Chapter 1: Tyrion
The smell of horse shit permeated every bumping inch of the carriage ride to Winterfell. The echo of thousands of marching feet had become more familiar to Tyrion than the music of any of the musicians that had frequented the halls of Casterly Rock, pounding like a drumbeat between his aching temples. The constant bouncing made his joints ache in protest, but the discomfort was still preferable to making the journey on horseback. Making the journey on horseback would have been sufficient to make him wish for a quick death. As it was, the journey was simply unpleasant.
Though he didn’t say so, Tyrion gauged from the Spider’s expression that the eunuch’s opinion of their travel conditions was inline with his own. As they jostled down the well worn rode to Winterfell, Varys watched the view beyond the carriage with a pinched expression of distaste. He serves the realm, Tyrion surmised, but he prefers to do so from a luxurious distance.
“You should consider yourself lucky. At least your balls won't freeze off.”
Varys was not riled by the comment as Tyrion hoped, though he looked rather exasperated.
“You take great offense at dwarf jokes, but love telling eunuch jokes.” Varys said. “Why is that?”
Tyrion did his best not to smirk. “Because I have balls, and you don’t.”
Chapter 2: Jon
Jon rode beside his queen. Despite knowing he was surrounded by allies, being surrounded by soldiers that were not his comrades made him uneasy. Perhaps it was simply the North in him.
Onlookers watch the approaching army in stony silence.
It was a inhospitable country, openly hostile to outsiders, but it was this very hostility that made it feel like home.
Jon glanced at Daenerys, sitting stiff and erect on her mount. He could see from her tight expression that she was as ill at ease in his homeland as he was surrounded by her invading army.
This was not the reception she was accustomed to. No doubt, the Mother of Dragons was used to the adoration of the thousands she’d recently freed from bondage. But the Northerners were no man’s slaves. And if they were, they’d rise up and free themselves. As they had in Robert’s Rebellion as wells as against the tyranny of the Boltons.
“I warned you.” Jon said, hoping to lighten the palpable tension.
Daenerys looked to him and for a fraction of a moment it took his breath away. She really was beautiful, almost otherworldly with her unnaturally pale hair in contrast to her youthful face.
“Northerners don't much trust outsiders.” He couldn’t help the hint of pride that crept into his tone. While he’d pledged himself to the queen at his side and fully intended to honor that pledge, he was at his core a Northerner and Northern pride ran deep.
Just then one of Daenerys’s dragons released a roar from high above. Shrieks of terror erupted from the crowed. Daenerys looked up at the sky, her own pride evident in her eyes and on the smile that played at her lips. The words she didn’t speak were clear to Jon. The Northerners didn’t have to trust her, they only had to obey her. After all, she was the mother of dragons.
As they rode through the gates of Winterfell, cold nostalgia rushed over him. It had been years since he’d truly belonged in this place, but it was this place and the people in it that called him home his dreams. Even in his youth, living in Winterfell had never truly made for a happy home. He’d had a rather a bleak childhood punctuated with bursts of happiness. In truth, it was hard to ever feel at ease when the only mother figure he'd ever known couldn’t look at him without thinly veiled hatred, even at the best of times. At the worst of times, Caitlyn Stark hadn’t even bothered to veil her hatred.
Perhaps that was why he’d always felt at odds with the eldest of his two half sisters. Though beautiful and strong, as a child, Sansa Stark was all Tully. When she had looked at him, he saw her mother’s hatred looking back. Or he had, until Brienne brought his sister to the gates of Castle Black.
Bundled in furs to ward off the chill, the sparse remains of the Stark household waited to welcome Jon and his queen. Jon nudged his horse to a gallop as his gaze found a familiar face.
Bran the broken boy. The younger brother he last saw unconscious in a bed. At the time, he’d hoped to see him again in a few months. At the time, he had no idea the future would hold so much death and destruction. Now before him sat a familiar, though much changed, face. Brandon Stark was still broken, but no longer a boy.
Jon jumped down from his horse and ran to his brother, knelling before him. His heart swelled to have another sibling returned to him. He loved Sansa dearly, and since their reunion he perhaps loved her more dearly than any other living soul, but it was different from his love for his other siblings. She’d never been a sister toward him as children, and now though he loved her, that love was some less familial than the feelings he nurtured for Bran and Arya and the memory of their lost brothers.
“Look at you,” He couldn’t help the smile that split his face. “You’re a man.”
Bran’s gaze fell on him, but it did not feel as though he saw him, more like he saw past him, through him. Though his body sat before Jon, he saw nothing of the boy he remembered.
“Almost.” Bran said, with a tone as dead as his expression. It sent a chill through Jon.
He felt eyes on him and looked up to see Sansa, the barest hint of a smile curled her lips just for him and disappeared just as quickly. He rose to his feet and strode straight to her. She opened her arms to welcome him into her embrace. His heart sped in his chest at the memory of the way Sansa had flung her arms around him when they had first reunited at Castle Black. In that moment, it didn’t matter that she had once been his least favorite sibling and he was hers. It did not matter that she’d never treated him as a brother or even kindly as children. They were family. He was hers and she was his.
But this was a different reunion. While her embrace was welcoming, when they pulled apart he found that her gaze was locked on the pale form of the Dragon Queen who stood back, waiting to be acknowledged. Sansa’s gaze appraised the queen, icy and remote and completely at opposite of her fiery hair. Kissed by fire with a frozen heart.
Looking at her now, he saw nothing of the nearly destroyed girl who had run into his arms at Castle Black. Neither did he see her mothers cold disdain. She was something else, something stronger. The world had worn away all the softness she’d had in her youth and underneath she was steel. She was a Stark to her core. She was the true Lady of Winterfell.
The North may have dubbed him King in the North as they did Robb before him, but the Lords were fools to do so. He was no king. He was just a soldier. No, Sansa was the one who was born to wear a crown.
Jon looked around the crowd, his once large family had dwindled to near extinction. But there was one face he expected that he sorely wished to see and was pained to find absent.
“Where’s Arya?” He asked, longing to see the face of the sibling he’d always held dearest to his heart, the only one who had always treated him as a son of Ned Stark with no reservations. His little sister and her unladylike ways had never been far his mind, even though the years apart made it hard for him to even call to mind her face.
“Lurking somewhere.” Sansa never looked away from the Queen, seemingly unfazed by her sister’s absence. Jon wasn’t sure if this was indicative of the distance that had alway existed between the sisters or not. Perhaps, Sansa, unlike her parents, recognized that Arya never had and never would stand on traditional ceremony.
Remembering himself, Jon turned his attention to the Dragon Queen. Daenerys crossed the space between them with large, confident strides, impressive for someone of her small stature.
“Queen Daenerys of House Targaryen.” He glanced at Sansa. She did not meet his gaze, and he looked down, for the first time since bending the knee, he felt a twinge of shame. “My sister, Sansa Stark, the Lady of Winterfell.”
He knew with certainty that Sansa would not have bent the knee. Steel did not bend.
Daenerys beamed. Despite her airs of confidence, Jon could tell she was desperate to make a favorable first impression.
“Thank you for inviting us into your home, Lady Stark. The North is as beautiful as your brother claimed, as are you.”
Sansa looked her up and down, the dragon queen's warm greeting in no way melting the ice behind her pale eyes.
“Winterfell is yours, Your Grace.”
Daenerys’s expression tighten, but she pressed her lips into a thin smile and tilted her head, regally accepting the courtesy she was due.
“We don't have time for all this.” Bran interrupted. “The Night King has your dragon. He's one of them now.”
Daenerys’s carefully collected expression flickered for a moment at the reminder of her loss. Had they been alone, Jon would have wrapped her in his arms to offer her some small semblance of comfort. But Bran was not done.
“The Wall has fallen, the dead march south.”
Sansa’s gaze flicked to Jon and for a fraction of a moment, he saw fear within her eyes. He saw the girl who had looked to him for protection and trusted him to keep her from the grasp of her abusers. And Jon swore silently to himself, that he would not fail her in this hour of need either.
Chapter 3: Sansa
Sansa sat at the table at the head of the great hall with Jon by her side, as it had been the day the North named him their King. The air was thick with the smell of stale ale and sweat. It was a warm aroma, but the cold of winter pressed in on her, despite the fire at her back and the bodies tightly packed into the great hall.
She sat straight as an arrow, ignoring the desperate need to shiver. She would not show weakness before so many outsiders. Let them shiver and long for their sunny homelands. Let them believe the Lady of Winterfell was carved from ice itself.
Despite the betrayal that she still felt at Jon’s methods of gathering these allies, she was grateful to have him returned to her. It felt right to once again have his quiet yet reassuring presence at her side. What did not feel right was the Targaryen woman’s presence looming behind them as she stood beside the fire.
It did not go unnoticed to Sansa that the small queen refused to sit. Perhaps it was in effort to ward of the chill. Perhaps fearing that her diminutive stature would diminish her authority in this place of large, burly men.
Sansa feared no such thing. She was of the north. She’d survived the Lannisters and the Boltons and reclaimed her home as well as her family name. She fought for everything now in her grasp and she would continue to fight to keep it.
Unlike the Dragon Queen, she felt no need to posture about the city or send her dragons soaring low overhead as a show of power. The North was not impressed by the efforts to intimidate. Sansa knew well that the way to garner the respect of the North was to earn it through time, sweat, and tears.
Jon’s little queen, it seemed, did not fully understand that lesson. She thought she could come here with a royal surname and a claim and that knees would bend before her without question or resistance. But Sansa had seen others who thought themselves worthy to rule simply because they had the privilege of being born with the right family name.
After all she had suffered at the hand of Jeoffery, she knew better than ever to blindly support a person, simply because they had the right name or title.
Jon had no name or birthright, but he had been named King in the North. He was a king because his actions were kingly, at least, that was, until he bent the knee to a foreigner.
“As soon as we heard about the Wall, I called all our banners to retreat to Winterfell.” Sansa said.
Silence weighed heavy in the room, though it was filled to capacity. She could feel the tension in the room, as though everyone held their breath to better hear her.
“Lord Umber when can we expect your people to arrive?” Her gaze sought out the young lord.
The small boy made his way to the center of the room. He was too young for the weight of his responsibilities, but that did not change the fact that they were his to bear. Sansa had been too young for many of the things she had been forced to bear. Even now, she was still young, though she no longer felt it.
“We need more horses and wagons, if it please my lady.” The boy said. He spoke well for one so young. In time, he’d make a good lord. If time was something any of them had. “And my lord. And my queen.” He glanced nervously at the dragon queen. “Sorry.”
Sansa suppressed her amusement. She was sure the Targaryen queen did not appreciate being added last as though an afterthought.
“You'll have as many as we can spare. Hurry back to Last Hearth and bring your people here.”
The boy nodded and hurried from the hall.
“We need to send ravens to the Night's Watch as well.” Jon spoke up for the first time since introducing his queen. “There's no sense in manning the castles anymore. We make our stand here.”
Sansa was glad to hear that her brother still knew how to make a stand, since he’d apparently forgotten how on his travels south to broker a peace with the Dragon Queen.
“At once, Your Grace.” A Maester said, before retreating to do Jon’s bidding.
“Your Grace.” Lyanna Mormont rose to her feet. Though barely weened from her mother's breast, Lyanna commanded the entire room without even needing to demand the respect. Sansa thought Daenerys could learn thing or two from the child.
Lyanna looked at Jon with apparent disdain. “But you're not. Are you? You left Winterfell a king and came back a…. I'm not sure what you are now.”
Murmuring rumbled around her and it sounded very much as though the other lords and ladies agreed with her.
Sansa stiffened, while she agreed with the sentiment, she felt a strong desire to speak up to defend Jon. She hated that he bent the knee, but she knew him well enough to be certain that he believed it had been the right thing to do.
Lyanna continued, “A lord? Nothing at all?”
“It's not important.” Jon said.
“Not important? We named you King in the North.”
The murmurs grew to a roar of support.
“You did, my lady. It was the honor of my life. I'll always be grateful for your faith.”
Jon rose to his feet and the same silent respect the North attributed to Sansa fell to him.
“But when I left Winterfell, I told you we need allies or we will die.”
Lyanna, sensing his authority, returned to her seat.
“I have brought those allies home to fight alongside us.”
Sansa glanced over at the beautiful white-haired queen. The woman gazed up at Jon, her eyes gleaming with obvious adoration that made Sansa’s skin crawl. Daenerys looked at Jon as though he belonged to her. Did he belong to her?
“I had a choice, keep my crown or protect the North. I chose the North.” Jon said.
The murmuring built up again, but no one spoke out against him.
A chair scraped loudly as Tyrion Lannister rose to his feet, though doing so didn’t make him any taller. Sansa considered the small man who had once been her Lord Husband. While she had once seen him as a monster, she knew better now. She’d seen what real monsters looked like. With the aid of experience, she could look back and appreciate the husband he had been to her. He had been gentle and kind. He had never taken a single thing from her that she did not offer. There were not enough men like that, like him and like Jon.
“If anyone survives the war to come, we'll have Jon Snow to thank." Tyrion said. "He risked his life to show us the threat is real. Thanks to his courage, we have brought with us the greatest army the world has ever seen. We have brought two full-grown dragons. And soon, the Lannister army will ride north to join our cause.”
The protest erupted instantly.
Tyrion raised his voice to speak above the growing outcry. “I know, I know, our people haven't been friends in the past. But we must fight together now or die.”
The weight of his final words shudder through the hall for a long moment.
“May I ask, how are we meant to feed the greatest army the world has ever seen?" Sansa spoke up. “While I ensured our stores would last through winter, I didn't account for Dothraki, Unsullied and two full-grown dragons. What do dragons eat, anyway?”
“Whatever they want.” Daenerys said.
Sansa did not miss the implied threat as their gazes briefly met.
“Sansa,” Jon called out as she strode away from the hall.
In the wake of drastically increased population of Winterfell, Sansa had intended to meet with Yohn Royce to discuss the redistribution of resources to accommodate many more mouths in want of food and bodies in want of beds.
“I am very busy, Jon.” She said, not bothering to slow her gait as she crossed the yard.
She heard Jon jog to catch up with her. He caught her arm and she flinched at his touch. She didn’t intend to flinch, for Jon’s touch was one of the few that didn’t make her insides scream and squirm in protest, but she struggled with touch of any kind if she was not expecting it, after Ramsay.
Sensing her reaction, Jon withdrew his hand.
“Speak with me.” He whispered. He didn’t say please, but the gentleness of his request was clear in every syllable.
Jon knew better than most what she had endured at the hands of the Lannisters and Boltons. Others knew what they had witnessed, Jon knew what she had confided in him which was so much worse.
She gave a small nod and changed direction, leading him into the castle and to her chambers.
Jon closed the door as he followed her inside. She wasn’t entirely comfortable having a man, even Jon, in her chambers, but she did not want any other ears to witness any words that might pass between them.
“Speak.” She said, by way of invitation for him to say what he came to say.
Jon approached her, but he did not reach out to touch her this time, instead he held out a hand for her to take, should she want it. And she wanted it. She slipped her hand into his and stepped closer to him, resting her forehead against his.
Neither of them spoke right away. They just closed their eyes and breathed their intermingled air. The warm air Sansa invited into her lungs, knowing it had just been in Jon’s, soothed her better than anything since Jon had headed South on a mission to enlist allies that, while necessary, filled her with dread. A part of her had feared that like her father, uncle, and grandfather before them, Jon Snow would not fair well south of Winterfell.
“I did what I had to do.” Jon finally whispered.
Sansa nodded, because she knew he spoke the truth, at least his truth. While she did not trust the Dragon Queen, she knew they needed her aide if they were to have any hope of surviving the long night.
Jon wrapped his arms around her waist and her hugged him back, sensing that he was silently asking her for something. Approval? No. Forgiveness.
“And I’ll do what I have to do.” Sansa whispered. She felt him stiffen and hated herself for the gulf she was creating between them.
Though she knew Littlefinger would object, she did trust Jon. She trusted him as she trusted no one else, not even Bran and Arya. But that trust was not blind. She might trust Jon with her whole heart, but that didn’t mean she would blindly follow whatever direction he led.
Chapter 4: Tyrion
“Give it time, your grace.” Tyrion tried to soothe his queen. “The North has never been quick to welcome strangers.”
Daenerys paced in front of her raging fire, she moved like a caged tiger, both tense and fluid and riddled with an understated power.
“It was to be expected that they would be resistant to Jon’s decision to bend the knee.” Tyrion said. “And until he convinces Lady Sansa…”
“Lady Sansa?” Daenerys snapped, her eyes flashing like wildfire. “What do I care for Lady Sansa.”
Tyrion let out a slow breath, realizing his misstep a moment too late. His queen was deeply threatened by the Northern beauty. While well loved across the sea, here she was a foreign conqueror to be treated with suspicion. Here she was not the alluring white-haired Targaryen beauty, but a figure to be mistrusted. Here, Sansa Stark was the one to whom men’s eyes drifted with both respect and desire.
“The Starks are the key to the North, my queen.” Tyrion said, feeling as though he was repeating himself, but he feared his advice was falling on deaf ears. “Without their allegiance, no Southern ruler, no matter how powerful, can hope to hold the North.”
“I have the Starks allegiance.”
“Begging your pardon, but you do not.” Tyrion said, bringing the full focus of her wrath down upon himself. He tried not to squirm beneath her venomous glare.
“Jon has pledged himself to me.”
“Yes. Jon Snow has pledged himself to you. He may have the Stark blood, but not the name. You still need the name.”
Daenerys sank into the chair across from Tyrion. “What do you suggest?”
“Not so much a suggestion as a warning.” He reached out and placed his hand over hers. “Do not over play your hand. You’re a queen, yes. You have earned Jon’s respect and admiration, yes. But do not put him in a position where he must choose between you and the Starks. I do not believe you will like where his allegiance lands.”
Daenerys stared into the flames, the light flickering in her large eyes.
“You believe he would betray me.”
Tyrion considered his words very carefully before committing to them. “I believe he would never betray her.”
“You mean the Starks.” Daenerys corrected.
Tyrion frowned slightly, but chose to allow Daenerys her correction. It would not be wise to rile her further.
“You have given me much to think about, Lord Tyrion.” She said, dismissing him with a wave of her hand.
Tyrion looked down on the yard where the Baratheon bastard supervised the unloading of the carts of Dragonglass. There was heaps of the glistening black rocks, but would it be enough to battle back the onslaught coming for them? Only time would tell.
He knew that the moment the stone reached the forge, those fires would be raging around the clock until the horde of frozen dead reached them. He just hoped that there would be enough time to craft enough weapons.
He saw a flash of red out of the corner of his eye and his gaze followed it to find Lady Sansa deep in conversation with her advisor from the Vale, Yohn Royce.
She had been a beautiful child, but she had grown into a breathtakingly beautiful woman. Though, if she fully realized the effect she had on men, she seemed to actively ignore it. Not that he could blame her. If half the stories he’d heard where true of what she’d endured after leaving King's Landing, he would not blame her if she desired to quit the company of men for the remainder of her days.
He’d liked the girl he’d known in King's Landing. Liked her enough to wish there was more he could have done to spare her from the torment that was inflicted on her there. He’d done what he could, respecting her chastity and staying far from their marriage bed. Still, he wished he’d done more. He wished he’d been able to protect her from all that came after King's Landing. He only knew a small portion of what she’d been through since leaving his admittedly limited protection, but it was enough to make his stomach turn.
“My lord.” He said as he approached the two of them. “My lady.”
Yohn Royce gave him a look that made it clear they were not friends. That was fine, Tyrion wasn’t looking to make friends in the North. He was looking to survive.
“My lady.” Yohn Royce said to Sansa with a respectful tilt of his head to excuse himself.
Silence fell between Tyrion and the lady who had once been his lady in name only.
“The Lady of Winterfell.” He said. “Has a nice ring to it.”
“So does Hand of the Queen.” The Northern beauty acknowledged. “Depending on the queen, I suppose.”
Tyrion noted the distrust in Sansa’s voice, just as he had noted the iciness she’d treated Daenerys with during every interaction. He knew he would not change her mind through debating, so he could only hope the actions of his queen would convert the Lady of Winterfell to their side. That was, if the Mother of Dragons could learn to control her temper.
Sensing it would be for the best, he changed the subject.
“Last time we spoke was at Joffrey's wedding.” He said. “Miserable affair.”
“It had its moments.” Sansa said, with a slight edge of amusement in her voice. “Apologies for leaving like that.”
“Yes, it was a bit hard to explain why my wife fled moments after the king's murder.”
He’d almost been put to death as a result, after all. Though, had she stayed, he had no doubt Cersei would have seen her dead for the crime, guilty or not.
Sansa did not look overly remorseful for his suffering which she’d contributed to, willingly or not. He couldn’t really expect her to regret leaving him, not when she’d been a pretty little pawn at the time, moved around by more powerful players.
“We both survived.” She said.
Tyrion studied the woman before him for a long moment. He saw very little of the delicate child he had briefly called his wife. She was no longer soft. She was no longer the pretty little thing Jeoffery delighted in tormenting. In truth, if she held a goblet of wine in her hand, he could almost think she reminded him of Cersei. Though her eyes lacked the sharp edge of cruelty which his sister's always held. No, she was better than Cersei. Unlike his sister, she would make a wise leader, both just and merciful. The North was lucky to have the likes of her.
He couldn’t suppress the faint expression of awe on his face. Not only was she one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen, but she had a mind to rival or perhaps even surpass his own.
“Many underestimated you. Most of them are dead now.” He observed.
Sansa said nothing, but Tyrion thought he saw a hint of pride glimmer in her calculating eyes.
“I'm sure you weren't thrilled to hear the Lannister army's marching north. You have every right to be fearful of my sister. No one fears her more than I do.” He continued. “But I promise, you'll be safe”
He noticed something close to amusement in her expression and realized that while she was wary of Cersei, she did not fear her. She’d grown too much to be a quaking child when faced with her childhood nightmares.
“Cersei told you her army was coming north to fight for you?” Sansa asked
“And you believed her?”
The cold dread of doubt filled his gut for the first time since his private conversation with his sister.
“She has something to live for now.” Tyrion said, as much to convince the Lady Sansa as to reassure himself. “I believe she wants to survive.”
“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” She said. There was no mockery in her words which only serve to make their sting more keenly felt.
She swept away before he could think of a clever retort.
His chest tightened with a sudden anxiety that perhaps he had been wrong about his sister’s intentions. Mind troubled, Tyrion looked out across the yard. He spotted the crippled Stark boy looking at him. No… looking into him.
Chapter 5: Arya
Arya’s breath caught in her lungs at the sight of the familiar figure standing at the base of the weirwood tree. She’d glimpsed riding beside his pale-haired Queen, but at such a distance and surrounded by an army, he might as well have been a stranger. Now, with his back to her, he made a hulking figure, layered in furs like their father before him. Though he’d never reached the height of Ned Stark, there was something in his bearing that reminded Arya of their long dead father. She had no doubt that the honorable Lord Stark would have been proud of the man his bastard had become. His unladylike daughter? Perhaps less so.
“You used to be taller.”
Jon turned around, caught off guard, something he was likely unaccustomed to after his years in the Night’s Watch.
“How did you sneak up on me?” He asked.
She thought about the answer to that question. It was a long question and one they didn’t have time to discuss at length, not with the Night King and his army drawing ever closer. Perhaps, if they both survived, she would tell him about all of it. But not today.
“How did you survive a knife through the heart?” She asked.
The joy of the reunion bubbled up past the awkwardness and Jon pulled her into an embrace that felt more like home than anything she’d experienced since she left Winterfell all those years ago.
She pulled away and drew her sword to show him.
“You still have it.” Jon said, clearly amazed.
She could have laughed at his surprise. Did he really doubt that she would have died rather than be separated from the last shred of who she’d been before this all began?
She beamed in pride. “Needle.”
“Have you ever used it?”
Her smile faltered. While Jon had always been accepting of her, she didn’t know if that acceptance could stretch as far as she had traveled since they’d last met. She’d told herself she’d done what she had to in order to survive. But there was a fine line between surviving and living, and she seemed to move further from the living every day.
“Once or twice.” She confessed.
Jon drew his own sword to show her.
Jon grinned and for a moment he was transformed into the boy she’d known.
“Jealous?” He asked.
She scoffed. “Too heavy for me.”
He replace the blade in its sheath and let out a sigh.
“Where were you before? I could've used your help with Sansa.”
Arya smirked. She rather doubted anyone could help him with Sansa. Sansa was no longer a little girl obsessed with lemon cakes and pretty dresses. She had changed as much as, if not more than, Arya. While Arya had turned her body into a weapon, Sansa had turned her mind into one.
“She doesn't like your queen, does she?” Arya surmised. She wasn’t surprised. Sansa had endured too much to like, let alone trust, anyone who was to family.
“Sansa thinks she's smarter than everyone.”
Sansa is smarter than everyone. Arya had seen how effortlessly her sister had manipulated Littlefinger, leading him to his own execution like a lamb to the slaughter.
“She's the smartest person I've ever met.” Arya admitted.
“Now you're defending her?” Jon laughed. “You?”
“I'm defending our family.” She gave him a pointed look. “So is she.”
The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Jon and Arya were warriors, but it would take more than a couple of fighters for the Stark family to survive the long night. Sansa was a tactician. If they even hoped to survive, it would be by heeding her. And that included mistrusting anyone who was not family.
“I'm her family too.” Jon said.
Arya frowned slightly. Her family. Not your family. She studied her brother for a long moment. They had always been more like each other than any of their siblings. The time apart had taught Arya an appreciation for her sister. Had it taught Jon something more than that?
“Don't forget that.” She warned.
Arya wandered through the camps of Daenerys armies. While the usual sounds of violence, shouting, and the distinct moaning of whores filled the Dothraki camp, the legions of Unsullied where different. As she meandered through their camps, she was impressed by the silence. She’d heard stories of the Unsullied and their unparalleled discipline, but she had expected those stories to be an exaggerations.
She saw Brienne of Tarth striding down the path between the tents and she slid in step beside her. She had to take twice as many strides to keep up with the big woman, but she was quite used to physical exertion so it didn’t bother her.
“Sansa sent you to scope out the queen’s army?” Arya surmised.
“Lady Arya.” Brienne objected, seemingly quite concerned that her very obvious motives had been detected by a cursory glance.
Arya considered reminding Brienne yet again that there was no need to preface her name with Lady, but she figured it was pointless. The woman was rigid in her obedience to courtly behavior, so Arya supposed if she felt the need to call her a lady she’d suffer through it.
“And how do you find the Dragon Queens forces?” Arya asked, genuinely interested. She, herself, was lethal in close quarters, but she had never been a soldier and knew little of what made one campaign a success and another fail.
“They are… formidable.” Brienne said. With the impending onslaught of the dead, Arya would have supposed this to be a good thing, but based on the tall woman’s expression, she thought perhaps Sansa would disagree.
“She’s not planning something stupid, is she?” Arya asked.
Brienne glanced at her, her expression tight.
“Lady Sansa is never stupid.”
Arya chewed on her lip, thoughtfully.
“But perhaps you should speak with her privately, anyway.” Brienne said, in a low and somewhat urgent whisper.
Chapter 6: Cersei
Cersei sat stiffly on the Iron Throne. Funny, she’d spent so much time scheming to not only get, but keep this seat, but she did rather hate sitting in it. She could never relax while she sat in it, if she did, it was far to easy to cut herself on one of the many blades.
Perhaps that was intentional. A reminder to all monarchs who thought to rule the Seven Kingdoms. When one ruled, they could never relax. There would always be a willing usurper waiting in the wings.
“Twenty-thousand men, is it?” Cersei asked.
Captain Strickland made a handsome figure in his gleaming armor. He reminded her slightly of her twin, back before these endless wars had tarnished his beauty and cost him his sword hands. Now he was a cripple and a pale shadow of the glorious lion she had been pleased to call her lover. Let the North have him. What did she care what that useless man did? If he wanted to run off to the North to fight for the Starks and that blonde cow, then good riddance. She only kept him around because it pleased her to make love to her mirror image, anyway.
She ignored the ache in her chest that testified that her very thoughts were lies.
“Yes, Your Grace.” The golden companies dashing commander assured her. He shot his companion a look that spoke of his distaste. “A few died in transit.”
Cersei looked over at the vulgar man who had the audacity to call himself a king. King of the Iron Islands. Euron Greyjoy leered at her. He looked as though he had not washed in weeks and Cersei thought that guess was likely generous.
“They cheated at dice. Or maybe I cheated. Someone cheated. They weren't good fighters.” He said, as though that excused everything. “You won't miss them.”
“Horses?” Cersei asked, ignoring the royal ruffian.
“And elephants?” Cersei had never seen one of the beasts herself, but she’d read about them as a child in her father’s library and knew they were formidable steeds in battle. While Jaime had busied himself playing at being a knight, she had sharpened her mind. That was why she was a queen and he was nothing.
“No elephants, Your Grace.” Captain Strickland said, apologetically.
“That's disappointing.” Cersei drummed her fingers in displeasure. “I was told the Golden Company had elephants.”
“They are excellent beasts, Your Grace, but not well-suited to long sea voyages.” The Captain explained.
Cersei waved off his excuses.
“In any event, you are most welcome here in King's Landing, Captain Strickland.”
“We look forward to fighting on your behalf, Your Grace.” The Captain said, bowing and making his exit.
“Am I most welcome here?” Euron asked, not taking the captain’s lead to leave.
“You are a true friend of the crown and an honored guest.” Cersei said, giving him the barest hint of a smile. The man repulsed her, but he had his uses and she could not afford to lose his friendship, no matter how abhorrent she found it.
“Good.” Euron’s leer widened. “As a true friend and an honored guest… I was hoping we could talk in private.”
Cersei suppressed a shudder at the thought of the dirty pirates true meaning.
“After the war.” She insisted. “That was our agreement.”
“Wars sometimes last years.” He said.
He was right. And though she didn’t want to admit it, she did not have that kind of time. The child in her belly was growing and it’s presence would be undeniable in a very short amount of time. By her estimation, she was nearing the end of her third month. She had no doubt that a man such as Euron Greyjoy would have no interest in fighting to defend a queen if anyone should suspect there was another man’s bastard in her belly.
“You want a whore, buy one.” She sneered, not wanting to accept the truth she knew, that she would have to take unpleasant actions to keep the Iron Fleet in her grasp. “You want a queen earn her.”
“How? I've given her justice, an army and the Iron Fleet, yet she gives me no sign of affection.” He drew closer and the Mountain shifted protectively. “My heart is nearly broken.”
“You're insolent.” Cersei warned. “I've executed men for less.”
“They were lesser men.”
Cersei knew well how to please a man. She also knew how to convince a man that he had pleased her as well. She moaned and cried out Euron’s name, dragging her nails down his back, assuming, correctly, that he was the kind of man who enjoyed a little bit of pain with his pleasure.
After he came, she felt hollow and disgusted. While he was better in bed, he reminded her of Robert, he treated her body like he owned it. Jaime had always treated her with worshipful adoration, even when he, on occasion, got a little too rough or demanding, she still knew she was the one with the power. That if she ever truly wanted to, she could make her loyal twin heel.
“You can’t stay through the night.” She told Euron as she got out of bed and pulled on her robe. “The servants will talk.”
“Fuck the servants.”
“Do as you will with your own reputation. I will not have people saying that Euron Greyjoy fucked the queen.” She gave him a warning glare as she poured her wine.
“But I did fuck the queen.” He leered.
Her stomach turned and she took another long draw of wine, looking out the window as Euron pulled on his pants.
“I wanted those elephants.” She lamented.
“So how do I compare to the fat king?” Euron asked, obviously not even listening to her.
“You’re insulting my late husband?”
“Are you offended?”
Her distaste for her late husband was widely known, so she did not see the point in pretending differently now.
“Robert had a different whore every night, but he still didn't know his way around a woman's body.” She admitted.
“And the Kingslayer?” Euron teased.
“You enjoy risking your neck, don't you?”
He chuckled. “Life is boring.”
“You're not boring, I'll give you that.” She looked him over, despite his repulsive manners and behavior in general, she had to admit she did frequently find him amusing.
“Do I please the queen?” He asked.
“You might be the most arrogant man I've ever met.” She said, but not unkindly. “I like that.”
And she could tell from his expression that he liked that she liked it.
“But now I want to be alone.” She told him dismissively.
Euron drew close to her, stinking of sweat and alcohol. Almost tenderly, his hand sliding down to her belly which she hoped he wouldn’t notice was growing rounder by the day.
“I'm going to put a prince in your belly.” He assured her.
She gave him a small smile, like that was actually something she would want. Taking the encouragement, the repulsive man departed.
Once he was gone, Cersei pulled out paper and quill and scratched out an urgent message. Blowing the inky words dry, she rose to her feet and took it to the ravens, not even trusting Qyburn with these particular words.
Chapter 7: Theon
Theon drew the string of his bow with practiced ease. He didn’t have to watch to know that the arrow would find it’s mark through the eye of one of the Ironborn. He hated killing his own kinsmen, but hated more the knowledge that these lecherous bastards had chosen to follow his uncle Euron over his sister Yara simply because one of them had a dick and the other did not.
Not that he could claim to have been all that different in the days before he become as dickless as his sister. He could not claim himself to be a good man. These days he wasn’t even sure he could claim himself to be a man at all.
Slicing down the last of the guards in his way, Theon found his sister bound in Euron’s cabin. She looked unwashed and disgruntled, but as far as he could see she was unharmed. Thank the drowned god. He had assumed he would find her here in Euron’s cabin. There was only one thing that the peacocking bastard like better than an audience and that was a trophy. With Yara, he had both.
