Actions

Work Header

Snow in our Bones

Chapter Text

-296 AC-

"I'll save you, princess!" shouts Robb, hoisting his wooden sword in the air, hitting it against Bran’s until he can tap the boy on the shoulder with it. Bran dramatically falls, and Robb rushes over to the tree behind him, pulling Sansa from the makeshift tower and into his arms.

"Thank you, kind ser!" Sansa says affectionately, leaning into her brother and wrapping her arms around his neck.

“I fear I have nothing with which to thank you. Nothing but a kiss,” she giggles as he sets her on her feet.

“Why, Princess, that’s quite sufficient,” Robb replies haughtily and accepts a gentle touch of Sansa’s lips on his own. It lasts longer than expected - until Robb’s tongue sweeps against Sansa’s lips - and she shivers as she pulls away from him again. They’re thankful for the cold wind picking up around them, as it conceals from their siblings their flushing cheeks.

“You don’t always have to kiss her, you know,” Jon says, rolling his eyes as he pushes himself up off the ground, pulling Arya and Bran up after him by their little, gloved hands.

“Of course he does, Jon! That’s how all the songs go!” whines Sansa, and Jon raises his arms in acceptance. She truly was the family’s Princess, and if Robb wished to humor her, then so be it.

“It’s okay, Jon. They can kiss as much as they want, as long as I don’t have to watch,” declares Arya, and she, Jon, and Bran laugh. Sansa sticks out her tongue at her sister, and Arya returns the gesture with a smirk.

“Come, it’s getting dark. We should go inside,” quiets Robb, heading towards the castle, and his siblings follow suit, though somewhat reluctantly. Sansa slips her hand into his as they walk, and he squeezes it tight, smiling weakly over at her.

***

-298 AC-

Sansa startles at the knock at her chamber door, wondering who would come to visit her so late. She’s less surprised when she opens the door to find Robb standing nervously on the other side. She clears her throat.

“Yes?”

“Sansa, we have to talk. You’ve been avoiding me.”

I’ve been avoiding you? You’ve been avoiding me!”

“Only because I was unsure what to say.”

“Are you sure now?”

Her voice is bitter, acerbic. Tears are gathering in her eyes. Robb gulps.

“No, but I know I have to say something.”

Sansa’s expression softens, but only a little, and she fiddles nervously with her hands. Robb reaches for her, but she moves away, back to her bedside. She ignores him for a moment as she folds another dress and puts it into her case. He closes the door behind himself, and her breathing hitches.

“So, speak,” she demands shakily.

“We’ve been foolish, Sansa. We should have stopped this long ago. It’s not right.”

“It’s not wrong, either.”

She glares up at him.

“The Targaryens wedded brother to sister for centuries, what makes it so wrong now?”

“We are not Targaryens, sister. We are Starks. It is…it’s better this way, okay? It’s just…better.”

“You were so much more fun before you cared for politics,” Sansa sneers.

“Do you think I have a choice?” Robb growls, and Sansa bites her lip, sighing.

“I know you do not. I just…wish this was all…”

“Different.”

“Yes.”

Robb grabs the last dress laid on the bed, holding it delicately. It’s a short, thin pink slip with embroidered flowers, and he remembers that he was almost stunned the first time she wore it, nearly a whole year past. Jon had been more than willing to drink with him, and Robb had been unspeakably grateful for that. Sansa allows him to hold it for a minute, watching with bated breath as he runs his fingers over the embroidery on the bodice before she reaches out for it, likely thinking, too, about those days before Jon had left them for the Wall.

“I will miss you, Robb.”

She takes a deep breath as she lays the dress on top of the others in her case.

“You will have Arya, and Lady, and Father.”

“You know what I mean.”

Tears form behind her eyelids again, and as she blinks to force them back, one falls. Instinctually, Robb reaches for her cheek, rubbing away the tear with his thumb. His fingers curl tenderly around to her neck.

“What of Joffrey? You seem fond of him.”

“It’s not the same, Robb.”

“I know…I know.”

For what Robb knows will be the last time for much too long, he leans in towards her, his eyes fixed on her pale lips. Her breath is shaky, and he pauses, but she puts a hand on his cheek and pulls him closer, kissing him, gently at first. Slowly, their embrace deepens, their lips pressing harshly against each other and tongues swirling together. Robb’s hands come to rest at Sansa’s hips, and her arms wrap around his neck, pulling his body flush against hers. Another tear drips down her cheek, and Robb pulls away.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “That- that was wrong of me.”

“No, no, stop saying that, please. Just…stop saying that.”

“Sansa, I must. We both must. This has been child’s play, but now we must move on.”

“And if I cannot?”

“You will.”

“And if I do not? What if Joffrey is not who I hope he is? Father says I should be matched with someone brave and gentle and strong, what if he is not that? What if he does not like me?”

“He will love you, I am sure. Anyone who could meet you and not love you is a fool, a damned fool.”

“What if he’s a fool, Robb?”

“You should not have so much doubt, sister…but I swear to you, if he is a fool, if he is craven, if he is cruel…I will come for you. Father will protect you, but if he cannot, I will come for you.”

“Do you promise?”

“On all our lives, Sansa. I promise.”

He kisses her hand, and she trembles.

Chapter Text

-300 AC-

Sansa’s pleas catch in her throat as the guards drag her from the godswood, hands harsh around her wrists.

“I am your Queen,” she eventually manages to spit out as they round the corner to Joffrey’s solar. “Unhand me!”

They do release her, although only once they’ve shoved her inside.

“Praying for your brother? I hope not,” Joffrey sneers, lifting his left arm so the servants assisting him can strap his shield to it.

For his victory. For your death. For home, for Winterfell, she thinks.

“Praying for peace, Your Grace, that this will all be over soon,” she says demurely, fighting equal urges to smirk and to bite her lip in fear. She gulps as he turns to look at her, disgust written on his face.

“What folly.”

“What hope.”

He raises his right hand to her cheek, and though she feels the bruise he leaves, she stifles any reaction. She’s grown accustomed to her husband’s violence, and gods be willing, she’ll be rid of him soon. Robb will make sure of it. Robb is coming for her, the Dragon Queen at his side and both their armies behind them. The King in the North, they were calling him, and of such a title he was worthy. Robb had always been worthy.

She wonders just how much he’s changed since she saw him last. She herself was no longer the young girl he had known, she was a woman, a wife, a mother…a Queen. All the games they played as children at Winterfell had not steeled her for such duties, such changes. The knights at Joffrey’s command were not like Bran, slashing wooden swords against those his brothers wielded, to confine Princess Sansa to her allotted tower; Joffrey, no valiant ruler as the princes Robb and Jon played were valiant. Joffrey’s kisses were not sweet and loving, like Robb’s; the dolls she had played with were nothing like her young daughter, precious and perfect but an affront to Joffrey, who craved an heir.

She’d insisted he get her with child again - it would be a boy, of course it would, there was some sort of mistake, the tonics must have been wrong - but he would not take her. He’d refused to lay with her at all since the girl’s birth many moons previous. Sansa was not fond of sleeping alone, but she did not protest, as he had agreed to let the little princess live. She would sleep a million nights alone if it meant the life of her daughter. She imagined Robb was with her, as he oft had been in their youth, holding her tightly as she shivered from unpleasant dreams. As a child, her dreams were haunted by wild wolves, lions, and dragons, and dark, damp, endless corridors, but now, she dreamed of death. It surrounded her every moment, and many moons ago she’d concluded it was not worth her energy to run from it.

No, no one would mistake the Iron Throne for a respite, but the Queen’s place was seldom better.

***

A fortnight passes before any reliable word of Joffrey. Sansa is less worried about him than she puts off. She hopes for Robb with every moment, even in her dreams.

Sansa wakes at first light, grumbling as she pulls herself from bed. Cersei’s shrieks echo from her bedchamber, and Sansa thoughtlessly rushes to the room. She finds the door open, two unfamiliar knights standing inside. Cersei glares at her, displeased at being seen indisposed, but as Sansa’s face hardens, so does hers.

“State your business,” Sansa demands. The knights turn to her and bow.

“Your Grace, I am deeply sorry,” says the younger, a balding, skinny man no more than four-and-forty, and Sansa looks back to Cersei. The blonde nods solemnly, weakly, and reaches for her. Sansa obliges, moving to her swiftly, her thin nightdress gathered in her sweaty hands as the floor creaks below her feet.

“The King is dead, my dear. Our…our Joffrey is dead,” Cersei sobs into Sansa’s shoulder as they grip each other tightly. Cersei is shivering in anguish, and for a moment Sansa feels compassion for her, but it fades quickly. The single tear that streams down her cheek is one of relief.

Winter is coming, she thinks. Robb is coming.

“Your Grace?” asks the older knight after a few moments. Sansa and Cersei loose their hold on one another, and when Sansa turns to the knight she sees the apprehension in his eyes. She raises her eyebrows expectantly, letting Cersei take a seat upon her bed.

“The letter was from the Kingslayer. He and the Imp are being escorted back to King’s Landing, Your Grace.”

“On what terms, Ser?”

“None as of yet, Your Grace.”

“From whence have they been sent? We must be sure to receive them properly.”

“The letter does not say, Your Grace.”

“Very well. Wake the Maester, have him fetch the children. I must speak to them immediately.”

The knights take their leave, and Sansa sits down next to Cersei, stroking her back soothingly until the children arrive. Tommen looks into his mother’s chamber grumpily, pulling his sister behind him. With little Catelyn cradled in her arms, Myrcella seems older than she is, and the grim look in her eyes makes her seem even older. Sansa gestures them in, and they move warily to the bed, seating themselves on the opposite side of the two teary women. They’re smarter than they’ve been given credit for, and they quite quickly discern the situation.

“What’s wrong? What’s happened?” asks Tommen, wide-eyed.

“Is it Joffrey?” prods Myrcella, and Sansa lays a hand on the girl’s knee, in an attempt to be reassuring.

“Joff’s not coming home, is he, Mother?” Tommen enquires meekly, and Cersei shakes her head. The word ‘no’ forms on her lips, but no sound save her sobbing leaves her mouth.

My Prince is dead, Sansa thinks. Long live my King.

Chapter Text

-301 AC-

A joyous cry rings through the Red Keep.

“They’re coming! They’re coming! The Imp and the Kingslayer are coming!” everyone shouts, and the servants of the castle are bustling. Sansa tightens her bodice for the last time, and holds Cersei’s hand as they go down to meet the incoming party.

They have five escorts, which would seem excessive, had Sansa not known either Jaime or Tyrion Lannister. Even from far away Sansa can see that the Kingslayer’s hands are in chains. He rides on a courser along with a rather rotund gentleman, who looks unfamiliar to Sansa but wears the Tully crest upon a shield at his side. His brother rides alone, which surprises Sansa, though when she gasps, it’s not at him, but at the woman at his left. Her face is not yet visible when Sansa recognizes her, but her auburn hair and deep grey raiment give her away.

"Mother," Sansa murmurs, and blinks away tears of joy. The horses are galloping towards them, but they can’t arrive quickly enough for Sansa. She trembles in excitement as they come closer, closer, closer still, until they are upon the castle, and stop.

A smile Sansa thought had long been lost creeps onto Cersei’s face as the Kingslayer dismounts and they run to each other, context all but forgotten between them. They kiss as they hold each other tight, as though no one was watching, or rather, they did not have the willpower to care. Sansa craves the touch of Robb’s skin on hers, but presses the thought out of her mind, welcoming her mother gently into her arms. Catelyn presses a salty kiss to her cheek, and Sansa grips her tighter, both women beginning to cry as they embrace. Neither can manage a word, so they do not try, but Cersei and Jaime exchange quiet words, and Sansa cringes as she hears them.

“Who was it? Who was it, Jaime? Who killed our boy?”

“The King in the North, Cersei. The Stark boy. He says that when he defeats what’s left of our Lion army he will bring Joff’s head with him.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Sansa sees a grim realisation come to Cersei as the blonde turns to her angrily. Cersei advances toward Sansa, and Sansa calls the Queensguard, who stop her in her tracks.

“My son! He was your husband! Your king!” shouts Cersei, and Sansa gives up her hold on her mother to walk closer to her.

“He was my husband, yes, but he would have never been my king. Robb is my brother, and my allegiance is with him. I am not your little bird; I am a wolf, and winter is coming, Cersei. Winter is coming, and the Starks will endure. We always do.”

Cersei cries out again, dropping to her knees, and Jaime moves toward her, but is stopped. He purses his lips, and looks up to Sansa to see a grotesque smile on her lips.

“It was Joffrey who called for my father’s head, and one of you who crippled my brother. I have no mercy for you, not when Joffrey was plotting his own defeat, and certainly not now.”

She looks back at her mother, whose proud expression lets her stand a bit taller as she takes a deep breath and turns back to her guards.

“Take the Lannisters to the dungeons,” she orders, and tunes out Cersei’s shrieks of protest as she and her brothers are taken away.

***

The godswood in the Keep is warmer than Catelyn prefers, and she feels almost naked walking around in only a light dress. She shivers nonetheless, sweat trickling down her back.

“Sansa, dear, there’s something I must speak to you about. I promised Robb I would broach the topic.”

Catelyn’s hand is cold on Sansa’s shoulder as she strokes her fingers through her daughter’s hair.

“Yes, Mother?”

“Once he’s truly King, Robb will need an heir.”

Sansa's mouth opens with an empty response, and she turns away from Catelyn.

“Would he not marry the Dragon Queen?” she says eventually, shivering.

“She does not wish to marry again, and the people of the North wish for a Northern queen. Some of them even say they will only bow to a Stark.”

Sansa turns back, the question blackening her eyes as she suppresses a relieved smile. It has been long since Sansa has had subjects who have been proud to bow to her, Catelyn knows.

“Do they mean me?”

“Yes, Sansa. Many of Robb’s men believe you make the finest queen.”

Sansa stifles a chuckle.

“And what say Robb of that?”

“He is willing, if you are.”

Sansa’s voice shakes as she speaks.

“And what say you of that?”

Catelyn pulls Sansa’s hand into own, and brings it to her lips.

“I want you home, sweetling. It matters not what I have to do to get you back to Winterfell. I want both of you home and happy. And look what beautiful children your father and I made - how handsome your son would be.”

Sansa smiles, letting her happiness sit upon her lips a moment before giving her reply.

“We shall name him Eddard, after Father, and after Robb tires of the crown, he shall be a fantastic king.”

Catelyn laughs, pulling Sansa into a hug.

“I wish you all the joy in the world, my daughter. And when Robb comes for us, you shall have it.”

She cradles Sansa’s chin in her palms, beaming at her daughter. She kisses her on the nose, and Sansa giggles.

Chapter Text

“You’ll see her again, you know,” comes a sharp but feminine voice from the front of his tent, and Robb turns with his hand on his sword to see the intruder. It’s only Dacey, and he steadies himself within a few seconds, offering her a drink from the skin in his hand, which she declines.

“What do you mean?” he says apprehensively after another swig of alcohol, though he knows what she’s talking about. She rolls her eyes at him. Especially with his mother gone, she’s not about to stand down if she has something to say. She’s one of the few people who call him by name rather than title, and although she’s more blunt than he may like, he’s grown fond of her over the past couple of years.

“Your sister, Robb. You have the same look in your eyes for her as the Kingslayer does for his Queen, and we all know where they’ve ended up.”

“I’m not Jaime Lannister, Mormont,” he barks, but she doesn’t stir, walking even closer to him, a look of odd amusement in her twinkling eyes.

“No, though you have some striking similarities.”

She tips her head to the sack on the table beside him, the sack holding Joffrey’s head. He scoffs.

“That’s hardly an extensive list, Dacey.”

“Didn’t say it was.”

She walks to the table, taking a seat at the chair behind it and glancing down at the map spread out upon it. She crosses her arms and huffs a sigh, then lets her long black hair down, allowing it to cascade past her shoulders. He looks at her inquisitively.

“I hear the little princess is beautiful. Perhaps the queen’s next child shall be your heir?”

He sends her an offended look, his brow furrowed, but her expression of amusement remains.

“My sister was a girl when I saw her last,” he declares, more for his own sake than for Dacey’s, willing himself to remember.

“And now she is a woman grown. A queen, no less. The queen of the king whose life you’ve just taken in battle. Dany is right; tradition dictates that you are to marry her, regardless of your relation.”

“Targaryen tradition, not mine.”

“Tradition, nevertheless,” Dacey shrugs. “Although I know that’s not why you’ve agreed.”

She pauses, twirling a lock of hair with a couple of her fingers.

“We all have to fight for something, yes? Love is as noble a cause as any. Some think more so. The bards certainly do, as all the songs proclaim. I’m sure your sister’s fond of those, all those songs about valiant knights and princes galloping in to save their lady loves. What will she do when she sees you, do you think? Will she leap at you? Kiss you?”

Robb does not respond but to glare at her as he takes another drink. He lowers his skin to see Dacey’s hand extended towards him, so he caps the skin and tosses it to her. She takes a short swig, and shakes her head.

“You hope so,” she declares, standing back up and walking to him, putting the skin back into his hands.

“Hold on to that. These next few days will be difficult ones, Robb. Hold on to your Sansa.”

She smiles, turning away from him and leaving his tent. He chuckles nervously, and undresses for the night.

He curls up next to Grey Wind underneath the furs on his cot, and dreams that Sansa sleeps beside him.

***

His lover’s blood trickles through his fingers, but Jon can’t will himself to let go of her.

“I’m sorry,” he pleads, sobs escaping him even as he becomes vaguely aware of other people joining them. “I’m sorry.”

“I know, Jon Snow,” she whimpers, her fingertips weakly caressing his cheek. “I forgive you. I know.”

She leans toward him where he kneels, and as she kisses his knee some of her red hair falls onto his lap. A large, heavy hand claps him on the shoulder.

“Let go, brother,” commands Thorne, but one of Ygritte’s hands has found Jon’s, and Jon ignores him. Tears cloud his eyes, but he sees another figure kneeling across from him, and looks up to see Sam reaching out for him.

“We can heal her, Jon,” Sam says gently, grabbing Jon by the forearm. “Aemon can heal her, but you have to let go.”

“He can…but will he?” Jon responds angrily.

“Yes, Jon, he will,” declares Thorne, and Jon’s breathing slows slightly. He looks back down at Ygritte, and she nods at him. She starts to purse her lips as though to shush him, but she makes no sound as Sam’s arms extend underneath her, replacing Jon’s. Sam stands, nodding to Thorne as he heads away with her. Thorne’s hand leaves Jon’s shoulder only to be extended below the younger man’s face a moment later, and Jon grabs it as he pushes himself up from the ground.

Ghost frantically rushes toward the men, seemingly still displeased at having been shooed away earlier during the fighting that had broken out, and worried for his human’s sake. He nudges Jon’s hand, looking for a response, and seems glad when the hand pats him on the head. He whines, noticing Jon’s duress, and jumps up. He puts his paws on Jon’s shoulders as he licks Jon’s tears from his cheeks. Jon shoves the wolf down, but both he and Thorne chuckle.

Chapter Text

“Your Grace, let me-" pleads the girl, reaching for the torch in Sansa’s hand, but Sansa waves her aside.

“I’ve got it,” she declares, moving to begin her descent down the deep stairwell.

“Your Grace, please, let me prepare you some tea; that always helps you when you can’t sleep. S’not safe to be going down to there now, not in the night, in the dark and cold.”

“Do you remember what I told you about wolves and the dark and cold, Lissette?”

The girl bows her head bashfully. Her golden hair falls to cover her face.

“Yes, Your Grace. I remember.”

Sansa smiles gently, tapping an index finger underneath the handmaiden’s chin to get her to look back up.

“Go fix some tea, my sweet. I’ll return to my solar within the hour.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” says Lissette. She curtsies and stumbles away down the corridor, leaving Sansa alone by the stairs.

Sansa takes a deep breath and sweeps her hair back behind her shoulders. She steels herself and takes a careful step downwards, gathering up her nightdress in her free hand. She hums to herself, as she travels down to the small crypt, a mangled, desecrated version of her wedding song; her torch flickers with each step, but she pays that little mind.

At the bottom of the stairs she clears her throat, and walks to her left, facing the graves. The area of the crypt’s not been well-cared for; the nobles of the Red Keep were buried with the rest of their houses, save for the cruel Targaryen king - and Joffrey. Now that the Lannisters’ affair had been admitted, there was no possibility of convincing either Robert’s brothers or Tywin Lannister to allow Joffrey to rest with either family. Not that Sansa had tried particularly hard; she was more than happy to leave his head up on display and the rest of his body down with those of nameless servants. He deserved no better; it was the servants whose circumstances she pitied.

She shivers as her eyes set upon the bust, the artistry good enough that it seems as though Joffrey himself was staring back at her. She steels herself, a cruel, cold smile creeping across her face.

“I told you,” she growls. “I told you Robb wouldn’t back down from a fight.”

She laughs freely, the sound emanating from her and bouncing off the stone walls resembling a cackle.

“Little did you think, that neither would I.”

The gods made the winter for the wolves, and the wolves for the winter; in the cold, dark, and dim, the wolves howl to declare to the world that there is warmth.

***

Arya runs her hands through the ends of her hair and grunts unhappily; her eyes stay fixed on the middle of the mirror even as Gendry chuckles.

“It looks fine, Arya,” he insists quietly, his large hands coming up to meet hers, and she shrinks away, crossing her arms across her chest before realizing that even that position is awkward now and she drops them to her hips, desperately trying to adjust the dress.

“No, it doesn’t,” she huffs. “Nothing looks fine anymore.”

“I’m sorry the shop lady won’t sell you trousers,” he mumbles, grabbing one of the pins the lady had handed Arya a moment ago. He pulls back the hair that’s falling over her eyes, and pins it together at the top of her head. Arya grunts noncommittally, and he shrugs. The shop lady emerges from a back room. Her olive skin looks almost dark under her shimmery, golden dress, and her braided black hair falls heavily halfway down her back. She’s skinny like Arya, skinny enough that the slits in her dress show her bones, but her breasts and hips make up for her adolescent slenderness.

“So, what kinda mother you got to be bringing a suitor round to get you a dress?”

“He’s not-” protests Arya.

“I’m her brother,” Gendry adds calmly, but the shop lady laughs.

“Right. Ain’t no brother ’n sister I ever seen look at each other like that,” she says.

