Although I no longer have a custom suit of armor, from what I’m told, Podrick has managed to secure a few pieces that will fit me well enough.”

“There will be no need for that.”

“And why is that?” he asked, a hint of suspicion in his voice.

“Because you will not be riding north with the rest of us.  You will be staying here at Winterfell.”

Tyrion’s eyes burned with fury, and had he been a stronger man, the glass in his hand might have shattered.  “This is because I spoke with my brother and sister without your permission, isn’t it?  This is my punishment for trying to do my duty, for trying to protect your life and the lives of all who follow you.”

“No,” Daenerys said softly, hoping to quell some of his anger.  “This isn’t a punishment.”

“Of course, it is!”  Tyrion slammed his glass down onto the table.  “What possible purpose could I serve here at Winterfell?  The battle is up north, not here.  I will do no good locked behind the walls of the keep.”

“If we fail, the battle will be at the gates of Winterfell before nightfall.  Someone must be here to protect those who stay behind.”

“Why me?  If this isn’t my penance, then why leave me behind?  Why not leave a small army of Unsullied, or even a few Dothraki, if you can spare them?”

“I will be leaving a number of Unsullied soldiers here at the keep, but they will need someone to give them orders in case of siege.”

Tyrion laughed.  “And you leave that to me?”

“Who better to leave it to?  You are a great strategist, Tyrion Lannister.  You will serve me much better here than on the battlefield.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “No, that’s not it, and we both know it.”  He pushed himself forward in his chair, intent on getting to his feet, but Daenerys stopped him once again.

“You are not leaving, Lord Tyrion.  I am not through with you yet.”

“Well, maybe I’m through with you.”

Daenerys inhaled a sharp breath.  She knew Tyrion had been drinking and was in a surly mood.  She knew she was making matters worse, but this was a conversation they needed to have.  “If you want to leave my service when this conversation is over, you are more than welcome to do so.  But for now, you will sit there and listen to what I have to say.  Is that understood?”

Tyrion didn’t answer.  Instead, he shifted back onto his seat, his expression just as dour as before.

“Now,” Daenerys began when she was certain he intended to stay put, “my reasons for leaving you here have nothing to do with what happened tonight with Cersei and the Kingslayer.  I have been thinking about this for some time.”

“If that’s really the case, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are leaving me here because you want me to protect Winterfell.  If that is the case, I can only imagine you are leaving me behind so that I can’t question your decisions on the battlefield.  You don’t want me to challenge you like I did the day you burned Randyll Tarly and his son alive, is that it?”

Daenerys’ whole body stiffened.  “I had no choice but to execute them, and you had no right to question my decision.” 

“As your Hand, I had every right.  If I don’t question you, what’s to stop you from turning into your father?”

The blood finally began to burn hot in Daenerys’ veins, and she feared she was about to lose her temper.  “How dare you make such a comparison?  I am nothing like my father.  I do not burn people for pleasure.  If I execute someone, it is for the good of the realm and for no other reason.”

“Are you saying you don’t take pleasure in it?” Tyrion countered.  “Can you tell me that you have never, ever felt a rush of excitement or triumph as you’ve burned one of your enemies alive?”

“Tell me, Lord Tyrion, did you feel that same rush of excitement and triumph when you strangled your lover to death?” 

Tyrion’s eyes darkened, and Daenerys could tell she’d struck a nerve.  She hadn’t meant to say anything so cruel, but Tyrion had provoked her.  At that moment, he looked like he wanted to strangle her with his bare hands.

“We are not talking about me,” Tyrion replied, his tone hard.  “We are talking about you and what you might do if left unchecked.”

“I am heading into battle.  I am more than capable of checking myself.”

Tyrion laughed again, the sound undeniably bitter.  “No, you don’t intend to check yourself.  You expect Jon to do it for you, don’t you?  After all, you now value his opinion much more than you value mine.”

“That isn’t true.”

“Of course, it is.  Jon Snow may be the most trustworthy man in all of Westeros, but that doesn’t mean he is capable of giving you sound advice.  He’s young, inexperienced.  He doesn’t have the wisdom you need to advise you when you’re out there on the battlefield.”

“He doesn’t need wisdom.  He has instinct.  Besides, he won’t be the only man beside me who can give me advice.  Jorah will be with me as well, and he is a seasoned fighter.  I shall have all the aid I need in making my decisions in the heat of battle.  I assure you, Lord Tyrion, your services will not be needed.”

“So does this mean that I won’t be joining you to greet my brother and sister when they arrive a few hours hence?”

“You will accompany Jon and I to meet with them when they arrive, but after that, you will not step foot outside of Winterfell again.  Is that understood?”

Tyrion grudgingly nodded. 

Daenerys could tell he was furious.  There was no way for him to hide it, though he held his tongue.  He was hers to command after all, and if she commanded him to stay behind, he had no choice but to obey.  Despite the fact that he had been born a Lannister, Tyrion had a keen sense of conscience.  And while that was a tremendous asset on diplomatic missions, it could be a serious hindrance on the battlefield.  Daenerys knew what had to be done to win the war, and she could not afford to take Tyrion Lannister with her.  He was better off at Winterfell securing their last line of defense in case all their other efforts failed.  And if the Lannisters turned on them and laid siege to the keep, she knew Tyrion’s conscience would force him to do all he could to keep them at bay.  No one would protect Winterfell more fiercely, except perhaps the lady of the keep.

“Are we done here, Your Grace?” Tyrion asked tightly, obviously eager to leave.

“No, we are not.  I asked you to do something for me last night.  Have you done it?”

“You mean interrogated Sansa Stark?  But of course.  I am nothing more than your obedient servant, Your Grace.”

Daenerys was unmoved by his sarcasm.  She understood his anger and would not begrudge him the right to express it as long as he did not push her too far.  “And what did you learn?”

“Absolutely nothing.  As I told you last night, I was already certain that the Starks were telling the truth.  My talk with her only confirmed what I already knew.  So as I said, I learned nothing.  Is that all?”

Daenerys ignored the question.  “So she is prepared to support Jon’s claim for the throne?  Is that it?”

“Of course, she is.  He’s her blood.  And technically, he has a stronger claim than you, whether you care to admit it or not.”

“I will admit no such thing.  Even if Jon is Rhaegar’s son, he’s no dragon.  And he doesn’t have the experience to rule so many.  Westeros shall be safer in my hands, and I will fight for the right to rule her, no matter what.”

“Even if it means fighting Jon and his entire family?”

“Jon will not fight me.  But if his family takes up arms against me, I shall have no choice but to defend myself.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “That is always your answer, isn’t it?  To destroy anyone who rises up against you.  In this case, do you honestly think Jon would ever forgive you if you raised arms against his sister?”

“If what Bran Stark says is true, she is not his sister anymore.”

“No, she is his cousin.  But they are still blood, and they were raised as siblings.  Jon will never forgive you if you burn Winterfell to the ground in your attempt to be queen of Westeros.  Just remember that.”

“I’m sure that Jon will understand that everything I do is for the good of Westeros.  And if Sansa Stark can’t see that, then she shall have to deal with the consequences, whether she is kin to Jon or not.”

Tyrion looked like he wanted to say something scathing and it was taking all of his resolve to bite his tongue.  Daenerys was done arguing with him.  She had made up her mind, and there was nothing he could do to sway her.

Daenerys decided to finally put Tyrion out of his misery.  “I still have much to prepare before we leave this morning,” she said.  “You may go now.”

In an instant, Tyrion was off his chair and headed toward the door.  It was obvious that he wanted to escape her chamber as quickly as possible.  But before he reached the door, he stopped.  He stood there very still for a moment before turning around and looking up at her again.  He cleared his throat.  “Although I may not agree with the decisions you have made here today,” he said, his voice calmer than it had been before, “there is a chance that neither one of us will survive this, and I don’t want our last meeting to end on such a sour note.  I wish you well, Daenerys Targaryen.  May the gods see you through the darkness and into the light.”

“Thank you, Tyrion,” Daenerys replied, genuinely moved by his desire to say a proper farewell.  “May the gods keep you safe, and may we meet again soon.”

He nodded but said nothing further.  Then he was gone.

Daenerys stood in the silence of her chamber and stared at the door for a long moment.  It was almost time to prepare herself for the coming battle.  Soon, she’d be heading north with Jon by her side, leading thousands of men to their deaths.  She just hoped that it was worth the sacrifice, that somehow, Westeros would survive the coming darkness.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

The morning had dawned grey and cold when Jaime had awoken and dragged himself from Cersei’s bed.  Although he had at first been reluctant to join her, once he’d been wrapped in her arms, he’d had no desire to leave.  Despite the fact that he no longer trusted her, despite the fact that he knew her capable of great evil, he still loved her, and he always would.

Now, they both sat astride their horses on a hill overlooking Winterfell.  Below them, they saw thousands of Dothraki, Unsullied, and northern soldiers waiting for the command to start their march northward.  Behind them, the Lannister army and the Golden Company stood at the ready, waiting for the same orders.  Jaime just hoped that Cersei truly meant to send them north and would not command them to sack Winterfell the instant the men below them began marching into battle.

Jaime turned and looked at his sister.  It wasn’t often that he saw her on horseback.  She had always preferred to travel by wheelhouse, but under the circumstances, she needed to be seen, both by her own armies and the ones camped at Winterfell.  She looked regal and commanding atop her steed, and had Jaime been certain of her motives, he might have actually felt proud of her.

Her eyes still on the sea of soldiers in the distance, Cersei asked, “Do you know how easy it would be to take that keep if we hung back until the northern armies departed?”

“And do you know how easy it would be for Daenerys Targaryen to simply turn her dragons around and burn us all to death if we betrayed her?”

Cersei finally looked at Jaime.  Her eyes were cold and calculating.  The desire and passion that had been there the night before were now long gone.  “You worry too much about the wrong things, dear brother.  If we were to take Winterfell, we would be safe from her wrath and her dragonfire.”

Jaime laughed.  “Have you seen Harrenhal?  Dragonfire practically melted it to the ground, stone and all.  And I’m certain that the Dragon Queen would have no misgivings about doing the same to Winterfell if you and I were inside.  Remember, I killed her father.  Despite the respect she holds for our brother, I am certain that she is just as eager to see me dead as you are to see her dead.”

Cersei snickered and turned her gaze back toward the keep.  “Well, if she truly wants you dead, now is her chance.”

Jaime turned his attention back toward Winterfell.  In the distance, he saw a sizeable party of riders heading toward them, flying Stark and Targaryen banners.  He had no doubt that both Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen had come to meet them.  Although Tyrion had been sent to orchestrate a truce, the alliance would not be final until all parties had given their consent in person.

Jaime and Cersei sat there in silence as they watched the enemy approach.  The King in the North and his Dragon Queen had surrounded themselves with their most trusted advisors and fiercest warriors.  In the far distance, two of the Targaryen girl’s dragons flew overhead, screeching and cawing like hungry vultures, making their presence known.  It was an awesome display of power, one Jaime had no intention of challenging.

It wasn’t long before the approaching party finally reached them, stopping as soon as they were within speaking distance.  Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow made a striking pair.  Everything about her was snowy white, from her hair to her cloak to the horse beneath her.  Jon, in stark contrast, was dressed all in black, sitting atop a powerful, sable colored steed.  Looking at them together, it was easy for Jaime to understand why so many people had chosen to follow them.  They were young, they were beautiful, and they were undeniably powerful.  It was a stunning combination.

Beside them, on his own horse, was Tyrion, looking grumpier and more disheveled than usual.  But then, Jaime knew it had been a long night for his brother, and he was certain that Tyrion had been forced to argue their case in the face of stern opposition.  Of course, Tyrion must have succeeded or else the party before them would still be back at Winterfell.  Jaime wasn’t surprised.  Although he had only recently acquired a golden hand, Tyrion had always had a golden tongue.

At the back of the crowd, Jaime saw Brienne, sitting tall and proud astride her horse, and his heart skipped an unexpected beat.  Their eyes met for only a moment, but it was enough.  Jaime knew she was relieved to see him, and he hoped she saw the same relief reflected in his eyes.  There was still so much unspoken between them, and he only wished he had more time.  But he didn’t.  Neither of them did.  And he wondered if they would ever get the chance to speak again.

“I have delivered your message as promised,” Tyrion said, drawing Jaime’s attention away from Brienne. Tyrion was looking up at Cersei, addressing her directly.  “And I see you have delivered your armies.  Now, if you can just keep your word and not turn them on us, we might have a chance of winning this war.”

“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” Cersei said derisively.  “You always have to have the first word and the last word.  Well, no one wants to hear from you, little brother.  The grownups are here now.  Why don’t you waddle off somewhere and go play with one of your whores?”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed, and Jaime knew he was preparing a biting retort, but he never got the chance to deliver it.

“That is enough,” Daenerys said.  “We are not here to indulge in petty squabbles.  We are here to declare a truce.”

Jaime looked at Cersei, hoping to gauge her reaction.  The warmth he had seen in her eyes when he’d held her in his arms just the night before was completely gone.  Instead, it had been replaced with calculated coldness.  “You cannot command me,” Cersei said.  “A queen does not take commands from anyone, especially not a usurper.”

Jaime dared a brief glance at the Dragon Queen.  Her eyes had darkened, and Jaime knew she was already tired of Cersei’s games.  It was a sentiment he knew quite well.  But Daenerys Targaryen was a queen – at least, she believed herself to be a queen – and she did not give full rein to her displeasure. 

Daenerys asked, “Are we here to rally our forces to march against the army of the dead, or are we here to call each other names?”

Cersei opened her mouth to answer, but Jaime knew he couldn’t trust her not to say something insulting, so he cut her off before she got the chance.  “We are here to save Westeros.”

Cersei skewered him with her eyes but said nothing.  Jaime could feel her fury deep in his bones.  He would have to be more careful about crossing her, even if it was in an effort to protect her.

“In that case,” Daenerys said, “we once again accept your offer to join forces against the Night King.  Until the Great War is over, our armies will not raise arms against each other.  Instead, they will fight side by side until the threat has been eliminated once and for all.”

Cersei looked at Jon.  He had remained silent throughout the entire exchange, letting the Targaryen girl speak for him.  There was something in his eyes when he looked at the girl, something Jaime recognized all too well.  He wondered if he should tell Cersei what he saw there, but the truth was, Cersei didn’t need any more encouragement in her war against Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.  Not now, not when the fate of Westeros depended upon their efforts in the coming war.

“Well, Jon Snow,” Cersei said.  “What say you?  The last time we met, I asked you to swear allegiance to me, and you refused, and I have come north anyway, offering you aid without anything in return.  Are you willing to accept my help?  Or is your Stark pride too strong to allow you to accept help from a Lannister?”

Jon glanced at Tyrion and then looked up at Cersei again.  “It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve accepted help from a Lannister.  I accept your offer, and I give you my word that my men will not raise arms against you while the Night King continues to walk the earth.”

“Good,” Cersei replied.  “Then we understand each other.”

“Do we?” Daenerys asked. 

“Of course, we do.  What could you possibly mean?”

“Both Jon and I have declared our intentions before all those present,” Daenerys said, her eyes scanning the crowd of advisors and soldiers surrounding them on both sides.  “But you have not made any such declaration.  You have not given us any assurances at all.”

“I have declared my intention to give you aid.”

“But you have not given your word that your men won’t attack ours while they fight beside them on the battlefield.  You have not given your word that you won’t turn your armies around and lay siege to Winterfell while our men die at the hands of the White Walkers.”

A tense silence followed.  Jaime knew Cersei was furious.  She hated taking commands, and she hated being second guessed by anyone.  Jaime held his breath, waiting for his sister to reply.

“You have my word that my men will not attack yours or leave the battlefield until the threat from beyond the Wall has been adequately dealt with.”

Jon interjected, “Until the Night King and his White Walkers have been defeated.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed on Ned Stark’s bastard, and Jaime waited in tense anticipation for her to reply.

When she finally answered, her tone was curt.  “Yes, that.”

Jaime exhaled a relieved sigh.  He knew it had taken a lot for Cersei to submit to their demands, but he was thankful that she had. 

“Very well, then,” Daenerys replied.  “Your men will join ours on the battlefield.  And you and your commanders must join us to discuss strategy before we head north.  We need to discuss how to use all our resources to our best advantage.” 

The Dragon Queen moved her horse aside, and Jon did the same, clearing a path for Cersei and her men to follow.  It looked like a trap.  If they walked their horses forward, they would be surrounded on all sides by Jon and Daenerys’ men.  But Jaime knew they had no choice but to go forward.  If they tried to retreat now, they’d be branded as traitors to the cause, and Daenerys Targaryen could burn them all to death with her dragons.

Jaime glanced at Cersei.  She was scowling.  Despite her obvious displeasure, she picked up her reins and spurred her horse onward, riding up between Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen as if they had captured her and were bringing her to Winterfell for execution.

Jaime urged his mount forward, following after her.  He knew their new allies were more trustworthy than his sister, and yet, he still feared for her safety.  It wouldn’t take much for them to turn on her and end her life then and there.

Tyrion soon rode up beside Jaime, keeping an even pace with his brother’s horse.  “Well,” he said, “I never thought I’d see the day she’d join forces with a Stark and a Targaryen.”

“There’s always a first time for everything,” Jaime replied.  “Just think, in a few hours you’ll get to see her standing with them on the battlefield, commanding her men to fight right alongside the forces of her sworn enemies.”

A bitter laugh escaped Tyrion’s throat.  “No, actually, I won’t.”

Jaime turned his head and looked at Tyrion.  “What do you mean?”

“I mean I have been commanded by my queen to stay here and protect Winterfell.  It is my great privilege and honor,” he said with mock sincerity.

“Is that how your queen makes her displeasure known?  By leaving her most trusted advisor behind when she needs him most?”

“She has other advisors with a lot more military experience than I have.  If this mission fails, the only life left in the north will be inside the walls of Winterfell.  If that happens, someone needs to be in command during the inevitable siege.”

“Is that what you’re telling yourself?” Jaime asked with a laugh.

“It doesn’t matter what I tell myself.  Either way, I am not heading into battle with you, dear brother, and this may be our last goodbye.”

Jaime’s breath caught in his throat, and he looked away for a moment.  He hadn’t realized that this might be the last time he and Tyrion ever saw each other.  It was quite likely that either one or both of them would die in the coming war, and they might never meet again.

Tyrion laughed.  “I see I’ve moved you, Jaime.  I didn’t realize you were so sentimental.”

Jaime finally looked at Tyrion again.  His little brother could joke all he wanted, but there was no denying the melancholy in his eyes.  “You and I have had to say our final goodbye once before.  It wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now.”

“It never is.  But this time might actually be the last.  If we say goodbye today, we will likely never have to say it again.”

Jaime hated to admit it, but he knew Tyrion was right.  He stared at his brother for a long time, memorizing every inch of his face.  He wished they weren’t riding at that moment, that their feet were planted firmly on the ground and they weren’t surrounded by a horde of soldiers.  More than anything, Jaime wanted to pull Tyrion into his arms and hug him fiercely, but he couldn’t.  The best he could do was say, “I wish you well, brother.  I pray we meet again someday.  But if we don’t, know that you will always be in my heart.”

“And you in mine.  Now, go kill some White Walkers for me.  I’d do it myself, but duty calls.”

Jaime laughed.  Tyrion could not take anything seriously, not even his own death.  But Jaime, Jaime knew just how serious the situation was.  And he knew he had no choice but to say his final farewell.  “Goodbye, Tyrion,” he said, his tone undeniably somber.

Tyrion glanced away for a moment as if overcome with emotion.  When he looked at Jaime again, he said, “Goodbye, Jaime.  May you live to see another day.”  Then, without another word, he urged his horse onward, increasing his pace and moving up alongside his queen.

Jaime stared after him, a sense of dread settling deep in his chest.  He knew, in his heart, that he would never see his brother again. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Jon sat astride his horse just beyond the gates of Winterfell, a massive army behind him, ready to follow him into the unknown.  He had said his goodbyes to Sansa and Bran and his childhood home.  He only hoped that he lived long enough to see them again.  He had faced the army of the dead before, and he knew there was no guarantee that he would ever return.

Arya sat beside him, mounted on her steed, eager to head forward into battle.  He knew she had killed many men in her journey back to Winterfell.  He hoped that she would kill many more today, at least, those who used to be men.  Even so, no matter how great a warrior she had proven herself, he still felt protective of her.  He knew, if it came down to it, he would give his life for hers.  No matter what Bran and Sam said, Jon still thought of her as his little sister, and he would protect her with his last breath.

As Jon sat there looking out over the vast snow-covered landscape before them, he was acutely aware of the sea of men at his back, particularly the armies that Cersei and Jaime had brought with them at first light.  Jon was not particularly pleased by the idea of heading into battle alongside Cersei Lannister, but he knew he had no choice.  The Great War could not be won by the north alone.  Every able-bodied soldier in Westeros needed to fight if they had any hope of defeating the Night King.  And if that meant accepting aid from the likes of Cersei Lannister and her Kingslayer brother, then so be it.

A piercing screech rang out through the sky, and both Jon and Arya looked up to see Daenerys flying on Drogon, just below the clouds.  Jon’s heart lodged in his throat at the sight of her.  She was magnificent!  The perfect picture of beauty and power, and his blood sang for her.  Now, he was glad that she had come to his chamber the night before.  Honor was one thing, but love was much more powerful.  He would treasure what they had shared for the rest of his life, even if that proved to be only a few short hours.

Daenerys flew off into the distance, Rhaegal trailing behind her.  She disappeared beneath the cloudy sky, racing ahead to spy on the enemy before their armies had even begun their trek north.

Jon looked across at Arya.  Her eyes were still focused on the distant spot in the sky where Daenerys had disappeared from view.  She looked like a little girl staring off into the heavens in pure wonderment.  It was a look he had not seen cross her face in ages, and for a moment, he felt like a boy again and his heart ached just a little.

“They’re truly magnificent creatures, aren’t they?” Jon said.

Arya finally tore her gaze away and looked at him.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  I would very much like to ride one someday, to soar above the clouds with the world beneath me.  Even in the heat of battle, I think I should enjoy that,” she said, smiling.

“I’m certain that you would.”

“Perhaps once we’ve killed the Night King, you can convince your lady love to let me ride one.  What do you think?”

“She’s not my lady love,” Jon protested.

Arya gave him a skeptical look.  “All right then, perhaps you can convince your aunt to let me ride one.  Is that better?”

“Not much, no.”

Arya laughed.  It was rare that she laughed these days, and it made Jon smile, despite what they were all about to face.

“Shall we head into battle then?” Arya asked.  She glanced over her shoulder at the army behind them.  When she turned toward Jon again, she said, “It looks like the men are thirsty for blood.”

“I think you may be the only one who’s thirsty for blood.  But yes, it is time we got moving.”  Jon raised his arm, signaling his men.  Then, he dug his heels into his mount and began to ride. 

Arya kept pace beside him as they made their way northward across the snowy terrain.  There was no doubt now that winter had finally arrived, and it promised to be a long and brutal one.  Thankfully, Jon had been hardened by the perpetual winter that existed beyond the wall, and he felt no colder than he would have on a summer’s day.

They rode for hours, the sun never growing brighter in the sky.  Even at the height of the afternoon, the sun stayed hidden behind the clouds and everything was bathed in a hazy, grey light.

As sundown approached, Daenerys finally returned, swooping over the length of their army and rousing the men from their cold-induced stupor.  When she returned to the front of the line, she flew low enough to meet Jon’s gaze.  There was undeniable pain in her eyes, and he knew that whatever she had seen had been devastating.

Daenerys spurred Drogon onward, flying ahead of the men.  This time, she stayed close, crisscrossing the sky in lazy circles so that she would not outstrip their army. 

Jon was eager to make camp for the night, but he knew they couldn’t stop until the last of the light was gone.  He wanted to speak to Daenerys, to know what she had seen.  He was already expecting the worst, of course, but he feared that even his imagination could not do the truth justice.  Jon counted the minutes until sunset, every muscle in his body tense with dreadful anticipation.

Finally, the sky darkened, and Jon gave the signal for the men to stop.  In the distance, Daenerys brought Drogon to the ground, and Jon spurred his horse forward, racing toward her.  The instant he reached her, he dismounted, meeting Daenerys just as her feet reached the earth. 

His first instinct was to take her in his arms and hold her tight.  But he couldn’t.  Even though there were almost five hundred yards between them and the army, Jon knew their every move was being watched, and he had to act accordingly.  He fought his baser instincts, keeping a comfortable distance between them.

Jon opened his mouth to speak, but Daenerys spoke first.

“The Wall has fallen,” she said, her voice trembling ever so slightly, her eyes wide with unspoken disbelief.

Jon stared at her for a long moment.  So it was true.  The Wall had fallen, and Bran had been right all along.  Although Jon had already suspected that the Wall had been breached, to hear Daenerys declare it with such certainty was still a shock.  

When he failed to reply, she said, “Jon, did you hear me?  The Wall has fallen.  The Night King and his army are marching this way as we speak.  There is nothing standing between us and them any longer.  And the farther south they march, the larger their numbers grow.”

“And Viserion?”  Jon had to know.

Daenerys was quiet.  She looked away from him, and Jon thought she wasn’t going to answer at all, but finally, she said, “He belongs to the Night King now, just as Bran Stark said.”

Jon stared at Daenerys.  Her eyes looked distant, haunted.  Had there not been an army of men behind them, he was sure she would have cried.  But she couldn’t cry.  She had to remain strong.  She simply had no choice.

“I’m sorry,” Jon said softly, wishing he knew the words that would ease her suffering.

“Thank you,” Daenerys replied.  When she finally looked at him again, her eyes were clearer, and she seemed more in control of her emotions.  “Of course, this means that everything Bran Stark said is true.  Including that you’re . . . who you are.”

“We don’t have to talk about that now.”

“No, you’re right.  We don’t.  We must meet with our advisors.  They must know the truth before we move forward.  However, I don’t want the men to know just yet.  The news would cause chaos, and we cannot afford to jeopardize morale.”

“Yes, you’re right,” Jon reluctantly admitted.  He hated the idea of keeping anything from his men, but Daenerys had a point.  To reveal the truth now would only cause chaos and desertion, and they couldn’t afford either.

Daenerys turned and started walking toward the site where the men had already begun to make camp.  Jon followed, walking steadfastly beside her, trying to pretend that nothing was wrong. 

They walked slowly, taking their time while the men quickly erected the tent where they would meet with their counselors.  They reached the campsite as soon as the last stake was in the ground.  Arya, Ser Davos, Jorah, and Missandei were waiting beside the tent for them, along with Cersei and Jaime Lannister.

Jon knew Daenerys had no desire to deal with their new Lannister allies, and neither did he.  He knew that Cersei would take great joy in the news that Daenerys had lost Viserion, and he didn’t think he could take the look of smug satisfaction on her face when she learned the truth.  And they would have to tell Cersei the truth.  Both he and Daenerys had given the Lannisters their word that they would be allies in this fight, and they could not keep vital information from their allies, no matter how much it might wound them personally.  Not on the eve of battle. 

Cersei had her eyes fixed on Daenerys as they approached, one dark brow cocked in challenge.  Jon knew Daenerys had no desire to speak to Cersei, but she was a queen, and she had a duty to fulfill.  Without any preamble, she said, “You and your brother will join us in the tent, but I must insist that your men remain outside.  What I have to report must be kept amongst us, at least for now.”

Daenerys didn’t wait for Cersei to reply.  Instead, she simply turned toward the tent and went inside.

Jon and the others followed, the Lannisters right behind them.  Neither Cersei nor Jaime attempted to grant entrance to any of their men, even Euron Greyjoy, and Jon was grateful.

As the tent had just been erected, there had not been time to furnish it, so Daenerys stood at the far end of the empty space, turning to face the small audience that had gathered around her.  Jon took his place by her side, directly across from the Lannisters, who were stationed at the other end of the tent.  All was quiet, and Jon was tempted to speak just to relieve the tension, but he knew it wasn’t his place.  He had not seen the destruction to the north, he had not seen his child’s reanimated corpse subjected to the dictates of the Night King.  No, Daenerys had earned the right to speak first, not him.

But she didn’t get the chance.

“Tell me,” Cersei said, suddenly breaking the silence.  “Did you call us all here to simply stare at us like a speechless halfwit, or do you have something notable to report?”

Jon cast a sidelong glance at Daenerys.  He could see the pain in her eyes, even though it was now masked by fury.  He silently prayed she would hold her temper.

Jon expected Daenerys to address Cersei’s insult, but she didn’t.  All she said was, “The Wall has fallen.”

A deafening silence fell over the tent as everyone present absorbed the horrifying news. 

It was Jaime Lannister who spoke first.  “But how?” he asked, disbelief clearly evident in his voice.  “The Wall has stood for centuries.  There’s no way the White Walkers could bring it down.”

“They could if they had their very own dragon,” Daenerys replied.

“And do they?” he asked.

It took Daenerys a moment to answer, but finally, she said, “On our last trip north of the Wall, one of my dragons fell.  The Night King has reanimated his corpse and will use him as a weapon against us.”

“So, one of your dragons is dead?” Cersei asked with a smirk.  “I knew it.  I knew if all three still lived you would have brought them all to King’s Landing.”

“Don’t you understand what this means?” Jon asked the Lannister queen.  “The Night King has a dragon.  A dragon who can attack us from the sky.  A dragon who was powerful enough to bring down the Wall?  Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Yes, of course it does.  It means that they have one and we have two.  And therefore, we still have the advantage.”

“He brought down the Wall and is marching his army southward as we speak,” Jon said.  “We are out of advantages.  Even two dragons will not be enough to put an end to the Night King’s army now that they have breached the Wall.”

Cersei opened her mouth to speak again, but Arya cut her off. 

“Can we kill it?” she asked.  “The dragon, I mean.  We have two of our own.  Will that be enough to bring it down?  Because if it is, that should be our first priority.”

Ser Davos finally spoke.  “I agree,” he said.  “It’s bad enough if we have to battle them from the ground, but if we have to battle them from the sky too, we’ll never be victorious.  We need to bring down that dragon before anything else.  That is, if Your Grace thinks it’s possible,” he said, looking at Daenerys.

Jon held his breath waiting for her reply.  She had stood by and watched Viserion die once.  He couldn’t imagine what it would be like for her to have to watch her beloved child die a second time, at her own command.  Could Drogon and Rhaegal even bring themselves to attack their own brother?  Jon wasn’t sure it was possible.  He knew if faced with the same dilemma, he would not be able to kill Arya or Sansa or Bran, even if they were nothing more than resurrected corpses.  It would simply be too much to ask.

Finally, Daenerys said, “My dragons will do as I command.  It is because of me that the Night King has Viserion.  If I must risk my life and the lives of my remaining children to right that wrong, then so be it.”

Cersei and Jaime shared a private look, and Jon knew they were both hoping that if Daenerys set off to kill Viserion, she would never return.

Daenerys continued, “I promise you that, whatever happens, Viserion will no longer be a threat to the people of Westeros.  I shall make sure of that myself.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Ser Davos replied.  “I would expect nothing less.”

“And since this must be done sooner rather than later,” Daenerys said, “I shall leave at first light.”

“Can we really afford to wait that long?” Cersei asked.  “Every second that passes, the Night King draws closer to our camp.  What is to stop him from sending that dragon on ahead to burn us all in our sleep?  None of us may ever see daybreak again, and it will be your fault.”

“It isn’t her fault,” Jon said, instantly on the defensive.

Daenerys held out a hand, urging him to back down.  “It is my fault that the Night King has Viserion.  I take full responsibility for what happened beyond the Wall.  I will leave tonight and put an end to the threat.”

Jon didn’t like the idea of Daenerys going after Viserion in the dark.  He feared Cersei was setting her up for failure, and he wished there was something he could do to stop it.  “Are you sure it is safe to fly at night?” he asked, trying to keep the alarm from his voice.

“The moon is full.  If I must fly above the clouds to see, I will.  I shall go north, and I shall bring Viserion down so that he can finally rest in peace.”

“Are you sure you can kill your own dragon?” Cersei asked, blatantly enjoying Daenerys’ suffering.  “After all, aren’t they like your own children?”

“I will do what must be done,” Daenerys replied, her tone determined but laced with an undercurrent of pain. 

Jon was overwhelmed by the urge to comfort her, but he held back.  Instead, he offered to do the only thing he could do under the circumstances.  “If you are determined to go, then I will go with you.”

“Now, wait a minute,” Ser Davos interrupted, drawing everyone’s attention.  “While that’s a very noble idea, we can’t afford for both of you to head off into the night to fight that dragon alone.  If anything goes wrong, we will lose both a king and a queen, and our armies will fall apart.”

“If anything goes wrong,” Jon said, “someone else can lead the army.  I am not letting her go off into the unknown alone.”

“You do not let me do anything,” Daenerys said icily.  “I am not yours to command, Jon Snow.  And I shall go on this mission on my own.”

“This isn’t about me letting you do anything,” Jon countered.  “You don’t know what you’re heading into.  It’s dark, and it’s dangerous out there, and you have two dragons, not one.  We will have better odds of succeeding if they both have riders.” 

The truth was, Jon had no idea if he could ride a dragon alone, but there was Targaryen blood running through his veins, and he suspected that would somehow see him through. 

Daenerys laughed scornfully.  “You talk as if you think yourself capable of riding one of my dragons.”

“I am more than capable.  You know that I am.”  Jon knew he could argue that she wasn’t the only Targaryen present, but he didn’t want the Lannisters to know what he had only so recently discovered himself.  He didn’t want Ser Davos to know either.  Not yet.  Not like this. 

Ser Davos was an honorable man.  He already believed that Jon belonged on the Iron Throne, despite being Ned Stark’s bastard.  Jon feared that if Ser Davos learned the truth, he would push even harder to see Jon take control of Westeros, and Jon had no desire to rule the Seven Kingdoms, whether it was his birthright or not.

Daenerys must have understood his meaning because she replied, “I know you want to help me.  I know you think it’s your place, but it’s not.  This is something I must do alone.”

Cersei laughed.  “Always the self-sacrificing heroine, aren’t you?”  She looked at Jon.  “Stay on the ground, Jon Snow.  She may be beautiful, but when she gets herself killed, you’ll be glad you didn’t go with her.”

Every muscle in Jon’s body tensed, and he wished he could draw Longclaw and slice off Cersei Lannister’s head.  He hated the Lannisters.  He wished he could rid the world of them, but he couldn’t.  He and Daenerys needed them too much at that moment, which meant that he had no choice but to stand there and suffer Cersei’s insults.

Daenerys turned her attention to Cersei.  “I realize that you’re not used to taking orders from anyone.  I realize that you’re used to everyone hanging on your every word and doing exactly as you command, but that isn’t going to happen here.  You may be a queen.  You may have armies of men following you.  But so do I, and I will not suffer your taunts and insults any longer.  If you want to help us, then help.  Otherwise, go back to King’s Landing and wait for death to come for you.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed, and it was obvious that Daenerys had struck a nerve.  She didn’t say anything, and Daenerys turned back to address the others present.  There was deep resignation in her eyes as she said, “Jon and I will go north on Drogon and Rhaegal, and we will put an end to Viserion once and for all.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-one

Sansa paced her lonely room, wringing her hands in agitation.  She hated the fact that she had been left behind while everyone else had gone north to fight the invading army.  Of course, she’d had no choice but to stay behind and protect Winterfell, but still, she couldn’t help but wish that she was miles away, standing beside Jon and Arya, plotting and planning to save the people of the north from annihilation.

Sansa felt useless, utterly useless.  She had tried to hole herself up in the Great Hall with the women and children, to offer them comfort and counsel, but she had felt trapped, suffocated, and had stolen away at the first opportunity.  She felt guilty for having deserted them.  Even Cersei Lannister had stayed with the women of the court during the Battle of the Blackwater.  She hadn’t done so all that graciously, of course, but she had done her duty, and Sansa couldn’t help but feel ashamed that she had run away from hers.  The tragedies she’d suffered over the past eight years had changed her irrevocably, and she no longer felt at ease among the other ladies around her.  She felt different.  Everything felt different.  And it was easier to avoid the discomfort than to face it.  And so, despite her duty, she had retreated to the agonizing quiet of her own chamber, and now, she waited alone.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, and Sansa was startled out of her reverie.  She stopped in the center of the room and took a moment to compose herself before asking, “Who is it?”

“Tyrion, my lady.”

Sansa’s heart skipped an unexpected beat.  She still didn’t understand why Daenerys Targaryen had chosen to leave her Hand behind on such an important military engagement, but Sansa was secretly grateful that she had.  Of all the people who remained at Winterfell, Tyrion was the only one she could truly talk to.  Bran was a shell of his former self and could not engage with her on any kind of meaningful level.  The ladies who now sat huddled in the hall waiting for their men to return were no better.  They were gentle and kind, yes, but they could not understand Sansa the way Tyrion did.  Although they had known heartache and struggle in their own lives, it could not compare to the constant torment Sansa had endured, and she felt distant from them.  She didn’t think she’d ever feel a kinship with them again.

It took Sansa a moment, but finally, she said, “Come in.”

The door opened, and Tyrion stepped inside.  He was dressed quite smartly in a brocaded doublet and dark breeches.  His expression was somber, and Sansa wondered if she looked just as dour to him as he looked to her.  She was certain neither one of them was happy with their current circumstances. 

“I hope I am not interrupting you,” Tyrion said as he closed the door behind him.  

“No, not at all.  What could you possibly be interrupting?  Me hiding alone in my chamber, avoiding my duties?”

Tyrion shook his head. “You never avoid your duties, Sansa Stark.  Never.  If you are here alone in your chamber, you must have good reason.  Perhaps you are simply plotting Winterfell’s defense strategy.  After all, if Jon and Daenerys fail, the Night King and his army will surely be at the gates before we know it.”

Sansa sighed.  “Well, then, they must not fail.”

“I couldn’t agree more.”

Tyrion gazed about the room absently as an awkward silence settled between them.  Sansa was certain he had a reason for being there, but he seemed in no hurry to tell her what it was. 

“Tell me, Tyrion, is there a reason for this visit?  Or did you simply come here to look around my chamber?”

His eyes darted back to her.  There was a wry smile on his lips.  “I’m afraid I was really just looking for company, or at least, someone to commiserate with.  I’m not particularly fond of being left behind on important missions.  I feel completely useless, and I thought, perhaps, you felt the same.”

Sansa was startled by his insightfulness.  She had been thinking much the same thing before he’d entered the room.  “I must admit, you are not the only one feeling useless tonight.  If I don’t find some meaningful way to occupy myself soon, I shall go mad.”

Tyrion’s smile widened.  “Well, then, count yourself lucky, for I can think of something very important for us to do together while the rest of our party is out saving the Seven Kingdoms.”

Sansa eyed him curiously.  “And what would that be?”

Had he been any other man, she would have assumed that she knew all too well how he thought they should spend the night.  They were alone in her bedchamber, after all, and no one would disturb them until morning.  But even though Tyrion Lannister was notorious for his carnal appetites, he had always been respectful of her and had never once made an untoward advance.  No, if Tyrion had something less than savory in mind, as the look on his face implied, it had nothing to do with bedding her.  It had to be something else.

Tyrion scanned the room again.  “Ah, there,” he said as his eye caught something of interest in the far corner. 

Sansa followed his gaze.  There on the edge of the table, beside the evening meal she had failed to eat, was a full decanter of wine, and Sansa finally knew what it was he had in mind.

Tyrion walked across the room without another word.  When he reached the table, he filled her glass to the rim, then searched for another for himself.  But there was none.  The wine had been brought for her alone.

Tyrion’s brow furrowed in frustration.  When he finally looked at Sansa again, he said, “You have a choice, my lady.  You can either have the glass,” he said, holding it aloft in one hand, “or the flagon,” he said, raising it in the other.  “Which would you prefer?”

Sansa couldn’t imagine drinking a whole flagon of wine, no matter how frustrated she was.  In fact, even the full glass was more than she usually imbibed.  “The glass, please.”

“What?  Not feeling adventurous?”  Tyrion didn’t wait for a reply.  He crossed the room, carrying both the glass and the flagon.  He handed her the glass and then hoisted the decanter in the air in toast.  “To being left behind and getting very, very drunk!”

Sansa’s lips curved into a smile as she raised the glass and took a sip.  Although she couldn’t express her displeasure the way Tyrion did, she appreciated knowing that she wasn’t the only one suffering.  Besides, despite Tyrion’s pronouncement, the truth was, there was relatively little wine, and she doubted either of them would get too drunk.  They only had one flagon to share between them.  How much harm could it do?

Tyrion drank deeply from the decanter. When he was done, he walked toward her bed, and for a moment, Sansa’s heart caught in her throat.  But he made no attempt to climb onto the mattress.  Instead, he sank to the floor, leaning back against the bed, staring out into the fire still roaring in the hearth.

Without prompting, Sansa joined him, lowering herself to the floor beside him and pulling her knees up against her chest.  She leaned against the bed with a heavy sigh, finally starting to relax for the first time that night. 

Once she was settled, Tyrion said, “I take it you are not too happy about being left behind either, with the women, children, and cripples.”

“And dwarves,” Sansa replied as she took another sip, hiding a mischievous grin.

“Lady Sansa!” Tyrion exclaimed in mock horror.  “You wound me.  Here I am, one of the most powerful men in the Seven Kingdoms, and yet you count me among the weakest.  I shall have you know, I was left behind, not because I’m a dwarf, but because my brilliance was needed here to defend Winterfell.”

Sansa lowered her glass, her smile fading.  There was something she wanted to know.  “Why were you left at Winterfell?  Surely, Daenerys Targaryen is not so foolish as to leave her most trusted advisor behind without good reason.” 

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed, and Sansa could tell that he was reluctant to answer her question.  For a moment, she thought he would evade it altogether.  But he didn’t. 

“Do you want the official answer, or do you want the truth?”

“I always prefer the truth, no matter how devastating.  I learned a long time ago that lies don’t protect anyone.”

“A wise lesson to learn,” Tyrion said with a nod.  “All right then, I’ll tell you the truth.  But you must promise not to think the worst of my beloved queen because I truly do believe she always has the best interest of her people at heart, and she never does anything for her own glory.”

“You can’t possibly expect me to believe she’s that selfless.”