Theon hurried to his sister’s side and released her from her bonds.
She scrambled to her feet on legs unsteady from disuse. He thought to reach out to steady her, but instead received her brow bone to his nose. The unexpected attack sent him him sprawling to the floor. After a moment, she offered him her hand and help him to his feet.
“You’re a cowardly, prickless bastard.” She said. “You know that right?”
Remembering how he’d thrown himself into the water to escape his uncle, leaving Yara and the Sand Snakes to his merciless mercy, he knew better than to disagree. His sister was right. He had been a coward and he had been one for years. It had made him weak and spineless and easily manipulated. It had led him to betray the only family he had ever known, when he stabbed the Starks in the back by seizing Winterfell, when their attention was drawn away by the threat of the Lannisters in the South. So many terrible things had happened since, and most of which were at least in part his fault.
“I’m here now, aren’t I?” Theon said, as though that made up for the rest. But it didn’t. He knew it didn’t. And he was quite sure he could spend the rest of his days trying and not make a dent in the wrongs he’d done. But that no longer seemed like a good enough reason not to try.
They stole back to Theon’s waiting ships with relative ease. Euron’s ships were undermanned and his men undisciplined. Many were either far gone with alcohol or had stolen away to the shore to find whores.
By morning, they were sailing on a Northwest baring and many click from the rest of the Iron Fleet.
Yara breathed deep the salty air as they gazed across the deep blue of open water.
Theon remembered those first breaths of freedom well, the sweetest of his sad excuse of a life, after he’d escaped Ramsey and seen Sansa safely into the hands of the honorable Brienne of Tarth.
Honor was something Theon had lost long ago, long before he lost his manhood. Brienne made an oath to Lady Caitlyn and honored it to the good lady’s death and beyond. Theon had forgotten all bonds of honor and loyalty to Robb, the closest thing he had to a brother, with barely a second thought. Sure, he was only one of the many betrayals that lead the young wolf to his eventual bloody end, but he had been the first and that was not a regret he would easily forget.
“Euron can't defend the Iron Islands, not if he's in King's Landing with all his men and his ships.” Yara spoke out, and Theon realize his tactically oriented sister had been making plans while he’d been dwelling in past sins. “We can take our home back.”
Theon’s bowels twisted with unease. “Daenerys went north.”
“Daenerys will need somewhere to retreat if they can't hold the North.” Yara said, and Theon knew she was right. Taking back their home was the greatest services she could offer her queen. “Somewhere the dead can't go.”
He understood and agreed, but he felt a swell of guilt at the prospect. While the Iron Islands were the land of his birth, unlike Yara, they were not his home.
Though he’d betrayed the ties that bound him to them many times, his home was Winterfell, his home was with the Starks.
“You’re my queen.” Theon submitted. “I go where you command.”
Yara turned and looked at him, hearing something in his tone that he had tried to mask.
“You want to go to Winterfell.” She said, seeing straight through him. “To fight for the Starks.”
Theon could not deny it, they both knew the truth of her words.
“Go.” She said, almost kindly. Adding in farewell, “What is dead may never die.”
“What is dead may never die.” Theon echoed.
She took his hand and pulled him into a hug.
“But kill the bastards anyway.” She said. And that was one order he intended to keep, even at the cost of his own life.
Theon longed to say something deep and meaningful, because he knew, as he was sure she likely did as well, that both their paths were full of peril and unlikely to cross again. But emotional goodbyes were not the way of the Ironborn.
Chapter 8: Tyrion
In the bustling yard, Tyrion, Davos, and Varys watched as a small force of banner men, sporting a sigil of a yellow sun on a black field, reigned in their steeds.
"The Karstarks." Varys said, recognizing the the sigil.
Tyrion wondered if this was the first time the eunuch had ever seen the sigil anywhere other than in a book.
"One of the better sigils." Tyrion said. "Beats an onion, anyway."
"Can't argue with that." Davos agreed. The smuggler-turned-knight had never had an overly inflated opinion of himself or his well deserved elevation to knighthood, one of the many things Tyrion genuinely appreciated about the man.
"Not so long ago, the Starks and the Karstarks were slaughtering each other on the battlefield." Davos pointed out as they wove their way through the busy yard. "Jon Snow brought peace to the houses."
"And our queen is grateful." Tyrion said, frowning slightly, unsure of what the old man was getting at.
"Her gratitude is lovely, but that's not my point." Davos pressed. "The Northmen are loyal to Jon Snow, not to her. They don't know her. The Free Folk don't know her. I've been up here a while, and I'm telling you, they're stubborn as goats. You want their loyalty, you have to earn it."
They climbed up to the ramparts, an effort Tyrion didn't particularly enjoy.
"I sense that you're leading to a proposal." He said, breathing heavily as he reached the top of the castle wall.
"A proposal is what I'm proposing." Davos said. "On the off chance that we survive the Night King, what if the Seven Kingdoms, for once in their whole shit history, were ruled by a just woman and an honorable man?"
Tyrion had briefly considered the same when he first saw Jon approach the queen's cabin on their voyage to White Harbor. That consideration faded quickly when they returned to Winterfell. He saw the way Jon looked at his sister, and more importantly, how often he actively avoided looking at her. Growing up as brother to Cersei and Jaime and taught him to see things that others might overlook. Secret longings that others might dismiss without a second thought simply because they were widely considered wrong. But people did many wrong things, most of which they did in the name of love.
Jon might desire Daenerys, she was, after all, a very beautiful woman. He could well even care for her, but Tyrion did not believe Ned Stark's bastard would ever agree to marry her.
The three men looked out at the encampment where Jon and Daenerys walked together among the soldiers, Daenerys beaming at the handsome bastard like a lovestruck school girl.
"They do make a handsome couple." He admitted, slightly disheartened by the fact that this very favorable solution would never gain tractions, because Jon Snow's heart lay elsewhere, a very problematic elsewhere at that.
"You overestimate our influence." Varys told Jon's advisor. "Jon and Daenerys don't want to listen to lonely old men."
Tyrion shot a dirty look at the eunuch. "I'm not that old. Not as old as him."
As Tyrion jerked his head in the aged smuggler's direction, Davos chuckled amiably.
"Our queen respects the wisdom of age." Tyrion said, quite certain if it was only Daenerys he had to convince that it could be done with relative ease.
"Of course she does." Varys agreed. "Respect is how the young keep us at a distance, so we don't remind them of an unpleasant truth."
"What is that?" Tyrion asked.
"Nothing lasts." Varys said, giving Tyrion a pointed look that made him wonder if the eunuch might be harboring similar suspicions to his own.
"Lord Tyrion." Sansa announced her presence at the open door of the Hand's chambers.
Tyrion looked up from his book at the sound of her voice and offered her a welcoming smile.
"Lady Sansa." He said. "Thank you for coming."
He indicated for her to take a seat near him and she swept in with her easy grace, settling on the offered seat, but she did not relax into the chair. It looked as though someone as forged her spine out of a bar of steel.
Tyrion thought it must be exhausting to sit so erect.
He poured her a goblet of wine and she politely took a sip.
"You said you had urgent affairs of state on which you needed my counsel." Sansa said, studying him with those icy eyes.
"And so I do." Tyrion nodded. "Just this afternoon, I was again reminded of the precarious peace that has been established between the queen and the North."
He did not need to specify that the precarious piece of this puzzle was in fact Sansa herself, the beauty beside him had been far too diligent a student of Littlefinger not to be keenly aware of this fact.
"You seek a more lasting solution." Sansa surmised with ease.
"You mean for Jon to marry your queen." Sansa said, her tone icy and her expression unreadable.
"It makes a kind of sense, does it not?" Tyrion asked, leaning over to top off her goblet with wine. He'd hoped that liquor would help loosen her tongue, but the ability to hold her drink was apparently one of the many lessons she'd learned from his sister. "To place a honorable man and a wise woman on the throne."
Sansa raised an eyebrow, "That is assuming your queen is wise. I've yet to see her wisdom."
"She has the right name and an army at her back, what she needs is a way into the hearts of the people." Tyrion explained.
"I fully comprehend your reasoning and intentions, Lord Tyrion." Sansa said, her words short and clipped. "What I don't understand is why you've come to me to discuss them."
"Because Jon looks to you," Tyrion said, studying her reaction. "He heeds your counsel, perhaps more than any other."
"He left the North to meet with your queen. Bent the knee to your queen." Sansa said, her voice growing colder with each word, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Believe me when I say he did not heed my counsel in either of those decisions."
Ah, so that is, in fact, the crux, Tyrion surmised, Sansa would like the queen more, if Jon liked her less.
"I understand that you may not agree with the union, but I must know. Would you openly opposed it?" He asked. He knew he was backing her into a corner. He also knew that was a dangerous position to put a wolf in, but for the sake of his position as Hand he had to be aware of all threats to his queen. Crumbling loyalties definitely counted as a threat.
Sansa looked surprised for a moment and then her eyes narrowed as she fought to retain her composure.
"If Jon wished to wed Daenerys, I would not stand in the way." She said.
Knowing her too well to imagine that she chose a single word lightly, Tyrion felt assured that Sansa was as certain as he was that Jon's affections were not firmly in the control of the Dragon Queen, despite what Davos might have imagined.
He doesn't love Daenerys, of that Tyrion was now quite sure. He either could not or would not give his heart to Daenerys, because whether he'd admitted it or not, he'd already bestowed his heart on another.
"He's a lucky man." Tyrion said, giving Sansa a pointed look.
"To be loved by a woman as beautiful as Daenerys?" Sansa asked. "I imagine most men would agree with you."
Tyrion sipped his wine, quite enjoying this game of wits in which they were engaging. The only other person at her level was Varys, and he was not near so pleasing to look at.
"Yes, to be loved by a woman as beautiful as the queen… more beautiful, some might say." He countered, gauging her reaction.
She stared into the fire and took a sip of her wine, but he saw a slight rise in the color in his cheeks. So there it was. If Jon did feel more than brotherly love for his half-sister, as Tyrion felt quite sure he did, it was clear that those affections where not one sided.
"Take care, Lady Sansa." Tyrion warned, but there was nothing but genuine caring in his voice. "The higher you rise, the further you have to fall. One misstep could prove fatal."
Sansa sat down her drink and met his gaze evenly.
"I was just a child when I began to play this game." She said, her voice a bit sad. "I did not know the stakes when I asked to be dealt in. I dreamed of marrying a handsome prince. I fancied myself destined to be a queen. I did not know then what it was I was asking for. I know now. Were it in my power, I would forfeit my hand, but I cannot. No one gets to quit the game of thrones, Lord Tyrion."
Wise, she was too wise for her own good, and just as trapped as the rest of them. He nodded in understanding and regret.
"You win or you die." Tyrion acknowledged.
Chapter 9: Daenerys
"Your sister doesn't like me." Daenerys said, seeing no need to broach the subject like a tentative maid. She was a queen. She saw no need to hedge around an awkward truth for the sake of sensitivities, even those of her own lover.
She also didn't see the need to specify which sister. While she knew there was a second Stark girl, the Lady of Winterfell was the only one who counted for her political purposes.
"She doesn't know you." Jon said, making excuses, but she could sense he was uncomfortable with this topic. "If it makes you feel any better, she didn't like me either when we were growing up."
Daenerys pressed her lips together, not appreciating the implied fact that Sansa did, in fact, like him now.
"She doesn't need to be my friend but I am her queen." Daenerys pointed out. "If she can't respect me…"
One of her Dothraki came to her, speaking in a rush about her children.
"What's the matter?" Jon asked.
"The dragons are barely eating."
She hurried in the direction of her children, not waiting to see if Jon would follow, but trusting he would. When she reached Drogon and Rhagael, Jon was still by her side.
She approached Drogon and caressed his massive muzzle. He let out a low rumble that could have been mistaken as a growl, but Daenerys knew to be more akin to an admittedly fearsome purr.
"What's wrong with them?" Jon asked.
"They don't like the North."
She climbed up onto Drogon's back with practiced ease.
Rhagael studied Jon with interest, and Daenerys had the strangest suspicion that should her lover try, the smaller dragon would allow him to ride.
"Go on." Daenerys called down to the handsome Northman.
"I don't know how to ride a dragon." Jon said, with a nervous glance in her direction.
Daenerys smirked at that.
"Nobody does." She said. "Until they ride a dragon."
Jon inched closer to the mammoth beast. Her beautiful darling.
"What if he doesn't want me to?"
"Then I've enjoyed your company, Jon Snow." She teased.
Rising to the challenge, Jon struggled to climb up to Rhagael's back, grunting at the effort.
"What do I hold onto?" Jon asked as he reached his destination.
"Whatever you can." Daenerys called as she encouraged Drogon to take to the sky.
The wind whipped through her hair as her children took them further and further from the cares of the impending war with the dead. She couldn't help but be amazed by the beauty of the North as they danced through the air. Occasionally, she heard Jon yelp or shout as Rhagael dove and glided. At least that meant he found something to hold onto.
When the dragons touched down in an isolated canyon, Daenerys slid down to the untouched snow. It crunched beneath her boots. There was something wild and untamed about this country. She liked untamed things. It's part of what attracted her to Jon. He was not like Dario, who while a bit of a rouge, was always eager to please her. He was more like Drogo. Wild and unknown. Even when Jon touched her, she did not know his mind. She could not control him. Try though she might to dominate him, he did not bend the knee to her until he did it on his own terms.
"You've completely ruined horses for me." Jon told her as he crunched through the snow to join her.
She laughed at that and then looked in wonder at the froze waterfall. She'd known the North was cold, but she'd never imagined any place could be this cold.
"We could stay a thousand years no one would find us." She said, half wishing that was something they could actually do.
"We'd be pretty old." Jon laughed and looked her over thoughtfully. "It's cold up here for a southern girl."
"So keep your queen warm." She draped her arms around his neck, drawing him into a passionate kiss. He pulled away slightly. Then she heard one of her children growl softly. "Don't be afraid."
Jon studied the dragons, but she didn't see fear in his eyes. Caution, yes, but not fear.
"We should get back." Jon said.
"Oh…" Daenerys frowned at this. She knew he was preoccupied with the preparations for the battle to come. Still, he had not shared her bed since they'd disembarked from the skip. She wanted to believe it was due to the distractions of the impending danger, but as much as she wished to believe it, it felt less like a distraction and more like he was slipping away from her. No… more like someone was drawing him away from her.
Daenerys closed her eyes, trying to relax, trying to enjoy the feeling of Missandei's fingers on her scalp as she carefully removed the braids that where making her head ache.
She had Dothraki ladies who were happy to tend to her hair, but sometimes she preferred the companionship of a single, trusted friend.
"What do you think of the North?"
Missandei's fingers stilled momentarily as she searched for the words she wanted to speak. She was always slow to speak, as she chose each word carefully. Daenerys admired her for her careful nature. She even tried to emulate it from time to time. Though, sometimes her temper won out over gentle, cautious reason.
"It a very different sort place." Missandei admitted. "Very isolated. Very suspicious."
Daenerys had to agree with the assessment, Winterfell, like it's Lady Sansa, was neither warm nor welcoming to visitors. Jon had warned her that the North did not like outsiders, but she had not expected the uneasy feeling of being treated as other by those who should bow before her.
Not only did they mistrust her, it seemed they didn't even desire to provide her with an opportunity to earn their trust.
Daenerys had set aside her own campaign to come to their aid, only to be treated like a foreign invader instead of a potential ally and welcome friend.
"I thought it would feel different." Daenerys admitted.
"The North?" Missandei asked.
"Come home to Westeros." Daenerys said.
She'd come so far and suffered so much to come home, only to find an inhospitable country that didn't want her. She'd been warned that the small folk did not care who sat on the Iron Throne, but it was different to experience it firsthand.
"Have you spoken with Lord Snow?" Missandei asked. "Perhaps he could offer insight on how you might ingratiate yourself to the people."
"I am a queen." Daenerys snapped, riling at the idea of turning to Jon for aide when he was keeping her at arms length. "I will not grovel for scraps from those who should kneel before me."
Missandei bowed her head obediently but said no more.
Chapter 10: Arya
It was easy enough to move through Winterfell unnoticed. With so many unfamiliar faces hurrying from place to place, no one took notice of one waif-like young woman picking carefully through the chaos. She didn't even need to employ her training from the House of Black and White to be invisible.
Here, in a place that had once been her home, she had finally learned what it was to be no one.
She made her way to the forge, weaving around people who were to preoccupied in their preparations for the nightmares to come.
She spotted Gendry almost as soon as she entered. Everything was dim and grimy and the heat managed to cut through the winter day with more force than the roaring fires in the great hall.
"It isn't easy making a blade that big with dragonglass." Gendry said, sounding as stubborn and bullheaded as she remembered.
He looked very much the same as well. His hair was shorter, his arms more muscular, and there were a few lines on his forehead that had not been there when she'd known him before. But he was still Gendry. Sadness tugged lightly in her heart. He was still Gendry, but she hadn't been Arry in a very long time.
"You're saying you're good, is that it?" The Hound said, sounding bored and like he might stab someone just for the distraction.
Her heart quickened at the sound of the brutal man's voice. He was just a imposing as she remembered. Despite leaving him for dead, he looked none the worse for wear after his encounter with Brienne of Tarth. Not that he every looked particularly good.
Strange now, looking back, to realize that both the Hound and Brienne had fought to protect her, and neither had been able to trust that the other's intentions where just as pure. Strange that their very efforts to protect her were the same actions that left her without a defender. The same actions that took her to the faceless men where she learned to be her own defender.
"I'm just saying it's a tricky material to…"
"You know who makes weapons for the wildlings? Cripples and cocksuckers." The Hound said, moving closer to the blacksmith, using his enormous size to intimidate. "Which one are you?"
"Leave him be." Arya spoke up, drawing attention for the first time that day.
Both Gendry and Sandor looked at her. Recognition dawning on Gendry's face a moment after the Hound's.
"I heard you were here." The Hound considered her for a moment. His frown deepened. "You left me to die."
"First I robbed you." She reminded him.
The Hound moved closer to her, the axe Gendry had made for him gripped tightly in his hands. For a moments she wondered if he was going to swing it at her. He would miss, but she'd rather not have to fight him.
"You're a cold little bitch, aren't you?" He asked. Then she saw something that looked almost like a hint of pride in his eyes. "Guess that's why you're still alive."
With that, the Hound left. Arya looked at Gendry who was watching her with curiosity after that exchange.
"That was a nice ax you made for him." Arya said. "You've gotten better."
"Yeah, thanks." Gendry said. "So have you… I mean, you look good."
Her face felt hot. Was she blushing? She couldn't remember the last time someone made her blush. Actually, she did. And it was the same person as stood before her now. But she wasn't so sure that she was the same person she'd been the last time.
"Thanks." She said. "So do you."
"It's not a bad place to grow up, if it wasn't so cold." Gendry said, gesturing to the surrounding, already resorting to small talk. She couldn't blame him. They couldn't claim to know each other anymore, not after all this time.
"Stay close to that forge, then."
His eyes twinkled with amusement. "Is that a command, Lady Stark?"
Her heart sped up a pinch, reminded of those times when he'd teased her about being a lady. It seemed like another life. She'd done what she'd had to do to survive since then. But a part of her, a not so small part, wished she could go back to those days. While not carefree, they had been simpler.
"Don't call me that." She told him.
"As you wish, milady."
Milady. The word both stung and thrilled her. The last time he'd called her milady, she'd begged him to stay with her, to be her family. What might their lives have been if only he'd said yes?
She swallowed hard and pulled out her drawing.
"Here's my wish." She said, showing him the design. "Can you make it?"
"What do you need something like this for?" He asked, which seemed like a rather stupid question to her considering the approaching battle.
"Can you make it or not?"
"You already have a sword." Gendry said and noticed the hilt of her dagger. "What's that?"
She drew the dagger and passed it to him to inspect.
"It's Valyrian steel." He observed and smirked at her. "I always knew you were just another rich girl."
"You don't know any other rich girls." Arya reminded him before reclaiming the dagger and walking away, stealing a glance back and flashing him a final playful smile.
Arya waited for Sansa in her chambers. She knew her sister was busy preparing for the evacuation of the women and children. She knew that as a Stark and a Lady, she was expected to help her sister with such things. But that had never been her. Leave the leadership to Sansa. Leave the fighting to Arya.
Arya would fight the dead and her sister would make sure there was a people left to fight for.
When Sansa stepped into her chambers, she look bone tired. She closed her eyes for a moment and let out a slow breath. Arya wondered how she did it, how she retained her composure as so many looked to her for hope and guidance. Arya could retain her composure, but she had not been born to be a beacon of hope, not like Sansa.
"When do you leave?" Arya asked.
Sansa's eyes snapped open and found Arya instantly. She didn't scold her for invading her privacy, likely realizing that it would be futile.
"The women and children will leave out in three days time. I received a raven House Reed this morning. The Crannogmen have agreed to open their halls to us in our hour of need."
Arya frowned. "The Neck is a long way, Sansa. If Winterfell falls, you won't reach it before the dead overtake you."
Sansa gave her a sad, almost pitying look and Arya realized that Sansa had already considered this. Of course she had. Sansa wasn't a fool, no matter if Arya was forever struggling not to see her as the vapid child she'd been when they first parted.
"If Winterfell falls, it won't matter." Sansa whispered.
She shrugged off her cloak and took a seat by the fire. The flames played trick on her pretty face, making her appear much older.
"Brienne seemed to be under the impression you're planning to do something stupid." Arya said to change the subject.
Sansa gave her a look, because they both know that was not something the Maid of Tarth would have said, especially not about the lady she served.
"You don't like the queen." Arya said, hoping to push the conversation in a more illuminating direction.
"I like her fine." Sansa said with an expression that spoke to the contrary.
"But you won't submit to her." Arya said.
"The North has suffered enough at the hands of an outside ruler." Sansa said.
"Jon trusts her."
"Jon is too trusting."
Arya studied her sister for a long moment. What was she planning? She was too much like Littlefinger to have no plans in the works.
"Maybe." She agreed. "But we do need her."
Sansa frowned. "I'm well aware."
"Jon knows who his family is." Arya assure her. "He won't forget that just because the queen is beautiful."
A dark look crossed Sansa's face that Arya couldn't place.
"I have messages to tend to." Sansa said, indicating several rolls of paper on her table. And Arya could recognize a dismissal when she saw one.
Chapter 11: Jon
Jon knew Daenerys expected him to suggest they dine together privately after their flight that afternoon, but he did not. It wasn't that he didn't find the beautiful queen desirable. She was undeniably beautiful, but now, being back in the North, back in Winterfell, it felt different. He knew he should seek out his queen, serve her in anyway she wished, but she was not the one whose counsel he wished to keep.
Instead, he found himself at the door to Sansa's chamber.
He didn't know for sure if she was there, or if she would be alone if she was. There were plenty men who would like nothing more than to bed the beautiful Sansa Stark. The very thought made his insides boil. But no. Jon could not imagine her willing letting any man she did not trust into her bed after what she'd endured at the hands of the Bolton bastard. Even though Ramsay was long dead, the thought of his hands on Sansa was still enough to make Jon's stomach turn. In his dreams, he was often back in the courtyard of Winterfell, beating that man senseless.
He knocked on the door.
Jon slipped inside, obeying immediately.
Sansa glanced up for just a moment from the note she read by candlelight. She was always beautiful, but never more so than by candlelight where the flickering light turned her red hair to glittering tendrils of flame.
"Lord Glover wishes us good fortune, but he's staying in Deepwood Motte with his men." She read aloud for his benefit. When she released the paper and it wound in on itself, eager to return to its tight roll, as though afraid to face the wrath its words had kindled.
Sansa looked up at him and studied his reaction from her seat and Jon couldn't help but feel as though this was some kind of test. Judging by her remote expression, it was a test he was failing.
"House Glover will stand behind House Stark as we have for a thousand years. Isn't that what he said?" Jon asked. He could feel his outrage rising and burning in his cheeks.
"I will stand behind Jon Snow, he said." Sansa corrected, rise to her feet abruptly. She looked back at him and there was anger in her, hot enough to burn through her carefully crafted shell of ice. "The King in the North."
She stormed away. Though he was glad to see her feel something, he wished it wasn't anger, and that it wasn't directed at him.
"I told you we needed allies." He said.
This stopped her, but there was only so far she could go in her chambers when the door stood behind Jon. While the last thing he wanted was for her to feel trapped, he was grateful that she couldn't leave before the conversation was finished.
"You didn't tell me you were going to abandon your crown." She said, her back to him.
He followed her, wanting her to turn around, wanting to see her face. He hadn't realized how hard it had been for him to watch her turn to ice until he saw the cracks in it.
"I never wanted a crown." He said But you did, didn't you? You still do. He realized, but he didn't dare say it out loud. "All I wanted was to protect the North. I brought two armies home with me, two dragons."
She whirled on him, her fiery hair fanning out, practically glowing in the candle light. It looked as though it would burn him to touch it, but a part of him wanted to reach out anyway. It would be a lovely way to burn.
"And a Targaryen queen."
Jealous… She was jealous. The realization knocked the breath out of him and it took him a second to gather his thoughts.
You know nothing, Jon Snow. Ygritte's frequent taunt rose from long dead lips to taunt him. He liked to think he knew some things now, but here, standing before his half sister, he wasn't so sure. Surely she couldn't be jealous. Angry, yes. Betrayed, perhaps. But not jealous.
"Do you think we can beat the Army of the Dead without her? I fought them, Sansa. Twice. You want to worry about who holds what title, I'm telling you it doesn't matter. Without her, we don't stand a chance."
Sansa's lips parted slightly, as though to speak, but no words came out. Her eyes glistened as thought she might shed a tear. Don't cry, he silently begged, please don't cry. All he wanted was for her to be happy and safe. He could stand even her anger better than her tears.
He closed his eyes and let out a breath, "Do you have any faith in me at all?"
"You know I do."
Her words gave him a surge of hope and he took a step closer.
"She'll be a good queen." He assured her. "For all of us. She's not her father."
Sansa looked down and sighed. Jon felt some of the tension between them ease.
"No, she's much prettier." She said, her voice half teasing.
Jon laughed slightly and gave her a half smile. Her eyes never left his face and he found he couldn't meet her gaze. Without him even telling her, he felt as though she knew about the boat and what had transpired between him and Daenerys. And he felt guilty.
"Did you bend the knee to save the North," Sansa started, "or because you love her?"
The questions knocked the wind out of him and he met her gaze. He could see pain in her eyes and though he didn't fully understand it, he knew he'd caused it and the knowledge made him sick.
He licked his lips, desperate for an honest answer that he could bring himself to speak out loud. He couldn't tell her that it didn't matter who he fucked because every time he closed his eyes he saw icy eyes and fiery hair. He couldn't tell her that he had dreamed of her most nights since she returned to him at Castle Black, even when he traveled South to broker peace with Daenerys. He couldn't tell her such things because if he said those things aloud, he might not be able to stop himself from acting on them. And then he'd be no better than the Lannisters or the Boltons.
He looked into her eyes and spoke the only truth he could trust himself to speak to the sister he wanted more than he should.
"I don't love her." He whispered, praying to the old gods and the new that his eyes would not betray his deeper truth.
Sansa's eyes soften ever so slightly and she gave a slight nod of her head before stepping past him.
"Have you eaten? I can have someone bring your dinner here."
His heart hammered at the offer to dine alone with her. He knew he should refuse. He should return to his duties and a place where he could trust himself to be an honorable man. But death was coming to Winterfell, and if it was coming for him then all he wanted was a few stolen moments with his too dear sister.
Sansa hid her laughter behind a swig of wine. Jon stole a glance at her, enjoying how at ease she seemed here, alone with him. So different from the iron maiden who sat at the at the head of the great hall and ordered around men twice her age.
"It's good to see you laugh again." He admitted.
She lowered her goblet and studied him for a long moment before rewarding him with a tentative smile.
"It's good to have a reason to laugh again." She said.
Jon pushed his plate aside. It was getting late and he knew it would be best for all involved if he wasn't spotted coming out of her room at a later than respectable hour. People would talk and it would not do to have speculations flying around.
"I should be going." He said, rising to his feet.
"Tomorrow will be a long day. I have to visit the troops and oversee the defenses." He explained, which was true.
"Right." Sansa said, walking him to the door.
They both hesitated at the door. Jon wasn't sure how he was suppose to bid her good night. Words felt to weak. A kiss on the hand too formal. A kiss on the cheek, too tempting to miss his mark in favor of one sweeter.
Instead, he reached out and took her hand, squeezing it.
"Good night, Sansa."
"Good night, Jon." She whispered back, squeezing his hand in return, but not letting go. She leaned in and brushed a breath of a kiss against his cheek.
His pulse quickened and he stepped back abruptly, yanking the door open.
"Good night." He said and fled.
Jon sat upon the iron throne in a crumbling throne room. The ceiling of the throne room had fallen in upon itself and the stars bathed the room in their pale light.
Something fair glowed in the dim light, as it drew closer, Jon recognized it as a figure. A woman.
She did not speak, only slowly began to mount the stairs to the throne. She was clothed in a silk dress as white as her porcelain skin. She stopped at his feet and looked up to meet his eyes.
"I have come to bend the knee, your grace." She said, her eyes never leaving his. She reached up and untied her gown. The watery fabric slithered down her body and pooled at her feet. "The North is yours."
He grabbed her slim hips and pulling her to him, devouring every inch of alabaster flesh. Sweet as honey and softer than the silk that was lucky enough to kiss it.
She unbuttoned his tunic and slid it off his chest, her fingers hesitating over the slowly healing wounds from his brief death. She didn't pull away, merely kissed him deeper.
"I am yours as you are mine." She whispered against his jaw.
He hurriedly removed the barriers of fabric separating their flesh, desperate to have her. Her hands traveled to his face and tilted his face up to hers, tenderly caressing his lips with her own as they became one. He moaned in ecstasy. This… this was home.
Jon woke, spent and ashamed of the things his sleeping mind longed for. Those things which never felt wrong in his dreams, but turned shameful with the morning light.
Chapter 12: Sam
Sam's lips moved as he devoured the words in the book before him. The library was dim except for his candle and the musty aroma of books was soothing to him.
A throat cleared and he jumped, started by the company he didn't realize he had.
"Oh!" He exclaimed. He scrambled to his feet at the sight of Ser Jorah and before him, Queen Daenerys.
"So you're the man?" The beautiful queen asked.
Sam licked his lips nervously, "Um... Which man am I, Your Grace?"
"The one who saved Ser Jorah when no one else could." Daenerys smiled kindly.
"They could," Jorah corrected, "They just wouldn't."
"I'll have to make some changes in the Citadel when I take my throne. A great service merits a great reward." The Dragon Queen announced decisively.
"Oh, it's my honor to serve you, Your Grace." Sam assured her, blushing at the praise. He wasn't used to doing things for the recognition and receiving it from a Queen was overwhelming.
"Well, there must be something I could give you." She insisted.
Sam swallowed hard, knowing that this was an opportunity that he couldn't afford to waste.
"If it's not too much trouble, I could use a pardon."
The queen gave him a perplexed look, "For what crime?"
"Um I borrowed a few books from the Citadel." He confessed. "And also a sword."
She looked closed to laughing. "From the Citadel?"
"From my family." He explained. "It's been in House Tarly for generations. It would've been mine anyway, eventually, but my father had other ideas."
The queen's expression faltered. "Not Randyll Tarly?"
"You know him?" Sam was surprised by this. He couldn't imagine how their paths would have crossed.
"I offered to let him retain his lands and titles if he bent the knee." Daenerys said. "He refused."
Sam had heard stories of what had happened to those Lannister banner men who had refused to accept their defeat and bend the knee to the Targaryen queen. He'd heard there was nothing left of them to send home to their families. He hadn't heard that his father had been one of them. He swallowed hard, trying hard not to be sick. He couldn't blame the Queen for her actions. His father was a hard man and not one to risk as an enemy.
"Well… at least I'll be allowed home again, now that my brother's the lord." Sam said, trying to find a silver lining.
"Your brother stood with your father." Daenerys said, her meaning perfectly clear.
They were both dead.
Incinerated by dragon fire.
Murdered by the woman standing before him for the crime of having too much honor.
"Hm…" Sam felt like his legs could barely hold him. "Thank you, Your Grace, for telling me. And m- may I?"
He gestured to the door.
The panic scrambled up his throat as he staggered out into the yard. A horse neighed and people shouted as he almost walked into their path, but he could barely think, barely breathe. He didn't stop until he almost crashed directly into Bran Stark.
"What are you doing out here?" Sam stammered.
"Waiting, for an old friend." Bran said vaguely, as though that made perfect sense. "It's time to tell Jon the truth."
Sam's eyes widened as he realized that Bran meant that he, Sam, should tell Jon the secret of his parentage.
"No, no." Sam said. "You're his brother. Shouldn't you tell him?"
Bran looked at him, tilting his head thoughtfully. "I'm not his brother."
Sam let out a shaky breath.
"He trusts you more than anyone." Bran continued. "Now's the time."
Sam thought about the conversation he'd just had with Daenerys. Thought about the fact that she'd burned men alive for no reason other than that they were too loyal to someone who wasn't her. And he realized that Bran was right. It was the time. Jon had to know the truth.
Chapter 13: Jon
Jon blew out the match after lighting a candle for his honorable father. He looked at the statue of Ned Stark. What would the great man think of his bastard now? Sleeping with a queen and desiring his sister in a way that could only be described as dishonorable.