“Bet ya the Lannisters look something worse,” sneers Arya.

“Well, I ain’t never seen them Lannisters, girl. Now, hush and put this on.”

She hands Arya a long red number, and Arya sighs to herself. The woman shoos her back into the dressing room, and she obliges. It slides on easily, and feels almost like a big red hug. The neckline’s a bit low, even with the ties in front of it, but she feels a bit older, a bit more ladylike, a bit less like a little girl, just in putting it on. It’s not silk, it’s something warm, and she imagines an embroidered cloak slung over her shoulders. It looks like something Dacey Mormont would be wearing, as she sits laughing and drinking with Robb and his men, or something Lyanna might have liked to wear. She steps slowly out of the changing stall and turns to face the mirror.

She can feel Gendry’s sharp intake of breath, but it doesn’t faze her. She’s too busy looking at herself, too busy seeing that although she didn’t look quite herself, she feels more herself than she had in the past three years, maybe more than she ever had. Even the shop lady doesn’t say a word, and only raises a number of fingers when Gendry pulls a pouch of coins from his pocket; after he pays for the dress, Arya gathers up her shirt and trousers, and they leave in silence.

“You look pretty, you know,” Gendry says softly after a few moments of walking.

“Shut up,” replies Arya, and even though she shoves him gently, a slight smile creases her lips.

“As m’lady commands,” he answers, and she rolls her eyes teasingly.

Chapter Text

Sansa leaves in the middle of breaking her fast, almost unable to eat, her excitement barely contained within her body. Lissette follows worriedly, and Sansa allows her to come with her to the stable, where Sansa has one of her horses tacked up. Lissette does not know how to ride, so she sits behind Sansa on the saddle, yelping when the mare trips or moves a bit too fast. They ride off to the gates of King’s Landing, and wait.

Any other day, Sansa might have been more irritated, but her brothers are joining her today, and nothing else has the power to matter. Even the knowledge that Arya has not been found does not disturb her peace; Arya is strong - they all are - and Sansa seldom fears for her any longer. She’d never wished to be a lady, and now she was not; she and Nymeria were off somewhere, howling at the moons as they came and rolling about in the dirt. Arya could be as dirty as she wished now, Sansa knew; she’d have felt it, if Arya had died. That’s how wolves were, when a member of their pack died. No, Arya was alive; they all were, except for Father, and they could get their vengeance for that.

No, today had all the makings of a great day. Little Catelyn had gone a little less than a fortnight before with a number of trusted guards to Winterfell, so that Bran and Rickon both could come to the Red Keep, whilst a Stark remained at Winterfell. She was just a babe, far too young to remember any of this, and Sansa was glad. She would grow up knowing Robb and Bran and Rickon, and her grandmother and perhaps even Jon, and Arya if she returned; and the Lannisters - indeed, even her own Lannister heritage - would be little more than stories to her. Little more than legend, and that knowledge alone made Sansa tremble with happiness.

It takes a moment - and a light yelp from Lissette - for Sansa to realize that the ground below them is trembling also, trembling in the rhythm of a gallop. Her smile grows, and one of her hands goes back from her waist to comfort her worrying companion.

“They’re coming,” she murmurs, though her heartbeat screams it loud. Far too slowly for her liking, the armies rise over the crown of the hill above them; she recognizes the shields of many of the Northmen, but the golden and silver army of the Khaleesi is unfamiliar. Their horses are larger, and their skin darker, but their silver-haired queen rides at Robb’s left, smiling, and the army does not frighten her. Sansa knows the moment that Robb sees her, as his smile grows wider. The wolves speed off in front of him; Grey Wind, Shaggydog, and Summer rush up to Sansa together, and Sansa hops off her horse to greet them, even though the direwolves' statures rival that of her steed. Robb slows his horse, and Queen Daenerys begins to follow suit until Robb turns to her and the lady at her other side.

“Dany, Dacey, take everyone else and go on ahead, all right?” he says, almost as though it were only a suggestion, and Sansa is surprised at just how much deeper his voice has gotten.

“And your brothers?” asks the silver-haired woman as she watches Robb slide off his mount. The black-haired woman begins ushering the army through the gates; the cheers of the common people can be heard as they continue down the kingsroad. Robb shrugs, grabbing his horse by the reins and swaggering towards Sansa, and Sansa sees Bran and Rickon galloping up with the army, both giggling happily. The sight brings tears to her eyes and a hand to her heart; they ride over to her at the same moment Robb approaches, and she reaches for Bran’s hand.

“Oh, I’m so happy to see you, little brothers,” she says gleefully.

“Sansa!” cries Rickon. “We’re not little anymore!”

“We’re little to her, silly,” answers Bran firmly. “Just like we’re little to Mother, and to Robb, and to Jon.”

Rickon sticks his tongue out, just as Shaggydog rubs his head on Sansa’s dress, begging for attention, and she pushes the wolf away.

“Run along,” she orders. “Mother’s back up at the castle, waiting for you; give us a moment alone.”

Both boys start to grumble, but she thoughtlessly - or so they think - reaches to twirl a lock of her hair, drawing their eyes to her crown, and they decide not to argue, calling their wolves after them as they rush off towards the Red Keep.

“Should I follow them, Your Grace?” asks Lissette tentatively, and Sansa smiles back at her.

“Yes, yes; we’ll be quite all right. But don’t feel the need to ride too quickly, dear. The last thing I need is my best handmaiden getting herself hurt.”

Lissette nods, and gives the horse an unsure push.

“There you go, darling. I’ll see you back at the castle,” Sansa says, watching the girl leave, then turns back to Robb to see he’s smiling coyly at her. She cocks her head.

“What?”

“You wear your authority well,” he contests as she walks closer. He moves his arms a bit farther apart, far enough that he can place them on her hips once she stands within a few inches of him. She slides easily into his grasp, eyes glistening as she wraps her arms around his neck.

“I hope the same can be said for you,” she replies teasingly, leaning closer. “But I’ll teach you either way.”

He stifles a chuckle, wrapping his arms past her hips and grabbing her at the small of her back. A light gasp escapes her, and she takes the initiative of being the one to press her lips against Robb’s. She’s tentative at first, as she recalls how long it’s been, how the last time they’d been alone, he’d told her that they were wrong, that they were foolish ever to imagine they should have kissed outside their games, that the love they had for each other was child’s play. She’d known she’d never move on, and yet he’d insisted.

But he’d insisted, also, that if Joffrey was cruel, he would come for her, and here he was; and when her lips push and pull at his, he responds in kind. His lips are chapped, and he smells of sweat and Grey Wind’s fur, and his breathing hitches as he pulls her even closer, as close as he can manage. Only a semblance of their former attitudes remain in their kiss; they’re desperate, as though the other were sips of brandy for an drunkard, and there’s no shame in their embrace, even as they grope and gasp for each other.

Eventually, they reluctantly break apart, glimmers of lust still in their eyes, and Robb pulls her up onto his horse behind him. She wraps her arms around him and whistles for Grey Wind to follow as they advance the rest of the way to the Red Keep.

***

Jon’s hands are slick with sweat by the time he and Sam reach the Maester’s quarters. Sam turns forebodingly to Jon.

“She was still bleeding last time I saw her. Aemon says he’s stopped it, but I don’t know how stable she is. Are you sure-"

“I have to see her, Sam.” Jon’s voice is gruff, shaky; he’s close to tears, unable to look Sam in the eyes. Sam hesitates. “I have to.”

Sam nods apprehensively, and opens the door.

Ygritte smiles at them, uncharacteristically sweetly, as they walk inside, standing in the doorway long enough for Sam to mount his torch on the wall and give a nod as he takes his leave, shutting the door behind himself.

"Ah, they finally brought you. I was starting to worry someone'd killed you," says Ygritte teasingly, gazing up at Jon from the cot she's laid on. She sits up, revealing the bandage wrapped around her midsection, and Jon winces a moment before she does.

"No, no,” he says, his pain seeping through into his tone. “Don't...don't worry about me. You wouldn't even be here if it weren't for me.”

She ignores the crack, the strain, in his words, continuing to speak lightheartedly.

"I know, Jon Snow. You brought me to a castle! I've never seen a castle up close, you know. Although…I haven't yet seen much of this one."

Against what he thinks is his better judgement, Jon chuckles. He brings one of Aemon's chairs to the bedside, leaning toward Ygritte as he sits down.

"It's not exactly a proper castle, Ygritte."

"Most proper castle I've ever been in," she declares, reaching out to take one of his hands. "But if you're being picky, I wouldn't mind a ride to Winterfell, if you'd like to take me."

"You're not going anywhere. Not until you're well."

The hand of his which she's not holding snakes around to the back of her neck as she sits a bit straighter. The contentment in her eyes surprises him as they meet his own watery eyes.

"That's quite all right, I'll stick around. As long as I'm well enough for a bit o’ kissing?”

He chuckles again, leaning closer and pressing his wet lips to hers. A light groan escapes her as his tongue slips into her mouth; she wraps an arm around his shoulders, pulling him closer to her, until Jon eventually turns a bit breathless, and takes his lips away from hers. He trails a couple lighter kisses down her cheeks and shoulders.

“I almost got you killed,” he whispers eventually, crying again. “How can you forgive me if I’m not ever going to be able to forgive myself?”

She strokes his cheek, pursing her lips momentarily.

“Because I love you, Jon Snow…and you love me. I am yours and you are mine, and that is all that matters.”

She sighs lightly, and his hand comes up to press hers tighter to his cheek.

“You almost died, Ygritte,” he whimpers.

“I distinctly recall my own self aimin’ a bow at you not long ago, Jon Snow. I daresay we’re even now.”

She kisses his nose, and he laughs. He sobers at a clawing at the door; there’s an angry pattering of footsteps in the corridor and then a crack in the door as Ghost pushes through it, pummeling through the room and heaving himself onto the cot with Ygritte.

“Damned dog,” grunts Aemon as he carefully opens the broken door.

“It’s a beast, not a dog,” Thorne contradicts, following the Maester into the room.

“He’s a direwolf,” says Ygritte authoritatively, resting a hand on the wolf’s head. Ghost nuzzles her chest, resting his nose above her wound and positioning himself so as to surround her protectively. Jon can practically hear the other men’s eyes rolling, so he bites his lip and hopes his smile is successfully concealed, though his eyes ultimately do betray him.

“Shut up,” Thorne growls at him.

“She’s right, you know. He is a direwolf,” says Jon, earning him slight glares from the men and a tense giggle from Ygritte.

“We would be lying if we pretended you were not as well, Jon,” comes the Lord Commander’s stern voice from behind Thorne and Maester Aemon. The pair steps aside to allow him into the room, and he strides in. Jon stands from his seat, and Ghost’s head turns in his direction. Mormont clears his throat, and Jon purses his lips. For all its differences, the atmosphere in the room is reminiscent of when he and Robb and Theon had gotten themselves in trouble. Jon braces himself for a scolding like those of his father and Lady Catelyn.

It never comes.

“Your father teach you politics, boy?”

“Me and my brother Robb, well enough.”

“One hell of a game you’ve all been playing, you Starks.”

“Excuse me?”

“The game o’ thrones: you win or you die, boy,” snaps Thorne, and Mormont sends him a displeased glance, at which he shrugs. Jon’s brow furrows.

“Sansa’s the only one with a throne right now, not that it’s worth much in the Lions’ den,” says Jon bitterly, and Mormont’s lips twist into a grin. He waits a moment before relieving Jon of his curiosity.

“King Joffrey is dead, Jon; your brother Robb is the King in the North, now.”

“And Sansa?” says Jon pleadingly, his hope catching in his throat as he says her name again.

“Still the Queen. The Targaryen woman will take King’s Landing after your brother and sister wed and return to Winterfell.”

Mormont reaches underneath the fur he’s draped over his shoulders. He retrieves a letter and holds it out to Jon, who takes it gingerly between a pointer finger and thumb and scans the page. He chuckles happily as he reads it, but sobers at the end.

“Still no sign of Arya,” he sighs.

“No sign also means not dead, Jon,” Ygritte says softly, touching his arm.

“So we hope,” he gripes, and she clicks her tongue maternally, shushing him. Jon looks back up toward Mormont.

“Robb and Sansa want me at the wedding,” he says heavily.

“You’ll be there,” declares the Old Bear, smirking. “You and the Lady Snow and your damned direwolf.”

Chapter Text

The night is loud with the chatter of the city, and not cold enough; Robb stays clad in little more than his nightclothes as he and Grey Wind leave his room and make their way for the courtyard. He takes a seat inside of the windows looking down into the yard, and as he reaches a hand up to stroke his hair he feels the sweat covering his forehead, and groans.

“Seven hells! How does Sansa live with this?”

“Barely,” comes an amused voice from a couple windows away, followed by the click of high heeled shoes on the stone floor. At first, he’s cheered by seeing his sister, but then comes a pang of worry. Sansa takes a seat at the other end of the window, and Grey Wind lays down on the floor with his head nearest her.

“Could you not sleep either?” asks Robb.

“No, no. I’ve had trouble ever since I’ve come here. Haven’t had any nightmares for a while, though.”

“Did you have those a lot when you first got here?”

She gulps, but speaks plainly.

“I was living in one; sleep was seldom an exception.”

Robb’s face falls guiltily.

“But that is over now,” she says, in a vain attempt to be comforting.

“Is it?”

A breeze comes through, and Sansa shivers. Robb realizes how thin her nightdress is, with a pulse of lust that stumbles through him as the sheer fabric moves over her skin.

“Yes,” she declares, but her voice shakes. Robb pushes himself out of the window, going over to her, and she turns towards him almost warily. His hands come to rest at her hips, and she scoots closer, pulling him to her.

“It will be,” he murmurs, and presses a kiss to her clavicle. She shivers again, but when he pulls away carefully, he sees that she’s biting her lip, and knows it’s nothing to do with the cold.

“Anything you need, I promise,” he says, softly but resolutely, fingers playing with the fabric of her nightdress. “Anything you want, anything that will help.”

Sansa dips her head down to the floor for a short moment, then looks back up at him, and pulls him in by his shirt for a short kiss.

“You,” she whispers in his ear, and his heart stops. For half a second, he tries to convince himself that she means a kiss, but one of her hands is straying beneath his nightshirt, and he knows better.

“You,” she repeats, more forcefully, her voice pleading as she wraps her free arm around his neck. “You, Robb. Here, now. I want you to make love to me like you have in your wildest dreams.”

Robb pauses, stifling the urge to sate both of them right then and there and relieve themselves of all propriety.

“Well…in that case, we really ought to go somewhere other than a window,” he asserts, and Sansa simpers, her brow raised inquisitively. Robb steps away from her, and extends his hand; she places her palm atop his. He tightens his grip, entwining their fingers, and they run off down the corridor, Grey Wind following close behind.

“My solar is closer,” Sansa says excitedly, slowing her pace, once she realizes quite clearly they’re heading for Robb’s.

“And Mother’s is next to yours…as much as I enjoyed telling her stories about kings and queens as children, this is one I’d rather she not hear.”

“Fair point,” Sansa agrees, and they continue running until they reach the far end of the fortress, where Robb and his kingsguard have been given their temporary sleeping chambers. Grey Wind reaches the door before they do, and scratches at it, pushing it open but being shushed by Robb all the same.

Robb’s hand slides up to Sansa’s elbow as he ushers her into the room. He leans behind himself to shut the door; she stays close, close enough that her waist-length hair hits him as she turns back around to face him whilst in the process of raising her nightdress above her head. In her haste, the dress gets stuck at her shoulders, and she lets out a small, reflexive yip. Robb lights a candle, bites his lip, and supplies her the final tug, carelessly discarding the dress onto an armchair and leaning in to kiss her. His lips trail to her shoulders; his hands, to her back. His movements make themselves dreamily until she presses herself fully against him, fingers jerking not quite nimbly at the waistband of his trousers; and it’s then he’s overwhelmed with feeling - he hoists her up into his arms, and with a kiss haphazardly smacked at her neck, throws her onto the bed.

As he sheds the remainder of his smallclothes, he momentarily worries that he’s been too rough with her, but he sees her leaning back near the head of the featherbed - one arm extended toward him urgently and the other bent behind her, her eyes twinkling and her lips in a crooked, lascivious smirk, hair cascading at her side, the red locks illuminated against the greys and blacks of his furs as the candle flickers from the bedside table - and that singular worry swiftly fades from him. He climbs on the bed and leans down onto her, careful not to press his whole weight against her body even as she spreads her legs and pulls him tighter, pulls his skin against hers, and then pulls him inside of her.

She takes a deep breath and gently kisses him, reminding him that she’s done this before, that she’s had a man inside of her before, and not just any man, but an evil man, who had been his rival in such a multitude of ways; and the jealousy hits him like stone, like the clatter of sword against sword ringing in his ears, as it oft had at war - the knowledge that as long as he was fighting for her, for Winterfell, for the North, Joffrey would be having his way with her. No one refused a King; it was treason to do so, even - perhaps especially - for a Queen. Their father had despaired over trying to reason with Robert, not only for his own reasons, but for Cersei’s; to try to convince him that he should not strike his wife had been a futile act, one of the few at which Ned had failed, and it was indubitable that Joffrey had grown to be even worse than his stepfather.

Robb’s jealousy ensnares him, and his focus fades; Sansa pulls away an inch or two, worry working itself into her expression.

“What is it?” she asks tenderly, running her fingers down his chest, his muscles pulsing lustfully beneath their touch. “What are you thinking about, Robb?”

Robb hesitates.

“Joffrey,” he admits, and Sansa rolls her eyes. “And how he’s already-”

“No, no, no,” she interrupts, clasping a hand over his mouth.

“That miserable little shit is finally out of my life now,” she cries, her voice surprisingly clear.

“Last thing I need is you thinking about him - let alone right now. Yes, he was the first. Yes, I had his daughter. Yes, he was horrible and abusive and deserved not a moment of my time and certainly not my maidenhood...but he is gone now. Joffrey’s gone, and you are the King whose heir I am going to bear.”

She takes her hand off his mouth, slinging her arm back over his shoulder. Her tone slides into cheery boastfulness.

“He may have had me first, but not even the gods can keep us apart, and you…will have me forever, long past the end of both our days. Our children, our grandchildren, will conquer the world; there will be songs written about us that lords will sing to their ladies until the end of time itself!”

She pauses, and kisses him on the cheek.

“Why should we spent one moment more than necessary thinking of Joffrey?”

She kisses him again, sharply on the lips, and a feeling rises like fire within him; he drags his mouth slowly down her stomach, kissing delicate nothings into her skin until he reaches the sweet wetness between her thighs, and laps at her eagerly. She gasps, her hands gripping the silk sheets like she’d never been touched there, not in a way worth remembering, and he smirks, continuing until she practically begs him to enter her again, an order he obeys with a fierce passion that causes them both to moan aloud as they drive themselves to and past their points of orgasm.

***

If Catelyn’s frenzied shouts hadn’t woken them, Dacey’s pounding on the door certainly would have. Robb pushes himself out of bed, dressing quickly and tossing Sansa’s nightdress at her, and opens the door.

“Fuck you, Dacey,” comes his exasperated sentiment, and she responds in kind.

“You wish!”

She peeks behind him into the room, though he tries to block her view.

“Thank the gods she’s here. Half the fucking castle’s trying to find their Queen. You’re lucky I’m the only one logical enough to knock on your door, considering that-"

Catelyn pads over to them anxiously, and Dacey purses her lips. Robb gives her a foreboding look, and she rolls her eyes as Catelyn pushes past her son.

“Oh, Sansa! I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

“I’m right here, Mother,” says Sansa, accepting her Mother’s needy embrace.

“What in the seven hells do you two think you’re doing?”

Dacey opens her mouth, but chooses instead to leave.

“Trouble sleeping,” the siblings manage to say.

“Trouble sleeping!” exclaims Catelyn, clearly not convinced.

“I had a nightmare,” says Sansa. “And I did not wish to wake either you or Lissette, so I went to the courtyard, as I often do, to find that Robb was…already there. We thought that since we often slept better as children when we shared a solar, that it might be prudent to-”

“Prudent! Prudent! Sansa, you are no longer children! People will talk!”

“Yes, Mother, and what will they say? Robb has an appetite for beautiful women, and I’m not a maiden? How awful and fallacious of them!”

Catelyn and Robb both are speechless, and Sansa takes the moment to sigh.

“Oh, please, Mother,” she grunts, and struts off down the corridor. Catelyn follows, wrapping her arm around Sansa’s back, and Robb fondly watches them walk away.

Chapter Text

The lobby of the inn is bustling with activity when Arya emerges from her and Gendry’s shared room to break her fast. Gendry knows quite well she’s grumpy, so he hands her his flask immediately, chuckling as she shudders from her drink. She hands it back gently.

“What’s the fuss about?”

Gendry looks around carefully, and she furrows her brow.

“It’s rumored that there is to be a royal bridal tour,” he says slowly.

“As in-”

“As in, your brother and sister hosting feasts at various Westerosi towns that happen to intersect with their route back to Winterfell.”

“And they’re coming here?”

Her excitement catches both of them off guard.

“According to the servant that supposedly leaked the information, yes, but we all know how unnerved people get when there’s a wedding.”

“We’re not even in a town; we’re just…an inn, with some scattered folks around - why would they come here?” Arya’s skepticism flies out of her mouth.

“Who cares?” Sharna exclaims, agitated at her, as usual. “Can’t you just be excited about anything, Little Nym, for once?”

Arya sighs. “Not really!”

Sharna shakes her head.

“Well, at least get some food in you, then. You’ll need it, whether you end up makin’ the queen’s acquaintance or not.”

The older woman turns away, returning to her baking, and Arya and Gendry take seats on opposite sides of one of the many tables in the room.

“I don’t need to make the queen’s acquaintance,” Arya grumbles mockingly. “I already know how many freckles she has on her stupid little nose!”

Gendry laughs, and after a moment, Arya does the same.

“I used to count them when she was doing her embroidery,” she mumbles. “I’d judge how long Septa Mordane yelled at me by how many I got to.”

“I take it Septa Mordane yelled at you a lot?”

“Every day, without fail,” she smiles. “She’d have a fit if she knew what I’d been up to since I ran from King’s Landing.”