“What I’m asking is that you reserve judgement for now, as I do believe she is the best hope this land has for a peaceful future.”

Sansa nodded.  “Very well, I shall reserve judgement.  For now.  Why did she leave you behind?”

Tyrion broke Sansa’s gaze, looking down into the flagon of wine cradled in his hands.  “As Hand of the Queen, it is my job to advise her of what I believe is morally right, and sometimes, she doesn’t want that advice.”

“Meaning she left you here so you couldn’t stop her from using her dragons and her armies to indiscriminately terrorize the north.”

“No, she has no intention of terrorizing the north,” he countered.  “But sometimes, when faced with a moral dilemma, Daenerys prefers that I not be at her side.”  Tyrion lifted the decanter and took a long swig as if trying to drown his own conscience. 

“Just like her father, I’m sure.”

Tyrion lowered the flagon and looked up at Sansa.  “No, not like her father.  Nothing like her father.”

“She burned Randyll Tarly and his son alive.  Tell me how that is nothing like the Mad King.”

Tyrion shook his head and took another drink.  When he was done, he said, “She had her reasons for doing what she did.  She gave them every chance to back down, but they didn’t.  They knew what the consequences would be for not bending the knee, and yet, they still refused.”

“And when I refuse to bend the knee, will you stand by and let her burn me too?”

Tyrion’s gaze darted to Sansa’s face.  “Of course not.  And she would never do such a thing.  Not to you.”

Sansa shrugged.  “Of course, she would.  She doesn’t like me, and I don’t like her.  If she survives this, she will expect me to submit to her, and I will not.”

“Even though Jon already has?”

Sansa didn’t want to answer.  She had been adamantly against Jon’s decision to bend the knee, but he’d done it before she could stop him.  She knew he was smitten with Daenerys Targaryen, and she knew there was nothing she could do to sway his feelings.  At that moment, her greatest hope was that all the Starks survived the war but that the Dragon Queen did not.  It was the only way to keep Jon from giving up his birthright and to restore peace to the land.

But Sansa couldn’t admit that to Tyrion.  So she drank from her glass again to avoid answering.  This time, it was more than just a sip, and when she lowered her glass, she found that it was more than half empty.  Tyrion must have noticed too because he moved the decanter in her direction.

“Here,” he said, “have some more.”

Under different circumstances, Sansa would have protested, but not tonight.  Although her reasons for being left behind at Winterfell were different from Tyrion’s, she still felt the pain of abandonment acutely. 

Sansa allowed him to refill her glass, then immediately took another sip, letting the warm liquid soothe her frayed nerves.  The wine was already going to her head, but she didn’t care.  It was a welcome distraction from her woes.

“Well?” Tyrion asked when she finally lowered her glass again.  “Will you bend the knee if your lord cousin commands it?”

It was odd hearing Jon referred to as her cousin, but that’s what he was now.  She had known for quite a while, but it was still not something Sansa was used to.  “I will do whatever is best for Winterfell, as I always do.”

Tyrion hefted the decanter into the air, in silent toast to her.  Then, he took another swig, and Sansa did the same.  The flagon was quickly emptying, and Sansa was sorry.  Once the wine was gone, she feared that Tyrion would desert her and she’d be left to spend the rest of the night alone with only her own morbid thoughts for company. 

Even though Sansa was angry about being left behind, if she couldn’t be on the battlefield, there was no place else she would rather be than at Winterfell.  After everything that had happened to her in the past eight years, she doubted she would ever have the desire to leave home again.  But she wondered where Tyrion was wishing he was at that moment.

“So tell me,” Sansa said, her curiosity getting the better of her, “other than the battlefield, if you could be anywhere else tonight, where would you rather be?”

Tyrion laughed.  “In a brothel in Pentos being serviced by half a dozen women.” 

Sansa had hoped for a nobler answer than that, or at least, a more romantic one.  She knew she should have expected no less from the infamous Tyrion Lannister.  After all, even though all men were the same, he was worse than most.

“Is that really how you want to spend your last night in this world?” Sansa asked, unable to hide the disgust from her voice.  “Is that really all you want us for?”

Tyrion looked up at her.  “Beg your pardon?”

“Men.  All you want women for is to appease your most brutal, base desires.  You are all vile, despicable creatures.”  Sansa raised her cup again, gulping down another mouthful of wine, trying to calm the anger that was stirring inside her.  Sometimes when she looked at Tyrion Lannister, she saw an intelligent, honorable man worthy of her respect and admiration.  But then, he would do or say something to remind her that he was just as bad as every other man she had ever known.  Although he was no Ramsay Bolton, he was still just as guilty of using women for his own personal pleasure.  And just like Ramsay, he thought absolutely nothing of it.

“You mistake me, Sansa Stark,” Tyrion said, his tone suddenly serious.  “I have nothing but the highest respect for women.  And while, yes, I do enjoy the pleasure of their company in a carnal sense, I am no raper.  If I lie with a woman, it is because she is willing and we are both benefiting from the relationship.  Nothing more.  I am no monster, despite what you may think.”

“You want to spend your last night in this world being serviced by half a dozen women.  How can you pretend that isn’t vile?”

Tyrion sighed.  “Because, the truth is, that’s not really how I want to spend my last night in this world.  If I had my way, I’d be spending the night with just one woman, making love to her until the Night King tore down the gates or our armies returned victorious.”

Sansa stared at Tyrion in shocked silence.  Her heart seemed to stop beating, and a warm flush spread throughout her entire body.  Tyrion was looking at her as if she was the woman he wanted to take to his bed.

It took a great deal of effort, but somehow, Sansa pulled her gaze away from his, staring absently down into her nearly empty glass.  She refused to believe that Tyrion Lannister wanted her.  She was intoxicated, that was all, and her mind was simply playing tricks on her.

Sansa chose her words carefully, doing everything in her power to keep her voice steady so that she didn’t give herself away.  “And what is stopping you from doing so?”

“A great many things, not the least of which is the fact that the lady doesn’t want me.”

Sansa looked at Tyrion from the corner of her eye.  He was staring down into the flagon as if he could somehow find solace there. 

“How do you know she doesn’t want you?”

He laughed, finally looking up at her again.  “There are some things a man just knows.” 

His eyes were clear and bright, not a hint of resentment or regret, and Sansa wondered if it really had been her he’d been talking about or if there was someone else.

“Well, whoever she is,” Sansa said, “perhaps she is just not fond of men.  Despite the fact that my own mother seemed to enjoy my father’s company in her bed, I can’t quite understand why any woman would find pleasure in such a thing.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “That’s because there is a difference between fucking and making love, and you, Sansa Stark, have only ever been fucked.”

Sansa blushed violently and turned away from him, trying to hide her embarrassment.  She knew he had a love of the obscene, but he had never shown any hint of it in her presence before, and she was shocked beyond measure.

“I see I’ve offended you, my lady.  I am sorry.  I think, perhaps, I have had too much wine tonight.”

Sansa could feel her heart beating against her ribcage, and she feared the sensation would overpower her.  The truth was, the only man who had ever touched her, beyond stealing a mere kiss or two, was Ramsay Bolton, and perhaps he was not the man to measure all others by.  Still, it was an unsettling subject.  If given a choice, Sansa feared she would prefer never to know a man’s touch again for as long as she lived.

Tyrion stirred beside her, and when Sansa looked his way again, she found him struggling to rise.

“Where are you going?” she asked, her voice laced with panic.

He stopped, halfway to his feet.  “I have offended you.  I think it would be best if I left.”

“Please, don’t.”  Sansa was surprised to hear herself say the words.

And obviously, so was Tyrion.  He looked at her curiously, as if questioning whether or not she knew her own mind.  “Surely you would rather be alone than have a drunken dwarf for company.”

“I honestly can’t imagine anyone else I’d rather have for company.  Please, stay.”

Tyrion made no further argument, but he did eye her warily as he lowered himself back down to the floor and sat beside her again.  He looked into the flagon.  There was now less than an inch of wine floating at the bottom of the glass decanter.  He put it aside, obviously deciding that he had indeed imbibed too much for one night.  “Perhaps we should discuss something a little less delicate,” Tyrion said.  “Have you heard any good ballads lately?”

“Is there really a difference?” Sansa asked, ignoring his question altogether.

“What?  Between good ballads and bad ballads?”

“No,” Sansa said, averting her gaze.  “Between making love and . . .?”  She couldn’t finish the thought.  In fact, she couldn’t quite believe that she had even asked, but she wanted to know, and the wine had made her reckless.

“And fucking?” Tyrion supplied.

“Yes, that.”

“There is a great deal of difference.  So much so that you might say they are two completely different things.”

“What is the difference?” Sansa asked, still unable to look in his direction.  Her heart was pounding in her chest again, but she suspected it was for a very different reason than before.  Her skin was warm all over, and the blood was humming in her veins.  She knew she was treading dangerous ground, but she was beginning not to care.  She wanted to know what Tyrion Lannister knew.  She wanted him to teach her what she needed to know before it was too late.

“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “fucking is purely physical.  I won’t lie.  It feels good.  It feels amazing, actually.  But the problem is, it’s nothing more than flesh on flesh.  But making love . . . making love consumes you from the inside out.  It sets your heart on fire, and when you’re in the throes of it, you feel as close to the gods as any mortal man ever will.  It is the height of joy and happiness, and it is the most beautiful thing in this ugly, ugly world.”

“You make it sound magical.”

“It is,” he said with a regretful sigh.

Sansa knew she should stop questioning him, but she didn’t want to stop.  “Have you made love to many women?” she asked as she finally had the courage to look at him again.

Tyrion laughed.  “Only two.  And in both instances, I was the only one in love, though I didn’t know it either time.  Still, I was so lovestruck that it didn’t matter.  Those experiences were just as moving, despite the fact that my feelings were nothing more than unrequited delusions.”

Sansa felt a pang of sympathy for Tyrion.  Although he had a reputation for whoring and lechery, he seemed to crave genuine affection, something that couldn’t be bought in any brothel.  “I’m sorry, Tyrion.”

“Sorry?” he asked in surprise.  “Why are you sorry?  You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”

“I’m sorry for you.”

“You don’t need to pity me.  Really.  I’ve had quite enough of that for one lifetime, thank you very much.”

“It isn’t pity,” she said archly.  “It’s empathy.  There is a difference, and as one of the most learned men in all of Westeros, you should know that.  It seems we have even more in common than just having been left behind tonight.  We’ve both spent our lives wasting our affections on the wrong people, and neither one of us has ever truly been loved as we deserve to be loved.”

Tyrion’s eyes locked with hers, and he sighed heavily.  “Sansa—”

“Would it be so bad if we tried to change that tonight?”

Tyrion stared at her, his face unreadable, and Sansa’s heart beat in her throat.  She didn’t know why she had said it.  The feeling had just overtaken her, and she’d been unable to stop herself.  She didn’t want to spend the night alone.  And even if Tyrion stayed, she didn’t want to spend the night talking and thinking and regretting.  She wanted something she knew she would never have another chance to have.  She wanted someone to finally touch her with love and affection.  She wanted to lose herself in the kind of passion she had only heard about in hushed whispers.  She wanted something she could scarcely even name.  And she wanted it from Tyrion Lannister because, despite all they’d been through together, deep down inside, she trusted him above all other men.

Sansa waited for Tyrion to speak.  It took him a moment, but finally, he said, “You can’t . . . you can’t be serious.”

Sansa’s resolve wavered but only for an instant.  She fought the urge to look away, keeping her gaze steady with his.  “I am as serious as the stone effigies in the crypts below us.  I want you to show me what it is to make love, Tyrion Lannister.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-two

A cloak of hazy moonlight blanketed the snowy ground as Jon approached Rhaegal with tentative steps.  His heart pounded as the dragon turned dark eyes on him, sniffing the air and taking a step back as if he knew what Jon intended.  Jon had known this wasn’t going to be easy, but he had hoped that his Targaryen blood would give him some secret benefit when attempting to mount the beast.  But as he stood there, the dark mass of scales and sharp teeth towering above him, he began to doubt that he possessed any dragon blood at all.

“Rhaegal!” Daenerys commanded as they drew closer.

The dragon instantly moved forward, lowering his head to the ground, his wings folded obediently beside him.

Jon and Daenerys were alone now, the rest of the company stationed on the opposite side of the open field where they had made camp for the night.  Jon was glad for the privacy.  He didn’t want his men to see any weakness in him.

“There is no reason for you to be afraid,” Daenerys said to Jon.  “Although your blood is not as pure as mine, you were born of the dragon.  You can ride alone.”

Despite her reassurance, Jon still doubted his own abilities.  He took a single step forward, reaching out to gently stroke the hard scales along Rhaegal’s neck.  The dragon didn’t even flinch, and Jon exhaled a relieved sigh. 

He ran his fingers along the scales, watching them shimmer beneath the gauzy moonlight.  He knew he had to mount the animal sooner rather than later, but he was reluctant.  Not because he was afraid, but because he dreaded what needed to be done once they were aloft.

“Are you sure you can do this?” Jon asked, his gaze focused on the movement of his own fingers. 

“It is my duty.  I have no choice.”

Jon turned his head so that he could look at her.  She looked so beautiful in the semidarkness, the silver rays of moonlight reflecting off her hair like a halo.  He wanted to kiss her, just once for good luck, but he knew he couldn’t.  Even though they were alone, there was an army of men just across the field, and he was certain that there were myriad eyes upon them.

“If I could take this burden from you, I would,” Jon said.  “I would do anything for you.  Even die for you.”

“Let us hope that neither one of us has to die today,” she said, ignoring his attempt at sentimentality.

Jon knew the time for sentiment was well passed.  Daenerys needed to be strong now to face the horror before her.  He would not hold her coldness against her.

“Now,” she said, “we need to move.  The Night King and his army draw closer with every moment that passes.  We need to meet Viserion as far from Winterfell as possible if we are to have any hope of sparing your people and your home.”

“And what if he has a rider?  What then?”

Daenerys’ vibrant eyes turned stormy.  “I refuse to believe that the Night King has ridden Viserion, despite what your brother claims to have seen in his visions.”

“He’s been right about everything else.”

Daenerys was suddenly quiet, and Jon could see her warring with herself.  Finally, she said, “If the Night King rides Viserion, then we shall destroy them both.  Nothing will stand in the way of us putting an end to Viserion’s suffering.  Nothing.”

Jon knew she was trying to sound strong and determined, but he could hear the gentle quake in her voice, feel the tension rising off her body.  She was scared, not of the Night King, but of failing Viserion.  She had already failed him once, and it would destroy her if she failed him again. 

“We’ll save Viserion,” Jon said, his voice strong and comforting.  “I have no doubt about that.”

Daenerys nodded.  It was obvious that she was done talking.  There was nothing more to be said.  So she took a few steps back, giving Jon room to mount Rhaegal.

Jon held his breath as he worked up the courage to climb onto the dragon’s wing.  With unsteady steps, he ascended, expecting to be thrown at any moment.  But Rhaegal stayed perfectly still, and soon the ridge on his back was within Jon’s reach.  With trembling hands, Jon grabbed onto it, pulling himself upward as if he were mounting a horse.  He slung his right leg over the opposite side of Rhaegal’s neck, then tried to sit up.  But the beast was far too large for him to sit properly astride.  Instead, he hovered over Rhaegal’s neck, half upright, half prone.

Jon looked out over the dragon’s head, his heart pounding furiously against his ribs, and stared out into the night.  Mounting the beast was one thing, but flying it was something else entirely.  He prayed to every god he knew that he would survive the ordeal ahead.

Daenerys drew back, making her way to Drogon, and mounting him with fluid grace.  Her shoulders back, her head held high, she looked every bit the Dragon Queen, and Jon didn’t think he’d ever seen her look more beautiful.

She turned to him for the briefest of moments, catching his eye and nodding her head once before turning away and urging Drogon into the sky. 

Before their approach, Daenerys had taught Jon the command to get Rhaegal to fly.  Valahd.  But Jon doubted the beast would obey him.  He feared Rhaegal would simply dig his talons into the ground and refuse to move.  But Jon knew he had to try. 

Tentatively, he patted Rhaegal’s neck, hoping that the animal couldn’t sense his fear, but knowing that it most assuredly did.  “Valahd,” Jon said uncertainly.

But Rhaegal didn’t take flight.  He simply kneaded his talons into the ground as if he was suddenly restless. 

Jon knew he needed to be more forceful.  He filled his lungs with air and summoned up all his courage, suddenly commanding the dragon as he would command an army.  “Valahd!”

Rhaegal instantly lurched forward, pushing himself off the ground and nearly throwing Jon off balance.  Jon collapsed against the dragon’s neck, holding on for dear life, as Rhaegal took a few running steps forward and then spread his giant wings and leapt into the air.

Jon’s heart lodged in his throat as he stared at the earth below, growing more distant with every second that passed.  He dug his fingers into Rhaegal’s hide as he fought to keep himself from falling. 

It took a great deal of effort, but Jon finally tore his eyes away from the ground passing swiftly beneath him and searched the sky for Daenerys.  She was less than a mile ahead, her small form glowing brightly beneath the moonlight.  And the instant he saw her, Jon resolved to overcome his fears.  He inhaled a steadying breath, then relaxed his grip on Rhaegal’s neck and pushed himself up again, his eyes focused on Daenerys and Drogon flying in the distance.  They were a beacon to him, a comfort in the cold dark night, and he wouldn’t let them out of his sights.

They flew at breakneck speed, and Jon had no way of knowing just how far they had already traveled.  Time and distance seemed to lose all meaning up in the great open sky, and Jon was slightly disoriented.  All he knew for certain was that the longer they rode, the colder it got, and that, one way or another, they would find Viserion well before dawn.

Jon’s muscles tensed beneath his skin as he thought about what they were racing towards.  When they finally found Viserion, they’d be in for the fight of their lives.  Either Viserion would fall or one of his brothers would fall.  Perhaps both his brothers.  Whatever happened, Daenerys would suffer another heartbreaking loss, and Jon didn’t know how she would bear it.  She was an incredibly strong woman, but even Daenerys Targaryen could only suffer so much tragedy before she broke.

Suddenly, there was a flash of blue light in the far distance, no larger than the twinkling of a star.  Jon’s breath caught in his throat as he realized what it was.  For a moment, he wondered if Daenerys had seen it too, but soon he had no doubt.  Drogon was moving faster, the distance between him and Rhaegal growing by the second. 

Jon pressed his knees against Rhaegal’s neck, urging him to go faster.  The dragon instantly flapped its wings harder, gaining both altitude and speed as it raced to reach Daenerys and Drogon.  This time, Jon stayed steady on the beast’s back as it tore through the sky.

Jon was desperate to catch up to Daenerys, but she was flying too fast for him to close the distance.  Instead, he followed behind, cutting through the cold night air with dizzying speed.  The intermittent light flashing in the darkness grew brighter and brighter, and Jon found it even more difficult to breathe.  The blue light wasn’t the twinkling of a star or the reflection of snow on a distant mountaintop.  No, it was Viserion, his once golden flame now glowing an icy blue in the dark night.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-three

Time seemed to stand still as Tyrion stared at Sansa, his eyes still clouded with disbelief.  Sansa’s blood thrummed in her ears as she waited for him to break the silence.  She feared she had gone too far, asking him to make love to her.

Finally, Tyrion shook his head.  “No,” he said quietly.  “No, I can’t.  You may have already resigned yourself to death, Lady Stark, but I have not.  Daenerys and Jon shall be victorious, and we shall all live to see another day.  There is no reason to act recklessly in the meantime.  Everything we do tonight, we shall have to live with for the rest of our lives.  And I don’t want to give you one more thing to regret.”

“I won’t regret it,” Sansa said, her tone even.

“You will when you end up with a dwarf’s baby in your belly.  No, we cannot do this.” 

Tyrion pushed himself up from the floor, intent on leaving, but Sansa reached out, grabbing his wrist and stopping him.

It was the first time she’d touched him in four years, and her fingertips tingled where they made contact with his bare flesh. 

Tyrion’s eyes flashed to hers, but he didn’t speak.

“There will be nothing for me to regret,” Sansa said.  “Even if we do live to see another day, I shall not be sorry.  My life has been nothing but torture for the last eight years.  I have known so little happiness since I left for King’s Landing.  I would like to have something for myself, just this once.  Before it’s too late.”

Tyrion’s eyes softened.  “And if you end up with child?”

Sansa let go of his wrist, suddenly uncomfortable.  She knew there was a possibility that they could conceive a child if Tyrion joined her in her bed, but just then, it seemed so very unimportant.  Even if his seed did quicken inside her, she doubted either one of them would live long enough to see the birth of the babe.  Still, she answered, “If I do, I am certain that Jon will have no issue arranging a suitable marriage for me.  After all, what better way to unite a divided land than to marry Stark to Lannister?”

“You must be very drunk,” Tyrion replied, “or else you would not be proposing such a solution.  You already escaped me once, do not risk entering the lion’s den a second time, my lady.  You might never escape.”

“I risk nothing,” Sansa said softly.  “I want this, Tyrion.  Please.  I have asked so little of you, even when we were married.  Do me this one kindness before death claims us all.”

“Seven hells,” Tyrion swore beneath his breath.  Then, without any warning, he moved toward her, closing the distance between them and reaching out to take her face in his hands. 

He kissed her deeply, as she had never been kissed before, and Sansa’s head swam.  She dropped her cup, the glass clattering against the floor, unnoticed, as she wrapped her arms about his neck, clinging to him for support. 

He tasted as sweet as summerwine, and Sansa pulled him closer, desperate to drown herself in him.  Suddenly, nothing else mattered.  Not the Night King, not the White Walkers, not the long winter.  Nothing.  All that mattered was the feel of Tyrion’s mouth against her own. 

When he finally pulled away, Sansa was breathless.  She stared up at him, captivated by the raw desire she saw reflected in his eyes.  Had he always wanted her, she wondered.  Even when they’d been married?  All at once, Sansa was sorry that she had never invited him to her bed when they’d been husband and wife.  Perhaps, if she had, it would have saved her from Ramsay Bolton, and she would still be the same girl she had been before she’d returned to Winterfell.

“Sansa,” Tyrion whispered, his voice deep and husky.  “Are you sure you want this?”

“Yes.  More than I’ve ever wanted anything.”  And in that moment, it was true.  Sansa didn’t know if it was the wine talking, or the fear of death, or the warm ache deep in the center of her womanhood, but it didn’t matter.  She wanted Tyrion Lannister, more than she had ever wanted anything before.

He nodded, then he let her go, taking a step back so that he was beyond her reach.  Sansa opened her mouth to protest, afraid that he intended to leave her, but there was no need.  His gaze still locked with hers, he began undressing himself, and Sansa’s heart flitted against her ribs as she realized he was about to give her exactly what she had asked for.

A momentary spark of doubt pierced her heart, and she began to tremble.  But she fought through it, determined to forge ahead.  She needed to be brave.  She wanted to be brave.  She would see this through to the end.

Sansa’s fingers moved to the ties that fastened her gown and numbly worked them apart.  She watched Tyrion curiously, only slightly apprehensive of what she might see when he was finally naked before her. 

The ties on her gown proved too stubborn for Sansa to undo without giving them her full attention, so she broke Tyrion’s gaze and looked down so that she could see what she was doing.  As she pulled the strings open, her mind flashed to that long-ago night when she’d stood in Tyrion’s bedchamber and stripped herself down to just her shift.  That night, she had intended to bear herself completely before him, but he had stopped her.  Now, she knew he wouldn’t stop her.  Once she discarded her gown, he would stand before her and watch as she stripped herself naked, and her fate would be sealed.

As soon as the ties gave way, Sansa pushed the gown off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor around her.  She hazarded a glance up at Tyrion, expecting to see him fully exposed before her.  But he wasn’t.  He had shed all of his clothing except for the long linen tunic that he wore beneath his doublet.  It covered him from neck to knees, and Sansa was thankful for it.  Even though she wanted this, she was not yet ready to see Tyrion Lannister completely unclothed.

Sansa intended to look away, but Tyrion’s eyes caught hers, and she couldn’t bring herself to break his gaze.  She had never seen such desire in a man’s eyes before.  Never.  Ramsay Bolton had only ever come to her in anger and madness.  He had never truly desired her.  He had only desired to hurt her.  But Tyrion, Tyrion wanted her in a way mere words couldn’t describe, and despite her apprehensions, Sansa’s entire body flushed with warmth.

Tyrion moved toward her, and Sansa waited in breathless anticipation to see what he would do.  He reached for one of the straps holding her shift in place and slowly pushed it down over her shoulder.  Then, he leaned forward and laid a soft kiss against her bare skin.  Sansa gasped, a shiver trailing down her spine, but she didn’t pull away.  His kiss was light, gentle, and she was curious to see where it would lead.

Much to Sansa’s disappointment, Tyrion pulled back, and she feared he might have changed his mind.  But instead of leaving her, he simply turned his attention to the other strap and slipped it down as well.  Although both straps were now hanging loosely about her upper arms, Sansa’s gown stayed in place, the neckline hovering just above her breasts, waiting for Tyrion to pull it lower.

Tyrion looked up at Sansa.  His gaze was searching, questioning, as if he was giving her one last chance to change her mind before it was too late.

Sansa simply nodded, letting him know that it was all right to continue.

Tyrion needed no further prompting than that.  He lowered his gaze again and slowly pulled her shift down over her breasts.  The instant the fabric reached her waist, he let it slip from his fingers, allowing it to pool on the floor.

Sansa held her breath as Tyrion examined her naked body.  He didn’t say a single word.  He just stared at her, his eyes drinking her in as if she were a glass of Dornish wine.  Despite her natural modesty, Sansa didn’t have the slightest urge to cover herself.  She didn’t want Tyrion to ever stop looking at her the way he was looking at her at that moment.  She had never felt more beautiful or more wanted.

When Tyrion’s eyes found hers again, they were filled with unmistakable need.  Without a single word, he reached for the hem of his shift, pulling it over his head in one swift movement and tossing it aside.  In an instant, he stood naked before her, and despite her famous Stark courage, it took Sansa some effort to move her gaze lower so that she could see all of him.

Sansa had been apprehensive about seeing Tyrion without his clothes, but the truth was, as she gazed upon him now, she knew that she had nothing to fear.  His nakedness didn’t frighten her.  In fact, it intrigued her.  She had half expected Tyrion to look like a monster beneath his clothing, but he didn’t.  He looked like a normal man, no different from any other, only shorter and perhaps not as well muscled as some.  There was a light sprinkling of dark curls across his chest that grew denser as her gaze traveled lower.  Sansa held her breath as she dared a glance between his legs.  Her heart nearly stopped as she finally caught sight of his fully erect manhood.  Although Tyrion Lannister was physically smaller than other men in every other sense, there was nothing lacking about his masculinity. 

Sansa quickly looked away, her heart fluttering wildly as a renewed rush of warmth spread deep within her womanhood.  She was both frightened and excited by Tyrion’s nakedness, and she wasn’t certain which feeling was stronger.

Tyrion took a step closer.  He placed his fingers beneath her chin and gently brought her gaze back to his own.  “You need not be afraid, Sansa.  I’m not going to hurt you.  I promise.”

And that was all it took for Sansa’s fears to fade away.  Those few simple words, spoken with such warmth and sincerity that she could not doubt them even if she’d wanted to. 

Unable to speak, Sansa leaned into his touch, and Tyrion moved his hand to her cheek, kissing her with a tenderness that made her heart ache.

Sansa wanted the kiss to last forever, but far too soon, Tyrion was pulling back so that he could look into her eyes.

“I fear the gods have not gifted me with the strength to carry you to the bed,” he said, “and I do not want to take you here on the floor.  Will you join me beneath the furs, my dear, sweet Sansa?”

Sansa couldn’t refuse his request, but she couldn’t find the words to answer him either.  So she merely nodded her head, and Tyrion took a step back, allowing her room to rise to her own two feet.  

Sansa stood, her gown and shift puddling on the floor around her ankles.  She watched as Tyrion’s gaze slowly moved down her body once more, this time taking in every last inch of her, all the way down to her toes.  Again, Sansa found that she didn’t mind his scrutiny.  It simply made her feel wanted.

Finally, Tyrion’s eyes met hers again.  He held her gaze captive as he slowly walked around to the other side of the bed, putting far too much distance between them for her liking.

He stopped directly across from her, and Sansa knew it was time to get into bed.  With trembling fingers, she reached for the furs that covered the soft feather mattress.  She pulled them down and slipped beneath, lying on her back, waiting for Tyrion.

He drew back the covers on the other side of the bed and climbed up.  Sansa’s heart beat faster as she felt him settle in beside her.  For a moment, she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer that she wasn’t making a mistake, that she wouldn’t wake up in the morning to find that she regretted what they had done.  When she opened her eyes again, she found Tyrion lying on his side next to her, propped up on one elbow.  He was staring down at her, watching her in quiet contemplation.

“If you’ve changed your mind—” he began, but Sansa didn’t give him a chance to finish. 

She pushed herself forward and kissed him soundly, putting an end to whatever it was he had intended to say.  She wrapped her arms about his neck, drawing him closer, desperate for him.

Tyrion kissed her deeply, delving his tongue into her mouth, making her moan wantonly.  Sansa tried to quell the noises rising from her throat, but she couldn’t stop them.  She was too overcome with desire to be in control of her own body anymore.

Soon, Tyrion’s hands were exploring her naked flesh, his touch featherlight against her skin.  Despite his stunted height and stubby fingers, he was undeniably graceful beneath the covers.  He knew just how to touch her, how to make her body sing for him, and for him alone.

Tyrion skimmed his fingertips across Sansa’s stomach, making her quiver.  Then, he trailed northward, moving along the curve of her breast.  Sansa gasped, waiting in nervous anticipation for him to make contact with the aching bud at its center, but he didn’t.  Instead, he contented himself with tracing light circles around the eager peak as he continued to kiss her mouth.

Sansa whimpered pleadingly, begging him to stop teasing her, and she felt Tyrion smile against her lips.

He finally broke the kiss.  “Is there something you want, my lady?”

Sansa struggled to catch her breath.  She knew he would not give her what she wanted until she gave him an answer.  And so she managed to force a single word from her throat.  “Please.”

Tyrion’s lips quirked into another smile.  “Very well, my lady.  As you wish.”  Then, he lowered his head to her breast, placing a single, light kiss against her nipple.

Sansa wanted to scream.  The feel of his mouth against her was wonderful, but she longed for so much more, so much more that he was purposefully refusing to give her.  She was desperate for him, and she didn’t understand why he insisted upon torturing her. 

“Is something wrong?” Tyrion asked as he stared up at her.  It was obvious from his tone that he knew exactly what was wrong. 

“Please,” she said.  “Don’t torture me.  It isn’t fair.”

“Torture?”  He raised a single brow in question.  “How am I torturing you?  I’ve given you everything you’ve asked for tonight.”

“Not everything.”

“Well, not yet.  But I promise you, your patience will be rewarded.  You just have to trust me.”

The idea of trusting a Lannister, even this Lannister, was a foreign concept for Sansa.  But she had come this far, and she had no intention of turning back now.  “I trust you not to torture me,” she said.  “I trust you to give me what I’ve asked for, without prolonging my agony.”

Tyrion slowly ran his fingers down the length of her body again, from the curve of her neck all the way down to the swell of her hip, his eyes following the same path his fingers tread.  “You asked me to make love to you.  If I was going to fuck you,” he said softly, “it would have been done and over with by now.  But,” his eyes finally met hers again, “I am going to love you, Sansa Stark, and that takes time and patience.  And that is what you asked for, isn’t it?  To be made love to?”

Sansa’s heart seemed to stop beating as she stared down at Tyrion.  Had he been the most handsome knight in all the realm, she didn’t think she could have wanted him any more than she did at that moment.  His words were warm, gentle, sincere, and they had captivated her heart as nothing else ever could.  Suddenly, she felt like the heroine of a romantic ballad, being wooed by a charming and gallant knight, high in her ivory tower.  For once, Sansa felt like she was living one of her childhood fantasies, and for the very first time since she had laid eyes on him, she saw Tyrion Lannister as a man and not a dwarf.

Sansa could barely breathe, much less speak.  She simply nodded her head in answer to his question.

“All right then,” Tyrion said, “be patient and let me love you, Sansa Stark.” 

Tyrion lowered his head to her breasts again, and Sansa gasped as he captured one rosy peak with his lips.  She closed her eyes, lost in the feel of his mouth teasing her aching flesh.  He kissed and sucked and licked until she was gasping for breath.  Then, he moved to the other breast and lavished it with the same calculated attention.

Sansa’s fingers threaded through Tyrion’s hair, pulling him closer, desperate for more of him.  The warm ache in the center of her womanhood burned brighter, and she longed for Tyrion to quell the fire that threatened to consume her.  She knew he had asked her to be patient, but she didn’t know how much more she could endure.

While Tyrion’s mouth worked its magic at her breasts, his fingers continued to explore her body.  He glided them southward, caressing her skin with the grace of a master musician playing the high harp.  His fingers slid lower and lower until they finally reached the beckoning warmth between her thighs. 

Sansa gasped as Tyrion’s fingertips skimmed along her sex with exquisite grace.  She had never been touched so intimately before, and her entire body flushed with heat.  She moaned plaintively, unable to stop herself, as his fingers gently stroked her.  He made no move to push inside.  He simply contented himself with touching her, and Sansa thought she might faint from the pleasure.

Before that could happen, however, his fingers stilled, and he tore his mouth away from her breasts.  Sansa tried to protest, but the words got stuck halfway down her throat as Tyrion moved his mouth lower, trailing kisses down her abdomen and across her stomach.  Every kiss was sweet and gentle and made her blood run hotter in her veins.  The hand that had been exploring her so intimately, only moments before, moved aside to caress her thigh as his lips traveled even lower.  Soon, Tyrion reached the nest of curls between her legs and placed a light kiss there. 

Sansa’s eyes shot open, and she stared up at the ceiling in shocked disbelief, stunned that he’d had the nerve to kiss her in such an intimate place.  She wanted to object but simply couldn’t find the words.  She had never imagined a man doing anything quite so wicked, not even Tyrion Lannister, and she was speechless.

An instant later, Tyrion’s mouth was exploring her sex with reckless abandon.  He kissed her there just as he had kissed her mouth, and Sansa was so overcome with pleasure that she could no longer think clearly.  Her eyes closed, and her hips arched off the bed as she strove to get closer to him.

Tyrion placed a gentle hand against her stomach.  “Relax,” he said, briefly breaking contact.  “You’ll get what you want.  I promise.”  Then, he went back to pleasuring her.

Sansa’s fingers clutched the bedsheets as she desperately waited for Tyrion to make good on his promise.  She didn’t know exactly what it was that she wanted.  She just knew that she wanted it more than she had ever wanted anything before in her entire life. 

And then, suddenly, Tyrion stopped. 

Sansa looked down to find him staring up at her, his mouth still mere inches from her sex.  He stared at her for one long moment, his eyes dark with desire, before moving forward on the bed and settling himself between her legs.

Sansa knew what he intended.  He was going to love her properly.  He was going to push himself inside her and claim her for his own, and there was nothing Sansa wanted more.  She wanted Tyrion Lannister inside her.  She wanted him to finally make love to her once and for all. 

Tyrion leaned forward as if he meant to kiss her, and Sansa pushed herself up, meeting him halfway.  He placed a single kiss against her mouth, and she could taste her own sweetness on his lips.  When they both fell back, he repositioned himself at her entrance, and they stared at each other for the longest time.

“Are you sure you want this?” Tyrion asked, his voice thick with need.

“Yes,” Sansa breathed.  “Yes.  Please.”

That was all Tyrion needed to hear.  Without another word, he drove his hips forward, entering her in one swift movement. 

Sansa cried out in pleasure as Tyrion thrust deep inside her.  He had prepared her body well for the invasion, and she welcomed it with unexpected relief. 

Her eyes drifted closed as he began to move inside her.  He was gentle at first, moving his hips in a slow, steady rhythm.  But soon, his thrusts became more urgent, more demanding, stoking the fires that were already raging inside her.  It didn’t take long for Tyrion to finally fulfill his promise.  Without any warning, a great rush of pleasure suddenly swept her entire body, and she shuddered beneath him.

Sansa lay there trembling in ecstasy as the world seemed to fall away around her.  She was only vaguely aware of Tyrion still moving above her.  It wasn’t until she heard him calling out her name that she realized he had found his own release.

When Sansa finally opened her eyes again, she found Tyrion lying against her, his head resting between her breasts.  She lifted a tentative hand to the back of his head, her fingers gently playing with his damp curls.  Sansa had never felt more exhausted.  All she wanted was to fall asleep, then and there, with Tyrion in her arms.

It took him a moment, but Tyrion finally pulled back so he could look down at her.  Sansa kept her fingers entwined in his hair, unwilling to let him go.

“Are you all right, Sansa?” he asked, his voice deliciously husky.

Sansa merely nodded, words still failing her even though they were no longer making love.

“Do you want me to go?”

She shook her head.

Tyrion leaned forward, placing a chaste kiss between her breasts.  Then, he settled down against her again, and Sansa wrapped both her arms around him, holding him close.  She wouldn’t let him go, not even if the Night King broke down the door and tried to drag him from her arms.  For the first time since she was a child, Sansa Stark felt safe and loved and wanted, and she would not give that feeling up for anything.  Not even the cold hand of death beating down her door.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-four

The blue fire sparking in the distance grew brighter as Jon and Daenerys continued their flight into the darkness.  Jon feared that even if they reached Viserion, they would not be able to bring him down.  Now, Jon wished they had met the beast over their own camp, an army of archers on the ground ready to fire.  As it was, the only weapons Jon had at his disposal were Longclaw and a dagger made of dragonglass, and he’d have to get uncomfortably close to Viserion for either of them to be of any use.  If he and Daenerys could not bring the beast down with dragonfire, their mission would no doubt fail.

A mournful cry rang out through the night, the sound of Viserion screeching in the distance.  His brothers called back to him before Daenerys could stop them, and suddenly, the blue fire was moving in their direction, barreling at them with startling speed.  Drogon and Rhaegal’s cries had given them away, and now, they were targets for the beast in the air and the monsters on the ground.

Daenerys slowed Drogon, finally giving Jon the opportunity to reach her.  They rode side by side as they shouted to one another. 

“Tell me you have a plan,” Jon said, the blood pounding furiously in his ears.

“We will attack him from both sides.  Dragons have one fatal weakness.  Every inch of them is armored except their eyes.  If you can mount Viserion and strike him clean through the eye, you should be able to kill him.”

“You’re joking, right?” Jon asked, incredulous.

Daenerys ignored the question.  “Fire won’t touch him.  Either Drogon and Rhaegal will have to fight Viserion to the death with their own talons, or you will have to put an end to his life with your sword.”

Jon wondered what her plan would have been if he had not insisted upon joining her.  He feared he knew.  She was more than willing to sacrifice her own life in order to bring Viserion down.  The least he could do was offer his sword in service to her, even if they all perished in the effort.

“All right then,” Jon replied.  “Stay safe.”

“I shall do my best.”

“Then so shall I.”

In unison, they both urged their mounts onward, drifting in opposite directions so they could flank Viserion when they finally reached him.  Below, the earth was alight with blue fire, and Jon finally understood why the light in the darkness had been so persistent.  Viserion had been laying waste to the land below as he’d traveled, setting fire to every manmade structure he’d passed.  Jon was certain that many had already died, but he did his best to push that thought from his mind.  He didn’t have time to mourn the dead.  He needed to concentrate on protecting the living before it was too late.

In the distance, he saw the Night King’s army marching slowly through the frozen landscape.  From his current vantage point, each White Walker was merely a blurry speck of blue and white, but all those specks together created a river of death pouring down from the north.  And although that river moved slowly, Jon knew it was unstoppable.

Determined to focus on one mortal threat at a time, Jon turned his attention away from the ground and searched for Viserion in the distance.  Another streak of blue fire split the darkness, and Jon was easily able to home in on the beast headed in their direction.

Drogon exhaled a stream of orange fire, and soon, Rhaegal did the same, throwing open his massive jaw and nearly unseating Jon.  It took all of his strength not to lose his balance and plummet to his death.

Viserion was fast approaching.  Soon, the dragon was close enough for Jon to see his sharp fangs glowing white in the moonlight.  He was riderless, for which Jon was grateful. 

Jon wondered where the Night King was at that moment.  Was he on the ground below, watching their every move?  Or was he miles to the north still rallying his army?  Jon was certain the Night King was dangerously close, but he refused to let himself think on it for too long.  He had much more important things to worry about, like surviving a dragon attack.

Jon steered Rhaegal directly toward Viserion, but his target veered in the opposite direction, heading straight for Drogon and Daenerys.  In an instant, fire crashed against fire as the two dragons attacked each other in midair.  But the streams of burning light seemed to only cancel each other out, and neither combatant was able to inflict any damage. 

Jon could tell that Rhaegal wanted to bolt, wanted to join his brother Drogon in the fight, but Jon held him back, waiting to see what Daenerys would do next.  She was slowly moving Drogon closer to Viserion, the shafts of fire clashing between them growing more intense the closer the two dragons got.  When they were finally within striking distance of one another, the fires ebbed, and they bared their fangs, their screeching battle cries tearing across the sky.  Daenerys drove Drogon directly at Viserion, and the two beasts clashed, fang against fang, talon against talon.  There were screams of pain and rushes of blood, but neither animal would relent. 

Despite the chaos, Daenerys stayed steady on Drogon’s back.  Suddenly, she called out to Jon.  “Now!”

For a moment, Jon could barely think.  Then, he urged Rhaegal forward, the beast speeding directly for his two brothers still locked in battle.  Jon didn’t know what Rhaegal would do once they reached the fray, but he didn’t have time to worry about it.  As soon as Viserion was within reach, Jon leapt from his mount and landed with a painful thud in the center of the ice dragon’s back.  Viserion didn’t even seem to notice.  Drogon’s fangs had embedded themselves into his neck, and he was desperately trying to shake them off.

Jon clawed his way up toward the dragon’s head.  Despite Daenerys’ command, he doubted his ability to reach either one of Viserion’s eyes before being thrown to his death.  He held his breath as he struggled upward, every nerve in his body wound tight with anxiety.