Doubtless, Ned would be ashamed. Jon, himself, was ashamed. There was no honor to be had sleeping with a woman he did not love. He'd been caught up in the intensity of everything that had happened when he went to the queen's cabin. He was overwhelmed by her courage and the sacrifice she had made of one of her beloved dragons to save him and a handful of men. Even as he bedded her, it felt wrong… hollow. Everything that transpired between them failed to make him feel a fraction of what he felt anytime he so much as touched Sansa. Yes, there was no honor in conducting a loveless affair, but in this case there would be even less honor in sleeping with the woman he did loved.
A great deal of noise interrupted his thoughts and announced his companion before he could make him out in the dim crypt.
"Sam?" Jon said, surprised by the familiar face as his round friend gathered himself up from the floor.
"I'm sorry, I know I'm not supposed to be down here." Sam mumbled and stammered, reminding Jon of the soft, cowardly boy he'd first met at the Wall.
Jon pulled his old friend into a hug.
"Were you hiding from me?" Jon asked.
"Of course not." Sam said. Though the way he said it made Jon think that perhaps he meant the opposite.
"What are you doing in Winterfell? Or did you read every book in the Citadel already?" He teased. Then he saw his old friends chin quivering and clasped his shoulder with a firm grip. "What's wrong? Gilly? Is she all right?"
"Don't you know?"
Sam's voice shook as he began. "Daenerys… she executed my father and brother. They were her prisoners."
Jon stared at his friend, uncomprehendingly.
"She didn't tell you." Sam realized.
"I'm so sorry." Jon said, unable to fully comprehend what Sam was telling him. "We need to end this war."
"Would you have done it?" Sam asked abruptly.
"Well, I've executed men who disobeyed me." Jon started, but those were men who had recognized him as their Lord Commander. He'd never killed a defeated enemy, simply because they'd fought on opposing sides.
"You've also spared men. Thousands of wildlings when they refused to kneel." Passion was rising in Sam's quavering voice.
He knew Sam was right. He never could have brought himself to execute a man if honor did not compel him to do so.
"I wasn't a king." He reminded his friend.
"But you were. You've always been."
"I gave up my crown, Sam. I bent the knee. I'm not King in the North anymore."
He turned to walk away. Honor compelled him to serve Daenerys. He had sworn to do so. While he did not agree with her actions, it was not his place to question them.
"I'm not talking about the King in the North. I'm talking about the King of the bloody Seven Kingdoms." Sam shouted after him.
Jon froze in his tracks. His dream of Sansa coming to him as he sat upon the Iron Throne burned shamefully in the back of his mind. Even his dreams were treasonous.
"Bran and I worked it out." Sam explained. "I had a High Septon's diary. Bran had whatever Bran has."
"What are you talking about?" Jon demanded.
"Your mother was Lyanna Stark."
Jon exhaled sharply, his mind preoccupied with impure thoughts of his own sister, he struggled to make sense of how his mother could be Ned Stark's sister. The honorable Eddard Stark would never…
"And your father your real father was Rhaegar Targaryen." Sam said. "You've never been a bastard. You're Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne."
Jon found it hard to breathe. He walked slowly toward Sam.
"I'm sorry, I know it's a lot to take in." Sam said.
"My father was the most honorable man I ever met." Jon said. "You're saying he lied to me all my life."
"No. Your father Well, Ned Stark. He promised your mother he'd always protect you." Sam explained. "And he did. Robert would have murdered you if he knew. You're the true king. Aegon Targaryen, Sixth of His Name, Protector of the Realm, all of it."
Jon felt sick, but he also knew in his bones that it was true. It had never made sense that the honorable Lord Stark had fathered a bastard. Then there was the way Ned had always evaded questions about Jon's mother. His promise to tell him all of it the next time they met, a promise he was destined to break. He was protecting a secret. This secret.
And, if it was true. If he was truly not a Stark at all. It meant Sansa wasn't his sister. It meant, these things he felt and dreamed about… that they were not dishonorable. It meant, if he acknowledged his birthright… he could have her.
If she'd take him.
"Daenerys is our queen." Jon said, remembering sense.
"She shouldn't be."
"That's treason." He warned, worried that in Sam's present state of mind he might say such a thing in front of the wrong person.
"It's the truth." Sam insisted. "You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?"
Jon raised his hand to stave off Sam's words. He couldn't listen anymore, couldn't hear anymore. He hurried from the crypts feeling suddenly suffocated beneath the earth. Once he reached the yard, he kept walking. He needed to get away. He needed some place open where he could be away from people and see the starts.
Without a plan to go there, he found himself beneath the weirwood tree. How many times had he found his father… the man he'd believed was his father… in this very spot, praying to his old gods for guidance.
Jon couldn't remember the last time he'd prayed to any god, old or otherwise. He supposed he should have started praying to the god of light when the Red Priestess brought him back from death, but he'd never found prayer to be overly productive.
If the gods did exist, it seemed to Jon that they cared very little about the fate of men.
He turned around and the sight of her took his breath away. Sansa. His sister. But she wasn't his sister anymore. She never had been. She was a vision in the dim light, her auburn hair hanging long and straight, her head held up with an ever present hint of pride. He wondered how she did it, after everything she'd endured, how she stood so strong. Daenerys might be the unburnt, but Sansa Stark was the unbroken.
Memories of his dreams of sitting upon the Iron Throne came back to him, and the thoughts troubled him. He didn't care what Sam thought, birthright or no, he wasn't meant to be a king. He didn't want it. He never had. But he did want her. He realized now he always had wanted her, even as children in Winterfell, he had wanted his sister, even before he had the words or wisdom to recognize it. It was what stayed his hand when he first met Ygritte. For one gut-wrenching moment, he'd seen the flash of red hair and she had been Sansa. And he couldn't do what had to be done.
When King Robert came to Winterfell, Jon had thought Jeoffery was a prat right off, but the moment he'd heard that the prince and Sansa would one day marry, his dislike grew to hatred, well before the little prick did anything to truly earn it.
With the wisdom of years, he saw now that Sansa was the root of so many of his actions. She was the reason he was so confident in his decision to join the Night's Watch at such a young age. Before he ever recognized what he felt for her as desire, he knew the difference between them, that he was a bastard and she was so, incredibly far above him. Though he'd never before admitted it to himself, he chose the Watch because he could not have what he truly wanted. It seemed better to run North, to guard the Wall and pretend he didn't care what became of Sansa Stark. And for a very long time, he managed to convince himself that he didn't care. Until he had word that she'd been married off to a bastard… the wrong bastard.
"What are you doing out here?" He asked. He didn't think she had any inclination for prayer anymore either.
"It's the only private place left in Winterfell." She said, looking up at the deep read leaves, her expression pensive.
"Did you want to be alone?" He offered.
She looked him over and then shook her head.
"No… I don't think that I do."
She walked over and joined him beneath the tree.
"I never liked this place as a child." She whispered. "Our father's gods always scared me. They seemed so hard and cold. It wasn't until after Ramsay… After I handled him, that I learned the value of being hard."
"I wish I could erase everything that happened to you."
She gave him a sad smile. "I know. But there's no use dwelling on what we can't change." She looked him over and he saw something in her eyes in the same vein as the jealousy he'd read in her eyes the night before. "No matter how much we may wish it, there are some things we cannot change."
His mind raced. He wanted to tell her everything, she was the one person whose opinion he thought highly enough of to advise him in this.
"The queen thinks you don't respect her." Jon said, wanting to talk about something, anything, in order to keep his mind from racing back to the new truth that changed everything and nothing at the same time.
"That's because I don't." Sansa said, as thought it were the most obvious thing in the world.
"Sansa, she's our queen."
"She's your queen."
Their eyes met and hers burned with defiance.
"I pledged the North to her." Jon said.
"Perhaps, but you did not pledge me." Sansa told him.
Nor would I. Jon thought. Some prices were too high, even for the sake of honor.
"I am no man's possession to be offered as payment. I've been bought and sold and traded." Sansa's voice shook, whether from cold or past wrongs, he couldn't tell. "Never again. If your queen wants my respect, then she'd better do more than demand it."
Jon moved closer to her. "So what about me?"
"What about you?" She lifted her chin defiantly.
"The North made me their king. And as their king, I bent the knee. I've seen how hard Daenerys will fight for her people. I respect her. Is that not enough for you?"
Sansa shivered. Jon instinctively drew closer to her, his hand going to her waist, unbidden.
"Do you ask it of me?" She whispered.
His breath was hard to catch with her so near.
"Do you ask me to bend the knee to her." Sansa asked, shifting still closer to him. His mind drifted back to alabaster skin in the moonlight. He felt a stirring deep in his loins and he gritted his teeth to ignore it.
"Ask it of me and I'll do it." Sansa placed her hands on his face and looked searchingly in his eyes.
He licked his lips, ignoring the desperate desire to kiss her. Not my sister. The new knowledge drummed through his head like permission.
"Ask it of me." She said again, but this time he wasn't sure if she was talking about bending the knee to Daenerys or something else. Somehow, her body was pressed against his. It was as though a force beyond them kept drawing them closer to each other. And Jon realized it was something they both wanted but could not bring themselves to admit, unless the other did so first.
Home. She was home. He'd spent so many years searching for one, only to find it had been beside him all along, he only had to return to it.
He placed his hand over hers and turned into her touch to place a kiss upon her palm. She drew a sharp breath, but she didn't pull away. Jon looked into her eyes, seeing the desire he felt echoed back at him. She wanted the same things that teased his dreams. Doubtless she was plagued by the same torment of shame for wanting such a thing, knowing as he did that it was wrong.
He had been ashamed of wanting her until this very evening when Sam told him the truth of his parentage. He didn't care that it made him a Targaryen. He didn't care that it gave him the strongest claim to the Iron Throne. He didn't even care that it meant he wasn't a bastard and never had been. He only cared that it meant Sansa was not his sister.
He had known that wanting her when he believed her to be his sister was wrong. But she didn't look at him as though she thought it was wrong. There had never been a single moment he'd spent with her that had felt wrong. And now he knew why. But if he told her the truth… if he told her that he was free to love her and why, she would push him to make a claim for his birthright, believing him to be a better choice than Daenerys. If he didn't acknowledge his birth, the world would alway see them as half sibling and the things he felt for her would turn the North against the both of them.
"I have to be smarter." Jon said, remembering her warning that he couldn't make the stupid mistakes of Robb or Ned. While Jon had pledged himself to Daenerys's cause because he felt honor bound to do so, he was well aware that it was not honor that had driven the Dragon Queen North. She loved him. She loved him, but he couldn't love her in return. If he followed his heart, he risked not only his head and Sansa's, but losing the support he'd gained for the battle against the dead.
Sansa looked into his eyes questioningly.
"Robb lost the war when he chose love over honor." Jon reminded her.
"Only because people found out." Sansa countered. What she wasn't saying was clear. He could have her, but no one could ever know what transpired between them. No one else would understand. She was not ashamed of what she felt, like he had been, but neither was she foolish enough to think they could act on it without enacting a steep price.
Jon knew now there was no shame in this bond they shared, but he also knew that if he told her that truth it could cost one or both of them their lives. And wrong or not, her life meant more do him than all of the North combined.
"Do you trust me?" He asked her.
"You know I do." She echoed her own response from her chambers the night before.
What is honor compared to a woman's love? Maester Aemon's words rung out in his head, truer than ever. He did not think he'd truly appreciated the meaning of those words. Not in the cave with Ygritte and certainly not with Daenerys. But now with the innocence of a hand cradled in his own, he understood. The gods could take his honor, just so long as they left him Sansa.
He leaned in and caught her lips in a kiss that burned away any trace of cold in the icy night.
Chapter 14: Sansa
When you're old enough, I'll make you a match with someone who's worthy of you. Someone who's brave, gentle, and strong. The voice of Ned Stark rang in Sansa's mind as she placed the newly lit candle in the stone hands of his statue. It wasn't a very good likeness, but after all this time, she found her memory of the original had faded. She coundn't say what he looked like, only that the face before her was not his. She struggled to conjure any of their faces. Her father. Her mother. Rob. Rickon. They were once her entire world and now she could barely remember how they looked and spoke.
The Starks were gone. Even those that remained were hollowed out shells of their former selves.
Bran, the three-eyed raven.
Arya, the assassin.
Sansa… Stark? Or was it Lannister or Bolton?
The memory of his kiss made her lips tingle.
He'd kissed her, part of her had longed for that kiss since the first time he pressed his lips to her forehead. He'd kissed her and then he'd bid her farewell like one of the honorable knights in the stories she'd long since stopped believing in. She'd burned with anger every time she'd seen him with the Dragon Queen, but she hadn't fully realized why, but when he took a kiss, she'd realized with absolute certainty that she would let him take anything and everything else he wanted.
He was not the prince her childish self had longed for, but she had longed for so many things in her youth that now filled her with shame. She'd longed to marry a beautiful golden haired prince. She'd longed to be queen. She'd longed leave the North and never return.
She'd wanted Jon, longed for him for longer than she dared to admit. When she'd told him that he was a Stark to her, it had not been because he was her father's son. No. It was because, to her, he was everything. He was the one person who made her feel as though she was still whole. He was her pack, her family, and, if he would have her, her mate.
She knew that the world would never accept them. She'd seen the way the common folk spit and scorned Cersei as they became aware of her relations with her brother. They would be no different if they discovered the love between Ned Stark's daughter and Ned Stark's bastard was deeper than that of half-brother and half-sister.
The Lords of North were fickle. They're loyalty shifted like the wind. This would doubtless set them against the remains of the Stark family. It was unwise. But Sansa has spent years making the wise decisions under the tutelage of Lord Baelish.
We can't fight a war amongst ourselves, Jon had warned her.
The lone wolf dies but the pack survives, her father's wisdom echoed.
She lit another candle, this one for Lyanna. Poor, tragic Lyanna.
Sansa studied the stony face. She wondered if it was any more accurate than that of her father's.
How many tens of thousands had to die because Rhaegar chose your aunt?
Would people one days say the same, should she choose her brother? A single tear rolled down her cheek. Her heart ached for the Stark girl, the girl who like her became a pawn in the hands of others. The spark to light a rebellion. Oh, Lyanna.
What might the world look like if not for men taking what they wanted from women who could do nothing to stop them?
What might the world look like if women could take what they wanted without fear of consequence.
Why aren't you happy? What do you want that you don't have? Lord Baelish had once asked her. At the time, she didn't know. Her dreams of marrying a king and bearing his sons had long faded, tarnished by the reality of what kings were really like. She no longer craved that power. No. She wanted security for herself and for the North.
And she wanted Jon.
So why did those two desires have to be mutually exclusive?
She licked her lips, still tasting his kiss there.
When I try to understand a person's motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst. What's the worst reason they could possibly have for saying what they say and doing what they do? Then I ask myself, how well does that reason explain what they say and what they do?
Jon asked her if she trusted him. Why? What was the worse reason he could possibly have for asking that? Either his worse reason was that he loved her, even though he knew it was wrong, or he intended to betray her. Or both.
He'd told her he didn't love Daenerys. She believed him. He was a honest man. And when he kissed her, she believed that too. But would he do what honor compelled him to do and seek a union with the Dragon Queen for the sake of the North? She didn't know, but she did not think she could stomach it if he did. He was hers, he was meant to be hers, not some foreign queen who's eyes burned with a hunger for power.
Time was running short. The dead were coming and she would be leaving with the women and children before that happened. And then? What then? What if one or both of them didn't make it through the long night? That was the only thing she could think of that would be worse than his marrying Daenerys. His ceasing to be among the living.
You've been a bystander, Littlefinger's memory whispered in her ear, Stop being a bystander.
She drew a deep breath, making up her mind to take Littlefinger's advise once more. If one or both of them were about to die, then first they'd live.
Sansa let herself into Jon's chambers without knocking. She bolted the door behind herself to ensure no one else could do the same. For a man who'd been murdered by his own men, he was still far too trusting.
In the light of his fading fire, she could just make his sleeping form under the piles of furs. How was it he could sleep so peacefully after the kiss they'd shared? Her mind was racing and sleep was the last thing on her mind.
"Jon?" She whispered, drawing closer to the bed.
He stirred and sat up slowly, looking at her with bleary eyes. Slowly those beautiful eyes registered recognition. The furs slipped down, revealing his bare chest. It was all she could do not to gasp at the sight of still healing wounds. She'd known what had happened to him at Castle Black, but she'd never seen the evidence of it.
"What are you doing here?" Jon asked, his voice low and husky.
"Do you love me?" She asked, sinking down to sit beside him on the edge of his bed.
"Sansa…" And she knew he was about to start telling her all the reasons why what he felt didn't matter.
"Do you love me?" She pressed.
He leaned in and rested his forehead against hers, "You know I do."
"Then nothing else matters."
She tilted her head and caught his lips, kissing him like she would never get another chance.
He started to pull away but stopped when she shook her head. At that, he wrapped his arms wound her waist and gathered her close. She swung one leg across to sit astride him and kissed along his jaw.
She ran her hands over his shoulders and down his chest, hesitating over the wounds there. Jon flinched at her touch and she wondered how much pain he was still in. The red priestess had brought him back from the dead, but she had not healed the damage.
She sat back and studied the marks for a long moment, running a finger delicately over one of the worst wounds.
Betrayed by his own men. She could relate. It had, after all, been Littlefinger, a man who claimed to love her, who handed her over to the Boltons. Though her wounds were not on the surface like his, she felt no less marred by the damage done. She had erased Ramsay from existence, but she could not wipe away the damage he had done to her as easily. Physically, she had healed, but there was more to some wounds than the marks they left.
Jon caught her hand in his and held it over his heart, which miraculously still beat within his chest. She didn't think she'd felt anything more precious in all of her days then his pounding heart. Alive. He was alive. And he loved her.
"Do you love me?" He asked her in return.
She felt a thrill at the question. She been married twice and engaged far more often than that, but love? Love was not a notion she'd bothered to seriously entertain since Jeoffrey had her father's head cut off and stuck on a spike. Even that, what's she'd felt for Jeoffrey before discovering his true nature, had been a little girl playing at feelings she was too young to full appreciate. She had been loved, or at least lusted after, by several men over the interceding years. But she had loved none of them.
She had thought herself incapable of feeling such things by the time she escaped King's Landing.
It wasn't until Brienne delivered her safely to Castle Black after escaping Ramsay, that her perspective began to shift. It was slow at first, but embracing Jon was like waking up from what had been an endless nightmare. With Jon, she had come back to life and remembered how to smile.
"Sansa?" Jon pressed, looking unsure after her long silence.
She smiled softly at his uncertainty and caressed his cheek. "You know I do."
He seemed buoyed by her response and pulled her back, his lips meeting hers.
She began to unfasten her gown and his hands went to stop her.
"I want this." She told him. "I want to know what is to be loved by a good man."
With the world as they knew it drawing to its end, she did not want the last touches her body remembered to be Ramsay's abuse. She wanted Jon to touch every battered inch of her and balm the damage he found.
"This is wrong."
She flinched at his words. While she knew what the rest of the world would think, the shame their father would feel if he could see them, but she did not want Jon to feel that way.
"You don't want me?"
"I do… I just…" He looked into her eyes. "What if I got you with child?"
Snow. He was afraid. Afraid to dishonor her. Afraid to bring another bastard into the world.
Sansa got up from the bed and slowly removed her garments until all that was left was her corset and light shift.
Jon's eyes raked over her hungrily. "Sansa…"
"You are a Stark to me," She murmured, her eyes never straying from his. "And if I bore your child, they would be a Stark to me as well."
"But not to the rest of the world." He reminded her.
He rose out of the bed to come to her. The furs fell away to expose his nakedness, and precisely how much he desired her.
She looked him over, unabashed of the want she was sure burned in her own eyes.
"I don't give a damn about the rest of the world." She told him.
He drew her in to a passionate kiss and hurriedly did away with the laces of her corset, sliding first it and then her shift off her body. Looking her over, he let out a low moan at the sight of her naked form. He caressed the buds of her breasts with worshipful admiration.
Guiding her back to the bed and crawled on after her, slowly he spread her long pale legs, moving closer to her.
She could see the desperate desire in his eyes, but his every move was soft. She trusted that he would be gentle with her, even if the effort of it killed him.
Then he kissed her center, something she'd never even known men would do. He caressed and teased her until she writhed and moaned under his ministrations.
She tangled her hands in his hair and her eyes shut against the torturous build up of sensation. When he pulled away, leaving her unsatisfied.
She looked up at him, confused, as he shifted over her. Then she felt the burning heat of him press against her.
She flinched at the contact and closed her eyes.
"Look at me." He whispered, and slowly she opened her eyes, gazing up into warm brown orbs that she would trust with her life. "Don't look away."
She nodded, her own pale eyes locked on his. He caressed her cheek and buried himself inside her. Sansa pulled him down for a kiss as they began to move together, lost in each other.
So this was what it was supposed to be like.
She felt his movements grow erratic as they both approached their climaxes, and she wrapped her legs tight around him so he couldn't pull out. In passion fueled recklessness, she wanted his seed to fill her and quicken in her womb. If they lived, she wanted to give him a child, consequences be damned.
He groaned in protest, but he came inside her with a force that sent her following him over the edge. She cried out his name, and he captured the sound with his lips.
Panting and spent, they stayed with their bodies tangled, shifting only to draw one another closer.
"I am yours and you are mine." Jon whispered in her ear as she drifted to sleep. "From this day, until the end of my days."
She fell asleep with a smile gracing her lips. From this day, until the end of my days.
Chapter 15: Tormund
Tormund Giantsbane crept through the fallen castle. The stink of old blood hung heavy in the air and he wasn't sure if was from the recently dead or the army that slaughtered them. Either way, the stench was foul enough to force him to breath through his mouth.
He hadn't paid close attention to all the family seats and holdings of the different lords in Jon's "North". These Southerns were strange folk with their incessant need to lay claim to lands as though by saying so they could tame the untamable. But he thought he recalled that the Umbers with their little boy lord called these crumbling ruins their home.
The destruction around him was not so different from the great Wall that had come down beneath the assault of the wight dragon's blue flames.
He heard something and gestured for his companions, several wildlings and the one-eyed knight to quiet down.
Something was approaching.
They rounded a corner and then someone was yelling. Tormund found himself yelling too. The one-eyed knights sword erupted with flames.
"Stay back, he's got blue eyes!" Someone panicked, brandishing a sword at Tormund.
"I've always had blue eyes!" Tormund yelled back.
Slowly the panic subsided and he recognized the stringy-haired crow called Edd.
"Did you find anyone?" the one-eyed knight asked.
The crow looked down in sorrow and lead them to the massacre.
The knight raised his flaming sword. "The Umber boy." He noted in recognition.
The boy, hung from the wall surrounded by pieces of his slaughtered men like a macabre work of art.
"It's a message." The knight continued, "From the Night King."
"His army's between us and Winterfell." Tormund said. "We're on foot."
He was not one to say no to a fight, but these were not the kind of odds he liked.
"We rode down from Castle Black." The leader of the crows said. "We can double up on the horses."
"If the horses last, we'll get there before the dead." Tormund said, relieved by this one stroke of luck. "We just have to hope the Night King doesn't come first."
A shrieking erupted behind him. He spun around to find the dead boy's eyes open and icy blue. Before he could do more than jump back, the knight drove his sword into the wight and the thing that had once been the tiny lord burst into flames, still shrieking.
Tormund's heart hammered in his chest. If the gods were merciful, he would not end up one of those mindless, shrieking things. He had too much to live for. Like the big woman who frequented his more pleasant dreams.
"There's no time to waste." The knight said, withdrawing his sword from the burning corpse. He looked at the small band of crows. "Lead the way."
Chapter 16: Daenerys
Since the Tormund chapter was a bit short, I thought I'd post a second. I hope you enjoy! As you can probably tell, we're drawing to the close of what would be the equivalent of Episode 1. Hang on to your hats, there is much more to come.
Daenerys lay alone in a cold bed in this cold, northern place. And what for? She'd been dissuaded from her campaign to take back the Iron Throne from Cersei Lannister in favor of coming to this inhospitable place to fight back the armies of the dead. And why?
She'd lost one of her children to the Night King. And why?
She'd refrained from raining dragon fire on Cersei Lannister's smug head in the Dragon Pits. And why?
Again, for Jon.
Because she loved him. She loved him as she had not believed herself capable of loving anyone since Drogo's death. He was good, brave, and honorable. When he informed Cersei that he could not serve her since he had already sworn to serve Daenerys, it was foolish and helped nothing, but it made her love him more.
He was a good man. He did what was right over what was wise. Doubtless, the very trait that made her love him was the same trait that led to his betrayal and murder by his own men.
Because the world was not kind to good men. Which, doubtless, was why she knew so very few of them.
Drogo had not been a good man. Neither was Dario. Neither was Tyrion nor Jorah. She'd spent her entire adult life surrounded by men who were not good men. But they had been good to her.
Then there was Jon Snow. A bastard turned Lord Commander of the Night's Watch turned King in the North. She doubted there was a person alive who would claim Jon to be anything other than a good man.
So why was it that he wasn't good to her?
After hours of tossing and turning, Daenerys finally accepted that sleep would not come and neither would Jon. She pulled on a heavy fur robe and tossed a few more pieces of wood on her fire.
She watched as the flickering flames licked at the newly added wood.
Never in her life had she encountered a man she wanted who did not want her as much or more in return. She knew she was beautiful, she'd been told too many times to doubt it. She also knew that Jon found her beautiful. He looked at her as many men before him had done. And he had been the one to come to her cabin on the boat. Yes, she'd sent him a message encouraging him to do so, but he was the one who answered her invitation.
But now that they were in Winterfell, now that she was committed to fighting for his cause, fighting the white walkers, he had pulled away from her. She'd sent him multiple invitations to join her in her quarters for dinner, all of which he'd politely refused for one reason or another. Even when she'd allowed him to ride Rhaegal and the dragons took them far away from Winterfell and the concerns of the impending battle, he'd still been the first to pull away from her kiss.
He was not the man she thought he'd be when they met. He was better. But he was flawed too. He was too honest, too honorable, and too deeply tied to the Starks. She saw each of those flaws and more, but it didn't matter. He was far from her ideal mate, no powerful surname and no seat to call his own while any true born Starks lived, but still she wanted him. She wanted him more than she had ever wanted anything, save the Iron Throne.
Flustered by the thoughts running round and round in her head with no resolution, Daenerys rose to her feet. She needed to get out of this stifling room. She needed fresh air to clear her troubled mind.
Daenerys stood up on the wall, looking out across the black night. Somewhere in the distance, her children slept. She'd told Jon they didn't like the North, but that was only half of it. They were still mourning the loss of their brother. If she was honest, so was she. She did her best not to think of Viserion, because doing so only brought her pain. Her beautiful darling, named for her brother in hopes that he would grow to be all that Viserys, in his weakness, could not be. But now… Now he fought for the dead. She'd watched him die once already. In the days to come, would she have to send him to his final death? Could she do it?
There were men watching for signs of movement in the darkness posted along the wall to raise the alarm should trouble encroach, but with the exception of offering her a respectful nod or bow, they did little to acknowledge her presence.
She found she appreciated the disinterest of the Northerns for the first time. In her current state, the loneliness of the wall suited her.
She looked around and saw a girl she knew only by sight. Jon had pointed her out once as they passed through the yard as his other sister.
"Lady Arya." Daenerys said.
"Arya is fine." The small girl with Jon's same dark features said. Her tone was pleasant enough, but her expression seemed like a mask. If she had any feelings about Daenerys, they were well hidden, unlike her sister who's dislike glinted cold as ice in her eyes. "I'm no lady."
"Are you not the true born daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn Tully?" Daenerys asked, enjoying the opportunity to actually make use of the names and families she'd spent so much of her life memorizing.
"I am." Arya said.
"Then you are a lady."
Arya let out a little laugh that didn't sound overly humorous.
"I assure you, I'm no one." She said.
Daenerys looked the small girl over. She'd once heard Varys remark that the younger Stark girl was a startlingly accurate copy of her aunt Lyanna. Rhaegar's Lyanna. While the girl was pleasing enough to look upon, Daenerys couldn't help but wonder how a relatively unremarkable girl had so captured her brother, who by all accounts was a good man, and inspired him to not only abandon his wife and children, but cause a war by stealing her away from her family and betrothed against her will.
"I rather doubt that." Daenerys smile, hoping to get at least one of the Starks on her side to strengthen her hold on Jon. Since that seemed unlikely with Sansa and Bran was… whatever Bran was, that left Arya. "From what I hear, you're Jon's most beloved sibling."
Something unreadable flickered across Arya's eyes. "I used to be."
"Used to be?" Daenerys felt a twinge of unease. "Has something caused you to fall in his favor?"
This was something she could sympathize with far more than she wished to.
Arya shook her head and offered a polite smile. "It's not like that at all. It's just, it's been so long, you can hardly call us siblings anymore… Any of us."
Daenerys looked out into the dark. Despite Arya's words, she didn't quite believe her. Perhaps some of the bond had faded between the Stark children, but they were still deeply tied. Daenerys could see that in the way their eyes sought each other out when they entered rooms, the way their movements and words seemed to be intertwined. Perhaps they no longer shared the straightforward bond of siblings reared in the same house, but they were still Starks, dire wolves like those on their house crest. No, Daenerys did not believe there was any way to truly drive a wedge between the four of them, no matter how different each seemed. They were more than family. They were a pack.
And the three true born Starks would always have a hold on Jon that she could not match, no matter how many oaths he swore. And the realization made her heart grow a little colder.
Chapter 17: Jaime
As he rode away from King's Landing, Jaime felt as though he was waking from a trance. Whenever he was around Cersei, she drew him back into her toxic orbit and he lost sight of who he was… who he wanted to be.
Brienne's appearance in the Dragon Pit was like a slap or a bucket of icy water to the face, unpleasant but eye opening.
Fuck loyalty. Two words he'd never imagined passing the Maid of Tarth's annoyingly honorable lips. Fuck loyalty.
Had it not been for his jarring interaction with Brienne, he might have been able to submit meekly to Cersei's deception against Ned's Bastard and the little Dragon Queen. He might have been able to ignore the gnawing shame of breaking yet another oath and sink back into the foggy complacency of obeying Cersei's wishes.
But those sapphire eyes had looked at him like he was more than the man he'd been. She had looked at him as though she knew he could be more… better. And she made him want to prove her right.
He cursed the troublesome maid every night of his uncomfortable journey North, sleeping on rock earth instead of in Cersei's feather bed. But every mile he travelled away from his sister, the lighter he felt, the more he felt like the man who'd jumped into a bear pit to rescue a good and honorable woman because it was the right thing to do. Like the man who had gifted Oathkeeper to the stubborn Maid of Tarth so that she might keep both of their oaths and told her it was hers and always would be when she tried to return it upon fulfilling her sworn duty.
By the time he reached Winterfell, he no longer felt like the Kingslayer, but rather Ser Jaime, the idealistic young knight who believe in all the statutes of knighthood. All because of that troublesome wench.
He jumped down from his horse in the yard of Winterfell. The journey north had taken him nearly three weeks. He could have made it in less time, but he couldn't afford to ride hard. While he had enough coin to buy a new steed, the country had been ravaged by war over the last several years and most of the inns alone the way had been destroyed or shut their doors as their owners were slaughtered or fled for somewhere safer. He knew he couldn't trust the availability of a fresh horse in the war torn wilds of the realm and so he'd been careful with the one he had, giving it plenty of rest.
He looked around the yard of the once great fortress of the North. Like the rest of Westeros, the war had not been kind. The last time he'd been there, while cold, the place was untouched by snow. Now with the white stuff making its presence known, everything was weighed down with a slightly gray haze. There was no brightness to this place. Just the heavy foreboding of impending doom.
He scanned the yard and his gaze fell on a figure, sitting bundled in furs and watching him.
The boy he'd thrown from a window to hid his sins had grown into a crippled man.
Bran watched him as though he had been waiting for him and it sent a chill through the Kingslayer.
He had been a fool to come here alone without the Lannister army at his back to defend him. He would die in this place for his past sins without even being given the opportunity to atone for them by fighting the dead as he'd sworn to do. The Starks would surely string him up as soon as he turned himself over to them. He just willingly traveled across the seven kingdoms to die for nothing.
At least that would provide Cersei with some satisfaction, knowing that he was every bit the fool she'd always told him he was.
Perhaps, at least, he'd see Brienne once more before the end. She would call him Ser Jaime, even if the rest of the world called him a man without honor. That was something. That would be enough.
If they didn't execute him right away, would she come to him? Would she sit beside him a while, allowing him to pass his last hours by her side? Would she stay with him to the end? He imagined she would, if he asked her to. And he would ask her to. He would set aside his pride and ask her to abide with him awhile. If he pulled her into his arms, she would hold him until the end. Of that he was sure. Perhaps she would not stay out of love, but at least out of some degree of respect and that would be enough. He imagined that there were worse ways to die than in the company of the woman who made him the man he wanted to be.
"I've been waiting for you." Bran said, his voice dull and lifeless. Nothing like the animated boy Jaime had caught fearlessly scaling the walls of the castle. That was his doing. He was the one who turned a vibrant child into a shell of himself. It was a shame he carried with him every day and would never fully shake and it reared with full force at the sight of the results of his actions.
Reluctantly, he approached the young Stark.
"How did you know I was coming?" Jaime asked.
"It was promised."
