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the little death

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It was too quiet. The kind of quiet that comes before a battle, the kind of stillness that comes before death.

She was no stranger to death. She had made him her god and given up her name for his will. She had introduced him to many and some at her own hands. Death was never silent. He was a screaming, gurgling thing. Was this what he had planned all along? For her final moments to be spent in stifled silence? Was her death to be quiet, witnessed by no one, remembered by none?

She did not fear death. That fear had been lost when she had seen her father beheaded, her brother and mother slain. The summer child she once was had died with them. She had learned to master death, had made her own law to be the judge and executioner of. But now winter was here and death was marching towards her with frosted fingers outstretched. Because while she served death, she had one thing he did not - she lived.

She rose from where she lay under his cloak, her back to him. She had known that he would come to her, known that eventually he would reach for her, gasping and shuddering, her name stuttering over his lips.

Was this how it ended? With a halting breath, eyes wide, mouth shaped in the perfect ‘oh’? Was this how it felt to die? The rush of blood to the heart, muscles taut and aching, fearing the moment it all stopped only to feel the relief of the fall? Was this what it would be like after? To sleep…

Her gaze fell to where they clothes lay in disarray on the stone floor, remembering the fervour with which they had discarded their leathers, the imminent battle forgotten for a brief moment. His hands had been rough on her face, her breasts, his fingers bruising where he held onto her hips as she rose above him. Her skin was tender from where the bristle on his jaw had scraped as he kissed way down her throat and between her legs. His arms were strong, more muscled than they had been from years honing his smithing in King’s Landing. He was solid and if she let him, he might be strong enough to tether her to this earth.

The irony of their coupling was not lost on her. A drift of a conversation caught in her mind and spun, twisting and circling. You will marry a king and rule his castle. Royal blood. The Red Woman knew. The Gold Coats that hunted them knew. But he was no prince. He was a bastard. He did not have the honour of a prince, or a knight, or a lord. He had no name. He called her ‘my lady’ but knew she did not want the esteem that came with her title. He had not held her like she was a lady, nor like he was any man of honour. But he had covered her with his cloak when it was finished and perhaps in another life, one where kings kept their vows, he would have done the same in the Godswood.

She looked back at where he lay beside her. His chest rose and fell in sleep, his face unlined, as if no trouble could possibly be coming with the dawn. It was a face she had seen asleep many times, when she was a girl and he was barely a man. She had tried to forget his face to make it easier to forget who she was. It was always easier not to feel alive. To only relish in the power of death. Though he was still beside her, the surest he had ever been, she felt an ache spread through her lungs as if he had been taken from her once more. The ghosts of her past had come back to haunt her and for all she knew she might be already dead.

He woke to the sight of her facing away from him, her body golden in the torchlight. Her hair had come loose from its neat coil and he watched as deft fingers spun it back into place. He reached out to still her hands and she turned her head towards him, grey eyes steady. He ghosted his fingers over the scars on her side, silver and red, and she closed her eyes at his touch. The puckered scars cut a violent mark across her pale skin, a permanent reminder of the childhood that had been interrupted. His fingers moved to the scars on her stomach and she inhaled, slowly. A question hovered on his tongue but he knew better than to speak it. She was not the girl he had known. She bore a different face. The wiry frame she had worn as a child had given in to softness and strength. The memory of her legs around him confirmed that, the sweet softness of her thighs, the strength with which they had clutched, anchoring him to her. She had known what she wanted and she had taken it with force. She had stepped forward, so certain in her request, her eyes bright with a challenge (for it was always a challenge with her…). The surety with which she had pulled her mouth to his, the way her deft fingers had stripped him of his leathers, the commands she gave as she rose and fell above him. The wildness within her was no longer untamed but had been honed, sharpened. The woman and the wolf.

He lifted himself on one hand and with the other pulled her face to his, her eyes still closed, and kissed her, his fingers brushing the nape of her neck. Only when he pulled away did she open her eyes, watching him carefully. He searched her face, but she gave nothing away. Her fingers rose to his face, tracing his brows, eyelids, skimming across his cheekbones and curving over his lips, as if she was committing him to memory. This person, this person who was old and new at once, who had always seen her but now did not know her. Her name was a whisper on his lips and she held his gaze, her dark brows set. Did he know all that she couldn’t say? All that she could not tell him? Was this what it would be like to have this? To memorise the scent of a lover, to taste the salt on their skin? He would never hold her back. He would have no need to. He would have no power to. She was no woman. She was a weapon.

With both hands against his jaw she drew his face to hers, breathing him in, and pressed her mouth to his. It was a sweet, desperate longing for a time that never was, for a girl she could never be. She kissed him with an urgency she had never known, a passion she did not know she possessed. It was a wretched kiss that could go no further. There was no time. The horns began to sound.

They dressed in silence. There was so much he had not said, so many questions he had not asked, so many ways in which he wanted to explore her but had no time. There would be no words of love. No time for promises that would be broken in a matter of hours. The dead were coming. By dawn they would have joined them.

She did not fear death. Perhaps there was something beyond that dawn that was worth living for, but she did not allow herself to dream of after. There would be no lover’s embrace waiting for her. Only the arms of death.