Rhaegal screeched loudly above him, and Jon looked up to see the dragon heading straight at him, talons bared.  He scrambled up Viserion’s neck, just in time to avoid being cut to ribbons as Rhaegal clawed into his brother’s back.

Viserion screamed, bucking wildly, and it took all of Jon’s strength to keep from plummeting to the ground.  He clamped onto Viserion with his thighs, trying to right himself as the dragon continued to fight, but he simply couldn’t stay upright.  He wrapped his arms around Viserion’s neck and held on for dear life, waiting for the chance to make his move.

Without warning, an arrow suddenly whizzed past Jon’s ear, and he stole a glance down at the earth below.  An army of White Walkers was shooting into the sky, their sheer numbers making them a deadly threat.  Their onslaught was unrelenting as they shot round after round into the night.

Jon listened as the arrows made contact with a sickening thump, thump, thump, and then, Drogon cried out in agony.  He tore away from Viserion, his fangs ripping the flesh from the other dragon’s throat as he retreated.  Blood as blue as the Night King’s eyes spurted in all directions, and Jon held his breath as he searched the night for any sign of Daenerys. 

Drogon spun around, trying to dislodge the arrows from his back, and Jon finally spotted his beloved.  The arrows had struck just below where she was mounted, and she was clinging to Drogon desperately, trying to keep her hold as the dragon writhed in midair.  Now, Jon wished that he still had command of Rhaegal.  He wanted to save Daenerys, but there was nothing he could do until he had taken care of Viserion.

Rhaegal let go of Viserion’s back and swooped around to attack him from the front.  Knowing that there was no time to waste, Jon summoned all his courage and pushed himself up.  His legs ached as they clamped around the beast’s neck, pure determination the only thing keeping him from falling hundreds of feet to his death.

Jon clambered upward, all his muscles trembling as he fought to reach Viserion’s head.  One by one, he clutched at the spikes along the dragon’s neck, pulling himself forward.  Suddenly, Viserion threw his head back and screeched into the dark night, tossing Jon off his neck like a rag doll.  Jon tumbled head over heels down the dragon’s back, certain he was about to die.  But just before he slipped into the abyss, he reached out and grabbed one of the thorny spikes protruding from the dragon’s hide.  For a moment, he just hung there, his legs dangling in midair, as he struggled to catch his breath.  Then, he wrapped his other hand around the spike and pulled himself up, collapsing against Viserion’s back.

Jon lay there clinging to Viserion for the longest time, his heart pounding in his ears, his body still in shock.  He knew he was running out of time.  Rhaegal couldn’t hold Viserion back forever.  Jon had to reach the ice dragon’s head while there was still a chance of victory.

Relinquishing his hold on Viserion, Jon sat up, taking a moment to get his bearings.  When he was finally steady, he started his trek upward again, this time determined not to let anything stop him.  He climbed as quickly as he could, reaching his goal with startling speed and wedging himself between the spikes atop Viserion’s head.

Jon dug his knees into the dragon’s flesh, but Viserion made no move to throw him off.  He was too deeply engaged in his fight with Rhaegal to even notice Jon.  The two dragons continued to swirl around each other, fangs bared, talons digging into each other’s flesh.  Jon knew it was now or never.  He had one chance, one chance to kill Viserion before the dragon threw him to his death.

For a split second, Jon considered using his dragonglass dagger to stab Viserion, but just as quickly decided against it.  He was certain he would have to pierce the dragon’s brain clean through if he was going to put an end to him, and the dagger wasn’t long enough.  Instead, Jon reached around his side, wrapping his fingers around the familiar hilt of his sword.  In one swift movement, he unsheathed Longclaw, gripped it between two hands, and plunged it downward, straight into Viserion’s right eye. 

The dragon spit blue fire as a primal scream tore from its throat.  It thrashed wildly, but Jon managed to hold steady.  He climbed up even farther onto Viserion’s head and pushed the sword deeper.  The instant the tip of the blade pierced the back of Viserion’s skull, the dragon shattered into countless shards of blue ice, and suddenly, Jon found himself plummeting to earth.

“Jon!” Daenerys screamed above the rush of wind around him.

Jon looked in her direction.  She was driving Drogon toward the ground beneath him, and he prayed to every god he knew that she would be able to catch him.

Suddenly, Jon slammed into Drogon’s back with a painful thump.  For a moment, he thought he had broken a few of his ribs, but the pain quickly subsided, and he knew it was nothing serious.  As soon as he was able to catch his breath, he pushed himself up, sheathing Longclaw and gripping Drogon’s hide with his knees.

Daenerys urged Drogon upward, outstripping the volley of arrows spewing from the ground below.  When Drogon leveled out, Jon finally looked up at Daenerys.  She had somehow managed to pull all three arrows from the animal’s hide and was now sitting perched just below its neck, once again in full control.  She glanced back at Jon.  Her face looked paler than he had ever seen it before, her skin almost translucent in the moonlight.  There was a haunted look behind her vibrant eyes.  He knew it was the pain of watching Viserion die a second time, and he knew there was not a single thing he could do to comfort her.

“Are you all right?” she asked, her voice just loud enough to be heard above the air rushing around them.

“I am now,” he managed through the aching in his lungs.

“Good.  Because we still have work to do.”

At first, Jon wasn’t sure what she meant, but she called out for Rhaegal, and the dragon was instantly flying beside them.  She shouted another firm command, and the beast moved below them, just low enough for Jon to have a full view of its back.  He didn’t have to ask Daenerys what she wanted.  He already knew, he just wasn’t sure that he was capable of doing it.  Every muscle in his body ached, and he didn’t know if he had the strength to go on.

“We have the advantage now,” she said.  “You have to take Rhaegal and set as many of them on fire as you can.”

Jon looked out at the sea of death marching steadily southward and began to doubt that they would ever find a way to put an end to it all.  “If we don’t kill the Night King,” he said, “it won’t matter how many wights or White Walkers we destroy.  He’ll just keep making more until he’s taken every last man, woman, and child in Westeros for his own.”

“If we don’t find him, we must take out as much of his army as we can before they reach our encampment.  Every wight, every White Walker you kill is another life you save.  Now go, Jon.  We must destroy as many as we can.”

There was nothing more Jon could say.  He hoisted one leg over Drogon’s back and prepared to make another painful leap.  This time, he landed much more gracefully, bracing his fall with his hands and knees.

Jon was no longer nervous about riding Rhaegal, and the animal seemed to sense that he was more at ease.  They flew through the night as one, headed straight for the hordes below, determined to burn the army of the dead as they continued their mindless march southward.

Daenerys flew west, and Jon flew east.  Together they scarred the landscape below with rivers of fire that left only death in their wake.  It was easy for Jon to put an end to the wights.  After all, they were just reanimated corpses moving without conscious thought.  It felt good to set them ablaze, better than Jon might have imagined.  He tried not to think about the fact that he was enjoying killing them.  It was a truth he was not yet ready to face about himself.

Jon looked across the sky in search of Drogon.  He spotted the dragon nearly a mile away, flying low to the earth.  It was obvious that it was struggling to stay aloft, and it was then that Jon finally realized just how much damage Drogon had taken during his fight with Viserion.  Jon knew they couldn’t continue to fly forever.  Perhaps Daenerys was still too stunned by Viserion’s death to notice Drogon’s distress, but Jon was not.  He veered Rhaegal to the left, heading straight for Daenerys.  They needed to turn back before it was too late.

Jon swooped low so that he could ride alongside Drogon, shouting across to his beloved above the roar of wind around them.  “We have to go back.  Drogon is injured.”

“We can reach the Night King,” she hollered.  “I know we can!”

“No, we can’t.  Not now.  Not today.  We need to head back to camp before you lose more than one dragon tonight.”

Daenerys looked down at Drogon as if seeing him for the first time since they’d taken flight.  She examined his listless eyes and ran a gentle hand across his neck and back.  The truth of Jon’s words seemed to hit her all at once.  Without a single word, she slowed Drogon, pushing him to the west so that he could turn around.  Jon urged Rhaegal to follow, determined to escort Daenerys and Drogon safely back to camp. 

Drogon was tiring out.  His scales were caked with dried blood around his neck and along his back.  Jon feared he had suffered a fatal injury and it was only a matter of time before he joined his brother Viserion in eternal sleep.  If Drogon did die, they would have to burn his body immediately.  They could not afford to give the Night King yet another weapon against them.

Jon and Daenerys rode silently through the night.  Jon knew the only thing she cared about was seeing her beloved child to safety.  She rode as fast as she could without adding to Drogon’s distress.  Jon continued to shoot fire at the ground as the Night King’s archers continued to take aim at them.  The army of the dead looked no smaller now than it had when they’d first set out.  It was as if every wildling who had ever lived had been resurrected for the sole purpose of killing the living.  Jon shivered, even as fire burst forth from Rhaegal’s massive jaws.  He was chilled to the bone.  He didn’t think he’d ever feel warm again. 

The journey south was harrowing.  Jon was waiting for Drogon to drop from the sky at any moment.  But he didn’t.  He somehow managed to stay aloft until they finally reached camp.  The instant Drogon’s claws sank into the snowy ground, he collapsed, his eyes closed, and he exhaled a long plume of steamy air into the cold winter night.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-five

Daenerys slid off Drogon’s back, quickly lowering herself to the ground and falling to her knees beside him.  She could feel his labored breath hot against her skin as she ran her trembling hands over his muzzle, desperately hoping that he would open his eyes again.  Behind her, she heard horses racing toward them, but she was barely conscious of the sound.  All she cared about was waking up her beloved child before he took his last breath.

Quiet words of encouragement poured from her throat as she tried to coax him awake.  But nothing worked.  With each moment that passed, his breath grew shallower, and soon, she could barely detect it at all.  Hot tears stained her cheeks as she clung to Drogon, silently praying that he would live.

“You are not going to die,” she said, her tone hard.  “You are not.”

An instant later, Jon was at her side.  He knelt on the ground next to her, one arm wrapping around her shoulder.  “The maester is here.  He will do all he can for him.  You must come away.”

Daenerys didn’t want to hear a word of it.  She held onto Drogon, just as she had before, with no intention of ever leaving his side.

Jon drew closer, his voice low and quiet.  “You are a queen.  You must act like one.  Always.  Queens do not grieve, at least not where others can see.  You must come away.”

“I can’t leave him.  He’ll die without me.”

“There’s nothing you can do for him.  Can you mend his wounds?  Can you give him milk of the poppy?  No.  You can’t do anything for him.  He knows you love him, and he knows you are not abandoning him.  But you must walk away now.  There are bigger battles to fight, whether we want to fight them or not.”

Daenerys looked over Jon’s shoulder.  There was a man standing behind him dressed in grey robes, a maester’s chain hanging about his neck.  He was already examining the gashes on Drogon’s hide, and Daenerys knew she was doing him no favors by acting like a hysterical female.  As painful as it was to admit, Jon was right.  There was nothing she could do for Drogon now.  She had to step away and let the maester do his work if Drogon had any hope of surviving.

Daenerys pulled from Jon’s grasp, afraid that the men who had gathered around them might question their closeness.  She patted Drogon one last time and whispered a silent prayer before finally rising.  She stood to her full height, pulling her shoulders back and willing the tears from her eyes.  She would not show weakness to anyone, especially the men she was leading into battle.

Daenerys turned toward Rhaegal.  She needed to make sure that he was safe before she worried about anything else.  He was sitting a few yards away, and she approached him with confident strides, examining him as she drew closer.  His wounds, though numerous, appeared to be superficial.  His eyes, which were intently focused on Drogon, were still clear and bright.  Daenerys knew he was agitated.  She could tell by the way he flexed his claws into the earth at regular intervals.  He wanted to be aloft, but he was staying on the ground because she had yet to give him leave to go.  She would not let him go, not now.  No matter how much he wanted to be free.  She feared he would rain even more destruction down upon the earth if she let him go on his own.  Both of his brothers had fallen within the span of a few hours, and she knew he was desperate to exorcize his rage.

When Daenerys reached Rhaegal, she held out a hand to him, stroking his snout with gentle, even movements.  She whispered quiet words of encouragement, doing all she could to quench the fire burning inside him.  “It’s all right,” she said.  “You must stay with me now.  We must make sure that Drogon lives through the night.  We must stay by his side.”

Rhaegal’s eyes moved from Drogon to Daenerys.  Even if he didn’t fully understand her words, she knew he understood what she was asking.  And she knew he would stay until she gave him permission to go.

Daenerys patted him gently and then stepped away.  Rhaegal pushed himself up off the ground, standing to his full height and unfurling his wings.  He flapped them several times, stretching his whole body in a display of raw strength.  Then, he folded his wings, hunkered down and lowered his head to the ground, his eyes locked on Drogon.  Daenerys knew that Rhaegal would not move from that spot until he was certain of his brother’s fate.

Daenerys turned back toward the camp.  Jon, Jorah, and Ser Davos were clustered together a few yards away, waiting for her.  Daenerys hoped that Jon had already apprised the two knights of what had happened on their journey north.  She didn’t feel like talking anymore.  All she wanted was to retire to her own tent and have a good cry.

Hardening her heart against the turmoil raging inside her, Daenerys approached the small group of men.  “I trust Jon has told you about Viserion,” she said, directing her words to Ser Davos but meaning them for Jorah as well.

“Yes, Your Grace,” the Onion Knight replied.  “He has also apprised us of the Night King’s movements and the scope of the army that is headed our way.”

Daenerys scanned the sea of men in the distance.  She knew most of them would perish on the morrow, and she knew there was nothing she could do to stop it.  “The battle will come with the sunrise,” she said.  “If not with the sunrise, then before the next nightfall.”

“If we fail,” Ser Davos said, “it shall be the last sunrise for a thousand years.  We must be victorious.”

“And we will be.  We have no other choice.”

Daenerys was done talking.  Without another word to anyone, she headed straight for her tent.  As she passed, she caught Jorah’s eye, and she could see the sympathy there.  He knew better than anyone what her dragons meant to her.  He was a true friend, and she was thankful that she had realized it before it was too late. 

Daenerys entered the tent, Jon following behind her.  She wished she could spend the night in his arms, forgetting the misery she had suffered, but it was a risk they couldn’t take.  They were surrounded by people and battle was imminent.  The time for lovemaking was long past.  The best she could hope for was to ask him to hold her as she cried out her grief.

The interior of the tent was surprisingly spacious, and although it was comfortably outfitted, the accommodations were not lavish.  Everything inside served a functional purpose, including the bed in the far corner of the room.  Daenerys moved directly toward it, collapsing onto the edge of the mattress and hiding her face in her hands as she began to sob uncontrollably.

Soon, a pair of strong arms wrapped around her, and she buried her face in Jon’s shoulder, the tears flowing freely against his leathers.  Daenerys had lost a great deal in her life.  She had thought she would never know grief again the way she had when she’d lost Drogo.  But now, losing Viserion twice, and waiting for word of Drogon, her heart was so heavy she thought it might burst.  Every nerve in her body ached with sorrow, and she didn’t know how she was going to go on.

Jon didn’t speak.  Instead, he sat there silently stroking her hair, letting her cry.  She was thankful that he wasn’t trying to fill her ears with platitudes.  Nothing he could possibly say could quell the misery in her heart, and it was best if they both stayed silent.

It took a long time for the tears to subside.  When she had finally cried herself out, Daenerys stared blindly out into the center of the makeshift room, her mind as numb as her body.  Jon’s arms tightened around her, and he placed a single kiss against the top of her head.

Daenerys closed her eyes, a dry sob escaping her throat.  She knew that he loved her deeply, and yet, all that love could not take away her pain.  She was simply too broken.

Jon pulled back, forcing Daenerys to sit up straighter.  His arms were still wrapped lightly around her as she looked up at his face.  The dark eyes that met hers were filled with tenderness and compassion.  She knew he understood her suffering, but that didn’t mean there was anything he could do to comfort her.

Without a word, Jon leaned forward, kissing her softly.  It was a sweet kiss, slow and gentle.  It eased the aching of her heart, but only for a moment. The instant he pulled away, the pain returned, and she stared up at him plaintively, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.

Jon moved his hand to her cheek, wiping away a stray tear with the pad of his thumb.  “Don’t cry, my love.  You’ve shed enough tears for one night.  You don’t have to shed any more.”

“I feel as if I could cry enough tears to fill the Narrow Sea.  My heart bleeds for my children, and I simply cannot stop it.”

“Maybe I can quell the tide, at least for a little while.”  He leaned closer and kissed her again.  This time, there was nothing sweet about it.  He drew her up onto his lap, kissing her deeply, making her head swim.

Daenerys knew she couldn’t let him go too far, but she wouldn’t deny herself his touch, at least not just yet.  She clung to him, kissing him back with startling ferocity, pouring all her pain and anguish into the kiss.  She wanted to be one with Jon, to let him take away her sorrow.  She wanted him to make her whole again, to fix her broken heart.

And for a moment, it worked.  For a moment, as his hands explored her body and his mouth devoured hers, she forgot all of it.  Viserion, Drogon, the Night King.  But it was a momentary lapse, gone nearly as quickly as it had begun.  And soon, her mind was once again fraught with nothing but sorrow and dread, and her soul ached anew.

Jon broke the kiss, leaving just enough space between them to catch his breath.  “Let me love you,” he said.  “Let me take away your pain, at least for a little while.”

“We can’t,” Daenerys replied, the words barely a whisper.  “We can’t be seen like this.  We both know it.  Our time has passed.  If we survive the morrow, perhaps we will love each other again someday, but not tonight.  Not with an army of men just outside the door.”

They were difficult words for her to say, but they were true.  Daenerys summoned up all her strength and untangled herself from Jon’s arms.  She stood, knowing if she sat back beside him on the bed, her resolve would waiver and she’d succumb to his advances.  She took a step back, giving Jon room to stand.  It took him a moment, but finally, he rose from the bed, staring down at her, his soft brown eyes full of regret.

“I will be in the next tent if you need me,” Jon said.  “Do not hesitate to send for me if you change your mind.”  He lifted up a hand and gently caressed her cheek.  “I love you, Daenerys Stormborn.  I love you more with every day that passes.  Whatever our future holds, never forget that.”  Then, he kissed her once more, gently this time.  It was a kiss of parting.  A kiss of goodbye. 

Daenerys nearly sobbed when he pulled away, but she somehow managed to hold herself in check.  Jon took one last look at her before turning away and leaving the tent.  Once he was gone, Daenerys stood in the deafening silence, staring after him, wondering if she had just made a terrible mistake.  Because, although she was a queen, she was also a woman, and she had spent far too much of her life denying her woman’s heart.  She wished she could go to him, but she knew she couldn’t.  She couldn’t go to Drogon either.  She had no choice but to spend the long hours ahead alone in her tent, pretending that she was completely unmoved by all she had suffered.  Even while she was quietly dying inside.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-six

An hour before daybreak, Jaime stood outside Cersei’s tent, staring at the dying dragon lying prone in the snow on the other side of the open field where they had camped.  If Daenerys Targaryen was to be believed, she had killed one dragon the night before, but at the expense of another.  A cluster of maesters had been gathered around the beast for hours, trying to keep it alive, but as dawn grew near, the monster seemed resigned to its fate.  Jaime was certain it was only a matter of time before the beast drew its last breath.

The tent flap opened, and Cersei suddenly appeared behind him.  “Waiting for it to die?” she asked.

“I can’t say that I’m particularly looking forward to it, no, but it is going to happen.  Unless these northerners possess some kind of magic that we don’t.”

Cersei slid her hands up Jaime’s back, and his entire body tingled.  “It’s still an hour before dawn,” she said.  “Come back to bed.”

It took great effort, but Jaime managed to pull himself away.  “We meet the enemy today.  I have to prepare for battle.”

“The enemy is already here.  Look around us.  Starks and Targaryens, smallfolk and wildlings.  You are as prepared as you are ever going to be.”

Jaime turned around so that he could look at his sister.  She was wearing a crimson dressing gown and nothing else.  He knew if he gave into her, he could spend the next hour losing himself in the pleasures of her body, but he couldn’t allow himself that luxury.  They had already made love twice that night, and now, it was time to go to war.

“I can’t,” he said simply.

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Can’t.  I have an army to command, at least what’s left of one, anyway.  They all know I’ve spent the night fucking their queen.  They’re not going to be happy if I don’t show up until the moment they start marching into battle.  I owe them something more than that.  I must rally them before we set off.  I must show them that I am willing to fight and die by their side.”

“Are you?” Cersei asked, raising a brow in question.

“Of course, I am.  Every great commander should be.” 

“Should be, yes.  In an ideal world.  But things are not always as they should be.  Are you really prepared to die with them?”

“I am.”

Cersei stared at him for a moment, and he could see genuine emotion behind her cold eyes.  Finally, she said, “Well, you may be ready to die with them, but I’m not ready to let you go.”

“You don’t have a choice.  None of us have a choice.”

“Of course, we do.  Hang back.  Command from behind.  Let the rabble be fodder for the army of the dead.  Save yourself while you can.”

“You obviously don’t understand what it means to command a legion of men and expect them to be loyal.”

“Oh, I do.  But I inspire loyalty through fear.  Only fools try to inspire it by endearing themselves to the masses.  And you are no fool, Jaime.  So don’t die a fool’s death.”

“We are all fools.  Every last one of us.  And we always have been.”

Jaime looked out over the crowd of tents around them.  Although dawn had not yet broken, the men had already begun to stir.  It was an amazing sight to see, really.  Lannisters, Starks, Unsullied, Dothraki, even the Golden Company, all gathered on the same field preparing to fight on the same side.  Had their prospects been any less grim, Jaime might have actually taken pride in what they had managed to accomplish here.  For a brief moment in time, Westeros was at peace with itself, fighting an outside enemy instead of battling yet another civil war.  Unfortunately, he knew it couldn’t last for long.  Either the Night King would kill them all, or they would kill the Night King and the infighting would begin anew.

“You may be a fool,” Cersei said, “but I am not.  You are all I have left, Jaime.  If you die, I will be alone in this world.”

His eyes darted to hers, and he looked at her with suspicion.  “Except for the babe, of course.”

“If it lives.”

“And why wouldn’t it live?”  Jaime’s suspicions about Cersei’s pregnancy were bubbling to the surface again.  He wondered if she was about to make a misstep and unintentionally reveal the truth.  Although, if experience had taught him anything, it was that Cersei never did anything unintentionally.

“Do you remember the prophecy I told you about?” Cersei asked.  “From when I was a little girl?”

Jaime shook his head.  “I remember, but I don’t want to talk about it.”  Cersei had told him about the prophecy just after Myrcella’s death, and the pain of that loss suddenly came rushing back to him.  He didn’t want to think about any of it ever again.

“We have to talk about it,” Cersei said.

“Why?  You told me she prophesied that all three of our children would die, and they did.  We need not speak any more about it.”

“She prophesied that I would have three children.  Just three.”  Cersei’s hands moved to her stomach, and she looked down at the unborn child she claimed was growing inside her.  “That means this one will never be born.”

Jaime stared at Cersei.  The pain in her eyes was real.  The pain and the fear.  Either she was with child, or she believed she was with child.  Whichever it was, she was frightened that she would never give birth.

“You don’t know that,” Jaime reasoned.

A bitter sound escaped her throat, half laugh, half sob.  “I do,” she said, looking back up at him, her hands still cradling her belly.  “Everything that witch prophesied has come true.  There’s no reason to doubt that this will too.”

Jaime shook his head again.  This time, he walked toward Cersei and drew her into his arms, not giving a damn who saw them together.  He held her tight, whispering softly in her ear, “That witch is long dead now.  And that prophecy was nothing more than a few artfully chosen words.  And words can’t hurt you.  You must believe that we make our own destiny.  The gods, fate, whatever you want to call it, it’s all horseshit.  It’s just us and what we decide.  If you want that baby to live, it will live.  You just have to make it so.”

By the time Jaime finished, Cersei was trembling in his arms.  He knew she wouldn’t want anyone else to see her weakness, so he drew her into the tent, closing the flap behind them and shielding her from the men outside.

Cersei began to weep, and Jaime felt utterly helpless.  For so long he had doubted her sincerity, but now, he could doubt no longer.  She was in pain, and there was no denying it.

Jaime leaned back and looked down into her tearstained face.  He swiped away the moisture with his thumbs, wishing he could ease her suffering.  “Now, there’s no need for that.  Everything’s going to be fine.”

“No, it isn’t.”  Cersei pulled away then, inhaling a fortifying breath and squaring her shoulders, clearly determined to regain control.  In an instant, she was herself again, cold and implacable and no longer in need of anyone’s comfort.  “Everything that witch prophesied has come true so far, except for one thing.  One thing remains.  And it will be the end of me.”

Jaime’s eyes narrowed as he struggled to make sense of Cersei’s words.  He tried to reason with her.  “If you believe what that witch said is true, that still doesn’t preclude this child from living.  She told you that you would have three children and that gold would be their shrouds.  But maybe you won’t have to bury this fourth child.  Maybe this one will live.”

She shook her head, her eyes as cold as they had ever been.  “No.  I am certain the babe will never be born.  But that isn’t the worst of it.  That wretched hag told me one more thing, and I have no doubt that it will come to pass, just as her other prophecies did.”

“And what was that?” Jaime asked, afraid he didn’t want to know.  He had never been superstitious, but the certainty in Cersei’s voice was too real to ignore. 

“I will never forget her words.  She said, ‘And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.’”

Jaime stared at her for a moment, stunned by her words.  He had never heard this part of the prophecy before, and it made his blood run cold.  He did his best to make sense of it.  “Valonqar?  That’s—”

“High Valyrian for ‘little brother,’ yes.”

Jaime laughed.  He couldn’t help himself.  “You don’t really believe that Tyrion is going to—”

“I have always believed that Tyrion was going to end my life, that’s why I wanted to see him dead first.  But he isn’t dead.  He still lives, vermin that he is.  And he will be the death of me.  I’m sure of it.”

Jaime shook his head.  He wanted to tell her she was talking nonsense, but he knew he couldn’t.  If he tried, she’d fly into a blind rage, and that was the last thing either of them needed at that moment.  Instead, he said, “You know that I will protect you with my life.  I love my brother, but I love you more.  I always have.  I will guard you against him with my dying breath.”

Now, Cersei laughed.  “Yes, you’ll use that Valyrian Steel sword of yours against his silver tongue.”

“I mean it, Cersei.  If Tyrion tries to harm you—”

“You’ll kill him, yes.  But only if you catch him in the act.  Not before.”

“Of course, not before.  Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous?  Ridiculous?” she nearly shrieked.  “I am not being ridiculous.  If you loved me, truly loved me, you’d put an end to that little monster before he can put an end to me.  You would sneak back into Winterfell and end him yourself.  But you won’t, will you?  Because you don’t love me quite as much as you say you do.”

Jaime didn’t know how to reply.  He knew that Cersei was mad with grief and fear, that she was angry that she’d been maneuvered into a truce with their enemies.  He knew she hated the fact that he still loved Tyrion, even after Tyrion had murdered their father.  But he couldn’t change any of it.  He couldn’t do what Cersei was asking, no matter how much he loved her, no matter how much he wanted to ease her pain.

“I love you more than I love my own life,” Jaime said.  “The only thing I have ever loved as much as I love you was our children.  And now that they’re gone, you are more important to me than anything.  I want us to survive.  I want Westeros to survive.  I am doing every damned thing I can to make sure that happens.  But I am not going to murder my little brother because some dirty old witch told you he was going to strangle the life out of you.”

Cersei looked away, unwilling to meet his gaze any longer.  He knew she was furious and was trying to keep her temper under control.  “Go then, if that’s how you feel.  Leave me and don’t come back.”

“Cersei,” he whispered softly, reaching out a hand toward her.

She turned her back on him.  “Just go.  We have nothing more to say to each other.”

“I love you,” Jaime said, unable to leave her without confessing his feelings.  He knew there was a chance that he would never see her again, and he couldn’t go without saying those words one last time.

Cersei didn’t reply.  She didn’t react at all.  She simply stood there, waiting for him to leave.

Had things been different between them, Jaime would have reached out and pulled her into his arms, whether she had wanted him to or not.  He would have kissed her senseless until she relented, until she grudgingly admitted that she loved him too.  But he couldn’t reach out for her again.  Everything had changed, and he knew, no matter what he said or did at that moment, he didn’t have the power to sway Cersei to his side.  The only thing she wanted was his word that he would kill Tyrion, and he just couldn’t give her that.  They were at an impasse, and there was nothing more to say.

Despite the turmoil raging in his soul, Jaime stayed silent.  He took one last lingering look at Cersei, memorizing every line of her face.  When he could no longer bear the heaviness in his heart, he turned away, exiting the tent, and leaving Cersei behind for what he knew might be the very last time.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-seven

The dawn broke hazy and grey beneath a cloudy winter sky.  Tyrion could see the diffused sunlight through the one unshuttered window in Sansa’s chamber, and he silently cursed it.  Morning had come, and with it came an end to the glorious dream they had shared the night before.  Although Sansa had yet to wake, he knew that once she did, she would regret everything that had passed between them.  The dawn had a way of making people see things more clearly, just as the night had a way of obscuring their vision. 

Tyrion’s stomach twisted in knots as he lay beside Sansa, waiting for her to wake and put an end to the spell they’d both been under.  He was tempted to leave, to sneak out of bed and return to the Guest House before she awoke, to spare her the humiliation of waking up beside him.  But every time he looked at her, his resolve wavered.  She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and he had no desire to leave her, not now, not ever.

Sansa lay flat on her stomach, her head turned toward Tyrion on her pillow.  Her fiery hair streamed down her back like a river of fire, and his fingers ached to touch it.  The night before, his hands had been all over her body, in her hair, on her skin, between her legs.  Tyrion had never imagined that he would ever make love to a woman like Sansa Stark.  Although he had bedded more than his fair share of women, his previous encounters had all been with whores and tavern wenches.  He had never shared a bed with a highborn lady before, and the experience had been markedly different.  There was a tenderness about Sansa, a softness, a coyness, that couldn’t be found in any brothel.  His biggest regret was that he hadn’t taken her to bed all those years ago back in King’s Landing.  Perhaps, if he had, he would have saved her an immeasurable amount of suffering at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.

Sansa suddenly began to stir, and Tyrion held his breath, hoping if he stayed perfectly still and silent, she might sleep for a bit longer.  He knew the spell was about to be broken, and he would have gladly cut off his right hand to prolong it just a little bit longer.  But it wasn’t meant to be. 

Sansa yawned, covering her mouth with the back of her hand.  She blinked her eyes open, slowly orienting herself to her surroundings.  It took a moment, but her gaze finally fixed on Tyrion, and they stared at each other silently across the small space between them.

Tyrion was terrified of what would happen next.  His greatest fear was that Sansa would accuse him of taking advantage of her and throw him out of the room before he had a chance to speak on his own behalf.  The last thing in the world he wanted was for Sansa to hate him, and he feared that after what had happened between them the night before, she would never think well of him again.

A soft blush crept into Sansa’s cheeks, and she clutched the furs tightly to her chest as if just realizing she was naked.  She didn’t speak, and Tyrion didn’t know what to do or say to break the tension between them.  Although he was notoriously good with words, he had never been in a situation like this before, and he feared anything he said would make things worse.

But the silence between them was deafening, and he knew he had no choice but to put his poor, sweet Sansa out of her misery.  He said the only thing he could think to say, “Good morning, my lady.”

“Good morning,” she replied, her tone tentative, wary. 

Sansa seemed as uncertain as he was, and Tyrion was surprisingly grateful.  At least she wasn’t so angry that she was throwing him out of her chamber.  At least, not yet.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked, feeling like a fool the instant the words were out of his mouth. 

“Yes, thank you.”

“And how are you this morning?”  Tyrion held his breath again, waiting for her reply, knowing this was the moment it could all fall apart.  He had wanted to wake her with clever banter, with sweet, romantic nothings.  Instead, the first words out of his mouth had been nothing more than simple morning platitudes, questions he might ask of any one of his friends or family.  If he’d had any chance of charming her before the sleep cleared from her brain, he had most assuredly squandered that chance with mindless prattle.

Sansa took a moment to collect her thoughts.  Finally, she said, “Surprisingly well.”

Tyrion exhaled a relieved sigh.  He hoped Sansa hadn’t heard.  He had certainly not expected such an answer, but he was grateful for it.  “Does your head hurt from last night . . . from the wine, I mean?” he asked, blathering like an idiot, his nerves still getting the best of him.

“It wasn’t that much wine,” she said with a coy smile.

“It was enough,” Tyrion answered, allowing himself to smile back at her, but not too broadly.  He was still uncertain of her feelings, and he didn’t want to say or do anything that might scare her away.

“No, my head is not what hurts this morning.  There are other parts of me that ache, but my head is not one of them.”

“Lady Sansa!” Tyrion exclaimed.  He was surprised to hear her speak so brazenly.  It wasn’t like her.  He couldn’t help but wonder if she had completely lost her mind.

Sansa’s smile broadened.  “Have I shocked you, my lord?”

“You have, my lady.  And it is a tremendous feat at that.  I cannot remember the last time anything shocked me.  I’ve seen too much of the world to ever be shocked by anything in it.  But I think you may have just done the impossible.”

“And what if I were to shock you again?”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed on her curiously.  He wasn’t used to Sansa playing the coquette, and he was intrigued by it.  She had been raised to be the perfect picture of womanhood, and it was a true pleasure to finally witness her putting her feminine wiles to good use.  After all, the tragedies of the past eight years had hardened her considerably.  It was nice to know that there was still some tenderness lurking beneath her prickly exterior.  It gave Tyrion hope.

“I think, Sansa Stark, that if there is any woman in this world who could surprise me, it’s you.”

Sansa let go of the furs.  She moved closer to Tyrion, so close that he could feel the heat rising off her naked body.  Without a word, she put her hand on his cheek and drew him close so she could kiss him.

Sansa’s lips were soft against his own.  They were sweet and warm and tasted like wine, even though the wine had been gone for hours.  Tyrion was stunned that she had taken the initiative and kissed him.  The night before, he had been the one to lead the way.  He had made love to her several times, but each time, he had been the one to reach for her, not the other way around.  Now, holding her in the unforgiving light of day, knowing that she still wanted him, his heart leapt for joy, and it took every last ounce of his resolve not to confess his undying love for her right then and there.

Sansa urged Tyrion to lie back, and he could do nothing but obey.  He lay flat against the mattress, staring up at her as she straddled his hips.  Without a word, she leaned forward, kissing him with urgent need.

Tyrion’s cock was instantly hard.  He threaded his fingers into her hair and pulled her closer, delving his tongue into her mouth.  He had never expected Sansa to try to seduce him.  He’d thought the morning would end with a few awkward words and Sansa soundly dismissing him.  He had never expected her to kiss him or to mount him as if she was taking command of her favorite stallion.

It wasn’t long before Sansa relinquished his mouth, trailing kisses down his neck and across his chest.  Tyrion stared at her in wonderment, entranced by the sight of her lips caressing his flesh.

His entire body was on fire, his skin, his cock.  He ached for her in ways he had never imagined possible.  It wasn’t just his body that was crying out for her, it was his heart as well.  He was so thoroughly besotted that, in that moment, he would have done anything she asked of him.  He wanted her so very desperately.

Sansa moved lower, over his abdomen and dangerously close to his throbbing shaft.  Tyrion held his breath, wondering if she was brave enough to kiss him there.

Sansa stopped.  She raised her eyes to his, and they stared at each other for the longest time.  Then, she lowered her gaze again and placed a single kiss against the tip of his cock. 

Tyrion nearly came.  He gripped the bedsheets tightly to keep from crashing over the edge.  His whole body was tense with anticipation, and he didn’t know how he was going to last much longer.  He held his breath as he waited for her to continue, completely unsure of what she would do next. 

Sansa shifted slightly, changing the angle of her head and placing a chain of soft kisses down one side of his hardened flesh and up the other.  Tyrion wondered if she would take him in her mouth, wondered if she even knew that she could.  After all, highborn ladies were usually not schooled in the art of giving oral pleasure.

Sansa must not have known what she was capable of because, soon, she sat back on her heels, ending her exploration of his body, much to Tyrion’s disappointment.  But that disappointment didn’t last for long. 

Sansa looked up at him, her eyes filled with a hunger he knew she had only recently discovered within herself.  She wanted him as much as he wanted her, and that revelation was startling.  Tyrion stared at her, his eyes transfixed on her face, as she lifted up on her knees, repositioned herself on the bed, and then slowly lowered herself down onto his cock.

Had Tyrion been capable of speech, he would have sworn a blue streak, but as it was, he could barely catch his breath.  The feel of Sansa enveloping him, her flesh warm and wet around him, had completely robbed him of coherent thought. 

As she began to ride him, hungry, animal sounds escaped his throat.  He watched, enraptured, as she closed her eyes and took her pleasure without the slightest hint of shame.  She looked magnificent above him, her small breasts pushed forward, her hips moving in a primal rhythm, her crimson hair cascading about her shoulders in wild disarray.  Tyrion didn’t think he had ever seen anything more beautiful in his entire life.

Sansa took complete control of him, commanding his body with surprising finesse.  Tyrion closed his eyes, trying to stop himself from coming too quickly.  He wanted to last just as long as she did, but the longer he watched her, the more insistent his need became.

With his eyes closed, her beauty blocked from his sight, Tyrion concentrated on holding himself back, but it was little use.  Although he could hide from her beauty, he could not hide from the sounds she was making, nor from the feel of her around him.  He said a silent prayer that he would last long enough to satisfy her.  All he wanted was her happiness.  He would do anything to please her.

Sansa soon quickened the pace, and the sounds she made grew more urgent.  Tyrion knew she was close, and he was desperate to watch her come.  He inhaled a hard breath, shoring himself up before opening his eyes and gazing up at her again.  Her mouth was open, and she was gasping for air.  Suddenly, she cried out his name and came hard around him.

Tyrion instantly found his own release, thankful that he had somehow survived long enough for her to finish first.  He felt warm all over, and his whole body trembled with pleasure.

Sansa leaned over him, resting her weight on her hands and knees as she struggled to catch her breath, her hair hanging loosely around her like a fiery curtain.  Slowly, she raised her eyes to his, and the air caught in Tyrion’s throat.

“Have I shocked you again, my lord?” she asked, her voice little more than a whisper.

Tyrion reached up to gently tuck a stray lock of hair behind her ear.  He couldn’t help but smile.  “You have more than shocked me, my lady.  You have astounded me, for which I shall be eternally grateful.” 

Tyrion leaned forward, trying to reach her for another kiss, and Sansa met him halfway.  The kiss was soft, tender, gentle, and it made Tyrion’s heart ache just a little.  When Sansa finally broke away, Tyrion collapsed back onto his pillow, staring up at her in utter wonderment.

There was so much he wanted to say, but he couldn’t find the words.  He knew now that he did love her.  Perhaps he always had.  Her beauty, her intelligence, her resilience.  She was the bravest person he had ever met, and it seemed that everything about her had been designed to instill admiration in him.  What he felt for her was different than what he had felt for Shae, and even Tysha.  Sansa was his equal in every sense, and yet, he felt completely unworthy of her.  She was perfection personified, and he adored her.

Tyrion opened his mouth to speak again, but he never got the chance.  He was interrupted by an unexpected knock at the door.

Sansa’s eyes widened as reality came crashing back in on them.  In an instant, their lovers’ dream came to an end, and they were once again at Winterfell, awaiting word of the deadly army that was making its way southward.

“Who is it?” Sansa called, her eyes still locked with Tyrion’s.

“Your handmaiden, my lady,” came the voice from the other side of the door.  “There’s been a raven from the battlefield.”

Sansa nearly jumped from the bed.  Before Tyrion could say a single word, her feet were on the floor and she was reaching for a robe.  She shrugged into it, tying the sash around her waist as she crossed the floor.  Tyrion would have scrambled out of bed and hidden himself away somewhere if she’d given him the chance, but before he could even move, she was already at the door.  She pulled it open just wide enough to speak to her maidservant, hiding him from view.

“The message, please,” Sansa said.

Tyrion could not see what was happening in the hallway, but a moment later, Sansa thanked the maid and quickly closed the door again.  When she turned around, her head was bent and she was unfurling the scroll in her hands.

Tyrion sat up, the furs falling to his lap.  He gave Sansa a moment to read the missive before asking, “What does it say?”

“The Wall has fallen,” she replied as she continued to stare down at the paper between her hands.  “It’s certain now.  And the Night King did have command of one of your queen’s dragons.  The ice dragon is dead now, and the one called Drogon is near death.  Our armies will most assuredly meet the White Walkers today.”

Tyrion’s whole body flushed cold.  He had seen the Wall himself.  He had been certain it was the most impenetrable structure in all the known world.  And yet, the Night King had managed to breach it with Viserion’s help.  A pang of sorrow stabbed at Tyrion’s heart for his beloved queen.  She had just watched one of her children die, and she was dangerously close to losing another.  He was glad she had Jon with her for comfort.  He knew she was a strong woman, but even Daenerys Targaryen could be weak when dealing with grief.  No matter how hard she was on the outside, a woman’s heart still beat beneath her breast.

But it wasn’t just news of the Wall or Viserion that troubled Tyrion.  He had known that battle was imminent, but to know that the time was now fixed was frighteningly sobering. 

When Tyrion failed to reply, Sansa finally looked up at him.  They stared at each other across the silent room, the air tense around them.  They both knew the end was near, and there was nothing they could do to stop it from coming.

“I suppose,” Tyrion began, “that we should join the others in the Great Hall to await the outcome of the approaching battle.”

“Yes, we should.”

And even though they both knew they were needed elsewhere, neither one of them moved.  It was a relief to see that Sansa didn’t want to leave him any more than he wanted to leave her.  Even if she saw him as nothing more than a momentary comfort, he was glad that he meant something to her, no matter how small or insignificant.

Tyrion knew they couldn’t stay like that forever, no matter how much they wanted to.  So he silently slipped from beneath the covers and climbed out of bed.  Once his feet were firmly on the floor, he went about retrieving his clothes, all the while conscious of Sansa’s eyes upon him.  She watched his every move, and he was surprised that she found his naked form so fascinating.  He had expected her to look away or, at the very least, busy herself with her own clothing.  But no, she just stood there and stared, not even the slightest blush darkening her cheeks.