Chapter 18: Jaime
So... another Jaime POV. I probably should have consolidated these into one chapter, but I wasn't thinking... Whoops!
"When I was a child, my brother would tell me a bedtime story about the man who murdered our father. Who stabbed him in the back and cut his throat. Who sat down on the Iron Throne and watched as his blood poured onto the floor." Daenerys spoke slowly and clearly, despite the rage that burned wildly in her eyes.
It took every ounce of courage Jaime possessed not to break eye contact with the small woman. Those eyes were too familiar, too much like her father's.
Unarmed, one-handed, and with hostile lords and ladies before him and to his sides and a troop of unsullied at his back he had never been so completely surrounded and defenseless. He had not felt so completely defeated even when imprisoned by Robb Stark. He was perhaps as defenseless on the road to Harrenhall after the loss of his hand, but his fever had burned so hot then that he couldn't think, let alone concern himself with his unfortunate predicament. By the time his fever had passed, Lord Bolton had recognized his value and he was no longer a defenseless prisoner, but a valuable guest.
"He told me other stories as well." The little dragon queen continued. "About all the things we would do to that man once we took back the Seven Kingdoms and had him in our grasp."
She let the weight of her threat change heavy in the great hall. While not eager for it, Jaime was not afraid to die. He had never feared death, not really. He had feared failing to protect those he loved far more than he had ever feared death or any punishment that might be waiting for him thereafter.
"Your father was an evil man." Jaime said.
"My father was an evil man." Daenerys agreed. "But he was your king."
Jaime considered the charge she'd leveled against him and he had no defense against it. The Mad King had been a terrible ruler, but he was still a king and Jaime had been one of his King's Guard. Six other men had stood honorably by while the Mad King ordered the death of an entire city. Six other men kept their honor while Jaime sacrificed his own for the lives of thousands of innocents.
"He was my king." Jaime agreed. "And he intended to murder half a million people rather than surrender his throne. So tell me, Your Grace, when does a ruler forfeit their right to their throne?"
Daenerys stared at him for a long moment, her jaw tense in barely contained fury.
"Your sister pledged to send her army north." Daenerys said, changing the subject after a long moment.
Jaime felt a surge of shame for his sister's deception. "She did."
"I don't see an army." Daenerys made a show of looking around. "I see one man… with one hand."
The disgust in her eyes was clear as they drifted down to his golden appendage.
"It appears your sister lied to me." Daenerys practically snarled.
Jaime glanced over at his brother who met his gaze with an uneasy expression that did not offer any reassurance.
"She lied to me as well." Jaime said, returning his attention to the queen. "She never had any intention of sending her army north. She has Euron Greyjoy's fleet and 20,000 fresh troops. The Golden Company from Essos, bought and paid for."
He saw the little queen flinch at this revelation, a look passing between her and Tyrion. If she'd imagined that taking King's Landing would be a simple matter, that mistaken impression was now shattered.
"Even if we defeat the dead," Jaime continued, "she'll have more than enough to destroy the survivors."
"We?" Daenerys challenged.
"I promised to fight for the living." Jaime said. "I intend to keep that promise."
Tyrion stepped forward drawing the queen's ire.
"Your Grace, I know my brother." The imp said. Jaime felt a fresh surge of love for his little brother.
"Like you knew your sister?" The queen's tone was so cutting, a lesser man would have shriveled before her. But Tyrion was not a lesser man. Smaller, yes, but not lesser.
"He came here alone, knowing full well how he'd be received." Tyrion pressed on. "Why would he do that if he weren't telling the truth?"
"Perhaps he trusts his little brother to defend him, right up to the moment he slits my throat."Daenerys sneered at her Hand.
"You're right." Sansa Stark spoke up, her ice-cold gaze cutting into Jaime.
Daenerys looked at the Lady of Winterfell, clearly caught off guard by this support. Apparently, cooperation among the invading queen and the North was not as seamless as the Targaryen would like people to believe.
"We can't trust him." Sansa continued. "He attacked my father in the streets. He tried to destroy my house and my family, the same as he did yours."
Jaime found it harder to meet the Stark girl's gaze than that of the dragon queen. Daenerys was little more than a name to him, but he knew the Stark girl. He'd seen firsthand the suffering inflicted on a once innocent child by him and his.
"Do you want me to apologize?" He asked. "I won't."
Sansa raised an eyebrow at this. He couldn't tell if she was impressed or amused by his stubborn courage. Other men would likely grovel for their lives at this point, recognizing that the tides were firmly turned against them, but Jaime had never been like other men and he would not grovel for forgiveness.
"We were at war." He said, speaking to the Stark girl, because her opinion mattered far more to him than the Mad King's daughter's. "Everything I did, I did for my house and my family. I'd do it all again."
At least, most of it. He thought. There was a thing or two he whined he could take back, but this was not the time or place to admit any such thing.
"The things we do for love." Bran said, drawing the attention of everyone in the hall.
Jaime faltered at that. He had no doubt that the crippling of Bran Stark was one sin the Starks would not forgive. With a single sentence, Bran could sign his death order.
But he said nothing else.
"So why have you abandoned your house and family now?" Daenerys asked.
"Because this goes beyond loyalty." Jaime glanced over at Brienne. He'd known exactly where she sat since she'd entered the hall. The hulking woman was a difficult figure to miss, but it was more than that. Even when he wasn't looking at her, he could feel her presence, like there was a string between them that had pulled taunt when she'd left King's Landing, drawing him after her. Now she was so close, but this time separated by all his past sins. She knew most, if not all of them, but still he felt shame to have her here, bearing witness to the full weight of them. "This is about survival."
He heard movement behind him and suddenly the Maid of Tarth stood between him and his judge, jury, and would be executioners.
"You don't know me well, Your Grace." Brienne addressed the queen, her voice shaking just slightly. "But I know Ser Jaime."
His heart sped up at her words. She was speaking for him. After all he'd done, after all she knew, she still thought him worthy of her words on his behalf. He looked down, for the first time truly feeling unworthy.
"He is a man of honor." She said.
Jaime swallowed hard at this praise from the only person who's opinion he counted for anything on the subject.
"I was his captor once." Brienne continued. "But when we were both taken prisoner and the men holding us tried to force themselves on me, Ser Jaime defended me. And lost his hand because of it."
The things we do for love. His own words swam to the surface of his mind, unbidden.
Brienne turned her attention to Sansa, who's gaze was far softer when directed at the tall blonde.
"Without him, my lady, you would not be alive." Brienne said. "He armed me, armored me, and sent me to find you and bring you home because he'd sworn an oath to your mother."
The hardness in the lines of Sansa's face softened almost imperceptibly, but the queen's expression roiled with rage.
"You vouch for him?" The Stark girl asked.
Jaime studied the sliver of the side of Brienne's face that he could see from his position. Even uglier in daylight, he'd once said. But she didn't seem so homely now. In fact, by this light she could be a bold and beautiful knight. A figure minstrels would write ballads about: Brienne the Beauty.
"You would fight beside him?" Sansa pressed.
"I would." Brienne confirmed.
Jaime longed to reach out and squeeze her hand, to show his gratitude for her faith in him. Cersei had never cared about his wrongs, most of which had been committed on her behalf. Tyrion had loved him to much not to forgive him even his blackest deeds. But Brienne… Brienne had seen the beast the Seven Kingdoms despised. She had seen the man without honor. And she had taken the time to see the man beneath the misdeeds.
"I trust you with my life." Sansa said, after careful consideration. "If you trust him with yours, we should let him stay."
Fury blazed in the Dragon Queen's eyes as she looked at the red-haired beauty.
Brienne bowed her head respectfully and returned to her seat.
"What does the Warden of the North say about it?" Daenerys asked, looking to Ned Stark's bastard. He had the look of the Stark's far more than Ned's true born daughter.
Jon Snow studied Jaime with something close to compassion.
"We need every man we can get." He said.
"Very well." The queen conceded and gave a look to the unsullied commander who had relieved Jaime of his sword.
Taking the queen's unspoken command, an unsullied approached Jaime with Widow's Wail in hand, pushing it into Jaime's hand with barely contained hostility.
Jaime bowed to the queen. "Thank you, Your Grace."
Daenerys stood abruptly, her beautiful face twisted in a frightful expression. The rest of the hall rose in an echo of her movement. She looked at Jon Snow as though he had betrayed her. But if Jon noticed her fury, it didn't show, instead he watched Sansa, followed by Brienne, sweep from the hall.
Jaime watched Brienne leave as well. She looked back at him and for a brief moment he had the urge to follow, before the string between them pulled too tight again, but his gaze fell on Bran and the urge dissipated.
Jaime wandered aimlessly through the halls of Winterfell. The place was dimmer, grimmer than he remembered. Regret burned like bile in his throat for the part he'd played in the fall of the Starks. When Robert and Cersei had arrived in the North to replace the conveniently deceased Jon Arryn with Ned Stark as Hand of the king, they'd arrived in a castle innocent of the political intrigue and manipulation of the South.
The Starks had been happy. The Stark children had been just that… children. He'd stolen that from each of them the moment he'd pushed Bran Stark from the window of the tower. At the time, he didn't see any other way. It was Cersei or the boy. If the boy spoke the truth of what he'd seen it would have been not only Cersei's death, but his own and that of their children. Truth be told, even now, he didn't see another way, but he no longer felt so certain that it had been worth the price.
He found his way back to the tower where it had all began. It looked almost the same. A little more crumbled, with snow drifting down through holes in the roof, dusting the room with a light coating of what might have been ash, if not for the chill biting at his nose. The ash of all the innocent lives that had been sacrificed for the sake of his selfish love for his sister.
He knew he'd fucked Cersei on this very floor, but he'd fucked her so many times that he couldn't remember anything special about the moment. Funny how often the moments that change everything seem so meaningless in hindsight. And for that meaningless moment of passion, he'd set in motion all the blood shed that had followed. He set in motion the death of all of his children and so many others.
He could now see the sum of his choices and he knew with certainty the price had not been worth it.
Jaime jumped, pulled from his thoughts. He looked around and found Podrick standing in the doorway of the tower.
"How did you find me?" He asked.
The squire shifted uneasily. "I followed you, Ser."
He studied the boy… no, no longer a boy and gave him a tight smile.
"I see you've managed to keep our lady safe." He said with a chuckle. "I'm sure she didn't make it an easy task."
"Lady Brienne keeps herself safe." Pod said.
Jaime gave a soft chuckle. "I suppose that's true."
He walked to the window stared out at the blanket of snow beyond. Even from this tower, he could hear the preparations for the battle to come. His left hand drifted to the hilt of Widow's Wail. The dead were coming. He knew what was coming when he left King's Landing to follow Brienne North…. His mind tripped over the admission.
Jaime told himself that he was coming North to keep his word, because he'd sworn to fight for the living, but that was only a part of it. He'd come North because Brienne heard him make that oath. He could stand the world thinking him an Oathbreaker, but not her.
"Is she well?" Jaime asked.
"Why don't you ask her yourself?" Pod asked.
Jaime glanced at the squire and shook his head as he laughed. "I don't think she'd take kindly to distractions."
"I think there's some distractions she wouldn't mind so much." Pod gave his crooked smile. "She and I… We'll be out in the yard training... Should you change your mind." Pod gave a quick dip of his head and ducked out of the tower.
Chapter 19: Tyrion
The Dragon Queen's anger burned hot after Jon siding with Sansa in the great hall. If this was any indication of the things to come, Tyrion thought it would be in everyone's best interest for the women in children to begin their journey to the Neck as soon as possible, taking the inflammatory Lady Sansa with them.
Tyrion practically had to jog to keep up with the queen's brisk stride. Varys and Jorah followed at their heels, but Tyrion felt sure they were quite happy to leave the position of Hand to Tyrion along with the burning wrath that came with it.
"Either you knew Cersei was lying and let me believe otherwise, or you didn't know at all." Daenerys practically spat with contempt. "Which makes you either a traitor or a fool."
"I was a fool." Tyrion admitted, thinking of Sansa's words. I used to think you were the smartest man in the seven kingdoms. So had he, which was in no small part the source of his now evident failing. Cersei had played him, using his own wits against him.
"Not for the first time." Daenerys slowed to to a stop for a moment and looked at him. "Cersei still sits on the throne. If you can't help me take it back, I'll find another Hand who can."
She stormed off and it was clear that following her would be a very dangerous decision.
Tyrion glanced back at the soft bald spymaster and the war-hardened knight. Good men, the both of them. All because neither was driven by lofty ambitions. Both were motivated by love. One by his love for the realm and the other by an all consuming love for the woman he served. Honorable intentions, both. More men would do well to be like them, without ambitions for greatness. Ambition was a dangerous drug, after all.
"I suspect one of you will be wearing this before it's all over." Tyrion mused, tapping the pin of the hand on his chest.
Ned's bastard obviously didn't love the queen, which was bad enough, but his preference for his own sister was growing more and more obvious. While Tyrion didn't think Daenerys had openly accepted the reason behind Jon's disinterest, he was sure she had her suspicions. If those suspicions grew to certainty, he feared what the results would look like.
He had to diffuse the situation before it came to that.
He found Jon and Sansa up on the wall, deep in conversation as they looked out over the preparations for the impending battle. He drew as close as he dared, not wanting to draw their notice.
"And the wagons?" Jon asked.
"Nearly loaded." Sansa said. "The caravan will be ready to depart by first light."
"And you with it?" Jon asked.
Sansa didn't speak right away, instead she pulled him around to face her and adjusted the collar of his cloak. Once satisfied, she ran her hands over the fur, leaving them to rest over the place where his heart lived and no doubt pounded a little harder than usual, if his expression was any indication.
"I don't want to leave… Winterfell." She whispered so softly that Tyrion barely caught her words.
Though innocent enough, he felt dirty listening in on words obviously not meant for anyone beyond the two of them.
"And I don't want you to leave… Winterfell." Jon said, placing his hand over hers. "But our people will need a strong leader to guide them."
"If the castle falls, what does it matter?"
"The castle may fall and we still might win." Jon pointed out. He ran his thumb over her pale flesh for a long moment, as though struggling to find the words that he could afford to say. "I wouldn't have you in this place when the dead arrive… not for the world."
"So I'm just supposed to leave you?" Sansa's voice cracked.
His hand went immediately to her face to sooth her, but he dropped his hand, looking around for unwanted eyes.
"When the battle is done, I will come for you, I promise." He whispered.
"You can't promise that." Sansa argued. "The last time I went South…"
"It won't be like the last time." Jon vowed. "I will always come for you. Where we go, we go together."
Sansa nodded and turned back to the view of the army beyond their wall.
"I trust you." She whispered, but she said them as she would a profession of love.
Jon glanced around to make sure no one was paying them any heed before pulling her close and kissing her forehead, but it wasn't the way any brother should kiss a sister. They both closed their eyes and lingered a few seconds too long.
"I have to go." Sansa lamented.
Jon nodded and slowly stepped back. "Come to me tonight. I need to see you… before."
Sansa looked around and then nodded. "I promise."
Jon watched her as she walked away. Tyrion waited until he was sure she was well away before stepping out of his hiding place.
"You should really be more careful, Jon Snow." He warned, using the bastard's surname to remind him just how tenuous his grip on his current power was.
Jon jumped and his hand went to the hilt of his broadsword.
"No need for that," Tyrion said. "I don't mean you or your lady any harm. I never have."
"I…" Jon started.
"If you're going to try to claim that she's not your lady, you can save yourself the effort." Tyrion said. "I know better than most what brotherly love looks like."
Jon's jaw tensed. "It's not what you think."
"So you're not in love with your sister?"
Jon frowned. "No… I… She's not my sister."
Tyrion frowned, surprised by this.
"Is Ned Stark not her father?"
"He was…" Jon said. "But he was never mine."
Jon swallowed hard.
"As hand of the queen, there's something I need you to know." Jon whispered.
"The true born son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark." Tyrion said, trying to let the gravity of the revelation sink in.
"That makes you the heir to the Iron Throne." Tyrion said.
"I don't want it." Jon said. "I've never wanted it."
"But Sansa…" Tyrion started.
"Doesn't know." Jon said.
Because if she knew, she would push him to claim his birthright, likely getting herself killed in the process, Tyrion realized. But if she didn't know…
"She still believes your her half brother." Tyrion said.
Jon looked ashamed. "What choice do I have?"
Tyrion felt a twist in his heart. There was a time when he could have loved Sansa, a time when he hope she could learn to love him. But that time had passed. If she could not be his lady, he'd still have her be safe and happy. She deserved at least that much.
"And what of Daenerys." Tyrion asked. "What will you tell her?"
"I bent the knee to her. Nothing has changed." Jon said. "She is my queen."
"And you think she'll take kindly to discovering you have a new bedfellow?"
Jon's jaw tensed and he looked away, out across the snowy scape. "Love is the death of duty."
The words he'd heard his brother say over the years rang in his ears. The things we do for love. The rightful heir of the Iron Throne was indeed faced with an impossible choice. To take his true name and have his love or to protect her from the treacherous game and never be able to call her truly his own.
Tyrion looked at Jon, surprised. "Did you just come up with that? It's quite good."
"It's something Maester Aemon once told me." Jon said.
Tyrion nodded, remembering the old Targaryen. "He was a wise man." He gave Jon a pointed look. "Tread carefully, Jon Snow. It seems you have a great deal to lose."
Chapter 20: Arya
Arya's heart hammered louder than the anvils in the forge. She watched Gendry's arms flex and tense as he worked, remembering when she had watched him under similar conditions when he worked for the Lannisters at Harrenhall. She'd felt her first stirrings of desire in those moments. In her years since, she'd been too preoccupied with survival and training to seek sexual companionship. If she was honest, she'd never really desired to after Gendry was taken from her by the Red Woman. She hadn't intended to trust or care for the blacksmith, but their parallel journeys pushed them together and as she grew to not only know him but trust him, she learned something of the deeper truth in all those storybooks Sansa had swooned over in their early childhood.
Gendry looked up, smirking a little at the sight of her watching.
"Don't you have something better to do?" He teased.
"You make my weapon yet?"
"Just as soon as I'm done making a few thousand of these." Gendry said, showing her an ax forged from dragonglass.
"You should make mine first." Arya pressed, surprised by how petulant and childish her voice sounded when she was talking to him. "And make sure it's stronger than this."
"It's strong enough." Gendry said, driving it deep into a stump.
Arya followed him. She knew there were plenty of other blacksmiths she could ask to make her weapon, but she didn't care. She wanted Gendry to do it. She wanted his handiwork to carry her through the long night.
"It's going to be safer to go south with your sister, you know." Gendry glanced at her and she noted a hint of worry in his eyes, worry for her. With the exception of her siblings, she hadn't had anyone who cared enough to worry about her in a long time. It made her self-conscious, but she found it oddly pleasant.
"Are you going South?"
"But you're a fighter."
Gendry nodded. Stupid boy. He saw a small woman standing before him and still, after all this time, he underestimated her. "I've done my share."
"You've fought them?" She pressed.
"I did." He admitted. At least there was no undo pride in his voice. He knew enough to know that surviving a fight didn't make him special, just lucky. "Some of them."
"A few." Gendry offered vaguely. "That was enough."
So what he saw North of the wall scared him, Arya noted. Good. Bravery was all well and good, but blind bravery got you killed. She didn't want to see that happen to him.
"What are they like?" She asked.
"Bad." He said. "Really bad."
Arya scoffed at the utter lack of creativity in his description.
"Really bad? Even a smith's apprentice can do better than really bad." She pushed, needing more. She wanted to be prepared for what was coming. "What do they look like? What do they smell like? How do they move? How hard are they to kill?"
"Look, I know you want to fight." Gendry said, his tone a little harsh. "And I know you're not scared of rapers or murderers or… This is different." He hesitated, searching for the right words. "This is… This is death."
That was it. The words he was searching for. Arya knew it the second the realization reached his eyes.
"You want to know what they're like?" He asked. "Death. That's what they're like."
Arya picked up several dragonglass knives, rolling the hurriedly crafted weapons in her hands. She pulled one from the rest and studied it for a moment. Despite it's rushed creation, it was a well-made blade, balanced and true. It would do well for close quarter fighting.
"I know Death." She told him. She threw the first knife and it stuck into a post several yards away. The man leaning against the post looked around, concern evident on his face. "He's got many faces." She threw the second knife and it sunk in right beside its brother. The man leaning against the post scurried away, shooting her a look that made it clear he did not appreciate her target practice. "I look forward to seeing this one." The third knife met its mark, same as those that came before. She gave Gendry an expectant look. "My weapon?"
Gendry stared dumbfounded at the three closely clustered knifes for a moment before nodding. "I'll get right on it."
Arya stood in the doorway of Bran's chambers. His chair faced the window with his back to her. The afternoon sun spilled through the window, but the cold light offered little warmth.
Seeing him hurt her more than the other. They had all suffered a great deal in the years since they left Winterfell and they had all changed. But Bran hadn't just changed. It was like someone had cut open her brother and carved out all his smiles and humor, all his spirit, to make room for something else. He called himself the Three-eyed Raven, but that didn't seem quite right. To Arya, he seemed more like no one.
"Thank you for coming." Bran said, not having to turn around to know she was there.
His perceptiveness unnerved Arya, she was used to being the one to catch others unaware and wasn't accustomed to being expected.
"I got your message." Arya said. She wondered how he'd had the note delivered into her locked chambers, but she didn't suppose she'd get an answer, so she opted not to ask.
"I would like to speak to you about the battle to come." Bran said.
"If you're going to tell me to retreat with the rest of the women and children, you can save your breath." Arya snapped.
"I assure you, I have no such intentions." Bran said. "Everything that has happened to you, every person you have met, has guided you to this point. You are supposed to be here, Arya. And as for the battle to come, you're supposed to be there, as well. At my side."
Arya walked to his side and joined him in gazing out the window.
"But you should be away from the fighting." Arya said, not wanting to point out the obvious, that he would be near useless in the fight.
"It doesn't matter where I am, the fighting will follow." Bran said. "And I need you by my side through the long night."
"I don't understand." Arya said.
Bran reached over and patted her hand. "You will."
Arya looked at her brother, searching for some hint of the boy she used to play with, who she teased and taunted because she was better with a bow. But she found no trace of that boy in his glassy gaze.
"Now," Bran said, looking toward the door. "Would you do me the kindness of helping me to the Weirwood?"
"Why?" Arya asked.
"I have a very important meeting with an old friend."
Chapter 21: Jaime
Jaime approached the wheelchair bound figure of Bran Stark beneath the bloody red leaves of the Weirwood Tree. Those trees had always made him uneasy. He didn't like the sightless eyes carved into their trunks, watching and judging him. He didn't like being seen by the Old Gods. He'd never really held to any gods, old or new, but if he had to pick, he'd go with the Seven. The Seven never troubled him as the old gods did.
"I'm sorry for what I did to you." Jamie said, though the words didn't provide the relief to his conscience that he'd hoped.
"You weren't sorry then." The boy said dully, as though none of this even mattered to him. "You were protecting your family."
He was protecting his family, yes. And all he'd managed to do was doom them and many others.
"I'm not that person anymore." Jaime said, silently praying that it was true, that all this time, some of what he'd done and suffered had in a small way evened the scales of his past sins. But there was so much sin in the pages of his book, he didn't know where to even begin to even the scales.
"You still would be, if you hadn't pushed me out of that window." Bran said. "And I would still be Brandon Stark."
Jaime frowned at that. "You're not?"
"No." Bran replied, his gaze far away. "I'm something else now."
"You're not angry at me." Jaime said, not needing to ask, because he could feel it. The boy didn't care enough to be angry with him.
"I'm not angry at anyone." Bran confirmed.
"Why didn't you tell them?" That moment, right after Bran had quoted his words back to him, had turned his bowels to water. In that moment, he was certain that his death sentence had been signed.
"Because they would have executed you if I had."
"Would that have been so bad?" Jamie asked.
"A single man can tip the scales." Bran said. "Don't trouble yourself so much with past sins, Ser Jaime. It will not matter much longer. You'll receive your justice before the long night ends."
"What about afterwards?" Jaime asked, his heart in his throat.
"How do you know there is an afterwards?" Bran asked in return.
He didn't... in fact, he'd rather expected that there wouldn't be an after. If, by some unlikely miracle, there was an after, he wouldn't have the first idea of what to do with himself.
Jaime spotted his brother as he reentered the yard after his troubling conversation with Bran Stark.
He had seen his brother in the Great Hall, Tyrion had even spoken on his behalf to the white-haired queen. But no words had passed directly between them, let alone the opportunity for any warm reunion.
He didn't slow his stride until they were mere feet apart.
"Well, here we are." Tyrion said by way of greeting, looking up at him with his usual bemused expression.
"Yes, here we are."
"Together again." Tyrion gave a half smile. From above, a man spit in their direction. Fortunately, his efforts where futile, but the message was still clear. Lannisters were not welcome guests in this place. Tyrion glanced up in the man's direction. "And the masses rejoice."
Used to the disdain of the masses, this reaction barely registered to Jaime.
"How do they feel about their new queen?" He asked as they fell in stride with one another.
"She's your new queen too." Tyrion said.
Jaime did not correct him, but this was far from true. He'd pledged to fight for the living, not to serve another Targaryen. He'd had enough of Targaryen rule for one lifetime and had no intention of bending the knee to another.
"They remember what happened the last time Targaryens brought dragons north. They'll come around once they see Daenerys is different." Tyrion continued on.
It sounded to Jaime as though his brother was trying to convince himself as much as Jaime of the righteousness of his queen.
"And she is? Different?"
"You're sure about her?" Jaime pressed. From what he'd seen in battle against the little queen, she had her father's same taste for fire and destruction.
"She didn't seem sure about you." Jaime said. He couldn't help but worry for his little brother. It was clear he was on thin ice with his volatile queen.
"It's hard to blame her. I made a mistake common to clever people." Tyrion said. "I underestimated my opponents."
"Cersei told me the pregnancy had changed her. A chance for you both to start again. And I believed her."
Jaime's heart ached. He had believed her too. He had believed that she'd finally had her fill of power and had learned to value something else above it. He had been wrong… again.
"Was she lying about the baby too?" Tyrion asked.
"No, that part is real." Jaime assured him, feeling a wave of guilt for abandoning the woman carrying his child, even if she'd left him no other choice. "She's always been good at using the truth to tell lies. I wouldn't be too hard on yourself. She's fooled me more than anybody."
Tyrion stopped at the base of the stairs that let up to the wall and gave Jaime a look.
"What?" Jaime asked.
"She never fooled you." Tyrion said, pity in his eyes. "You always knew exactly what she was, and you loved her anyway."
Tyrion started up the stairs, but it took Jaime a moment to recover. The shame struck him like a slap across the face at the truth in his brother's words. He was right. Jaime had always known the depths that Cersei was willing to descend to for her children and once they where gone, for her own power. She'd blown up a chunk of King's Landing simply to get rid of those who stood in her way. He tried to pretend that she wasn't just as bad as the Mad King. Tried to pretend that her actions were justified, but every time he came to grips with one of her cruelties, she committed another, even worse than the one before.
At the top of the wall, they looked out over the bustling yard. Everyone had something to do, something to contribute to prepare for the impending battle. It just made Jaime feel more useless. While he could still fight, still better than average without his sword hand, many other feats of manual labor were beyond a man with one hand.
"So we're going to die at Winterfell." Tyrion mused. "Not the death I would've chosen. I always pictured myself dying in my own bed, the age of 80, with a belly full of wine and…"
"A girl's mouth around your cock." Jaime finished with him.
Tyrion smirked. It appeared that somethings didn't change, despite the time apart, Jaime still knew his brother.
"At least Cersei won't get to murder me." Tyrion said.
Jaime heard a voice he recognized, though he couldn't make out the words and it pulled his attention away from his brother who continued to prattle on about dying with some satisfaction and marching down to King's Landing.
Jaime walked over to the other side of the wall to look down at the encampment below. Despite the distance, he picked her out almost immediately. She was tall, even surrounded by men she towered over most. Her pale blonde hair was as short as ever and worn in that same awful slicked back style that he'd always loathed. She stood annoyingly straight and surveyed the preparations and training taking place around her. By this light, she was an ugly woman. So why did his heart thrill to see her again?
Chapter 22: Brienne
Sorry for the wait! It's been a busy weekend of filming for a couple of indie film projects I've got in the works. Between filming all Friday evening and 12 hours on set on Saturday, I haven't had much in the way of free time. But I'm back! So on with the story...
Pod blocked a strike that a year ago would have knocked him on his ass. Brienne couldn't help the swell of pride it stirred in her chest at his notable improvement. She imagined that motherhood felt something like this. To watch the child who came to you small and defenseless grow into a man who could not only defend himself but others and do so well. It was at once humbling and source of great pride. When Jaime had dumped his brother's former squire on her, she never could have imagined the young man would come to mean so much to her.
She smiled softly, hoping she'd taught him enough to get him through the things to come.
Movement caught her eye and she looked to find Jaime beside her. Her breath caught at the sight of him. The last time she'd seen his hair so overgrown had been on their journey and subsequent imprisonment at Harenhall. His hair had grown darker with gray touching his beard and new lines had aged his still too handsome face, but he was the same to her. Just as beautiful as he had always been. He would always look that way to her, no matter how much of his golden hair dulled to silver.
"Ser Jaime." She said formally.
"Lady Brienne." He said, dipping his head in a gesture that she might have thought indicated respect, had she known him less. As it were, she wondered if he was mocking her.
She tried to think of something to say, but being beside him in Winterfell of all places left her speechless.
She'd expected him to come to fight the dead, but not to come to her. She'd expected him to be surrounded on all sides by the full force of the Lannister army. Instead, he came alone, despite knowing how inhospitable the North and the Targaryen Queen would be to the infamous Kingslayer. She still couldn't make sense of it. Why? Why had he come? He nearly quoted her when answering that very question in the Great Hall, but it still didn't make sense to her. He'd broken faith with his sister to keep it with whom? Daenerys? No. The Stark? Certainly not. Tyrion? Perhaps. Her? ...No... that was too much to presume.
Pod bested his opponent and looked to her, almost as though for reassurance that he had done well. Silly boy. He shouldn't require her approval anymore, but part of her was glad that he did. It made her feel as though he still needed her in some small way, though he'd become a good fighter in his own right, better than most of these Northern lordlings who'd only truly lifted a sword in play.
"He's come a long way." Jaime observed.
"He's all right." She turned to leave. "Still has a lot to learn."
"I'm sure you'll teach him." He responded, following her. "I've been told you'll be fighting in the battle."
"As opposed to what?" She asked. "Retreating with the women and children?"
"I had imagined you would remain with Lady Sansa." Jaime said. Was that a subtle implication that she was neglecting her duty to the Lady of Winterfell? No, she didn't think so. Jaime had never excelled at being subtle.
"No, I'll be fighting for one of her dolt brothers." Brienne jabbed him with his own previous derogatory remark.
"What are you doing?" She turned on him.
"What?" He asked dumbly.
"I think you know."
"I truly don't."
"We have never had a conversation last this long without you insulting me." She pointed out. "Not once."
"You want me to insult you?" He gave her an incredulous look.
"No!" She snapped.
"Good." He snapped back.
A long silence fell between them and he shifted uneasily.
"I came to Winterfell because…" He trailed off for a moment and then looked up, meeting her gaze.
Because I love you. No... She shook off the girlish fantasy. She was not the kind of woman to whom men professed their love and undying devotion. At least, not the kind of woman to whom Jaime Lannister might make such professions. She met his gaze evenly, trying to stamp out her foolish hope.
"I'm not the fighter I used to be." He continued once he found the words. "But I'd be honored to serve under your command, if you'll have me."
Her heart hammered in her chest as she nodded. The way he looked at her, it took her back to Riverrun when he had told her that Oathkeeper was hers to keep. When he'd said that it was hers and it always would be in a way that made her wonder… hope… that perhaps they weren't speaking of swords anymore. But that was the foolish hope of a foolish woman. She was Brienne the Beauty and Jaime Lannister, often considered one of the most beautiful men in Westeros was not likely to find his heart compromised by the charms of a woman like her. No, the only men she attracted were barbarians like that redheaded wildling Tormund Giantsbane.
Perhaps he respected her. Perhaps she could even go so far as to say he liked her. But he would never love her. Perhaps that was why she'd allowed herself to harbor these feelings for him. First Renly, who would never have loved any woman at all, no matter how beautiful. Now Jaime, who would never love any woman other than his own sister, especially not Big Brienne.
"I'd better get back." She told him, sweeping away without another word, her face burning with shame at her own foolish heart.
"Brienne of Tarth." A voice Brienne had heard a number of times but which had never been directed at her called out to her as she made her way to the forge to have them repair a damaged fastening on her armor.
The last thing she needed was to be hindered by her armor as the dead invaded.
She turned around to face the youngest of the Lannister's.
"Lord Tyrion, Hand of the queen." Brienne said with a respectful tilt of her head.
"You really do make an impressive figure, don't you?" Tyrion said, looking her up and down. "Though, almost anyone seems an impressive figure to me."
He provided her a conspiratorial smirk as though the fact that he was uncommonly short was some kind of secret. She attempted to return his pleasantries with a thin smile.
"Is there something you needed, Lord Tyrion?"
"My brother," Tyrion said. "I never did thank you for saving him."
"Your brother has saved me at least as many times." She said, "There is nothing to thank."
"I'm not speaking of physical saving, though doubtless many debts have been incurred on both sides." Tyrion said.
"I don't understand, my lord."