“I bet she would: shoving your sword through men’s hearts, having your hair cut all raggedy, wearing trousers nigh on every day, rooming with a man…I’m sure she’d have half a mind to slap you.”

“She wouldn’t be allowed to slap me, though,” Arya says, pointing at him. “Because I’m the fucking princess.”

“Yes, you are. Now do you mind saying that a little quieter before someone thinks I’ve kidnapped you or something?”

She rolls her eyes at him.

“You’re the one who ran away, and you’re the one who wants to stay a secret, Ar- Nymeria. So don’t act like you’re on top of this whole princess thing, because you don’t want to be one. You wanted to stay away, so don’t get reckless.”

She groans.

“Why do you care so much about this? It’s not like your freedom’s at risk here.”

“Isn’t it, though?” he says harshly, then softens his voice, and she sobers, almost fearful of what’s coming.

“I made the choice not to go with the Brotherhood for a reason, okay? I chose to stay with you instead. That’s all well and good, but if someone shows up and takes you back to Winterfell, I’ll have nothing, again. I didn’t go take the Black, I didn’t go with the Brotherhood, I stayed with you. I’d really quite prefer it if you didn’t leave me.”

He pauses.

“Might not be my freedom at risk here, but it’s my life, m’lady.”

He’s relieved of his words with a final sigh, and they travel across the table to lay their weight on her, rendering her practically speechless.

“Do not call me m’lady!” she spits out hastily, and rushes away, not caring that she’s not yet eaten.

***

Arya takes her midday break at the foot of a tree, pulling clumps of grass from the ground and making drawings with her fingers in the dirt, unwilling to go back inside. She’s picking the bark off a stick when Hot Pie comes over to her awkwardly, a steaming bowl of porridge in one hand and a piece of bread in the other.

“Don’t want your charity,” she huffs.

“Not charity, and not mine.”

“Don’t want Gendry’s, either,” she sneers.

“Food’s from Sharna; she’s demandin’ you eat.”

Arya looks up at him, stifling a groan. Sharna won’t let Hot Pie back in before he’s delivered her the food, and if he remains, it’ll only allow for more questions.

“Fine,” she grumbles, and moves over to a small table, letting him place the food in front of her, like he does for the inn’s guests.

“Hope you get over whatever happened this morning - it’ll be cold tonight, and you shouldn’t be sleepin’ outside for the sake of not having to exchange words.”

“Of course it’s going to be cold tonight; winter’s coming,” she snaps at him, shoveling the first spoonful of porridge into her mouth. He purses his lips, but knows better than to fight against her.

“Take care o’ yourself, Nym,” he mumbles, and walks away.

“The fuck does that mean?” she shouts after him.

Chapter Text

She’s standing by the window when Robb and their mother arrive. A careful smirk creeps onto Robb’s lips, in remembrance of their nighttime conversation there, but he stays quiet, both he and Sansa acutely aware of their mother’s hand wrapped around his arm. Sansa returns the smile, turning to greet them both sweetly.

“Are you sure about this, Sansa?” Catelyn asks feebly, and the footsteps behind her become clearer. Sansa nods, gesturing for Robb and Catelyn to move behind her.

“Your Grace?” comes Dacey’s cool voice as she moves over to them, her hand clasped behind the disheveled former queen.

“Thank you, Dacey,” says Sansa calmly, even as Cersei’s glare cuts over to Robb. “Oh, I forgot to ask earlier: how are your sisters? You said little Lyanna had written to you.”

Dacey smiles, and Cersei grits her teeth.

“They are well, Sansa, thank you. Apparently Alysane has had another child since I have been gone, a son of two.”

“Has this child a father?” asks Catelyn.

“A bear, as the daughter does, according to her,” Dacey winks. “Is that all, Sansa?”

Sansa holds up a hand, and gives herself a moment to step closer to Cersei, to look her up and down. To seem to scrutinize her, as Cersei had often done to Sansa; Sansa, however, so much less harsh than her predecessor, is almost unable to bring herself to speak on Cersei’s appearance.

“You have been crying,” she observes. “Perhaps this has been liberating for you.”

“Liberating?” Cersei shrieks, raising a hand habitually, as though to reach to slap Sansa, but the cuffs around her wrists shake and their clashing rings out, stopping her. Her expression blackens; Sansa stands taller.

“I hope you’ve been sleeping, Cersei,” says Sansa dimly.

“Like a baby, with my mouth on Jaime’s co-”

“Good. You’ll be needing your sleep. I want you to be perfectly aware when my brother takes his pathetic head off,” Sansa sneers, and the entire room pauses with bated breath. Sansa waits for the high-pitched giggles to echo softly from the corridor before she speaks again.

“Dacey, remove the handcuffs,” she orders. Cersei’s glare seems to soften and Dacey's brow furrows. Sansa hears her mother’s gasp, but it’s Robb’s hand that finds her wrist, and she turns back to see he’s advanced over to her.

“You don’t really think that’s a good idea, do you?” he whispers, dangerously close to her.

“What? You think I’m being soft, letting them share a cell, letting her see her children?”

Sansa takes a deep breath and turns to face Cersei again, whose face has lit up at the mention of her children.

“Cersei will try nothing foolish, not with her children here. She’s a bit too smart for that.”

Dacey obeys, and unchains Cersei. Cersei rubs her wrists gently; on Sansa’s orders, the cuffs have been loose enough that she could bend her wrists - but all chains feel snug when one has been in them for more than a fortnight.

“Mother!” comes Myrcella’s cheerful cry, and not a second later she and her brother have rushed to Cersei’s arms, gripping her tightly as she kneels to the ground before them. Tears stream down her cheeks as she reaches out to touch them tenderly.

Sansa excuses Dacey, who bows her head slightly and heads out to the corridor, working to suppress a smile, and Lissette, who is quite attached to the children, and makes no attempt to hide her own grin. The children’s hair is messy, and the skirt of Myrcella’s golden dress is nearly obscured by the wolf hair sticking to it; Sansa smiles fondly at the girl, so like her mother in looks and Sansa in manners, yet so often the very image of Arya: brave and willful and childish, universally amicable, and seldom fearful of Joffrey.

Sansa stands at Robb’s side, leaning back against the window and allowing his hand to discreetly sit at the middle of her back, playing aimlessly with the strings of the dress’s bodice as Sansa entertains Catelyn with talk of small matters as long as she can manage. Eventually, Tommen and Myrcella seem to tire of their mother’s grasp, and Sansa pushes herself back to her full height, cuing Cersei to stand again. She wipes the tears from her cheeks, and after her children bid her goodbye and leave with Lissettte, she gulps and presses her wrists together. With a small nod from Sansa, Dacey steps forward to put Cersei in cuffs again, though her eyes hold half the iciness they did when she had brought the woman up from the dungeon.

“Sansa,” says Cersei pleadingly as Dacey’s hand comes to lay on her shoulder, and Sansa looks at her inquisitively. “Take my children with you. Take them to Winterfell, foster them there.”

She looks as though she’s about to cry again; her face is full of desperation. An ache rises within Sansa, and she bites her lip apprehensively.

“You can do so much better for them, so much better than my father or Tyrion, better than I- than I ever could. Sansa, please, please,” Cersei’s voice shakes. “Hate Jaime and I all you wish, I know what horrors Joffrey inflicted, but please, do not condemn my-”

Sansa raises a hand, calling for silence, and Cersei trembles as her words fade from her.

“Children…they are children, and I will see that they are well-cared for. You have my word.”

She reaches out and grabs Cersei’s hands reassuringly, forcing a small smile onto her lips. Cersei sobs happily, and showers profuse thanks upon her, then turns and shakes her head at Dacey, indicating that she’s ready to be taken away again.

“Have you any idea what you might be getting us into?” asks Robb a moment after they’ve left.

“Have you?” returns Sansa coolly.

***

The procession begins as the sun rises, and is slow, as Ygritte still has trouble walking - Jon offered to escort her by horseback, and she’d refused - and the entire group, Jon included, remain in disbelief of Mormont’s decision. Men of the Black, especially nobles, had married in the early days, but after the first Changing of the Vows, none had been allowed, even with the promise of allegiance with the ruling families of Westeros or of future generations of men who may join.

Mormont seemed not to care; he wanted the Watch to become honorable again, and he’d do whatever it took to rebuild their forces, if it was the last thing he did. At least, that’s what he’d said to Ygritte, when she’d questioned his motives. Jon, naturally, had questioned hers - she held such disdain for kneelers that it was amazingly out of character for her to be willing to marry, let alone to swear allegiance to the Night’s Watch, but she was insistent that as long as it was his name she was taking, she was content. Jon was over the moon - like a regular wolf, Sam had jested, when Jon used the expression - and had barely slept a wink, too busy going over his future introduction of her to his family. Arya and his father were the only ones she’d not be meeting, but he thought she’d get on with them all; Catelyn might even think he’d done something right for once, finding her.

And she’d be right. He’d almost died, thrice, and meeting her was still the best thing he’d ever done with his life.

Seeing the short path to the heart tree ahead, he is actually smiling. His heart beats so fast he isn’t sure what he's supposed to do with it, or whether Ygritte could not hear it. He thinks she can, as she squeezes at his hand just a moment after he realizes his breathing’s quickened. He looks over to see that she’s still walking steadily - though he’d know if she weren’t, they’re clasped practically at the hip - and sees her beaming over at him.

“Still sure about this?” he asks as the group slows down ahead of them, and she laughs.

“You’ve learned a couple things, Jon Snow,” she muses. “And yet you still know so little.”

His voice shakes only once as he swears himself to her, and only then because she’s making a face at him, hoping to get him to laugh; her voice is steady the entire way through, and she leans in to kiss Jon’s cheek as he lays a black cloak over her. Ghost comes over to nudge them both, and she pets him under the chin as she uses his weight to stand back up. She wears an unusually coquettish grin and pulls Jon in to kiss her; neither pulls away before Thorne makes an unnecessarily loud coughing noise. Jon tilts his head to the path heading back to the Wall, and holds him arm out for Ygritte to grab. She wraps her arm around his, and takes her first step back as Lady Snow of Castle Black.

Chapter Text

During the fortnight following Robb’s eventful first night at King’s Landing, he and Sansa seldom spend a night apart; though they take care that Sansa returns to her chambers before the sun rises, many of the servants seem to look at them differently. None but Lissette ever dares to speak on such suspicions, and she only ever does so with Sansa, when they are entirely alone. Her comments are gentle, innocent, but intentional; she remarks on how much better Sansa seems to be sleeping, and how she glows.

Almost a full moon-turn after the Starks’ arrival, other nobles make their travels to King’s Landing. Sansa, Robb and Dany greet them all, but Sansa pays little attention to even those she's met before. A few express disappointment at the lack of presence of either princess; Sansa smiles and tells them that a Stark must always be at Winterfell, even as the pain of separation from her daughter and her sister catches up with her. Dany is the one who’s harshest in response to lords’ comments, both to her and in reference to Arya; Sansa and Robb hope that she never truly comes to learn how to master interaction with Westerosi nobles - her ability to catch the entire castle off guard is too majestic.

Lady Margaery Tyrell, having already befriended Sansa, ignores her husband Renly’s discomfort in the presence of two Queens, and stays with the welcoming party, toasting Sansa’s fertility and being regaled with stories of little Catelyn and of Dany’s dragon children. Tommen and Myrcella come out to greet her, and she kisses their cheeks. Renly scoffs at her, but she seems not to mind, paying attention instead to Tommen’s cats.

Ser Pounce rushes away, and Tommen after him, when Myrcella begins jumping in excitement; an approaching wheelhouse bears the Martell sigil, that of her betrothed Trystane, and Sansa permits her to go greet him herself, chuckling as the young lady blushes from his gentle kiss on her cheek. She takes care to thank Prince Oberyn and his paramour Ellaria for their patience, as they’d expected Myrcella’s presence in Dorne long before the war’s end; it had been Sansa who had refused to send Myrcella away. Ellaria remarks that waiting may have been best, as Trystane and Myrcella now are meeting as young adults; when the pair walks back over to the welcoming party, arms interlocked, Sansa winks in agreement. Myrcella steals Trystane away to show him around.

As Ellaria stirs to continue into the castle, Oberyn grits his teeth and asks Sansa if any Lannisters aside from Myrcella and her brother will be in attendance. Sansa says that Tyrion and mayhaps even Tommen’s cats will be seated with the nobles, but Tywin was not invited and Jaime and Cersei are quite indisposed. When he asks what she means, he asks with a smirk, and Robb smirks back as he contests that they’ve been arrested and are in the dungeons; Oberyn’s smirk turns to a smile, and Ellaria pulls him inside scoldingly.

Before long, the sun descends behind the Red Keep; Robb decides that they’ve all had enough for the day, and ushers both Sansa and Dany inside. They refuse teasingly before following him to the Great Hall for their supper; the nobles are easily entertained with Dany’s stories of dragons and of her own weddings, and Sansa and Robb sneak away before the feast is over, unbeknownst to most.

***

“It’s been a full moon-turn, Nym! What the seven hells is going on?”

Arya groans, curling herself into a ball on the ground.

“There’s nothing going on, Hot Pie! Will you shut up?”

She stuffs her piece of bread into her mouth, and he rolls his eyes.

“Considerin’ you and Gendry ain’t talking, something’s obviously going on,” he says pointedly. “He’s s’posed to be your brother, and you barely say a word to him anymore.”

“That’s not of your concern, Hot Pie.”

“You’re my friends. Course it’s my concern,” he says softly, earnestly; she grumbles but sits up and looks at him.

“Things are just…a little awkward right now, okay? It’s nothing.”

His gaze flickers downwards.

“What, cause you’re growin’ or something?”

“You didn’t say that,” she insists harshly, and he nods submissively.

“I’m just sayin’, this all started after Sharna told you that you needed a new dress. I just figured-”

“Well, figure a little less, okay, and stop asking questions!” she sneers at him, finishing off her bread. He nods again, his lips pursed. She shoos him away, and he reluctantly obliges.

Chapter Text

Sansa flicks her hand and leans back in her seat.

“No, absolutely not. I’m not a maiden; there will be no bedding ceremony. It was terrible enough the first time.”

“It’s tradition-” moans Catelyn, taken aback by her daughter’s declaration.

“Fuck tradition. It’s not Westerosi tradition for siblings to marry; only the Targaryens did so. Dacey and Bran will tell more than enough crass jokes to make up for it.”

Catelyn, whose mouth is wide open but still unable to expel a single word, looks to Robb pleadingly. His eyebrows are raised so high they seem as though they were about to jump off his face, but he manages to speak clearly.

“Sansa’s the Queen; if she wishes it, it should be so,” he says, and their mother scoffs.

“Sansa seems to have some odd ideas about what her Queenship implies-”

“Even if that’s true, I’m not the only one,” sneers Sansa.

“Forgoing a bedding ceremony, executing both Jaime and Cersei Lannister, and for gods’ sakes, what do you think you’re doing having Robert’s children legitimized-”

Sansa stands.

“You forget, I’m the one who’s learned how to play this game! I’m the one who’s been in King’s Landing, I’m the one who sent Joffrey to his death, I’m the one who kept all of the city sated long enough for Robb to have an upper hand against the Lannisters! I have been beaten, raped, threatened, and castigated to little end. I burned my tongue on moon tea for half a year before I found a midwife who would help me to have a daughter, and I have had to stand here and declare my loyalty to the man who murdered my father as I stood at his side! I was married off to him, I bore his child, and every day he required reassurance that I knew that my entire family was full of traitors! He made me swear it every place he could think of, he made me look at Father’s head, told me he’d bring Robb’s back for me, that he’d rape me on the traitor’s walk so that I would know that Robb had seen his victory.”

She pauses, tears rolling down her face and her mouth curled in a truly wolfish snarl.

“I am done with living in fear, Mother. I refuse to be gotten the best of any longer. I am through being taken advantage of and treated like a little girl; I am not a plaything, I am not Cersei’s little bird or Joffrey’s weeping widow, I am a wolf! I am Queen Sansa of House Stark, Second of my Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, the Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and the Protector of the Realm, and if I wish for the consummation of my second marriage to kept private, it will be so!”

Her dress swings behind her as she leaves, and her crown glitters. Catelyn sighs shakily, sinking down in her seat; Robb races out after his sister.

***

He finally finds her in the godswood, collapsed upon a bench with her head in her hands. Grey Wind whines, and Sansa fights against her long dress to stand tall as he and Robb come over to her.

“Cersei begged for it; she said that if Jaime had to die that she would rather-” Sansa begins to choke out feebly, but she’s interrupted by a gentle finger to her lips.

“I was there, Sansa,” he says tenderly, approaching her, and as he caresses her cheek she trembles, tilting her head to kiss the heel of his hand. “I know.”

“You know what she said. You don’t know how it wounds me.”

“So show me,” Robb pleads. “Unspeakable things happened to you, Sansa, and you refuse to acknowledge them until they boil inside of you. You are so collected, and so strong, and you don’t need to be, not every moment.”

Grey Wind nuzzles her leg, and she squats down to pet him. She struggles at taking a deep breath.

“A woman may weep, but not a queen,” she says bitterly, and he kneels at Grey Wind’s other side.

“Did Cersei tell you that? She’s wrong. Cersei is wrong about a lot of things, and you’d do best to remember that.”

His voice is less temperate than he’d hoped, but he speaks clearly enough.

“My Queen can. My Queen can do as she pleases.”

“And what? You’ll take the head off any man who disagrees?”

“Do you want me to?”

She chuckles momentarily, and a tear drips down her cheek as her face again turns somber. Robb reaches out for her again, wiping the tear stain away.

“No. No, I don’t.”

She adjusts her position so that she’s sitting down; Grey Wind takes her cue and stretches out on the ground. Sansa gestures to Robb to come closer, and he stands and moves around the wolf, kissing her forehead as he kneels down again. She lays back against Grey Wind, who nuzzles her cheek, and Robb lays next to her, positioning himself so that he can envelop her in his arms.

She presses her body tight to his, quivering, and he tastes the salt on her lips, which kiss his even as the tears begin to flow more freely, until she buries her head in his shoulder and starts to sob.

Chapter Text

She wakes to searing pain slicing through her gut; disregarding all recent tumult, she throws off her sheets and scans the room for Gendry, whom she’s surprised to find is no longer there. She curls back into herself helplessly, but hears Sharna making demands outside the door only a moment later.

“Hot Pie, head to the well. Gendry, take your poor sister to my chamber. Husband, see if there’s a woman downstairs willing to help me get her cleaned up, and bring some milk of the poppy from the kitchen, won’t you?”

Arya assumes the men only nod in response, as the only voices are Sharna’s and Gendry’s as they approach her.

“Thought you were having one of your wolf dreams again, but-” he says, bending down next to the bed.

“There’s blood, isn’t there?” Arya grunts, and he nods, stretching his arms out beneath her. She rolls into him, and he picks her up effortlessly; she nestles herself into the top of his chest, laying her head on his shoulder. By the time they reach the room at the end of the corridor, she’s loath to let go.

A tall, ungainly blonde comes back with Sharna as he’s setting her down onto her feet; Arya wonders if the woman recognizes her, as their eyes linger on each other’s for a moment, but Sharna asks her to help Hot Pie bring back water from the well, and she leaves with a respectful nod. Sharna orders Gendry to help Arya out of her smallclothes; he obliges, albeit rather awkwardly, and she teases him, asking if he’s ever undressed a woman before.

“Different circumstances,” he fumbles, and Sharna excuses him with a light chuckle.

Arya cringes against the cold metal of the tub as she steps into it; in too much pain to be even the least bit embarrassed by her nakedness, she sits shivering until the first bucket of hot water arrives.

***

Renly groans as he lays back in bed, and it takes all of Margaery’s effort to stifle her own and ask him what’s inspired the reaction.

“Marrying his own fucking sister!” he grunts, and his disgusted expression fills in the blanks for his wife.

“Oh, and who would you have marry her?” chuckles Margaery, smirking. “The Khaleesi?”

She strips off her dress without ceremony, knowing better than to think he’d be looking.

“That would be quite a sight,” she continues amusedly. Renly sighs harshly, and she snaps her nightdress at him.

“Hush, now,” she demands, and can feel his ice blue eyes roll. She continues with her routine, dressing and washing up, and crawls into bed, laying close to the edge and pulling the covers taut over her.

“Loras is across the hall, you know,” she says sharply, rolling so that she faces the wall, and blows out the candle on the table next to her side of the bed. She lays still until she feels the bed move beneath her and hears the floor creak. The sound is soft but steady for a moment, then stops.

“I-” Renly begins, but she stops him.

“Just go,” she snarls, and when the door closes behind him, she spreads herself out across the entire bed.

Chapter Text

Sansa turns to the door at the sound of Myrcella’s meek voice, and Dany and Dacey suffer themselves not to break into laughter.

“Isn’t your dress supposed to be ivory?”

Sansa extends her arm, beckoning Myrcella over to her.

“Not this time, darling,” Sansa coos, standing the girl in front of her, and they look in the mirror together. “Ivory dresses are for maidens.”

“Margaery’s wearing an ivory dress,” says Myrcella.

“Margaery brought her one of her own dresses to wear for the ceremony,” answers Sansa, sending a pointed look to Dacey, as they both are aware that Margaery remains a maiden indeed, despite her marriage to Renly.

“Speaking of ivory dresses,” says the dressmaker, a dark and lovely older woman named Carmine, “you should check that this fits you, sweetling.”

She hands Myrcella an embroidered slip, and the girl moves to put it on with Dacey’s help.

“Why would it not fit? Is it not the same measurements as the one you made me only a couple moon-turns ago?”

“I believe it is; however, I made Sansa’s to the same measurements as well, and hers seems a bit tighter than it should be under the circumstances.”

“The circumstances?” repeats Dany.

“I’m assuming our Queen is not with child again,” clarifies Carmine, deftly continuing work at Sansa’s gown.

“By what way would I be? By the power of the gods?” says Sansa jokingly, raising her arms above her head.

“He is quite handsome,” says Myrcella, winking in the mirror.

“He is,” returns Sansa, chuckling. “But he is not yet my husband, and I am patient.”

“Ah, patience,” sighs Dacey teasingly. “A virtue I have never managed to possess, certainly not in this context.”

Sansa shoots her a glaring look, tilting her head at Myrcella.

“Oh, come on, Sansa, she’s a woman too!” cries Dacey, crossing her legs where she sits on Sansa’s bed.