When Tyrion had collected the last of his things, he turned to face Sansa again.  “Perhaps you should get dressed.”

“I will, in a moment.”  She continued to stare at him, and he knew she had no intention of turning away.

So Tyrion began to dress himself, with Sansa watching the entire time.  Had he been any less shameless, he himself would have blushed.  He wasn’t used to being scrutinized in such a fashion, and he was more than a little self-conscious.

When he was finally dressed, he looked up at Sansa again.  “Are you satisfied?”

A slight smile quirked her lips.  “Yes, I am,” she replied.  Then, she slowly walked toward him and dropped to her knees.  Without a word, she took his face in her hands and kissed him softly.  When she pulled away, there was a sadness in her eyes that made his heart ache.

“I don’t want to leave this room any more than you do,” Tyrion said.  “But we have no choice.”

“I know that.  But once we leave, we may never have another moment alone together again.”

“No, I don’t think that we will,” he said somberly, the truth hitting him so hard it nearly took his breath away.  “All we can do now is be grateful for what little time the gods have given us and do what needs to be done.  We can’t shirk our duties any longer.  We must go.”

Sansa nodded.  She kissed him one last time, then rose to her feet and turned away. 

Tyrion stood there watching her as she moved about the room readying herself for the day ahead.  She chose a fresh gown, a beautiful grey silk accented with the Stark sigil, and dressed quickly.  She didn’t seem at all fazed by his presence.  In fact, she seemed to take comfort in him being there.  Tyrion suspected she was afraid to be alone.  No doubt she thought she would crumble if left on her own.  The weight of the world was a lot easier to shoulder when shared by two.

As soon as Sansa finished dressing, she ran a brush through her hair, braided a few strands, and secured them at the back of her head.  The rest of her crimson locks were left to cascade over her shoulders, and Tyrion’s fingers itched to run through them.  But the time for intimacy was over, and he resisted the urge to reach for her.

When Sansa was finally done preparing herself for the day ahead, she turned back to Tyrion, and they stared at each other in silence.  There was so much to say, and yet, nothing to say.  He knew what she was thinking, and she knew what he was thinking.  Neither one of them had a choice in what was about to happen.  They both had their duty, and they would fulfill it without question.

“Shall we?” Tyrion said, holding a hand out toward the chamber door. 

“Yes, my lord.”

Tyrion moved across the room, opening the door for her.  Thankfully, the hallway was empty, and there was no one there to see them leaving her bedchamber together.

Tyrion followed after Sansa, pulling the door closed behind him, putting an end to their romantic little dream.  Reality awaited them in the Great Hall, and they had no choice but to return to it.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-eight

The decision had been made to leave Drogon behind while the armies headed north to meet their fate.  It had been Daenerys’ decision, and Jon knew it had not been an easy one for her to make.  Drogon had not been left unattended, of course.  Several maesters and an army of guards had been left behind to protect him, but he had not been permitted to head north with Daenerys and Jon.  If Drogon died on the battlefield, the Night King could easily conscript him into the invading army, and that was a risk they simply couldn’t take.

The rest of the party had set off at first light, moving steadily toward the battle that might end all their lives.  Now, hours later, the sky was a somber grey, heavy with clouds.  It looked like it might snow at any moment, and Jon prayed that it held off a little while longer.  A great number of their soldiers were unaccustomed to northern winters, and he knew they would be at a distinct disadvantage if the snow began to fall.

Daenerys rode beside him, Rhaegal nowhere in sight.  The dragon had been allowed to fly off on his own, ahead of their armies.  Jon hadn’t thought it a good idea, but Daenerys had insisted.  She had said that it would do him good, that he needed to work off some of his frustrations after having seen both his brothers fall the night before.

Jon and Daenerys’ advisors rode on either side of them, Ser Davos to Jon’s left, Ser Jorah to Daenerys’ right.  Farther down the line, Cersei and Jaime Lannister rode side by side, their crimson banners waving luridly behind them.  Jon still didn’t trust either one of them, but he knew their help was needed if the living were to have any hope of claiming victory.  So Jon did his best to ignore the uneasiness in his gut that had been there ever since they’d agreed to accept Cersei’s help for a second time.

Jon and Daenerys’ armies marched for hours, the air growing colder the farther north they traveled.  When the sun finally reached its peak in the cloudy sky, Rhaegal suddenly came screeching through the air above them.  All eyes looked up in alarm as the dragon soared overhead in great, swooping circles, crying out as if in deadly warning.

“He’s seen them,” Daenerys said, her gaze still fixed on the sky.  “He’s seen the White Walkers.  They’re here.”

Jon’s heart leapt in his chest.  He had no way of knowing how close the White Walkers were.  They had sent out scouts on horseback, but Rhaegal could see better and farther than any of them.  Battle was imminent.  Jon could feel it in his bones.  He couldn’t help but remember the horrors of Hardhome and how many men had fallen to the White Walkers in that very first battle.  And then, then there had been the battle beyond the Wall, the battle that had lost them Viserion.  Jon’s blood ran cold in his veins as memory after memory assaulted him.  Many, many men would die today, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.

“Jon.”

He heard Daenerys call his name, and it pulled him away from his memories.  He blinked the cold out of his eyes and turned his head to look at her.

“Have you heard a word I’ve said?” she asked.

Jon shook his head.  “No, I can’t say that I have.”

He thought she might be angry with him for ignoring her, but she didn’t give him any indication that she was.  They were about to head into battle, and Daenerys Targaryen didn’t have time to concern herself with petty slights, for which Jon was grateful. 

“I’ve always ridden Drogon into battle,” she said.  “I have never had cause to ride Rhaegal before, but today, that must change.”

“You don’t mean—”

“I’m going to call him down.  I’m going to ride him ahead of our armies and lay waste to as many of the White Walkers as I can before they can reach our men.”

“You can’t.”

“Of course, I can.  He is my child.  Even though he has never been ridden before, today he must take on a rider.  He has no choice.  None of us do.”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” Jon said, keeping his voice low so that no one would hear them.  “You don’t have Drogon behind you anymore.  If you fly off on your own, what’s to stop the White Walkers from shooting you down?  You’ll have no one to defend you, no one to counter their attacks.  You’ll be asking to be taken out, and we can’t win this war without you.  You know that.”

“No matter how many men we have behind us, we are always going to be outnumbered.  The only way to thin their ranks is for me to go on ahead and do it myself.”

Jon didn’t want to say it, but it had to be said.  “You saw what the Night King did to Viserion.  All it took was a single spear throw.  That’s all.  Do you really think you can swoop in and decimate his army without him noticing, without becoming a target?”

“I’ll concentrate on the front lines.  As soon as the Night King is within view, I’ll turn back.  You have my word.”

Jon stared at her for a long moment, deep into her vibrant eyes.  He wanted to believe her.  He wanted to believe that she could attack the Night King’s army and live to tell the tale.  But even the great Daenerys Targaryen was mortal, and Jon feared she would not return from her mission.

“I don’t doubt your word,” he said.  “What I doubt is our ability to get out of this alive.  We stand a better chance if we stand together.”

“I have to do this on my own.”

“You can’t do this on your own.  If you must do this, then let me go with you.  I’m better with a sword than a bow and arrow, but I could be of some use.”

“No.  Absolutely not.  Someone needs to stay here to lead our armies.”

“Ser Jorah is more than capable of leading.”

“No,” Daenerys replied, the coldness in her tone brooking no debate.  “If both you and I go on ahead, the only sovereign still on the field will be Cersei Lannister, and we cannot give her that advantage.  Knowing her, the instant we disappear from view, she will charge forth and try to convince our men that we’ve abandoned them and that they should follow her.  We cannot leave our armies in her hands.”

Jon knew Daenerys was right.  Although Jorah Mormont was a seasoned fighter, he was no king.  Their armies would start to fall apart if there wasn’t a clear commander to lead them.  Jon would have to stay, he just wished he could convince Daenerys to stay with him.

“There’s no need for you to go,” he said, at a loss for something more compelling to say.

“There’s every need.  Don’t worry, Jon Snow.  I will return to you.  I promise.” 

And then, without giving him a chance to say another word, Daenerys urged her horse into a gallop and quickly outstripped the army behind her. 

“What is she doing?” Ser Davos asked, moving closer to Jon.

“She’s going to be our first line of defense.”

“You can’t be serious.  She’ll get herself killed.”

“I know.”

Jon fought the urge to push his horse harder and race after her.  He knew he had to stay behind to keep their armies together, but every nerve in his body was screaming at him to join her.  If she didn’t return, he would never forgive himself.

Jon’s heart beat in his throat as he watched Daenerys ride away alone.  Once she had put enough distance between herself and the horde of soldiers marching in her direction, she reined in her mount and called to Rhaegal, who quickly descended to the ground.  In an instant, she was off her horse and mounting the dragon.  Rhaegal made no protest.  It was as if he understood the severity of their situation and was willing to do all he could to help his beloved mother.  Together, Daenerys and Rhaegal quickly soared upward, disappearing above the stormy clouds. 

Jon’s eyes lingered on the sky, on the spot in the distance where he had last caught sight of Daenerys.  He knew he might never see her again, and his heart ached with fear and regret.

But no matter how Jon felt, there was an army behind him, thousands of men and women marching northward to do all they could to save Westeros from destruction.  They needed him to stay strong, to lead them into battle without the slightest bit of apprehension.  And so he pulled himself up in his saddle, squared his shoulders, and focused his attention on the snowy expanse of land ahead.  He would lead their armies to victory, or he would die trying.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-nine

Daenerys flew as low and fast as she could, hovering just above the clouds, keeping herself hidden.  Here and there she caught glimpses of the ground below, but there was no sign of White Walkers.  Not yet.  But she knew it wouldn’t be long.  She could feel a heaviness in the air around her as if the army of the dead was affecting the atmosphere itself.  It was only a matter of time before she’d descend below the clouds and begin raining fire upon her enemies.

Daenerys knew there was a chance she wouldn’t survive.  Of course, when she had given Jon her word that she would turn back the moment she saw the Night King, she had meant it.  But just because she could outrun the Night King, did not mean that she could evade his army as well.  She knew there would be archers among the horde, just as there had been the night before.  Although she doubted the ability of the reanimated corpses to successfully take up arms against her, she had no doubt that the White Walkers themselves could bring Rhaegal to the ground.  And so she would have to be swift and agile and do as much damage as possible as quickly as she could.

The muscles in Rhaegal’s back suddenly tensed, and Daenerys was instantly on alert.  Although there was nothing below them yet, the dragon could sense death marching toward them, and Daenerys knew she would soon meet the enemy.

Daenerys hunkered down low, getting ready to dive toward the ground as soon as the enemy was within range.  She held her breath, her heart beating faster, as they sped through the frigid air. 

Rhaegal’s neck tensed, and Daenerys knew he was getting ready to vocalize his displeasure.  Before he could utter a single shriek, she patted his neck reassuringly, doing her best to keep him calm and silent.  “We can do this,” she whispered, “but I need you to stay quiet for now.  We need to maintain the element of surprise.”

Daenerys knew he couldn’t understand her words, but she was certain he understood the tone of her voice.  Rhaegal shook his head as if trying to shake off the urge to cry out.  Daenerys heaved a sigh of relief, patting him one more time in silent gratitude.

It was the sound of snow crunching beneath the feet of thousands of dead that first caught Daenerys’ attention.  It was a dull, ominous roar that reached her even up above the clouds.  Daenerys leaned over Rhaegal’s side so that she could peer at the earth below.  In the distance, she saw the army of the dead marching southward, their ranks so dense that they looked like a dirty river flowing through the snowy landscape.  Her stomach sank at the sight, but she held her resolve.  She would put an end to as many of them as she could, no matter how futile the effort.

Daenerys urged Rhaegal downward, swooping through the veil of clouds until she was once again below them.  She drove him forward, heading straight for the approaching army. 

Although the Night King’s forces moved slowly, Daenerys sped through the air, reaching them in mere moments.  Once she was within range, she dipped lower and called out to Rhaegal, “Dracarys!”

A stream of dragonfire tore from Rhaegal’s throat, lighting up the dim sky and scourging the land below.  Dozens of wights ignited, their corpses instantly turning to ash.

Daenerys swerved to the left, flying directly in the path of the encroaching horde.  Rhaegal rained another deluge of fire upon them, taking out their entire front line. 

When Daenerys turned Rhaegal around, she saw the wights splitting ranks, moving to either side of the wall of dragonfire that had just consumed their brothers-in-arms.  A few strays caught fire here and there, but the majority of the undead managed to avoid the flames and march onward.

Daenerys rushed forward, once again commanding Rhaegal to strike with his dragonfire.  On the ground below, the river of the dead burned even brighter, the air filled with the acrid scent of burning corpses.  The stench should have disgusted Daenerys, but it didn’t.  Instead, it made her feel powerful.  It was her dragonfire, her dragon blood, that had rained death and terror down upon the enemy, and she was proud of what she had accomplished.

Suddenly, a small flash of light caught Daenerys’ attention.  In an instant, she realized it was the sun glinting off the tip of an arrow.  She swerved just in time to avoid being struck, but another arrow followed, and then another.  Soon, the air was full of them, and Daenerys had to retreat, lest she lose her last dragon to the Night King’s archers.

Daenerys pulled back nearly half a mile.  She flew Rhaegal in slow, swooping circles as she examined the enemy from afar and planned her next attack.  In a few short minutes, she had managed to destroy more than a hundred wights, but it had barely made a difference.  She could still see the river of death rolling towards her, just as powerful as ever.  She prayed to the gods to give her some guidance, but none came.

Daenerys knew she had lost the element of surprise and her next attack would not be as easy to execute.  She searched the army before her, trying to find an opening free of archers.  But her attack had alerted the White Walkers to her presence, and now, all their archers and spear throwers were on high alert.  The only way she could strike again was if she attacked farther up the line.

Without allowing herself time to overthink, Daenerys raced Rhaegal up into the clouds again, hoping that word of her arrival had not yet spread through the ranks.  She kept herself hidden until she was certain she had cleared enough distance.  Then, she dove for the ground, Rhaegal spewing a steady stream of fire at anything that moved. 

For a moment, Daenerys felt a wave of relief.  She was certain their approach had not been detected.  But that relief was short-lived, as an arrow suddenly whizzed past her ear, nearly hitting its mark.

Daenerys banked to the right, staying below the clouds, refusing to retreat until she had done more damage.  Behind her, she heard a volley of arrows rushing through the air.  She held her breath, her mind whirling as she calculated just how quickly the arrows could reach her and how much time she had before she was forced to make her escape. 

Below her, the Night King’s army marched onward, just as powerful as it had been when she’d started her attack.  No matter how many wights she killed, there would always be more, an endless stream of reanimated corpses hellbent on destroying the living. 

Daenerys wanted to save every last man and woman who had agreed to march into battle with her, but she knew she could not save them all.  Looking down at the army of the dead beneath her, she finally realized that she was risking too much and that she couldn’t risk anything more.

With deep regret, Daenerys finally pulled Rhaegal upward, escaping the storm of arrows just before they met their mark.  She hovered below the clouds, beyond the reach of the archers, and sped northward.  Before she retreated, she needed to see just how massive the Night King’s army was.  She needed to bring something of value back to Jon as he marched their men toward certain death.  The least she could do was scout the army of the dead and determine how large it had grown since the last time they had faced it.

The wind was bitterly cold against her face, but she barely felt its sting.  Every nerve in her body was focused on scouting the ground below her, trying to absorb as much information as she could about the enemy.  Their ranks seemed to go on forever, miles and miles of corpses marching mindlessly to war.  The sheer number of wights wasn’t what troubled her, however.  It was the number of White Walkers still making their way southward on their long-dead horses.  Daenerys knew they were more skilled and more cunning than the wights they commanded, and the sight of them chilled her to the very bone.

Just when Daenerys was certain that the sea of death would go on forever, she finally caught sight of the Night King astride his own steed, urging his army onward without a single word.  He was staring right at her, his ice-blue eyes cutting through to her very soul. 

Daenerys shivered.  For a moment, a wave of fear coursed through her entire body.  She knew she needed to pull back, knew she needed to retreat, but she couldn’t move.  She just stared into the piercing eyes of the enemy, unable to do a single thing to save herself.

Slowly, the Night King raised the spear in his hand and took aim.  But before he could release his weapon, Rhaegal banked right again, swiftly flying out of range without Daenerys uttering a single word of command.

As they flew through the air at breakneck speed, Daenerys’ blood pounded in her veins.  Even though they had left the Night King behind, she could still see his haunting blue eyes staring back at her, looking through her.  He was determined to see her dead even if he had to lose every last soldier in his army. 

Daenerys gasped for breath as Rhaegal raced upward, finally breaking through the clouds and shielding them from the enemy below.  She collapsed against his neck, hot tears stinging her eyes as she stared listlessly at the clouds passing beneath them.  The invading army had grown even stronger, and neither she nor Jon possessed the power to stop it.  The Night King was coming for them, and he would not rest until every last man, woman, and child in Westeros was dead.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty

Sansa sat at the head table in the Great Hall, watching Tyrion pace nervously a few feet away.  The hall was crowded, but Tyrion had somehow managed to find a few square feet of space in which to work out his frustrations.  Sansa couldn’t help but stare at him.  The day before, he’d been a different man to her.  But now, she saw him with fresh eyes.  She had never imagined there might come a time when she wanted Tyrion Lannister, but want him, she did.  He had amazed her the night before, shown her things she’d never dreamed possible.  And now, when she looked at him, her heart fluttered and her body ached with want.  It was the most curious thing.

Sansa remembered when she had first been told she was to marry Tyrion Lannister.  She had run to Margaery Tyrell in tears, hating herself for ever having come to King’s Landing in the first place.  And what had Margaery done?  Rather than confirm Sansa’s worst fears, she had championed Tyrion’s cause.  She had praised him, called him handsome.  At the time, Sansa had been unable to see it.  But now, she saw things quite differently.  Tyrion Lannister was a very handsome man, even if he was a foot shorter than everyone else in the room.

Tyrion glanced her way without missing a step.  For the first time in hours, she saw him smile.  It was a small, secret smile, meant only for her, and it made the blood thrum in her veins. 

Sansa offered Tyrion a quick smile in return before turning away.  She feared if they stared at each other too long, someone might realize what they had done the night before, and that was a secret best kept between themselves.

Sansa turned her attention to Samwell Tarly and his lady, Gilly, who were sitting beside her at the end of the long table.  Lord Varys had deserted them hours ago, slipping from the room before anyone had noticed he was gone.  Now, Sam sat with his head bent over a book and was prattling on about something or other, while Gilly sat beside him, bouncing her little boy on her knee.  Sansa saw them but didn’t see them.  Even though she was no longer looking at Tyrion, every nerve in her body was transfixed on him.  She could feel him, even from across the room, and it took all her resolve not to turn around and watch him again.

Instead, she forced herself to concentrate on what Sam was saying, even though she had very little interest in whatever it was he had found in his history book. 

“The whole history of the Seven Kingdoms is in here,” he said, turning another page in the large, yellowed tome before him.  “And yet, the maesters of Oldtown just let it sit on a shelf for decades, never bothering to touch it.  The whole lot of them would rather spend their days hearing themselves talk than doing any actual good for the world.  I should be happy if I never saw that place again.”

Gilly replied, “Maybe you can stay here and be maester of Winterfell.”

Sam looked up at her.  “Winterfell already has a new maester, Maester Wolkan.  No, when this is all over, Jon will be king of all of Westeros, and I will go wherever he thinks I am most needed.”

Sansa prayed that Sam was right, that they would all survive the war and Jon would become king.  He would make an admirable ruler and bring peace to the land.  Sansa had no doubt about that.

“In that case,” Gilly said, “I hope he sends you somewhere warm.  I’d like little Sam to see sunshine sometime before his tenth name day, and who knows how long this winter will last, even if we do all survive.”

“Oh, some of us will survive, I’m sure,” Sam replied.  “I believe in Jon.  Jon will save us.  I know he will.”

Sam went back to his book, and Sansa just sat there, staring at him blindly.  She wished she had his confidence, but now, she was more certain than ever that the world was at its end.  It was only a matter of time before the Night King arrived at the gates of Winterfell and the Long Night began.

“You know what I’ve been wondering?” Sam said to no one in particular as he suddenly looked up from his book again. “I’ve been wondering how the High Septon who annulled Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell’s marriage managed to keep it a secret for so long.  Annulments usually require all sorts of decrees and documents.  You would think there would have been some evidence besides just a few notes in a private diary.”

Sam’s words finally pulled Sansa out of her stupor.  “He was annulling the marriage of a king,” she said absently.  “I’m sure he would have done anything he had to do to keep it secret if his king commanded it.”

Sam looked at her again.  There was a softness in his eyes that Sansa found endearing.  She understood why Sam was Jon’s best friend.  He was a good and learned man.  He would make a wonderful maester someday.

“True,” Sam replied, “but even kings can’t hide everything.  I mean, under ordinary circumstances, an annulment in the Faith of the Seven takes months to procure.  There are hearings and sworn statements and sometimes even examinations by a septon.  It’s not an easy process.  I just wonder how they managed it, that’s all.”

“Tyrion and I managed it,” Sansa said, finding Sam’s reasoning a bit peculiar.  “He abandoned me, and our marriage was annulled.”

“Was it?”

Sansa stared at Sam for a moment.  He was looking at her as if he knew something she didn’t.  “Of course, it was.  How else could I have married Ramsay Bolton?”

“Well,” Sam said with an uncertain shrug, “you married Ramsay Bolton in the north, under the laws of the old gods.  But you married Lord Tyrion in the south, under the laws of the new gods.”

“But my first marriage was annulled before my second marriage, so it doesn’t matter either way.  Petyr—  Lord Baelish,” she corrected, “assured me that he had found a septon who could annul the marriage before I wed Ramsay Bolton.”

“But marriages in the Faith of the Seven can only be annulled by the High Septon or a Council of Faith,” Sam said.  “And even then, it is a difficult process.  Was your marriage annulled by the High Septon or a Council of Faith?”

Sansa didn’t want to reply.  She feared what Sam would say if she answered him honestly.

“Well?” he prompted when she remained silent.

“No, it was not,” Sansa said, forcing herself to speak.

“In that case, since you never followed the laws of the new gods to absolve your first marriage, I think that means you’re still married to Tyrion Lannister.”

Sansa stared at Sam as if she hadn’t comprehended a single word he’d said.  But she had, of course.  She simply refused to believe that any of it was true. 

It took Sansa a moment to reply.  When she did, all she could manage to say was, “You . . . you can’t mean that.”

Sam’s cheeks flushed red under her scrutiny.  He looked flustered, but he somehow managed to hold her gaze.  “Well, I mean, that’s the way it looks.  I mean, if everything I know about the Faith of the Seven is true.  And I know a great deal about it.  The Faith of the Seven, that is.”

Sansa’s heart thudded against her ribs as the truth of Sam’s words finally took hold of her.  If what Sam had said was true, she was still married to Tyrion.  Married.  To Tyrion.  Sansa’s eyes lost their focus, and she stared at Sam without seeing him.

Littlefinger had assured her that all that was needed to annul her marriage to Tyrion was a willing septon.  She’d had no idea that the process was more complicated than that.  She had been such a little fool, even then.  She knew now, of course, that every single thing Littlefinger had ever done had been for his own benefit, but at the time, she had still been following him blindly.  When they had returned to Winterfell, he had wanted her to be free of Tyrion so he could sell her to Ramsay Bolton, and so he had convinced her that she was free, when nothing could have been further from the truth. 

“You . . . you needn’t worry,” Sam said when Sansa didn’t reply.  “Once this war is over, if we all survive, I’m sure you can find a septon who will guide you through the appropriate channels to ensure that the union is annulled properly.  After all, it’s common knowledge that your marriage to Lord Tyrion was never consummated, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Sansa blinked, finally refocusing her gaze on Sam.  He was looking up at her as if he expected his words to give her comfort, but they didn’t.  Her marriage had been consummated, just the night before.  More than once.  But Sam had no way of knowing it.

“Are . . . are you all right, Lady Sansa?” he asked, his eyes narrowed with genuine concern.

Sansa knew she couldn’t tell Samwell Tarly what was really troubling her.  She racked her brain, desperately searching for something convincing to say.  Finally, she replied, “It’s just, if what you say is true, that means that I was never truly Lord Bolton’s wife, and I no longer have a claim to the Dreadfort.”

Sam laughed nervously.  “Better to be in line to be the Lady of Casterly Rock than to be the Lady of the Dreadfort, don’t you think?  Besides, I’m sure the people of the north won’t see it that way.  From all I’ve heard, none of them held Lord Bolton in high regard.  And since he betrayed the Starks, as a Stark, you still have a right to claim all his holdings, so really, you lose nothing.”

Sansa didn’t care one wit about the Dreadfort.  What worried her was the knowledge that not only were she and Tyrion still married, but that because she had invited him into her bed the night before, they had no choice but to stay that way.  Sansa wondered what Tyrion would think when he discovered the truth.  She knew she couldn’t keep it from him for long, and she feared how he would react.

Had Sansa learned this information even twenty-four hours earlier, things would have been very different.  She and Tyrion would have been able to get a proper annulment and would have gone their separate ways once and for all.  But the news had come too late, and now, Sansa had to face the fact that, for better or for worse, Tyrion Lannister was her husband. 

Although, truth be told, the idea no longer filled Sansa with dread.  Instead, it made her feel almost hopeful, as if she finally had something to look forward to.  She was just afraid of what Tyrion would think when he finally learned the truth.

“Of course,” Sam said when Sansa didn’t reply, “there’s no reason this needs to be public knowledge.  If no one else has questioned it, I doubt anyone ever will.  When all of this is over, you and Lord Tyrion can have your marriage discreetly annulled.  After all, if it worked for Rhaegar Targaryen, I’m sure there’s a way it will work for you and Lord Tyrion.”

“You’re sure there’s a way what will work for Lady Sansa and Lord Tyrion?” Tyrion asked as he moved up behind Sansa, climbing onto the empty chair beside her.

Sansa’s heart caught in her throat.  She didn’t dare turn to look at Tyrion.  She was afraid he would see the panic in her eyes. 

“Well,” Sam began, “I was just telling Lady Sansa—”

“That should both Jon and Daenerys fall, we will find a way to protect Winterfell on our own,” she said in a mad rush, desperate to stop Sam from revealing the truth.  She finally turned to look at Tyrion.  His gaze was skeptical, and she was certain she hadn’t convinced him of anything.

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I’m sure we will, but what does that have to do with Rhaegar Targaryen?”

Sansa was at a loss for words.  She knew she should try to make up some lie about the tactics Rhaegar Targaryen had used in battle to defeat his foes, but she knew very little about Prince Rhaegar’s military achievements.  No, she didn’t have enough knowledge to concoct a convincing lie, at least, not one that would fool Tyrion Lannister. 

Sansa glanced at Sam, desperate for aid, but he had his head bent over his book, refusing to meet her gaze.

“Well?” Tyrion prompted when no one replied.  “Isn’t anyone going to tell me?”

Sansa knew she couldn’t keep the truth from him forever, but she didn’t want him to hear it right there in the Great Hall in front of everyone.  She needed time to think.  She needed to tell him in her own way. 

Sansa pushed her chair from the table and stood.  Without daring a glance down at Tyrion, she said, “I would like a private word with you, my lord, if you can spare a moment.”

“Of course, my lady.”

“Then, please, follow me.” 

Sansa turned around and led Tyrion through the doorway behind her.  She knew that, under the circumstances, she should not be abandoning her people at that moment, but this was a conversation she could not have with Tyrion in public.  She didn’t want to take him back to her own bedchamber either, but she knew it was the only place in the entire keep where they would be guaranteed absolute privacy.  And so she walked stalwartly toward her chamber, her head held high, her heart fluttering with dread, as she prepared herself to reveal the truth to her husband.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-one

They met the White Walkers just as Daenerys reappeared in the sky.  Jon only had enough time to meet her gaze, to see for himself that she was still alive, before the fighting began.  He was relieved she had returned to him.  She had been gone for so long that he had begun to despair of ever seeing her again.  But now that he knew she was safe, he could march into battle without regret.  Whether he lived or died, he had gotten to see his beloved Daenerys one last time, and that was all that mattered.

Jon had fought the dead before, far too many times for his liking.  From the brother of the Night’s Watch who had attacked Commander Mormont in his chamber at Castle Black to the horde of monsters who had swarmed them north of the Wall, Jon knew more than any mortal man should know about fighting the dead, and yet, he didn’t feel the least bit prepared.  The sea of evil slowly rolling toward them was unlike anything Westeros had seen in thousands of years.  The most seasoned warriors could not have adequately prepared themselves for its onslaught.

Jon led the charge into battle, determined to fight just as fiercely as the men following him.  A primal war cry tore from his throat as he spurred his horse forward and rode headlong into the fray.  His men cheered behind him, the sound only diminished by the overwhelming clamor of hoofbeats racing into battle.

Jon drew Longclaw from its scabbard, gripping it firmly in his sword hand.  A dragonglass dagger was sheathed at his side, ready to be drawn the moment it was needed.  He was prepared for anything that came at him.  He was determined to destroy as many enemies as he could before he was forced to forfeit his own life.

The front line of the approaching army was nothing more than mindless wights, spitting and grasping and shrieking into the frigid afternoon air.  Jon sliced two in half with one stroke of his sword, their bodies disintegrating the moment he made contact with his Valyrian Steel blade.

Jon lifted his eyes, keeping his gaze focused on the attackers beyond the front line.  He had a White Walker directly in his sights, a tall, proud warrior with white skin and blue eyes, sitting atop the remains of a once admirable steed.  Jon knew if he killed the White Walker, dozens of wights would fall at his feet, and that’s exactly what he wanted.  He wanted to do as much damage as possible as efficiently as he could.

Jon raced forward, swinging Longclaw in a wide arc as he rode, taking out the surrounding rabble with practiced ease.  All around him, the battle raged on, men screaming, wights dying.  Overhead, Jon heard Rhaegal’s familiar screeching, a warning that the dragon was about to attack.  Suddenly, a column of fire burst forth from the sky, instantly incinerating at least two dozen wights.  Jon said a silent prayer for Rhaegal and Daenerys, praying they would continue to stay aloft.  Daenerys and her dragon were Westeros’ best hope for staving off the White Walker invasion.  Jon and his men were merely the first line of defense.

Despite the chaos around him, Jon kept his eyes focused on his target.  He rode straight for the White Walker, determined to get close enough to strike.  His opponent finally raised his sword, holding it at the ready as he charged at Jon.  A spark of fear raced down Jon’s spine, but he stayed firm, trusting his own skills enough to keep moving steadily forward, his resolve as strong as ever.  

Jon kept a firm grip on Longclaw, intent on attacking the White Walker the moment he was within reach, hoping to slice the monster clean through.  Jon charged ahead.  He knew it wouldn’t be an easy kill, but he wasn’t looking for easy.  He didn’t want to waste time cutting down wights when he could take down a White Walker instead.

The sound of ice hitting Valyrian Steel reverberated through the air as Longclaw finally hit the White Walker’s blade.  Jon leaned into his attacker, trying to gain the upper hand, but the creature was stronger than he looked.  Although his body was nothing more than bones and sinew, he possessed an almost preternatural strength that nearly unseated Jon from his horse. 

The White Walker suddenly thrust his blade upward, dislodging Longclaw and swinging for Jon’s head.  Jon swerved in his saddle, avoiding the attack, and reaching for his dagger.  He was close enough that he thought he could hit his mark.  He drove the knife upward, praying he’d make purchase.

Although the White Walker didn’t look particularly agile, his reflexes were impressively quick.  He parried the attack, his blade striking Jon’s dagger and nearly knocking it to the ground.

Jon’s whole body shook with the impact, and he almost lost his balance.  He dug his heels into his steed and sped forward.  The instant he regained his bearings, he turned his horse around, finding that the White Walker had done the same.  They stared at each other for a long time, neither one moving, as the battle raged around them.  Then, the White Walker lifted his sword again and headed straight for Jon.

Jon braced himself for the attack.  He sheathed his dagger and steadied his grip on Longclaw.  When he was certain he was ready to meet the enemy again, he urged his horse forward, a cry of pure determination tearing from his throat. 

They met moments later, their weapons colliding with bone-rattling force.  Their blades locked against each other, neither one willing to give an inch.  Jon knew if he faltered, even for an instant, the White Walker would end his life.

Every muscle in Jon’s body ached, his arms shaking from exertion.  He gritted his teeth, and leaned into his opponent, trying to gain the advantage, but he just wasn’t strong enough.  Even though he had once cheated death with the help of the Red Priestess, he was still a mortal man like any other, and he could not match the raw power of his attacker.  Jon wished that he possessed the strength to overpower the White Walker, but his body was starting to fail him and he was beginning to doubt his own abilities.

Jon was about to collapse under the force of his enemy’s blade pushing him back when he heard Rhaegal suddenly screech above him.  Jon didn’t look up.  He kept his eyes focused on the White Walker in front of him, but his heart soared up into the clouds, and he was instantly overcome with the determination to survive, not for himself, but for the woman he loved.  Daenerys still lived.  She was still fighting to save Westeros.  And Jon refused to let her down.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he pushed against the White Walker’s blade with all his might, sheer willpower alone giving him the strength to force the creature back.  Jon threw the monster off balance, unsettling him just enough to pull Longclaw free.  Then, in a split second, Jon dodged low, swinging his sword in front of him and slicing his opponent in two.  The White Walker and his horse instantly turned to ice, shattering into innumerable pieces and scattering in the wind.

Jon stared blindly into the void before him, his heart pounding painfully in his ears, his vision blurred.  It took a moment for him to collect himself as he struggled to catch his breath.  As soon as his eyes came back into focus, he noticed the wights falling all around him.  Dozens, maybe a hundred.  They crumbled like rag dolls, collapsing into the snow.

For an instant, Jon felt a sense of relief.  With the single swing of a blade, he had annihilated a hundred enemies.  But as he looked around him, he realized that their deaths were completely meaningless.  An endless sea of wights continued to pour forth as if nothing had happened at all.  And for the first time that day, Jon felt that their cause was hopeless.  No matter how hard the living fought, or how brave they were, the wights would keep coming.  Unless someone destroyed the Night King himself, the war would not end until every last man, woman, and child in Westeros had been conscripted into the army of the dead.

Rhaegal screeched again, and another stream of light suddenly burst through the air.  Jon watched as a river of fire scorched the battlefield.  He knew he could not stop for a moment, not even to get his bearings.  He had to keep fighting until the last breath flowed from his lungs.  He had no choice.

Jon turned his mount around, sweeping Longclaw out as he did so and cutting down two more wights.  Then, when he was facing north again, he let out a primal scream and charged forth into the fray once more.  He would kill as many White Walkers as he could, or he would die trying.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-two

Tyrion followed Sansa through the maze of corridors that led to her bedchamber, his mind keen with suspicion.  Samwell Tarly was a smart boy with an uncanny ability to uncover inconvenient truths that other people failed to see.  Tyrion rather envied Sam that ability, but at that moment, he wished the boy had simply kept his insights to himself.  Whatever Sam had told Sansa wasn’t anything good.  Tyrion could tell by the way she was behaving.  She hadn’t looked him in the eyes since he had approached her in the Great Hall.

When they finally reached Sansa’s chamber, she went straight inside, leaving Tyrion to follow behind her.  He entered the room and closed the door as quickly as he could, shutting them off from the outside world.  The atmosphere inside the chamber had changed considerably since they’d left it that morning.  Now, there was an uncomfortable tension hanging in the air between them, and Tyrion wished they could go back to only hours before when everything had felt so right.

Sansa positioned herself by the shuttered window on the far side of the room, putting as much space between them as she could.  When she finally turned around to look at him, her gaze was filled with cold detachment.  “Thank you for agreeing to speak with me privately.  I didn’t think this was something you wanted to hear surrounded by a roomful of people.”

Tyrion laughed nervously.  “And here I was hoping you’d brought me back to your bedchamber for one last goodbye.”

Sansa seemed unmoved by his attempt at humor, and he was more convinced than ever that whatever she was about to reveal was going to devastate him.  Tyrion wished he could stop her before she even began.  He wanted to close the distance between them, pull her into his arms, and kiss her senseless.  He wanted to make love to her, one last time, before she destroyed what was left of his world.  But he couldn’t.  He could tell by the somber cast of her eyes that what she was about to tell him was of grave importance, and she was in no state to be seduced.

Sansa looked away, biting her bottom lip in agitation, and Tyrion was even more curious about why she had brought him there.  She seemed self-conscious, nervous.  He didn’t understand why.  After everything they had shared the night before, there was nothing she could do or say that would change his opinion of her.  And yet, at that moment, she looked for all the world as if she feared he was going to judge her for what she was about to confess.

“Sansa,” Tyrion said her name softly, drawing her eyes back to his.  “Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”

“I’m afraid it is.”

Tyrion shook his head.  He took a step closer, and she backed away.  Without a second thought, he halted his approach, knowing for certain now that she wanted him to keep his distance.  “Whatever it is, you need not fear telling me.  It will not leave this room, I swear it.”

“Samwell Tarly already knows.  And these kinds of truths have a way of finding their way out into the world whether we want them to or not.”

“In that case, tell me what it is so that we can prepare an appropriate plan of action.  I am the Hand of a queen, remember?  It is my job to analyze and advise in the gravest of circumstances.”

Sansa briefly glanced away.  When she looked at Tyrion again, she asked, “If you survive this war, what are your plans for the future?”

Tyrion was startled by the question.  He had expected a confession, not an inquisition. 

“Well?” she prompted when he failed to answer.

It took Tyrion a moment to reply.  “I suppose, if I live and Daenerys lives, I shall join her in her fight to claim the Iron Throne.”

“Even if that fight is against Jon?”

Tyrion laughed.  “I very much doubt that fight is going to be against Jon.  Against Cersei, maybe.  But not Jon.”

Sansa’s whole body stiffened, and her eyes darkened.  “You think Jon will not return from the war?”

“No, no, that isn’t it.  I just think that, if they both live, there won’t be a war between them.  I think they will come to a peaceful resolution on their own.”

“Meaning Jon will relinquish his birthright and give Daenerys Targaryen the Iron Throne?”

Tyrion was certain that he and Sansa had somehow gotten off topic.  Instead of looking nervous, Sansa now looked angry, and that was the last thing he wanted her to be, especially with him.  “I don’t know what is going to happen between Jon and Daenerys,” Tyrion said.  “Maybe they’ll both survive.  Maybe they won’t.  Maybe they’ll get married and claim the Iron Throne together.  Right now, I honestly don’t care what happens to them.  All I want to know is what in the seven hells Samwell Tarly told you in the Great Hall!”

Tyrion’s tirade seemed to quell some of Sansa’s anger.  Her gaze softened, and when next she spoke, her tone was calmer.  “When all of this is over, do you intend to return to King’s Landing as Hand of the Queen?”

“Yes,” Tyrion said, “gods willing, I do.”

“And do you hope to marry again?”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed in confusion.  “I . . . I honestly don’t know.  I haven’t had a great deal of luck where marriage is concerned.  But I suppose, if my queen commands it, I shall have no choice but to remarry.  But what does that have to do with anything, Sansa?  Why does it matter if I mean to return to King’s Landing or marry again?”

“It matters because what happened between us last night may have spoiled your plans irrevocably.”

Tyrion didn’t know how to react.  He searched his brain, trying to figure out what one thing had to do with the other.  Was she worried that she might be with child?  Was that what this was about?  They had already discussed that possibility the night before.  If Jon forced them to marry, they would.  There was nothing either one of them could do about that.

“I’m sorry, Sansa,” Tyrion finally said, “but despite my reputation for being the cleverest man in all of Westeros, I can’t figure out what any of this has to do with you and me and our inquisitive little friend from the Night’s Watch.”

“Sam told me that in the Faith of the Seven there are certain protocols that must be followed in order to obtain an annulment.”

“And?”

“And although Littlefinger arranged for a septon to dissolve our marriage, you and I didn’t follow all the required protocols.  We didn’t even petition the High Septon or a Council of Faith.”

“And?”  Tyrion still didn’t understand why she was so upset.

“And that means that, in the Faith of the Seven at least, you and I are still married.”

Tyrion stared at her for a moment, and then, he burst out laughing.

“This is no laughing matter.  I can assure you.”

“Oh, but it is,” he said, barely able to catch his breath.  “It’s absurd.  All of it.  You, me, Samwell Tarly, Littlefinger.  I’m sure that the boy is right, but who’s to know it?  Who’s to even care?”

“I know, and I care.  That must count for something.”

Tyrion finally sobered.  He could tell from the look on Sansa’s face that she cared very much.  And why shouldn’t she?  She had just discovered that she was still married to the least desirable man in all the Seven Kingdoms.  The poor girl.

Tyrion decided to do what he could to put her fears to rest.  “Sansa,” he said calmly, “it has been years since I escaped King’s Landing and abandoned our marriage.  In all that time, no one has questioned the validity of our annulment, and it’s highly unlikely that anyone ever will.  The people of Westeros have more pressing matters to concern themselves with at the moment.  And, once the war is over, if we do happen to win, the status of our marriage is the last thing any sensible person is going to care about.  I think we are safe as long as Samwell Tarly keeps his mouth shut.”

Sansa shook her head.  “It may not matter to anyone else, but I know the truth.  I will always know the truth, and I have no desire to live a lie.  And I don’t think you do either.”

She was right, of course.  Although they had spent relatively little time together since they’d been wed, Sansa knew him surprisingly well.  Better than she had any right to.  He didn’t want to live a lie any more than she did.  Lies were for the weak.  Only the strong could live lives of truth.

“In that case,” Tyrion said, “what do you suggest?  Finding a septon up here in the wilds of the north and asking him to start the appropriate proceedings?  You do know that, once the truth is revealed, you may be publicly shamed.  After all, you lived with Ramsay Bolton as man and wife for quite some time.  If our marriage was never properly annulled, then you were never Lord Bolton’s lawful wife.”

“That is the one saving grace in all of this, isn’t it?”

Tyrion just stared at Sansa, his heart aching for her.  Ramsay Bolton had been so cruel to her that she would gladly choose public humiliation over ever being called his wife again.  Now more than ever, Tyrion wished things had been different between them back in King’s Landing.  Had things been different, it could have saved them both a lot of pain and heartbreak.