"He came North, he left Cersei, and he pledged to fight for Daenerys Targaryen against the dead."
"He did." She agreed.
"You'd have to ask him." Brienne replied, feeling as though Tyrion was trying to get to a point, but she didn't know what that point might be.
"I saw you speak to him in King's Landing." Tyrion said. "I believe your exact words were 'Fuck loyalty'."
Brienne's cheeks heated at the reminder. "They were… yes."
"Clearly he heard you." Tyrion said. "So, again, I thank you for doing the one thing I never could."
"Save him from Cersei."
Chapter 23: Daenerys
Daenerys stared into the flickering flames of the fire heating her chilly chambers. How had it come to this? Before Jon Snow, she'd had three dragons and a single purpose: to take back the Iron Throne. Then the King in the North had come along and stirred something inside her that she thought had died with Drogo.
Now she was here, a thousand miles from King's Landing and waiting to wage a war on behalf of people who neither liked or trusted her.
While Jon remained her ally, he felt less and less like her champion with each passing day.
She had believed that he loved her when he bent the knew or at least that he could grow to love her. She was beautiful, she knew that. And she was desired by many men. She had not been surprised to find that Jon also desired her. She had been surprised to discover how fleeting that desired proved to be.
Never had she felt so cast off. Never had she felt so truly alone.
The door to her chambers opened.
"Forgive me, Khaleesi." Jorah's voice came to her like a warm embrace.
She smiled softly and turned to face him.
"Have you done something to offend me?" She asked, knowing that was highly unlikely. He would fight for her, kill for her, and die for her. All she had to do was ask. At times, she hadn't even needed to do that.
"Many things." He reminded her.
"Long ago and long forgiven." She assured him.
"But you did forgive, despite my failures." He said.
She sensed the point he was approaching and though she didn't want to be lectured on the necessity of forgiveness, she didn't have the heart to stop him. He was her oldest and dearest friend and even if she did not want his counsel, she could never deny it, knowing his words came from a place of true caring.
"When I heard you'd named Tyrion your Hand, it broke my heart." He told her.
Her chest ached at his words and she crossed the space separating them.
"When I named him Hand, I didn't know if I'd ever see you again." She said, her tone a shade from apologetic, but she was a queen and it was not for her to apologize.
"You made the right choice."
She drew back ever so slightly in surprise. "I wasn't under the impression you liked him very much."
"I didn't." Jorah admitted. "His mouth hardly stopped moving between Volantis and Meereen. It was all I could do not to throw him in the sea." He paused. "But the mind behind all those words…"
Memories of Tyrion's failures rose to the front of her mind, bringing with them fresh fury. "He's made mistakes. Serious mistakes."
She brushed past Jorah.
"As have we all." Jorah reminded her. "He owns his and learns from them."
Daenerys turned back to study him, genuinely surprised by his stance. "You're advising me to forgive the man who stole your position?"
"I am." Jorah nodded. "And one other suggestion, if you'll allow me."
Daenerys gave him a look of warning, but they both know she would allow him. Because the only thing he'd every truly wanted from her was her heart. Since she couldn't give him that, she'd try to give him anything and everything else he asked of her.
"We should shut the gates." Sansa's advisor from the Vale told her.
"Keep them open for as long as you can." Sansa said, rejecting the sound advice. "There are still people coming in from the countryside."
She's soft, Daenerys realized. Perhaps too soft to make the hard calls. Despite the ice she showed the world, the Lady of Winterfell had a heart that appeared to bleed for her people. She would take unnecessary risks, simply to save a few more of them.
"Lady Sansa," Daenerys spoke up to announce her presence. "I was hoping we could speak alone."
The advisor showed himself out with a respectful nod to her as he passed.
She waited until the door closed behind her to begin.
"I thought you and I were on the verge of agreement before." She said. "About Ser Jaime."
"Brienne has been loyal to me, always." Sansa said, "I trust her more than anyone."
Another weak point. Daenerys filed the information away, should it prove necessary in the future.
"I wish I could have that kind of faith in my advisors." Daenerys said, mainly meaning Tyrion, but she'd learned long ago never to trust anyone fully. People were generally only trustworthy when it benefited them to be so.
"Tyrion is a good man." Sansa said, taking up the defense of her former husband. "He was never anything but decent towards me."
"I didn't ask him to be my Hand simply because he was good." She countered, walking slowly toward the prideful Stark girl. "I asked him to be my Hand because he was good, and intelligent, and ruthless when he had to be." She stopped and offered Sansa a patronizing look as though explaining complicated matters to a child. "He never should have trusted Cersei."
Sansa's expression never wavered, if she detected the slight, she didn't show it. "You never should have either." She replied with all the calm of the eye of a storm.
This knocked Daenerys momentarily off balance.
"I thought he knew his sister." Daenerys smile, attempting to regain some of her feigned pleasantries. She wasn't used to interacting with those who saw themselves as her equal, especially not women who saw themselves that way. It unnerved her, but she could not allow her unease to show. She would maintain the upper-hand, no matter the cost.
"Families are complicated." Sansa admitted with something of a smile.
"Ours certainly have been."
Daenerys took a seat and her opponent followed suit. And this girl was an opponent. Perhaps the greatest one she'd yet to face. Sansa was a threat to her hold on the North, and if her suspicions were correct, she was a threat to her hold on Jon as well.
"A sad thing to have in common." Sansa admitted.
"We have other things in common. We've both known what it means to lead people who aren't inclined to accept a woman's we've both done a damn good job of it, from what I can tell."
Sansa gave a small, appreciative smile at the complement. Daenerys took that as a small victory.
Taking a breath, she continued. "And yet, I can't help but feel we're at odds with one another. Why is that?"
Sansa opened her mouth to speak, but no words came.
"Your brother." Daenerys supplied. "Does it bother you that he loves me?"
"Men do stupid things for women." Sansa said keeping her tone impressively even, though Daenerys couldn't help but notice she evaded the actual question. "They're easily manipulated."
So she believed Daenerys was manipulating Jon… or Sansa, herself, intended to. As much as Daenerys didn't like to admit it, she saw the way Jon gravitated to his beautiful half sister.
As a Targaryen, the idea of siblings desiring each other more than the masses believed they should was not a strange idea. She had grown up believing she would have to marry her own brother, that was, until he sold her to the Dothraki for pretty promises of a war he wouldn't live to wage. No, it wasn't the incest that disquieted her, it was the knowledge that Jon felt something for this beautiful woman across from her, and she was afraid to uncover the depths of that affection.
"All my life, I've known one goal: the Iron Throne." She told the Northern lady. "Taking it back from the people who destroyed my family, and almost destroyed yours. My war was against them. Until I met Jon. Now I'm here, half a world away, fighting Jon's war alongside him. Tell me, who manipulated whom?"
Sansa's expression softened to something almost friendly. "I should have thanked you the moment you arrived. That was a mistake."
Daenerys reached out and took Sansa's hand. Perhaps there could be peace between them. If only Sansa could recognize her superior claim to both the North and Jon.
"I'm here because I love your brother." She said. She felt Sansa flinch at those words and the ice returned to the Stark girl's eyes. And so do you, Daenerys realized with growing unease that Jon was not the only one who felt more than he should.
Sansa pulled away and Daenerys knew then that there could be no peace between them. They may have been allies in the war against the dead, but another war was brewing between them. A quiet and personal war. A war for the North and for it's King.
Daenerys was uncertain of the degree to which this half-sister had a hold on Jon, but she was sure of one thing. She had not come all this way to be the ruler of six of the seven kingdoms.
"I will take the Iron Throne." Daenerys said slowly. "Whatever it takes."
"And the North?" Sansa asked, though they both already knew the answer. "It was taken from us, and we took it back. And we said we'd never bow to anyone else again. What about the North?"
Daenerys was no longer sure if the girl was talking about the country around them or the man who had unintentionally pitted them against one another. Neither was she entirely sure it mattered. They were at odds with one another, and that would not change.
"Apologies, my lady. Your Grace." The Northern maester interrupted.
"What is it?" Daenerys snapped.
Daenerys swept into the the great hall, much larger now that all the tables and benches had been cleared away. She saw a scruffy band of Ironborn. They were not a large company, but she knew their kind to be fierce.
Theon Greyjoy separated himself from his companions and dropped to one knee in a appropriately respectful bow.
She glanced passed him in search of Yara, her preferred Greyjoy. The woman was formidable, and better than that, she very clearly preferred the company of woman, if the way she looked at Daenerys was any indication. Theon, while kind enough, had always been too quiet for her liking. She could never read him and therefore was unsure of her hold on his loyalty.
"Your sister?" She asked.
"She only has a few ships, and she couldn't sail them here." He explained. "So she's sailing to the Iron Islands instead, to take them back in your name."
"But why aren't you with her?" She asked.
Theon didn't speak right away, instead his attention shifted to Sansa. Daenerys felt a roil of jealousy which was becoming far too familiar for her liking. She looked at the redhead. She was beautiful, yes, but what exactly was the allure she held over these men? She was not a queen. She was not the Mother of Dragons. So why exactly did so many look at her as though nothing in the world mattered quite as much as she did.
"I want to fight for Winterfell, Lady Sansa if you'll have me." Theon said his voice collected, but his eye were heavy laden with emotion.
Sansa rushed to Theon and wrapped her arms around him, her eyes brimming with tears. He hugged her back as though they were the only two in the room, no... as though they were the only two in the world.
I am not his queen, Daenerys realized as she watched the two of him. He had bent the knee to her and she had no doubt he would serve her honorably in the war to come. But though she was the queen he would fight for... if commanded, but Sansa he would die for without thought or hesitation.
She had only ever seen one person look at her with such utter and blind devotion and that was Jorah. Others respected her, admired her, even occasionally loved her. But not like this.
How could she possibly compete with a devotion she couldn't even fully understand?
Chapter 24: Jon
The blare of a horn called Jon's attention to the yard as riders thundered through the gate. When he saw Edd jumping down from a ragged horse he began running to reach him. He'd thought Edd had fallen when the Night King brought down the wall and his heart pounded with relief at the sight of a friend he thought he'd lost.
Before he could reach Edd, something plowed into him, wrapping him in a hug that was more than a little painful.
"My little crow." Tormund teased with genuine affection.
"I thought we'd lost you." Jon said as he returned the embrace, ignoring the searing pain it caused in his chest. He wondered if the wounds there would ever fully heal.
"Almost." Tormund admitted.
"How did you find each other?" Jon asked, looking around at the small group of friends that might as well have risen from the dead.
"We met up at the Last Hearth." Edd said.
"The dead got there first." Tormund said, his usual gayety slipping away for a moment.
Jon feared the worse. "The Umbers?"
"Fighting for the Night King now." Ser Beric informed him, his one eye filled with remorse at the sad tidings.
"We had to travel around them to get here." Tormund explained. "Whoever's not here now is with them."
"How long do we have?" Jon asked, his heart speeding up.
"Before the sun goes down tomorrow." Tormund said.
Before the sun goes tomorrow. Too soon. The women and children hadn't even begun their journey South. He'd hoped they would have a day or two lead to put miles between themselves and Winterfell. Sansa… She had to be far from this place before the dying and killing started.
"The big woman still here?" Tormund asked, looking around excitedly.
The war counsel gathered as soon as word of the fast approaching enemy had spread to each of them.
"They're coming… sooner than we'd hoped." Jon said. "We have Dragonglass and Valyrian steel. But there are too many of them. Far too many. Our enemy doesn't tire. Doesn't stop. Doesn't feel. We can't beat them in a straight fight."
Sansa stood at his side, but for once her presence didn't sooth him. He wanted her gone, far away from the danger, but even with the increased pressure to finish the preparations, it would be hours before the women and children could start their retreat and senseless to send them off into the night.
"So, what can we do?" Jaime asked.
"The Night King made them all." Jon said. "They follow his command. If he falls… Getting to him may be our best chance."
"If that's true, he'll never expose himself." Jaime said, thinking like a seasoned soldier.
Jon had no love for the Lannister, but he could appreciate strategical thinking. While Daenerys was a formidable opponent, she was used to overcoming her enemies through force and numbers rather than strategy and skill. But this was not a battle to be won by brute force.
"Yes, he will." Bran spoke up from his chair, drawing the focus of the entire room. "He'll come for me. He's tried before, many times, with many Three-Eyed Ravens."
"Why?" Sam asked, voicing the question that was no doubt in everyone's head. "What does he want?"
"An endless night." Bran said in his chillingly flat voice. "He wants to erase this world, and I am its memory."
"That's what death is, isn't it? Forgetting. Being forgotten." Sam said, his voice was soft but it held the attention of the entire room. "If we forget where we've been and what we've done, we're not men anymore. Just animals." Sam looked to Bran. "Your memories don't come from books. Your stories aren't just stories. If I wanted to erase the world of men, I'd start with you."
For a moment, Jon wanted to reach out and take Sansa's hand, but he stopped himself.
"How will he find you?" Tyrion asked.
"His mark is on me." Bran said, pulling up his sleeve to display the marks of fingers burnt into his skin. "He always knows where I am."
"Can we burn it off?" Daenerys asked.
Bran shook his head. "This is merely a physical manifestation of a psychic link between us."
"Then we'll send you South." Jon suggested. "Well away from here."
"No," Bran said. "we need to lure him into the open before his army destroys us all. I'll wait for him in the Godswood."
"You want us to use you as bait?" Sansa asked, looking alarmed. "No. We're not leaving you alone out there."
"He won't be." Jaime spoke up, something that looked suspiciously like guilt, glinting in his eyes. "I'll stay with him."
Bran tilted his head, accepting the offer.
"With the Ironborn." Theon said.
"No." Bran said.
"I took this castle from you." Theon insisted. "Let me defend you now."
"Thank you, Theon. But I would have you make your amends another way." Bran said. "The women and children will go to the Iron Islands instead of the Neck. Take them West. Get them safely to your ships. Queen Daenerys will send a raven to you sister. You once brought the sea to Winterfell. Now take Winterfell to the sea."
Bran's distant gaze fell on Sansa and Theon's own gaze followed his there. Once Theon saw her and realized who exactly a retreat to the Iron Islands would allow him to protect, he nodded.
Jon hated the idea of Sansa on the road, relatively defenseless should any of the dead skirt around Winterfell, but as much as he did not like Theon he knew the lengths Ned Stark's former ward had gone to in order to protect Sansa in the past. As long as he drew breath, he would not allow harm to come to Sansa.
"The Ironborn will do as you command." Theon pledged.
"The rest of us will hold them off for as long as we can." Davos said.
"When the time comes, Ser Davos and I will be on the walls, to give you the signal to light the trench." Tyrion said to Daenerys.
"Ser Davos is perfectly capable of waving a torch on his own." Daenerys said, her voice firm. "You will ride West with the women."
"Your Grace, I have fought before, I can do it again." Tyrion protested. "Alongside the men and women risking their lives."
"There are thousands of them and only one of you. You can't fight as well as they can, but you can think better than any of them." Daenerys said, her tone offering no room for further argument. "You're here because of your mind. If we survive, I'll need it."
"The dragons should give us an edge in the field." Davos said, attempting to navigate the conversation back to the actual battle plan.
"If they're in the field, they're not protecting Bran. We need to be near him." Jon said. "Not too near, or the Night King won't come. But close enough to pursue him when he does."
"Dragonfire will stop him?" Arya asked.
"I don't know." Bran admitted. "No one's ever tried."
"We're all going to die." Tormund said somberly, then looked at Brienne lust evident in his eyes. "But at least we die together."
"Let's get some rest." Jon said to dismiss the counsel.
Everyone filed out of the room, leaving just Jon, Daenerys, Tyrion, and Bran. She watched him expectantly. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't tell her the truth, any version of it would only bring her pain. So he inclined his head to her respectfully, murmured a "Your Grace" and departed.
"Jon." Sansa called out to him as he left the war counsel.
He looked up and saw her standing in the dim sunlight filtering through colored glass that turned her auburn hair blood red. A shudder rippled through him ah he prayed that the sight was not indicative of the things to come.
She didn't approach him or say anything else. She simply turned and walked away. He followed without question as she led him down dark passages, out into the yard, and descended into the crypts.
She didn't stop until she stood before the statue of Eddard Stark.
She looked up into the stony eyes, a deep sadness in her eyes.
"I've forgotten what he looks like." She admitted. "I know this is wrong… but I don't remember what was right."
Jon couldn't bring himself to meet the stone gaze. While he felt no shame in the love they'd shared the night before, he did regret the order in which he'd done things. She was a lady, not a whore to be bedded without a thought of the consequences. Ned would have had his head if he were still alive, and rightly so. Yes, he'd bedded other women. But with Ygritte it was different, it was the wildling way to take what you wanted. With Daenerys… Well, that had been more about what she had wanted than what he wanted. When he received her offer to come to her cabin, he didn't think it was the kind of offer he could afford to decline.
But even as he fucked her, he found himself looking for someone else in her beautiful face, someone more familiar.
But last night… when he woke to find Sansa in his chambers he'd been half convinced it was a dream. When she kissed him, he knew it was real. When she climbed into his bed, he finally understood what Maester Aemon had been talking about when he warned of the arms of a woman and why the men of the Night's Watch were not meant to love. No thoughts of honor or duty could pry her from him.
Now in the light of day, he knew he'd acted shamefully, bedding her without wedding her.
"I remember him being a big man." Jon said. "I don't know if he was or if I was just smaller then."
"Well, I remember you being bigger as well." She teased.
He elbowed her playfully and she caught his arm, her hand sliding down to his. Her fingers intertwined with his.
"Last night…" He started.
"I meant everything I said."
She nodded and squeezed his hand.
"Promise me you won't do anything stupid when the dead get here." Sansa said, looking at him. "Promise me you won't be a hero."
Jon looked down, knowing that wasn't a promise he could make. "Someone has to be."
"Not you." Sansa said. "Not this time."
"So you'd rather I ran away?"
"I'd rather you lived." She said, moving closer to him. "I'd rather you live and love me. Heroes die. And if you died…"
He took her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. "If I died, you would carry on. You'd be strong. For our family and our people."
Sansa nodded. "I would… but my heart would die with you."
His own heart ached in his chest at her words and he pulled her into a desperate kiss.
"Go…" He murmured. "Be the Lady of Winterfell the people need you to be. I'll see you later."
Sansa nodded and pulled away from him, disappearing down the tunnel.
"Your queen doesn't like our sister."
Jon jumped, looking around to find Arya observing him with her hands clasped behind her back.
"Now I see why." Arya said.
Jon didn't need to ask to know that Arya had witnessed the whole exchange. Not even the privacy of the crypts was free of prying eyes, it seemed.
"I can explain."
"You love her." Arya shrugged. "What else is there to explain?"
"Is that all you have to say?" Jon asked.
"Do I find it… unsettling?" Arya mused. "Yes. Did I always think you disliked her? Yes. Do I wish your affections were tempted in a less… complicated direction? Also yes. But I told you, I'm trying to protect our family. This changes nothing. Except that you've added more danger."
"Arya…" Jon said, his insides twisting with the desperate desire to tell her the whole truth so that she knew there was no shame in the things he felt for her sister. But he couldn't. It would only further complicate things. "I'm sorry you had to find out like this."
Arya shrugged. "Is there a good way to find out your brother is fucking your sister?"
Jon's mouth went dry. "I suppose not."
"When this is over… If we all live. We'll have words." Arya warned. "In the meantime, my only concern is protecting what's left of our pack."
Jon nodded. When this was all over, he hoped there was some way he could make the truth known, some way he could erase the appearance of wrong in his actions. But for now, he would just have to live with Arya's silent condemnation.
Chapter 25: Tyrion
Tyrion watched Daenerys as Jon left the room after the war counsel. The hurt was obvious in her eyes along with an undercurrent of simmering rage.
Love was a seductive mistress, but for the life of him, Tyrion could not think of an example where love had ended well. It certainly had not ended well for the Starks or any of the Lannisters, Targaryens, or Baratheons. It seemed to Tyrion, the quickest way to a dismal end was to fall in love. After all, wasn't it love that started this whole mess in the first place? The wrong Targaryen man loved the wrong Stark woman and the Seven Kings had been a pot ready to boil over ever since. Over 20 years later and they were still having the same argument, still fighting for the same stupid chair. Fitting, he supposed that this endless war should lead them to this, another Targaryen man in love with another Stark woman. Those damn wolves would be the death of them all.
His thoughts drifted to his own doomed love. Tysha… Had he known where that dalliance would lead, he would have turned his horse the other way from the start.
Daenerys retreated from the room. Tyrion sent a silent prayer to the Mother that his queen would not discover the cause of Jon's withdrawn affections.
Tyrion respected his queen and would serve her honorably, but he genuinely cared for Sansa. The poor girl deserved a spot of happiness after all she'd been through, even it happiness only ever seemed to be a fleeting occurrence.
Tyrion looked over at Bran, who lingered by the fire.
"Do you need help?" Tyrion offered.
"No." Bran said in that nonplused tone he seemed to have perfected.
"You've had a strange journey." Tyrion said, moving closer to the young man. He was so changed from the boy Tyrion had met his last time in Winterfell. But despite it all, he still had a soft spot for bastards, cripples, and broken things. No wonder he had an inescapable affinity for these blasted Starks
"Stranger than most." Bran conceded.
"I'd like to hear about it."
"It's a long story."
"If only we were trapped in a castle in the middle of winter, with nowhere to go." Tyrion teased lightly as he dragged a chair over to join Bran by the fire.
"Let me get this straight." Tyrion said, his mind spinning at all he'd learned. "You see everything that ever was and everything that is… And… what of the future?"
The firelight danced in the self-professed Three-eyed Raven.
"I see… possibilities." Bran said. "Though perhaps they could more accurately be called educated guesses."
Tyrion nodded. That, at least, made sense to him. If a person knew everything that had happened up to that very second, they could infer quite a lot. After all, look at what both Varys and Littlefinger had been able to speculate with only a small portion of the picture.
"In that case, what will happen in the battle to come?" Tyrion. "Your guess?"
"My guess?" Bran frowned. "Is that we should all go into the long night with as little left unfinished as possible. If there is love, is should be spoke. Grievances, forgiven. For many, there will not be another opportunity."
"Rather a bleak prospect." Tyrion said, wishing he had a cup of wine.
Perhaps… Tyrion thought of Jon and Sansa and the private conversation he'd overheard. Perhaps it wasn't such a bleak prospect to go to your death knowing the one you loved knew precisely what they mean to you.
"If you know everything that has ever happened," Tyrion started. "Then you know that Jon…"
"Is the heir to the Iron Throne."
Bran inclined his head to acknowledge that he was aware.
"Theirs is a song of fire and ice." Bran said. "It has been sung once before. But that melody was cut short."
"Lyanna and Rhaegar." Tyrion surmised.
"The wolf and the dragon. Winter and Summer. One cannot exist without the other, else the world be plunged into endless night." Bran said.
"I recall it didn't work out so well for your star-crossed lovers the last time."
"Prince Rhaegar loved his Lady Lyanna and thousands died for it." Bran said and looked at Tyrion. "This time we must hope for better. For the song must be sung… it was promised."
Chapter 26: Sansa
Sansa lashed down the supplies on one of the many wagons that would make the three week journey to Theon's waiting ships at first light. Their numbers were large and not well suited for travel and their progress would be slow and arduous.
And if Winterfell fell to the dead, it would all be for naught.
The dead did not tire. They did not need sleep and they moved faster than expected based on the intel brought back by the scouts.
If the Night King and his army were not stopped at Winterfell, they would overtake the refugees within a day. Unlike the dead, they would not be able to press on without rest.
But she would not think of that now. Could not afford to think of that now.
For now, she had to be strong. For her people. And for Jon.
She could not afford to show fear when so many were looking to her to be their strength.
She saw Davos serving up stew to a small girl. The child's face was half disfigured by a scar, but then again, this endless war for a stupid chair had left it's mark on all of Westeros. She herself had been as deeply scarred as the child, but for better or worse her scars were not on the surface.
"Which way should I go?" The child asked the onion knight.
Davos stared at her for a long moment, his eyes wide and glistening with emotion as though he had seen a ghost.
Sansa stepped forward and rested a hand on the child's shoulder.
"Which way do you want to go?" Sansa asked.
The little girl looked up at her and for a moment her eyes and mouth went wide, seemingly starstruck to find the Lady of Winterfell speaking to her. After a moment, she gathered courage and remember how to speak.
"All the children will be leaving in the morning." She said. "But both me brothers were soldiers. I want to fight too."
"That's good to hear." A soft voice said at Sansa's shoulder.
Sansa looked and found the wildling woman who traveled with Jon's friend Sam. Sansa wasn't sure what their exact relationship was, but they seemed like an old married couple. It reminded her of her mother and father and the easy affection that had always existed between them. A love that was built. Perhaps not passionate and exciting as the romances in the stories she'd adored as a child, but a love that was built was deeper and more lasting. But perhaps built loves could have passion as well. She had not planned to love Jon. She'd spent most of her childhood disliking him out of loyalty to her mother's wounded pride. Then when she'd believed she'd lost all her true born brothers, her mind began to wander to him often. She'd wonder if he was well. If he was safe. And then when she was handed over to the Boltons, she wondered if he would come for her, if he knew how she was suffering. Then when Brienne returned her to him, she wondered how she ever imagined that she disliked Jon in the first place.
Sansa offered the wildling woman-Sansa thought she recalled her name being Gilly—an encouraging smile which the wildling returned shyly before returning her attention to the little girl.
"I'm going to be traveling with my son, and I'd feel a lot better with you there - to protect us." Gilly said.
"I'm sure a lot of people would." Davos agreed.
"All right." The girl said. "I'll defend you, then."
She wandered off with her bowl of stew.
"Thank you," Davos said to Sansa and Gilly.
"Keep her safe, if you can?" Davos requested, the ghost of past loss swimming to the surface of his expression again.
"I will." Sansa promised, hoping it would prove to be one she could keep.
Sansa returned to the wagons, looking over the supplies to ensure nothing had been overlooked. Water, grain, dried meats, and blankets. If they were lucky enough to escape the dead, they would still be hard pressed to survive the harsh winter nights. She tried not to think of how many children would freeze in their sleep if they could not afford to stop and warm themselves through the cold nights. But she was powerless in the face of the elements.
She noticed Gilly was still at her elbow.
"Can I help you?" Sansa asked as pleasantly as her troubled mind would allow.
"Gilly." Gilly supplied.
"Yes, I know." Sansa said, offering her a smile. "Jon speaks highly of you and of Sam."
Gilly beamed at the praise. "He's a good man."
"They both are." Sansa agreed.
"The kind of man you want to follow, not just in the bad times, but the good times too." Gilly said.
Sansa looked at her, wondering what exactly the wilding girl was getting at.
"I suppose so."
"It's going to be okay, milady." Gilly said. "I know it doesn't seem that way, but he'll get us through the long night. I know he will."
Sansa swallowed hard, suddenly aware of a large lump that had lodged in her throat.
"Thank you." Sansa whispered, not trusting her voice to hold if she spoke any louder.
"And in the meantime, we'll have each other. And we'll have hope." Gilly said. "The dead can't take that from us. Not so long as we don't let them."
Sansa reached out and squeezed Gilly's hand to convey the things she couldn't trust her voice to speak.
"Lady Sansa?" A light and vaguely familiar voice spoke up behind her as she looked out over the preparations. They were coming along as well as could be expected, though perhaps not as quickly as she hoped. It was no small task to organize the movement of hundreds of people halfway across the North, especially not when those people were largely children and elderly.
"Lord Varys." She said in greeting without looking back at the spy master.
"I received your note." He said, coming to stand beside her. "I surmised it must have been from you. Since the only other soul who knew that particular trick is no longer among the living. Courtesy of you and your sister."
She smiled slightly at the memory of Littlefinger. She didn't quite know how she felt about the man, even now months after his death at her own sentencing.
"Lord Baelish taught me a great many things."
"Yes. And you learned them better than he ever intended."
They lapsed into silence. Varys seemed in no hurry to rush her to explain her reasons for summoning him.
"Tell me, Lord Varys," Sansa gesture at the preparations taking place around them, both for the defense of Winterfell and the retreat of those unable to fight. "What do you see."
She felt the Spider's eyes on her rather than the courtyard and was reminded of Lord Baelish. He had also preferred to study her than the surrounding, weighing her actions and reactions. He'd thought he'd known her every thought. He'd thought to manipulate her and turn her against her own family. He'd paid dearly for his miscalculation.
"What do you see?" Varys asked, turning her question back on her.
Sansa turned and met his gaze. "I see chaos."
Varys inclined his head. "Some would call chaos a ladder."
"Perhaps, but it's the ladder that will carry the dead straight over our walls and into the heart of Winterfell." Sansa said.
She noted a spark of admiration in the spymaster's eyes. She'd had little to do with the eunuch during her time in King's Landing, but he'd always been kind enough to her, and his web had woven him around right at the edge of her little cage. Both Littlefinger and Tyrion had thought highly of him, and while that did not say much for his character, it said a great deal for his mind.
"What do you propose, my lady?" Varys asked.
Sansa licked her lips. She didn't trust this man, but then again, he was perhaps the only way she could have any influence over the success or failure of the battle to come, a chance to protect both Jon and her home.
"I propose a better plan." She said. "If you'll help me."
Chapter 27: Jaime
I came to Winterfell because…
Jaime looked around before sneaking down into the crypts below Winterfell. He'd never been in them before, never had reason or interest in seeing them. What did he care for old bones, especially those that only served to torment him?
I came to Winterfell because…
He crept down the stair and lifted a torch from the wall, feeling more secure with a light in his own hand than trusting the torches on the wall to stay lit. He'd had too many dreams of darkness, too many dreams where the light had failed him, to feel particularly trusting. Those dreams always seemed to bring him the maid of Tarth. The damned wench wouldn't leave him alone, even in sleep. She was tireless in her efforts to save him. And why? Why did she care? Why had she always cared. What could she possibly see in him that she found so redeemable, so worth fighting for, when the rest of the world saw only the Kingslayer?
I came to Winterfell because…
He stopped before the statue of Rickard Stark. He didn't need to see a name to recognize the prideful jaunt of his chin. That pride had never left him. Not even as the mad king burned him with wildfire.
It hadn't been the first time Jaime had seen the mad king burn a man alive, but it was the one that still haunted him. Not so much because of the burning. Serving the mad king, he'd grown accustomed to the sights and smells of a man being burned alive. No… it was because of Brandon Stark. Brandon Stark with a noose around his neck and a sword just out of his reach. A brave and stupid man who had strangled himself in the effort to save his father.
Jaime had seen in Brandon's eyes that the young man knew the futility of his efforts even as he struggled, but still he struggled. He'd killed himself rather than admit his inability to save someone he loved.
When the Kingsguard had finally been allowed to leave the throne room, Jaime had been sick in his chamberpot while his white cloak lay on the back of a chair, mocking him with it's purity.
I came to Winterfell because…
He continued down until he reached the statue of Ned Stark. Lord Eddard Stark, the righteous prick himself. The statue was a piss-poor copy of the man. Jaime couldn't help but wonder what might have happened if he'd just told Ned what had really happened in the throne room that fateful day. If he had confessed that he killed the king to save the city, would it have mattered? Would it have stopped Stark from looking at him like the piece of shit he believed him to be? Would it have eased the hostility between Lannister and Stark? Might it have prevented some of the deaths that followed? Could it have saved Myrcella or Tommen? Could it have saved countless other innocent children who died needlessly?
It was too late to trouble himself over such notions, but still they troubled him. He imagined that Ned would have seen him as an oathbreaker, regardless. all the justification aside, Jaime had sworn to protect the king and instead stabbed him in the back. That was something a man like Eddard Stark would never be able to condone. What did honor mean if you only kept your word when it proved easy? But Eddard Stark hadn't been there. What did honor matter when the world was about to go up in flames?
Brienne had understood.
Brienne heard his confession in the baths at Harrenhal and absolved him of some of his self-hatred with her understanding. Ever since, she had called him Ser Jaime, while the rest of the world sneered and called him a man without honor.
The lion does not concern himself with the opinions of the sheep. His father's old adage came back to him. He'd used those very words to excuse any number of sins. Almost as many as he'd excused in the name of love.
I came to Winterfell because…
And that was it, wasn't it? The call that had driven him North when sense and house loyalty demanded he stay in King's Landing.
As Catelyn Stark had once said, he'd forsaken every vow he'd ever taken. But not this one. Because for once in his accursed life, he wanted to do something in the name of love that wasn't hateful of wrong.
He'd come to Winterfell for one reason and one reason only, forsaking yet another conflicting vow. He'd come for Brienne. To protect her if he could and to die fighting by her side if he couldn't.
Gods… she was a good woman. What a cruel trick of fate for the gods to finally teach him to love someone who wasn't Cersei, and for them to make her a good woman.
"The things I do for love." He whispered to Ned's statue as though confiding in an old friend. He imagined this, if nothing else, the long dead Lord Stark might understand.
Jaime made his way across the courtyard of Winterfell. He still felt useless in this bustling place. The unsullied dug trenches and set up catapults behind them out beyond the wall. Good. He was glad to see that this lot was less a bunch of fools than the Freys. From what he'd heard and seen of the dead and their numbers, this was no battle to be waged in an open field. This was a siege to be outlasted. They needed defenses to hold an unstoppable onslaught at bay, until the dragon queen and Jon Snow could melt the Night King with dragon fire… if they could take him down with dragon fire. "Maybe" wasn't his idea of a sound battle plan, but it was all they had.