“Barely so, but you are an insufferable one!”

Dacey shrugs.

“How do you think your brother won the war but by the advice of his insufferable lady friend?”

“Friends,” corrects Dany, and Dacey gestures towards her happily as their entire group devolves into laughter.

***

He doesn’t notice that there’s anyone else in the forge until the question comes.

“Did you tell her?”

Hot Pie’s words are heavy and they burn; it’s been an entire moon-turn, and Arya hasn’t been able to look at him the same.

And yet, she doesn’t know the half of it.

“Come again?” Gendry sneers, putting down his hammer, and Hot Pie raises his eyebrows and rolls his eyes as though his life depended on it.

“You know what I’m talking about. You love her.”

“She’s my sister.”

“Like hell she is! I understand why you’re telling people that, but it’s not true. It’s not like you look at her that way either.”

Gendry forces a laugh.

“Oh, and exactly how do I look at her?” he presses, scoffing.

“I- I don’t have the words for it. You just…you love her. You’re in love with her, and there’s a part of me that keeps feeling like there’s a chance it’s gonna be the death of you.”

“I can be your family,” she’d said.

“You wouldn’t be my family,” he’d replied. “You’d be my lady.”

She’d walked away then, too.

She had a nasty habit of that.

“Well, it won’t, Hot Pie, because I’m not in love with her,” Gendry says, his voice surprisingly steady. He reaches up to wipe some sweat from his forehead, and turns his back to Hot Pie.

He picks up his hammer and sets back to work, only to be interrupted by a small grunt a few moments later. He swings around, ready to shut down Hot Pie’s argument again, but finds that it’s not Hot Pie but Arya who’s come to join him. Tears behind her eyelids and his largest, heaviest cloak slung around her shoulders, she stumbles past him over to the tiny cot in the corner of the forge.

“That’s the heaviest cloak I’ve got, Nym. You fall asleep in that, you’ll be naught but a pile of sweat in the morning.”

“I don’t care!” she mumbles angrily. “I’m not taking it off, not ever!”

He puts the hammer down.

“What happened?” he asks, looking over to her. Her attempt to answer is quelled by her trembling lips, so he heads over to the cot. He moves her legs out of the way and sits down next to her; she lays her head against his shoulder and lets out a loud groan. He feels the tears as they come, and pushes her away for a moment to strip her of the cloak and wrap his arms around her instead.

“Sharna kicked me out,” Arya mutters eventually. “There was this man, he…touched me…and he said something sexual, and then I just…I just hit him. I didn’t even think about it, really. I just…raised my hand and hit him.”

“I’m glad you did,” Gendry sputters, and he feels his blood boil. “I might well have killed him.”

A single tear still drips down her face, but she smiles up at him, a weak, rare smile that makes his heart jump. He wipes away the tear with a thumb and she moves to lay on his knees, but he stops her. Her face falls again as he stands up and walks around the forge until she realizes he’s settling his work for the night; he returns to her quickly, maybe even too quickly, and rubs her back as she falls asleep with her head in his lap.

Chapter Text

“Promise you won’t,” Arya says suddenly, and he practically jumps, since he hadn’t even known she was awake before feeling her mouth move above his knee. Her voice is tender and tentative in a way he’s never heard, and his composure is even harder to keep with her still cradling herself under his arms.

“Promise me you won’t kill over anything like that,” she continues, and Gendry’s expression turns to confusion. He runs a hand through his hair as he forces himself fully awake and leans back to the wall of the forge.

“Like what, milady?”

She huffs, and the air against his leg tickles.

“Men looking at me wrong, or touching me,” she clarifies. “If you kill them, Sharna will kick you out for good, won’t she? I’ve gotten sick of sleeping without you.”

“I’ll do my best, milady,” he replies, forcing his tone to be light as he knows that he could never promise her that, not truly. Anger had risen within him always, when men propositioned her and leered at her, and until a few days ago she was a girl; now that she was a woman, it was like to get worse.

Arya feigns a punch against his knee, and she’s laughing by the time Sharna comes out to the forge to rouse them, hands on her hips and a maternal frustration in her eyes.

“Don’t lay your head like that, Nymeria, not when you’s in the forge,” Sharna says as they start to stand. “Bound to be somebody thinks you’re lovers.”

“Yeah, and maybe they’ll keep their damned hands off me then!” retorts Arya, smirking. “Suck his cock in the street if it’ll keep ‘em away.”

Her voice isn’t quite as brash as she intends it, but Sharna is scandalized none the less, though Gendry has to bite his lip to keep from laughing. One small chuckle spills from his mouth, but Sharna’s glare bites at him, too, so he gulps it back down. Sharna sighs, and ushers them inside the inn.

***

Jon had insisted on riding through this last night, and the Red Keep comes fully into view sometime around dawn, at which point he slows his horse from its leisurely walk to a halt.

“Hey,” he says softly, shrugging his shoulder as a way of waking Ygritte, and for the first moment that her head leaves his shoulder he regrets it.

And then she gasps. Her arms tighten again around his waist.

“Is that-”

“That’s the Red Keep,” he nods, and turns his head back to her. Not for the first time, he sees stars in her eyes, and smiles. Howling comes from somewhere in the city, and Ghost answers; Ygritte stiffens but Jon whistles at Ghost and waves him ahead.

“Your brothers’ wolves,” Ygritte realizes, and Jon concurs.

“Shall we go meet them, Lady Snow?” he asks, and when she chuckles he knows it’s at the pride in his tone.

“Of course we shall, m'lord Snow,” she says, still laughing, pressing her nose into his neck. He kisses her forehead and urges the horse onward.

When they reach the castle, all the Starks are up to greet them.

“You’re the last of the nobles to arrive - our presence is required,” Sansa says, and while her voice is light it’s not quite teasing, and Jon smiles as he takes all four siblings consecutively into his arms.

Even Catelyn is warm to them, as she dutifully welcomes Ygritte into the Stark family; his wife cringes and holds her breath, and for a moment Jon worries that she’ll say something that Catelyn will take as crude and insulting, but instead she smiles and professes her gratitude for the Lord Commander’s decision and for Sansa’s generosity. Jon has to work to downplay his pride and his surprise. As the wolves run up to them excitedly, he’s able to pass some of the deluge of emotion off as a more natural reaction; everyone but Bran and Rickon seems to know better.

“Did I do that right?” Ygritte leans back to whisper in his ear, and he smirks against her cheek as he presses a kiss against it.

“Perfectly,” he mumbles, wrapping his arms fully around her waist - careful not to be too tight, as she’s still injured - but reluctantly lets her go when Sansa reaches to take her hand and escort her to her dress fitting. Robb claps an arm around Jon’s shoulders, and they turn to follow the ladies inside.

Chapter Text

Her gown is massive and ornate, and the singular most frustrating item of clothing she’s ever so much as touched. She has a love for it, it’s absolutely gorgeous, but she’s not entirely sure she’ll be able to walk in it. It takes every one of Sansa’s handmaidens to get her into the damned thing in the first place, and they have to remove her crown to do it. She cringes as her mother’s hands ghost down by her stomach to help the silver skintight bodice slip around her, fearing that Catelyn might notice any change in her shape, but none of the women make any comment in that regard; they’re simply too busy fussing over their bride. Their bride, glowing in her gold and silver wedding gown and her sparkling crown.

Sansa speaks mostly to Ygritte, whose unfamiliarity with everything Southron is clear as she becomes increasingly uncomfortable in the castle. Margaery cheerfully explains the wedding ceremony to come; remembering the bloodshed that had come with the last Targaryen dynasty, the High Septon was quick to reassure Robb and Sansa that their marriage would be valid in the eyes of the Faith, and thus their ceremony will follow the customs of their mother’s religion. It’s elaborate and overwhelming and ritualized, and Sansa almost wishes to eschew the pomp of the event and swear her love by the old gods instead. It’s not as extreme as her wedding to Joffrey, but it’s so public and there’s so much pressure and really she just wants to wear a Stark cloak again and kiss Robb like her life depends on it - it might - and return home to Winterfell. Her daughter’s there, her heart is there, and still it will be moons before she’s allowed to ride through the gates again, moons spent journeying and feasting and speaking to the masses.

Catelyn picks up on her daughter’s annoyance, and inquires as to what she needs; Sansa pauses, knowing that even Arya would be wise enough to know that ‘being bedded till her eyes roll back in her head’ would certainly not be the appropriate answer. She smiles and says, ‘a drink,’ and although she’s only half serious, Lissette runs from the room to bring her wine from the kitchen. Sansa willingly gulps it down as Catelyn tearfully braids her hair.

When all the intricacies seem finished, Carmine and Catelyn fuss over her until they can no longer, at which point they move to Dany, then to Ygritte, then to Dacey, then Margaery after her, and Carmine even insists on braiding the handmaidens’ hair before Sansa demands they set out for the ceremony.

Catelyn wraps Sansa’s arm in hers, and takes her hand, walking her through the Holdfast, through the castle, and out into the city. A cheerful wedding march follows them, and the crowd of small folk that gathers is such that Sansa can’t tell who is playing the song, though she supposes it’s of little import. By the time they reach the steps of the Sept, that tune is fading, replaced by a rendition of My Featherbed, a song Sansa recalls from childhood.

“Ah, if only your sister could be here,” sighs Catelyn, and her face is turning to sadness. Sansa fights her urge to cry, to stand and remember the first time she’d stood on the steps of the Great Sept, when Ser Ilyn had- no, she can’t think of it. She simply can’t, so she steels herself instead.

“Mayhaps Arya has found her own forest love, Mother,” she poses, as the pair comes to stand by the entryway. Catelyn quivers, and Sansa can tell she knows that her daughter is consoling her. Sansa squeezes her mother’s hand, and continues into the Sept, where all their noble guests await. Her breathing quickens, but as she moves down the aisle her eyes eventually meet Robb’s, and she softens.

The women behind them step into the crowd as their procession approaches the front of the Sept, and Catelyn leads Sansa up the final set of steps to where Robb stands with the High Septon. Catelyn is reluctant to step away, and kisses her children’s cheeks many times before Ygritte stretches her hand out to her and helps her back down the stairs. Sansa admires Ygritte’s glistening black silk dress as Jon hands Robb a deep grey cloak; he lays it over her and clasps it at her neck, and her entire body fills with warmth.

“One flesh, one heart, one soul.”

The Septon’s words blur into each other; he speaks of winter and of wolves, and war and peace, of family and duty and honor. He wraps ribbon around their hands, and Robb’s clasps hers firmly as they to face one another. They’re too close, she thinks, and his skin against hers is electricity that she’s averse to thinking about whilst entertaining an audience. She speaks her vows, but it’s his voice that echoes in her mind.

“Father, Smith, Warrior, Mother, Maiden, Crone, Stranger…I am hers and she is mine, from this day until the end of my days,” Robb says, in unison with her vows, and with a glittery tone that brings a great blush to her skin. She bites her lip as the Septon announces that they may kiss, and pulls Robb nearly taut to her, trying to suppress her enthusiasm even as her heart jumps so wildly inside of her that she almost believes it’s escaped from her body. He pulls away from her far too quickly for her true liking, but she smiles at the crowd behind them and tightens her grip on her new husband's hand.

***

The ballroom is massive by Ygritte's standards, and brighter than any room she’s ever imagined; the music is loud, the people are loud, the food is complicated. Dacey leans over to remind her which utensils to use for what. Robb is monopolizing Jon’s attention, and Ygritte doesn’t have the heart to tear him away from his brother, even when the Maester comes and asks for him with urgency.

Happy for a reprieve from socializing, Ygritte excuses herself and Dacey and they follow him to the Queen’s study. He holds out a letter, but before Ygritte’s even able to explain that she doesn’t know how to read, Dacey snatches it from his hand and aggressively waves him out. She opens the letter and glances to the bottom of the page.

“Samwell Tarly. I know the family, not the man. Is he on the Wall?”

“Yes, he’s a steward, and a friend to Jon. What does he say? It’s been a moon since we’ve been there, but I’ve no idea how long a letter would take to arrive.”

“Less long than you might imagine,” says Dacey, and begins to read. Only a moment later there are tears in her eyes, and Ygritte holds her breath.

“My uncle, your Lord Commander, is dead,” she ends solemnly, gulping and wiping away a tear. “Slain in battle just days after your departure.”

She takes a minute to catch her breath, and Ygritte reaches for her hand.

“They’ve elected your husband as his replacement.”

Chapter Text

He’s laughing at a quip of Sansa’s when he reaches to the chair at his right, hoping to grab Ygritte’s hand, and realizes that the chair is empty. Fear grips him for a moment, before he sees that Dacey’s gone as well, and he figures that they’ve run off together, likely because Ygritte was overwhelmed. He knows this is unfamiliar to her, and that he’s been failing to devote his attention to her while they’ve been in King’s Landing. Sansa and Dacey took a liking to her immediately, but if she’s uncomfortable, it’s his fault. She’d barely adjusted to being around the Watch before they’d wed and then mounted his horse to leave; now she was seated at the head table at a royal wedding. It was disorienting enough for him, and he’d grown up around the nobility’s customs.

Granted, the crowd was a bit different than he’d been used to, but he at least had some context - even if nearly every person knew him as Ned Stark’s bastard - whereas Ygritte had never even heard their names before. She’d had no reason to know them, and really, she never would again, but most of them seemed to expect it of her. She certainly looked the part of a proper Lady, today, with her black silk dress and her hair done up; she still cursed into his ear when no one was close enough to hear her.

Unfortunately for the nobles, her smile was what made her the most beautiful, and it had shown itself mostly in nervousness since their arrival. Besides, it was their loss; they could shrug her off as some lowly wildling girl with little conception of politics or history or nobility, but she was his wife, and he’d been given the distinct privilege of not giving a damn about the pettier things. They all pitied him, the bastard son of the lord whose eldest trueborn children have gone on to become a king and queen while he played apprentice on the Wall. He’d been only a few moons behind Robb their entire lives, and now, people thought, was the culmination of their differences, but they were wrong.

They both had their queens, they both had their honor, they both were alive; they’d sat and broken their fast together that morning, and looked upon each other as equals, even after all this time. That was enough for Jon; even the legitimacy that Robb offered him would not change that, and he had not accepted it. He’d meant to tell Ygritte of Robb’s offer when they’d met at midday, since it would seem wrong not to let her know, but she’d stayed with Sansa and whoever else was helping her into her wedding gown, and he’d never gotten the chance to speak to her privately.

Mayhaps if he could find her now, he might speak to her before the evening came. Robb and Sansa would be running off soon enough to consummate their marriage, and even more attention would be expected of him then; Bran and Rickon were excited to hear about the Watch, and even Catelyn had proved a rapt audience. Most of the other nobles, however, kept to their own conversations; some made toasts, some asked about Princess Catelyn and even about Arya, one dared corner Sansa to give her their condolences on the loss of her first husband. There was an offering of gifts, and some people spoke to the newlyweds separately, but in general, they kept to themselves during the reception.

He taps Robb’s shoulder.

“I’m going to go find my wife,” he says quietly, letting the last word hang on his tongue for an extra moment, and Robb nods, smirking. Jon rolls his eyes, and pushes his chair back. Ghost follows him as he walks the perimeter of the Hall and exits to the corridor.

After a few moments, Ghost races away, but Jon does not follow him - he only waits. It’s only a matter of seconds before the wolf rounds the corner again, this time with Ygritte and Dacey at his heels. Jon expects to see them laughing, but instead there is pity and sadness in their eyes, and he furrows his brow, reaching out for Ygritte as they approach him. She sets her hands in his and squeezes them tight.

“I’m sorry, Jon,” she says softly, and his face falls. “Sam wrote from the Wall. Mormont has been killed.”

He can feel his heartbeat stutter, and although he doesn’t cry, he feels as though he might. Ygritte anticipates his inquiries.

“Sam wasn’t specific as to how he died, only that it was in battle. I am so sorry, Jon.”

She cups his cheek with one of her hands, and he bows his head. He lifts it only a few seconds later, looking over at Dacey. She stands tall, with her hands clasped in front of her, but she trembles in the way that Arya and Ygritte do, that had he not known such mannerisms they would be unrecognizable as such; the paths of tears she’s already shed are visible only in contrast with her reddened cheeks.

“Did you know your uncle, Lady Mormont?”

She gulps.

“Not well, Lord Commander Snow, not since I was a little girl…excuse me,” she answers coldly, and pushes past him, back into the ballroom.

“No,” gasps Jon, glancing back to Ygritte, who nods, pulling him closer and kissing his cheek.

“You can’t tell me you’re all that surprised,” she says, a smile sitting in her eyes and begging to crease her lips as she lays her arms upon his shoulders.

“Yes, I can. I am!”

His voice climbs higher, and she cocks her head at him as his hands habitually drop to her hips.

“You can’t tell me you saw that coming.”

“You’re brave, you’re smart, you’re kin to the King and Queen…not to mention, no other crow looks quite as good in all that black,” she says, trying to be teasing even as her voice comes out sincere, and moves closer to him. His pursed-lip smile follows as she presses her body to his and kisses him fully.

“Well, I’ve certainly got competition,” he mumbles when she pulls away an inch, and he can feel her brow furrow. “You’re in all black now, too.”

“Aye,” she giggles, kissing him again, sharply, and his arms wrap around her to hold her taut to him. In their Southron-style dress, they’re closer than they usually are when clothed, not hampered by their furs, and he feels her jutting hip bones press against his thighs as he pulls her even closer. She pushes him away, shoving him to the wall of the corridor, and continues to kiss him fiercely, leaving him to be the one to drag her to the godswood once her fingers fumble at the waist of his breeches.

***

It’s all Margaery can do not to drown herself in her wine; she and Dany send pointed looks at each other as they are able, but the Khaleesi’s attention is oft demanded by other nobles. The only other woman at Marg’s end of her table, Shae, is not particularly talkative, and while Marg tries to help her feel more comfortable, it’s obvious she is not. Margaery knows that the woman, no older than herself, is Lord Tyrion’s lover, that Sansa had arranged for her to join him at the wedding, that she is, by Sansa's account, mysterious but kind.

Renly glances tentatively at the high table, taking another swig of his wine as he watches Robb press another kiss to Sansa’s hand.

“They remind me of something people used to say of your parents, Tyrion. That Tywin ruled the realm, and Lady Joanna ruled him.”

“Is that so? I wouldn’t know.”

Tyrion speaks with a voice more bitter than their wine, and sets his chalice down.

“As every man in Westeros is aware, I never got to meet my mother. However, I have met Sansa, and I won’t deny that she is fierce.”

Renly chortles, the disgust behind his tone brutal. Margaery takes a deep breath, glancing across her table to her brother Loras, who’s too busy making a shitty attempt to not look enamored with Renly to even notice her. She kicks his leg underneath the table, and he snarls at her before looking away again. She sighs.

“Sansa Stark? Fierce?” laughs Renly incredulously, and Tyrion gives him a look of comparable disbelief, as though trying to judge whether Renly were serious.

“She commands respect and admiration,” says Shae.

“She’s a woman; she commands men’s lust,” Renly barks, smirking.

“Is that why you have so little respect for women, Lord Baratheon?” Tyrion presses, and Renly’s expression sobers, his teeth gritted. Margaery’s eyes widen, but somehow she keeps herself from either nodding or laughing, though she’d love to do both.

Margaery commanded little; she had no army, like Dany, no skill with a sword or a bow and arrow, like Dacey and Ygritte, and she certainly had neither her husband’s respect nor his lust. Her father had traded her for alliance like a pawn, and now the majority of Westeros believed her barren. Her blood turns to fire within her with the thought, and she slams her hand down to the table only to find she’s speared Renly’s hand with her fork.

He yelps, and she jumps, more from surprise than anything, and Loras hurries to grab his lover’s hand. Shae rushes from the room and returns soon after with the Maester, who ushers Renly and Loras out as quickly as he can, trying to little avail to keep from causing a fuss. Sansa stands, and manages to swiftly quell the nervous crowd with a smile and a couple of soft words. Tyrion is laughing into the tablecloth when Shae and Marg take their seats again.

“I don’t see what’s so funny, Lord Lannister. Do you care to enlighten me?” Marg asks as innocently as she can, though she smirks; she winks at Shae, who smiles a broad grin that lights her face, and Margaery thinks she sees what Tyrion sees in the woman.

“Oh, I think you know, Lady Tyrell,” he returns playfully, pouring himself and his paramour more wine. Marg holds her own chalice out to him, and he fills it. She brings it to her lips, and allows herself to smile.

Chapter Text

Dacey’s not herself when she takes her seat again, but though Robb’s face sours, he doesn’t get the chance to question her before some of their guests are jumping up from their table and the ruckus distracts them all. Sansa regains everyone’s attention and soothes the nervous crowd, and Dacey’s tears have been wiped from her cheeks by the time Robb looks back at her.

He smiles at her weakly, the question lingering in his eyes, and even though she smiles and nods as though all were well, he stands and goes over to her. He takes the seat Ygritte had been in, in between Jon and Dacey, and rests his hand on the back of her chair. She rolls her eyes, but sighs as she moves a fallen strand of hair from her face.

“My uncle has died,” she whispers, but then leans closer. “Your brother is to take his place.”

Robb tries to stifle his smile, and Dacey laughs at him.

“Don’t bother. I am happy for him as well. Besides, your focus is supposed to be elsewhere.”

She looks past him tellingly, a crooked smile creasing her lips as her gaze shifts to Sansa. A blush sneaks across his face, one he won’t bother to keep from Dacey, whose smile widens with a gentle chuckle.

“Have your fill of wine. We’ll talk tonight,” he says softly, and she raises her glass as though in toast before bringing it to her lips and tilting her head back with it. A servant comes forward to fill the chalice for her, and Dacey murmurs her thanks.

Dany stands, and the hum of voices turns again to near-silence.

***

The roar of the crowd picks up as she and Robb rush from the Hall, Lissette and Catelyn at their heels. Sansa’s sweaty hand falls from her brother’s as Catelyn pushes herself between them, wrapping her arms around Sansa, cupping her daughter’s elbow in her palm. Sansa gulps and wipes her hand on her gown before pushing her hand into her mother’s.

Robb tries to lay a comforting arm over Catelyn’s shoulder, but she shoves it away; his fingertips graze Sansa’s shoulder as he lowers the arm, and Sansa stifles the subsequent shiver.