“Yes, well,” Tyrion said, “there is that.”

“I don’t care what the world thinks of me,” Sansa said.  “I learned not to care when I was in King’s Landing.  That’s the one good thing Joffrey taught me.  No, that’s not why I find this news so troubling.”

“Then what is it?  If you truly don’t care about being publicly shamed, then—”

“We can’t get an annulment.”

“And why not?”

“You know why not.”

Tyrion didn’t know.  At least, he didn’t think he knew.  And then, he thought for a moment, and realization finally dawned.

Tyrion’s eyes drifted to the bed in the center of the room.  The bed where they had spent the entire night making love.  No, not just making love.  Consummating their marriage.  Suddenly, Tyrion felt like the world’s biggest fool.

“Ah, I see,” was all he could manage to say.  His throat had gone dry, and words failed him.

“Yes, you see.  We can’t have our marriage annulled because it has finally been consummated.  For better or for worse, we are truly husband and wife now.”

Tyrion’s heart pounded against his ribs.  He was reluctant to turn and look at Sansa again.  He understood now why she had been so devastated by Samwell Tarly’s news.  Her whole life had been taken away from her in a single moment.  A few carelessly chosen words by a brother of the Night’s Watch and her whole world had fallen apart.  Of course, she was devastated.  Why shouldn’t she be?  She had just discovered that she was still the wife of Tyrion Lannister and would continue to be his wife for the rest of her days, however long that might be.

“I’m sorry, Tyrion,” Sansa said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

His eyes found hers again, and he looked at her curiously.  “Sorry?  What are you sorry for?”

“I’m sorry that I did this to you.  It was my doing after all.  I was the one who asked you to make love to me.  If only I’d known—”

“Wait,” Tyrion said, shaking his head.  “You don’t really think that I’m angry about this or that I blame you, do you?”

“Don’t you?”

“Of course not.  If I blame anyone, it’s the gods.  They’ve always had a malicious sense of humor.  Of course, we discover the truth the morning after we consummate our marriage.  Why should it be any different?  The gods have always enjoyed laughing at my expense.  I’m just sorry that, this time, I wasn’t the only victim of the joke.”

Sansa shook her head, her eyes filled with a sadness that pained him.  “It’s no joke.”

A bitter laugh escaped Tyrion’s throat.  “And yet, it’s so absurd.  Everything about this is absurd.” 

Tyrion examined Sansa thoughtfully for a moment.  She looked as sober as a septa, and he knew he should stop trying to make light of her suffering. 

His voice calm, his words soft, he said, “I am the one who is sorry, Sansa.  Truly, I am.  You don’t deserve this.  You never have.  You deserve so much better.  You deserve a handsome knight in shining armor, the husband of your dreams.  Instead, what have the gods given you but a drunken, cynical dwarf?”

“You judge yourself too harshly, my lord.  I am perfectly content with the husband the gods have given me.”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed on her.  “Are you?”

A small smile pulled at Sansa’s lips.  “Yes.”

“That’s only because I was able to pleasure you last night.  The novelty has yet to wear off, but when it does, I assure you, you will feel very differently.”

Sansa shook her head.  “It has nothing to do with last night.  Not really.  Not for the reason you think, at least.  Last night, you were kind to me, gentle and patient and understanding.  You protected me and cared for me and saw to my welfare before your own.  You listened, and you were understanding.  You may be a dwarf, Tyrion Lannister, but that is not your defining quality.  You’re a good man, the best I’ve ever known who wasn’t a Stark.  And I am proud to call you my husband.”

Tyrion was thunderstruck.  He stood there staring up at Sansa, wholly incapable of speech.  He had done very little for her in the time they had known each other.  He had always tried to be kind to her, of course, but he’d thought his efforts had gone unnoticed.  Now, he felt sorry for Sansa.  It pained him to know that the world had been so cruel to her that the small kindnesses he had shown her had moved her so much.  She deserved better.  She just refused to see it.

“I see you don’t believe me,” Sansa said when Tyrion remained silent.

Tyrion didn’t know how to reply.  He desperately searched for something intelligible to say.  All that came out was, “But . . . but you were devastated when you learned the truth.”

Sansa smiled softly.  “Not because I abhor the idea of being your wife, but because I didn’t know how you’d feel about it.  After all, I was the one who invited you into my bed last night.  It’s my fault our marriage can’t be annulled.  You did something kind for me, and now you will spend the rest of your life paying the price.”

Tyrion laughed.  He couldn’t help himself.  She was acting as if a lifetime married to her was a prison sentence when nothing could have been further from the truth.  “It is a price I am more than willing to pay, my dear, sweet Sansa.  For you see, I get the greatest prize the north has to offer.  I get you.”

“Do you mean that?” Sansa asked as if she couldn’t quite believe it.

“Of course, I do.  You are a far greater gift than I have ever deserved.  And if we must stay married, I will do everything in my power to make you happy.  You have my word.”

Sansa’s eyes darted to the bed, and Tyrion knew exactly what she was thinking.  When she looked at him again, her cheeks were a flattering shade of pink, and he wished, more than anything, that he could make love to her again.

“You have already made me quite happy, Tyrion,” Sansa said.  “I have no doubt that you will continue to do so, long into the future.  If there is a future.”

“Well,” Tyrion said with a smirk, “I would do so right now, but our people need us.  Our place is in the Great Hall.”

Sansa closed the distance between them, then lowered herself to her knees so she could look directly into his eyes.  “I know our duty lies elsewhere, but we may not live to see another day, and I would very much like to make love to my husband, one last time, before we lose the chance forever.”

Even though he knew they should return to the Great Hall, Tyrion couldn’t deny her anything.  “As you wish, my lady.”

Sansa reached out, gently placing her hand against his cheek.  Then, she leaned forward and kissed him sweetly, softly. 

The breath caught in Tyrion’s throat.  He wanted her so desperately, loved her so desperately.  She was everything that was good about this wretched world, and he wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with her.  He wished he could tell her that he loved her, but he was too afraid.  Afraid of rejection, afraid of scaring her away.  But if he couldn’t tell her, at least he could show her.

Tyrion moved closer, entwining his fingers in Sansa’s hair and deepening the kiss.   He would show Sansa just how much he loved her, one last time, before the Long Night claimed them all.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-three

Jaime didn’t know what he’d expected when he’d first imagined fighting the undead, but the reality was beyond anything his mortal mind could have imagined.  It wasn’t just the mindless reanimated corpses pouring down from the north like a cold, decaying river that made Jaime’s blood run cold.  It was the White Walkers themselves, their steely eyes and emotionless faces promising a night that would never end.

Jaime had been fighting for hours.  He had no idea how much time had passed since he’d cut down his first wight earlier that afternoon, but his limbs ached with fatigue and he prayed for the onslaught to stop just long enough for him to catch his breath.  But he knew it was never going to stop.  He’d killed hundreds of wights, wiping out dozens at a time as he’d felled White Walker after White Walker with his Valyrian Steel sword.  But still they came, an endless army of the damned determined to put an end to every last living creature in Westeros.

Somehow, even through all the fighting, Jaime had managed to stay astride his horse.  Perhaps it had been the fear of facing a marauding army of wights on their own level that had kept him steady in the saddle.  Whatever it had been, he knew that as long as he retained his vantage point above them, he still stood a fighting chance.

Suddenly, a White Walker came charging at him, and Jaime readied Widow’s Wail, striking out the instant the creature was within range.  The blade sliced through his opponent, felling the monster with a single blow.  The creature instantly turned to ice, its remains scattering to the winds. 

Jaime focused on the scene around him.  He no longer knew which way was north.  All he could see were bodies crumbling to the ground and rivers of fire scorching the earth as Daenerys Targaryen and her one remaining dragon continued to incinerate the dead.  But their efforts made little difference.  The wights kept coming.  No matter how many of them fell, there were always more.

For a moment, Jaime was overcome by a crippling sense of despair.  So many men had fallen, and too many of them had simply gotten right back up and joined the invading army.  Death was all around him, and Jaime could not see any way to stop it.

He turned his horse in a slow circle, getting a full view of the surrounding chaos.  Stark and Lannister banners still flew high above the rabble, but their numbers were sorely diminished. 

Jaime searched for any sign of Cersei, but he saw none.  It had been hours since he’d caught his last glimpse of his sister.  He didn’t fear for her life, however.  They were too close for that.  Had she come to any real harm, had she fallen, he was certain he would have felt it in his soul.  Cersei’s life was as precious to him as his own, and he knew if that spark of life were ever extinguished, it would not be long until his own burned out as well.

When Jaime had finally made a full sweep of his surroundings, he stopped, staring out into the distance, his gaze focused on the field beyond the fighting bodies.  He knew then that he must be facing south because there was no open space to the north, just an endless mass of bloodied men and screeching wights.

Something caught Jaime’s attention in the distance.  He squinted into the fading light, fixating on a lone rider racing away from the battlefield.  His mind was still in a fog, and it took him a moment to realize exactly what he was seeing.  It was a beautiful black steed ridden by a tow-haired rider, sitting tall and proud in the saddle.  The rider carried no banner, but the horse wore Lannister red, and it didn’t take Jaime long to figure out who he was watching race toward Winterfell.

Without allowing himself a chance to reconsider, Jaime charged in the rider’s direction.  He kept his sword at the ready, hacking and slicing as he rode, determined to overtake the runaway rider before she was beyond his reach.

Jaime didn’t know what Cersei was thinking.  Although his sister was no soldier, she was no coward either.  He was certain she wasn’t running from the battle to save her own life or the life of their unborn child.  No, Cersei wasn’t running away from something, she was running to something.  And Jaime was certain he knew what it was.

Jaime rode harder than he’d ever ridden in his life.  He needed to stop his sister before she did something they would all regret. 

It wasn’t long before he reached Cersei, riding up behind her, shouting her name.  She looked back over her shoulder for only a moment before turning her head again and spurring her horse to run even faster. 

Behind them, the battle continued to rage, but it meant nothing to Jaime.  All that mattered was reaching Cersei and stopping her from doing something unforgivable. 

Thankfully, Jaime was a far more seasoned equestrian than Cersei, and he managed to outrun her steed, racing alongside her and pulling the reins from her hand.

“Let me go!” she shouted as they sped across the open field, their horses still in flight.

Jaime pulled back on her reins and slowed his own mount, bringing both animals to a halt.

Cersei reached for the reins, but Jaime held them beyond her grasp.  “Give me back control of my horse,” she said with deadly calm.

“Where are you going?” he asked, ignoring her command.

“You know where I’m going, and nothing you can do or say is going to stop me.”

Jaime released the reins, and Cersei grabbed for them, but she wasn’t quick enough to make purchase.  In an instant, Jaime wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her off her horse, settling her before him on his saddle.  He smacked her animal on the rump, sending it galloping into the distance.

Cersei struggled in his arms, cursing and swearing, but he ignored her protests.  He held her tight and swiftly brought his lips down against hers, kissing her until she stopped squirming.  When he was certain she was no longer going to fight him, he finally pulled back.

“You can’t do this,” Jaime said, his voice a husky whisper.  “I won’t let you.”

Cersei stiffened in his arms, holding her spine straight and looking at him with cold, unforgiving eyes.  Her arms were pinned to her sides, and she was completely helpless, but she didn’t seem to notice.  “I am your queen,” Cersei said icily.  “You cannot command me.  No one can.”

“I’m not letting you go so you can ride to Winterfell and murder our brother.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t do that.”

“Why?” she asked.  “Do you love him so much more than you love me?  You always told me you loved me above anyone else, even our children.  And yet, you would risk my life and the life of our unborn child to save that monster.  That only proves that everything you’ve ever said to me was a lie.”

Cersei’s words cut Jaime to his very soul.  “I have never lied to you,” he said, his tone hard and unyielding.  “I have loved you my entire life, from the day we were born to this very day.  You have been everything to me.  There has been no one else.  Not once.  You have gone to other men time and time again, but I have always stayed true to you.  Now, I wonder whether any of it was worth it since you obviously believe my love is worthless.”

“Your love is worthless,” she spat.  “Do you think I care that you’ve been faithful to me all these years?  Do you think that really matters?  It did before, but it doesn’t now.  If you betrayed my love for another woman, at least that I could understand.  But you’re betraying me for the worthless creature that murdered our mother and father, and that I can never forgive.”

The blood was racing through Jaime’s veins at an alarming speed, and all he wanted was to punish Cersei for her careless words and cold indifference.  He wanted to kiss her again, to smash his lips against hers and take what was rightfully his, what had always been rightfully his.  But he resisted the urge.  He knew she would fight him, knew she would never yield to his touch again.  She was just as determined to kill Tyrion as he was to save him, and Jaime knew she would not be swayed.

“I should kill you myself,” Jaime said, “put an end to this madness right now.  To all of it.  To all the years of torment and torture I’ve suffered loving you.”

Cersei laughed.  “I would love to see you try.  You’re just as useless and sentimental as our brother.  You used to be strong, you used to have no qualms about doing what needed to be done for the good of our family.  But now, you’re no better than a coward, and I have no use for you anymore.”

“You had use for me last night.”

“And now, you’ve outlived your usefulness.  If you don’t let me go, I will put an end to your life, just as surely as I will end Tyrion’s.”

Jaime tightened his grip on her waist, silently daring her to move.  She didn’t.  She just stared at him with cold, heartless eyes, waiting for him to relinquish his hold on her. 

“You can’t kill me,” Jaime said.  “No more than I can kill you.”

“I feel sorry for you, dear brother, if you really believe that.”  And then, without any warning, Cersei slipped her arm from his grasp and lunged at him with a dagger.

Jaime pivoted in his saddle, twisting just enough to avoid a direct hit.  Even though he was heavily armored, there were openings in his plate where all that stood between him and death were his leathers.  Despite his dodge, Cersei managed to slice his flank just beneath his arm, tearing through the hide of his tunic and drawing blood.

In his surprise, Jaime lost his grip on her, and she quickly slipped to the ground, stumbling for a moment before gaining her footing and taking off at a run.  Jaime swore under his breath, ignoring the pain at his side as he slid from his horse.  He chased after Cersei with a speed she simply couldn’t match.  When he finally reached her, he grabbed her about the waist and dragged her to the snowy ground.

Cersei refused to turn over in his arms.  She clawed at the snow, trying to crawl from his grasp, but it was no use.  Jaime was a lot stronger than she was, even though he was wounded and had only one working hand.  With brute strength alone, he managed to turn her over so that she was lying flat on her back.  He straddled her hips with his legs, using his weight to push her down into the ground.  He squeezed her wrist with his good hand, forcing the dagger from her grasp.  It landed softly beside her in the wet snow.

Jaime pinned Cersei’s arms to the ground beside her.  “You tried to kill me!” he shouted.

“And I wish I had succeeded.”

“I never—”  He could barely say the words.  “I never thought you’d do such a thing.  Not even if your own life depended on it.”

“I am capable of a great many things.  You just don’t know me well enough to know it.”

“I know you better than anyone else ever has,” Jaime said.  “And I’ve loved you all the more for it.”

Cersei laughed.  “You don’t know anything.  You never did.  I loved you once, but I was a fool.  I don’t love you anymore, and I never will again.” 

She surprised him then by throwing all her weight up against his fake hand and dislodging his hold on her.  Somehow, she managed to throw him off balance and scramble out from under him.  She quickly retrieved the knife and scurried to her feet.  Then, she turned and stood before him, brandishing the blade, a victorious look in her eyes.

“You see,” Cersei said, “you’re not the man you once were.  You can’t even control me anymore.”

Jaime slowly got to his feet, his eyes never leaving Cersei’s.  “I’ve never been able to control you.  I’ve never wanted to.  All I’ve ever wanted was to love you.”

“And yet,” she laughed, “and yet, you would rather see me die than that bastard brother of ours.  Your love is a joke, a farce.  It’s as sad and pathetic as that drunken dwarf.  You should just let me end your life, right here, right now.  Let me put you out of your misery before you do something foolish.”

Jaime stalked toward her, his heart as cold as steel.  Cersei raised her weapon, daring him to approach, and he halted.

“If you strike me with that blade again,” he said, “I will kill you.”

Cersei laughed.  “I already know how this ends.  If anyone is going to kill me, it isn’t going to be you.  You don’t have it in you.”

Jaime’s good hand tightened into a fist as he started toward her again.  Cersei didn’t wait for him to reach her.  She ran at him, dagger held high, intent on killing him once and for all.  The instant Jaime was within reach, she brought the blade down, but he didn’t try to stop her.  Instead of going for her wrist, he grabbed her by the throat, wrapping his fingers around her windpipe and squeezing.  Although he couldn’t wrap his golden hand around her throat, he held it against her neck, pushing it into her skin, keeping her steady as he fought to show her just how much damage he could do.

At first, Cersei laughed, but as Jaime applied more pressure, her eyes grew wide with disbelief.  She tried to stab him with the dagger but only succeeded in hitting her blade against his armor. 

Jaime’s entire body was shaking.  He wanted to show Cersei that he wasn’t weak, that his body, like his love, was just as strong as it had ever been.  He was done being mocked, done being ignored and used and taken for granted.  He loved Cersei with all his heart and all his soul, but he needed to teach her a lesson.  It was long past time.

Cersei dropped the knife and suddenly began clawing at his hand.  She dug her nails in so deeply that they cut into his flesh even through the leather of his glove.  But Jaime was long past feeling pain.  All he could feel was the rage coursing through his veins.  All he could see were Cersei’s eyes full of fear.

Jaime didn’t think he had ever seen fear in her eyes before, not fear of him.  And it was empowering.  He squeezed even harder, and she began to squirm on her feet.

“Do you really think I don’t have it in me to kill you?” Jaime asked as she continued to claw at him.  “For years I’ve stood by and watched you murder innocent people, and still I have loved you.  I have covered for you, protected you, done everything you’ve ever asked of me.  And now, now I’m going to prove to you that I don’t need you anymore, that your love is just as worthless to me as mine is to you.”

Cersei stopped struggling, but Jaime didn’t notice.  He didn’t see or feel anything until the flesh at the end of his stump began to burn.  Jaime blinked the fury from his vision, finally focusing on the scene before him.  Cersei hung between his hands like a rag doll, her eyes wide with agony, her face a frightening shade of blue. 

“No,” Jaime whispered, unwilling to accept what was right in front of him.  He could no longer feel the pain searing his flesh.  All he could see, all he could feel, was Cersei, her lifeless body staring back at him with hollow eyes.

“No!” Jaime shouted.  He shook Cersei, trying to wake her, but there was no sign of life.  “No, no, no.”  Hot tears streamed down Jaime’s cheeks as he pulled her to him and clamped his mouth against hers, desperately trying to breathe life back into her body.  But it was no use.  She would not wake.

Jaime wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close as he sank to the snowy ground beneath him.  He held Cersei in his arms, sobbing uncontrollably, mourning the loss of the woman he loved and the unborn babe he would never know.  He held her just as he had once held Myrcella, the agony tearing at his soul.

Even though Cersei’s body lay limp in his arms, Jaime refused to believe she was truly gone.  He couldn’t.  He wouldn’t.  He loved her too much.  If she was gone, there was no reason for him to keep living.  His life would end with her life, and he wasn’t ready to give up the fight just yet.

The burning at the end of his stump grew more persistent, scorching his flesh, and Jaime could no longer ignore it.  His arms still wrapped around Cersei, he reached his fingers toward his golden hand and ripped off his glove.  He intended to tear the hand from his body, but the instant he touched it, he cried out in pain.  The metal was blazing hot.

Jaime looked over Cersei’s shoulder so he could see his hand.  It glowed with a bright yellow light.  He stared at it, transfixed, unable to move or breathe.  He didn’t know what was happening, and he was suddenly deathly afraid.

The light began to intensify, glowing white-hot, searing the end of Jaime’s arm.  He squeezed his eyes shut and swore violently as he tried to withstand the pain.  For a moment, he was certain he was going to pass out, but he didn’t.  He bit his bottom lip, drawing blood, and keeping himself focused and awake.

Jaime had never felt such excruciating pain before, not even when Qyburn had cut the rotting flesh from his arm when he’d first lost his hand.  No, this was a whole new kind of torment, and Jaime had no choice but to endure it.

He could no longer feel Cersei lying in his arms.  His entire body had gone numb except for the patch of flesh that abutted his golden hand.  If he could have ripped the blasted thing off, he would have, but he could no longer move.  He felt as helpless as Bran Stark must have felt when he’d woken up to find that his legs no longer worked.

Jaime grimaced at the memory.  He had a lot to atone for.  Perhaps this was part of his punishment.  If there were gods, he was certain they had a great deal of suffering in store for him.

Just when Jaime was certain that the pain would consume him, it finally began to lessen.  Soon, he was able to breathe again, and when he opened his eyes, he looked down to find his hand glowing softly in the approaching twilight. 

He wrapped his fingers around his fake hand and pulled at it violently, determined to rid himself of the wretched thing once and for all.  But it wouldn’t budge.  He slipped his arm from around Cersei, cradling her gently with his other arm, and shook his wrist, trying to dislodge the hand, but to no avail.

Jaime’s heart skipped one horrified beat.  He moved his arm in a slow circle, feeling the weight of the golden hand on the end of his stump.  The feel of it had changed.  There was no longer any movement between his hand and his arm.  It was as if the metal had fused to his flesh, becoming a permanent part of him.

Jaime’s eyes went wide with panic.  He didn’t want to let Cersei go, but he was desperate to see what had happened to his arm.  Gently, oh so very gently, he laid Cersei beside him on the snow.  Then, he pulled at the sleeve of his tunic, staring down at his arm in disbelief.  The metal had melded to his skin, becoming one with his body.  The pain was gone, but shock and fear still gripped his heart.

Even though his hand no longer burned, it continued to glow as if possessed by some divine force.  Jaime wished he could just cut the damned thing off, but that wasn’t an option.  He knew if he even tried, he’d have to slice into his own flesh, and that was a risk he wasn’t willing to take.

When the initial shock finally began to wear off, Jaime pulled down his sleeve and turned his attention back to Cersei, forgetting all about his hand.  He gathered her up in his arms and held her tightly, his body and his soul numb with grief.  He held her for the longest time as the night closed in around them. 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-four

Hours passed before Jaime was finally conscious of anything but the dead woman in his arms.  A great, screeching cry tore through the sky, pulling him back to reality.  He blinked his eyes into focus and looked off into the distance.  Daenerys Targaryen’s last remaining dragon was flailing wildly through the air as if it had been struck.

Jaime didn’t feel anything.  Not fear, not the cold.  Nothing.  He looked down at the ground, at the sea of bodies still fighting on the distant battlefield.  There seemed to be fewer combatants now than there had been before.  And more fire.  Rivers of fire.  Lakes of fire.  Jaime couldn’t tell which side was winning, and the truth was, he didn’t care.  Whether the living won or lost was unimportant now.  With Cersei gone, nothing mattered to him anymore. 

Another screech rent the air, drawing Jaime’s attention upward again.  He watched idly as the dragon finally righted itself, then dove for the earth, spewing a column of fiery death on the enemy below. 

Jaime stared off into the distance, unable to move.  He didn’t want to look at Cersei again, to face what he had done.  He knew he’d have to face it eventually, but he was trying to avoid it for as long as possible. 

Finally, he tore his gaze from the battlefield and looked down at the ground around him.  From the periphery of his vision, he saw his golden hand shining brightly in the moonlight.  It no longer burned.  It simply glowed with its own warm light.  Jaime held his hand up in wonderment, turning it in the darkness, examining it from every possible angle.  He was amazed by just how brightly it shone.  It glowed as white as the purest candle flame, and he was captivated by it.

Suddenly, a great gust of wind swept past him, and for the first time since his arm had stopped burning, Jaime finally felt something.  He shivered involuntarily as the cold settled deep into his bones.  He finally looked down at Cersei, only to discover that her skin had turned an icy shade of blue.  Not the blue of the White Walkers, but the blue of a corpse left too long in the cold.

Without conscious thought, Jaime rose from the snowy earth, cradling Cersei in his arms, desperate to get her somewhere warm.  He looked around, searching for his horse, but the animal was nowhere to be found.  Jaime turned around, looking for Winterfell in the distance.  The keep was miles away, far too remote for Jaime to even see its lights twinkling in the darkness.  He knew it was going to be a long and arduous journey, especially on foot, but he had to get Cersei to safety.  The battle no longer mattered.  All that mattered was protecting the woman he loved even if she had already drawn her last breath.

Jaime started walking toward Winterfell, intent on finding sanctuary for his beloved sister.  The instant he took his first step, his arm began to burn again, and the glow of his hand intensified.  The farther he moved from the battle, the more intense the pain became.

Jaime swore violently, his feet faltering in the snow as he struggled to keep his hold on Cersei.  The pain was blinding.  He stood deathly still, his eyes shut, his teeth clenched, wondering what the hell he was going to do.  He knew his hand was burning because he was walking away from the battle.  It was obvious that whatever force had given his hand the power to shine so brightly wanted him to return to battle.  But Jaime was determined to save his sister.  His own pain meant nothing to him.  All that mattered was Cersei.

With great effort, Jaime took another step forward, and a spike of pain shot through his arm.  He took another, and the pain increased tenfold.  He stumbled forward, collapsing to his knees, but still managing to hold Cersei soundly in his arms.

Jaime forced his eyes open and looked for Winterfell in the distance.  There was still no sign of it.  He had barely traveled more than a few yards, and he now knew that he had no hope of ever making it to the castle.  Whoever had cursed his hand didn’t want him to find shelter, didn’t want him to retreat.  Jaime knew he had no choice but to turn back.  If he didn’t, both he and Cersei would end up lying dead in the snow.

Jaime gritted his teeth and forced himself to his feet.  Carefully, afraid he might stumble again, he turned around to face the battle.  When he was certain he wouldn’t fall flat on his face, he took a tentative step forward.  And then another.  And then another.  Slowly but surely, the pain began to subside.  When the burning ache was finally bearable, Jaime sighed in relief, his muscles starting to relax.

He hiked Cersei up higher in his arms, drawing her close against his chest as he continued to walk.  He would take her back to her tent.  It stood far off on the edge of the battlefield, behind the hordes of combatants.  It didn’t have a roaring fire or insulated walls like Winterfell, but it would protect her from the worst of the cold until he could return for her and get her to safety.

Jaime was barely conscious of the walk to Cersei’s tent.  At some point, his hand had stopped burning altogether, its brightness dimming to a soft, yellow glow.

There were no guards standing sentinel at the tent when he reached it.  Jaime assumed they had deserted their posts long ago, either out of fear for their lives or a desire to join the fighting themselves.  He pushed the tent flap aside and stepped into the dark interior.  There were no lamps burning, no candles waiting to greet them.  Jaime carried Cersei to the bed in the center of the room and gently laid her down.

His golden hand gave off just enough light for him to see the details of Cersei’s face.  He was grateful that he couldn’t see her better.  There was still a look of pain and horror in her eyes that he knew would haunt him until his dying day.

Jaime held his breath as he reached down with his good hand and slowly closed her eyes.  When he looked at her again, she seemed more at peace, and he was finally able to breathe. 

The bruises on her neck were visible even in the dim light, and Jaime couldn’t help but be drawn to them.  Cersei had raced toward Winterfell hoping to kill Tyrion before he could kill her, but in the end, trying to run away from her fate had only led her to it.  Tyrion had not been the valonqar of the witches’ prophecy after all.  Although he was indeed Cersei’s little brother, Jaime was her little brother too.  The minutes that had separated their births had made it so, and now, he knew that he was the danger the witch had warned her about, not Tyrion.

For a long time, Jaime just stood there staring down at the woman he loved more than his own life.  Although he had every intention of returning to her, he knew in his heart that he would never see her again.  Whatever power had fused his hand to his arm, whatever force was making it glow, had bigger plans for him, and he was fairly certain that those plans didn’t involve him surviving the war.

Jaime didn’t know how to say goodbye to Cersei.  From the day they’d been born, she had felt, not like a sister, but like an extension of himself.  They had been one in the womb, and they were one now.  They would both die this day, he knew it.  He just didn’t know how to pull himself away from her and go meet his fate.

It was with a heavy heart that Jaime finally leaned down and kissed Cersei softly on the lips.  Her flesh was cold, her lips hard and unyielding.  Hot tears stung Jaime’s eyes as he pulled away and took one last look at his beloved.  He only allowed himself a moment to look upon her, fearing if he dallied too long, he would lose his nerve and never leave.

It took more effort than Jamie thought himself capable of, but finally, he turned away.

Jaime knew that strangling the life out of Cersei had been the ultimate betrayal, and yet, he somehow felt that turning his back on her lifeless body was worse.  He was abandoning her in the middle of a cold, northern battlefield, leaving her completely alone with no one to attend her, no one to prepare her for her funeral.  It was its own kind of betrayal, and Jaime would never forgive himself for it. 

He stood there with his back to Cersei for a moment, trying to collect himself.  Turning away from her had been the hardest thing he had ever had to do.  But he had done it because, more than anything, he wanted to be with her again.  Now, he could go meet his fate.  And when he did, his life would end, just as Cersei’s had.  Even if death was just an endless abyss of nothingness, he would know they had both been condemned to that abyss together.

Jaime squared his shoulders and started walking.  He left the tent without a single glance back at Cersei.  He knew what he had to do now, and he would not rest until it was done.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-five

Jaime headed straight for the battlefield, never looking back.  The night air was cold around him.  The wind had begun to blow as a light snow fell from the heavy clouds above.  He ignored it all. 

He was on a mission. 

The gods above had chosen to curse him for what he had done, and he would not defy their judgement.  He had earned his punishment.  In the course of his life, he had committed many crimes, but none so unforgivable as what he had done to Cersei.  Now, he would go forth and sacrifice his life in service to the gods.  It was more than a fitting punishment for his sins.

A hollow ache settled deep in Jaime’s chest, and he felt nothing but all-consuming emptiness.  He walked mindlessly toward the battle.  He had a single purpose, and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.

It didn’t take Jaime long to reach the fighting.  The defending forces had dwindled to practically nothing.  Strong, brave men – Stark and Lannister alike – still stood, fighting for their lives and the lives of everyone they loved, but there were far too few of them now to make any meaningful difference.

Jaime drew Widow’s Wail and headed straight into the fray.  He felt nothing.  Not fear, not anger.  He was as dispassionate as the corpse he had left behind in Cersei’s tent.  All around, feral wights spit and gnashed and clawed at him, but he simply swung his sword and cut them down, slicing through them as easily as slicing through wet parchment.  The enchantment in his hand had somehow made his whole body stronger, and it took no effort at all to fell his attackers as he made his way steadily toward his goal.

Above him, he still heard the screeching of the Targaryen girl’s lone dragon, but it meant nothing to him.  Even the columns of fire she poured down upon the earth were of no consequence.  He moved stalwartly ahead, determined to find the Night King himself and put an end to this madness once and for all.

It seemed like hours before Jaime caught sight of his target, though time had long since lost all meaning to him.  The Night King sat astride his decaying horse on a low hill overlooking the chaos below, the sword at his side glittering in the moonlight.  He looked as if he hadn’t seen any fighting himself but had spent the preceding hours observing and commanding, leading his minions to victory without ever venturing into the fray.

Jaime had hoped to sneak up on his opponent, to catch him unawares, but he had already lost the element of surprise.  Even though more than a hundred yards still stood between them, the Night King already knew Jaime was there.  He slowly turned his head, his blue eyes finding Jaime and sending a spike of cold dread coursing down his spine.  Jaime felt as if he was looking Death in the eye, and it shook him to his very core. 

Jaime struggled to shore up his resolve.  He thought of Cersei, pictured her cold, dead body hanging lifelessly between his hands, and suddenly, he found the will to fight again.  The fear drained from his body, and he adjusted his grip on his sword, knowing instinctively that he was never going to use it on the Night King himself.  No, he would kill the Night King, but he wouldn’t do it with his sword.  He would do it with his hand.

As Jaime moved toward his opponent, his mind flooded with stories he’d heard as a child.  Tales of Azor Ahai and his beloved Nissa Nissa and his sword, Lightbringer.  Prophecies of the Prince Who Was Promised, Azor Ahai risen again to fight back the darkness.  Jaime laughed to himself at the thought that he might be the celebrated hero come back to life to save the world.  Although he had killed his beloved, just like Azor Ahai, there was nothing heroic about him, and he was certain this was all simply a cruel joke perpetrated by the gods.  His glowing hand was no Lightbringer, but he would use it to stave off the darkness just the same.  Not because he wanted to be a hero, but because he wanted to do one decent thing in this world before he left it.

The Night King drew his sword and lifted it into the air, his eyes still locked with Jaime’s.  An instant later, a thousand pairs of dead eyes turned in Jaime’s direction all at once. 

Jaime’s heart froze in his chest, and his feet faltered.  He stopped dead still in the snow, unable to take a single step forward.  He had faced some overwhelming odds in his years as a knight, but nothing as daunting as the numbers he was facing now.  He was one man against hundreds.  Glowing hand or not, he knew there was no way he was ever going to reach the Night King alive.

And yet, he had to try.

Jaime adjusted his sword again, making sure his grip was secure.  He took a single step forward, and suddenly, the surrounding army advanced, snarling and growling like hungry animals desperate for flesh.

The blood pounding in his ears, Jaime fought off his attackers, slicing with one hand and punching with the other.  Wight after wight fell at his feet as he pushed forward, but more kept coming.  Inch by agonizing inch, he gained ground, but no matter how hard he fought, the Night King stayed well beyond his reach. 

Jaime cried out in rage, willing all his anguish into the fight.  His hand grew brighter and more powerful the angrier he got.  Thus far, he had been determined to keep his grief in check, but he realized now that his grief was the only thing that could save him.  As painful as it was, he finally gave into the soul-crushing agony that was tearing at his soul.  Instead of falling to his knees and succumbing to the enemy, he channeled all his emotions into his hand, causing it to glow with a brightness that lit up the entire sky.  Suddenly, a pulse of blinding white light burst forth from his hand and incinerated every wight within a ten-foot radius, creating a perfect circle of peace and calm in the middle of the chaos.

The mindless creatures beyond the circle didn’t even falter.  They quickly filled up the empty space around him as if nothing had happened.  But their commanders – the White Walkers and the Night King – looked on warily, and for the first time since he had set foot on the battlefield that night, Jaime thought the living might actually have a chance of seeing another dawn.

Jaime held his hand aloft, focusing all his energy on the end of his arm, concentrating on it, hoping to build up enough power to create another burst of light.  To his right, he suddenly heard a raging war cry, and when he turned toward the sound, he saw Jon Snow racing in his direction, his sword slicing through the enemy as he charged ahead.

Jaime had never been happier to see a Stark in all his life.  Jon’s eyes briefly met his, and there was a quiet understanding between them.  For the first time, Jaime knew he wasn’t in this fight alone.  Jon Snow would get him to the Night King even if it meant sacrificing his own life.

Another cry broke through the cacophony around them, this one louder than the first.  Jaime glanced up at the sky to find Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon swooping low toward the ground, headed directly for him.  For a moment, Jaime thought she intended to kill him, to put an end to the power the gods had given him and incinerate him right then and there.  But that wasn’t her intention at all.  She swerved in front of him, commanding her dragon to strike.  Suddenly, a great plume of fire tore from the beast’s throat, creating a river of flames directly in Jaime’s path.  The fire purged the land of wights, clearing the way for him to reach his intended target.

Jaime was awed by what was happening.  Lannister, Stark, Targaryen.  They were all fighting for the same goal for the first time in living memory.  And somehow, despite his innate cynicism, he trusted his new allies with his life.  He knew they wanted to see the Night King dead as much as he did and that none of them were in this for the glory.  It was a fight to save Westeros, a fight to save the living.  And it was a fight they could only win together.

Jaime squared his jaw and refocused his attention on his opponent.  The Night King sat off in the distance watching him with great interest.  Jaime could feel the stump at the end of his arm pulsating with unspent energy, and he gritted his teeth, holding it back.

Jon Snow had not come to his aid alone.  Those of his men who still stood joined the fight, shielding Jaime from attack as he made his way steadily forward.  He no longer needed to expend the energy building up in his hand to ward off the wights.  The dragon above him and the men around him were doing it in his stead.  Free of the need to defend himself, Jaime concentrated on reaching his target and claiming victory for the living.

His hand glowed even brighter, radiating heat, warming the air around him.  The snow melted at his feet as he walked, and Jaime felt a visceral sense of satisfaction.  He was bringing the south and summer and fire to the Night King.  He would destroy the Night King with his light, melt him to the ground as the summer sun melts winter snows.

When Jaime was no more than a dozen yards away, the path between him and his target completely clear, the Night King finally made his move.  He lifted his sword again and spurred his horse forward, charging straight for Jaime.

Jaime’s feet did not falter, his resolve did not fail.  He kept moving forward, determined to meet the enemy on his own terms. 

The Night King reached him in mere moments, but before he could strike, Jaime held up his golden hand and a pulse of white-hot energy burst forth, striking the Night King squarely in the chest.  The sheer force of the attack knocked him from his horse and sent him crashing to the ground. 

The horse stopped the moment it lost its rider, turning back and charging at Jaime, intent on running him down.  Jaime swung at the animal with Widow’s Wail, slicing through its back in one stroke.  The animal instantly turned to ice, bursting apart on impact, its remains disappearing in the wind.  But Jaime barely noticed.  He quickly turned his attention back to his opponent and continued onward.

The Night King stood a few feet away, his ice-blue eyes fixated on Jaime’s face.  Jaime was long past feeling fear or apprehension.  He was on a mission, and whether he lived or died, he was going to fulfill it.

Jaime stalked forward, determination in his stride.  The Night King moved as well, his gait just as steady.  Both Jaime and his opponent raised their swords.  The instant they were in reach of each other, their weapons clashed, sending sparks of ice into the air. 

Jaime had expected the Night King to be strong, but he was stunned by the creature’s raw strength.  Even with the power of the gods running through him, Jaime was barely a match for the king of the dead.  It took all of Jaime’s skill and cunning to fend off the Night King.  He met the creature blow for blow, fighting to gain the advantage, fighting for time. 

Jaime knew he needed the magic in his hand to destroy the Night King, but the last burst of energy he had expended had depleted its power, and he knew he couldn’t simply summon up another pulse of light at will.  So he stalled for time, keeping the Night King off balance as best he could as the battle continued to rage around them.

The Night King suddenly swung his sword low, catching Jaime by surprise.  Then, he swung the weapon behind Jaime’s legs, ice clashing against armor, and knocked him to the ground.  Jaime landed flat on his back, the air rushing out of his lungs.  For a moment, he lay there stunned, staring up into the darkness with unseeing eyes.  But soon, the world came back into focus, and when it did, there was a sword aimed directly at his heart.

A spike of fear shot through Jaime’s entire body, and suddenly, his hand glowed brightly again.  Without a second thought, he thrust his hand upward, pushing it straight through the Night King’s chest just as the icy tip of the Night King’s sword pierced his own heart.

Jaime barely felt the deathblow.  As the life began to drain from him, all he could see, all he could feel, was the Night King’s body being consumed by the beautiful, white light emanating from his hand.  It slowly turned the Night King to ice, melting and absorbing the bluish white crystals as quickly as they formed.

The creature made no sound as it slipped away, but its eyes stayed focused on Jaime’s for as long as they could.  There was hatred in those eyes, hatred as pure as the fires burning around them.  It gave Jaime a startling sense of peace as the life left his body.  He had done it.  He had stopped the darkness.  Now, he and Cersei could rest together in eternal peace.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-six

Jon watched in awe as a white-hot light burst forth from Jaime Lannister’s hand, tearing through the Night King and spreading out in all directions.  The light devoured the darkness, illuminating the sky as brightly as a midsummer sun. 

Jon shut his eyes as the light moved right through him, warming every inch of his body with its godlike power.  For an instant, he felt strong and revitalized, as if he possessed a touch of the divine.  Around him, he heard the telltale rattle of a thousand wights falling to the ground.  He wanted to look, but couldn’t, for fear that the light would blind him.

Time seemed to stand still as the world swirled around him in chaos.  Jon didn’t know exactly what had happened.  He had seen the glow from Jaime Lannister’s hand from far across the battlefield.  It had been like a beacon in the darkness.  Jon had followed that beacon, and once he had discovered its source, he’d known they were saved.  Despite the Kingslayer’s reputation, he had chosen to sacrifice his own life for the good of Westeros, and Jon stood in awe of him.  Perhaps Jaime Lannister was more like his brother Tyrion after all, and less like his sister Cersei.  Jon knew there was a lesson in Jaime’s heroism, one he would not soon forget.

It wasn’t until the world went dark behind his closed eyes that Jon finally opened them again.  It took a moment for his vision to adjust, but when it did, what he saw made his heart stop.  The rivers of dragonfire still burned all around, but every last wight had fallen and not a single White Walker remained.  The world was deathly quiet except for the sizzling and sputtering of the flames.  It was as if not a living soul had the wherewithal to even breathe.

Not many men still stood, but those who did appeared beaten and bedraggled, at least on the outside.  All the men before him stood tall and proud as if the light had coursed through them just as it had coursed through Jon, healing their wounds and their spirits from the inside out.  Although the living had been victorious, for a moment, none of them could seem to celebrate.  The shock was too great.  They had all expected to die on the battlefield, but somehow, they had survived.

It was Rhaegal who finally broke the tension, swooping down toward the earth and screeching loudly into the night.  All the men turned and watched as he alighted on the ground, unaffected by the flames still burning all around them.  As soon as Rhaegal sank his talons into the earth, he let out a tremendous roar, and suddenly, all the men cheered as one. 

Jon finally felt the thrill of victory coursing through his veins, and he threw a fist into the air, shouting his joy from the deepest recesses of his soul. 

It was then that he finally saw Daenerys.  She climbed from Rhaegal’s back, landing soundly on her feet.  When she turned toward him, there was a look of triumph in her eyes, and all Jon wanted was to rush forward and pull her into his arms.  He knew he shouldn’t, knew this wasn’t the time or place to express his affection, but he couldn’t help himself.  He loved her, and he needed to show her just how happy he was that she was still alive.