"You're Jaime Lannister." Someone called out behind him.
This stopped Jaime in his tracks. Usually it was Kingslayer or Oathbreaker… not Jaime. He looked back and his heart nearly stopped in his chest. It was like looking at a ghost. Robert Baratheon raised from the dead, twenty years younger, before he drove himself to an early grave with endless drinking, whoring, and eating (perhaps helped along by some scheming on Cersei's part. Jaime didn't know. He'd never wanted to ask.).
"And you are?"
"Gendry Waters, ser." The young man said. His face was smudged with grim and his arms glistened with sweat despite the icy chill. The only logical explanation being that he'd come from somewhere hotter. The armory, Jaime concluded.
There was no doubt in his mind that the young man before him was one of Robert's many bastards. Despite Cersei's best efforts, it seemed they had not been completely wiped out.
"And what do you want from me?" Jaime asked, despite having no where to be, he didn't want to linger in this conversation. Seeing another ghost from his past, this one of flesh, had unsettled him more than he cared to admit. He didn't want to be drawn back into the past, into Cersei. He just wanted to see Brienne. To tell her… To tell her what? That he loved her? No. He couldn't just spit it out like that. She'd been alarmed at him not insulting her, if he suddenly attempted to pour his heart out to her she'd think it was a cruel jest. He needed a better plan. He needed a way to show her beyond a shadow of a doubt that his regard was real and had been for a long time.
The boy scratched the back of his head uneasily, clearly sensing Jaime's dislike and eagerness to get away.
"Out with it." Jaime said impatiently.
"I heard you were the greatest swordsman in Westeros." Gendry blurted out.
Jaime lifted his golden hand. "That was a long time ago."
"But if you could wield a sword right handed…" Gendry pressed. "Do you think you'd still have it?"
Jaime frowned at the question. It seemed an impossible proposition. Not even Qyburn had been able to return what he'd lost. But, if there was a way… If he could fight right handed again… did he still have it?
"I don't have time for ifs and maybes." Jaime snapped. "I'm a middle-aged knight with one hand. I'm not going to be winning any wars."
"I think I could fashion you a device, not like that lump of gold. Something useful." Gendry said, taking a step toward Jaime. "Will you let me try?"
Jaime felt the familiar ache in his stump, a longing for the hand and fingers that it would never get used to being without.
"And what if you can't?" Jaime asked, afraid to even entertain the hope.
"What do you have to lose?"
Jaime left the armory's sweltering heat most of an hour later, leaving Widow's Wail with the blacksmith. He wondered briefly if it had all been an elaborate trick on the part of Robert's bastard's to get his hands on a valyrian steel blade for the battle ahead. Somehow, Jaime doubted it. When he'd left, the boy was already furiously scribbling out design ideas.
What do you have to lose?
It was a fair question. But Jaime wondered if the more appropriate questions wasn't: what do you have to gain? And what did he have to gain? A usable sword hand? Even if Gendry managed to do the impossible, Jaime highly doubted that his right arm would have the strength to wield a sword after all this time, let alone wield it well.
Sure, he was always lugging around the solid gold hand which was heavier than most people would expect, but once he trained for hours a day to keep up his skills. Those skill no doubt had atrophied just as he was sure the muscles had. It would be a lesson in futility. Yet another reminder of what he'd lost and what he could never be again.
His best was long behind him. And he was done with looking back.
"Ser Jaime." A familiar voice called out to him. He spotted Brienne striding toward him, one hand resting on the hilt of Oathkeeper. The lion suited her. Nearly as awe-inspiring and courageous as she was.
"Lady Brienne." He gave her a slight bow of his head.
She made a face as though trying to decide to take this a respect or mockery. The silly wench. So used to being mocked she didn't even know how to recognize sincerity.
"In the war counsel…" She started. "You volunteered to defend Bran Stark in the Godswood."
She frowned. "That… was noble of you."
"But?" He pressed.
"You will not be under my command." She said.
"You won't be at the godswood?"
"I will not."
Jaime felt a sinking sensation in his chest. He hadn't even considered that when he'd made the offer. Part of him had simply assumed that wherever he fought, Brienne would also be.
And what if… what if in the midst of the battle, she needed him. What if she died because he wasn't there to save her?
"I had intended to fight beside you." He told her.
She nodded, and he could see in her eyes that she had intended the same. Were the very same thoughts in her head now? He saw fear. Not of dying, but perhaps of failing. Of failing once again, as she had with Renly, to save the man she loved.
We don't get to choose who we love.
Jaime felt almost certain that she loved him too. But he was just as certain that she wouldn't believe his words is he assured her of his regard. No… Words had never been their strong suit.
"Stay alive, Brienne of Tarth." Jaime said, placing his hand over hers on the hilt of Oathkeeper.
Her stunningly blue eyes held his for a long moment before she nodded. He nodded back and reluctantly withdrew his hand.
Robert's bastard had better be on to something, because he had no intention of letting the Maid of Tarth fall during the Long Night. Even if he had to take on the entirety of the army of the dead, literally, single-handed.
Chapter 28: Daenerys
Daenerys watched the "King of the North" at a distance as the handsome man stood before her dragons. His long black coat flapped heavily in the cold wind, but the chill did not seem to bother him as it did her.
Daenerys did not like to think of herself as fragile. She was the breaker of chains. She was the unburnt. Fire did not touch her. But this cold burn worse than any flames that had ever touched her.
Despite the facts that Drogon and Rhaegal were free to fly in search of food and the Dothraki were charged with regularly bringing them additional sustenance when they did not seem to be eating enough, Jon had brought each dragon a goat. A kindness. Unnecessary, but still kind.
Soft. Just like Sansa.
Daenerys could be soft as well, but only when it suited her purposes to be so. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been kind for kindness sake. Kindness had become a transaction. A behavior, like any other, resorted to because it would further her agenda.
But Jon… Jon was kind without agenda.
It was why she loved him.
It was why she hated him.
Because he was kind to her and his kindness had persuaded her to believe he cared for her. His kindness had made a fool of her and she did not appreciate being made to play the fool.
Drogon picked at one of the carcasses and seemed content to ignore Jon's presence.
Rhaegal, on the other hand, had eaten his entire goat and was allowing Jon to stroke his brow ridge. He made a low, pleased rumbling in his chest. Though even a sound of contentment from a Dragon was fearsome. But Jon showed no fear. Heroes never showed fear. If they felt it, they shoved it down somewhere dark and forgotten. They pushed it so far down it failed to save them when the hour of need arose, because the did not know fear to be an ally. That blind courage had killed Rhaegar and Drogo. Her own blind courage had cost the life of both her born dead human child Rhaego and her beloved Viserion.
No, it was not heroics that won wars or thrones. It was cleverness. She needed the clever ones to survive the long night if she wanted any hope of taking King's Landing from Cersei after. She had to become one of the clever ones if she wanted any hope at claiming her birthright.
No, the gods could have the softness. Softness was of no used to her. The softness that had reared its head within her when Jon Snow came into her life had only caused her disappointment. She was fire and blood. The long night could burn out the softness and the man who'd made her soft with it.
"He likes you." Daenerys observed, announcing her presence.
Jon turned to her and Rhaegal nudge him in protest of the discontinued scratching. She'd never witnessed any of her children indicate a particular preference for any human but herself. Even then, only Drogon showed a marked affection for her. Rhaegal and Viserion had always been more distant. But perhaps Rhaegal sensed her own particular preference for this human.
"I like him too." Jon said with a half smile. "You named him for your brother?"
"Rhaegar," Daenerys confirmed. "Everyone told me he was decent and kind. He liked to sing. Gave money to poor children. But what he did to your aunt… Try as I might, I can't reconcile those two sides of him."
Jon didn't look at her, but she could see his shoulder tighten as though she'd struck a nerve, though which nerve she couldn't tell. She hadn't intended the remark to be barbed.
Jon sighed and looked back to the dragon. "Maybe we don't have to reconcile the two sides of him. Maybe we just have to accept that sometime people are complicated. Sometimes they are kind and cruel. Sometimes they are fragile and strong."
"Sometimes honorable and dishonorable?" Daenerys suggested, this time intending the barb.
Jon looked back at her and she could see in his eyes that if she asked him for the truth he'd give it to her. It wasn't in him to lie. Her chest tightened. She knew the truth in her heart, but having it confirmed… She wasn't sure she could stand that.
But she had to know.
"You pledged yourself to me, Jon." She reminded him, drawing closer to him.
"Do you stand by that pledge?" She could tell from his expression that he knew she meant more than as his queen. She could feel the emotion shining in her eyes, but she couldn't help it. Daenerys drew closer to him and placed her hands on his chest.
"You are my queen. You will always be my queen." He vowed. "You have my sword and my life."
"And your heart?" She asked, wrapping a hand around the back of his neck and pulling him down into a desperate, passionate kiss. One last breath of softness. "Do I have your heart?"
He pushed her away, gently, but he might as well have run her heart through with a dagger. A pained expression darkened his expression. "Is not mine to give."
Daenerys drew back, anger coursing through her.
"Who?" She demanded, though she was sure she already knew the answer.
"Doesn't matter." Jon said.
"I am your queen and I order you to tell me." Her voice broke and her volume escalated. She could sense Drogon reacting to her rising ire.
"Ask anything else of me." Jon said, not flinching even as Drogon breathed down his neck.
"And if I asked you to kill your sister?" Daenerys asked. "Sansa… Lady Winterfell. She opposes me with her every word and action. Even her smiles are treasonous. I would be justified in demanding her head."
Momentary panic in Jon's eyes confirmed what she already knew in her bones.
"And it's all because she loves you." Daenerys said as though the words were an insult.
"Sansa is no threat to you." Jon said, his words were calm but for the first time he saw genuine fear in his eyes. Perhaps not such a hero after all. Perhaps it was just a matter of finding a fear to dear to be kept down.
"She's already taken you." Daenerys hissed. "What next? Perhaps she'll have your other sister slit my throat in my sleep."
"My sisters have no part in this." Jon said, his voice pleading.
"You gave them a part in this." Daenerys hissed. "All because you love Sansa Stark. Admit it."
She heard Drogon rumble in echo of her anger. She could feel the heat of his flames, just a word away. He would burn Jon to ash. All it would take was a word. What did she care if it would turn the North against her. She could burn the North to the ground.
"I won't lie to you, my queen." Jon said, confirming the very thing that could hurt her most.
Dracarys. The command danced on the tip of her tongue. One word and she could burn away the softness aching in her chest. She could make her insides as hard and black as dragon glass. All it would take was a single word.
I did not come here to be queen of the ashes. No… but she had come to be loved. To be welcomed home by the people who should have longed for her return. She had not come to be looked down on by that wolf bitch and rejected by her bastard brother.
Jon watched Drogon, clearly uneasy, but to his credit he did not cower before the great beast.
"You've missused me, Jon Snow."
Daenerys turned to find Tyrion climbing up the hill to join her and her children. He looked nervous, which gave her some indication of the level of rage burning in her eyes.
She'd ordered Jon away before her temper had caused her to do something rash. The bastard had enough survival instinct to heed her command without protest. The hotheaded side of her had considered taking her dragons and armies and leaving Winterfell to fall to the dead. But despite her protestation that she was here for Jon, she recognized the need to face the dead now. The longer she waited, the stronger they became. Besides, she would not let Viserion's death be for nothing.
"Please," Tyrion said in his soothing voice that she had like from the start. "Tell me what troubles you. Allow me to advise you."
"It's Jon Snow."
"He's told you?" Tyrion said, looking alarmed.
"He's in love with his sister."
"Ah…" Tyrion nodded.
She saw a hint of relief in the dwarf's face. "What did you think I meant?"
"That… I just… I didn't expect that he'd tell you."
"How did you know?" Daenerys demanded, feeling a sting of betrayal.
"I had my suspicions." Tyrion shrugged.
"And you didn't tell me?"
"Would you have wanted to hear such a thing from the man who was deceived by Cersei Lannister?" Tyrion pointed out. "No… I thought it was best to keep such suspicions to myself. After all, I can't advise you if you let your dragons eat me."
Despite her mood, Daenerys couldn't help the little laugh that escaped.
"I won't let them eat you." She assure him. "Though, I should let them eat that Stark girl."
"You should not." Tyrion said.
"She has been nothing but rebellious toward me since I arrived." She pointed out.
Tyrion inclined his head. "True enough, but you would not be executing her for the sake of justice. You'd be doing it out of jealousy."
Daenerys sank down on a large rock and Tyrion placed a hand on her shoulder.
"May I speak frankly, your Grace?"
Daenerys considered his question for a moment. She knew her temper could be volatile so she had to admire the dwarf's courage to face her so unflinchingly. Eventually she nodded to encourage him to proceed.
"My brother said something during his trial… Something I urge you to keep in mind in the days and years to come, assuming we survive the dead."
"And what was that?" Daenerys asked.
"He asked 'when does a ruler forfeit their right to their throne?'" Tyrion reminded. "When would you say that is?"
Daenerys tried to push down her heartbreak at Jon's desertion and inherent hatred of Jaime Lannister to really consider the question.
"I don't know." She admitted. "But I suppose you have some thoughts on the matter?"
Tyrion chuckled. "Some." He admitted. "I believe a ruler sacrifices their right to rule when they believe it is owed to them. We can justify all kinds of sins under the guise of birthright and destiny."
"So you think I'm unworthy to rule?" Daenerys asked.
"I think…" Tyrion mused, considering his answer for a long moment. "That you should feel unworthy to rule."
Daenerys nodded, considering his words. "You've given me a great deal to think about, Lord Tyrion." She placed her hand over his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I thank you for your counsel."
Chapter 29: Sansa
The last of the wagons were packed and ready as the sun went down. Though the air was restless with unease, Sansa knew there was no sense in leaving before daybreak. What they would gain in distance they would lose to the inhospitable elements. No, it was better to rest for the night and leave in the morning well fed and warm. They would likely make better time in the long run. Besides, the handful of miles they would gain would mean nothing if the dead made it past Winterfell. Many of their company were either too old or too young to swiftly cover ground and their pursuers would not be so limited. The dead would come and they would keep coming until they were stopped. They did not need rest or nourishment. For all of their sakes, it was victory or it was death.
She said a silent prayer that it would be victory, and that the victory wouldn't cost more than she could stand to pay.
She remembered Joffery forcing her to look upon her father's decapitated head. She remembered receiving word that Bran and Rickon had been burned at Winterfell, it proved false, but she still felt the ache of believing it to be true. She remembered when news of the slaughter of her brother and mother at a wedding had reached King's Landing. How many sleepless nights had the image of Grey Wind's head sewn to her Robb's body tormented her? How many nights had she woken screaming after dreaming of her mother's wreck of a corpse, throat split wide in a smile and sightless eyes staring up at the sky as she floated down the Twins. She remembered learning that Rickon was alive, only to be confronted by the reality that he would not remain so for long. She remembered the way Ramsay's arrow had ripped through the tiny body like it was nothing. That sweet summer child… Rickon… She remembered his curls and how she'd loved to play with them when he was little and would let her hold him close.
Yes this game of thrones had already enacted a steep cost on her and her family. But this impending battle against the dead was different. It was impersonal and hostile. The dead did not care that she'd lost too much already. It did not matter to the Night King that there were only four people left in all the world that she loved. One was no one. One little more than a shell already. One a brother in all but name. And one… one was too dear for words.
She could not lose any of them. But it was out of her power. For all her plots and plans and schemes, there was nothing she could do to shelter them from the oncoming storm.
She was about to retreat into the castle and go to Jon's chambers, as she had promised, when she saw Theon, sitting alone as he ate his supper. She saw the other Ironborn scattered around and she wondered whether or not his exile was self-imposed.
She, better than anyone, knew what he'd endured. And if he couldn't shirk off the weight of his past sins and torment to live in the present, she could understand. Sometimes she couldn't either. Sometimes she watched people laugh and smile and she felt a sting of resentment because they felt so very far away from her. The only times when laughter and smiles did not seem foreign and beyond her were the times when she was with Jon. Funny that the boy who'd so often sulked in the corners of their childhood would now be the one flickering flame of hope in her otherwise dark and daunting world.
She grabbed a bowl from the line and offered encouraging smiles to those who recognized her, hoping the memory of the Lady of Winterfell taking this last supper with them might buoy them up in the day's to come.
With her steaming bowl, she walked over to the bench where Theon sat.
"Lady Sansa." Theon said in surprise, starting to get up.
"Please don't," Sansa said. "There's no need for such formalities. Not between us."
Theon nodded and sank back down to his seat as she took the spot beside him.
"I know traveling South with the woman and children was perhaps not the glorious role you envisioned playing in this battle." She said before sipping a spoonful of her stew.
"There's no glory in battle." Theon said.
"There is no glory in battle." Sansa agreed. "Only in fighting to save those things we hold most dear."
She looked at him and a look of profound understanding passed between them.
Theon didn't have to tell her that he'd come North for her, she knew it. And while she didn't have words for what he meant to her, she hoped that he knew it. After what they had both suffered at the hands of Ramsay, she thought they would always understand one another better than anyone else could.
"You've always fought for me when I needed you most." Sansa said. "There's no one I'd rather stand beside through the long night."
"Queen Daenerys asked me why I wasn't with my sister." Theon said. "But I am."
Sansa looked into his eyes, trying to hold back the emotion threatening to escape. She pulled him in for a hug, hoping to convey the depths of everything she felt for him. More than a friend. More than a brother. Two sides of the same weatherbeaten coin.
"Thank you for coming home." She whispered in his ear and she felt his arms tighten around her.
Sansa made her way through the yard of Winterfell. An uneasy silence had descended on the castle. She stopped at the mouth of the crypts and placed a hand on one of the wolf statues which had been decapitated by the Boltons. The wretched, petty bastards. As though they hadn't done enough to the the Stark family.
She thanked whatever gods might be listening most every night that Ramsay hadn't gotten her with child. She would have drank her weight in moon tea to rip any trace of him from her body, if he had. She would have ended her own life rather than be the means for the Bolton name to endure.
When she was young, all she'd wanted was for life to be a song about fair knights and beautiful maidens, all coming to happy endings. She understood now that life was never that simple. She learned that to stop being a damsel, you had to learn to save yourself.
"You've changed, Little Bird."
The gravelly voice called to mind the scent of blood and smoke. The sounds of a long ended-war hammered in her head as she turned to face the hulking figure of the Hound. He did not strike quite so terrifying of a figure as he had that night in King's Landing when she'd found him in her bedroom during the Battle of Blackwater. He'd been the stuff of nightmares then, but that was before she truly knew what nightmares looked like.
"Used to be you couldn't look at me." He said taking a long swig from his flask.
"The world is built by killers. I got used to looking at them." She said remembering one of the many lessons he imparted on her. Gruff and crass he might be, but he'd imparted many pearls on her when he was Joffery's dog and she that mean-hearted prince's caged little bird. She hadn't recognized the wisdom of his words at the time, but she did now.
Sandor chuckled, amused by the adaptations of his words. "Heard you did more than look. Heard you became one of the killers."
Sansa stiffened at the reminder of the blood on her hands. She felt no guilt over what she'd done to her abuser and in some ways that was more alarming to her than her actual actions.
"He got what he deserved." Sansa said. Jon had handed Ramsay over to her to give him what justice she saw fit. She knew he'd wanted to kill the bastard, but she needed to be the one to kill him. She needed to know that he'd never hurt anyone again because she herself had ended him. "I made sure of that."
Sandor looked her over, something of admiration flickering in his eyes. "How'd you do it?"
"Hounds always were my best protectors."
Sandor guffawed loudly. "The little bird grew claws."
Sansa let out a soft laugh at the description. If only he knew how true his words had become.
"It took a great deal of time, but I learned all my lessons." Sansa said.
Sandor nodded in approval and offered her the flask. She took it and took a long swig, it was strong, but she'd learned to take her liquor like any other punishment. With a straight face.
"I used to I wonder what might have been if I'd taken you up on your offer. If I'd let you take me home all those years ago." Sansa admitted. She'd tossed and turned over that decision many times over the years.
"I realized if I'd let you save me, I would have stayed a stupid Little Bird all my life. And I wouldn't give up where I am now for anything… Not even to erase the terrible things it took to get me here."
Sandor reached out for his flask and she returned it to him.
"You know, I do believe you'll be alright now, Little Bird." The Hound grunted with a proud glimmer in his eyes.
Chapter 30: Missandei
Missandei wandered through the courtyard of Winterfell. Despite torches flickering all around, she was colder than she could ever remember being. There were two things she was certain of since coming North, first that she would follow her queen to the ends of the earth… and second that she would prefer those ends to be some place warmer.
She noticed two girls sitting on crates and eating their supper.
"Hello." She said with a pleasant smile.
The two girls got to their feet and hurried away as though she'd threatened them. Yet another reason why she did not like this place. It was cold. Both the temperature and the people.
She looked up to find Grey Worm approaching her and her heart sped up in happy anticipation as it always did when she saw him. Unlike the nauseating discomfort that came every time she had to watch him walk away to face a danger from which she wasn't sure he'd return.
"When Daenerys takes her throne there will be no place for us here." He said in his usual measured tone which reflected none of the emotions she knew brewed beneath the surface. Those he reserved for her on the rare occasions when they could be alone and undisturbed. "I am loyal to my queen. I will fight for her until her enemies are defeated, but when the war is over and she has won… Do you want to grow old in this place?"
There were many things Missandei wanted. Most of which seemed perpetually out of her grasp. She would like a normal life with the man she love, away from intolerance and violence, but they had both been too marred by former atrocities to ever obtain that normal life.
"Is there nothing else you want to do, nothing else you want to see?" He pressed.
"Naath." She admitted, her thoughts straying back to an almost forgotten time before enslavement had fundamentally changed her. "I'd like to see the beaches again."
Perhaps, if any place would allow her to be the girl she'd once been, before all this, it would be her idyllic homeland.
A half smile curved one side of Grey Worm's mouth. "Then I will take you there." He promised.
Missandei's heart hammered at his words because they'd given her something she hadn't had or aspired to in longer than she could remember… Hope.
"My people are peaceful." She said. "We cannot protect ourselves."
"My people are not peaceful." Grey Worm said. "We will protect you."
Missandei smiled softly. She'd never dared to imagine an after… after the war… after the wheel had been broken… But now, in the most hopeless of places, she'd found the will to hope for not only Daenerys's better world, but for a better future for herself as well.
Missandei made her way to her bed chambers after her conversation with Grey Worm. Even with the weight of all the death and destruction to come, her steps felt a little lighter at the prospect of something after all of this, something good.
She stopped short as she spotted a tall figure with auburn hair approaching the chambers of her queen's beloved Jon Snow. She drew back into the shadows to avoid being seen as Lady Sansa looked around to make sure she wasn't observed and slipped discretely through the door.
Missandei's heart hammered in her chest. She'd seen private counsels and she'd seen secret rendezvous and she had no doubt that this encounter of the later nature. Why else would a sister care if she was seen entering her brother's chambers, unless it was for some shameful purpose.
And even if it was innocent of the desire she imagined she saw in the eyes of the Lady of Winterfell, there was still something suspicious afoot, something her queen needed to be aware of. While Jon had bent the knee, his sister had not and had refused to and that meant she was not to be trusted.
She had to warn Daenerys, if this was a threat to her queen's safety or happiness, she had to be aware.
Missandei turned to change her direction to that of her queen's chambers instead of her own, but froze when she felt something cold and sharp press into her side.
"I wouldn't, if I were you." A low voice warned.
She looked around and met the dark gaze of the other Stark sister at the other end of a thin, elegant blade.
"Lady Arya." Missandei said in uneasy greeting.
"I'm no lady."
"What are you doing?" Missandei asked, holding up both her hands to indicate she would offer no opposition and there was no need to press the blade any harder.
"Defending my family." Arya told her.
Chapter 31: Tyrion
Tyrion stepped into the eunuch's chambers, expecting to find half-packed chests strew about the space in utter chaos. But no… everything was in order, even his bed was neatly made, almost as the the spymaster had no intention of sleeping in it.
A quick sweep of the room revealed Vary standing by the fire, staring into the flames, his expression hard and almost angry. An unusual expression for a man so often impassive and unreadable.
"Are you bags already on the wagons?" Tyrion asked as he strode over and stood beside his old friend. The heat of the fire was as welcome as a woman's embrace, not that he'd been embraces in a long time.
"I'm not leaving with the women and children." Varys said.
Tyrion looked to his friend, one of the few people he could say he both genuinely liked and respected. "No?"
"I've been charged with a different duty."
"What does our queen have you doing now?" Tyrion asked, half annoyed that Daenerys hadn't ran her scheme by him first. What precisely was the point of a Hand if you didn't utilize their council?
"Not our queen." Varys said.
Tyrion frowned and looked up at the eunuch. His chest felt tight with unease. "Then who?"
Tyrion considered this for a long moment, and then it clicked. Sansa. What was the damnably clever girl up to now? And why on earth was Varys going along with it? Their queen was not one to be trifled with and would not take kindly to anything she viewed as a betrayal. Varys knew better than most the danger of crossing an unstable monarch. Tyrion did not consider Daenerys unstable, but she was hot tempered and likely to act before thinking through all the ramifications and that was nearly as hazardous to anyone who might displease her.
"Why?" Tyrion asked.
"Because I underestimated her." Varys said, thoughtfully. "I always saw her as more of a pawn. An unimportant piece moved by the whims of others. It takes a rare individual to not only survive, but thrive when the odds are stacked against them."
"She's surprised all of us." Tyrion admitted.
"Even you?" Varys raised an eyebrow, looking mildly amused.
"I think, perhaps, especially me."
"Hmmm…" Varys grunted.
Tyrion looked at the bald man, he looked worn thin, as though whatever Sansa had asked of him had aged him a couple of decades.
"What did she asked you to do?" Tyrion asked, his insides twisting with growing unease.
"To stay in Winterfell." Varys said. "To manage the communications during the battle. To offer the birds eye view that is often lost by those in the thick of war. She believes I might be able to assist in keeping back the chaos."
"And you said yes?" Tyrion looked his friend up and down. The eunuch was no fighter, hells, the only weapon Tyrion could imagine him wielding was poison. He was not a battle hardened figure. The honorary lord was not destined to become the stuff of heroic songs and legends.
"I said yes." Varys confirmed.
"What possible reason did you have for doing that?" Tyrion demanded. "She is in no position to command you."
"She didn't command me. She simply asked." Varys said and then an amused expression crossed his face. "You know, I do believe she's wielded more authority with a simple, unassuming request than I have ever witnessed in the roaring demands of any of the many rulers I've served."
Tyrion gave Varys a startled look. "Careful, your words sound dangerously close to treason."
Varys gave him a thin smile. "Hardly, simply an observation. After all, since when do pawns become queens?"
Tyrion squirmed at the question, because he knew the answer and it chilled him to the bone. A pawn could become a queen when that pawn held the heart of the true King. And whether Jon Snow wanted to admit it or not, he was the true king. And he would be a good king for that precise reason. He did not want it.
"So what plan does Lady Sansa have for you?" Tyrion asked.
"A good one." Varys said. "She's quite a clever girl. I see now why both you and Littlefinger found her so intriguing."
Tyrion waved him off, wanting him to get to the point.
"The Lady Sansa observed that we needed a way to communicate battle plans and changes thereof in the heat of battle. Especially with our queen and Jon Snow off on the backs of dragons instead of leading."
Tyrion nodded, remembering the chaos during the battle of the blackwater. "And I suppose that's where you come in?"
"That's where I come in." Varys smirked slightly. "I've spent my life developing ways to communicate information in impossible situations. It's almost as though I was born for this very purpose."
Tyrion studied his friend. "You're sounding a bit too much like one of those red priestesses for my liking."
Varys sighed. "I never did care for their ilk."
Tyrion nodded his agreement.
"You know, you don't have to do it?" Tyrion pointed out. "Lady Sansa might be clever, but she'd not the one you swore to serve."
Varys gave Tyrion a sad smile. "Perhaps not, but I think she may be the queen I would have chosen."
Tyrion's eyes widened. "Now that was treasonous."
"Do you intend to tell on me." Varys asked, not seeming overly concerned. "Don't trouble yourself too much, old friend. The dead are coming. More than likely my words won't matter in two days time, treasonous or otherwise."
Tyrion sighed and went to Varys's table to fetch himself a cup of wine.
"When did you get so heroic?" Tyrion asked, his words sounding snide to his own ears. If he was honest, he felt a bit of resentment. Even Varys would be in the midst of the battle while he fled with his tail between his legs because his queen demanded it.
"Oh, trust me, heroism is the furthest thing from my mind. I'm pragmatist. It does none of us any good if this castle falls. Helping in some small way to stop the dead… well, that's the greatest protection I could hope to offer the realm with my one, insignificant little life."
Tyrion took a long drink of wine before meeting his friend's gaze.
"You know, for a man with no balls…" Tyrion started, he saw Varys prepare to roll his eyes and he stopped himself. This might well be the last conversation they ever shared, and the thought made his throat go tight. "No… Joking aside."
Varys looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Rightfully so, with Tyrion, joking was never truly aside.
"You have more courage than any man I've ever known." Tyrion told him.
Varys looked stunned by this. He opened his mouth, but closed it and tried again after a moment to compose himself. "No eunuch jokes?"
"Not this time." Tyrion said with a small smile.
Varys returned the smile and gave a small nod that said everything that would take too long to express in words.
Chapter 32: Daenerys
Daenerys sat by her fire, but not even it's heat could shake the hollow feeling Tyrion's words had imparted upon her. She wondered, vaguely, if that had been his intention, to distract her from her rage long enough to keep the peace between Targaryen and Stark until the dead arrived.
All bets would be off once the dead arrived. In that moment, survival would be the only thing that mattered. If they survived… When they survived, there was no telling who of the living would remain. There was no point in indulging in petty jealousy when it would only distract from the true enemy. She had to keep focused on the true enemy. Broken hearts and wounded pride were matters best left to be dealt with in the uncertain future.
A knock came from her door.
"Come in." She called, picking up her wine and taking a sip.
"Khaleesi." Jorah said in that familiar rasp that felt more like home than anything else she could imagine.
"Thank you for joining me." She said without looking at him. "I wasn't sure you'd get the message."
"The Dothraki are quite good at passing on messages." Jorah said, the hint of a smile in his words. He was right there, news spread through the Dothraki with impressive speed. She'd call them gossips, but she didn't think they'd take kindly to that description.
"Please, take a seat."
Obediently, Jorah took the other seat beside her fire as she poured him a goblet of the fine Dornish wine.
"I hope I have not called you away from anything important." She said.
He picked up the goblet and took a long draw.
He'd changed over the years, His hair was duller and thinner and the lines of his face deeper. But oddly, he felt no older to her. When they'd met, she'd been barely more than a child and he'd seemed an old man to her. Now, the years between them no longer felt so great.
"There's nothing more important." He assured her.
"Do you truly still believe that?" She asked.
Jorah looked at her as though perplexed by the question.
"Once you told me that sometimes you couldn't believe I was real."
"I did." Jorah said. "I still can't sometimes."
"If only the rest of Westeros shared your opinion." She sighed, wishing Tyrion's words hadn't settled so heavily on her shoulders.
"Most of Westeros doesn't care who sits on the throne, Khaleesi." He reminded her. "They simply want someone just. As for the Lords and Ladies… Well, once they see you as I do, they'll come around."
"No one sees me as you do, Ser Jorah." She reached out and took his hand.
He raised her hand to his lips and brushed the whisper of a kiss against the back of her hand.
A shiver ran through her at his touch. She did not desire him, but it felt good to be desired.
"Then that is their loss, Khaleesi." He said. "And I swear to you, so long as there is breath in my lungs I will fight for you."
Daenerys smile softly at him, recalling all that had passed between them. Betrayals and bad blood. Incurable disease and impossible commands. And through it all, he'd been by her side or fought his way back.
"If this is the end of all things, old friend," She said softly, her eyes stinging with emotion. "There is no one I'd rather have by my side."
He smiled softly at her words and filled her cup with wine.
"Let's not dwell on an uncertain future tonight." Jorah suggested, handing her the cup.
She took the wine and enjoyed a slow sip. "What do you suggest instead?"
"I suggest that we remember." Jorah said. "The good times and the bad. The triumphs and failures. All it took to get us here and the price we paid."
Daenerys's chest tightened at the memory of her husband and born dead child and her fallen dragon.
She shook her head. "I can't look back." She looked at her beloved knight. "If I look back I am lost."
Jorah took her hand. "Khaleesi… it is the past that grounds us and reminds us who we are and who we must choose to be. Yes, looking back may be painful, but if we don't look back, then we truly are lost."
She met his steady gaze and nodded slowly. She wasn't sure she agreed but his words made her feel safe and protected, as though she had everything she needed to succeed, if only he stood by her side.
I love him, she realized. Perhaps not passionately as she had loved Drogo and wished to love Jon. Certainly she did not lust for him as she had Dario. But she loved him, and she thought, perhaps, she loved him better than any of the others. If only… If only she could want him, then perhaps her road would have been a happier one. Perhaps then she wouldn't have had to conquer the world to find a home because home would have been beside her all along.
"Khaleesi?" Jorah prompted.
She looked at him and realized he must have asked her a question.
He shook his head to assure her that no offense was taken. "I merely asked if there was particular reason you asked me to join you? Is there something you're in need of?"
Daenerys smiled softly. Even the night before the horror of war would fall upon them, his only concern was her safety and happiness, above all else. How could she not love a man like that? Why couldn't she love him enough?