Sansa tentatively glances over at her mother; Catelyn’s gaze is ahead of them, empty, her eyes glossing over, a tear slipping down her cheek in its quest to betray her feeble smile.

Sansa carefully speeds up her step, lengthening her stride only a bit every few paces, just slightly enough that Catelyn remains unaware.

“All right, now get me out of this damn thing!” Sansa exclaims as Lissette tenderly closes the door of Sansa’s solar behind them all; Robb extends his arm, but again Catelyn pushes him away, giving him a dirty look. He steps away from the door and toward the bed, raising his arms as though to admit defeat. She accepts the gesture, and moves to undoing the corset of Sansa’s dress.

Sansa relieves herself of a biting sigh as the stiff corset is taken finally from her chest, ignoring the feeling she has that Catelyn’s eyes are rolling behind her. She shares a few fleeting glances with Robb, who awkwardly steadies himself against the bed, still a stranger to such rituals. His hands play with the idea of starting at his own clothes, but after a firm look from his wife, he wisely decides against doing so. Catelyn catches him, though, in the middle of a groan, and the tension built up within her fractures like a tea cup dropped to the floor.

“You know, looking at you, one would think you were keen on this!” she barks at him, and Sansa has to keep herself from jumping as her mother’s hands flail away from her. It takes Robb a moment to form a coherent answer, but it feels much longer.

“I’m doing my duty; that doesn’t mean I have to dread it, Mother.”

“Ow!” comes Lissette’s cry before Catelyn’s able to stammer an answer, some of her hair, just now escaping from the golden braid that had trailed her spine, entangled in Sansa’s necklace. Catelyn rushes over to detach her, a feat which takes a couple of minutes, and is answered with an excess of thanks from the handmaiden. Sansa quickly steals the chance to shimmy herself out of the rest of her gown. Lissette takes it from her a moment later.

“Lissette, Lady Catelyn, your services are no longer required. Thank you,” Sansa says quietly, cupping her hands together momentarily. Catelyn’s look threatens to turn again to fire, but Sansa softens her with a hand on her palm and a light nod. “Thank you, Mother.”

She prays her voice is soothing enough that Catelyn abandons her bitter worry, and it seems that it is, as Catelyn gives her a tight hug and Robb a dark look before turning to leave.

Lissette winks at Robb as she follows Catelyn out of the room, and Sansa gasps; Robb chuckles - until the door slams shut.

Sansa could count on a single hand the seconds before his shirt is thrown haphazardly on the floor next to her smallclothes.

She doesn’t let him get his breeches off, though, before pushing him back onto the bed and climbing on top of him. He groans weakly against her lips as she presses her mouth down to his, but she growls at him and he relents.

“What?” he says, feigning a sneer as his hands wrap around to meet the small of her back. “We fuck a few times, we get married, and all of a sudden you’re in charge?”

Sansa clicks her tongue at him.

“No, of course not!” she replies quickly, leaning back onto his thighs and drawing his upper body up to her for a deep kiss. Once his fingers are entangled in her hair she pulls away, fighting her breathlessness and her arousal.

“I’ve always been in charge.”

Chapter Text

“Is that so?” Robb chuckles breathlessly, sliding a hand around the back of Sansa’s neck in an effort to bring her with him as he lays back down, to no avail. She scoots further down his legs, forcing him to sit again. Sansa’s arms wind around his neck, holding him firm against her bare chest as his arms grip her around the small of her back.

“Mmm-hmm,” Sansa murmurs, and Robb thinks she’s about to continue speaking, but her lips are too tangled with his to form other words, and she simply keeps kissing him. Eventually, as he moves his hands to start at his breeches, she mumbles something else, and he pulls his mouth from hers.

“Wait,” she groans, drawing her hands over his shoulders and to his chest. “I have to show you something.”

Robb furrows his brow, but even as she shudders, trembling and no longer meeting his gaze as she grips his hands and moves them from her back to her abdomen, he takes care to have no other outward reaction.

Keeping expressionless and placid was far easier in battle, he realizes, as he spots a tear on Sansa’s cheek and one of his hands flies to wipe it away.

“What is it?” he asks, worry weighing on his heart. “Sansa, my love, you have no thing in the world to fear now.”

She laughs then - it’s almost a scoff - and grabs his hand, bringing it back to the other where it sits on the lowest part of her stomach. His fingers rub against her mound, and she bites her lip so hard that from where he lays Robb can see its color fade slightly.

“Not yet,” she moans, her voice now a gravelly whisper. His sister’s worry still etched in her sharp smile, Robb’s own creeps upon him further, confusion sparked again with it.

“Robb,” she says again, pressing his hands harder against her. His mouth is watering, but his gaze into her eyes stays chaste as his fingers sweetly admire the gentle swell at her abdomen, learning anew; he’d only become acquainted with her curves a moon ago, and then her stomach had seemed more flat.

“Oh, Sansa!” he gasps as a wave of realization and relief sweeps over him. His hands run up her sides to her shoulders, and she allows him to pull her downwards for a kiss.

“Already?”

“Hadn’t the gods waited long enough to bless us?” she replies, nodding, her smile turning genuine as her husband’s happiness brightens her eyes. His hands curling around her neck, she presses her chest flush to his, and kisses him fervently.

***

The door to Dany’s chambers is ajar when Margaery approaches, and there is not a maid or guard in sight, so she pushes it fully open and lets herself in, only to find the room empty. She stands by the vanity for a moment before she calls out.

“Dany? Dany, are you here?”

“Oh, I’m in here!” comes the response, from the adjacent washroom. A few seconds of splashing follows, and then the sound of leather-soled slippers on the floor. A nervous glance back to the mirror on the vanity confirms Margaery’s suspicion that a blush has come to pepper her cheeks. She feels sweat on her hands, cupped in front of her stomach, but turns to see her friend as she enters the room. The Khaleesi’s long silver hair, no longer braided and pinned upon her head, as it had been earlier in the day, hangs slick against her uncovered, steaming skin.

“Fire cannot kill a dragon, then,” Margaery giggles, trying not to be wholly unnerved by her own anxiousness. “Not even in the bath.”

Dany smiles, slipping a robe of black silk over her shoulders; Marg’s eyes follow her fingers to her navel, where Dany fastens the robe by only one of its dragon-head clasps. Unsuccessfully she tries to keep her gaze from ghosting upon Dany’s lithe form, her breasts, her still-exposed collarbone.

“I know it’s not yet dusk,” Marg stammers. “I’m only here early because Renly doesn’t wish to let me back into our room. I hadn’t meant to interrupt you.”

Dany’s smile flickers bittersweet, her violet eyes losing a touch of their warmth.

“Well, I’d rather you said you were simply eager to see me again, but if you wish, I can demand that he-"

“No, no, Dany, I- that shan’t be necessary. I was actually wondering if I may stay instead with you.”

Her words are less sure than she had hoped, but they fall from her mouth regardless, as words so often do - although, she’s far more familiar with others being afflicted in such a way. When Lady Margaery speaks, she speaks clearly, concisely, intently; she’s never had trouble with words, always religiously careful at deciding upon which ones to use. Her composure had not failed her since she had been a player at childhood games, and even then she had been more gifted than her brothers at keeping her emotions from revealing themselves.

“I did not at all intend to imply that I was not eager to see you, Dany. Indeed, I fear my constant delight at doing so is likely a cause of my husband’s displeasure. I do hope I’ve not offended you, my dear Khaleesi.”

The following moment is one of uncomfortable silence, Daenerys studying Margaery and Margaery fighting herself not to study back. Surely it would be inappropriate - and entirely uncalled for - for a lady to drink in the sight of another beautiful woman as though she were that woman’s husband - yet she finds herself virtually powerless against doing as such. Dany, on the other hand, a modest smile on her wet lips, seems to have no qualms about admiring her, as Dany’s gaze sneaks along Marg’s skin, diving into her eyes as though to delve into the deepest reaches of her being. She cannot help but be reminded of the looks she watches Renly and Loras share, tender but veiled, sensual but clandestine.

“No, my lady,” Dany eventually replies, extending her arm and sweeping some of Margaery’s hair behind her shoulder. “I would have you stay.”

Dany’s hand lingers on her shoulder for a moment, giving a light squeeze before its fingertips trace an outline of Marg’s arm. Too slowly, the hand reaches Margaery’s, and their fingers twine together.

“You know, my lady, if it would help…in the early days of my first marriage, I had a handmaiden who advised me on the art of pleasing men-”

“Renly’s pleasure is not of issue,” Margaery argues, much too quickly, and then laughs at herself. She manages to meet Dany’s eyes again, and sees her lips are pursed with uncertainty.

“Show me how to please you," she amends, her voice sincere, soft, yet emphatic. Dany drops her hand, and another period of silence follows. Marg briefly wonders if she’s been far too forward, whether she’s made the mistake of an advance that was unwarranted, unwanted - if, worst of all, it might go unanswered. Her silent queries go unresolved for the moment until she dares to speak again.

“Forgive me, Khaleesi. I did not mean to sound so brazen,” she chokes out weakly, gulping the words down as soon as she’s said them and turning to leave.

“No!” Dany yelps as her hand is on the door, reaching out for her again. “Neither did I expect you to be so…brazen…but it is for true that I bid you stay.”

The Khaleesi’s hand slides again into hers, and Margaery turns back again. Dany’s hand travels to her cheek, fingertips grazing her neck and rippling a shiver down her spine.

“The Khaleesi, the Queen…asks my permission?” Margaery replies in a tone conveying more amusement than surprise, her voice yet again betraying her; she steps back toward Dany.

“The Khaleesi asks your affection, my lady.”

Margaery’s smile stretches so far across her cheeks that she laughs, as she leans to take the other woman’s lips into her own. She hears the silk of Dany’s dress whine as it slides to the floor, and reaches for the clasp keeping her own dress upon her shoulders, undoing it in a single swift movement.

Chapter Text

Half-asleep and warm against Gendry’s chest, Arya’s drifting thoughts are filled with wolves. She waits for the sweet reprieve of her own wolf - the wolf dreams are bloody and dark, but it’s the only way she knows that Nymeria is out there, that she’s alive and fighting and leading a pack - only to find that it doesn’t come.

She hears her sister laugh, a light, jovial laugh, followed by what sounds like a kiss, sharp and sweet and apparently worthy of a throaty moan. A man’s deep voice, vaguely familiar yet unplaceable all the same, comes after, beseeching her, almost teasingly, for mercy, please, my dearest and just one more kiss, please, my love, before the night’s sleep comes to claim us.

Her eyes open, and she’s greeted to one of the warmest sights she’s seen in a long time. There’s a low, needy growl, to which both Robb and Sansa turn, and it takes a moment before Arya realizes it came from within her. Sansa’s hand on her head is a welcome, tender touch, though it comes accompanied by the woman’s shushing, and she sticks out her tongue and licks Sansa’s hand.

Grey Wind. Grey Wind licks Sansa’s hand.

Arya flies out of the bed, barely pausing to slip into her boots before rushing from her room and through the inn, towards the wood. The nightdress Sharna’s demanded she wear is thin, and too long for her, and it catches on a branch and snags, only serving to bring tears to Arya’s eyes.

“Nymeria!” she screams, and the effort and the bitter cold steals from her what energy she’d had left. Still, she opens her mouth to scream again.

A strong hand soon is clasped over it, and she’s spun around by an equally strong hand upon her shoulder. She hadn’t even noticed that he’d awoken, but as soon as she’s facing Gendry she lays her forehead to his chest, trying to fight the tears that decide to insist on falling and chilling her cheeks.

“Have you gone mad?” he asks, his voice almost a whisper - a whisper he tries to make sound angry rather than concerned, and fails.

“I saw them,” she cries. “Robb and Sansa, I saw them, in their marriage bed, with Grey Wind. I saw them. I wasn’t Nymeria, I was Grey Wind, I saw them…why did I see them? What’s happened to her?”

Gendry’s arms wrap around her, cloak her, and she understands that this is the only answer that he can give her. Pressed against him again, she registers that he, too, has taken the precaution only of his boots; even as he takes care to shelter her from as much of the wind as he can while she cries - which she’s told him not to do before, but she won’t fight him on it now - his slack tunic ripples as each gust passes, and he shivers. She curls up inside his arms as best she can, hoping to warm him some as well before he insists they return inside.

He pulls away from her carefully, and seems surprised that she lets him. One arm staying slung around her shoulders, they walk back towards the inn, until Arya feels something wet upon her cheeks and abruptly stops, holding her hands out in front of herself and bringing a look of confusion to Gendry’s face.

“Wait,” she says softly, her oft-used tone of annoyance slinking back into her voice. A moment later, her hands are full of fresh white powder, the same as that’s beginning to dust the grass, and she breaks into laughter - a bright, childlike laughter she hasn’t felt bubble within her for years.

“Gendry, it’s snowing!” she cheers, raising her hands above her head and running away from the inn again, this time in the direction of the adjacent field. Gendry doesn’t follow her but with his eyes, and as she begins to twirl she can see him smile from the corner of her eye, really smile.

“Shall I go get you a cloak, milady?” he teases, though he leans against the wall of the inn as he speaks, anticipating her answer.

“I don’t need a cloak! I’m not going to freeze to death from a little snowfall, you idiot!”

“Of course not, milady.”

She stops spinning, and gets down on her knees.

“Stop calling me that!” she shouts.

The snowball hits him square in the chest a moment later.

Sharna finds them an hour after that, rolling around and wrestling on snow-covered ground, laughing so hard that their chests hurt.

She doesn’t dare yell at them in the middle of the night, but she admonishes them plenty for risking frostbite, and shoos a couple of guests away from the fire in the lobby in order to sit them as close to it as she can manage. It’s overkill to Arya, who barely feels cold at all, but she doesn’t protest, deciding instead to use her hands to warm Gendry’s ice cold ones while she waits for the snowflakes in her hair to melt.

“Mothers,” a male guest sneers under his breath, watching Sharna fuss over the two of them.

“Obviously better than you had,” Arya spits back almost immediately, and her grip tightens on Gendry’s hands. “Granted you ever gave a damn.”

“Just who do you think you are, girl?” the man barks, standing up from his barstool and moving towards the fireplace until Sharna cries out and he stops in his tracks.

“You say another word to that little girl o’ mine, you won’t be sleeping here tonight.”

He stands in place a moment, staring at Sharna and seeming to weigh his options; Arya thinks that the ferocity in her eyes must be what convinces him to relent and return to his seat. She and Gendry stay by the fire a little longer, until her eyelids begin to droop. Her head falls against his shoulder, and he rubs a thumb against her cheek to wake her again before gesturing towards their quarters and dragging her along by her hands.

She curls up against him and falls asleep almost instantly, sleeping a dreamless sleep.

***

The knock on the door is faint, but loud enough to rouse Grey Wind, whose subsequent barking and pawing at Robb’s legs wakes both Robb and Sansa.

“Hello?” Robb calls out, rubbing his eyes and sitting up in bed.

“It’s me,” comes the response of a salty-sweet voice on the other side of the door, and Robb shouts back for her to come inside, slipping out of bed and into his breeches. Sansa sits up against the headboard, caring only to ensure a sheet remains above her breasts. Dacey enters, and Robb, leaning down to button his trousers, has an odd angle on an unfamiliar dress.

“Since when do you own anything orange?” he asks, the door closing slowly behind her as she turns to face him. “Or with a neckline to your navel?”

“Since Ellaria Sand was so kind as to lend it to me,” Dacey smirks, running her hands down to her hips. “What do you think?”

“Oh, she lent it to you, is that so?” Robb says teasingly, pouring three goblets of wine.

“I meant what do you think of the dress.”

“I know what you meant.”

“I think it’s lovely,” says Sansa. “Daring, but as usual, that becomes you.”

“You look nice,” adds Robb, and both women laugh.

“You are useless, Robb Stark,” Dacey snickers. “Here I am, hoping that I might finally be wearing something that might make someone offer to warm my bed, and you tell me I look 'nice.'”

“Well, I’m not going to do it, so what does it matter how I think you look?”

“Believe me, I’m still confused as to why I think your opinion matters at all, but then again, you are my closest friend.”

“Not to mention, your king,” he says, handing her one of the goblets with a wink then leaning over to give another to Sansa.

“So I’ve been told,” Dacey replies, sighing jokingly. “Though to be honest you most often seem like a younger brother, pulling on my skirts and trying to get a rise out of me.”

“Most often, it works,” Robb says, walking back over to the bed and taking a seat on the edge. Sansa lays a hand on his shoulder, and he turns to look at her.

“Before you get comfortable, fetch me one of my nightdresses. If we’re going to be entertaining tonight, I ought to have something on.”

Robb pushes himself back onto his feet, but Dacey, closest to the trunk at the foot of the bed, sets her goblet down and toes over to it.

“Is pink all right, Sansa?”

“Quite, thank you.”

Dacey tosses her the nightdress, and Robb holds her drink as she slides into it. Sansa beckons, and Dacey joins the others on the bed, giving Grey Wind a good scratch at the ears as she folds her legs underneath herself. He whines when she stops, and lays his head in her lap.

“Oh, I’ve done it now, haven’t I? Silly wolf expects me to pet him whenever he pleases.”

“At least he’ll warm your bed,” Robb says slyly, and Dacey shoves him. “Seriously, take him - he takes up half of ours.”

Dacey chortles.

“Your wolf, not mine.”

“Not right now, he’s not, looking at you like a babe at its mother.”

Sansa tut-tuts, rubbing Robb’s shoulder.

“Daresay he probably feels a bit ignored at the moment.”

“I’ll bet he does,” winks Dacey, moving her hand to Grey Wind’s chin. He growls a moment later, signaling the arrival of another visitor on the other side of the door. A knock of courtesy precedes the door’s opening, and Lissette pops in the doorway.

“Yes, Lissette?” asks Sansa soothingly.

“Princes Bran and Rickon request you at the courtyard at your earliest convenience, Your Graces,” the girl responds with a curtsey.

“Thank you, Lissette. We will go to meet them. You are excused.”

Lissette answers Sansa’s dismissal with a second curtsey, and exits. Robb slings a cloak over Sansa’s shoulders, and throws his at Dacey, who sends him a glare after catching it.

“You need it more than I do,” he declares, making a point of looking her up and down as he slips into a shirt and shoes. Dacey rolls her eyes, but she puts the cloak on her back and clasps it anyway, shooting him another look as though to ask whether he were satisfied.

Their walk is short and brisk, and halfway interrupted by laughter. They come upon the yard to see that a sheet of white has glazed over the courtyard and the rooftops, and the group of younger children plays in the center, a rocking chair having been brought out for Bran so as to allow Rickon and he to pelt each other with snowballs. Tommen, Myrcella, and Shireen Baratheon run haphazardly through the crossfire.

Snow falling so thick they can barely see through it, Robb reaches up and pulls Sansa’s hood onto her head before she rushes over to Myrcella and Shireen. She squats down by them, palms to the backs of their heads to pull them closer as she whispers something; they become visibly excited, and Sansa looks back to Dacey, who runs over to join them, Grey Wind dutifully at her heels.

Robb looks upon the quick conversation with curiosity, trying and failing to read the girls’ lips. After a couple minutes, Sansa looks back over again with a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking.”

“Oh, I think I am.”

“It’s been years - and you forget, I won a war in the interim.”

You won a war!” snickers Dacey cheerfully.

“Wait, are we doing boys versus girls?” Rickon asks excitedly, and all of them can hear Catelyn sigh from where she stands at a window, no doubt recalling the vicious snowball fights of her children’s years together at Winterfell.

“If you’re bold enough,” smirks Dacey.

Chapter Text

“That was not a fair battle,” reflects Robb coldly as he and Sansa strip down for their bath, their clothes caked in snow and ice. “No one said anything about shooting arrows through snowballs.”

“Oh, you’re just bitter because you lost,” Sansa replies, walking over to him and putting her hands at his waist. They’re ice cold, but Robb doesn’t move, and she leans forward and presses a kiss to the topmost part of his chest.

“Besides, since when was battle supposed to be fair?”

She giggles.

“Once Ygritte came out, you lot were done for,” she smirks, raising her head. Robb tilts his down to kiss her, and she snakes her arms around his neck and holds him close, snapping away when a voice comes from the doorway.

“Fully grown, and you still get yourselves worked up over a snowball fight,” sighs Catelyn, chuckling. Her gaze wearily towards the floor, she doesn’t seem to care about her children’s nudity; Robb slings furs over himself and Sansa regardless.

“Those were such joyous days…summer snows when Bran and Arya may well have buried each other if your father hadn’t pulled them from their trenches. Robb, even you and Jon weren’t so ruthless as that little girl.”

The room fills momentarily with a weak chorus of laughter, which Sansa breaks.

“Once, she and Bran ambushed me. Bran was on a roof, so I couldn’t have got to him, but I chased Arya until neither of us could breathe…almost caught her that time.”

“Why didn’t you?” asks Robb, smiling.

“I slipped on ice. But she came back to see if I was hurt, and I pulled her down.”

Her grin widens, and she reaches to pull some of the ice from her hair. She looks over at their mother.

“Such joyous days they were, though I can’t say I thought so then.”

Catelyn sighs, and Sansa eyes Robb.

“Us girls didn’t fight fair then, either.”

Robb shakes his head, and Sansa smirks, her lips curling thoughtlessly and both of theirs feeling compelled to close the space between them. Hasty footsteps are audible for a moment before two pairs of slippers squeak on their bedroom floor.

“Is your bath all- hello, Lady Catelyn. I hadn’t realized you were here. Are you in need of anything?” asks Lissette, now on her toes, another, smaller girl behind her. Grey Wind sneaks in through the open door behind them, jumping up onto the bed and contentedly spreading himself across as much space as possible.

“No, no, dear,” Catelyn says softly. “I was just leaving, actually. I’ll leave you to your work. I ought to be off to bed, anyways.”

She presses kisses to both Robb’s and Sansa’s cheeks, and pats Lissette’s shoulder, curiously fingering some of the hair at the crown of her head.

“Is this from the braid you had earlier?”

“Yes! Lady Myrcella wanted to practice styling, so she pulled them onto my head this afternoon. Lady Shireen seemed quite impressed.”

“It looks very nice.”

“I will tell Lady Myrcella you approve, Lady Catelyn. Thank you.”