Without allowing himself a moment to reconsider, Jon sheathed Longclaw and headed toward Daenerys.  She met him halfway and threw herself into his arms, much to Jon’s relief.  He had feared that she might not welcome a public show of affection, but she was just as desperate to be near him as he was to be near her. 

Jon didn’t know what he had expected from the men around them, but he was more than a little surprised when a great roar of approval rose up from among the crowd.  He held onto Daenerys for dear life, overcome with joy and relief.  She held on to him just as tightly, and Jon never wanted to let her go.

But he knew they could not stay that way forever.  He didn’t know how long they stood there, holding each other, reveling in the feel of just being alive, but eventually, Daenerys pulled away.  She stepped back from the circle of his arms and looked up at him with a renewed sense of calm and clarity, every bit the queen.

The noise around them was deafening, the men cheering and laughing and congratulating each other on a battle well fought.  It gave Jon and Daenerys a chance to share a private moment, their words drowned out by the surrounding chaos.

“We won, Jon,” Daenerys said, her voice deceptively soft.

“We did.”  Jon smiled broadly.  He didn’t think he’d ever been happier in all his life. 

Daenerys glanced around them, assessing everything within view.  When she looked at Jon again, she said, “We’ve won the most important battle, but our fight isn’t over.  Cersei Lannister still sits on the Iron Throne, and I don’t think she will simply stand aside and let either one of us take her place.”

“She’s lost most of her army.  Even the Golden Company was no match for the army of the dead.  Perhaps she’ll see the wisdom in working together for peace.”

Daenerys’ eyes narrowed on him, ever so slightly.  “You really don’t know her at all, do you?”

“I’d like to think that even Cersei Lannister can’t be completely heartless.  After all, the notorious Kingslayer just laid down his life for us.  Maybe his sister has a heart too.”

Daenerys shook her head.  Her eyes softened, and she looked at Jon as if he was a particularly naïve child.  “Oh, Jon.  How little you know about the world.”

“I know more than you think.”

“If that’s true, then tell me what happened to Jaime Lannister.  Tell me how he was able to destroy the Night King when no one else could.  Do you think he was the Prince Who Was Promised?”

Jon didn’t know what to think.  He was still too much in shock.  “I . . . I honestly don’t know.  I can barely think at the moment.”

Suddenly, there was a great commotion to Jon’s left, and he turned his head to see some of his men lifting Jaime Lannister’s body off the ground.  They laid him across one of their horses, being careful not to jostle him.  It seemed as if the Kingslayer’s lifelong enemies had suddenly gained a deep respect for him.  They weren’t going to leave his body to freeze there in the snow.  They were going to take him with them, see to it that he received a hero’s funeral, and Jon wholeheartedly approved.

“Take him back to Winterfell,” Jon commanded.  “We shall see to it that he is given all the honors he deserves.”

The man holding the horse’s reigns replied, “Yes, Your Grace.”

Jon turned his attention back to Daenerys.  She was eyeing him curiously, and he wondered what she was thinking.  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Your Grace?  You may be a bit inexperienced, at least at ruling, but that title suits you.”

“I’m not the only one it suits, . . . Your Grace.”

A tender smile spread across Daenerys’ lips.  “It would be a terrible shame for either one of us to have to give it up, don’t you think?”

“Of course, but what choice do we have?  There is only one Iron Throne, and it’s already occupied.”

Daenerys’ smile broadened.  “It won’t be occupied forever.  And when we have relieved Cersei Lannister of her duties, perhaps we should share the Iron Throne together.”

Jon’s heart skipped a single beat.  He wasn’t quite sure what Daenerys was proposing, but he knew, whatever it was, he was going to have a difficult time refusing her.  “We can’t rule all Seven Kingdoms together, Targaryen and Stark.  That isn’t how it works.  At best, I could remain King in the North and you could rule the remaining kingdoms yourself.”

Daenerys ignored Jon’s objections.  She moved toward him, only stopping when she was a hairsbreadth away.  She tilted her head back and looked up at him, her vibrant eyes entrancing in the firelight.

Jon could feel the heat rising off her body, and it did unsettling things to him.  Even though they were surrounded by dozens of men, he wanted to take her in his arms again and kiss her senseless.  And the look in her eyes told him that’s exactly what she wanted him to do.  But Jon resisted the urge, holding back, determined to stay in control for as long as he could.

“I don’t want to rule Westeros alone,” Daenerys said.  “The Seven Kingdoms need a king and a queen to rule them, and I choose you as my king, Jon Snow.”

The breath caught in Jon’s throat, and all he could do was stare down at her, his mind clouded with uncertainty.  Although he was the rightful heir to the throne, he had no desire to pursue his claim.  Daenerys had been born to rule, not him.  The only reason he wanted the north was because it was what his people wanted.  After everything they had sacrificed for him and his family, he owed it to them to respect their wishes.  Besides, the north was his home, and he wanted to protect it.  In return, he was more than happy to relinquish his claim on the remaining kingdoms.  He had thought it was a reasonable compromise that Daenerys would accept without question, but apparently, he’d been wrong.

Jon finally forced himself to reply.  “I . . . I can’t,” he said.

“And why not?”

“Because you’re my aunt, and we can’t be together again.”

Daenerys broke his gaze, looking at the men surrounding them.  When her eyes met Jon’s again, she said, “No one here has any objections to our being together.  Don’t you see that?”

“That’s because they don’t know the truth.”

“And why should they?”

“Because lies are what caused all of this madness to begin with.  Everyone in King’s Landing lies, and no good has ever come of it.  It’s time to stop lying and start telling the truth.  To everyone.  You know that I love you, Daenerys.  I always will.  But I can’t be your husband.  It wouldn’t be right.”

It took every last ounce of willpower Jon possessed, but somehow, he managed to pull away from her.  He stepped back, putting a comfortable distance between them.  He could tell that Daenerys was hurt by his rejection, but there was nothing he could do to comfort her.  He had already made up his mind before they’d faced the Night King, and nothing had changed.  He could not marry Daenerys Targaryen even though it was what he wanted more than he had ever wanted anything in his entire life.

“If you want to tell the world the truth, Jon, then tell the world the truth.  I promise you, it won’t make any difference.  Look around you.  These men are devoted to you.  You led them to victory, saved every last one of them, and their families, from certain death.  You could demand a blood sacrifice from them, and they’d gladly give it to you.  They want you on the throne, and it doesn’t matter to them how you get there, as long as you get there in the end.”

Jon shook his head.  “No.  I don’t want them to sacrifice anything more for me, and I don’t want to rule the Seven Kingdoms.  All I want is to stay here at Winterfell and live a quiet life.  And they must content themselves with that.  You must content yourself with that.”

Daenerys reached up and placed her hand on his cheek.  Her skin felt impossibly warm in the cold winter air.  Jon closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of her touch for one brief moment.  When he opened his eyes again, she was still staring up at him, and he couldn’t find the strength to pull away.

Without thinking, Jon reached up and covered her hand with his own, and Daenerys took that as a signal to go further.  She pushed herself up on her toes and closed the space between them, kissing him soundly.

Jon’s whole body began to tremble.  He wanted to push her away, but he simply didn’t have the willpower.  Driven by pure instinct, he wrapped his arms around her waist, drawing her closer.  He kissed her deeply, passionately, the world around them disappearing as he lost himself in her kiss.  Suddenly, he didn’t care who was watching.  All he cared about was Daenerys and being as close to her as possible.  He had seen too much death and destruction for one day, and his soul longed for comfort.  It longed for the woman he loved.

If given a choice, Jon would have stayed that way forever, but he didn’t have a choice.  Far too soon, Daenerys broke away, pulling back just enough to look up into his eyes again.  “Do you hear that?” she whispered.  “Do you?”

Jon didn’t know what she was talking about.  He couldn’t hear anything but the beating of his own heart.  It took him a moment to finally hear what Daenerys heard, clapping and cheering, louder than it had been when he’d simply taken her in his arms.

Without letting go of Daenerys, Jon turned his head and looked all around him.  The men, his men, looked on approvingly.  Of course, they didn’t know the truth, but even so, it was startling to see just how many of them seemed to approve of his affection for the Dragon Queen.  Then again, she had just helped them win a war, and he was sure that was affecting their judgement.

Jon looked back at Daenerys.  Softly, he said, “This proves nothing.”

“It proves that we won’t face as much opposition as you think.”

“We will when the truth is revealed.”

“I think you’re wrong, Jon Snow.  So for now, I think we should agree to disagree.  Don’t you?”

Jon was in no mood to argue.  More than anything, he wanted to get back to Winterfell, to reunite with his family, to tell them that the war was over and that they would all live to see another day.  So he grudgingly agreed with Daenerys.  “For now,” he replied. 

Daenerys’ lips quirked in a triumphant smile, and Jon was tempted to remind her that he had only agreed to postpone the argument, not to accept her proposal.  But he held his tongue, knowing it wouldn’t do him any good to argue with her at that moment. 

Before he could say another word, Daenerys pulled away, putting a respectable distance between them.  “It’s a long ride to Winterfell,” she said.  “It will take the men at least a day or two to reach it, but you need to get there as soon as possible.  Your people are waiting for you.  Join me on Rhaegal, and I’ll take you there now.”

Jon looked around again.  He had not seen Arya or Ser Davos in hours, or Ser Jorah, for that matter.  He didn’t want to abandon the battlefield before he knew who had survived the fight.  “No,” he said, “you go.  I have to find Arya before I head back.  And I need to talk to the men, get a full report.  It will take some time.”

“Then I will stay here as well.  We can send a raven to Winterfell for now.  And I will go find Cersei Lannister and give her the news of her brother’s passing.”

A sense of unease settled in the pit of Jon’s stomach.  He had faced wildlings and White Walkers, and yet, the idea of facing Cersei Lannister with such tragic news terrified him beyond measure.  He wondered if it was wise for Daenerys to be the one to tell Cersei.  “Are you sure you want to do that alone?  From all accounts, he was much more than a brother to her.”

“Which is why she deserves to hear it from me, one queen to another.”

“Promise me you’ll be careful,” Jon said.  “There’s no telling what she might do in her grief.”

“I am always careful, Jon Snow.”  And with that, Daenerys turned away, returning to Rhaegal and quickly mounting him.

Jon watched as she took off into the sky.  As always, he feared that he might never see her again.  He held his breath as he watched her fly away.  When he could no longer see her small form hidden behind Rhaegal’s wings, he went off in search of Arya.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-seven

Daenerys flew above the charred battlefield, her eyes keenly focused on the ground as she searched for any sign of Cersei Lannister.  From her lofty vantage point, she was finally able to see the true extent of the devastation the fighting had wrought.  Bodies lay strewn in bloody heaps for miles, lifeless corpses staring up at the sky with unseeing eyes.  Daenerys had seen a great deal of death in her short life, but nothing like the scene below her.  More than half the northern army had been wiped out in a single battle, and her own forces hadn’t fared much better.  Dothraki and Unsullied alike lay on the ground below, their long journeys at an end.  Daenerys’ heart ached for them.  They had chosen to follow her into battle, and they had paid the ultimate price.

Daenerys did a full sweep of the battlefield but saw no sign of Cersei.  She knew she needed to find the self-proclaimed Queen of Westeros as soon as possible.  Now that the battle with the Night King was over, Cersei would begin planning the annihilation of her remaining enemies, and Daenerys knew she had to stop her before she got the chance.

Not knowing what else to do, Daenerys headed for the Lannister camp on the outskirts of the battlefield.  Now that the fighting was over, there was a good chance that Cersei had retreated to her tent to plot and plan.

It wasn’t long before Daenerys reached the camp.  The place was deserted, and she was grateful for it.  If Cersei was holed up in the encampment, it would be better to confront her with as little outside interference as possible.

Daenerys brought Rhaegal to the ground close to Cersei’s tent.  Before the battle, Jon had given her a dragonglass dagger for protection.  She could feel the blade at her hip, but she had no intention of using it.  If Cersei attacked her, she would simply call on Rhaegal to burn down the tent with them both inside.  She would survive the flames, but her rival would not.

And so, Daenerys approached the tent with confident strides, intending to confront Cersei Lannister without the slightest sense of fear or doubt. 

There were no guards standing outside the tent, and Daenerys wondered if Cersei was inside at all.  Her horse was nowhere to be seen, and the camp was eerily quiet.  But Daenerys had exhausted all other possibilities.  Unless Cersei Lannister had been killed during the battle and now lay beneath a pile of bloodied corpses, she had to be inside the tent.

Daenerys pulled back the flap that covered the entrance and stepped cautiously inside.  She stopped, scanning the spacious room as her eyes became accustomed to the gloom.  It was dark outside, but even darker within.  Daenerys looked for movement but saw none.  Then, she turned and noticed a small lantern sitting on the table beside her.

She lit the lantern, and the light chased the darkness to the far edges of the room.  Finally, Daenerys was able to see her surroundings.  The couch and table were both empty, but the bed wasn’t.  A lone figure lay above the covers, still and silent in the empty tent.

Daenerys’ heart skipped a beat.  She took a tentative step forward, hoping to get a better look, but the room was too large and the lantern light too weak for her to see anything more.  She moved closer, crossing the room and stopping just beside the bed.  When she looked down, she was horrified to find Cersei Lannister’s lifeless body lying before her, her skin as blue as ice.

A cold flush crept down Daenerys’ spine as her gaze traveled lower.  The flesh around Cersei’s neck was scratched and bruised, and it was obvious that she had been brutally strangled.

Daenerys quickly turned away from the bed, searching the room, trying to determine if Cersei’s killer was still lurking in the shadows.  She slowly walked around the bed, the lantern held high, but saw nothing.  Cersei’s body looked stiff and cold, as if she had been dead for hours, and Daenerys was certain her killer was long gone.

Daenerys lowered the lantern and returned to Cersei’s side.  She stared down at her former rival, examining her with quiet curiosity.  There were telltale bruises on the right side of her neck where someone had clearly wrapped their fingers around her throat and squeezed.  But there were no such marks on the left side.  Instead, there were four long, even bruises pressed into her flesh as if someone had pushed a metal gauntlet against her neck.  It took Daenerys a moment to realize what that meant, and when she did, a rush of pure horror coursed through her body.

Jaime Lannister. 

Jaime Lannister had murdered his own sister.  There was no doubt in Daenerys’ mind.  And if Jaime Lannister had been the one to end Cersei’s life, that meant that the prophecy had come true.  That meant that Jaime Lannister was the Prince Who Was Promised.

Daenerys didn’t know all the intricacies of the prophecy, but she did know that the Prince Who Was Promised was supposed to be the reincarnation of the fabled hero Azor Ahai.  Thousands of years earlier, Azor Ahai had killed his beloved Nissa Nissa by driving his sword through her heart.  That sacrifice had forged Lightbringer, the sword Azor Ahai had used to fight back the darkness and save the world.  It had long been believed that when Azor Ahai returned, he would reforge that legendary sword and put an end to the darkness again.  But this time around, Lightbringer was no sword.  No, it was Jaime Lannister’s golden hand, forged when he had sacrificed his sister’s life for the good of the world.

Daenerys was stunned.  She didn’t know what to think or do or feel.  She was simply too numb.  She stared down at Cersei, trying to make sense of everything that had happened, but it was all too much.  She felt nothing as she looked at the Lannister queen, cold and lifeless in her bed.  Cersei Lannister had gotten exactly what she’d deserved, and Daenerys would not mourn her loss.

The only thing Daenerys felt at that moment was sympathy for Tyrion.  She knew that despite everything Cersei had done to him, he still loved her.  Although he didn’t know it yet, he had lost a brother and a sister in one day.  His world would be very different now, and Daenerys’ heart bled for him.  She knew, then and there, that she couldn’t tell Tyrion the whole truth about Cersei’s death.  It would be hard enough for him to learn that both his siblings were dead.  He didn’t need to know that one had murdered the other.

Daenerys finally turned away from the bed.  She walked to the front of the tent, extinguishing the lantern before returning it to the table where she’d found it.  She would leave Cersei for her own men to find.  There was nothing any of them could do for her now, anyway.  Her corpse would still be there when the remaining Lannister forces returned to camp, and they could take her home to Casterly Rock or King’s Landing, Daenerys didn’t care which.  She had no more use for Cersei Lannister.  Now, there was only one thing standing between her and the Iron Throne, and she was determined to change that without shedding a single drop of blood.

Before Daenerys returned to Jon, she needed to do one more thing.  As soon as she was outside the tent, she mounted Rhaegal and took off into the sky.  Her heart was heavy in her chest as she raced through the air, intent upon reaching the camp where she had left Drogon that morning.  Although it had been less than a day since she had last seen him, it seemed like a lifetime had passed.  She had no way of knowing if her beloved child still lived.  All she could do was pray for the best.

The distance seemed far greater than it had just hours before, and the sky grew darker and darker the farther Daenerys moved from the blazing battlefield behind her.  She rose up over the snowy clouds, flying high above them so that the moon could light her way.  She counted the seconds until she could reach Drogon.  She was certain if he was already gone, she would have somehow felt the loss.  And so, she held out hope that she would see him again.

Daenerys suddenly saw a glimmer of orange light in the distance, and she knew she had finally reached the camp.  She headed toward the ground as quickly as she could, the light of a large bonfire leading the way.  Not many men had stayed behind at the encampment to tend to Drogon, only a few maesters, some servants, and a handful of guards. 

Daenerys held her breath as she strained to catch sight of Drogon.  She saw his large, shadowy form huddled beside the bonfire, and her heart leapt with both joy and fear.  She could not tell how he fared from such a distance, and she stared at him intently, desperate for any sign that he still lived.

It wasn’t long before Rhaegal touched down on the snowy earth and Daenerys climbed from his back.  She walked steadily forward, resisting the urge to run as one of the maesters headed in her direction.  The instant she was close enough to be heard, Daenerys said, “Tell me that Drogon lives.”

“He does, Your Grace,” the maester replied.  “And his condition has improved since this morning.”

Daenerys’ heart thudded against her ribs, and for a moment, she couldn’t breathe.  She had never been so relieved in all her life.  She had known, deep in her heart, that Drogon still lived, but she had needed to hear the words before she could allow herself to truly give thanks for his recovery.

Daenerys longed to go straight to Drogon, but she knew those who had stayed behind were waiting for word of the battle.  A crowd quickly gathered around her, and she addressed them all together, keeping her remarks brief so that she could be with Drogon as soon as possible.

“Thank you all for staying to care for Drogon,” she said.  “The Night King is dead, and his army has been defeated.  Our remaining forces shall be returning to this encampment on their way back to Winterfell.  I ask that you do all you can for them when they arrive.  Their service deserves to be rewarded.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” the maester replied on behalf of everyone present.

Daenerys said nothing more.  She just nodded and headed toward Drogon.  He was lying on his belly, his head resting on the ground.  Before she could even reach him, he lifted his head and looked at her, meeting her gaze with bright, lucid eyes.

Daenerys’ heart thudded again.  She quickened her step, closing the distance between them as fast as she could.  As soon as Drogon was within reach, she held out her hand, gently stroking his muzzle, tears of joy prickling the backs of her eyes.

“Oh, Drogon, thank the gods you’re still alive.”  She rested her head against his, wrapping her arms about him as best she could, and just held him.  Ordinarily, she wouldn’t allow herself such an open display of affection in the company of strangers, but she had been through too much that day to care.  Besides, a handful of people witnessing a moment of weakness was not going to ruin her.  If anything, the spectators might appreciate the fact that their new queen was human.

Daenerys knew she couldn’t stay that way forever.  Reluctantly, she pulled away, stepping back just far enough to look Drogon in the eye.

“We won,” she whispered.  “We won.  We did it.  And I am never going to let anything hurt you again.”

Drogon made a deep, guttural sound of approval, and Daenerys knew he understood.  She patted his muzzle one last time and then finally let him go.  She walked the length of his body, examining him in the bright firelight.  He still looked battered, but his wounds had all been cleaned and mended.  The maesters had done well, and Daenerys would be eternally grateful.

When she had walked a full circle around Drogon, Daenerys stopped in front of him again.  He was no longer watching her.  His eyes were fixed on Rhaegal who was sitting several yards away, impatiently digging his claws into the snowy ground as if he was desperate to be near his brother.

Drogon began to breathe heavily, and Daenerys knew he was just as anxious to get to Rhaegal as Rhaegal was to get to him.  She held out her hand, encouraging Rhaegal to come closer.  Slowly, he began moving in their direction as the men around him backed away warily.  When he reached his brother, he hunkered down beside him, and they rubbed their snouts together, the gesture as moving as any kiss.  Then, Rhaegal slid his neck over Drogon’s, resting against his brother as if he had no intention of leaving until Drogon could fly by his side.

Daenerys wished she could let them stay like that for as long as they liked, but she couldn’t.  She had to return to the battlefield.  Her people were still waiting for her, and she needed to tell Jon about Cersei.  She didn’t have the luxury of enjoying a quiet moment alone with her beloved children.  She and Rhaegal had other responsibilities, and until they had seen to them, neither one of them could rest.

Daenerys gave Rhaegal and Drogon a few more precious moments together.  Finally, in her softest, most comforting tone, she said, “Rhaegal, we must go.”

The spikes on his back bristled, and Daenerys was afraid he was going to defy her, and that was something she didn’t want the men around them to see.  But he didn’t defy her.  He rubbed his neck along Drogon’s one more time and then slowly pulled away.  Daenerys stepped forward and reached out to Drogon again.  “I will be back.  I promise.  But we still have work to do.  You need to stay here and recover.  We’ll be together again soon.”

She caressed Drogon’s head, and he blinked his understanding.  Finally, she turned away, returning to Rhaegal and mounting him again

Daenerys faced the men who were still watching her every move.  “You have done an admirable job of caring for Drogon.  Your efforts will not be forgotten.  I shall return as soon as I am able.  Thank you all.”  And then, without another word, she urged Rhaegal onward, and they took off into the sky.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-eight

Jon caught sight of Arya on the edge of the battlefield.  She was headed in his direction, though she had yet to notice him.  Her attention was focused on the ground as she searched the piles of corpses, no doubt looking for familiar faces.  Jon was beyond relieved to see her alive.  Although he was certain he had lost many who were dear to him that day, no one meant more to him than Daenerys and Arya.  And now that he knew they were both alive and safe, he could finally breathe.

On the surface, Arya looked like hell.  She was covered from head to toe in mud and dried blood, but she moved as if she hadn’t suffered a single injury, for which Jon was grateful. 

He raced forward, overcome by his desire to reach her.  He was oblivious to everything around him except Arya.  When he was finally near enough for her to hear him, he called out her name across the frozen battlefield.

Arya lifted her head, and her eyes instantly filled with relief.  Without a moment’s hesitation, she ran to Jon.  They met at a point halfway between them, Arya throwing herself into Jon’s arms with a force that nearly knocked him off his feet.  He held her tightly, swinging her around in sheer joy.  He had never been happier to see her.

“Oh, Arya, thank the gods you’re alive!”  He kissed her muddied head.  He was so happy to be holding her that he didn’t care about the filth or the blood.  All he cared about was Arya and the fact that she was still alive. 

“Of course, I’m alive,” she said.  “Did you really think the White Walkers could kill me?  I’m a lot stronger than that.”

Jon laughed, hugging her even tighter.  “Yes, you are.”

“I’m just glad you made it.  When I couldn’t find you, I thought . . . I thought you had died killing the Night King.”

“No.  It wasn’t me.  It was Jaime Lannister.”

Arya pulled back then, and Jon finally lowered her to her feet, letting her go.  She looked up at him in disbelief.  “Jaime Lannister?”

“Yes, the Kingslayer himself.”

“How?”

“It’s a long story.”  Although the tale of how Jaime Lannister had killed the Night King was an astounding one, Jon was in no mood to regale Arya with all the details at that moment.  It was a story best left for another time.

“Where is he now?” she asked, her eyes scanning the surrounding landscape as if she expected Jaime Lannister to attack them at any moment.

“He’s dead, Arya.  He sacrificed himself for the good of Westeros.”

Arya looked at Jon again, her gaze skeptical.  “Jaime Lannister doesn’t do anything for anyone, unless it’s that bitch sister of his.  If he’s really dead, if he really died fighting the Night King, she must have put him up to it.”

“I don’t think anyone put him up to it.  I think he just didn’t want to see us all die.”

Arya shook her head.  “No.  It was Cersei.  Where is she?”

“I don’t know.  I haven’t seen her since the fighting began.  Daenerys went off to look for her.  Hopefully, she’s found her by now and already given her the news.”

A fiendish smile slowly spread across Arya’s lips.  “Are you sure I can’t be the one to tell her?  I’d love to see the look on her face when she finds out that her beloved brother is dead.  Maybe she’ll actually show some genuine emotion for once, right before I plunge Needle straight through her heart.”

Jon knew that Arya had more than enough reason to hate Cersei Lannister, but to hear her talk about murder with such glee chilled him to the bone.  Jon was determined to discourage her murderous tendencies, or at least, not to encourage them.  “I am certain Daenerys has already found Cersei and told her of Ser Jaime’s death.  I’m sure Cersei is suffering more than you can imagine right now.”

“No amount of suffering will ever be enough for her.  But don’t worry, if I don’t kill her now, I will kill her later.”

“I’d rather that you didn’t kill anyone.”

“But I have to finish my list.”

Jon was not particularly fond of Arya’s list, but he held his tongue on the matter.  He knew this was not the time or place for such an argument.

“Well, your list can wait for now,” he said.  “We need to find Daenerys and get back to Winterfell.”

Arya slowly shook her head, and a sense of dread crept down Jon’s spine.

“What?” he asked, not understanding what possible objection she could have to either finding Daenerys or returning to Winterfell.

“The gods must not be particularly fond of us if they let the Dragon Queen live.”

“I’m very glad that they did,” Jon replied.

“Yes, because you’re fucking her.”

“Arya!” Jon scolded.  He was not used to her using such language.  Even though he knew she was a ruthless killer, it still took him aback.

She laughed.  “Don’t be so horrified, Jon.  It’s true, and we all know it.  Had your Dragon Queen perished in the battle, it would have saved us all a great deal of trouble.  Now, you’ll probably give her the Iron Throne without even putting up a fight, all because she’s leading you around by the cock.”

Again, Jon was stunned by Arya’s language.  He was tempted to admonish her once more, but he didn’t because he knew she’d just laugh at him.  Instead, he said, “I have no desire to sit on the Iron Throne.  At best, I’d be content to rule the north, but only because it’s what my bannermen want.”

“You’re a fool, Jon Snow.  Do you know that?  Or should I be calling you Aegon Targaryen now?”

“Jon is fine,” he said, looking around to make sure no one else had heard her use his birth name.  He looked at Arya again.  “I have no desire to be the Targaryen heir, and it would be best if we kept that bit of information to ourselves for as long as possible.”

“You mean until Daenerys is already in King’s Landing ruling over us all.”

“Preferably, yes.”

Arya shook her head again.  “I can see there’s no arguing with you.  All right then.  I’ll just have to take care of her myself,” she said, her tone deathly serious.

“You will do no such thing!  I’ll lock you in a dungeon if I have to, just to make sure.”

“As if chains and bars could hold me.”  Arya smirked, and if Jon hadn’t known her so well, he might have thought she was serious.  But even Arya, with all the deaths and horrors she had endured, was not so cruel as that. 

“I will stop you,” Jon said, “and don’t you forget it.”

Arya’s grin widened.  “I’d like to see you try.”

Jon sighed.  He could spend all day standing there arguing with her, but he didn’t want to.  “Promise me that you’ll leave Daenerys alone, that whatever choice I make, you will respect it.”

“I can’t promise you that because I don’t trust your choices anymore.  You love the Targaryen queen, and love makes people do stupid things.  Remember, Sansa almost married Joffrey because she thought she was in love with him.  I just don’t want you to make a mistake because your heart has overpowered your head.”

“Then I will discuss all of my decisions with you, Arya.  But in return, you must promise me that you won’t harm Daenerys in any way.”

Arya looked away, idly scanning the dark landscape around them.  Jon held his breath as he waited for her to reply. 

It took longer than he would have liked, but finally, she turned to him again and sighed dramatically.  “Fine, I will not kill your lady love.  Are you happy now?”

Jon couldn’t help but smile.  “Yes, yes, I am.”

“Good.  Then, can we go now?  It’s cold and dark, and I’d like to get in front of a warm fire, even if it’s only at camp.”

“Of course.”  Jon knew he should walk away then, but he couldn’t.  Without a word, he reached out and pulled Arya back into his arms.  “I’m so glad you’re safe,” he whispered against her ear.  “I love you, Arya.  You’re my family, and I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Well, then, let’s hope you never have to find out.”  She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

They stood there for the longest time, just holding each other, neither one ever wanting to let go.  Jon understood why Arya mistrusted Daenerys, and he couldn’t fault her for it.  Over the past eight years, Arya had been betrayed by too many people to ever trust anyone blindly again.  Although she despised Daenerys now, Jon knew it wouldn’t always be that way.  In time, she would learn to trust and respect her new queen just as much as he did.  Together, they would all make a better future for Westeros, no matter who sat on the Iron Throne.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirty-nine

It was the wee hours of the morning when the raven arrived.  Tyrion and Sansa had been sitting at the head table in the Great Hall, waiting for news, as half the remaining inhabitants of Winterfell slept restlessly around them.  Sansa rose the instant Maester Wolkan entered the room.  He handed her a scroll, then took a step back, patiently awaiting her instructions.

Tyrion watched her face with keen eyes, monitoring her reaction as she read the letter.  Her mouth quirked into a slight smile, and he hoped, he prayed, that it meant victory for them.  But then, her smile faded, and his heart sank.

For a long moment, Sansa just stared at the missive in her hand, and he knew she was taking time to compose herself in response to whatever horrifying revelation it contained.  The hall was silent around them as everyone waited for word from the front.

When Sansa finally looked up, her eyes met Tyrion’s for a single instant.  He knew the news was bad.  He could tell by the look in her eyes.  But she didn’t say anything.  She just quickly looked away, raising her head and squaring her shoulders as she turned to address the men and women who were now gathered around them.

“Jon has sent word from the front.  The Night King has been defeated, and all the White Walkers are dead.  The war is over.  Our men are coming home.”

A stunned silence fell over the Great Hall as everyone tried to absorb Sansa’s pronouncement.  Tyrion wondered why she looked so solemn if she had such wondrous news to impart.  Of course, he knew there could be only one reason for her somber mood.  Although they had won the war, he was certain they had lost many brave men and women in the fight.  Tyrion wondered whose life Sansa was mourning and if she would make a public declaration or keep the tragedy to herself until Jon returned.

It wasn’t long before the initial shock of Jon’s report wore off and the people of Winterfell began to celebrate in earnest.  Suddenly, there were cries of relief and shouts of joy as the men, women, and children around them turned to embrace each other and offer their congratulations on a hard-won victory.

But Sansa didn’t celebrate.  She turned to look at Tyrion again, her eyes just as somber as before.  “May I have a private word with you?” she asked.

Tyrion’s whole body flushed cold.  A request for a private word meant that Sansa had something personal to tell him.  He didn’t know whether she had lost someone close to her or if he was the one who had suffered the tragedy, but he knew he would soon find out.  If given a choice, Tyrion would have refused her request so that he could continue to remain blissfully ignorant of whatever tragedy had just befallen them.  But he couldn’t refuse her.  He couldn’t refuse her anything.

His limbs were already shaking as he replied, “Of course, my lady.”

“Wait for me on the covered bridge by the armory.  I will be with you as soon as I am done here.”

Tyrion nodded, unable to utter another word.  He turned and exited the Great Hall, heading straight for the Guest House.  If he was to meet Sansa on the covered bridge, he would need his cloak.  

It didn’t take Tyrion long to outfit himself for the bitter cold outside.  Within minutes, he was on his way to the covered bridge, his feet moving far more slowly than he had intended.  He was in no hurry to speak to Sansa.  He feared whatever it was she was about to tell him. 

By the time Tyrion reached the bridge, Sansa was already waiting for him.  She was standing by the open window at the far end of the covered walkway, gazing out over the yard below.  She had donned a thick grey cloak trimmed in white fur.  The hood lay about her shoulders, exposing her glorious red hair.  Despite the fear gripping his heart, Tyrion was entranced by the sight of her.  Even in the darkest of moments, she was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Tyrion walked toward her, his heart in his throat, every nerve in his body trembling.  Sansa turned her head, watching him from afar.  There was a sadness in her eyes that belied her calm exterior.  He couldn’t fathom what horror she was about to confess, but he knew he had no choice but to listen.

Tyrion stopped a few feet in front of her, but instead of greeting him, Sansa simply turned and looked out the window again.  He could tell this was as difficult for her as it was for him, and that did nothing to ease his fears.

Without a word, Tyrion moved up beside her, turning to look out over the yard, waiting for whatever was to come.  But Sansa didn’t speak.  She just continued to stare out into the cold, clear night as if the weight of the entire world rested on her shoulders.

Unable to bear the silence any longer, Tyrion said, “I suppose you have something terrible to tell me.”

“I do,” she replied softly, regret clearly evident in her tone.

“Well, you might as well just come out and say it.  I already know it must be bad.  I could see it in your eyes as soon as you read that letter.”

It took Sansa a moment, but she finally turned to face him again.  Tyrion steeled himself as he waited for her to speak.

“I wish I didn’t have to tell you this,” Sansa said.  “No matter how I felt about him—”  She stopped herself as if she was trying to find the right words.  “It was your brother Jaime who killed the Night King, but he didn’t survive.  I’m so very sorry, Tyrion.”

Tyrion stared up at Sansa without seeing her.  His mind raced to make sense of her words, to disprove their validity.  Jaime had killed the Night King?  Jaime was dead?  Tyrion couldn’t comprehend either revelation.  And so he just stood there, staring up at Sansa, his body cold, his limbs trembling.

It was a long time before Tyrion attempted to speak.  “But . . . but . . .”  He didn’t even know what he wanted to say.  He wanted to argue with her, to tell her that it wasn’t true, that his brother couldn’t be dead, but he couldn’t form a single coherent sentence, so he stopped trying.

“Jon said they’re bringing his body back to Winterfell,” Sansa said, filling the silence between them.  “Your brother died a hero.  I’m certain Jon intends to give him all the honors he deserves.”

Tyrion blinked his eyes several times, trying to bring his vision back into focus.  A stray tear slid down his cheek, and for the first time, he realized he was crying.  He quickly swiped away the tears with the heel of his hand, trying to compose himself.  He knew Jon had no reason to lie about Jaime’s death, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept.

Tyrion inhaled a hard breath, his whole body shuddering as he struggled to compose himself.  When he finally thought he was capable of coherent speech, he said, “What of Cersei?  Does she know?”

“Jon made no mention of her in his letter.  I don’t know.”

Tyrion nodded, turning back toward the window and staring out into the night.  Somewhere off in the distance, Jaime’s body was being loaded onto a cart or a horse and being driven back to Winterfell.  Tyrion wondered if his brother could still feel the cold.  He shivered at the thought, wrapping his arms around himself in a desperate attempt to ward off the chill that had seeped into his bones.

“Is there anything I can do?” Sansa asked, her voice gentle and warm.

“Just stay with me for a while, please.  I don’t want to be alone.”

Sansa turned to look out over the yard again, her very presence a comfort to Tyrion.  She didn’t say anything.  She just stood there, giving him exactly what he had asked for.  He wondered how he would be feeling at that moment if things hadn’t so recently changed between them.  He was certain he’d already be drowning his bitterness in a cask of wine.  Sansa was a blessing from the gods.  She would keep him stable and sane, protect him from himself, in his darkest hour.  She was the only thing that could.

It was a long time before Tyrion broke the silence, his emotions finally getting the better of him.  “I know that most people see Jaime—”  He stopped, his heart skipping one sickening beat as he realized he had misspoken.  “Saw Jaime,” he corrected himself, “as a coward and a monster.  Kingslayer, they called him.  And I’m sure, at times, they called him a lot worse than that.  Of course, the rumors about him and Cersei didn’t help matters, whether true or not.  Since the day he was born, Jaime lived to do Cersei’s bidding without question, and sometimes, that meant doing terrible, unspeakable things.  He earned his reputation.  I can’t claim that he didn’t.  But he was my brother, and I loved him.  I always have, and I always will.  I don’t know how I’m going to go on without him.”

Tyrion didn’t expect anything in reply from Sansa beyond gentle platitudes, but he got a great deal more than that.  “I’ve lost two brothers,” she began, her tone surprisingly calm despite the subject matter.  “Both of them were good, kind, and gentle.  Noble men, like my father.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t mourn them both.  I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but it doesn’t,” she said, her voice finally wavering with emotion.  “Sometimes, I feel like Winterfell is little more than a tomb.  I walk its halls, and all I feel is the absence of those I’ve lost.  I can’t enter the Great Hall without missing my mother and father.  I can’t walk through the yard without thinking of Rob and Rickon.  I know what it’s like, Tyrion.  And it’s a living hell.”

Tyrion stared at Sansa, transfixed by the pain he saw etched in her face.  She had known greater loss than he ever would, and although her ability to understand his suffering was comforting, it tore at his heart to know that she lived with such agony every single day of her life.

“I’m sorry, Sansa,” Tyrion said.  “In all the chaos of this war, I think I’d forgotten just how much you’ve lost.”

Sansa turned to look at him again, her gaze distant, as if her mind was somewhere else.  It took her a moment to collect herself.  “There’s been so much suffering these past eight years, it’s easy to forget all of it.  But I hold it all here,” she said, covering her breast with her hands, “in my heart.  Always.”

Tyrion’s own heart ached for her.  He wanted to reach out to her, to hold her, to tell her that everything was going to be all right, but he couldn’t.  He knew there was nothing he could do to take away her pain, just as there was nothing she could do to take away his.  All they could do was comfort each other and make the suffering a little easier to bear.

“I didn’t know your brother well,” Sansa said before Tyrion could reply, “and although, until today, I had never heard a single good word spoken on his behalf, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have good in him.  Even though I am a Stark and he was a Lannister, I can still admit that.  You have every right to mourn him, to love him, to want to keep his memory alive.  Jon says he died a hero, and I know Jon wouldn’t lie.  You should take pride in the fact that your brother’s sacrifice saved us all.  He did what none of us here could do.  He saved Westeros.  You should be proud of him.”

Tyrion smiled through his grief.  Sansa was right.  Although Jaime was gone, he had done in death what he had never been able to do in life.  He had redeemed himself, paid for his past sins.  The gods would welcome him to whatever wondrous afterlife existed, if one existed at all.  Suddenly, Tyrion envied his brother.  He had committed far too many sins to ever find salvation himself. 

“I’m sorry that you never got to know him,” Tyrion said.  “He really wasn’t as bad as people think.  He had a kind heart and a sense of honor.  I just can’t believe he’s gone.  I don’t think I’ll believe it until I see his body.  I don’t think—”  Tyrion couldn’t finish.  The thought of seeing Jaime’s corpse made his throat constrict painfully, and he simply couldn’t speak. 

Tyrion inhaled a steadying breath, his bottom lip trembling with the effort.  When he had finally composed himself, he said, “I wonder where Cersei is right now.  Even when they were children, there was always an almost preternatural connection between them.  There were times when I was sure they could read each other’s thoughts, feel each other’s pain.  If Jaime is dead, I’m certain that, wherever she is, Cersei can feel it.  She must be suffering even more than I am.”

“Good.”

Tyrion was startled by Sansa’s reply.  So startled, in fact, that for a moment, he forgot his own grief.  He knew Cersei had tormented Sansa during her time in King’s Landing, but even so, he had never expected such a response.  Sansa was a kind, compassionate woman, but apparently, that sense of compassion didn’t extend to those who had wronged her.

When Tyrion didn’t reply, Sansa said, “I suppose you think my response a bit harsh.”

“No, not at all,” Tyrion said softly.  “My sister was nothing but cruel to you.  Honestly, she’s been nothing but cruel to me since the day I was born.  If she is suffering now, she has earned it.  I will not shed a tear for her.  You needn’t worry on that score.”

“I wouldn’t hold it against you if you did.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Tyrion asked, eyeing her curiously.  Sansa Stark never failed to surprise him.  Suddenly, he was more thankful than ever that she was still his wife.  He could spend the rest of his life with Sansa and never learn everything there was to know about her.  She fascinated him, and he knew he would never tire of her, no matter how long he lived.

“I may despise Cersei,” Sansa said, “but she is your sister, and your feelings for her are your feelings, not mine.  I have no right to try to control or command them.  Whatever you feel, I will not judge you, Tyrion.  I will never judge you.”

Tyrion’s throat constricted again but for a very different reason this time.  He was overcome with love for his wife.  He loved her more than she would ever know.

“What’s wrong?” Sansa asked, the hint of a smile curving her lips. 

Tyrion wondered if his feelings for her were evident on his face.  He wanted to confess his love right then and there, but he knew it was neither the time nor the place.  Instead, he answered, “Nothing’s wrong.  I’m just grateful I have you here with me now.  I’m grateful I don’t have to go through this alone.”

Without any preamble, Sansa lowered herself to her knees so that her gaze was level with his.  “You don’t ever have to go through anything alone again, Tyrion.  And neither do I.”

Tyrion took a step forward, closing the distance between them.  He reached out and picked up a lock of Sansa’s hair, watching with rapt attention as it slowly slid through his fingers.  He looked up at her again.  “Thank you, Sansa, for being here, for understanding, and for wanting to be my wife even though most women would think it a curse.”

“It isn’t a curse.  It’s a blessing.  And one I am very grateful for.  I . . .”  Her eyes searched his as if she was desperately looking for the right words but didn’t know what they were. 

For a moment, Tyrion thought she was just as overcome with emotion as he was.  Did she love him too?  Did she feel more than either one of them had ever imagined possible?  Tyrion wanted to hope, but he wouldn’t allow himself to do so.  The gods had already been far too generous to him.  He would not ask them for anything more.

“It’s all right, Sansa.  I understand.”

“Do you?”

Tyrion didn’t answer.  Instead, he leaned closer and kissed her softly.  When he pulled away, Sansa reached out and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

“I’m so sorry, Tyrion,” Sansa said, “for everything you’ve been through and everything that is to come.  Grief can cripple your very soul, but I will be here beside you, and we will get through it together.  I promise you, we will.”