"I didn't wish to be alone." She admitted. She'd spent too much of her life alone, even when in the company of others.
"There are many who would be pleased to keep company with you." Jorah pointed out.
"But few that it pleases me to keep company with." She responded with a teasing smile.
Jorah bowed his head at the implied compliment. "There is no one that pleases me more to keep company with."
She knew that, had always known it and she thought now, perhaps she had always felt the same. She loved him with all her heart and he was dearer to her than any living being, save her dragons. He was more her family than Viserys had ever been. More her friend than any of her advisors. And perhaps more her lover than any of the men who had actually shared her bed. He was her true knight and the one person who gave her the courage to look back on her mistakes and the choices that had brought her to this point. Perhaps she could look back without getting lost, but only so long as her knight stood by her side.
"Have you eaten?" She asked.
"I have not."
She smiled at this, relieved for an excuse to keep him by her side a little longer. "Then sup with me this evening. In honor of remembering."
Chapter 33: Jon
The shouts of men waiting for a fight rang out below, but they were muffled by the whistling wind atop the castle wall. Jon stared out into the darkness. He was both eager for and dreading the dawn. For the dawn would take Sansa away from this place and, he hoped, to safety. But it would also take her away from him.
He thoughts strayed back to that morning, which felt like days, rather than hours, ago. When he'd awoken with auburn hair fanned out across his pillow and a pale, porcelain face sleeping peacefully on his chest. Nothing in his life could compare to that, waking to find the woman he'd loved since before he knew what love meant wrapped safely in his arms, it had been sweeter than any dream. He wished every day of the rest of his life could start that way. That he could grow old that way. He'd never take it for granted, not even as the years bleached the red from his loves hair, leaving it as white as snow. He wished, more than he'd ever wished anything, that they had more time. And though he would not have her in Winterfell when the fighting started for all the time in the world, he would hate to see her leave knowing he may very well never see her again.
"Have you told her yet?" Sam asked, wrenching Jon from his thoughts.
He looked over at his friend, it took him a moment to piece together what he was talking about. Daenerys… not Sansa.
"Mm-hmm," Sam grunted. "Being careful. Biding your time. Waiting for the perfect…"
Jon looked at Sam and saw the realization in his eyes when he realized that Jon had no intention of ever telling her.
Sam opened his mouth to say something but was stopped by the sound of footsteps climbing up to join them.
Edd stepped up and between them, looking out into the night.
"And now our watch begins." Edd said in his low raspy voice.
A shiver ran through Jon. When his last watch began, it ended in his death. He could only hope history would not repeat itself.
"Gilly? Little Sam?" Jon said, to broach the topic he'd joined Sam to discuss in the first place, though now with Edd here it would be more challenging.
"They'll be safe away from the fighting." Sam said, his voice shaking slightly despite his efforts not to let his building fear show.
"Join them…" Jon started.
"Everyone seems to forget that I was the first man to kill a White Walker." Sam said, riled up by his wounded pride. "I've killed Thenns."
"Thenn." Edd corrected
"I've saved Gilly more than once." Sam pressed on. "I stole a considerable number of books from the Citadel library, survived the Fist of the First Men." He paused. "You need me here."
"Well, if that's what it's come to," Edd said, "we really are fucked."
"Well, calling you "fucked" wouldn't be strictly accurate." Sam jabbed.
Jon chuckled despite himself.
"Samwell Tarly. Slayer of White Walkers. Lover of Ladies." Edd said. "As if we needed any more signs the world was ending."
Sam sighed. "Think back to where we started…. Us, Grenn, Pyp."
The memory of their fallen brothers turned the teasing mood dark.
"Now it's just us three." Jon said.
"Last man left, burn the rest of us." Edd charged them.
They stared out into the darkness off a wall far different from the one that had brought them together, though their purpose was the same. To defend the realms of men.
"We should turn in." Jon said, as much as he cared for his brothers, every second he spent with them was a second not with Sansa. "We'll all need to be sharp for battle to come."
Edd nodded and embraced first Sam then Jon before climbing down from the wall. Sam moved to follow him when Jon reached out and caught his arm.
"Sam…" Jon said. "I need you to go to the Iron Islands with the women tomorrow."
Sam puffed up with fresh insult. "I can fight."
"I know… but there's something else I need you to do. Something more important."
"What's that?" Sam asked.
"I need you to live."
Sam's lip trembled for a moment, but then he nodded.
"And one more favor…"
Jon counted the minutes he spent beneath the great old tree, wondering if Sansa had found his message yet. He'd left it in his room for her, knowing she would come like she'd promised. He wanted nothing more than to spend their last night together, but there was something he had to do first.
Jon stood beneath the ancient tree, waiting. She would come, of that he had no doubt, but his heart pounded painfully in his damaged chest as his nerves mounted. He'd fought wildlings and walkers, he'd fought longer and harder than he cared to remember, but none of those encounters had shaken him quite like these restless passing minutes.
The things we love destroy us every time, lad. Remember that. Joer Mormont had warned him once. He wondered if his former commander would prove right. Now that Daenerys knew the truth, at least part of it, he felt somewhat freed. With the only living former lover with a claim to his affections aware that those affections resided elsewhere, he felt free to love Sansa. Despite the remaining lie that loomed between them, he could give her all of himself. She could have everything that was Jon Snow. And though she couldn't know it, she could have everything that was Aegon Targaryen as well.
"Jon?" Sansa called to him in a loud whisper as she approached the tree.
He went to greet her and brushed his lips to her cheek. "Thank you for coming."
"What are we doing here?" Sansa asked with half a laugh as Jon drew her to the base of the weirwood where Sam waited.
"I'd marry you, Sansa, this very night, this very moment, if you'll have me." He told her.
"We can't marry… we're siblings." Sansa protested, admitting for the first time the sin she believed they were committing. How he longed to ease her mind, but no… she was safer not knowing.
"But do you love me?" Jon pressed.
Sansa glanced at Sam, then seemed to recognize that he would not be here if Jon did not trust him implicitly. "You know I do."
"Everything before the word 'but' is horseshit." He reminded her.
Ned Stark's old saying made her laugh despite herself.
"Jon… I was married beneath this tree once before. I was stripped of my name and dignity…" She reminded him, her voice shaking slightly. "I have no intention of spending my remaining days as anyone other than Sansa Stark."
Jon took both her hands and squeezed them reassuringly. "You told me that I'm a Stark to you. And you will always be a Stark to me, no matter my surname."
Sansa let out a slow, contemplative breath.
"Will you marry me?" He asked.
Sansa swallowed hard and nodded.
He felt a surge of relief at her response and looked to Sam.
"Lady Sansa, do you accept this man as your husband?" Sam asked, acting as witness.
"I take this man." Sansa nodded.
Still hand in hand, Jon knelt before the heart tree and Sansa followed his lead.
He bowed his head as the ceremony demanded in a token of submission and took a moment to thank the old gods for this woman before him. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he thought perhaps there was a higher power looking down on him in a kindly manner. Because if everything he had endured had been to lead him to this moment, he would gladly suffer it all again.
He rose and helps Sansa to her feet before unfastening her cloak and replacing it with his own, the copy of Ned Stark's which she had made for him.
He kissed her forehead and closed his eyes to embrace every aspect of this moment. He knew well that there were few perfect moments in life, but this was surely one of them. He wanted to memorize every part of it. The smell of her hair, the feel of her porcelain skin, the way that here in the godswood the rest of the world fell away for just this moment.
"I love you." He murmured against her skin.
He felt her hand rise to caress his face and he leaned into her touch.
"I will always love you, Jon Stark." She promised.
Jon's breath caught in his lungs. She'd told him he was Stark to her before, but she'd never called him a Stark. Even now, knowing his true name, hearing her claim him as a Stark meant more than anything in the seven kingdoms.
He looked into her eyes and then kissed her like his life depended on her.
After their small moment of perfection, he drew slowly away from her, caressing her cheek and leaning in for a quick second kiss.
"I am yours." He promised her. "From this day until my last."
"Make that a very long time." She whispered for just him to hear.
He nodded and looked into her intelligent and beautiful eyes.
"Go back to our chambers." He whispered, if felt strange but fitting that the chambers which had once belonged to Ned and Catelyn should belong now to the two of them. "I'll come to you."
Sansa glanced at Sam and then nodded and disappeared into the night, wrapped in Jon's cloak.
Jon waited until he was sure that she was out of hearing. "Will you do it? Will you go South?"
"I will." Sam promised.
"And if I should die in the battle?" He stared into the darkness instead of looking back at his friend.
"I'll tell her the truth… All of it." Sam said. "I'll give her what she needs to defend her claim on the North."
Jon nodded. He didn't care about a crown or a throne, but he did care about Winterfell. And there would always be a Stark in Winterfell, if by his life or death he could assure it.
Oh, we all do our duty when there's no cost to it. Honor comes easy then.
Maester Aegon's long dead wisdom troubled him as he made his way through the castle. If Jon was a better man he would not have given in to the promptings his heart. He would not have kissed Sansa in the godswood after learning he wasn't her brother. He certainly wouldn't have married her that very night, knowing that she openly opposed his queen.
Yet, sooner or later, in every man's life, there comes a day when it is not easy. A day when he must choose.
But Jon realized now that he was not as good as a man as he tried to be. Honor compelled him to serve Daenerys. He truly believed she could be a good queen. But his heart compelled him to protect Sansa, no matter the cost. If he'd known what it would mean to love her, he never would have let himself start… but he'd never chosen to love her. He simply did.
You must make that choice yourself.
She'd given him the will to fight again when he thought he had no fight left in him. She was his reason. She was his reason to die, and moreover his reason to fight like hell to remain among the living.
And live with it for the rest of your days.
He'd done what he thought was right before and been murdered for it and he would never forget what Ser Davos had said to him when he said he failed… to go fail again. He'd failed to be as honorable as Ned Stark. He'd hurt Daenerys and he'd set Sansa in her crosshairs.
He kept trying to do right and he kept failing. But this was the one thing he couldn't fail. He couldn't fail to keep Sansa safe. If he did, nothing else would matter. The dead could have him if he lost her.
Jon let himself into his chambers, the ones that he would now think of as theirs, so long as Winterfell stood.
He saw her standing before the fire in only her shift. The sight of her took his breath away. He wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. She leaned into him, gently nuzzling his cheek.
"You're a fool." She said, by way of greeting.
Jon chuckled softly because the insult lacked a bite.
"I supposed I am." Jon agreed. "So what does that make you?"
"The wife of a fool." She murmured and turned around in his arms to face him. "Why did you do it?"
"Do what?" Jon asked.
Jon kissed her lips and traveled along her jaw.
"Because she knows." He said. "She knows I love you."
"So you married me to spite her?" Sansa asked, she didn't sounds upset, so much as mulling over his words and reasons.
"Then why?" She pressed.
"Why did you?" He countered. "It wasn't wise."
"Because I love you." She said simply. "And I want to continue to love you. As much as I can and for as long as I can."
"I married you so that you will always know that I am yours. Everything I have… everything I am." He told her.
"So in other words I'm welcome to your sword and furs?" She teased.
He chuckled. "Something like that."
"I'm yours as well." She promised. "Everything I have… everything I am."
He reached up and untied her shift, easing it off her shoulder so it could slide off her body.
He took his time, kissed every inch of alabaster skin. She pulled him back up as she untied and slow removed his many layers until he was as naked as she.
"You're so beautiful." He murmured.
"Promise me this isn't how our story ends." She whispered.
He cleared his table with a sweep of his arm and lifted her onto it. His hands slid up and down her legs and eased them apart. She caught his lips in a kiss and he felt the wetness between her thighs to make sure she was ready for him before thrusting into her. She drew a startled breath and bit his lip hard as she slowly relaxed into the feel of him. He didn't move, not until she wrapped her legs around him to drawing him deeper into her warm and inviting depths.
"This isn't where our story ends." He promised, more moan then words, lost in the feel of her tight and hot around him. Then he began moving at a slow and torturous rhythm.
He tangled his hands in her hair and pulled her head back so he could place searing kissed along her throat as he slowly thrust into her.
She made soft noises that drove him mad. He needed more. He needed all of her.
She raked her nails down his back and he groaned in pleasure.
"What happens… when your queen… seeks to separate us?" She gasped, moving with him.
His hands slid over her ass, gripping it with both hands so he could drive into her with even more force. He heard her gasping and moaning as his thrust came faster and harder.
"Nothing…" He grunted, placing biting kisses along her shoulder. "Will separate us."
He felt her nip at his jaw and tangle her hands in his hair until he had no choice but to look at her. He wanted to kissed her, but stopped himself. Instead he continued his frenzied thrusts, desperate to send her over the edge. He wanted to see her come apart in his arms.
"I am yours." She breathed, her words taking him back to his dream of the Iron Throne when he'd made love to her in the moonlight.
He felt her come and watched as the pleasure spasmed through her body. Her eyes were closed and her face an exquisite image that he would carry with him all his days.
With one final thrust, he spilled inside of her, no longer afraid of fathering a bastard. Because he was not a bastard and no child that came from their union would be either. She was his wife. And if she bore any children, they would be true born. Truer than she might ever know. And for one blissful second, he wished to get her with child. He wished for years and years to make love to her and to fill Winterfell with a new generation of wolves. He wanted to see her big with his child and he wanted to know that they could live their lives in peace. And while it might not be possible, it was a beautiful dream of spring that he would hold on to all through the long night.
Chapter 34: Tyrion
The dead were coming. They'd be there before the next sunset. The knowledge should have filled Tyrion with terror, but it didn't. All he was felt was numb. Despite knowing he would be retreating in the morning with the women and children like an invalid, he felt no fear nor shame nor anger. The only thought that plagued him was a pressing wish that the Dornish wine in his cup might never run dry.
"I wish Father were here." He said to the crackling flames more than to his brother beside him.
He noticed Jaime giving him a rather incredulous look.
"I would love to see the look on his face when he realizes his two sons are about to die defending Winterfell." He explained.
All Tywin's Lannister pride and for what? A couple of middle age fools would would likely never live to pass on the Lannister name to a true born son or daughter. Not that Tywin would consider any child by Tyrion's getting a true born Lannister.
Jaime stared at him for a moment and then snorted in amusement. "That would be something to see."
The wind whistled through the great hall and the old castle groaned in protest. Tyrion wonder how many winters the honorable and drafty building had endured. Would it endure this one as well or be brought to ruin like some many other stronghold that had already fallen before the dead.
"I remember the first time we were here," Tyrion said. "The first time I saw this hall."
"Mm." Jaime grunted.
"You were a golden lion." Tyrion said, somewhat longingly. He'd always admired his brother. It was strange to look back and realize that when he'd thought his brother to be at his best, he was truly at his worst. Now at his worst… brought low by a crippling injury and a number of other humbling experience, perhaps now he could become his best. "I was a drunken whoremonger. It was all so simple."
"It wasn't so simple." Jaime said. "I was sleeping with my sister and you had one friend in the world… who was sleeping with his sister."
"I was speaking in relative terms."
Jaime smirked a little. "Do you miss it?"
Tyrion wondered if Jaime meant the whoremongering or the people they'd been before this endless bloody war. He supposed it didn't truly matter. The answer was the same either way.
"Of course I miss it."
"Well, my golden-lion days are done, but whoremongering is still an option for you." Jaime pointed out.
Tyrion sighed. "It's not. Things would be easier if it were." He raised his cup. "The perils of self-betterment."
Jaime returned the gesture and both brothers raised their cups to their lips, just as one of the doors to the hall opened. Jaime looked around and his cup instantly lowered from his lips. Tyrion saw no need for such drastic actions so took a deep swig as he looked around to see who had intruded on their private counsel. Perhaps as Hand of the queen he could order them away so they could continue to drink in peace until they'd both passed out in a heap before the fire.
Jaime rose abruptly to his feet. "Oh! My lady."
Tyrion noted his brother's reaction to the appearance of the the tall blonde Brienne. She was not much to look at, though Tyrion didn't think that was a particularly grievous sin. He, himself, had never been considered beautiful. He was the stunted little lion next to his proud and beautiful siblings, but beauty often masked all sorts of horrors as anyone who'd had the displeasure of knowing Cersei could attest. But the way Jaime looked at this tall wench, well, it was almost as though she was beautiful.
Brienne's stride slowed as she recognized the two men and Podrick, at her heel, slowed in time with her. "Oh, we didn't mean to interrupt. We were just looking for somewhere warm to…"
"To contemplate your imminent death." Tyrion provided. "You've come to the right place."
He got to his feet to refill his cup.
"You want some of this piss?" He offered. "It's not bad. It's not good either."
Pod started toward him, practically licking his lips. "Thank you, milord."
"I don't think that's wise." Brienne said sharply. "The last thing you need is to be hungover for the battle to come."
Pod looked back at her and Tyrion could tell as much as the poor boy wanted and had likely earned a good drink, he wouldn't take one without her blessing.
Seven hells. The woman might be strong and skilled and honorable, but she certainly wasn't a whole lot of fun. Then again, Tyrion had never considered Cersei to be much fun and Jaime had always been captivated by her as well.
"Half cup." Brienne conceded.
"And you?" Tyrion called to her as he filled Pod's cup to overflowing.
"No, thank you." Brienne said. "I should try and get some sleep."
Tyrion shared a conspiratorial look with his former squire as he handed him the sloshing cup.
"You really think any of us are going to sleep tonight?" Jaime asked. Tyrion looked over and noticed him add a chair beside his own… rather closer than necessary to his own considering the size of the great hall. "Join us."
"All right." Brienne looked over at Tyrion, her expression clear that she wasn't sure what to make of any of this, especially this overt bit of wooing. "Just a bit."
She's a virgin, Tyrion thought as he poured her a cup. Clearly in love with his brother and just as clearly absolutely clueless about the possibility that those affections might be returned in kind.
Not that Tyrion could fault her there on either count. Jaime was widely considered one of the most attractive men in the seven kingdoms and it was almost as widely known and accepted that he was irrevocably in love with his own sister who just happened to be one of the most beautiful women living… at least she had been in her prime. But this woman in her prime was still nothing close to a beauty when compared even to an aging Cersei Lannister. What might this hulking woman imagine she had to offer a man like Jaime Lannister that he might want? But Tyrion also knew that his brother was not nearly as superficial as one might expect. Jaime's best friend, after all, was a whoremongering imp with a heart of gold… well, perhaps something not quite so fine as gold. Perhaps fool's gold. Yes, that was more fitting. Fool's gold for the fool.
That being considered, Tyrion didn't see it as so impossible for his beautiful brother to love an ugly woman. Not when that woman embodied so many of the things Jaime had once been and longed to be again.
Brienne took a seat and Tyrion studied her as he brought her a cup. Not that she noticed his attention, her gaze still followed Jaime as he moved to reclaim the spot beside her.
"Well, what do we have here?" Ser Davos said as he swept into the room.
"Ser Davos, join us." Tyrion suggested merrily. He couldn't recall the last time he had drunk so liberally and he had most definitely missed the foggy freedom.
"No, not for me, thanks." Davos said as he positioned himself in front of the fire. "Came here for this. I figured I could wait to die freezing my balls off out there or wait to die nice and warm in here."
The large redheaded wildling followed Davos in, but stopped beside Lady Brienne, leering down at her with all the finesse of a whore in a military camp.
"It could be our last night in this world, you know." He said to the rather alarmed lady.
The implied suggestion was so clear, that Brienne would have to be blind to miss it. Her cheeks flamed.
"Yes, well, I'm glad you're here." Brienne said and quickly realized her mistake as the wildling's eyebrows shot up enthusiastically. "Here fighting with us. Glad you survived Eastwatch."
As much as Tyrion enjoyed seeing her squirm, he thought he ought to do the chivalrous thing for once and rescue her from the uncomfortable moment.
"Would you like a drink?" He said to the wildling.
"Brought my own." The Wildling replied, lifting a horn.
Tyrion observed as several looks passed between the wildling, Brienne, and Jaime, but particularly the wildling and Jaime. The bearded man no doubt did not miss the closeness of Jaime's chair to the object of his obviously unwanted affections.
"They call you 'King Killer'." He announced, staring down the elder Lannister brother as though they were rivals for the affections of the fair maiden.
"I'm sure someone does." Jaime said, glancing to Brienne.
"They call me 'Giantsbane'. Want to know why?" He dragged a chair over for himself, noisily, without waiting for a response. "I killed a giant when I was 10.
Then I climbed right into bed with his wife. When she woke up, you know what she did?"
Jaime leaned in like he wanted nothing more than to hear the end of the story.
"Suckled me at her teat for three months."
Brienne looked both alarmed and disgusted at the Wildling pressed on.
"Thought I was her baby." He explained. "That's how I got so strong." He looked lustily at Brienne who looked over to Jaime for help. "Giant's milk."
The wildling chugged his horn of ale, which Tyrion could only hope didn't contain giant's milk, slopping half down his front in the process.
Brienne watched, her disgust quickly overtaking her alarm. Tyrion watched the bemused expression on his brother's face as Jamie watched the lady. Ah… that was it. He liked her. He just genuinely liked her. Tyrion would go so far as to say he adored her. It was that simple and that incredibly complicated. Then again, romance was always that, both simple and incredibly complicated. As the wildling continued to chug his drink, Jaime turned his bemused expression on his brother, as though looking to Tyrion to confirm this was really happening.
"Maybe I will have that drink." Davos said, clearly seeing the sense in using alcohol to endure the present company.
Chapter 35: Arya
Arya found the Hound sitting up on the wall. Drinking alone in the dark. Even now, the night before life as they knew it would end, he was alone. She wasn't surprised. The man had never been pleasant, let alone friendly. Still… there were moments from their time together that she looked back on with genuine fondness. She supposed that was one of the upsides of going to the faceless men and stripping away every piece of the person she had been before. It gave a person the chance to see a different perspective on their life events.
The Hound noticed her approach sooner than most would. If not polished, he was clearly perceptive. He looked at her for a moment and then held up his flask for her to take.
She took the flask and a seat on the frozen bricks at his side. After a long draw of the bitter, burning liquid, she let out a heavy sigh.
"You never used to shut up." The Hound snapped without ever even looking at her. She preferred that. She didn't like being seen. She supposed that was something on which they could agree. After a lifetime of garnering screams and stares with a half burnt face, he probably didn't much like being seen either. "Now you're just sitting there like a mute."
Arya considered his words, trying to remember the little girl he was talking about. It was almost like trying to remember a dream, slippery as water. "Guess I've changed."
They fell into a long silence.
"What are you doing up here?" She asked.
"What's it look like?"
"No, I mean, what are you doing up here? You joined the Brotherhood. You went beyond the Wall with Jon. You're here now. Why?" She demanded. "When was the last time you fought for anyone but yourself?"
She studied the side of his impassive face. She wondered what it would be like to play the game of faces with this man. What would she learn? Who would she be if she chose to take on that mutilated mask?
"I fought for you, didn't I?" He asked.
The slap of his words hit her harder than the icy winds. She realized he had fought for her. At the time, she hadn't seen it that way. She's seen the hulking beast of a man who kidnapped her to get the money selling her back to her family would make him. But when her mother and brother were slaughtered by the Frey's he did not cast her aside or, worse, sell her to the Frey's or Bolton's to suffer the same fate Sansa eventually suffered at their hands. Instead he changed his plans and tried to deliver her to an aunt she couldn't even remember. Eventually, his actions seemed less about profit and more about getting her somewhere safe, like he'd failed to do for her sister. She hadn't seen it at the time, too blinded by the pain of loss and hatred for anything to do with the Lannisters, but it was easier to see clearly in hindsight.
He reached out for the flask and she passed it back to him. He took a long swig. When he lowered the flask, he noticed Ser Beric approaching them.
"Oh, for fuck's sake." He complained. "May as well be at a bloody wedding."
"My lady." The one-eyed knight said with a slight incline of his head. "It's good to see you again. I'm sorry we parted the way we did."
She felt a small surge of hatred for Ser Beric, an echo of the memory of the all consuming hate she'd felt when he'd sold Gendry to the red woman.
"Was he on your list?" The Hound asked, almost conspiratorially.
"For a little while." She admitted.
She saw a glint of amusement in the old dog's eyes.
"That's all right." Beric said, taking a seat, as though she needed his permission or forgiveness, neither of which she cared about or wanted. "The Lord of Light has brought us together all the same. This is his moment. When light…"
The Hound cut him off. "Thoros isn't here anymore, so I hope you're not about to give a sermon. Because if you are, the Lord of Light's gonna wonder why he brought you back 19 times just to watch you die when I chuck you over this fucking wall."
Beric chuckled and reached out for the flask. After a moment the Hound tossed it to him.
Nothing… Arya realized. This whole encounter made her feel nothing. And that's really what she was after, she realized. She was looking to feel something again. She thought perhaps she'd forgotten how to feel during her time in Braavos. Perhaps she'd gone too far down the path to becoming no one to ever truly feel like someone again. She'd killed all the males in the Frey line and felt nothing. She'd slit Littlefinger's throat and felt nothing. She'd bound and gagged Daenerys's advisor Missandei of Naath and left her in the crypts for the night and felt nothing. She'd lied and killed and crept unseen through the shadows of Winterfell, all the while feeling nothing. Not even the knowledge of Jon and Sansa's incestuous relationship had been enough to cut through the numbness. But, there were the occasional bright bursts of something. Someone who made her feel like Arya Stark instead of no one.
She rose to her feet and walked away.
"Where are you going?" The Hounds called after her.
"I'm not spending my final hours with you two miserable old shits." She informed him curtly. No… She was going to feel something.
Arya practice with a bow close enough to the forge to draw the attention of anyone who might still be working. Considering that everyone seemed to be trying to make the most of their last night, she thought the only living soul likely to be still hard at work was a handsome bastard with something to prove.
She sensed his presence, but released a final arrow before looking back at him. He walked over to her with a weapon in hand. Her weapon.
"That for me?" She asked, though she clearly recognized the design as that of the one she'd given to him.
He extended the spear to her and she took it, turning toward the torchlight to get a better look.
"This'll work." She decided, spinning the specialized spear to check the balance. Perfect… she wasn't surprised. She never imagined that Gendry would send her into the Long Night with anything less than the best weapon he could manage.
"Last time you saw me, you wanted me to come to Winterfell." Gendry said. "Took the long road, but…"
"What did the Red Woman want with you?" She asked, interrupting wherever he was planning to take his thought. He ducked out of her way as she walked past, still spinning her new spear.
"She wanted my blood for some kind of spell." He said.
"Why your blood?" She asked. She couldn't help but notice the lines on his forehead. Worry lines. Had they been there before? She supposed he didn't have as many worries back when she'd known him.
"I'm Robert Baratheon's bastard." He said, looking back at her.
This stopped her in her tracks. She looked him over, trying to remember what the old fat king had even looked like. She couldn't picture King Robert, but she could remember how her father had described his friend in his prime, and that description was very much like that man before her.
"I didn't know until she told me." He explained. "Then she tied me up, stripped me down, put leeches all over me."
Naked… she'd striped him naked. Arya had always hated the red woman, but now she felt something else, something bitter and hot that make her skin itch.
"Was that your first time?" She asked.
"No, yeah, I've never had leeches put all over my cock."
"Your first time with a woman." She corrected, walking away from him so he wouldn't see whatever was written on her face. She was used to maintaining a blank mask, but she wasn't sure what he would see now.
"What? I… I didn't I wasn't with her." He stammered, following her.
"Were you with other girls before that in King's Landing?" She pressed on, not knowing why she was asking, only that she had to know. "Or after?"
Gendry stammered, but no distinct words came out.
"You don't remember?" She chided.
"Yes, I was." He admitted.
Her stomach turned sour and for the first time in longer than she could remember she felt the strong desire to add names to her list. All she'd cared about in a long time was checking names off, not adding them.
"One? Two?" She pressed. "Twenty?"
"Well, I didn't keep count."
"Yes, you did."
He sighed heavily, seemingly realizing he wasn't getting out of this conversation without telling her what she wanted to know. "Three."
She drew closer to him, looking over the face that she had at times hated and at times felt was the only face in the world she cared to see again. But that was a long time ago. Back when she still felt. So why did her insides feel so warm now?
"We're probably going to die soon." She said.
"Probably" He agreed.
She checked the balance of her weapon once more for good measure. "I intend to live."
Gendry chuckled and the sound pulled the hint of a smile to her lips.
"I'll make you a deal, Robert's Bastard." She pressed on. "We both live through this. I'll be your fourth."
Gendry stared at her for a moment as though trying to decide if she was kidding. His expression shifted to one of stunned shock so he must have decided she wasn't. A slight smile played at his lips as he recovered his senses. "Yes, milady."
"No, no, NO!" Arya laughed, more at ease sitting on a pile of hay next to Gendry Waters than in the lofty comforts of her chambers with it's fine furs and warm fire. "That is not how it happened."
Gendry couldn't contain his own laughter. "That's exactly how it happened."
"I did not give you moony eyes." Arya protested.
"You were sitting up on a table or something so for once we were about the same height and you told me I could be your family, those pretty eyes of yours all big and watery." Gendry insisted.
Arya was startled for a moment by his calling her eyes pretty. She'd always been horse-face Arya or Arry or No One… never pretty.
She licked her lips because suddenly they felt uncomfortably dry.
"Not a chance." She said, though her protest sounded weak, even to her own ears.
"Admit it… you were smitten." Gendry teased, but she noticed an edge of something else in his eyes. Was it hope?
"Smitten with a big lumbering oaf like you? Hardly." She said.
She noticed the space between them seemed to be shrinking. How had that happened? She couldn't remember either of them moving.
"You know… you shouldn't insult people that are bigger than you." He murmured, reaching out and tucking a stray strand of her hair behind her ear.
Her breath caught in her throat. He'd said those words to her before, but they felt so different now. They felt like an offer, or perhaps a request.
"Then I wouldn't get to insult anyone." She whispered.
He leaned in and brushed his lips against hers. It felt strange, but a good sort of strange. She pressed into the kiss, not wanting it to end.
Gendry pulled away and rested his forehead against hers. "I spent a lot of time wishing I'd taken you up on your offer to be your family back then."
"I thought… maybe… we'd be like one of Sansa's songs." Arya admitted, surprised by her own words. "That we'd disappear into the wood and forget about the rest of the world. That'd just be the two of us. But it wouldn't have been that way. We were just kids trying to survive in a world that was too big and too cruel. We would have lost each other somewhere along the way."
"We lost each other anyway." Gendry pointed out. He caressed her cheek. "Where did you go, after I left?"
"The Hound kidnapped me. We travelled together for a long while."
"Then you left him for dead." Gendry said, having overheard her conversation with the Hound the other day.
"I did…" She admitted. "And I've done far worse."
Gendry frowned. "We've all done far worse."
She looked down, afraid to confess more.
"You got anything to eat?" She asked. "I'm starved."
Gendry pulled out a small pouch of nuts and offered them to her. She grabbed one and tossed it into the air, catching it in her mouth with ease.
Gendry pulled out another nut and tossed it to her and she caught that as well.
"Not bad." He said.
Arya grabbed a nut and tossed it to him, he caught it but only barely.
They carried on, Arya catching every nut and Gendry, only about half of them.
"You're terrible at this." Arya teased as he missed another and it was lost in the hay.
"Am not." He laughed. "It's your lousy throwing."
"My throwing is flawless."
"If you say so, Milady."
She pinched him hard and he yelped and laughed before tackling her down on the hay. They wrestled a bit, but Arya found that she didn't want to beat him. This was one fight she didn't feel the need to come out on top at the end.
Breathless, Gendry stared down at her and moved his hands from pinning her wrists to interlacing with hers.
She arched up and caught his lips in another kiss, this one far less strange and far more insistent.
Slowly, they broke apart and she saw hunger in his eyes, but he rolled off of her and drew her into his arms. She was surprised to find how naturally she slid into place at his side, as though she was made to fit there.
"How'd you get so good at catching nuts?" He asked as she nestled against his strong chest.
She thought about the question and thought about how long and complicated the answer was. She wasn't sure that she wanted him to know all of it. What if he looked at her differently once he knew everything she'd done? But, the thought stirred a spark of hope, what if he didn't?
So she told him everything. The Red Wedding. Her time with the Hound. Her journey to Braavos and all she'd done during her time with the Faceless men. She even told him about the Freys and her brief reunion with Nymeria. And after she told him all the events, she told him the truth. She told him how she'd been numb so long that she could barely remember what it was to feel.
After it all, she drew a slow, shaking breath to recover herself.
"So I supposed, despite it all, I still became no one."
Gendry shook his head. "You've never been no one, Arya. You could never be no one."
Arya rolled her eyes, feeling another milady coming. "Let me guess, because I'm a lady?"
Gendry caught her chin in his hand and gently tilted it up so she was looking into his eyes. Her heart did a strange little dance as he looked at her.
"Because you're you."
Chapter 36: Tyrion
Tyrion amused the group, save Brienne, with his bawdy joke about the ass and honeycomb as well as regaling the time when Pod pleasured a couple of whores so well they refused to charge him. If the squire had been cold before, he certainly wasn't after this story, judging by the shade of crimson his ears turned.
Then Jaime, his tongue loosened by several cups of wine, brought up the story of how he lost his hand. In his telling of it, it was because he got too mouthy, too used to being untouchable that he forgot that his last name and father meant very little to cruel men who were more interested in their own amusement than the gold they could get for a hostage.
"That's not true." Brienne spoke up as Jaime lamented his own foolishness. "You save my life. The price was your hand."