Catelyn takes her leave with a respectful nod, and at the close of the door Robb lets out a sigh of relief. Sansa sends him a glare, and he returns a low growl.

“I take it you were interrupted,” Lissette says carefully as she and the other handmaiden begin tending to the bath in the adjoining washroom.

“Not quite as directly as my brother would have you believe,” Sansa replies smugly, very intentionally rubbing one of her legs against his as she walks in front of him. He imagines that she anticipates neither the rough grip at her hips that follows but a second later, jarring enough to pull her a couple steps back and press against him, nor the subsequent sweet kisses at her neck, lingering just long enough to elicit a moan.

“We’re not alone, you know,” she whines, though her fingers ghost at his beard - too aimlessly to apply any force, but there all the same - and she leans her head back into him, exposing even more of her neck.

“Mmm-hmm,” he grumbles, taking Lissette’s half-hidden smile and amused giggle as evidence that she doesn’t mind their affections - the other girl doesn’t even look up from her task - and slipping one of his hands under Sansa’s furs to cup one of her breasts. Her back arches against him, and the next kiss at her clavicle is more tooth than tongue.

The handmaidens’ slippers scuff against the floor, the door closing quietly as they leave, Lissette knowing better than to request their dismissal.

***

Dany groans, her breath ragged as she falls limp upon the bed, hands entwined fiercely with Marg’s. Margaery’s satisfied smile finds her eyes again at the head of the bed when she moves to lie parallel to her; Marg bites her lip as she warmly watches Dany catch her breath, twice stroking strands of silver hair behind her ears.

“Fast learner,” Dany eventually says, smirking as she turns to face Margaery.

“Good teacher,” Marg counters, pressing a kiss to Dany’s cheek, relishing the flush of pink that returns to the other woman’s skin as she does. They spend another moment in quiet, exchanging smiles and blushes and strokes of fingers upon their bodies.

“Do you still wish to remain here tonight?”

“I wish to stay as long as you would have me,” Margaery says slowly, with a renewed confidence.

Dany giggles.

“That wouldn’t be wise; we do have duties, you know. Jhiqui!”

The door opens carefully, and the girl tiptoes in.

“Yes, Khaleesi?”

“Extinguish the lanterns and the candles, please.”

“Of course, Khaleesi.”

The interruption is only momentary, and then the room falls dark. Marg feels Dany press another kiss to her forehead and sweep a light blanket over the two of them.

Marg wraps her arms around Dany, lightly tracing patterns on her skin until a deep, restful sleep takes them both.

Chapter Text

Morning comes far too early for Catelyn, brought to being by the call of her youngest child at the foot of her bed.

“What is it, Rickon?” she mumbles as soon as she’s able to speak, surprised at the gentleness in her voice, her own lips seemingly unaware of her agitation.

“Mother,” he repeats, and she reaches out, wondering if he could even see her in her room, still cloaked in the darkness of the night. He makes no move, so she speaks to him again, this time forcing her tenderness.

“Come here, sweetling.”

He hesitates, but pushes himself up onto the bed and climbs over to her, clumsily wrapping an arm around her stomach and pressing his cheek against her breast. She strokes his hair gently, and he nuzzles even closer.

“Mother, I want to go home.”

Poor child. He’s barely been away from Winterfell four moons, and already he yearns to return…but when Robb and Jon were eight years of age, Jon had remarked that every hour itself seemed to last a century. I myself must have felt the same way when I was still a little girl.

“Soon, my love. Soon.”

“How soon?”

“A couple of moons, mayhaps.”

Rickon groans, and she shushes him.

“Is that why your sleep was troubled? Because you want to go home?”

He groans again.

“I don’t like it here.”

“No? You seem to be having quite a good time, always running around with your new friends.”

“Well, them I like. But they’re coming with us, aren’t they? Tommen and Myrcella, I mean. Shireen’s not, and that’s sad, but she’s very close with Myrcella, so she’ll be sure to write to Winterfell. Trystane is nice, too. He taught us how to play Cyvasse. It’s rather popular in Dorne, he says. Myrcella always beats him when they play, but he doesn’t seem to mind.”

“He’s her betrothed, you know. They’re to be married when she comes of age.”

“Will she be a Princess again? When they marry?”

“Yes, but they will not rule. Trystane’s elder sister Arianne is their father’s heir.”

“Even though she’s a girl?”

“In Dorne, the daughters are treated like their brothers.”

“But Bran was named as heir to Robb, not Sansa or Arya. Why don’t we do it like they do in Dorne?”

Catelyn pauses. Rickon was curious, but he was not of an age to understand an issue such as that, was he?

“It’s complicated,” he mumbles a moment later, and sits himself up on the bed. “That’s what Bran always tells me when he can’t answer a question.”

“Yes, it is…but I am sure that if you brought it up to Robb and Sansa and the Khaleesi, they would listen to your thoughts about it.”

“They can change things like that?”

“Their power is nearly absolute; their word is law. They’re trying to ease into their positions, though, to give people a chance to acclimate to the change.”

“Why do they have to acclimate? Nobody liked Joffrey,” pushes Rickon, his voice practically a whine, and Catelyn laughs.

“Let me guess: it’s complicated,” he grumbles, and Catelyn reaches up to stroke his hair.

“Come, sweetling. Go back to sleep,” she says softly, and a moment later he collapses back onto her chest, letting out a huff. Although he feigns annoyance, his arm wraps around her belly again and his night’s rest soon continues. Her eyes having now adjusted to the darkness enough for her to see the outline of her son against her breast, Catelyn looks down on him fondly, and finds herself reminiscing on days long past: days when even Robb was just a babe at her breast and another war entirely raged on in Westeros; weeks filled with full-blown snowball wars, throughout which most of the children would refuse to speak to any sibling but their teammates; Sansa and Arya in some of their youngest days, pretending to be mothers of their dolls; days when all five or six of them ran wild in the godswood, Sansa designated as the Princess, seated in a tree, the boys and Arya as knights, and Robb as the Princess’ rescuer.

Did they know, in their hearts of hearts, that it would ever come to this? Could any of us have seen this, any of this, the crowns, the children, the war?

Her eyes fill with tears, and the hand not upon Rickon’s back reaches up to push them away.

Oh, Ned, the children…all those sweet babes…Robb a king, Sansa his queen, and even Jon - the Lord Commander of the Watch…Robb and Jon both married within the past three turns, Sansa now once widowed and twice married, she’s already had a child and likely to have another, Robb’s own heir, within the year - it is strange to see them as king and queen, even stranger as husband and wife, but they have been so happy to be reunited, and at the very least I know that they will go to bed at night safe and comforted…Bran still crippled but now less bright, having served as Lord of Winterfell with Maester Luwin and others at his aid, Rickon old enough to inquire of his siblings’ political power, and Arya still nowhere to be found, but old enough to bear a child if she wished. All these years gone by, all the wolves so large, and you here to see none of them. My heart aches so, every day, for you, for all the days we should have had, days that were stolen from us…there was only the slightest feeling of relief when Robb told me that he’d slain Joffrey. I was relieved for Sansa, for her to be free of him, but even the orchestration and completion of his death could not stay the pain of my grief. Every time I think of you I know it so clearly, that were there a way to return you to this world, to me, that I would not hesitate to dedicate my heart to such a course…

***

Ygritte notes, as she slowly wakes, that she feels as though she were laying on a cloud. She unwraps her arms from Jon’s chest and turns upon her back, expecting the stars above to flicker in her eyes, only to see nothing but blackness before her. A panic flutters inside of her, and she jerks up in the cloud-bed, running her hands around herself. No furs laid above the sheets, the fabric against her skin seemed only a thin nightdress - since when did she have a nightdress? - and the air about her felt cool yet not crisp; her breath and her heart both quicken, and a quiet yelp escapes her when a heavy hand comes to grip the one in her lap. A second later she laughs at herself, realizing that the hand is Jon’s.

“Red Keep. Castle. King’s Landing. Wedding,” he grumbles, his hand pulling at hers. She hears him roll over to face her, and lays herself back down.

“Forgot abou’ that,” she whispers, scooting herself closer to Jon as he clasps her hand tighter, entwining his fingers and hers. He presses a gentle kiss to her nose, and she scrunches her face unhappily.

“Little lower, Jon Snow,” she mumbles, her voice no louder than it had been a moment before, hoping for a truer kiss; he leans further down to leave a touch of his lips at the valley between her breasts, and she groans discontentedly. The air from his subsequent chuckle heats her chest for a few seconds.

“So is this cheeky teasing what lords do to their ladies in the South?” she remarks tauntingly, just as the hand of his still entangled with hers comes to rest both at her hip. The other travels slowly - too slowly, dammit - to the lowest part of her thigh, drawing the nightdress up as he returns the hand to her waist.

“You have no idea.”

Chapter Text

The reach of her husband’s arms around her waist is a warm, intimate, and welcome interruption to her grooming, his subsequent kisses upon her shoulders the impetuses of a smile even wider than that with which she had awoken. His fingers travel almost thoughtlessly about her abdomen, but settle gingerly below her waist, and though her hands are smaller, she lays hers upon his.

“How long?” Robb asks, his voice only a whisper.

“Another turn, at the very least,” says Sansa, tapping her fingertips on his knuckles, and he groans, forcing warm air to ripple across her skin.

“We’ll still end up professing that he is impatient, no matter when more people come to know of it.”

“More people?”

“Lissette and Dacey and Dany know,” comes her light, laconic reply.

“You told them first?” Robb grumbles disapprovingly.

“They figured it out for themselves, and approached me privately to voice their inquiries. They understand the weight of secrecy.”

“Secrecy from Mother is understandable, as from the public, but why from me?”

Sansa turns around, giving him a mildly critical look.

“I made the choice to inform you upon our wedding night. They respected my decision.”

With a nod and the restoration of his temperate smile, Robb accedes.

Sansa presses a gentle peck on his right cheek, his corresponding hand winding around her backside to wrench her taut against his chest at the very second that her lips leave his skin. She gasps reflexively, cocking her head and letting her hands come to rest faintly on his shoulders. His arms trade positions, his left moving to grasp Sansa tightly as his right hand undoes the bow tied at the small of her back, allowing her corset - as well as the dress underneath - to preserve their posturing.

“We’ll be late to break our fast,” she remonstrates flimsily, wreathing his neck with her arms.

“We can’t be late. They wait for us,” he avouches, his hand continuing to climb her back as it adroitly unlaces her.

“Besides…we’ve only spent a single night together, and I’m pathetic help with corset strings.”

He smirks as the corset falls away, an expression she answers with an ardent kiss and the stalling of the Red Keep’s morning meal.

***

“Toldja,” Gendry snickers, his fingers digging at her wrists and knees at her hips, his weight pinning her firmly to their bed.

Arya mockingly repeats his slurred declaration of victory, wriggling around as well as she can. She tries to move away without the bed squeaking underneath her, to no avail, and a few groans and pants escape her, most of which Gendry chuckles at; unable to pout for long, she eventually starts to laugh as well, though she continues to struggle to free herself.

Even though she dislikes that her dress insists upon climbing her legs, bunching up at the point where her thighs meet her hips, she manages to sway Gendry most successfully by grinding herself up against him. His jaw clenches, and save for his fingers, which begin to loosen their hold, she can feel his whole body growing tense above her. It takes her a moment to realize why - and when she does she feels her face turn a deeper shade of pink - but even then, she sustains her movements, until his back starts to arch in its attempt to move his body off of hers, and it’s then that she strikes. A swift boot to the shin, and he’s groaning and rolling onto his back, her body only following because they remain twined together.

She lands upon him almost instinctually, her knees bending and her arse settling on his pelvis so that she’s sitting on top of him; because of the broadness of his torso, her knees don’t quite meet the mattress, so her hands come to rest immediately in front of herself to steady her. His fingers slip away from hers, traveling back towards her hips and pulling her dress to cover her backside. She can feel his hardness press against her as she sits back, but decides that she can’t be bothered to move further forward regardless.

Mayhaps Sharna was right, and they were too old for wrestling.

“That was cheating!” Gendry hisses.

“Was not!”

“Definitely was.”

“I got you off, didn’t I? That was the deal.”

“Yes, well, it would’ve been far more enjoyable if you weren’t kicking me while you were doing it.”

“Just can’t please you, can I?”

“Doubtful.”

She gasps indignantly, and jabs him in the side with one of her knees. He just laughs, until one chuckle surfaces too forcefully - she can feel him draw in all the breath in his chest before a single ‘fuck’ slips from his lips. An odd sort of breathlessness finds itself wedged in her chest, and she forces herself to sit taller. Gendry winces, but he never labors to move either himself nor Arya, and his fingertips lazily situate themselves at her hipbones, their position morphing into grip when she loses her balance and nearly falls off of him.

“Y’okay there?”

Though she’s tried not to think about it much, she’s acutely aware of the curves she now has - the way clothing no longer falls flat against her, the dip at her sides between the points where her hips jut out and her breasts swell - real ones, too, ones that pull the fronts of her dresses and tunics forward and have begun to catch men’s attention - and the way Gendry’s hands seem sized precisely to wrap around her hips quite easily, as though it were second nature. Then again, nearly every night since they had committed themselves to the story that they were brother and sister, some reason had arisen - nightmares, wolf dreams, heavy shivers on particularly cold nights, there had been any number of all - that she had needed to be comforted, and he had been the one to hold her. Perhaps it was second nature.

“I’m fine,” she grunts, trying to imply that the question was a stupid one, but her apprehensive tone betrays her, and she can tell he’s unconvinced by her assertion. She presses her hands against his chest, and swings her right leg over him, climbing off both him and the bed. She straightens her dress out, but doesn’t bother with her hair except to push it back momentarily so as to let it fall more naturally.

“I won the bet, by the way.”

“You did not. You cheated.”

“Shut up,” she says, and ducks out of the room with her bow and quiver in hand.

Chapter Text

The screech of benches against the hall floor as their guests rise to greet them, now a phenomenon Robb’s grown used to, is welcome etiquette as he and Sansa enter, and the hugs that Rickon and Tommen run to give Sansa even more so. Grey Wind and his brothers exchange their own salutations, and Grey Wind willfully leans into Dany’s scratching once she struts her way over to meet them. The head cook hails the Khaleesi’s nod, and the official commencement of the morning feast is close behind.

“I trust all is well?”

“Yes, yes. Only a little unfinished business that demanded attention,” Sansa answers easily, and Dany waves her hands in a gesture of understanding.

“Somehow we’ve still got quite a lot of that, haven’t we?”

“A Queen’s work is never over.”

Sansa and Dany share a friendly laugh, and though he knows it’s probably unbecoming of a king, Robb lets his gaze drift.

Margaery sits with the Starks, where Catelyn had the day before, at the seat to Dany’s left, and Catelyn, where Rickon had sat. Rickon and Tommen run from Robb and Sansa to the Hall’s centermost table, laughing with Shireen and Myrcella, and Shae and Tyrion and Stannis sit nearby, watching them and conversing. Shaggydog tries to beg for some food, and it’s Shireen who pushes him down, and he lays himself at her feet.

“The Kingslayer wants an audience, Sansa,” Dany says as their trio moves to their places at the head table.

“Would you not humor him?” Sansa replies gently, gathering her dress up in her fingers to slide into her chair most easily, taking only a little of the help her husband offers.

“He has asked for you by name. If we are to humor him at all, it is only fair.”

Dany speaks clearly and calmly, but her tone still exudes her anger. Robb looks away from Sansa again as she purses her lips.

The pressure flushes them, he knows, as it does when he is nipping at them - when he’s taking her from behind and her back is arched before him and his hands are at her hips and her cunt is clenching around him and they can’t bear not to kiss but their kisses are almost as clumsy as they are urgent and they’re nearing their peaks and they’ve never been more lupine in their lives - and gods save him, their mother is leaning over with a look of disquietude etched in her face and he takes her hand when she gives it and asks her what is troubling her, an enquiry answered with its own return.

“There was some business needing attending to - and,” he forces a small chuckle, “I was pathetic help for Sansa’s adornment.”

Jon and Dacey give him knowing looks, but his mother seems to take him at his word, and she smiles.

“I don’t even want to recall quite how long it took your father to be at all useful with a dress.”

Robb grins, and Dacey laughs.

“Well, in putting one on, that is.”

The table itself might well have gasped, and Catelyn laughs loudest of all seated there, laying an amiable hand upon Margaery’s back and looking past her and the others then, to the farthest woman from herself.

“How is Jon with a dress?” she poses, and Ygritte pauses, narrowing her eyes.

“Haven’t hardly a clue. This is the only dress I’ve e’er been in. Too much cold, and too much hunting, that far North.”

The reply is accepted with a nod, and the conversation is soon to turn.

Sansa grips Robb’s hand underneath the table as she bends her head toward Dany.

“The Kingslayer shall have his audience with me today.”

***

“Any apples left today, Lewys?” rings Arya’s voice as she flies through the stands at the market and gives the older man her embrace and her smile.

“Well, little Nym, we’s been hard-pressed for these spoils, we have.”

“Oh, if you haven’t got any, that’s quite-”

“Don’t be silly, little maid.”

He reaches underneath his stall, a twinkle in his eye, and slips one apple, then another, and then a third into her satchel. Her smile widens.

“You didn’t have to.”

“Course I did, all for that pretty little smile o’ yours.”

He taps her on the nose, and shakes Gendry’s hand when he approaches a moment later. Gendry reaches for their purse, and Lewys stops him, as he does every fortnight, offering a tsk-tsk and a wave of his hand and accepting no more than a pair of birds in return. Arya tries to save her largest catches for him whenever she's able, and hopes that it truly is all he needs. Lewys is too nice to them to begin with; it would hurt terribly to know he wouldn't even take enough from her to feed his own family. All the merchants love the mirthful Nymeria, even flanked by her oft-brooding brother, but she's all too aware that her mirth can neither fill their bellies nor warm them on cold nights.

“Enough for supper for the wife and I. Tha’s all we need,” he’d said, nearly three years ago, and though he’s thinned and grown more grey since then, he sticks to that word, but still they keep their habits.

“Would it not be an uproar if ye caught a prince’s eye, Nym?” Lewys had asked the fortnight previous, and she had turned her nose up and balked at the suggestion, and this time when he asks again she only shakes her head.

“An uproar, all right,” she repeats, her tone dismissive. Lewys tsk-tsks at her, and Arya stiffens, but only slightly, and Gendry’s hand tightens around her shoulder just a bit.

Chapter Text

The spirited maiden at his side might be able to thrive on spontaneity and thrill (her air of warmhearted cheekiness remaining about her as she weaves about, ever weighing risk and satisfaction, ever waiting for their ill-fated next meal to catch her pretty grey eye, ever storytelling and eating sweets and letting frightened children grab her hands) but as enticing as her frankness can be, Gendry’s contentment comes more by way of security and custom. Each day, he labors, Arya hunts, Hot Pie bakes, and each night they take to their rooms, Gendry and Arya together, and Hot Pie with Sharna’s son; once a fortnight he and Arya trek to the nearest market for provisions and sometimes to deliver a package or two to a friend of Sharna’s.

Routine, pure and simple and static.

And Arya was absolutely none of those.

So why was she so goddamned enchanting?

She was a wolf, a winter storm that hadn’t yet swept through, fierce and frightening and fatal, and watching her laugh should not feel like retreating within a haven yet unbuilt.

There’s a thin cover of snow still on the ground, and their boots pound against it, crunching it underneath their soles, and against the bright white of the earth and the blurry copper blend of the marketplace, Arya’s ruby-colored dress is even more conspicuous. After Gendry’s taken her satchel from her shoulder, she chases after Weasel, a quiet but giggly little girl of about six, who comes to greet them each time they come to market, and her navy cloak sways in the gentle wind; she catches the girl, somehow hoisting her up in her arms, and they turn back to wave at Gendry from the end of one aisle of stalls, their smiling faces flushing pink.

He continues his business, and sees them in the corner of his eye, heading down the aisle towards him, stopping periodically to chat or to browse aimlessly, until they come upon one stall, manned by a woman with an easy face and a long golden braid peeking out from under a cloak green as fir needles, an abundance of short-stringed necklaces laid out to be peddled.

Weasel excitedly points at some particular one, and with a cautious look at the vendor, Arya draws it into her hand, studying it with the little girl, whose arms are making a necklace for her keeper, and as Gendry finishes at the one stall and walks toward them, he sees Arya hold it for another couple of unsteady moments, then ask something of the vendor. She offers a kind but disappointed smile, seemingly trying to ignore Weasel as she strokes some of her hair over her shoulders; her fingers are tentative and yearning as they lay the necklace back onto the table, and they continue on in his direction, waving at him again.

They meet close to the middle of that main aisle, and Arya asks if he’s gotten everything they’d needed. Weasel notices that there’s a woman handing out lemon cakes to some of a group of children, and she tugs on Arya’s cloak, and Gendry doesn’t even need to see Arya’s face to know the look she’s making, so he slips a couple of coins into her hand before telling her that there’s one more thing he ought to get.

She mouths a 'thank you', and heads off with Weasel, and he traces her steps back to the gold-haired woman and asks after the chestnut-haired girl in the red dress with the child in her arms.

They return to the inn that evening with a snowflake-shaped pendant and a thin silver chain concealed at the bottom of the satchel.

***

She crooks her back and straightens her spine, and with the skulls of dragons perched on the walls and staring at her now, it feels odd to be seated in the same throne as she had before Joffrey’s death. It was not an easy throne to sit, and it was harder to keep. She allows her lips to be creased by a slight smile, her legs crossed and her eyes downturned and fearsome, drinking in the sight of the Kingslayer in chains, on his knees before her.

How many times had he been so positioned before his sister, the very queen that had preceded her, however dutiful or illicit? How many times, in this very room, before the king to whom she had been given? By what stroke of the gods was it, that it was he before her now, and not her own brother before Cersei?

"Your Grace," Jaime begins uneasily.

"Oh, spare us both your false respects, Lannister," Sansa barks. "What is it that you want?"

"I beseech you two things."

"The first?"

He pauses, his lips ajar as though he had choked on his words before he had even said them. She leaves him be.

"Would I have you take Cersei first."

Her brow furrows, the pounding of her heart hastening within her, struggling against the breastplate atop her gown, and she waits another moment before speaking to be sure that she does not stutter.