Tyrion held onto Sansa as if she was the only thing in the world that could keep him alive.  Despite his determination to remain strong, the tears finally began to flow freely.  He stood there for the longest time, sobbing out his grief and anger, as Sansa held him in her arms, offering him comfort in the cold, cruel night.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty

The sun was just dipping below the horizon when Jon and Daenerys finally returned to Winterfell.  They had stayed on the battlefield for hours after the fighting had ended, assessing the damage and rallying the men.  It had been a relief to discover that both Ser Davos and Ser Jorah had made it out alive, though countless others had not been so fortunate.  Jon and Daenerys had lost more than half their combined forces in the battle, and it was a devastating blow for them both. 

The Lannister armies had fared no better.  The Golden Company had been led by Euron Greyjoy, but his body had been found among the other corpses during a sweep of the battlefield.  With both Euron Greyjoy and Cersei Lannister dead, the mercenaries they had hired were no longer beholden to anyone.  Having already been paid for their services in advance, what was left of the Golden Company had headed back to Essos, more than willing to put what they’d experienced in Westeros long behind them.  As for the Lannister army, with Jaime and Cersei now dead, it had no one left to command it.  The Lannister forces had scattered as soon as they’d heard news of their queen’s death.  Jon didn’t know what had happened to Cersei’s body, and he wasn’t sure he cared.

Having done all he could on the battlefield, Jon had reluctantly agreed to return to Winterfell ahead of his men.  For better or for worse, he was still the King in the North, and he owed it to his people to be there for them now that the fighting was over.  And so he and Daenerys had mounted Rhaegal and ridden straight for the keep, leaving the rest of their party to follow.

Rhaegal touched down just beyond the East Gate, and Jon and Daenerys quickly dismounted.  The guards in the watchtowers must have seen the dragon long before it had reached the keep because, when they entered the yard, all of Winterfell was there waiting for them. 

The instant Sansa saw Jon, she raced forward, throwing herself into his arms and hugging him as if she’d thought she would never see him again.  He held her tightly, relieved to be holding her, relieved to finally be back at Winterfell.

But far too soon, Sansa was pulling away, ever mindful of the crowd around them.  She stepped back, retaking her position between Bran and Tyrion, her eyes still glassy with unshed tears.  “Welcome home, Jon.”

“It’s good to be back,” he replied evenly, doing his best to keep any hint of emotion from his voice.  It was difficult for him to remember sometimes, but he was still a king, and he needed to act like a king at all times.

Jon turned his attention to Bran, looking him up and down, taking in every last inch of him. He had thought he might never see Bran again, and he was relieved to find him safe and sound.

“I knew you would return,” Bran said. 

“I wish you had told me that.”

“It was better that you didn’t know.  The knowledge might have affected your decisions and made things more difficult for everyone.  No, you didn’t need to know, Jon.  Everything is just as it should be.”

Jon didn’t know how to reply, so he simply nodded.  It was hard to believe that the Bran Stark sitting in front of him was the little boy he had grown up with.  There was nothing left of Bran in him anymore.  He still looked like Bran, of course, but Bran’s spirit was long gone, and Jon grieved for it.

Jon couldn’t look at Bran any longer.  He turned away, his gaze resting on Tyrion.  There was a sadness in Tyrion’s eyes that Jon knew was a direct result of the raven he had sent just the night before.  Jon had sent it before Daenerys had returned with news of Cersei’s death, which is why the letter had made no mention of her.  Although Jon knew there had been a great deal of animosity between Tyrion and Cersei, he also knew that Cersei was the last of Tyrion’s family and that news of her death would hit him hard.  Jon had no desire to tell Tyrion the truth right there in the yard, surrounded by dozens of onlookers.  In fact, Jon had decided it would be best if Daenerys was the one to tell Tyrion about Cersei’s death.  After all, Tyrion was Daenerys’ Hand and the two were quite close.

Tyrion greeted Jon and Daenerys warmly, his eyes darting to his queen as he spoke.  “Welcome home, both of you.”

“It was a hard-fought battle,” Daenerys replied, “but we were victorious.  Thanks, in large part, to your brother.  His sacrifice will not be forgotten.”

Tyrion nodded.  “Thank you, Your Grace,” he said softly, his tone thick with emotion.

Jon’s heart ached for Tyrion.  Tyrion was already in pain, and that pain was only going to intensify before the day was through.

“I must ask,” Sansa interjected, “where is Arya?  You said in your letter that she had survived.  Why has she not come with you?”

Jon turned away from Tyrion and looked at Sansa again.  “Rest assured, Arya is alive and well.  She proved herself quite the brave warrior on the battlefield.  She shall be returning with Ser Davos and Lady Brienne and the rest of the men on the morrow.  I must admit, she was not too fond of the idea of traveling by dragon.”  Arya had not been afraid to ride Rhaegal, of course.  She simply hadn’t wanted to make the trip with Daenerys.  She was still wary of the Targaryen queen, and Jon knew it was going to take quite some time for her to come to terms with the fact that Daenerys would soon sit on the Iron Throne.

The relief in Sansa’s eyes almost surprised Jon.  She and Arya had never been close, and he was happy to see that Arya’s safety meant as much to Sansa as it did to him.

“I am glad to hear that,” Sansa replied.  “Winterfell cannot afford to lose yet another Stark.  We will all be relieved when Arya is home safe and sound.  Now,” Sansa said, looking at both Jon and Daenerys, “you have had a long journey.  We had warning of your arrival, so your rooms have already been prepared.  There are hot baths and fresh meals waiting for you, and I’m sure you’re both eager to head inside.”

“There is more to report—” Daenerys began.

“But it can wait until later,” Jon said, stopping her as quickly as he could.  He knew what she wanted to say, but he couldn’t let her, not in the middle of the yard in front of all of Winterfell.  The truth about Cersei’s death would have to wait.  It was the least they could do for Tyrion after everything he had done for them.  Although there was some good news to report – both Ser Bronn and Tyrion’s former squire, Podrick, had survived – Tyrion had lost his entire family in a single day, and the situation needed to be handled with great delicacy. 

“Very well,” Daenerys conceded.  “But I would like a private word with Tyrion as soon as we get settled.”

Tyrion’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Daenerys, and Jon could tell that he was already trying to figure out what his queen wanted with him.  Tyrion had no way of knowing what he was about to walk into, and he was going to be devastated when he learned the truth.  

He finally replied to Daenerys, “Of course, Your Grace.”

Sansa took a step back, holding her arm out toward the entrance to the Great Keep.  “Shall we?” she asked, ever the gracious hostess. 

Jon and Daenerys stepped forward, walking past both Sansa and Tyrion and entering the keep.  They walked side by side, keeping pace with each other as they navigated the familiar hallways. 

“You shouldn’t have stopped me,” Daenerys said, low enough that only Jon could hear.  “Everyone needs to know that Cersei Lannister is dead and no longer has any claim to the Iron Throne.”

“Tyrion just lost his brother,” Jon replied.  “He’s clearly devastated by that fact.  He deserves better than to hear he’s the last surviving member of his family in a public forum.”

“I know that Tyrion is suffering, and I have no desire to make things more difficult for him, but we cannot keep the truth to ourselves for much longer.  Your people need to know.”

“And they will, but after you’ve spoken to Tyrion in private.  Once that is done, you can tell whoever you like.”

Daenerys nodded.  “Very well then.  I will tell Tyrion now, and when next we meet, you and I shall inform the rest of Winterfell.”  Then, without another word, Daenerys headed off toward the Guest House, leaving Jon behind.

His feet faltered, and he came to a dead stop, staring after her.  He was tired, yes, and desperate for a hot bath and a warm meal.  But he had no desire to be separated from her.  After everything they had been through together, what he really wanted was to hold her in his arms and tell her just how much he loved her. 

Jon swore beneath his breath, frustrated by his own weakness.

“Is that any language for a king to use?” Tyrion asked as he came up behind Jon.

Jon turned around to look at him.  There was a somber cast to Tyrion’s eyes, despite his attempt at humor.

“Gods willing, I won’t be king much longer.”

Tyrion shook his head.  “You’ve just saved the entire continent from an invasion of White Walkers.  If you think your people are going to let you just walk away, you obviously don’t know how this game is played.  You’re a king, Jon Snow.  Or should I say Aegon Targaryen?  You were born to rule, and you shall do so admirably.”

Jon scowled.  “I don’t want to be king.  Daenerys will do a much better job of it than I ever could.  She’s done it before.  She’s ruled tens of thousands.  I have only led the Night’s Watch, what’s left of the wildlings, and a handful of bannermen.  That hardly qualifies me to rule all of Westeros.”

“Your blood qualifies you to rule Westeros.  It’s the same blood that runs through Daenerys’ veins.  Don’t forget that.”

Jon’s eyes narrowed on Tyrion.  “Tell me, Lord Tyrion, why are you encouraging me to pursue my birthright?  I thought you were loyal to your queen.”

“I am,” he replied matter-of-factly, “but I want my queen to be happy.  A happy queen is a benevolent queen.  And you, Jon Snow, are the only thing that’s ever going to make her truly happy.”

“Even if I take the throne from her?”

“Who said anything about taking the throne from her?  I am talking about you ruling Westeros together.  The Iron Throne may be the ugliest, most uncomfortable chair in all the Seven Kingdoms, but I truly believe it is big enough for the both of you.”

Jon stared at Tyrion, stunned by his words.  He couldn’t quite believe that Tyrion Lannister wanted him to share the throne with Daenerys Targaryen.  Jon knew Tyrion wasn’t talking about a strictly political arrangement.  He was talking about marriage. 

It took Jon a moment, but finally, he replied, “But she’s my aunt.”

Tyrion laughed.  “And her parents, your grandparents, were brother and sister.  It didn’t stop them from marrying.  And, if I’m not mistaken, I think I remember reading once about a couple of Starks who married their own uncles.”

“That was generations ago.  Things were different then.”

“They weren’t so different.”

Jon didn’t want to talk anymore.  He was tired, and he’d already had this same argument with Daenerys the night before.  “Isn’t your queen expecting you?” Jon asked.

“So she is,” Tyrion said with a regretful sigh.  “I will be on my way then.  You just looked like you needed some guidance, that’s all.  I’m sure your own Hand will advise you differently, but as Daenerys’ Hand, I thought I owed you my opinion.  I’m sure you will do what you think is right, Jon Snow.  You always do.  I will take my leave of you now, Your Grace.”  Tyrion nodded his head in deference to Jon.  Then, he turned and headed toward the Guest House to meet his queen.

Jon stared after Tyrion, thoroughly confounded by his advice.  Everyone made it sound so simple.  Marry Daenerys, ignore the fact that they were blood relatives, rule Westeros together, and live happily ever after.  Jon truly wished it was that simple.  Hero or not, king or not, he couldn’t allow himself to be ruled by his heart.  He had to do what he believed was right, no matter what the cost.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-one

Daenerys was already soaking in her tub when Tyrion finally entered the room.  The instant he saw her, his feet faltered and he took an unconscious step back.  “Forgive me, Your Grace.  I shall return when you’ve finished your bath.”

“There’s no need for that,” Daenerys replied as Missandei closed the door behind him.  Then, she nodded toward a low stool not far from the tub.  “Take a seat.”

Tyrion looked at the stool, then back at Daenerys.  He seemed surprisingly self-conscious. 

“Don’t tell me the infamous Tyrion Lannister is intimidated by the sight of a naked woman.”

“Not a naked woman, a naked queen.  My queen.  I must admit, when I was Joffrey’s Hand, we never held court in his bedchamber.”

“Sit, Tyrion.  You won’t be able to see anything from there.  I promise.”

He eyed her doubtfully but did as instructed.  The stool was quite low and just far enough from the tub to keep Tyrion from glimpsing anything below the rim.  Daenerys was submerged from the neck down, so even though she was naked, Tyrion couldn’t see anything she didn’t want him to see.

Tyrion settled himself on the stool.  He fidgeted awkwardly, his eyes looking anywhere but at the tub.  If circumstances had been different, Daenerys might have laughed.  He looked impossibly uncomfortable, as if he was truly scandalized by her nakedness.  Tyrion Lannister had been to every brothel from Dorne to the Wall, and yet, he suddenly seemed as embarrassed as an untried maid.

“Tyrion.”  Daenerys forced herself to sound stern even though she was struggling to keep from laughing.

His eyes darted to hers, but he quickly looked away again.  “I don’t think I can do this.  I’ll come back when you’re done.”  He leaned forward, intent on standing, but Daenerys stopped him.

“Don’t,” she said.  “We have important matters to discuss, and I don’t have time to pamper your modesty.”

Tyrion looked at Daenerys again.  This time, his eyes stayed locked with hers.  He laughed awkwardly.  “You know, I don’t think my wife would approve of this little scenario.”

Daenerys raised a brow in question.  “Your wife?”

“Yes, Lady Sansa.  I think she would be quite displeased if she knew we were meeting like this.”

“But Sansa Stark is no longer your wife.  She’s Ramsay Bolton’s widow.”

“Well, yes.  And no,” he said, cringing with the effort.

“What do you mean?” 

Daenerys sat up straighter, intrigued by Tyrion’s words.  His shoulders instantly slumped, and he sank lower onto the stool so that he couldn’t see her naked flesh above the rim of the tub.

Tyrion sighed heavily, running a hand through his hair in frustration.  “There was precious little to do here while we waited for news of the battle, and while we waited, Samwell Tarly shared some of his infinite wisdom with us regarding marriage laws in the Faith of the Seven.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning Littlefinger was in such a hurry to sell Sansa Stark to the Boltons that he didn’t bother to have our marriage properly annulled.  Apparently, there was a great deal of greasing of palms and kissing of rings that he simply ignored.  Our marriage should have been annulled by the High Septon or a Council of Faith.  Instead, it was annulled by some northern septon who ignored all the required protocols.  And because of that, according to Samwell Tarly at least, Sansa and I are still very much married.”

Daenerys stared at Tyrion for a long moment, contemplating every last word he had said.  This was an unexpected turn of events, and she wondered if she could somehow use it to her advantage.  “Are you certain he is correct?”

Tyrion sighed again, his shoulders slumping even lower.  “I’m certain.  Samwell Tarly has an uncanny knack for uncovering inconvenient truths.  He’s a smart boy.  Too smart for his own good, really.  And if he says it’s true, I’m inclined to believe him.”

Daenerys weighed Tyrion’s words thoughtfully.  If it was true, it meant that Tyrion Lannister was a much more powerful man than anyone thought.  With his brother and sister dead, he was in line to become Lord of Casterly Rock.  And if he was, in fact, still married to Sansa Stark, that meant that he was also the Lord of Winterfell.

“What?” Tyrion asked when Daenerys stayed silent.  “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“If Samwell Tarly is right, it means that you, Tyrion Lannister, are the new Lord of Winterfell.”

Tyrion laughed.  “I may be married to the Lady of Winterfell, but I don’t know if I’d put it quite that way.  Jon has his own claim to the keep.  After all, he is the King in the North.  If he wants Winterfell, no one is going to stop him from having it, least of all me.”

“But he has no right to it.  He’s not Ned Stark’s son.”

“Then the title falls to Bran, not me.”

“Do you honestly think Bran Stark is going to stay here at Winterfell now that the war is over?  Even if he does, do you think he is fit to rule?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think.  The northerners will make the decision amongst themselves, not us.  I will abide by whatever they decide.”

“And what if they decide that your marriage to Sansa Stark should be annulled for good this time?”

“That they have no say in.  Sansa and I will remain married.  We have already seen to that.”

Daenerys eyed Tyrion shrewdly, wondering if he meant what she thought he meant.  “And what if Jon objects?”

“He can object all he wants, but he cannot annul a consummated marriage.”

Daenerys was more than a little surprised by Tyrion’s words.  She wondered just what he had said or done to get Sansa Stark into his bed.  Then again, he had a very sharp mind and an even sharper tongue.  If any man could seduce a woman with words alone, it was Tyrion Lannister.

“Who knows of this?” Daenerys asked.

“No one.  Just Sansa and me.  And Sam, of course.  That’s all.”

Daenerys nodded.  “Good.  We shall keep it that way for now.”

“Of course.  I’d like nothing more.”  Tyrion repositioned himself on the stool as if he’d been sitting just a bit too long.  “Now, there was something else you wanted to see me about.  Something Jon didn’t want you disclosing in the yard in front of all of Winterfell.”

Daenerys’ heart skipped a beat.  She had thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to tell Tyrion that his hated sister had perished during the battle.  But now that the moment was upon them, she couldn’t find the words.

When she failed to reply, Tyrion said, “It must be quite horrific if you can’t even bear to tell me.  What could possibly be worse than my brother dying?”

Daenerys stared at Tyrion, and suddenly, she saw realization dawn in his eyes.  She didn’t even have to speak.  He knew.  He knew just by the way she was looking at him. 

Tyrion shook his head.  “No.  I don’t believe it.  Cersei is dead?”

“She is.  I found the body myself.”

Tyrion’s eyes glazed over, and he stared at Daenerys with a blank expression.  It felt as if he was looking right through her.

“I’m sorry, Tyrion.  Even though, from all accounts, Cersei Lannister was the most bloodthirsty woman in all of Westeros, I know she was your sister.  I know you loved her despite the atrocities she committed, and I know you will grieve her loss for a long time to come.”

Tyrion blinked his vision back into focus.  He looked at Daenerys as if he hadn’t heard a word she’d said.  “How?” he asked, the single word uttered in complete disbelief.

Daenerys had already made up her mind not to tell Tyrion about Jaime’s role in their sister’s death.  She wanted to spare Tyrion whatever pain she could. 

“I cannot say,” Daenerys replied.  “I found her body in her tent after the fighting had ended.  I left her there for her men to find.  Whether they will take her back to King’s Landing or to Casterly Rock, I don’t know.”

Tyrion slipped off the stool.  “I must go.  I must go to her.”

“She’s gone, Tyrion.  She’s been dead for at least a day, and her body is probably already on the road.  There’s nothing you can do for her.”

Tyrion stared up at Daenerys helplessly.  “But I . . .  They can’t be gone.  Not both of them.”

“I’m sorry, Tyrion.  Truly, I am.”

He shook his head again, tearing his eyes away from her, gazing about the room in bewilderment.  His eyes were so dark with grief that Daenerys thought he might break down right then and there.  When he finally looked at her again, all he said was, “I have to go.”

“You are not leaving Winterfell,” Daenerys replied.  “That is a command, not a request.”

Tyrion shuffled anxiously on his feet.  “I am not leaving Winterfell.  You have my word.  But I must . . . I must take a moment for myself privately.  I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course.  You may be excused.”

Tyrion nodded his thanks.  Then, He turned and left the room as quickly as he could, Missandei closing the door behind him.

“Do you think he’ll go after her?” Missandei asked as she moved toward the tub.

“No.  He gave me his word that he wouldn’t, and I trust him.”

“Even though he is sick with grief?”

“He will not leave, despite his grief.  Tyrion knows where his duty lies.  He will not disobey a direct command even if he is blinded by pain.”

Missandei nodded her understanding, then went about helping Daenerys finish her bath. 

Daenerys felt sorry for Tyrion.  She knew what it was like to grieve for someone you loved.  Despite how she felt about Cersei Lannister, Cersei was Tyrion’s sister.  They had a history together.  They were blood.  And Daenerys would not begrudge him his grief as long as it didn’t affect his loyalty or his ability to serve as her Hand.  She knew he would come to terms with Cersei’s death eventually.  He just needed time.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-two

Sansa paced the corridor outside Jon’s chamber, waiting to be bid entry.  Bran and Sam had followed Jon to his room, and now, all three of them were behind the closed door talking while Jon finished his bath.  Sansa hated the fact that she was barred from joining them, but as a woman, she had not been permitted to enter the room while Jon was indisposed.  He had promised to call for her as soon as he was decent.  Now, she waited.

Sansa wondered if Tyrion was still with the Dragon Queen.  She wondered if his queen had told him the news Jon had stopped her from revealing in the yard.  Was it something more about Ser Jaime?  Something about Cersei?  Sansa was eager to know, and if Jon wouldn’t tell her, she was sure that Tyrion would.

The door to Jon’s chamber finally opened, and Sam peeked his head outside.  “Jon’s ready for you now.” 

Sam took a step back, opening the door wider, and Sansa finally entered.  She found Jon sitting at the small table in the corner of the room, fully dressed, Bran by his side.  Ever the gentleman, the instant Jon saw Sansa, he stood.

“Please,” she said.  “Sit.  You’ve had a long journey.”

“Will you join me?” he asked, motioning toward the table full of food in front of him.

“I will sit with you, but I have already had my supper.  Thank you.”

Sansa sat across from Jon.  Since there were only two chairs at the table, Sam continued to stand.

“Are you all right?” she asked.  “Honestly?”  Now that they were alone together, removed from the prying eyes of onlookers, Sansa needed to know how Jon really was.

“I am well, Sansa.  And so is Arya.  We both survived the battle relatively unscathed.  It shall take some time to recover from the shock of it all, but beyond that, we are both fine.”

“What happened on the battlefield?  In the yard, the Dragon Queen almost revealed something, but you stopped her.  What was it?”

“Cersei Lannister is dead.”

Sansa’s heart skipped a beat, and the breath caught in her throat.  Cersei Lannister was dead? 

When Sansa didn’t reply, Jon said, “She was strangled to death, though her killer was long gone by the time Daenerys found her.  The Lannister army took her body.  I can only assume they are taking her back to King’s Landing or Casterly Rock for a proper funeral.”

Sansa was having difficulty grasping everything Jon had said.  It was hard for her to believe that Cersei Lannister was really gone.  The woman who had tormented her for years was now lying dead somewhere on a wagon or a horse, traveling the countryside on the way to her funeral.  Sansa wished she’d had a chance to see the body just so she could convince herself that it was real.

“Are . . . are you certain?” Sansa asked when she finally regained the power of speech.  “Did you see the body yourself?”

“No, but Daenerys did.  And she had no doubt that Cersei was dead.”

Sansa’s mind began to race.  If Cersei was dead, it meant there was nothing keeping Daenerys Targaryen from taking the Iron Throne except Jon.  And Sansa knew Jon was prepared to relinquish his birthright without a fight.  “I suppose,” Sansa said, “now that Cersei is gone, you are going to stand down and allow the Dragon Queen to take the throne, aren’t you?”

“Perhaps.  I have yet to make a final decision.”

Sansa’s whole body stiffened, her spine straightening as she prepared for battle.  “Daenerys Targaryen has already made her decision.  I’m certain of it.  While you wait and plot and plan, she’s already decided to take the throne.  She’s a Targaryen.  They take what they want without a thought for anyone else.”

Jon’s eyes darkened, and Sansa could tell that she’d upset him, but he kept his tone steady just the same.  “You forget, Sansa, that I am also a Targaryen.  When you insult the Targaryens, you insult me as well.  But I don’t care about that.  All I care about is what’s best for Westeros, and I’m still not certain that I’m fit to rule the Seven Kingdoms.”

“You are, Jon.  You were raised here in Westeros, not across the Narrow Sea, but here in the north, on northern soil.  You know this land so well, its people, its troubles.  Daenerys Targaryen knows nothing of that.”

“Which is why she has Tyrion Lannister to advise her.  He’s a very capable Hand, and he will guide her well, I’m sure.”

Sansa broke Jon’s gaze.  She remained deathly silent as an unsettling thought worked its way through her brain.  Tyrion was still the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen.  If and when Jon gave her the throne, Tyrion would have to go to King’s Landing with his queen.  He’d have to return to the capital to fulfill his duty, just as her father had done when Robert Baratheon had called him to service.  Suddenly, Sansa realized she was going to lose her husband again.  He would return to King’s Landing, and she would stay at Winterfell, and it might be years before they ever saw each other again.

When Sansa didn’t respond, Jon asked, “Do you have something against Lord Tyrion?  If you do, speak now, and I will listen.  You know him better than any of us.  You were married to him once.  If you know something, you must tell me.”

Sansa’s eyes drifted to Jon’s.  He was looking at her as if he expected her to make some horrible pronouncement on Tyrion’s character.  If she had truly wanted to turn Jon against Daenerys Targaryen, this was her best chance.  But she couldn’t lie about Tyrion’s character.  He was a good man, and there was no one in all of Westeros who would make a better advisor to its queen or king.

“I cannot say a single word against him,” Sansa replied.  “He is a gifted man, wise and charismatic, cunning and capable.  I cannot think of anyone better suited to stand beside the new ruler of Westeros, whoever that might be.”

“Then what’s wrong?  The moment I mentioned his name, you suddenly looked ill.”

Sansa glanced up at Sam.  He gave her an awkward half smile, and she was certain he hadn’t told Jon about the annulment yet.  Maybe he had thought the news would be better coming from her, or maybe it had just slipped his mind.  Either way, Sansa was certain Jon didn’t know, and now, she had no choice but to tell him.

Sansa turned her attention back to Jon.  “While you were away, some unexpected information came to light regarding my marriage to Tyrion.  According to Sam, since Littlefinger did not follow the proper protocols to annul the marriage, Tyrion and I are technically still married.”

Jon stared at her for a long time, not saying a word.  Finally, he slowly nodded his head.  “I see.  Well, if Sam says it’s true, it must be true.  He knows more about these things than half the maesters in Oldtown.  I suppose this just means that you and Tyrion will have to have the marriage properly annulled.  It shouldn’t be too difficult, should it?” 

Jon looked to Sam for an answer, but before he could reply, Sansa said, “The marriage can’t be annulled.”

Jon’s eyes found her again.  “Why?  Your marriage was never consummated.  Surely, you can find some septon to guide you through the process.”

Sansa cast a furtive glance in Bran’s direction, but he seemed completely unaffected by their conversation, bored almost, as if he already knew everything they were going to say before they said it.

Sansa looked at Jon again.  “The marriage has been consummated.  No self-respecting septon will help us annul it now.”

Jon shook his head as if he hadn’t understood a single word she had said.  “But . . . but everyone was told that the marriage was never consummated.  That’s why Littlefinger was able to give you over to that bastard, Ramsay Bolton.”

“Yes, well, that was true then, but it isn’t true now.”

Jon’s face contorted in pure disbelief.  Sansa could see him struggling to figure out exactly what had happened between her and Tyrion.  He opened his mouth to speak but had difficulty getting the words out.  All he managed was, “How?” 

Sansa fought back a secret smile.  She knew Jon was shocked, and she couldn’t help but take a modicum of pleasure in his reaction.  Of course, he was shocked.  He had just learned that she had given herself to Tyrion Lannister.  Sansa had never expected to do such a thing, but somehow, nothing in her life had ever felt more right.

“It happened after everyone left for battle,” Sansa said.  “We thought we were going to die.  Neither one of us knew we were still married.  By the time we discovered the truth, it was too late.”

Jon’s look of shock turned to one of concern.  “Oh, Sansa, I’m so sorry.”

“Why?  Because I’m married to a Lannister?”

“No, because after everything you’ve been through, to have that choice taken away from you once again is just cruel.  The gods should be ashamed of themselves for tormenting you so.  It isn’t fair.”

Sansa laughed softly.  “It isn’t a torment, Jon.  I’m actually glad this happened.”

“Are you?”

“After Tyrion and I were together, I was fully prepared to let him walk away.  I thought that’s what he wanted.  But then we learned the truth, and suddenly, I was relieved to know that I wasn’t going to lose him.  I know it sounds mad, but I don’t think I could have found a better husband, not if I had married the bravest, most dashing knight in all of Westeros.”

Jon was quiet for a long time.  He just stared at Sansa as if he was trying to make sense of it all.  Finally, he said, “Are you sure this is what you really want?”

“I am.  Though I don’t know what kind of life we’re going to have together.  Tyrion is still the hand of Daenerys Targaryen, and if you let her take the Iron Throne, he will have no choice but to return to King’s Landing.”

“You could always go with him.”

“Never.  Not for anyone or anything.  I will never go back to King’s Landing or the Red Keep.  I would rather die first.”

Jon nodded.  Sansa knew she didn’t have to give him a reason for her reticence.  He knew all too well the horrors she had suffered in King’s Landing.  “In that case, do you intend to stay here at Winterfell, or will you make your home at Casterly Rock?”

Sansa was surprised by the question.  “Why would I go to Casterly Rock?”

“Well, Tyrion is the last of the Lannisters.  By rights, Casterly Rock should go to him.”

“There must be others who have a claim to it.”

“I’m sure there are some distant relatives still left alive, but their claims would be weak at best.  And I can’t imagine Daenerys denying Tyrion his birthright after all he’s done for her.  I’m sure she will make him Lord of Casterly Rock, which will make you its lady.”

Sansa much preferred being Lady of Winterfell, but she held her tongue.  She didn’t want to go to Casterly Rock.  She had spent far too much of her life away from Winterfell already, and she never wanted to leave again.  It was her home.

“I see you don’t like that idea,” Jon said when Sansa stayed silent.

“I don’t wish to leave Winterfell, especially if Tyrion is to return to King’s Landing and I am to rule Casterly Rock alone.  I want to stay here for as long as I’m allowed.”

“Winterfell is your home, Sansa.  You may stay here as long as you like.  However, if Tyrion is going to remain your husband, he may have something to say on the matter, and you must work that out between yourselves.” 

Sansa couldn’t ask any more of Jon than that.  She would speak with Tyrion and convince him to let her stay at Winterfell.  Although she was certain he would have great plans for Casterly Rock, she didn’t think she could be a part of them.

“Of course,” Sansa replied.  “But what of you, Jon?  Are you really going to let Daenerys Targaryen take the throne?  Are you really going to hide away at Winterfell for the rest of your life while she takes what is rightfully yours?”

Jon tensed, and Sansa could tell she had struck a nerve.  “I would be more than happy to spend the rest of my life at Winterfell.  I love the north, and I want to protect it.  Daenerys will do a far better job of ruling the Seven Kingdoms than I ever could.”

“Would you be saying that if you weren’t in love with her?”

“Yes,” Jon replied without a moment’s hesitation, “I would.”

Sansa hadn’t expected such a direct answer.  She had expected Jon to deny that he loved Daenerys Targaryen.  But he hadn’t denied it, and now, Sansa knew for certain that Jon would do anything for the Dragon Queen, including handing her the Iron Throne.

Sansa shook her head.  It was obvious there was nothing she could do or say to change Jon’s mind.  There was only one woman whose words could sway him now, and that was the woman who shared his bed.

“I’m disappointed in you, Jon,” Sansa said.  “I thought the good of Westeros meant more to you than that.  I thought duty and honor meant more to you than that.”

“The good of Westeros means everything to me, which is why I want Daenerys to take the throne.  You don’t know her as I do, Sansa.  She’s a remarkable woman.  She’s good and fair and brave.  Westeros could do no better than to have her for its queen.”

“And what about you, Jon?  Aren’t you good and fair and brave?”

“Yes, but she is better equipped to lead the Seven Kingdoms, and only one of us can sit on the Iron Throne.”

Bran suddenly interjected.  “That isn’t exactly true.”

Both Sansa and Jon turned to look at him.  He stared back at them with disinterested eyes. 

“What do you mean?” Sansa asked.

Jon replied for him.  “He means that a king and queen can rule Westeros together, if they are wed.”

Sansa’s spine prickled with apprehension as she stared at Jon.  She knew he could marry Daenerys Targaryen if he wanted to, but she had hoped that his own sense of honor would keep him from doing so.  It was one thing for the Targaryens to marry their close kin.  It was another thing entirely for the Starks to do it.  And while Jon was undoubtedly half Targaryen, he was also half Stark, and he had an obligation to preserve their family’s honor, regardless of his own personal desires.

“But you can’t marry Daenerys Targaryen,” Sansa argued.

“He can, and he will,” Bran replied.

Sansa looked at her brother again.  He seemed so sure of everything, the past, the present, the future.  Everything.  Every pronouncement he made sounded as if it were being read off an ancient scroll hidden for centuries in the deepest recesses of the library in Oldtown.  Sansa didn’t want to believe him, but he spoke with undeniable authority, and it frightened her more than she cared to admit.

His eyes once again on Bran, Jon said, “You can’t tell me what I’m going to do.  You can’t tell me because I haven’t done it yet, because I get to make the choice, not you, not the gods.  I get to make the choice.”

Bran answered Jon with his usual apathy.  “The choice has already been made.  You will marry Daenerys Targaryen, and you will rule the Seven Kingdoms together, ushering in a century of unprecedented peace and prosperity.”

“No,” Jon said.  “I would never do that.  I would never disgrace myself or my family in that way.  Daenerys is my blood, and I will not marry her.”

“When you learn the truth, you will feel very differently about your choice.”

“What truth?”

Sansa held her breath, waiting for Bran to answer.  She feared that whatever he was going to say next would change everything for Jon. 

Bran replied, “Daenerys Targaryen is pregnant with your child.”

The entire room suddenly fell silent.  For a moment, Jon just sat there staring at Bran in quiet disbelief.  When he finally spoke, all he said was, “That’s impossible.”

“Not impossible.  It simply is.”

“How?”

Bran looked blankly back at Jon as if he felt no need to answer such an inane question.

When Bran refused to reply, Jon said, “All right, I know how.  But what I mean is, Daenerys is barren.  She was cursed by a witch and told that she would never bear children.”

Bran slowly shook his head.  “When the sun rises in the west, sets in the east.  When the seas go dry, when the mountains blow in the wind like leaves.”

Jon just stared at Bran, and Sansa knew he didn’t understand her brother’s cryptic words any more than she did.

“Those are the words spoken to Daenerys Targaryen by the witch who took her first child.  Daenerys asked her when Khal Drogo would return to her, and that was her answer.  The witch’s words make no mention of Daenerys being barren.  That is a punishment she inflicted upon herself.  She believed it because she felt it was what she deserved for her role in Khal Drogo’s death.  But the prophecy is meaningless, and it always has been.  Yes, there was a time when Daenerys could not conceive a child, but that time is long past, and her womb has quickened once more.” 

Sansa suddenly felt ill.  She could see the conflicting emotions on Jon’s face, and she knew, in the end, his sense of obligation to Daenerys Targaryen and her unborn child was going to supersede all his other fears and doubts.  Jon had lived nearly his whole life as a bastard.  It had been a heavy burden for him to bear.  Sansa knew there was no way he was going to let his own child suffer that same fate even if it meant marrying his own blood. 

“I . . . I don’t believe you,” Jon said.

“Yes, you do.  You just don’t want to believe me.  But everything I’ve said is true.”

Jon turned away from Bran as if he could no longer stand the sight of him.  His eyes met Sansa’s, and they stared at each other for a long moment.  Jon looked petrified, like a caged animal desperate to run free.  Suddenly, he pushed his chair away from the table and stood.  “If you would excuse me,” he said.  Then, before Sansa could even stand, he fled from the room, leaving the door open behind him.

Sansa’s eyes caught Sam’s.  He gave her a sheepish look as if he didn’t know any better than she did what to do about Jon. 

“He may appear angry,” Bran said, drawing Sansa’s attention back to him, “but he isn’t.  Secretly, he’s overjoyed.  He’s just ashamed of himself for it.  It will take time for Jon to come to terms with his true feelings, but once he does, he will be fine.”

Sansa wanted to ask Bran exactly what he knew about feelings anymore, but she stopped herself.  It wasn’t his fault that he was no longer capable of experiencing human emotion.  She suddenly felt sorry for Bran.  He had lost so much, and he would never be the same again.

“I don’t think any of us are ever going to be fine again,” Sansa replied.

“It is not just Jon who has found his true path.  You have as well, Sansa.”

“Meaning what exactly?”

“You will stay here at Winterfell with Lord Tyrion, and together, you will restore the north to its former glory.”

Sansa wanted to speak, but the breath got caught halfway down her throat.  She couldn’t quite believe a word Bran had said.  She was already certain that Tyrion was going to leave her, and she had very little hope for a happy future.

“I see you don’t believe me,” Bran said.

“Tyrion is the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen.  He will not be at Winterfell much longer.”

“He will not return to King’s Landing, and neither will you.  He will stay by your side, and you will be quite content with the choice you’ve made.  You’ve always wanted a love like Mother and Father shared, and you’ve finally found it.  Tyrion is in love with you.  And you’re in love with him.”

Sansa stared at Bran, unable to form any kind of reply.  Despite his cold demeanor, there was something warm in his words, as if he truly meant them from the bottom of his heart.  Although Sansa and Tyrion had grown impossibly close of late, the truth was, they hardly knew each other.  How could Bran be so sure that they were in love when even Sansa doubted her own feelings?  Yes, when Tyrion walked into a room, her heart skipped a beat, but she was certain that was nothing more than the first bloom of lust, not love.  She wanted him, yes, but her heart . . . she could not, she would not, concede that he had stolen her heart.

As if reading her mind, Bran said, “You’ll be able to admit it, sooner than you think.”

Sansa abruptly stood.  Bran was making her feel uneasy, and she suddenly wanted to be as far from him as possible.  “I have to be getting back to the Great Hall.  There is much to be done before I retire for the evening.  Excuse me.” 

Sansa offered Bran a perfunctory nod but didn’t wait for him to return it.  She turned around, catching Sam’s eye.

“I will join you, my lady, if you don’t mind.  I’m sure Gilly is probably wondering where I’ve gotten off to.”

Sansa knew Sam was just as uncomfortable in Bran’s presence as she was and that he had no desire to be left alone with him.  “Of course,” she said politely as she swept past Sam and headed for the hallway. 

He followed a few steps behind, closing the door after him. 

Together, they headed toward the Great Hall, but as soon as they rounded the first corner, Sansa stopped.  She turned to address Sam.  “I will see you in the hall later.  I have something I must do first.”  Then, without waiting for him to reply, she hurried off in the opposite direction. 

The last thing Sansa wanted at that moment was to be surrounded by a roomful of people.  She needed time alone.  She needed time to think.  Her heart and mind were fraught with uncertainty, and she was desperate to find some peace.

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-three

Jon paced the snowy earth before the heart tree in the godswood, his mind wracked with fear and doubt.  His stomach was twisted in knots, and every muscle in his body was as tense as a bowstring.  He didn’t want to believe Bran, but Bran knew things, saw things, outside of himself that no one could deny.  Bran was the Three-eyed Raven.  If he said Daenerys was pregnant, then she undoubtedly was.

Jon stopped pacing.  He turned toward the heart tree and dropped to his knees, silently praying for guidance.  He didn’t know what to do.  Daenerys was pregnant with his child, and he couldn’t turn his back on her or the unborn babe.  In his younger days, before joining the Night’s Watch, he had decided never to lie with a woman for fear of bringing yet one more unwanted bastard into the world.  Although that very noble intention hadn’t lasted long, he had thought there was no danger in bedding Daenerys because she couldn’t bear his child.  But now, he knew differently, and they would both have to live with the consequences.

Daenerys already wanted him to be her king.  He knew that.  And even though he was certain that news of her pregnancy would come as a blessing to her, he was sick over it.  The child growing in her belly was a child of incest, and Jon felt as if he had brought shame upon House Stark.  He didn’t know if he could ever forgive himself.

Jon considered not telling Daenerys about the baby at all.  She would eventually find out on her own, of course, but it might be a moonturn or two before she discovered the truth.  If he stayed silent, she would leave Winterfell and take the throne alone.  And, if her previous experience with pregnancy was any indication, there was every chance that she wouldn’t even carry the child to term.  She might miscarry before she had even a hint that she was pregnant.  And then, it wouldn’t matter whether she had a husband or not.

Jon squeezed his eyes shut and swore silently.  He didn’t want the gods to think that he wished any harm to come to the child because he truly didn’t.  There was a part of him, a mad, selfish, lovestruck part, that wanted to believe that everything Bran had said was true.  He wanted to believe that he could marry Daenerys without his bannermen turning on him.  He wanted to believe that their child would be born happy and healthy and that they would spend the rest of their lives ruling Westeros together in marital bliss.  But those were all dreams Jon was too jaded to believe.  In the end, all he really wanted was what was best for Daenerys, whatever that might be.

The sting of hot tears burned his eyes, and Jon swiped at them with the back of his hand.  When he opened his eyes again, he stared up at the bloodred canopy above him, lost in his own thoughts. 

Now that the battle with the Night King was over and Westeros was safe, all he really cared about was Daenerys’ welfare.  He didn’t care about his own honor or his position in the world.  He just wanted the woman he loved to be happy.  And what could make her happier than learning that the gods had gifted her with a child?

A strange sense of calm suddenly washed over him, and finally, Jon knew what he needed to do.  He pushed himself up from the ground and stood, brushing the snow from his knees.  He would go to Daenerys.  He would tell her the truth before someone else did.  And if she demanded that he marry her, he would marry her.  He was still an honorable man, and he had impregnated an unmarried woman of noble birth.  He had an obligation, nay, a duty, to do whatever she asked of him in order to make it right.

Jon left the godswood in due haste.  Within minutes, he was standing outside Daenerys’ door, two Unsullied soldiers keeping watch behind him.  He held his breath, trying to calm the nervous excitement coursing through his veins.  Although he was still uncertain of his own feelings, he knew Daenerys would be overjoyed by the news.

Before Jon had a chance to knock, the door suddenly opened and Missandei appeared on the other side.  She seemed as surprised to see him as he was to see her. 

“Your Grace?”  She instantly took a step back, allowing him access to the chamber.

Jon stepped inside, finding Daenerys sitting in a chair by the fire, a letter in her hand.  Missandei slipped from the room and quietly closed the door behind him, but he barely noticed.  Daenerys looked positively stunning, and for a moment, she was all he was conscious of.  

She had bathed and changed since the last time he’d seen her.  Now, she wore a beautiful ice-blue gown of the purest silk, and her hair shimmered in the firelight like silver.  Jon didn’t know if she’d ever looked lovelier.

Daenerys looked up at him, their eyes locking for a long moment.  A soft smile crept across her lips.  “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because you’re so beautiful.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more beautiful in my entire life.”

Daenerys lowered the letter to her lap.  “Does that mean you have come here to do something other than discuss politics, Jon Snow?”

Jon could barely think.  He knew he was there to tell her about the baby, but the truth was, all he really wanted to do was take her in his arms and love her.  But he couldn’t.  As tempting as the idea was, they had much more important matters to discuss first.