"I didn't save your life." Jaime protested.
A long look passed between the two of them, the intimacy of which was enough to make Tyrion uncomfortable.
"They were trying to rape me. I wouldn't have let them. I would have made them kill me first and we both know it." Brienne said, her gaze never leaving the man so many only saw as the Kingslayer but she clearly saw as something else. "If not for you, I would have died that night."
Jaime looked speechless for a moment and then gave a slight nod, "Then not so steep a price."
He quickly looked away and Tyrion couldn't help but notice the complete confusion on the woman's face. He loves you, you fool, Tyrion thought, wondering how it was two people so clearly infatuated with one another could be so clueless to the depth of the other's regard.
The moment was swiftly interrupted by another of the Wildling's amusing, though greatly disturbing stories. This one about how he'd once fucked a bear. After which he gave Brienne a look that clearly indicated that he thought this account would impress and possibly arouse her. It did not.
As the hour grew late, conversation died out as thoughts of the battle to come rested heavily on the minds of six companions in the Great Hall. Tyrion was well aware that he had drunk far too much and felt certain the same could be said for each of them. Save, perhaps, Lady Brienne, whom he had noticed never refilled her cup.
Tyrion stared into the crackling flames like burning tongues of gold. Fire and blood. His queen's family words rang in his ears. He wondered, if perhaps each family's words were more of a warning of their potential ruin than anyone gave credit. The Starks had always warned that Winter was coming, but now it was here and ready to claim the dwindling remains of the Stark house. After all, Jon was not a Stark and as it turned out never had been. Bran, if he could even still be considered Bran, would never father children. So what did that leave? An assassin and a politician. Both maids. Both incapable of carrying on the family name. Even if they survived the dead, in a few short decades the Stark name would fade to memory.
"It's strange, isn't it? Almost everyone here's fought the Starks at one time or another." Tyrion mused. "And here we are in their castle, ready to defend it. Together."
"At least we'll die with honor." Brienne said, nobly.
Jaime's eyes were on her almost as soon as the first word left her lips. Tyrion wondered if his brother even realized the depth of his affections for the warrior woman. He always have been slow on the uptake. But the way he looked at the lady. Surely he had some inkling.
"I think we might live." Tyrion said, optimistically.
Davos snorted and Pod gave a subdued smile.
"I… I do." Tyrion insisted. "How many battles have we survived between us? Ser Davos Seaworth. Survivor of both the Blackwater and the Battle of the Bastards."
"All without a shred of combat ability." Davos said.
"Mm." The wildling grunted.
"Ser Jaime Lannister, fabled hero of the Siege of Pyke." Tyrion pressed on.
"Fabled loser of the Battle of Whispering Wood." Jaime added, rising to refill his cup.
Brienne's gaze followed him across the room and Tyrion felt quite sure that she loved his brother. It was not merely admiration and respect shining in her astonishingly blue eyes. No… She loved him, he was certain. She loved him and he loved her, but neither would admit it for fear that their affections would go unrequited. Bran's warning rang in Tyrion's head. If there is love, is should be spoke. Too long Jaime had been crippled by the tainted love shared between himself and Cersei. Tyrion wished for him to know something different, something better, even if it was only for a single night.
"Hear, hear!" Tyrion called after his brother, taking another drink before continuing, mulling over how best to encourage his brother to action. Then it hit him. "Ser Brienne of Tarth."
Brienne, whose gaze had been on Jaime, looked down at the reference to herself as as Ser. So he'd supposed right and his arrow had hit it's mark. The trap was set, now to guide Jaime to it.
"Defeated the Hound in…" He continued and then stopped as though he'd just realized his mistake. "Pardon me, Lady Brienne."
"She's not a ser?" The wildling asked, catching on instantly. He looked at the blonde woman with evident confusion. "You're not a knight?"
"Women can't be knights." She said.
"Why not?" He asked.
"Tradition." She said.
Tyrion imagined that explanation was particularly irksome to a woman such as Brienne, who could never hope to be traditional.
Fuck loyalty. Tyrion glanced at his brother to gauge his reaction. He saw the flicker of a smirk tug at one corner of the golden lion's mouth. There was a time and a place for things such as loyalty and tradition, but this was not that time or place.
"I don't even want to be a knight." Brienne lied. Her eyes locked with Pod and Tyrion could see a hint of pain in the squire's eyes. This woman, whom the squire held in such high regard, who trained him, the same woman who had bested countless men, Jaime included, and who was doubtless more honorable and deserving than any knight living, could not be afforded the honor simply because she was born a woman.
Tyrion knew a little something about the unavoidable circumstances of an unfair birth.
"I'm no king." The wildling said. "But if I were, I'd knight you 10 times over."
Put it together, Jaime.
"You don't need a king." Jaime spoke up.
That a boy, Tyrion thought proudly.
"Any knight can make another knight." Jaime continued, setting down his cup. "I'll prove it."
Jaime made his way to a more open space. "Kneel, Lady Brienne."
Brienne watched him for a moment and then scoffed, looking away. Tyrion thought he saw a hint of vulnerability in her eyes. She wanted this, probably always had. But like so many other things she'd likely wanted she'd been told her whole life that such things where not for one such as her.
"Do you want to be a knight or not?" Jaime pressed.
Slowly, Brienne looked to him, those astonishing eyes of hers wide and almost fearful. Afraid to open herself up to hope only to have it ripped away.
"Kneel." Jaime said, his voice as soft as a lover's.
Brienne looked to Pod as though for reassurance that this wasn't some cruel jest. Tyrion felt a twinge of sympathy for her. He also had been the butt of many cruel jests. She must have found the encouragement she sought in her squire's eyes because she looked back to Jaime. He gave her a nod and she rose to her feet.
She sat down her cup and walked slowly to Jaime. Tyrion rose as well, walking around his chair for a better view.
When she reached Jaime, he nodded to Oathkeeper at her hip.
"Your sword." He prompted.
She considered him for a moment, before drawing the blade and offering him the hilt. His hand grazed hers as he took the sword. Tyrion thought he saw her flinch slightly at the contact, before she sank swiftly to one knee.
Jaime nervously adjusted his grip on Oathkeeper before raising it to touch lightly to her shoulder. "In the name of the Warrior, I charge you to be brave." He passed the sword to her other shoulder. "In the name of the Father, I charge you to be just." And back again. "In the name of the Mother, I charge you to defend the innocent."
He lowered the blade and she looked up at him, her eyes glittering in the torchlight.
"Arise, Brienne of Tarth a knight of the Seven Kingdoms." Jaime said, his eyes never straying from hers as though utterly captivated.
For a moment, Tyrion couldn't catch his breath. He'd never felt anything remotely close to what he saw pass between those two in a single, longing gaze.
Brienne rose to her feet.
For a moment, they stared at each other as though seeing each other for the first time and both were lost in what they saw.
Tyrion felt certain that if his brother hadn't known before that he was in love with the Maid of Tarth, he clearly knew now.
Jaime's mouth opened as though to speak.
The wilding began clapping loudly, the enthusiasm quickly quickly adopted by the others, and with that the spell was broken.
"Ser Brienne of Tarth!" Tyrion shouted. "Knight of the Seven Kingdoms!"
Brienne looked back to Jaime who gave her a nod and handed Oathkeeper back to its rightful owner before stepping away to allow her to bask in the moment, her moment.
She watched him walk back to the group and her face split into a wide and genuinely happy smile, the first of it's kind that Tyrion had ever seen on her face. And he saw in that moment what his brother must see every time he looked at the unusual woman. Beauty, true beauty. A beauty that went far deeper than skin.
Chapter 37: Jorah
Jorah finished his wine and rose to his feet.
"Good night, Khaleesi." He said.
She looked up at him, her eyes wide with surprise. "You're leaving?"
"I have duties to attend to." He said, though he wished he could stay here with her all night. Even just sitting by her side and talking to her… it was enough.
"More important than attending to your queen." She teased.
He chuckled softly. "We both know there is nothing more important to me."
He saw a soft blush color her cheeks. She knew the depths of his affections for her and would not or could not return them in kind, and out of respect, he did his best not to remind her of his love unnecessarily. He saw the pain it caused her each time the nature of his love for her became too clear. And as much as he loved her, he cared more about her happiness than his own. He, therefore, preferred to suffer in silence than to cause her any undo suffering.
"Why do you love me, Jorah." Daenerys asked, looking up at him with the careful crafted appearance of mild curiosity, but he saw something else, just beneath the surface. A need. Though for what, he could not say.
He looked at her for a long moment, trying to judge precisely how he should proceed.
"Not for your beauty, though you are beautiful." He said. "And not for your great deeds, though your deeds have been great." He knelt before her and reached out for her hand, which she gave to him. "I love you because you are the same young girl who was married to a horse lord against her will, but when gifted a beautiful steed thought only to express gratitude. I love you because you are good. You are better than we deserve. Certainly better than I deserve." He swallowed hard and looked down. "I love you with no hope or agenda, simply because it is impossible not to."
"I am not so sure I am good." Daenerys whispered softly, a pain bleeding through her collected expression.
"Then I'll be sure for the both of us."
Daenerys caressed his cheek and leaned in to press her lips against his rough cheek. He closed his eyes to memorize the moment.
"I forbid you to die in this war." She whispered in his ear. "Do you hear me, Ser Jorah?"
He smiled sadly, knowing there were no guarantees in war. "I will do my best, Khaleesi."
Jorah checked and double checked the preparations for the battle after leaving his queen. He saw his small cousin looking over her men. While little more than a child, he'd heard stories of his cousin, born after his exile. Like her mother before her, she was no great beauty, but in time she might grow to be a handsome woman. If she grew up at all.
"Lady Mormont." He said, approaching the small, proud figure.
Lyanna looked up at him as he approached. "Cousin."
"It seems you've done our family and the North proud." He said. "Your men will do you proud in the battle to come. I assure you."
Lyanna frowned at him. "I need no assurance. I'll see it myself."
His heart tightened painfully in his chest. "You don't mean to fight."
"We have all we need to win this war." He protested.
"I have trained my men, women and children." The young Lady snapped. "I have fought before. I can fight again."
"Please, listen to me." Jorah said. "You're the future of our house."
"I don't need you to remind me of that." Lyanna said, scathingly, her rebuke reminding her that he was in no small part responsible for the weight that now rested solely her tiny shoulders.
"You'll be safer traveling south with the women and children." Jorah pressed. "These things we're fighting…"
"I will not retreat while my people fight." Lyanna insisted. "I pledged to fight for the North and I will fight."
With a heavy heart, he inclined his head in submission. He had forfeited the right to order her around when his dishonored his house as a slaver and earned exile.
Lyanna turned around, realizing before Jorah that they were being watched.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Samwell Tarly said. "I didn't mean to…"
"It's all right." Lyanna said. "We're done here."
She started back to her men but stopped and looked back at Jorah.
"I wish you good fortune, cousin."
"Thank you, my lady." Jorah said.
Sam cleared his throat and shuffled closer to Jorah. He noticed the hilt of a massive broadsword glimmering in the young man's hands.
"What have you got there?" Jorah asked.
"It's called Heartsbane." Sam explained. "It's my family sword."
"You still have a family." Jorah reminded him.
"Yes." Sam agreed. "And I'd love to defend them with it. But I can't really hold it upright. Your father, he taught me how to be a man. How to do what's right. This is right." He paused a moment. "It's Valyrian steel. I'd be honored if you'd take it."
Sam held the weapon out and Jorah took it, momentarily overcome by the gesture. He pulled the blade partway from the scabbard and admired the swirls in the Valyrian steel.
"I'll wield it in his memory to guard the realms of men." Jorah promised.
"I'll see you when it's through." Sam said and began to walk away, hesitating for a moment and looking back he said. "I hope we win."
Then he was gone and Jorah stood alone in the yard. One day more. This time tomorrow and they would be in a battle for their very existence. But here in this moment, he almost felt more like one of the dead. Everything that tied him to life was either already gone or forever out of his reach. His house, his title and lands, his wife, his family… his queen. He'd been fighting his whole life and he was beginning to wonder what the point of it all really was. It seemed there was no end to the fighting. And even if he should live to see that end, what then? What would life be once Daenerys accomplished her goal and broke the wheel. Would there be peace? He'd spent years by her side fighting for this better world of hers, but try as he might, he couldn't seem to see his own place in that better world.
Chapter 38: Jaime
Jaime had lost track of the hour, but he was sure that dawn was unpleasantly close and his head was beginning to ache from drink and lack of sleep. He was ready and willing to lay down his life to stop the dead, but he'd prefer to give them something of a fight first, and, if possible, avoid the dying part all together.
His gaze strayed back to Brienne as it had so often through the long night. She looked drowsy and content, a warm blush in her cheeks from consuming more wine than she probably ever had before in her rather prudish life. The silly girl. She could kill a man, but balked at the idea of intoxication or intimacy. Intimacy... the very notion felt as warm and inviting as a lover's caress.
He admired the way the slight intoxication softened Brienne's features, soothing away the scowl she frequently wore, as she temporarily allowed her guard to drop, if only slightly. While not delicate, there was something truly pleasing about her face. Particularly her eyes, which had captivated him almost from the start.
She looked up and their eyes met for a long moment, then she looked away, the color in her cheek growing a shade darker.
Reluctantly, Jaime looked away as well.
"We'd better get some rest." He said.
"No," Tyrion protested. "Let's stay a bit longer."
"We're out of wine." Davos announced, returning from the table empty handed.
"How about a song?" Tyrion suggested. "One of you must know one." He looked hopefully to the old man. "Ser Davos?"
"You'll pray for a quick death." Davos assured him.
Tyrion smirked and looked to the newly knighted Brienne. "Ser Brienne?"
Jaime suppressed a laugh at the notion. He didn't know for a fact that she couldn't sing, but he could not, for the life of him, imagine it.
Brienne confirmed his suspicion with an amused grimace and shake of her head.
Jaime's insistent little brother shot a look to Brienne's would-be wildling lover which elicited a grunt and shake of the ruddy red head.
Tyrion sat back in defeat.
"High in the halls of the kings who are gone, Jenny would dance with her ghosts." Podrick began to sing, his voice pleasing and strong. "The ones she had lost and the ones she had found and the ones who had loved her the most."
Everyone looked to the squire in various degrees of surprise at this unknown talent, but Jaime couldn't look away from Brienne. She seemed to glow in the dim hall. By this light, she was beautiful. She might be a stupid, stubborn wench with more honor than sense, but he wouldn't change a thing about her. No… he wouldn't have her be anything other than precisely what she was, because what she was… what she was… he struggled to let himself admit it. What she was… was the woman he loved.
And gods… he loved her.
"The ones who'd been gone for so very long she couldn't remember their names. They spun her around on the damp old stones spun away all her sorrow and pain and she never wanted to leave. Never wanted to leave. Never wanted to leave. Never wanted to leave. Never wanted to leave. Never wanted to leave."
Brienne looked at Jaime, her eye filled with a sadness he wanted to erase. If this was their last night before death claimed one or both of them, he wouldn't have her spend a moment of it in sadness. Not if he could help it.
He'd have her smile, as she did when he knighted her. He'd have her laugh. He'd have her happy, even if just for a few brief moments.
As the last notes of the haunting ballad faded away, the Maid of Tarth rose to her feet. Jaime followed suit, respectfully.
"It's quite late." Brienne said, stiffly. "I thank you all for passing the time with me this evening, but I must bid you good night."
She gave a stiff bow and swept from the hall without further ado.
Jaime felt the string between them grow taunt. He longed to follow, but though he knew his own heart, he was unsure if she'd want the same.
Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps she saw him as a friend and nothing more. Perhaps he'd imagined the way her gaze drifted to him a little too often, simply because he wished it would. After all, what did he have to offer her? His honor was shit. His love was tainted by a lifetime of loving his own sister. He didn't even have his sword hand. He was not worthy of her love, as much as he might want it.
He slouched in his seat, resolving not to follow her. He'd leave her to get the sleep she wanted in peace and not force her to reject a middle-aged, crippled knight and blight their hard-earned friendship. He'd content himself with fighting for her beloved Starks, fighting for her. It was enough. No, that was a lie, it wasn't close to enough, but he'd find a way to accept it.
Tormund began to chug the remains of his drink as though preparing to leave as well. Perhaps to follow Brienne. The very idea made Jaime's stomach turn sore. When he pounded on her door, would she let him in? She wasn't promised to any man, so what was to stop her? She might be a maid, but she'd never been overly concerned by the mandates of tradition.
A hand on his arm made him jump, even as the familiar voice of his brother whispered in his ear. "She loves you, you know."
He could practically hear Tyrion rolling his eyes. "You know who."
Jaime looked at his overly perceptive brother, "She doesn't love me."
"You think not?" Tyrion raised his eyebrows. "Maybe I'm wrong." He paused thoughtfully. "Though, I could also be right… And considering that we will all very likely die tomorrow night, it doesn't seem to me that you have all that much to lose."
Jaime looked over at Pod who was watching this exchange, and although he certainly could not hear the words, Jaime had a sneaking suspicion that the squire had a fairly good idea of the topic. Pod met his gaze and gave him an almost imperceptible nod.
Jaime's chest tightened with hope and fear and he wished that his cup wasn't empty. He could use a bit more liquid courage. But if there was ever a moment to be bold, this was it.
Tormund rose to his feet looking just as determined as Jaime felt. Jaime followed his lead and placed a hand on the wildling's shoulder to stop him.
"Sorry," He said, not feeling the slightest bit sorry. "That wench is spoken for."
Chapter 39: Brienne
So, in light of the Brienne POV, I have to say that I might get to meet Gwendolyn Christie in October! She's coming to Ace Comics in Illinois and I was already going. Fingers crossed I can get a photo op. I'm so excited, it's ridiculous. She's genuinely one of my favorite actors and I deeply admire both her talent and the person she appears to be. Okay... that's it. I'm just super excited, so wish me luck! I hope it works out!
A knight… She was a knight. Jaime had knighted her. She didn't know if it would truly count by the laws of the land, but it counted to her. Because Ser Jaime saw her as a knight and so did every other man in that hall. She'd never felt such respect and acceptance in all her days and it filled her with warmth far greater than the intoxication from any drink.
She tossed another piece of wood on her crackling fire as she began to remove her armor. She set out her armor on a chair for the next day, moving to remove Oathkeeper last of all. A small piece of Jaime that was hers to keep. On a whim, she lifted the pommel to her lips and pressed a light kiss to the carved lion. Her lion.
A loud thump at her door made her jump. She tenderly set Oathkeeper down beside her armor and strode to the door. Doubtless it would be Tormund. She'd felt the wildlings none-to-subtle gaze on her the whole evening. She took a deep breath in preparation for sending him away.
Her breath caught in her lungs as she opened the door to find Jaime leaning against the jam. He looked up at her, his eyes dark and relaxed from a long evening of drinking. Something seemed to burn in those beautiful eyes, something she didn't have a name for, but she told herself it must just be a trick of the light from the fire.
"Ser Brienne." Jaime said, formally, despite his slightly slurred speech. The use of her new title made her face hot, with pleasure or embarrassment she couldn't tell.
"Ser Jaime." She said, confused by unexpected his presence.
"You going to invite me in?" He asked as he proceeded to let himself in without waiting for the requested invitation.
She'd been prepared to send Tormund away, but never imagine a situation where she'd had the option to send Jaime Lannister away. She couldn't imagine a situation where she would want to send him away, and with that, the breath she'd been holding slipped out as she closed the door behind him.
"Won't you come in." She said flippantly, slightly annoyed by his presumptive behavior.
He immediately removed his jacket and tossed it on her bed. "Gods… you keep it warm enough in here."
Brienne couldn't tear her eyes from the man who frequented her dreams, who's jacket now lay on her bed. She'd never imagined anything of Jaime's would ever be tossed so carelessly on her bed. She never really expected to find Jaime in her chambers unless it was a tent in a war camp and the visit to make a treaty or put in place a plan of action. This... this did not feel like either.
"It's the first thing I learnt when I came to the North." She explained. "Keep your fire going. Every time you leave the room, put more wood on."
"That's very diligent." Jaime said, his tone mocking and she wondered after all his uncharacteristic niceties he was ready to slip back into his old habits of insulting her. "Very responsible."
How was it this was the same man who had knighted her mere hours before.
"Piss off." She snapped, suddenly remembering that there was actually several scenarios where she would want to send him away and this was shaping up to be one of them.
"You know the first thing I learned in the North?" Jaime asked, getting quite close to her. "I hate the fucking North."
Her heart hammered in her chest. She didn't think they'd been this close since the baths at Harrenhall and that thought reminder her of the feel of his hot, feverish flesh against hers. Her mouth went dry and she swallowed hard to regain her composure.
"It grows on you." She said, trying to shift their conversation in a safer direction.
Jaime turned away from her. "I don't want things growing on me."
A heavy silence fell between them. She didn't know what to say or why he was even there other than to be surly and insulting.
"How about Tormund Giantsbane?" Jaime asked abruptly. "Has he grown on you? He was very sad when you left."
"You sound quite jealous." Brienne said softly, surprised to hear those words come from her mouth.
"I do, don't I?" Jaime realized. He started struggling with the laces of his shirt. "It's bloody hot in here."
Despite his efforts, the knot would not come undone with one hand, he even tried to work on it with his teeth. The silly fool.
"Oh, move aside." She snapped, brushing his hand away so she could untie it for him. How was one of the greatest swordsmen Westeros had ever seen such a disaster? She'd never understand the man.
As she untied his shirt, his hand went to the laces of hers. She stopped what she was doing and looked at him, confused. She wasn't the one complaining about the heat.
"What are you doing?" She asked
"I'm taking your shirt off." He murmured. But he stopped. "My honor's shit," He said, looking up into her eyes.
"Ser Jaime…" She wanted to protest, even thought she knew there was truth in his words.
"Jaime." He whispered, his fingertips going to her lips to silence her. "Call me Jaime."
She swallowed hard at the intimacy of his touch. "Jaime."
He closed his eyes as though the sound of his name on her lips was a caress sweeter than any he'd ever felt.
After a moment, he opened his eyes and met her gaze as he sank to one knee before her.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"Brienne of Tarth, Knight of the Seven Kingdoms… My lady… I offer my service. I will shield your back and keep your counsel and give my life for yours if need be." He said, his voice strong and clear. "I swear it by the old gods and the new."
Brienne stared down at him, perplexed by his oath, but then she sank down to her knees with him.
"Jaime Lannister… I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table. And I pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new."
She realized as she spoke the words that this was more than a promise. More than empty words of tradition and loyalty. It was a vow between two hearts that had long beat as one. A warrior's union. More of a marriage than any overseen by a septum.
With this realization, she reached out and slowly removed his shirt. She ran her hand over his bare chest and felt him shiver at her touch.
She knew they were entering uncharted territory, but she had no desire to stop. Instead, she slowly untied her own shirt and shrugged it off her broad shoulder.
His eyes raked over her bare skin with a look that she could only describe as adoration.
He reached out and took her hand, placing it over his pounding heart.
"It's yours." He said, his voice shaking. "It will always be yours."
She leaned in and kissed him, not caring if she did it right, not thinking of anything but touching him. His hands tangled in her hair as he pulled her closer and his lips guided her to a more tender pace. Slowly he deepened the kiss, his hands sliding over her body, caressing the parts of her that she'd allowed no man before him to touch.
"Jaime…" She moaned softly into his lips.
"I've dreamt of you a thousand times since Harrenhall." He murmured, his lips on her ear.
She shivered at the heat of his breath on her skin, the heat drifted down to her core and throbbed there.
"Why didn't you say anything?" She asked.
"Because I didn't deserve you." He whispered as he lowered her down onto the rug in front of her blazing fire. "I still don't."
She felt the heat lick at her cheek, but it was nothing compared to the fire burning inside her.
Together, they did away with their remaining garments. Her heart pounded with desire and nerves.
"Fuck loyalty." Jaime murmured her words back to her.
He nudged her legs apart with his knee and she spread them for him. She'd prayed for his safety so many nights. She wondered if any of those prays played a part in bringing them back together.
He entered her slow and gently, giving her a moment to adjust to the new sensation. She'd heard it was supposed to hurt, but she'd been hurt so many times, that she didn't mind a little pain.
His lips captured hers in a searing kiss as he thrusted into her again and again, impaling her on his burning member. It was at once both pleasure and a form of torture that made her writhe and gasp his name over and over until she couldn't think of anything except for the exquisite sensation building inside her, pushing her over the edge, his name a like a prayer on her lips.
The sound of her coming undone seemed to drive him wild as his movements became harder and faster until he spilled into her.
For a long after, he just looked down into her eyes, his own wide with a mixture of disbelief and pleasure. Then a slight smirk played at his lips.
"Well, I suppose you're no longer the Maid of Tarth." He teased, leaning down to steal a kiss.
"Then what am I?" She asked.
"My wench." He teased, nipping her bare shoulder.
She laughed softly.
He pulled out of her and wrapped his arms around her waist. "Turns out I was right all along. I am strong enough to get inside you."
She elbowed him. "Watch it."
He chuckled and kissed the hollow below her ear until all memory of insult faded away.
They moved to the bed and made love again before the cocks began to crow in the yard. They were wrapped in each other's arms as the first rays of morning spilt through her window.
"What happens when the dead come?" Brienne asked, suddenly aware of how few hours they had left.
Jaime shrugged. "We probably die."
For some reason, his words didn't frighten her. Nothing seemed all that terrible wrapped in the arms of the man she loved.
"And if we don't?" She asked.
"Then I'll grow old with the woman I love." He murmured against her lips.
Chapter 40: Sansa
So, it's official, I will be getting to meet both Kit and Gwen in October! I couldn't be more excited!... Well, I could, but for that to happen they would have to add in Nikolaj and Sophie, which won't be happening. Maybe someday!
If anyone is interested in seeing me lose my mind over Gwendolyn Christie, you're welcome to look me up on Instagram. My handle is the same as it is here :) Drop me a message who you are and I would love to follow you back!
Otherwise, on with the show! Today's my birthday, so my special gift to myself was comments from all of you wonderful people, so make my day! ;)
As soft rays of sun filtered through the window so that she could no longer deny that morning had dawned, Sansa slowly extricated herself from Jon's arms and pulled on her shift.
"Stay a little longer." Jon protested, one hand snaking around her waist, drawing her back into the bed.
She allowed herself a moment to give in to him, relaxing into his arms. A small gift to both of them. In case... no, she couldn't afford to think like that. Imagining the worst case scenarios would drain her mental fortitude. She had to be strong if she was going to face what the long night had in store for her. She had to be steel, if not for herself, then for Jon and their people.
She turned into Jon and kissed him hungrily. "I'd stay forever if I could."
He drew her instinctively closer and she wound one of his dark curls around her finger and rested her forehead against his, staying that way for a long moment. She wished fervently to freeze time, but time was the one luxury they did not have. In fact, it was a fickle god who knew no master.
If it was just her own safety at stake, she would have considered it a worthwhile risk to stay by his side, even as the dead threw themselves upon the walls of Winterfell. She would give anything that was hers to give to stay here in his arms for every second of the rest of her life. But the welfare of her people weighed heavier on her heart than her own selfish wishes.
Jon brushed kisses across her cheeks. Her Jon. And he was hers. She knew he would not have made the vows he made to her beneath the weirwood tree otherwise. Whether or not the laws of the land would recognize their union, she knew that to Jon, they were as married as to hearts could be. He was an honest man. Honestly hers.
She, on the otherhand, was far less honest. Her tutelage at the hands of Cersei and Littlefinger had taught her to use and manipulate anyone and everyone. Even those that loved her. Especially those she loved. But this... these quiet moments with Jon where the only ones in her day entirely devoid of guile. With Jon, she could allow herself, if temporarily, to be the woman she'd once imagined she would grow to be rather than the one life had forced her to adopt. With Jon, she could be devoid of lies and leverage and simply be his Sansa.
"I'll see you off in the yard." Jon promised, caressing her cheek.
She nodded, her chest already ached at the thought of saying goodbye to him. That ache was made worse knowing it was best to keep their final farewell a formal affair. It was in everyones best interest not to enflame Daenerys's wrath.
"You were my last thought." He whispered suddenly. "Before I died. My last thought was of you, here at Winterfell, brushing Lady. You were singing. I don't remember the song, but I remember the sound of your voice. Sweeter than any bird. I've carried you with me every day of my life since you came into it, Sansa. You made an indelible mark on my heart long before I knew what it meant. I love you. I always have."
Her heart pounded at his confession. His actions had convinced her that he loved her, but to hear just how much filled her with a warmth that she would cling to until he came back to her. She kissed him once more, desperate to over power fickle time and make these precious moments last just a little longer.
"Then come back to me." She whispered. "When this war is over, come back to me."
He nodded and hugged her tight before letting her go. She pulled her gown over her shift and he helped her with the laces. A lump tightened in her throat. But she couldn't cry, not when everyone would be looking at her to be strong.
She walked to the door and looked back at Jon once more, memorizing the way he looked at her, because it was the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen.
"Gods I'm a lucky man." Jon told her.
She smiled softly and slipped away.
Sansa found Bran and Arya in the deserted great hall, conversing in low whispers.
"There you both are." She swept across the room to join them.
Arya took a step back, her hands clasped behind her back.
"Sansa." She said in a cool greeting.
Sansa frowned slightly. She didn't know what she'd expected, but a warm farewell from her sister shouldn't have been it. While they'd developed something akin to respect since Arya's return to Winterfell, their bond still lacked the warmth she always hoped she would share with her only sister.
"I will be leaving within the hour." Sansa said. "I wanted to see you both before then."
"And I wanted to see you as well." Bran said, though his tone didn't indicate any strong desire one way or the other.
Sansa knelt before him and took his hand. "I wish you good fortune, brother."
"There is no need for such things." Bran said. "I must give you a warning."
Cold dread filled her as his hand tightened around hers, suddenly she wanted very much to pull away, but she made herself stay still.
"And what's this warning?" She asked.
"To survive the long night, you must bend the knee." Bran said.
"What do you mean?" She demanded, her stomach clenching in protest at the idea of bending the knee to Daenerys.
"When the moment arrives, you will know. And when it comes, act. If you hesitate, all is lost."
Sansa licked her lips, feel lost and uneasy, but she nodded. "I'll remember."
Bran nodded and then looked away from her as though she was no longer of any interest and releasing her hand.
Sansa rose to her feet and looked to Arya, hoping that, if not tender, their farewell would be less troubling.
"I'll see you out to the yard." Arya said, and turned on her heel to walk toward the door.
Sansa hurried to catch up with her. They walked in silence until they got outside, then Arya turned to the crypts.
"Arya?" Sansa asked, in confusion, but Arya continued down the stairs without an explanation.
Sansa followed her sister into the darkness and wondered, not for the first time, if her sister was her friend or foe. They'd been allies against Littlefinger, but whether that was an alliance out of necessity or out of loyalty she'd never been entirely sure. On her part, it was loyalty. They were a pack. She'd learned the value of family when she was left among lions without a friend in the world. But Arya… She didn't know what side Arya was on anymore. She didn't know the first thing about this Arya and she wasn't sure she ever had.
The torches flickered dimly in the crypt and Arya strode purposefully to the statue of their aunt Lyanna.
Sansa opened her mouth to demand some sort of explanation but the words died in her throat as Arya dragged out a bound and gagged figure. Sansa took a step closer because the dim light made it hard to make out the disheveled figure.
"Missandei?" She whispered in disbelief. She knew the queen's advisor by sight but not personally. "Arya, what have you done?"
"I'm protecting our family." Arya said, drawing her delicate sword, the one she called Needle.
"And what threat is she?" Sansa demanded.
"She saw you." Arya said.
"She saw you go into Jon's chambers." Arya explained.
Sansa's heart nearly stopped because between Arya's expressionless mask and the burning resentment in Missandei's eyes she understood her sister's meaning perfectly.
"So what, you're planning to kill her?" Sansa asked, unable to suppress the annoyance in her voice.
"If necessary." Arya shrugged.
"Well, it's not necessary." Sansa snapped, grabbing the knife from Arya's belt and carefully sawing through Missandei's bindings so as not to cut the poor woman in the process. "I won't condemn a good person to keep my secrets safe."
Missandei pulled out her gag and looked Sansa over with open hostility.
"I'm sorry." Sansa said to the advisor, knowing those words probably meant very little in the wake of a night spent bound and gagged in a crypt expecting imminent death.
"Are you going to beg me to keep my silence?" Missandei sneered.
Sansa shook her head. "Daenerys knows, or at least suspects, already. Please just go in peace and safety."
Missandei frowned at her in confusion for a long moment before retreating from the crypts.
"That was stupid." Arya said.
"Maybe." Sansa admitted, passing the knife back to her sister. "But what's the point in surviving if we become monsters in the process?"
Arya nodded and tucked away the knife. "Good."
"Good?" Sansa frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You're not Cersei."
Sansa studied her sister for a long moment. "This was a test?"
"Of sorts." Arya slipped her needle back into it's scabbard and unfastened her belt, holding it out to Sansa. "Take this with you. It has served me well."
"I don't know how to use it." Sansa said, pushing the sword away.
"Stick 'em with the pointy end." Arya suggested, glibly.
Hesitantly, Sansa accepted the weapon. "Thank you."
"I expect you to give that back to me." Arya said.
Sansa smiled slightly, realizing that her sister both cared and worried over her safety, even if it might not be easy to see.
"If it's anything like embroidery, that won't be a problem." Sansa said with a smile that she hoped was convincing. "I've always been good with a needle."