"To what end?"

"Cersei and I...entered this world together, joined by my own grasp...long have we known that we would leave it all the same. The moments to follow her last breath will be the most agonizing of my life. I can do nothing more for my love but to ask that she not be made to suffer that."

Sansa can see his hands whitening, clasped together in front of his chest so as to most comfortably accommodate his cuffs, and knows that his grip is harsh, and he bows his head, inadvertently refusing to meet her eye. She forces herself to stomach a thorough breath, and wets her lips, just barely letting her fingers tap nervously against the cold iron upon which her arms lay.

“And your second supplication?”

She can see his pulse escape his neck as he gulps.

“I wish to speak to my children.”

Chapter Text

The group of women are walking together quietly, but as they near their destination, suddenly one pair of shoes scuffs on the floor, and they all abruptly stop. The hand of Margaery’s that is entwined with one of Dany’s inadvertently tightens its grip due to her being caught off guard.

“I - I don’t know if I can do this,” Myrcella mutters, tears building behind her eyelids. Margaery is the closest to her, and bestows the first comforting gesture that comes to mind, laying a gentle hand on the younger woman’s shoulder.

“I’ve never spoken to him like this before, and if Tommen cries I’ll probably fall apart…what if unc- what if my father cries?”

“He may,” Dany says, her voice firm but tinged with temperance, and Myrcella’s head dips to the floor, unintentionally cuing Margaery to take her hand away. “It will not destroy you.”

“You sound so sure of that,” Myrcella protests, a tear slipping down her cheek as she looks up again, turning her head to Dany. Dany’s hand drops from Margaery’s, going to cup one of Myrcella's cheeks comfortingly. The cold air that greets Marg’s palm is unpleasant, so she tucks it back underneath her cloak, a weighty cape of green with yellow ornamentation.

“Your heart will hurt, but you will emerge from this conclave with it still beating. Of that, I am sure.”

“And it will beat for many moons to come. They will not all bear such hardship as this,” Margaery adds, reaching up to the crown of her head and pulling off the hood of her cloak.

Damned snow, she thinks, as the cold greets her again. Very little of it remains on the ground of King’s Landing itself, but the frosty air that had been brought with it is so much more severe than the cool breeze that had flown about at Storm’s End, and she is not fond of the bitter cold, particularly when it comes intermittently.

She unclips the barrette atop her head, hoping that her hair falls well, and steps a bit closer to Myrcella, whose brilliant emerald eyes brighten as they settle upon the flower of silver and jewels before rising to meet Margaery’s.

“You are a lioness, yes? And you are strong,” Margaery proclaims, and Ellaria, having been standing behind the others in admiring silence, moves with a smile to Myrcella’s back to pull away the hood of her crimson cloak.

Myrcella had bound her golden hair with only a long pink ribbon that morning, and it comes out easily, allowing Ellaria to then pull back the curls that frame her face and fasten the flower-shaped clip around them at the back of her scalp. She sweeps the other locks casually in front of Myrcella’s collarbones, and the now-smiling maid utters a light thanks, which Ellaria answers with a wink. Margaery makes an exaggerated shiver, and drapes her own cloak back over her head.

“Myrcella!” comes a weak cry from a bit further down the corridor, and the little lioness rushes to receive her brother into her arms.

For a moment, they mumble to each other, until Myrcella pulls back from him. She turns to the other women, offers them a nod of - Margaery hopes, and Myrcella seems to imply - gratitude, and knocks on the door to the primary royal study. Dacey opens it a moment later, ushering Myrcella and Tommen inside, and Dany’s hand finds its way back into Margaery’s, and Margaery finds that the bite of the crisp almost-winter air isn't nearly as unwelcome with Dany’s fingers interlaced with her own.

***

“Do you really think it is necessary to be quite so cautious, Sansa?” Jon asks gently, while she’s slightly distracted by the task of refilling her wine chalice, having charged Lissette to give succor to Myrcella following the midday meal. Sansa scoffs, leaning forward minutely and extending herself a bit further down the table from her place at its head, and Jon feels an unexpected need to brace himself.

“I am not so foolish as to believe that each vassal of the Realm is willing to let such a deluge of noble blood be shed without a single call for impunity. Am I to understand that you are, Lord Commander?”

Her scathing voice and sharp gaze drive a shiver through his pulse and a throb to his heart.

What shred of the younger sister he had known remained in this woman? Little ladylike Sansa, rosy and prim and dovelike, even at her least agreeable, had never had such ice in her blue eyes.

It had been scarcely four years since he’d seen her, and at the time not so long ago that he had received word of Joffrey’s death and her upcoming wedding to their brother, he had not imagined her nearly so hardened. Had he met the queen before him as a stranger, he would not have been surprised to find that she kept a dagger hidden in a pocket in her cloak. Jon is still staggered by his shock when Ygritte speaks up, what he can imagine to be a knowing look in her eyes as she cocks her head to Sansa quickly enough that some of her hair scurries over her shoulder. One of her hands reaches to grace his thigh, and he settles one of his own atop it with a gentle squeeze.

“My husband means to say that he recognizes that our seats at this court are a nicety afforded us by his relation to you and to your husband, and as we are not intimately involved with the politics or people of your kingdom, it is not his right but his impulse to question you. I’m sure he means no offense.”

Sansa’s expression shifts toward a smirk, though it doesn’t make the entire journey - a scintilla of pride sneaks in behind her sternness - and Dacey is not hesitant to arrange the guards and troops that it’s decided will be needed at the looming affair, taking the focus back towards the head of the table again. Jon slips a hand to Ygritte’s back, leaning closer to her.

“Since when do you know how to talk like that in court?” he whispers, more aroused than he is put off.

“Pay attention, Jon Snow, sometimes you learn something!” she replies with a wink, tilting towards him, hand toying at his knee, and he finds no impulse to speak again during the discussion.

But he notices Robb’s restlessness as they share their meal late that evening, and when Bran and the younger boys seem fully distracted, he decides to press.

“Sansa is expecting the worst, isn’t she?”

Robb pauses, looking at him warily, and sighs.

“She is.”

His brother’s voice is so heavy that Jon waits a moment to say anything more.

“Do you trust her intuition on this matter?”

“In totality.”

Chapter Text

Gendry’s pulled from sleep by the shift of his mattress and a gasp at his side. He can hear her exhausted sigh, and doesn’t need even to open his eyes to know that Arya’s wolf dream had surfaced something significant; he could take a moment to appreciate that the lack of a jerk or a kick or a scream indicates that it was no nightmare, but he doesn’t, simply stretching his hand back out to her as he opens his eyes just a little. His hand lands clumsily on her thigh, and one of her tiny hands comes to join it, cuing him to flip his palm over, and she interlaces their fingers, seemingly still catching her breath.

“We had babies,” she breathes after a few seconds, and it takes effort for Gendry not to be too outwardly startled.

“Back up,” he moans, and he can hear half a chuckle escape her mouth.

“We - Nymeria, Nymeria had a litter of pups,” she stumbles.

“Hmm,” he grunts understandingly, and she sighs again, her exhale bringing the rest of her body back to the bed, though she still keeps her grip on Gendry’s hand. It’s a different feeling having a hand at her thigh when she’s laying down, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so he says nothing and prays that he doesn’t let himself do anything stupid like caress her hip or something like that.

Arya, however, doesn’t plan on making it easy for him. She turns over onto her stomach, trying to settle back into how she had been sleeping, nestled at his side, and her lazy movements throw one of her legs on top of his when she stretches an arm, the one of the hand holding his, across his chest.

“Really? You’re going to sleep on top of me now?”

“I’m not on top of you, it’s just one leg. I could get on top of you if you wanted. You didn’t mind it earlier.”

He scoffs, and she presses on playfully.

“I still won, by the way.”

“You didn’t win, and I’m still right.”

“Are not! Try me, we can have a rematch.”

“Not if you’re going to kick me again, we can’t.”

“I don’t need to kick you to catch you off guard.”

“Or punch, or hit, or pinch, or anything like that.”

“Firstly, it’s wrestling. Everyone else does stuff like that, too. Secondly, I still could.”

“Couldn’t.”

“Could.”

“Could-"

He’s barely begun speaking before their argument screeches to a halt with a chaste kiss, and for a moment, he’s not entirely sure whether or not he’s dreaming, but she pulls an inch away and laughs a little bit breathlessly before pressing her lips back to his for few more seconds, and nothing’s ever felt more real. It’s all too soon when she pulls away for good, lowering her head back to his shoulder, where it had been when she’d been cradled there in her sleep.

“Toldja,” she mumbles. “Caught you off guard.”

Gendry lets out a breathy, momentary chuckle, keeping inside himself the prayer that his cheeks haven't reddened enough for her to see.

“Arya?”

“Yeah?”

“Go back to sleep.”

***

The morning of the Execution Day, Myrcella wakes earlier than usual; though she’s thankful that Sansa did not make her speak to her father the day before, she cannot help but dread their encounter. Her handmaid Janna jumps when she comes into the room and Cella mumbles a ‘hello’ to her, and though Cella immediately apologizes for catching her so unawares, they spend a couple of moments laughing. They stay mostly in silence after that, the rest of the process comfortingly quotidian.

Typical, too, is her brother’s sneaking in through her solar’s adjacent washroom while Janna’s trailing a comb through Cella’s gold hair, and though their mother had thought he should stop coming to greet his sister in the morning - now that she’d started her blood and was a maiden, it truly wasn’t proper - Cella doesn’t care to shoo him away. He only kicks off his boots and curls himself up into a ball on her yet-unmade bed, not even paying the women much attention; the presence of the other sibling is soothing for both of them.

Besides, it’s not like it matters any more what Mother would think, she muses, surprisingly numb to the realization. I’ve no need to pay her avarice or her cynicism any heed, let alone her petty wishes.

“Are you afraid, my lady?” Janna eventually poses, her voice timid but her hands nimble as they twist Myrcella’s hair into braids.

“Afraid I’ll strangle him, mayhaps,” Myrcella spits, then blushes, noticing her brother in her mirror and tilting her head back to her bed to glance more truly at him. “Oh, I’m sorry, Tommen. I shouldn’t speak that way before you-”

“I’m scarcely a year younger than you, Cella,” he argues, his voice lower than she’d known it could go. “Besides, I’ve seen Mother and Joffrey and Grandfather angry. And King Robert, too. Doubt I can’t handle you.”

He sits up weakly, and Myrcella turns her body around on her bench, facing him; Janna steps away to give her enough room.

“Rather see you angry than miserable, besides.”

Cella purses her lips and stretches out her arm, and Tommen scoots off her bed and shuffles over to her, and they envelop each other in a silent hug until Dacey comes to collect them, and then they step from her solar to the corridor hand in hand.

It was all such a farce, such a conceited pretense, all that held the Lannister name up, dangling now by its strings of spun gold, somehow still just barely playing the rest of the world like fools, as though if they ensured that they never had a hair out of place no transgression could fell them.

But that could not be true, could it? All her tutors had tried to impress upon her that proper and principled nobles were those whose loyalties were not betrayed, but she had grown to maidenhood in the shadow of a mother and brother who could not have been accused of being honorable, and it had taken almost four years of war to take the crown from them. A crown they’d stolen by deception and murder, simply because they believed the gods meant for them to have it - or perhaps that was only another lie her mother had told, for if the gods were good - and Cella believed, whether by faith or naiveté, that they were - they would not have wanted Joffrey to sit a throne. Cersei Lannister did not bow to those gods.

It was all such a farce, such a conceited pretense. She and Tommen walked hand in hand down this corridor, in the Red Keep where they had once been princess and prince, and they considered what they were to say to their father, their uncle, who they had known their entire lives and yet never really known at all, and they were dressed in their mourning raiment as was expected of them. They’d worn mourning attire after Joffrey had died, too, and it had felt odd then, just as it did now. Cella could never put her finger on quite what they’d been mourning. Joffrey had indeed been their brother, but it was a blessing above most they’d ever received to know that they would never hear him scream demands again, nor leave a bruise on any other person, nor talk down to them as though they were well and truly children and not only a couple years younger than he. Joff had always been cruel, and the crown had only given him an excuse to be; Sansa and Cersei were the reasons that the kingdom had not fallen to ruin beneath him.

Women were never quite what men wanted them to be, and the ones who did not defeat themselves in trying only to indulge and enchant were the ones who ran the world. Kingdoms sat upon their shoulders and kings ran headlong into their own demises because of how severely they underestimated their queens.

Mother, I will mourn. She bore us in her womb and did what she believed she needed to. ‘When you play the game of thrones, you win or die,’ she had told me once. ‘There is no middle ground.’ It had been about survival, hadn’t it?

Cella could not help but wonder what it had been like to be wed to a man who hit her, as she’d once seen Robert do to her mother, hard enough that her cheek had bled. It had still been red the day afterward, and Tommen had asked her what happened, laying a purposeful kiss on her cheek and a tender hand at her shoulder, and their mother pursed her lips and told him that she had gotten more drunk than she had expected the night before, and when Robert had told a wild joke she had laughed so hard that she ended up biting the inside of her cheek by accident. Tommen had nodded and accepted the answer, and kissed her again, and Myrcella had bowed her head to the table. When she’d looked back up, her mother’s jaw was set in just the way it always was before she cried.

Yes, she thinks. I would have killed him, too.

There is fire in her blood, she can feel it. She wonders if this is how Dany feels all of the time, and she can understand how it seems as though ruling comes effortlessly to her - one would have to stifle quite a bit of themselves not to stand or speak in a dignified manner, if this sort of feeling never left them.

Cella’s mourning gown was regal, yes, but the flower clasped upon the top of her head was so much more genuine.

Dacey stops and turns before them, signaling their arrival at the ballroom; Myrcella’s knock at the royal study the day before had been tentative, but she turns towards the ballroom today and walks in with her back straight and her head high. Her high-heeled shoes click loudly against the floor.

I am a lioness. And I am strong.

Chapter Text

Robb had already been staring at the entrance to the ballroom, but Sansa and Dany turn their heads towards it when the shrill cracks of heels hit their ears; Myrcella enters, Tommen behind her with one of his hands grasping at hers, his eyes downward and nervous and hers precisely meeting Sansa’s as they cross the room. Their mourning clothes are the same as they had worn for Joffrey, elegant and black as a starless night, but Myrcella’s more stately posturing makes each of them look much older than they had those few moons ago.

Mayhaps she had learned something from Cersei after all.

“I wish I’d brought Ser Pounce with me,” Tommen muses as he latches onto Sansa’s arm upon reaching the trio, and she pulls him into her arms and kisses his head. She can feel a wetness where his cheek meets her chest, and the ache of her heart beneath it.

“You can spend the rest of the day with him, if you like, you and Rickon, mayhaps,” she says lightly, and can feel him stand a bit taller.

“For true?” he asks, pulling back from her.

“For true,” Sansa nods, and gives Myrcella a smile supportive in a manner that feels more maternal than it does sisterly; Myrcella reaches to hold her hand momentarily, taking a deep breath, and Sansa tunes her own breath to hers.

“It’s only a moment, only a moment of your lives,” Dany says, her voice more gentle than usual.

A call comes from the guard at the entrance of the ballroom, who steps just within the arch of the door, hands uncomfortably folded in front of his torso as though he did not know what else to do with them.

“Your Graces?”

Dany, the only one with a clear path of sight to the door, raises her brow in question.

“Lady Mormont and the transgressor are approaching.”

“Yes, yes,” Dany replies, gesturing that they are to be let in. Myrcella’s jaw hardens.

“Lannister,” she defends, and Sansa is conscious to keep herself from beaming at the sinewy pressure of her assertion.

“He may be a traitor, but his name is Ser Jaime Lannister. I am his daughter, Lady Myrcella Lannister, and you will not refer to him or to my mother by any other names than their own in my presence.”

The guard seems to fumble over himself in surprise.

“I - I apologize, my lady. I will take care to do so.”

“Yes, you will.”

The footsteps come into earshot, and Dany and Sansa exchange proud glances as Myrcella puts her hand on her brother’s shoulder and steps toward the center of the room.

***

Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Her feet leave small prints in the snow behind her as she walks, but there is no other sign of her presence in the wood save for that itself; she makes not a single noise, not even a breath loud enough for even herself to hear. She’s too practiced, too adroit, to falter in her step, even when distracted. A few clumps of snow fall from a tree many meters ahead of her, bringing the branch on which they’d rested with them and revealing its yellowing leaves. Another branch near it cracks, and she slips an arrow from her quiver and levels her bow with her brow.

This entire thing was just so stupid, and she was stupid for walking headfirst into it.

A pair of antlers, only just beginning to molt, emerges from behind the tree, and she extends herself, positioning her arms with quiet swiftness.

He was her best friend, and her brother to the world, and people didn’t kiss their brothers, not like that, and they definitely didn’t fuck them.

Well, Cersei Lannister had, and so did Sansa - but Cersei Lannister was a horrid bitch, and Sansa was, well, Sansa. She was beautiful enough and lovely enough that even her own brother actually wanted to kiss her.

But Arya wasn’t Sansa, and neither was Nymeria. Nobody wanted to kiss Arya, let alone Gendry. The thought of it was just stupid. A little nice, maybe, the kind of thought that made your stomach flutter and got your cheeks a bit warm, but just because something was nice didn’t make it true, and it definitely didn’t make it less stupid. And kissing Gendry? Definitely stupid.

The arrow spits from her fingers, discharging fiercely and driving itself into the stag’s thigh.

Pathetic, Arya curses herself under her breath. Fucking pathetic shot.

The animal falls with a whimper, and Arya sets her jaw angrily and grabs another arrow.

Chapter Text

Her father’s eyes meet hers with a frightening hesitancy she’s never seen in him, and Cella presses herself to straighten her back a bit more - imagining, as her septa had taught her, that there was a rope tied to both her head and the ceiling and she was seeking to keep it taut. Tommen, timid as ever in front of others, and now unsure how to address even this man he’d known so long, slides almost entirely behind her, waiting for her to make the first move.

Cella pictures one of the septa’s weighty books upon her head, the very way she’d been taught to wear a tiara, as she creases her lips into a smile that can't help but be sad; she nods tentatively at Dacey, and watches her father’s pupils widen as the cuffs at his wrists are undone. As the first tear is slipping down his cheek and he is massaging his reddened wrists, her heavy heart is beating too hard to bear, and she races towards him and throws her arms around his shoulders. His arms come to fit tightly around her back, with an uneasy hesitancy.

When she steps away and meets his eyes again, they are full of tears and love and sorrow, and his brow is still raised in his surprise that she had greeted him fondly.

One of Tommen’s arms slips around her side and pulls their father close to him, leaning his head against the man’s chest. Though Cella does notice that he is shaking, Jaime valiantly lays a hand to Tommen’s head, running comforting fingers through his hair before pressing a gentle kiss to the crown of his scalp. Jaime raises his other hand to Cella’s cheek, touching her fondly until Tommen pulls away from him, and he moves his hand to her head and graces a wet kiss on her cheek. His lips are pursed sadly, and his fingers swipe some of her hair back behind her shoulder.

“Father,” she compels herself to say, though she’s not sure she can speak at all, and Jaime’s tears come with more force, bringing a gloss to his green eyes. It’s the very same look that her mother has, and that makes it much harder to look at him, feeling as though they are both crying before her. Her chest hurts, and she’s glad that she’s grown into a softer fashion sense, one more like Dany’s or Catelyn’s than her mother’s or Sansa’s, for a breastplate would have made it impossible for her to breathe.

“Your - I’ve waited your entire life to hear you say that,” stammers Jaime, the slightest smile sneaking across his lips before his head starts to droop towards the floor with a sense of melancholy; his hair, the same blond as hers - but a good bit dirtier, and trailing now to his shoulders from his imprisonment - tumbles down in front of his face.

Cella stands on her tiptoes, pushing some of his hair back behind his ear, and returns the kiss on his cheek. She presses her eyelids closed, stifling the well of tears behind them.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbles, as she lowers herself back to the floor.

“You should be,” she replies softly, feeling as though she may choke on the words. Her palms are graced with beads of sweat, she realizes, as one of Tommen’s hands comes to grasp hers.

“I know,” their father says, and that very moment itself seems as much an execution as she imagines the physical event will. He’s surrendered himself to the truth, now; it scares her so much that there is a shiver down her spine as she nods in acceptance of his response.

People had called him the Kingslayer behind his back - not that he didn’t know - and the Lion of Lannister to his face; even being ridden in to King’s Landing a prisoner, chained to a Mallister knight on a courser and behind Lady Catelyn, he had seemed well aware of the title, of his pride. He had never been without it, no matter how disheveled or off-guard he was, rare as more extreme cases of those circumstances were. Pride, ambition, power…no Lannister would admit to being without. Even when you were without, you pretended, you lied, her mother had taught her. As long as your enemies believe you are in control, you have just enough command to regain proper control.

Myrcella reaches out to grab Jaime’s hand once more, almost trying to reassure him that they would be all right, that he was free. Everyone asserted, of course, that the Seven condemned what he and his sister had done, but perhaps…perhaps they had enough mercy, perhaps Cella had prayed hard enough, that things would right themselves.

A slow series of footsteps creeps into her consciousness, and she feels a tug at her side. Tommen points her gaze to the ballroom’s entrance, and her peripheral vision catches a tear sliding down their father’s cheek as Cella watches Ser Mormont meet Dany’s eyes. She purses her lips, grips Tommen’s hand tighter, and nods good-bye. Dany then nods gently to Dacey, and Dacey strides back over to the gathering of Lannisters. Jamie quickly reaches over again, setting his fingertips at Tommen’s temple with an astonishing fragility, and kisses his forehead; when he does the same to Cella, the lightness of his touch reminds her of that of a butterfly’s. His fingers grace her hair momentarily, and she reminds herself of Margaery’s floral hairpiece, sitting where tiaras once had been.

The chains still clang as Jaime’s hands are fastened together again, but Myrcella observes that Dacey has clasped them less tightly.

As Cella holds strong, letting Tommen squeeze her hand with pained - and painful - neediness, and keeping her own tears from her eyes, she feels acutely the soft wetness of her father’s kiss on her forehead. A few moments blur together as she focuses on steadying her breath, feeling the cool air travel through her chest, her heart pulsing still against her ribs. Eventually Tommen releases her hand, clasping his own together in front of his stomach, continuing to stare, seemingly blankly, towards the entryway.