Jon moved farther into the room.  “I’m not here to discuss politics or to end up in your bed.  I came here for a very different reason.”

Daenerys arched a brow in question.  “What other reason could there be?”

Jon didn’t know how to begin.  Feeling self-conscious, he looked away, suddenly catching sight of the letter still lying in her lap.  “Is that something I should know about?” he asked, nodding toward the unfurled scroll.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk politics, Jon.”

“I don’t.  But if there’s bad news—”

“Not bad news.  It’s just a report from the field.  It will be at least another day before my men reach Winterfell.”  She rolled up the parchment and discarded it on the table beside her.  Then, she rose, standing before the chair, leaving a considerable distance between them.  “Now, why is it that you’re here?”

Jon swallowed the lump in his throat, then fortified himself by taking a deep breath.  When he exhaled, he felt slightly calmer, though his muscles still trembled beneath his skin.  Once Daenerys knew the truth, both their lives would be changed forever.

“I’ve just been with Bran,” Jon replied.  “He’s had another vision.  At least, I assume it was something he saw in a vision.”

“Have you come to warn me of some impending danger?” she asked, an edge to her voice.

“No, nothing like that.”

“Then what is it?”

“It’s . . .”  The words died in Jon’s throat, and he took another moment to compose himself.

“It must be something dreadful if you can’t bring yourself to tell me.  Would you like me to visit Bran?  Perhaps he can tell me better than you can.”

“No, this is something you must hear from me.  After all, it is my doing.”

“What is your doing?” Daenerys asked, her eyes narrowing on him in suspicion as if she expected him to confess some terrible betrayal.  He hated seeing that look in her eyes.  He would never, ever betray her, and he needed her to know that before he took another breath.

“It’s my fault that you’re with child,” Jon said.

Daenerys stared at him, not saying a word.  She looked at him as if she hadn’t even heard him, but he knew she had.  There had been a change in her the moment the words had passed his lips, but still, she failed to speak.

“Did you hear me?” Jon asked.  “Bran says you’re pregnant with my child.”

“I heard you,” Daenerys replied, the words a mere whisper.  “But that isn’t possible.”

“Bran says it is.  Bran says that the witch’s words were only meant to frighten you, that they didn’t refer to your ability to bear a child at all.”

“But I remember—”

“That she spoke of Khal Drogo’s return, and nothing more.  Think, Daenerys.  Think.”

She was quiet for a long time.  Then, suddenly, she sank back down into the chair as if her legs were no longer strong enough to hold her.  She stared blindly out into the room, her mind miles away across the Narrow Sea.

When Jon could no longer bear the silence, he said, “Daenerys, look at me.”

It took her a moment, but finally, her gaze lifted to his.  Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she stared back at him.

Jon couldn’t keep his distance any longer.  He crossed the room in long strides, falling to one knee in front of her.  He reached out and cupped her cheek with his hand, his thumb grazing the corner of her eye and dislodging a single tear.  “Don’t cry, Daenerys.  Please, don’t cry.  I thought this news would make you happy.”

Daenerys opened her mouth to speak but failed to utter a single word.  She covered Jon’s hand with her own, drawing it away from her face and holding it in her lap.  It took her some time to finally compose herself enough to reply.  “I can scarcely believe it.  I was so certain . . .”

“I know.  I know you were.  And there may have been a time when you were unable to conceive, but your womb has quickened again, and you’re going to bear a child.”

“I . . . I don’t know how to feel,” she said, her voice trembling softly.  “I don’t know whether these are tears of joy or tears of sorrow.  For so long I’ve believed that I could never bear a child, and now . . . now, you’re telling me that I’m pregnant.  I want to believe you, truly I do, but it is simply beyond my comprehension.  I know that Bran Stark has been right in the past, but—”

“Bran has no reason to lie, no ulterior motive, no master he serves beyond the truth.”

“He must have had some reason for telling you.  Otherwise, he would have kept this knowledge to himself.”

“He believes—” Jon stopped to correct himself.  “No, he knows that I should marry you, and he thought this knowledge would sway my decision.”

“He wants you to marry me?” Daenerys asked in obvious confusion.

“I’m not sure that wants is the right word.  He knows I will marry you.  He must have seen it in a vision.  And he wanted to make the path clearer for me.”

Daenerys nodded as if she was finally starting to understand.  “Is this what you needed, Jon Snow, to finally accept my offer?”

“I will only accept your offer if it’s truly what you want, if it’s going to make you happy.  If not, I will walk away and give you the Iron Throne just as I’d planned.”

Daenerys stared deeply into his eyes, and Jon felt a renewed connection with her.  He could see his future reflected back at him, their future, and he was suddenly overcome with emotion.

“Marry me, Daenerys.  Marry me and bear my child.  Make me the happiest man in all of Westeros.  Please.”

The hint of a smile ghosted Daenerys’ lips.  “Are you certain this is what you truly want?  Just this morning, you said—”

“I know what I said, and I meant it then.  But no honorable man would ever walk away from a woman who was about to bear his child, no matter the circumstances.  Although the situation is not ideal, I will not turn my back on you.”

Daenerys’ smile instantly faded.  “So you are only doing this out of a sense of duty, to preserve your Stark pride?”

“No, no, of course not,” Jon said in a mad rush, afraid she would demand that he leave her chamber before he’d even had a chance to properly explain himself.  “I just . . . I needed a reason, something beyond my own selfish desires, to help me choose this path.  Yes, I am a Stark, and honor and duty always come first with us Starks.  But that isn’t why I want to marry you.  I want to marry you because I love you, because I can’t imagine my life without you.  This news, this blessing from the gods, is just the push I needed to finally let myself have what I truly want, what I’ve been denying myself for so long.  Marry me, Daenerys.  Marry me and rule the Seven Kingdoms by my side.”

Daenerys eyed him cagily, as if she intended to keep him waiting for an answer, but there was something in her eyes that had already given it away.  She looked happy, happier than he had ever seen her, and he knew it was just a matter of time before she accepted his proposal.

“You ask me to rule Westeros with you,” she said, keeping her tone deceptively calm, “but there is only one Iron Throne, which means only one of us can sit on it.”

“You can have it,” Jon said without a moment’s hesitation.  “From what I’ve heard, it’s an ugly thing and bloody uncomfortable.  Perhaps we should just melt it down and have it reforged into two new thrones.”

“Perhaps we should.”

“Well?” Jon asked, unable to bear her coyness any longer.

“Well, what?”

“Will you be my bride, Daenerys Targaryen?”

Daenerys smiled, brighter than the snow on a moonlit night.  “Yes, Jon Snow, I will be your bride and your queen.  And you will be my king.”

Jon reached out for her, pulling her into his arms and kissing her soundly.  He hadn’t realized how happy her answer was going to make him.  He’d thought he’d been making the offer for her sake, but the truth was, he wanted this as much as she did.  Finally, he would have a real home and a family to call his own.  He was no longer a bastard, no longer a brother of the Night’s Watch.  He was a king, and he would marry a queen, and together they would bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms.

It was a long time before Jon broke the kiss.  He pulled back, just far enough to catch his breath, and gazed longingly at Daenerys, taking in every line of her face.  “You are so beautiful,” he whispered, barely able to say the words.

“So are you.”  She raised her hand and lovingly caressed his cheek.  “I love you, Jon.  More than you could ever know.”

“And I love you just the same.  And someday, someday soon, we’re going to have a child together.”

Daenerys’ eyes filled with unshed tears, but he knew they were tears of joy, not tears of pain.  She dropped her hand to her belly, and Jon moved back so that he could see all of her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing.  It’s just . . . I didn’t think I’d ever have another child.  And now . . . now I’m overcome by the very thought.  A child.  A real, living child.  Not a dragon.  Not a phantom I see in my dreams.  But my own child.  Our child.  Here in the real world, right beside us.  I am more overjoyed than mere words can express.”

“Then don’t use words,” Jon said.  “Show me how happy you are, Daenerys.  Show me.”

She moved her hands away from her belly, placing them against Jon’s shoulders.  Then, she slid one hand up into his hair and drew him close.  An instant later, she was kissing him, her warm tears falling gently against Jon’s cheek.  His heart swelled with love for her.  He had never thought to make anyone so happy or to love anyone so much.

Without breaking contact, he gathered Daenerys up in his arms and stood, carrying her to the bed with determined strides.  When he laid her down, she refused to let him go, and so he found himself lying above her, kissing her senseless.

Although Daenerys wouldn’t relinquish his lips, she was more than willing to divest him of his clothing.  She made quick work of his doublet and then his breeches.  His tunic soon followed, and before he knew it, he was completely naked. 

It didn’t take long for Jon to strip Daenerys of her beautiful silk gown.  It slid through his fingers as softly as water, gliding to the floor beside the bed.  He stopped for a moment, pulling back so he could gaze upon her naked body.  Daenerys wrapped her arms around his neck and tried to draw him to her again, but he refused to move.  His eyes were transfixed on the flat expanse of her stomach.  He couldn’t believe there was a child growing inside her.  He tried to imagine what she would look like when her belly finally began to swell, and the thought filled him with an even deeper sense of love for her.

Jon trailed his fingers along her stomach in rapt fascination, and Daenerys inhaled a sharp breath.  He touched her lightly, gently, enjoying the feel of her skin beneath his fingertips.  “So beautiful,” he murmured, barely conscious of the words.

“Do you think it will be a boy or a girl?” Daenerys asked softly.

Jon finally looked up at her, breaking from his trance.  “I don’t know.  I suppose I should have asked that, shouldn’t I have?”

“Perhaps,” she said with a smile that told him, had she been in his position, that was the first question she would have asked.

“When next I speak to Bran, I shall ask him just that,” Jon assured her, feeling a little bit like a fool.

Daenerys shook her head, pulling Jon closer.  “It doesn’t matter.  Whether it’s a boy or a girl isn’t important.  What’s important is that our child be born strong and healthy.  That’s all I care about, Jon.”

“That’s all I care about too.”

Jon leaned forward then, kissing her with a soul-searing passion.  He wanted to drown in her, to lose himself in the woman he loved. 

Daenerys moved her hands along his back, her touch making his skin sing with need, and suddenly, the time for talking was over.  Jon gave his hands full rein of her body, and he reveled in the freedom to explore her to his heart’s content.  He kissed a path down her throat, over her breasts, and across her stomach, stopping just long enough to swirl his tongue into the little dip at its center.  Then, he continued lower, blazing a trail of warm, wet kisses down the inside of one thigh and up the other. 

“Jon.”  There was pleading in her voice, and he knew exactly what she wanted. 

Unable to deny her anything, he leaned forward and placed a reverent kiss atop the nest of white-gold curls between her thighs.  Then, he settled himself between her legs and allowed himself the pleasure of tasting her sweetness.  They had done this many times before, but Jon never tired of it.  Her scent drove him to madness, and the sounds she made caused the blood to hum in his veins.  He knew he could make her come with his mouth alone, but he knew that wasn’t what she wanted.  She wanted more, so much more.  And so he took her right to the edge, teasing her body to a fevered pitch, before finally pulling away.

Jon looked up at Daenerys.  She was staring back at him with glassy eyes, and he knew if he kissed her just one more time, she’d be crying out in ecstasy beneath him.  But he resisted the urge to continue.  Instead, he crawled up her body, lying flush against her, and kissed her as he had never kissed her before.

Daenerys clung to him as if he was breathing life into her.  She wrapped her legs around his waist, coaxing the tip of his cock between her folds.  She was more than ready for him, and he wanted nothing more than to bury himself inside her.  In an instant, he thrust his hips forward, driving into her, and Daenerys arched off the bed, taking him in as deeply as she could. 

“Jon!” she called out his name in wild abandon, clutching and clawing at his back like a dragon sharpening its talons.

The pain felt surprisingly erotic, and Jon rode her even harder, his whole body consumed with need.  He thrust against her in a primal rhythm, pushing her deeper into the mattress, striving to give her what she wanted, what they both wanted. 

Jon felt Daenerys’ walls tightening around him, and it only increased his need.  He knew she was close.  Only a few more thrusts, and—

Suddenly, Daenerys shuddered around him, screaming out his name as she came.  Her nails dug into his back, breaking the skin, but he barely felt it.  All he could feel was the warmth of her surrounding him, beckoning him onward to his own release.

Jon drove his hips forward, once, twice.  And then, he tumbled over the edge with startling force, Daenerys’ name on his lips as he lost himself inside her.  He collapsed onto his hands and knees, hovering above her, trying to gather up the strength to pull himself away, but he never got the chance. 

Daenerys wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him close.  She encouraged him to rest his head between her breasts, and he did so gladly, shifting just enough so that his weight didn’t crush her.

He closed his eyes, laying against her and listening to the beating of her heart.  She held him in her arms, one hand gently stroking his hair, the other drawing small circles on his back.  Jon had never felt more wanted or more loved.

He knew they couldn’t stay in that position forever.  He was far too heavy for her slim form to support for very long.  So, with great reluctance, he drew back, breaking the circle of her arms and lying down beside her.  Before she could offer a single word of protest, he pulled her close, and she nestled comfortably against his side.

He placed a soft kiss against her hair.  “I love you, Daenerys Targaryen.  And I’ve never been happier in all my life.”

“And I love you, Jon Snow,” she whispered.  “And you have given me greater joy than I have ever known.”

He kissed her head one more time, then lay back against the pillow.  He closed his eyes and surrendered to a deep, sated sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter Forty-four

Tyrion stood on the ramparts above Winterfell, staring out into the darkness, wishing he wasn’t such a coward.  He wanted to flee, to disappear into the night, to find the bodies of his lost brother and sister and carry them back to Casterly Rock himself, but he couldn’t.  The instant Daenerys had told him the truth about Cersei, he had gone straight to the yard, determined to go after her, but his resolve had failed him the moment he’d caught sight of the gate.  He loved his brother and sister, more than he had any right to, perhaps even more than they deserved, but leaving Winterfell and going after them meant more than just leaving the castle behind, it meant leaving his future behind, turning his back on his wife and his queen.  And no matter how crippling his grief was, he simply couldn’t do that.  He couldn’t forsake his new life chasing after the old one.

And so he had retreated to the battlements above Winterfell and found himself an old crate to stand on so he could gaze out past the stone ramparts.  The air around him was bitterly cold, but he barely felt it.  All he could feel was the pain in his heart, the pain and the regret.  He had never imagined that he would lose both Cersei and Jaime in the Great War.  He had prepared himself to lose one of them, even to die himself, but he had not prepared to lose them both.  As much as he despised Cersei for all the cruel things she had done, he still loved her, and he suddenly felt adrift knowing she had simply ceased to exist.

The sound of approaching footsteps broke the silence, and Tyrion turned to find Sansa walking toward him.  She was dressed in a long grey cloak, its voluminous hood draped lightly over her head, her vibrant hair the only glimmer of color in the muted tableau.  He wondered if she knew about Cersei, but as soon as their eyes met, he knew the answer.  He had expected her to look triumphant when she heard the news of Cersei’s death.  But she didn’t look triumphant.  She looked sad, and he wondered if she was grieving, not for Cersei, but for him. 

“How did you know where to find me?” Tyrion asked.

“You may be small, but you’re not very good at hiding.  You stand out everywhere you go.  Half the servants knew where I could find you.”

“I only stand out because I’m a dwarf.  Were I of average height, there would be very little about me that would be remarkable.”

Sansa moved up beside him, a sly smile on her lips.  “I can think of some very remarkable things about you, Tyrion Lannister.”

“Such as?”

Her smile widened, and there was a knowing spark in her eyes.  “Oh, things a lady doesn’t speak about, even in private.”

“Even with her own husband?”

“Even with her own husband.”

Tyrion laughed.  For a moment, he forgot his pain.  But only for a moment.  His laughter ended on a sigh, and suddenly, he felt his grief crushing him again.

The smile faded from Sansa’s face, and she said, “Jon told me about Cersei.  I’m sorry, Tyrion.  I truly am.”

“I know you are.  I know you felt nothing but contempt for my sister, and rightfully so.  But thank you for allowing me my grief.  It means more to me than you will ever know.”

Sansa inched closer.  She reached for Tyrion’s hand, entwining her fingers with his.  She turned to look out over the parapet, and Tyrion did the same.  The crate he stood on brought him nearly to an even height with his wife, and they just stood there together for the longest time, holding hands, not saying a word.

After everything he’d been through in his life, Tyrion didn’t know why the gods had chosen to bless him with Sansa.  Maybe it was their way of repaying him for taking away his entire family, or maybe it was to make up for the fact that he had been born a dwarf.  Whatever it was, he considered himself fortunate.  Were it not for Sansa’s quiet strength, he might have felt compelled to throw himself from the ramparts and simply end it all.  She had given him a reason to go on, and he would not take that for granted.

A fresh wave of grief suddenly washed over Tyrion, and he squeezed Sansa’s hand.  She squeezed his in return, and an unbidden sob escaped his throat.  But it wasn’t grief that had made him sob, it was love.  He was overcome with love for the woman standing beside him.  She didn’t have to stay with him, she didn’t have to offer him comfort, and yet, there she was, standing by his side as he mourned her enemies.  She was an extraordinary woman, and he loved her more than he had ever loved anyone in all his life.

He just wished he had the courage to tell her.

Tyrion looked up at Sansa.  Her gaze was still focused off in the distance, staring out into the cold, dark night.  Tyrion had never seen anything more beautiful, and he simply couldn’t pull his eyes away.

Sansa must have felt him staring because she suddenly turned from the parapet and looked down at him.  “What’s wrong?”

Tyrion shook his head.  “Nothing.  I was just marveling at how beautiful you are.”

Sansa didn’t say a word.  She just leaned in close and kissed him.

It was a sweet kiss, warm and gentle, and it took Tyrion’s breath away. 

When Sansa finally pulled back, he looked up at her, his heart so full of love that he wondered if she could see it reflected in his eyes.  He wanted to tell her how he felt, he wanted to say the words, but he was terrified.  What they’d built between them was so beautiful, so perfect.  He didn’t want to do anything to spoil it.  And he feared, if he even mentioned the word love, Sansa would turn away from him.  They were lovers, yes, but he didn’t think she was ready to know how he truly felt about her.  Not yet.

“It’s been a long day,” she said, her voice soft.  “Do you want to retire for the evening?”

It took Tyrion a moment to realize what she was asking.  She wasn’t asking if he wanted to go to sleep, she was asking if he wanted to go to her bed.  “I doubt your cousin Jon would approve,” Tyrion said.  “Unless, of course, you’ve already told him about our marriage.”

“I have.  And soon enough, all of Winterfell will know.”

“But until they do, perhaps—”

She silenced him with another kiss, and Tyrion was done protesting.  Let all of Winterfell talk.  He didn’t care.  He’d had a hellish day, and he just wanted to be with his wife.  He wanted to hold her and kiss her and love her and let her take away his pain.

Sansa finally broke the kiss, and Tyrion stared up at her in awe.  Her eyes were dark with desire, and he knew she wanted him as much as he wanted her.

Without another word, Tyrion stepped down from the crate, his hand never leaving hers, and together, they turned and headed toward the Great Keep.

It didn’t take them long to reach Sansa’s bedchamber.  The instant the door closed behind them, she dropped to her knees and began kissing him again. 

They made quick work of each other’s clothes, desperately trying to get closer to each other.  When Tyrion finally pulled back to catch his breath, Sansa was kneeling naked before him, her unbound hair lying in glorious disarray about her shoulders.  His heart and his body ached at the very sight of her.  “You’re going to be the death of me,” Tyrion said in a hoarse whisper.

Sansa shook her head.  “Never.”  She reached up, gently caressing his cheek.  “I’m never going to hurt you, Tyrion.  I swear it.”

The breath caught in Tyrion’s throat, and he couldn’t form a single word of reply.  He was too overcome with emotion.

“Now,” she said when he failed to speak, “take me to bed, my lord husband.”

Thoroughly bewitched by her, Tyrion took Sansa’s hand and helped her rise.  He led her to the bed, and Sansa sat down on the mattress, drawing her legs up beside her.  Tyrion climbed up to join her, sitting by her side and staring up at her in wonderment.

And suddenly, he couldn’t hold back any longer.  He knew he had to tell her the truth before he took another breath.  “Sansa, I—”

But she didn’t let him finish.  Before the words were out of his mouth, she was kissing him again, urging him down onto the bed and covering his body with her own. 

Tyrion’s fingers entwined in her hair as her tongue delved into his mouth, and for a moment, he forgot what he’d been about to say.  Sansa had an extraordinary ability to befuddle his mind and steal the words from his lips even before he could say them.

Love.  He knew he loved her, and he wanted to tell her, but he had completely lost the power of speech.

Sansa finally relinquished his mouth, trailing lower, kissing a fiery path down his neck and chest.  Her hands eagerly explored his body, touching, taunting, caressing, and Tyrion could do nothing but let her have her way with him.  It wasn’t until she began stroking his cock that he knew he had to make her stop.  If she kept touching him, he would come right then and there, and that was the last thing he wanted.  He wanted to be inside her when he came.  He wanted to love her properly, as she deserved to be loved.

Tyrion grabbed Sansa’s wrist, stilling her hand.  “Please, stop,” he said, the sound strangled from his throat.

Sansa stopped, but she didn’t let him go.  She raised her head, looking up at him with mischief in her eyes.  "You don’t really want me to do that, do you?  I’m sure, if you let me,” she said, her fingertips slowly sliding down the length of him, “I could make you very happy.”

“I’m already happy,” Tyrion choked. 

“But you could be so much happier.” 

She began to trace the length of him again, and Tyrion was finally forced to assert himself.  He tugged on her wrist, pulling her fingers away from his cock, as he quickly turned onto his side.  Then, before she had a chance to protest, he put his hands on her hips and guided her down onto the bed.  In another moment, he was on top of her, kissing her with a blazing passion.

Sansa giggled at Tyrion’s show of force, but he wasn’t offended.  How could he be, when she instantly wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him back just as fiercely?

Although Tyrion was desperate to be inside her, he knew he had to wait just a little while longer.  He was still far too close.  He didn’t want to lose himself the instant he felt her warmth surrounding him.  And so he took his time loving her, kissing her, touching her, until she was just as desperate for him as he was for her.

When he couldn’t fight the temptation any longer, Tyrion finally settled between her legs and thrust his hips forward, driving into her.  Sansa cried out, not in pain, but in pleasure, and Tyrion willed his body under control, determined to give her what he knew she wanted.  He moved against her in an urgent rhythm, and Sansa met him thrust for thrust. 

“Sansa,” her name tore from his throat, but he was barely aware of it.  He was too lost in his own passion to be conscious of the words falling from his lips.  “I love you, Sansa.  Gods, how I love you.” 

Soon, Sansa was calling out his name, her body shuddering around him, and suddenly, Tyrion came hard inside her.

The whole world was dark for a moment as Tyrion struggled to catch his breath.  When he finally opened his eyes, he found himself lying against Sansa, her arms wrapped around him.  Even as small as he was, Tyrion was certain his weight was too much for her to bear, and he knew he should move, but he simply didn’t have the strength.  He lay there for the longest time, listening to her heartbeat, trying to get his bearings.

It was Sansa who finally moved.  She slid her arms from his back, and Tyrion pushed himself up so he could look at her.  There was a somber cast to her eyes, and he knew something was amiss.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, unable to hide the alarm in his voice.

“You . . . you said you loved me.”

Tyrion stared blankly at Sansa as he racked his brain trying to remember exactly what he had said.  He couldn’t recall having made such a confession, but the uncertain look in her eyes told him that he most assuredly had. 

Tyrion knew he couldn’t deny his feelings any longer.  He inhaled a steadying breath as he prepared to confess the truth.  “I . . . I do love you, Sansa.  I think I always have.”

Sansa stared at him for a long moment, not saying a word, and Tyrion’s heart lodged in his throat.  He didn’t know what he had expected, but he had expected more than silence.  Even if she had laughed at him, he would have taken it better.  The waiting was simply interminable, and Tyrion just wanted to slink off the bed and hide.  He felt utterly mortified. 

“I . . . I think I should go,” Tyrion said as he tried to move away, but Sansa’s arms suddenly wrapped around him again, stopping his retreat.

“I don’t want you to go,” she said, her voice soft but determined.

“You can’t want me to stay.  You’re horrified by my feelings for you.  I can see it in your eyes.”

She shook her head.  “No, it isn’t that.”

“Then what is it?”

“Bran . . . Bran told me that you loved me, and I didn’t believe him.  I should have believed him, of course, but I didn’t.  He told me a great many things that I refused to believe, but now, I think I have no choice.”

Tyrion hadn’t expected such an answer, and he was more than a little intrigued.  “What else did he tell you?”

Sansa’s eyes darted away, and she looked even more uncertain than she had before.  She pushed herself up in the bed, forcing Tyrion to finally move aside.  He sat in front of her, expectantly waiting for her to continue.

Sansa took a moment to collect herself.  Then, she looked at Tyrion again and said, “Bran told me that you would not be returning to King’s Landing.  He told me that you would stay here at Winterfell, and that, together, you and I would restore the north to its former glory.”

Tyrion was stunned by Sansa’s words.  By rights, he knew he should follow Daenerys wherever she went next.  As her Hand, he had a solemn duty to serve her for as long as she needed him.  And yet, he had never been happier than he was here at Winterfell with his beloved wife.  They had just found each other again, and he didn’t want to leave her, not for duty, not for loyalty, not for anything. 

Tyrion reached out, taking one of Sansa’s hands in his own.  He threaded his fingers through hers, enjoying the feel of her hand in his, thankful she hadn’t tried to pull away.  “I have no qualms about staying here at Winterfell,” Tyrion said, “but I don’t know how my queen will feel.  I am her Hand, after all, which means my life is not my own.”

“Yes, I know.  My father was Hand of the King, remember?  And when King Robert called him to King’s Landing, he followed his duty, not his heart, and my mother never saw him again.”

Sansa stared into Tyrion’s eyes, silently pleading with him not to go.  He could see now that she feared if he left Winterfell, he might never return, and the idea distressed her greatly.  Tyrion knew why he loved Sansa, but he wasn’t quite sure why she was so attached to him.  Yes, he had introduced her to the pleasures of the flesh, but he didn’t think that had anything to do with it.  Not really.  She cared for him, she respected him, and she wanted him to rule the north by her side.  Tyrion didn’t think he’d ever felt prouder in all his life.

“If it is within my power to stay,” Tyrion said, “I will do so.  You have my word.”

Sansa nodded, some of the fear disappearing from her eyes. 

Tyrion lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it softly, and Sansa sighed.

He didn’t ever want to let her go.  He didn’t know what he was going to do or say to convince Daenerys to release him from his duty, but he was certain he would think of something.  He wanted to stay with Sansa more than he had ever wanted anything, and he refused to walk away from her without a fight. 

Tyrion lowered Sansa’s hand and looked up at her again, expecting her to appear content, but she didn’t.  There was still doubt in her eyes, and he couldn’t understand why. 

Tyrion held her hand in his lap, unwilling to break the contact.  “Do you doubt my ability to convince my queen to let me stay at Winterfell?”

“No,” Sansa said softly.  “You could convince the entire north that it’s still summer even though there are countless feet of snow on the ground.  No, I don’t doubt your ability to use your wits to get what you want.”

“Then what’s troubling you?  It must be something.”

“Bran didn’t just tell me that you loved me, he told me—”  She stopped as if trying to summon up the courage to continue.  He could see the words poised on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t bring herself to say them.

“He told you . . .?”

Sansa opened her mouth, but no words came out.

Tyrion hated seeing her in such distress.  He didn’t know what Bran had said to her, but it must have been dreadful because she couldn’t bear to repeat it.  “It’s all right, Sansa.  Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

“He said that I’m in love with you too, even if I’m not yet willing to admit it.”

Tyrion stared at her for one heart-stopping moment, and then, he laughed.

Sansa looked at him in horror.  She quickly pulled her hand away, and he feared she might leave the bed altogether. 

“Why is that funny?” she asked, her voice strained.

“It’s not funny,” Tyrion replied, trying to rein in his amusement.  “It’s sad.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he said, his tone finally sobering, “you’re clearly horrified by the idea that you might be in love with me.”

“No, that isn’t it.”

“Isn’t it?  Why else did you have so much trouble telling me?”

She broke his gaze, staring down at her hands.  “Because I was afraid."

“Afraid of what?  You already know that I love you, Sansa.  What is there to be afraid of?”

She looked up at him, her expression guarded.  “My own feelings.  I’ve thought I was in love before, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Tyrion sighed.  “You’re not the only one, you know? The heart can be quite the fair-weather friend.  We’ve both suffered more than our fair share of heartache in this life.  I know that being vulnerable again isn’t easy, but it’s worth the risk, don’t you think?  Especially since we already have Bran’s assurance that all will be right in the end.”

Sansa shook her head.  “I don’t want to tell you that I love you because Bran says it’s so.  I want to tell you because it’s what I feel, because I can’t keep my feelings to myself any longer.”

“And is it what you feel?” Tyrion asked, holding his breath, waiting for her answer.

“I . . . I don’t know.  Everything is happening so fast, and I’m not sure what I feel.”

“It’s all right,” Tyrion said, taking her hand again, relieved that she didn’t try to pull away.  “We may be husband and wife, but that doesn’t mean I expect you to fall in love with me.  Not in a day, or a week, or even a year.  Not ever, really.  If that’s not what you feel—"

“But it is what I feel.  I just . . . I’m just scared that what I’m feeling isn’t real.  It’s too soon for me to know for sure, even with Bran’s reassurances.  I wish I could say the words as easily as you.”

Tyrion laughed.  “Oh, I assure you, my lady, they don’t come any easier to me than they do to you.  But I am a bit older and a bit wiser, and I have learned never to deny the truth in my own heart.  I love you, and whether or not you love me too doesn’t matter because my love is unconditional.  It isn’t given with the hope of getting something in return.  It is given freely, without any expectation.”

Sansa reached out, cupping his cheek with the palm of her hand, and Tyrion fought the urge to sob.  His heart was so full of love for her that it felt as if it might burst.

“I am a Stark,” Sansa said, her eyes misting with unshed tears.  “And Starks never cower in fear.  We are always brave, and I want to be brave now.”

“Sansa, you don’t have to—”

“I love you, Tyrion Lannister.  I love you.  I know we don’t yet know each other as well as we should, but I know what I feel, and I won’t deny my heart a second longer.  I love you.”

For a moment, Tyrion couldn’t even speak.  He just stared up at Sansa, captivated by the love he saw in her eyes.  But he knew he couldn’t remain silent forever.  It took considerable effort, but somehow, he forced the words from his throat.  “Then, Sansa Stark, I think I will have no choice but to remain at Winterfell and let you love me for the rest of my days.”

“Is that a promise?”

“Oh, yes.  And I promise to love you as well.  If you’ll have me.”

Sansa leaned forward and kissed him softly, and Tyrion entwined his fingers in her hair.  He pulled her closer, pouring his heart and soul into the kiss.  He loved her so very much, and he never wanted to let her go.

When Sansa finally broke the kiss, she pulled back just far enough to look into his eyes.  Tyrion could feel her breath fluttering against his lips, and all he wanted was to be kissing her again.

“I love you, Sansa Stark,” he said in a breathy whisper, her name sounding like a prayer on his lips.  “More than anything in this world.”

“And I love you, Tyrion Lannister, more than I ever imagined possible.  I thank the gods for bringing you back into my life.  I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“Well, then, let’s pray you never have to find out.”

And then, before she could say another word, he leaned in close and kissed her again.  Sansa Stark was the kindest, most beautiful, most courageous woman he had ever known.  He loved her desperately, and he would do everything in his power to make her happy, to be worthy of her, until his dying day.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

A moonturn later, Jon and Daenerys were married beneath the ancient heart tree in the godswood.  Despite all the tragedies Westeros had suffered during the war, the wedding was a surprisingly festive occasion.  Jon had expected his bannermen to balk at the idea of him marrying Daenerys Targaryen, but there had been nary a complaint.  Jon’s marriage to the Targaryen queen meant an end to the strife that had plagued Westeros for nearly a decade.  Now that the fighting was over, there was no one else left to vie for the Iron Throne.  Although Gendry Waters had survived the war, he was not Robert Baratheon’s legitimate heir and had no viable claim to the throne.  Jon and Daenerys’ marriage had put an end to the fighting for the foreseeable future, and most everyone seemed to be thankful for it.

It had taken weeks after the Night King’s defeat to fully assess the staggering losses the living had suffered.  The Unsullied had been decimated, as had the Dothraki.  Even so, Daenerys’ forces had been so large to begin with that she still commanded a considerable legion of men.  The northern army, however, hadn’t fared quite so well, and it would take years to build up their numbers again.  Thankfully, with the White Walkers gone and the wildlings as allies, there was no longer an immediate threat to the north, giving Jon and Daenerys the time they needed to refortify their forces.

After the ceremony in the godswood, everyone had retired to the Great Hall for a modest wedding feast.  It was the dead of winter now, and food stores were low.  Even to celebrate the wedding of the new king and queen, Winterfell could not afford extravagance.  No one knew how long winter would last.  Now that the White Walkers were dead, it might be blessedly short, but there was no way to know for certain.  And so, although there was great revelry among the guests, food and libations were judiciously rationed.

Jon sat at the head table in the Great Hall, watching the festivities with keen interest.  Or more precisely, watching his wife with keen interest.  She was on the other side of the room, chatting amiably with Sansa, a sight he’d thought he’d never see.  But ever since Sansa had declared her love for Tyrion, there had been a marked change in her.  She was happier, kinder, more carefree.  A fortnight earlier, she and Tyrion had taken their vows in the godswood in front of the old gods, just as Jon and Daenerys had.  It had been a beautiful ceremony, small and private, and neither Sansa nor Tyrion had ever looked happier. 

Jon was still amazed by how well-suited they seemed.  Sansa had always wanted to marry a handsome prince or a dashing knight, but now, she seemed perfectly content with a cynical dwarf.  She had obviously matured a great deal since Jon had first left Winterfell all those years ago, and he couldn’t have been more proud of her. 

Daenerys, for her part, had started to take quite a liking to Sansa the moment she had given her blessing to their union.  Once Daenerys had been certain that Sansa wasn’t plotting against her, she’d been able to let her guard down.  Now, the two were becoming fast friends, and Jon was more than a little relieved.  Although Arya was still a bit wary of Daenerys, she was finally beginning to come around as well.  Just that morning, she had given them both her blessing, finally accepting Daenerys into the family.

Jon couldn’t keep his eyes away from his new bride.  She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.  Her gown was an icy blue satin that accented the vibrant tones of her eyes, and her silver-white hair was braided intricately down her back, studded with myriad blue flowers from the glass garden.  She was the picture of loveliness, and Jon had never loved her more.

“You know,” Tyrion said as he came up beside Jon and climbed into the empty chair next to him, “if you keep looking at her like that, people are going to think that you’re in love with your wife.”

“I am in love with my wife,” Jon said, his gaze never leaving her.

“Yes, I know.  Anyone with eyes can see that.  But I must say, it is rather unseemly.  Daenerys may be extraordinarily beautiful, but you are a king now, and you should probably keep your feelings more guarded.”

Jon finally tore his eyes away from his bride and looked down at Tyrion.  “I could say the same thing about you.  I see the way you look at Sansa.  Everyone does.  You certainly have no shame in showing your affection.”

“I am a shameless creature by nature,” Tyrion replied as he reached out and poured himself a glass of wine.  “Everyone knows that.  And I am no king.  But you, bastard—”  He stopped himself.  “Well, I can’t call you that anymore, can I?  You, Your Grace,” Tyrion said with a quirk of a smile, “are a king, and therefore, you must be held to a higher standard than the rest of us.”

Jon turned away from Tyrion and gazed out at the crowd that had gathered to celebrate his wedding.  He was surrounded by highborn nobles and smallfolk alike, and every last person present seemed to approve of his choice.  Once he had declared his intention to marry Daenerys, no one had questioned him, even after they’d discovered the truth about his parentage. 

Jon looked at Tyrion again.  He was now slumped against the high backed chair, contemplating the glass of wine in his hand. 

“My people don’t seem to mind my obvious affection for my wife,” Jon said.  “I’ve certainly heard no complaints.”

“Well, why would you have?  No one complains to the king or the queen, they complain to the Hand.  And as Daenerys’ Hand—”

“Only for a few more days,” Jon reminded him.

“Yes, yes, until she leaves for King’s Landing.  I know.  But as I am still currently Hand of the Queen, I am going to give you some advice.”  Tyrion’s tone suddenly sobered.  “Guard yourself when you are in King’s Landing.  Don’t let anyone know just how much you love her.  If you do, they’ll see it as a weakness and use that weakness against you, either to threaten you or to manipulate you.  When you’re alone, love her as she deserves to be loved.  But when you’re in public, temper your affection so that you don’t end up losing the one thing you love most.”

Jon stared at Tyrion for a moment, absorbing his words as if they had come from the most wizened maester in Oldtown.  Tyrion had a point.  Jon felt perfectly safe at Winterfell surrounded by his own people, by those who loved and admired him, but things would be different in King’s Landing.  Although he had never visited the city proper, he knew the capital was rife with intrigue, and he would have to be careful.  Even though many of his enemies had perished in the Great War, he was certain that many still remained.  He would be wise to be cautious, to refrain from giving them the means to tear out his heart simply because he couldn’t control his emotions.

“I hate to admit it,” Jon said, “but that is sound advice.”

“That is the only kind of advice I give,” Tyrion replied, taking a sip of wine.

Jon laughed.  “In that case, it’s a shame you won’t be joining us in King’s Landing.  We could use all the good counsel we can get.”

Tyrion dismissed Jon’s concerns with a wave of his hand.  “You’ll be fine.  Besides, if you really need my advice, you can always send a raven.”

“It’s not the same thing,” Jon said.  “Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”

Tyrion nodded.  “I’m sure.  If I reconsidered, even for a moment, my wife would have my head.  And I very much prefer it where it is, attached to my neck.  So no, I won’t be leaving Winterfell anytime soon.”

“If you know what’s good for you,” Sansa said as she approached the table, Daenerys by her side.

Tyrion pushed himself up in the chair, his eyes brightening the instant he saw Sansa.  “Ah, my dear wife.  I was just telling Jon that I have absolutely no interest in ever returning to King’s Landing, that I would not dare risk your wrath by even suggesting it.”

“That is a wise decision, my lord.”

“And don’t I know it?” Tyrion said with a smirk, his words only half serious.

“And what if your queen demands that you return to King’s Landing?” Daenerys asked, arching one fine brow in question.

“In that case, I shall start my own rebellion, declare myself King in the North, and refuse to go.”

Jon could tell that Daenerys wanted to laugh at Tyrion’s answer, but she stopped herself, the hint of a smile on her lips the only indication that she was amused.  “Should you do that, I would have to send my entire army north to put an end to your rebellion, and I’m certain you wouldn’t want to see that happen, would you?”

“I would much prefer it to ever having to leave my wife.”

Sansa blushed, and Jon was certain that she wanted nothing more than to steal away to her bedchamber with Tyrion and spend the rest of the night alone with him.

“Perhaps,” Daenerys said, “if I call you to King’s Landing, Sansa could come with you.”

“No!” Sansa and Tyrion exclaimed in unison, and suddenly, everyone laughed.

“All right then,” Daenerys conceded, “I will not call you to King’s Landing.”

“Good,” Tyrion said as he put down his half empty glass and climbed from the chair.  “Now, if you will both excuse us, there’s something very important I must discuss with my wife.” 

A knowing smile tugged at Daenerys’ lips.  “I can only imagine.”

Tyrion rounded the table and took Sansa’s hand.  “Come, wife.  We have very important matters to discuss.”

“Of course, we do.”  Sansa fought back a secret smile, trying to hide her feelings, but it was no use.  It was obvious to anyone who looked at her that she was smitten with her husband.  “If you would excuse us?”  She asked the question of both Jon and Daenerys, but her eyes never left Tyrion.

“For now,” Daenerys replied, and before she could say another word, they were gone. 

Daenerys shook her head as she stared after them.  It was obvious to Jon that he wasn’t the only one who was surprised by just how happy they were together.

“You know,” Jon said, “I don’t think they’re going off to discuss important matters at all.  I think they’re going off to do something quite different.”

Daenerys turned her head and finally looked at him, her eyes dancing with unspoken joy.  “If they are, then I quite envy them.”

“Do you now?”

“I do.”

“Well,” Jon said as he pushed himself up from his chair, “what are we going to do about that?”

Daenerys didn’t answer him with words.  She didn’t have to.  They had already spent far too long entertaining their guests.  It was well past time they left the Great Hall and did some celebrating on their own.

Jon walked around the table, taking Daenerys’ hand the moment he reached her.  He looked around the crowded hall, certain their departure would not go unnoticed, but he didn’t care.  The quicker they made their escape, the better.  All he wanted was to be alone with his new bride and celebrate their union in private.

Jon led Daenerys from the hall.  He refused to make eye contact with anyone, lest they be forced to stop and talk.  Soon, they were alone together in the corridor, and the instant he was certain they wouldn’t be seen, he pushed her up against the wall and kissed her passionately.  It had been hours since he’d last kissed her, and he couldn’t wait a moment longer. 

Daenerys kissed him just as fiercely, and Jon knew if they didn’t stop, he’d end up taking her right there in the hallway.  And so, despite his own desires, he pulled away, staring down at his wife as he struggled to catch his breath.

“You know,” Jon said, “Tyrion doesn’t approve of such open displays of affection.  He warned me not to be seen showing any passion for my new bride.”

Daenerys laughed.  “Well, once we leave for King’s Landing, he will no longer be my Hand, so he will have no say in the matter.”

“Still, I would much rather make love to you in a bed than out here in the corridor.”

A devilish smile spread across Daenerys’ lips.  “I don’t know, I think I might actually enjoy making love right where we stand.”

Jon groaned inwardly.  He wanted her so desperately that he was tempted to take her right then and there, but Daenerys stopped him from doing anything so foolish.  She reached out and took his hand, guiding him away from the wall.

“I’ll take pity on you, Jon Snow, just this once.  Come, make love to me in our bed.”

He kissed her once more, sweetly, softly, before allowing her to lead him down the hallway to their chamber.  He would make love to her until the sun set and rose again.  He would spend the rest of his life loving her just as much as she loved him.