“Tell my uncle I’ll be at his side,” Cella says suddenly, and is taken aback by the decisiveness in her voice. The room’s atmosphere begins to change as the shock settles; she turns herself back around to face the others, and Sansa meets her eyes immediately.

“Absolutely not,” she says easily, with brisk firmness.

“I’m not a child, Sansa-"

“You’re not a grown woman, either.”

“Sansa, you don’t under-"

“I don’t understand? I, of all people! I have been in your place, Cel-"

“No, you haven’t, nothing like it! Your father hadn’t done wrong, and Joffrey led you to think he meant to be reasonable, and he didn’t. He wanted to make a big, bloody mess and he dragged you along for the miserable ride. My parents…my parents committed treason. And they lied about it, under oath, for many years, and they committed murder to try to keep the truth from being known. The Seven Kingdoms have been at war for years, ultimately, because my late brother was raised to believe he should sit the Throne, to which he had no claim.”

“Cella..."

“They are my parents, and I love them, and I forgive them for the ways in which they’ve loved one another…but they have wronged me, too. They were present at my birth and I - I need to see this through. All of this.”

The words spit themselves from her chapped lips, but she’s not entirely sure what she means by ‘this.’ She supposes the right word might be ‘duty,’ but even that doesn’t seem to quite fit. She was a maiden flowered and betrothed, a lioness with a golden mane and a keen mind and a beating heart, and she owed it to her family and to her house and to herself to see her duty through as would any truer woman. She was able, now, and therefore she would, she must. A moment is spent in silence, both Robb and Dany understanding that Sansa’s word would be given and would be final.

Sansa’s step is light as the first fall of snowflakes on the grass when she strides toward the center of the ballroom, barely audible even with heeled shoes and an armor-corseted gown, and Cella herself moves instinctually closer to her. When she stops, she thinks to take a second to straighten her back, only to find her posture is no more demure than it had been before.

“You make that vow, you keep it. You stand, in company, as the Lady of Casterly Rock. Even without business matters, the charge of holding a title is not to be taken blindly, Cella.”

“I am not blind,” she says hotly, resolutely. “You have gone before me.”

***

That couldn’t have happened the way he remembered it, could it? As much as he could have sworn it was real, as much as he vaguely remembers debating himself in the moment as to whether it were…it was a kiss. It had to have been a dream; there wasn’t any other explanation: Dream-Arya kissed him plenty, but Real-Life-Arya didn’t think of him like that. He was her brother, for gods’ sakes, whether that was entirely for true or not.

Besides, she’d seemed fine this morning. It’s not like she’d been bright and cheerful, but that early, she never is.

Sharna’s bell rings out, and he smiles faintly at its familiarity. He sets his hammer down, and stuffs his hands inside his tunic as he walks back towards the inn. Before he even reaches the doorway, he’s set off course by a sharp whistle, and swings around to the tree he’s just passed to see Arya and a couple town girls sitting together at a tree stump. They all wave, and he heads over, and Arya shoves a half-eaten bowl of stew into his hands when he reaches them. She sticks the spoon in her mouth, and as usual, though he tries not to pay particularly close attention, he can vaguely see against her cheeks the path her tongue takes to lick it clean.

“Too many guests,” she explains, carefully pressing the spoon into his hand. “Sharna wouldn’t let us sit inside.”

“Well, she suggested we help,” the eldest girl, Leyla, a tall, fleshy whore with skin darker than Arya’s hair and a heedless attitude, adds briskly. “But that’d be one hell of a midday break, wouldn’t it? Got enough men slapping their dirty hands on my ass to begin with.”

She sighs, though it comes out more of a grunt, and turns her head toward her friend, whom Gendry’s never met. She has lusty, light blue eyes and yellow hair that hangs down her side in a flimsy braid, and as she moves to hand Leyla their bowl the braid flicks against Arya’s shoulder. Instead of taking the bowl from her, Leyla opens her mouth, and the other girl carefully feeds her a few spoons of the stew. Gendry quickly finishes his and Arya’s bowl, and keeps the spoon in his mouth a moment longer to swipe his tongue against it and take the residue of broth off the silver. He remembers how Arya had licked it before handing it to him, and then he remembers the kiss, and as with any other time he’s pictured Arya’s lips against his, he starts to feel his cock straining slightly against his breeches. He distracts himself by fiddling with the empty bowl for a minute before the yellow-haired girl presses a swift, friendly kiss on Leyla’s lips and then stands up from the tree stump, announcing that it’s probably time for the two of them to leave. She drops the other girl’s hand momentarily and kisses Arya on the cheek, and Arya pulls the bowl and spoon from her hands as she and Leyla say good-bye.

“Myriam,” the girl says casually to Gendry, and he waves an uncertain hand at her and her companion as they start to walk away, Leyla wrapping one of her arms around hers. Arya’s farewell is surprisingly stiff, and she becomes so as well, once they’ve left, looking, for lack of a better word, awkwardly, at the ground below her.

“Listen, the, um, you know, last night, that was just stupid of me, okay? It was just the first thing I thought of to knock you over a little, and it was stupid, that was a few steps too far, for winning a silly bet. So, I’m, um, I’m sorry. For, you know, doing something stupid. I mean, that something stupid. I’ve done a few stupid things - that was just particularly stupid. And if anyone asks, it totally never happened.”

“Why would anyone ask?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugs, growing visibly annoyed with him. “But if someone does-"

“Whatever you’re talking about didn’t happen,” he finishes, letting his voice be teasing rather than convey any of his conflicted emotions. “But I don’t actually know what you’re talking about, since, well, it didn’t happen.”

Arya gently punches him in the chest, and he notices that she pulls back more quickly than usual. It’s only a small difference, but he feels a little bit emptier for it. He decides against reaching out to tousle her hair.

“Apology accepted.”

Chapter Text

“Your Graces?”

Three heads swing to the doorway, in the imposing, simultaneous matter they’ve adopted; the others’ gazes follow theirs.

“We have a situation.”

“Yes, Jorah?” Dany replies, shifting her body towards him.

“Riders have been spotted some many miles out from the city gate,” he says, anxiety stiffening his posture. He turns his gaze to the floor when he finishes his sentence, but snaps it back when Sansa’s voice rings out through the hall.

“Commoners, bandits, or bannermen?” she asks sharply.

“They appear to be bannermen, Your Grace.”

A pregnant pause leaves the air empty from the room’s collective gasp.

“Lannister bannermen,” Sansa discerns.

“Grandfather,” Myrcella sighs, and Sansa hears not only worry but a trace of anger in her voice.

“Cella! He wouldn’t!” Tommen exclaims offendedly.

“He would, too, and you know it!”

Cella’s look returns to Sansa’s, the fearsomeness that Sansa can feel in her own revealing itself also in the younger woman’s pupils.

“For everyone’s good, Lord Tywin must be stopped. I don’t imagine he’s coming to congratulate you on your marriage.”

Cella’s voice is more harsh than Sansa’s ever heard it. Commanding, almost caustic. Tommen is glancing up at his sister, visibly discomforted; Sansa’s brow raises in question.

“I don’t know what it is he may be after, but it’s not something good, I’m sure of that. Not for others.”

She turns her head back to Tommen.

“And most likely, not for us either.”

“We’re still Lannisters, Cella,” he protests.

“We’re not Lannisters like the rest of them are. They don’t respect us. Even the Lannisters of Lannisport are ashamed to be of the same House as Mother and Father and Uncle Tyrion. They’ll stop giving even half a wit about our well-being the moment they think ours is in conflict with theirs. That’s how nearly everyone plays the game; remember what Mother said?”

Tommen snaps back, still offended.

“And House Martell? They have every reason to despise Lannisters.”

“They do despise Lannisters. But Trystane loves me.”

She’s so certain of her statement that neither Tommen nor anyone else says anything for a few moments, letting its resonance sink into the depths of the room.

“Jorah,” Dany says eventually, her authority shining through her voice though Sansa can see her trembling just slightly. She had fought as an invader - never a defender. A glance at Robb as she speaks gives him the potential chance to disagree with her, but he nods along.

“How long do we have?”

“An hour mayhaps, at most three.”

“Very well. Connect with Lady Dacey, and mobilize.”

“Yes, Khaleesi.”

“And Ser Mormont?” Sansa presses, almost as an interjection as he’s already bowing and turning to leave in order to fulfill Dany’s wish. He looks to her, head raised the slightest bit to indicate his attention.

“Send the handmaidens out with guards. Every child of the city is to be brought to the Holdfast. Any man or woman willing and able to stand with our banners is to be armed. The others shall take refuge in the Holdfast as well.”

Jorah seems taken aback for a moment, but he nods gracefully and indicates his observance of Sansa’s order before glancing between the trio to see if there is more that he is to be asked to do.

“You are dismissed, my dear Jorah,” Dany says after a couple of moments, and he promptly excuses himself. Robb’s look, when Sansa sees it by nervous chance, is of consideration - an uncertainty with little judgment.

“Do you take issue with that?” she asks him, shifting her body towards his, glad they aren’t standing next to each other now, so that she is not able to be wrapping herself around him as she would in private.

“If they will fight for us, I take no issue with leading them to do so.”

“No,” Sansa contradicts, even though in theory he’s agreeing with her - it’s now that his look grows even more unsure.

“They do not fight for us, but with us. Today, together, for King’s Landing. Houses put as far aside as can be rational.”

She waits to gauge the reaction before saying anything else.

“I, for one, refuse to give Lord Tywin the satisfaction of distracting me from the dues he already owes with petty disputes. He was Joffrey’s hand for many moons; he has never contented himself with being a bystander. It is time someone taught him that he, too, must face the consequences of his actions.”


The three mewling balls of fluff that constitute Tommen’s cats jump upon the chaise immediately upon rushing into the chamber, somehow curling up against and on top of Shaggydog, who is oddly complacent. Their presence around Rickon - and even Catelyn - is not uncommon, but when Tommen enters the room with a long face, Catelyn’s brow furrows in worry.

“Have they begun already? I’ve not heard any word,” she asks him as gently as she can, whilst Rickon pushes himself up from behind - and practically underneath - Shaggydog to thrust himself into Tommen’s arms. They hug tightly for a moment, and Catelyn waits until they pull away and go over to their pets to let her look become more expectant.

“Not the execution, Lady Catelyn, no,” Tommen answers meekly. “They are readying for combat.”

Her countenance falls.

“Combat?”

“Grandfather - Lord Tywin - is coming.”

Catelyn tries to no avail to conceal the fear that comes to her, but both Tommen and Rickon see it - the room grows tense, and their eyes wide. A couple of moments later a howl reaches them, Grey Wind’s, if she can tell correctly. Shaggydog howls back, and Grey Wind’s response enjoys Summer’s and Ghost’s enthusiastic companionship. Shaggydog grumbles - it doesn’t sound quite like a growl, which is probably because it is at Rickon and Tommen - and the boys move, and then move the cats, so that Shaggydog can get up off the chaise. The direwolf trots over to the door as though he were a proper dog pup, and takes a seat at the door to alert Rickon that he doesn’t wish to break it down. Rickon jogs back over and opens it for him, and Shaggydog’s claw can be heard scratching up the floor as he races away, continuing to howl.

Before Rickon can close the door again, they’re joined by yet another guest (this one is indeed human), Trystane Martell, asking after Tommen. Tommen’s back on the chaise by then, ensconcing one of the cats in his arms, and his head snaps up at the young lord’s - prince’s - mention of him.

“Yes?”

“My uncle and aunt wish for you to join us. Well, not that I do not wish, but it is they who have sent the request, officially,” Trystane explains.

“And they sent you to convey their request?” Catelyn inquires, and he nods an easy nod that she starts to think might mean that he is not uncomfortable with performing such duties.

“They were going to ask one of the handmaidens, but she and her cohort have been called away for more immediate, precarious matters. Queen’s command.”

“The Queen’s, or the Khaleesi’s?” There was a difference, after all.

“Ser Jorah did not specify, but I imagine, my lady, that he meant Her Grace, your daughter Sansa.”

“I see,” Catelyn says tentatively.

“Does that surprise you, my lady?” Trystane puzzles, and then jumps back from his question.

“I am sorry if that is too personal, that is your relations with your daughter, my lady, I should not have asked.”

“No, no, my lord, quite all right; I take no offense,” Catelyn says to reassure him. “Although, it is refreshing to see a noble who is aware that another’s business may not be theirs.”

“In Dorne it seems that we operate rather…differently than here,” he nods. “Blood is brought up quite less, and talent quite more. I have seen no one on Dornish land who questions my aunt’s authority as the woman of my uncle Prince Oberyn, and yet here, many have tiptoed around her lack of title. Conversation here seems oft uncomfortable, if you’ll pardon me for confessing as much.”

“Then you’ve gotten the warmest welcome to King’s Landing and its politics that one may have,” Catelyn concurs in jest, chuckling. She hears one of the cats purring once the sound of her voice fades from the atmosphere of Rickon’s chamber.

“Now, I apologize, you said you had come to ask after Tommen, yes?”

“Yes, my lady. In keeping with remaining little involved in Westerosi politics, my aunt and uncle and I will be dining in and retreating to their chamber until further notice. They wish to ask the company of you, Tommen, and…of your sister, should she be available.”

Tommen chuckles.

“You really do fancy her, don’t you?” he replies, softly but almost teasing.

“I do, yes,” Trystane confirms, and Tommen stays still for another moment, seemingly to consider that answer.

“Can Rickon and my cats come?”

“I - I imagine they would not mind the company of your cats, nor of your confidant, but the decision as to Prince Rickon’s companionship - that is Lady Catelyn’s,” Trystane says, more assuredly than Catelyn expected his response would be, and all three of the boys have turned their looks to her in a matter of a couple of seconds.

“Please, Mother? Please can I stay with Tommen? Please?”

“Don’t beg, Rickon. It’s unbecoming,” Catelyn reprimands. “But yes, since you so desire, you may join Tommen in the chamber of the Martells.”

“Yes!” he and Tommen cheer, and she rolls her eyes. They both pop up from the chaise - Rickon speeds over to where she is sitting on the bed to hug her, and Tommen tries to keep stable the cat who has been curled in his arms as he stands.

“Thank you so very much, Lady Catelyn,” says Tommen as they start to follow Trystane from the room. Trystane bows in the doorway, and Rickon blows a kiss, and Tommen and Rickon work together to ensure the cats are following them; she gathers herself once they’ve left, and retreats to her own chamber down the hall.

It’s not until her second glass of wine that she remembers Tommen’s comment about his grandfather, and she downs what’s left of the glass right then.

Of course it could not content a Lannister to allow the Realm a year of peace. What, of their discontent, ever differed, was how much blood they were willing to make the Realm shed in their crusade for their own gains - and whose.

Chapter Text

It’s mid-afternoon when the mounted messenger comes, bringing with him not only critical news but chaos and a slew of Tully bannermen: the Lannisters were coming. The people shall fight.

Gendry observes the small town gathering near the forge, remaining adjacent to the fire he knows as opposed to joining up with others, even once he realizes the implications of the summons.

“Absolutely not!” Sharna shrieks at a distraught Arya barely moments later, still outside the inn, and loudly enough that Gendry can hear her. Arya argues, but Sharna’s got her mind made, and there’s no budging to be done - sword capabilities and stubbornness be damned, Nym wasn’t going anywhere.

He hates to think it’s because of an imminent separation, but when she glances down towards him at the forge, she looks more frightened now than he’s seen her before. She darts into the inn a moment later, tears about to grace her cheeks, and it takes a great deal of effort for Gendry to keep himself in place.

Until, that is, the messenger’s horse trots down to him. The man dismounts and gives Gendry an unexpectedly respectful nod before asking about his training and history. Somehow his name and apprenticeship spark something like recognition in the man, who immediately declares that he’ll be sorely needed by the Queen.

Gendry’s caught too off-guard to think much into anything other than he and Arya and her family and war, but in the few moments to breathe that the messenger then decides to give him a few moments too late, he knows a few things: Gendry would be leaving Arya to go to King’s Landing and fight for Westeros, he would be fighting for her sister and her brother with nearly the same ferocity as if she’d directly ordered him to fight for her, and he would be leaving the Inn at the Crossroads entirely certain that he loved her in the ways that men were meant to love the women they had.

And once he leaves, Gendry would likely never even see her again.

“T’would only be right, though, wouldn’t it?” he mutters as he glances back into his forge. It wasn’t as though she’d ever been his to want, let alone to have. He’ll have that one, haphazard, almost meaningless kiss, and all their nights on a bed together, through the rest of his life, and that’s all that belongs to him, because there’s nothing that could change that she was once a lord’s daughter and now was a princess. Even if the Starks were taken out of power, Gendry would never be free of knowing who she’d been, of knowing that he wasn’t really even worthy to look her in the eye. He was almost as bad as she was at pretending.

Almost.

“You’re not really going to go, are you? You can’t!” shouts Hot Pie from outside, running up to him.

“The messenger demanded me. I don’t have much of a choice, Hot Pie,” Gendry answers abrasively.

“But...Arya,” Hot Pie fights weakly, and Gendry chuckles at the absurdity, though he can feel his face fall further.

“But Arya nothing. For all we know, we’re on the brink of war again. Even lords have to fight in wars.”

Hot Pie sighs, with more depth than Gendry would have thought him to be capable of mustering and two sharp creases of worry across his forehead.

***

Ygritte finds Southron armor to feel surprisingly freeing, even after the flowing dress she’d worn for the wedding, but she still refuses much of it in the face of oncoming danger. She doesn’t care for it, unlike Jon, who is perfectly comfortable replacing his overwhelmingly warm clothes from above the Wall with the plated armor. She does, though, feel strangely at peace, as she slips into heavy leather to fight to defend the righteousness of a crown.

“Lady Snow?” speaks a young male servant behind her, almost as though there was another lady in the guest chambers she shared with Jon. “You’ll ride with the Khaleesi, if that does right by you.”

Ygritte glances at Jon, unsure.

“There usually s’much askin’?”

“Only for nobles, I’d presume,” he replies, but he, too, seems uncertain in that answer. Ygritte looks back to the servant.

“She’s the one with the dragons, hmm?”

“Yes, Lady Snow.”

“I like her a’right. That’s right by me, then,” she grins, although she simultaneously notes how the title doesn’t roll off a servant’s tongue very comfortably, unlike the more familiar, noble names like Stark and Tyrell, and just barely keeps herself from scoffing at the stuffiness of it all before the servant takes leave of the room.

As soon as the door shuts, Ghost rushes to Ygritte, taking a seat at her feet and grumbling. She scratches him on his head, but he shoves his nose up towards her to indicate that’s not enough.

“I think he wants to go with you instead,” offers Jon.

“I don’t need no man protectin’ me.”

She reaches around to pull Ghost’s face up by his chin, looking him in the eye.

“Not even no direwolves.”

He grumbles again, and this time it’s Jon whose touch gives him pause.

“Don’t worry. She’s a direwolf now, too, just like you and me.”

Chapter Text

The first of the arrivals are bannermen, and unexpectedly, Lord Tywin is nowhere to be seen. It’s Lord Gawen Westerling who rides ahead of his many men to approach Robb and Jon outside the city walls.

“Lord Stark. Lord Commander Snow,” he nods, and Robb sits taller.

“You mustn’t get much by the way of news at the Crag. That, or you listen only for what you wish to hear,” Robb strikes. Gawen grins, and Jon draws breath deep into his stomach.

“Listen well, boy. Your father won nothing but a head lost because he wanted the truth to seem larger than that of the Iron Throne -”

“My father lost his head because the Lannisters stole from Robert what he’d taken for his own house. Eddard Stark wanted only justice, and neither Joffrey, Cersei, nor Tywin had any interest in it. Westeros deserves better than Tywin’s idea of justice.”

“Very well.”

Neither a title nor a sigh accompanies the comment; Gawen does not even await a reaction from Robb before jerking his horse back around and riding through the widest aisle in between the rows of his men that had flanked him.

Robb meets Jon’s eyes, then looks beyond him; as Jon draws his own sword, one more - he assumes Dacey’s - is unsheathed, and a moment later, a chorus of weaponry follows.

A yell follows: Gawen’s voice, but his words are unclear to Jon. Whatever he says, it must have meant “charge”, as it spurs his men towards Robb’s; and yet as such, they’ve barely moved by the time Dacey, with her sword raised at the ready, races past Robb and Jon on the hill that their wolves and their horses stand upon. A hundred soldiers follow her without hesitation, straight into their opponent, and as many or more rush behind and around Robb and Jon, storming their enemy cavalry from their right.

The fear and confusion visibly disorient them, and Dacey and her men quickly gain a distinct advantage, even against the massive cavalry. A few injured men can be seen running away on foot, as though there were somewhere to go, and upon notice of them, Dacey looks back to Robb. Jon is too entranced by the orchestration of her troops to look to his brother, but he knows that Robb nods, because then, entirely on her own, Dacey charges Gawen.

She drives her sword into a gap in his armor; he falls, and she jumps horse after him, meeting all his futile attempts at self-defense with her hand and her sword until she lands a thrust at his neck. He eventually collapses, barely visible through the mingled cavalries, and Dacey mounts his horse. The battle is over almost as swiftly as it had started.

This time, Jon sees her nod to Robb, and Robb’s return of the gesture, the smallest crack of a smile on his lips. When he looks back to Dacey, walking her new mount through the sea of the battle as it draws to an end, he’s struck by the spitting image of Arya, as though she’d returned to them a woman for the sake of sticking the pointy end of a sword into a Lannister ally.

He could always hope, but all the same, Jon hopes she’s as far as can be from King’s Landing. If Lord Tywin’s use of his banners spells anything about how he wishes to approach the Starks, then another bloody war lays ahead of Westeros.

***

When Sharna finally stops chastising her, Arya rushes upstairs into her room. She pulls the thin little blanket over herself and falls apart.

“All persons of age and able body, willing to defend the crown,” the man had said.

That included Gendry, and it certainly included Arya, whether Sharna thought so or not. The crown was practically hers, despite her wanting no part of her own regality. It was still her blood, and Sansa and Robb still deserved their rule. How she would love to be the one to end Tywin’s life, or ride with Dacey Mormont as the executors of Robb’s orders. If Jon was in King’s Landing for the wedding, she was sure he’d be riding with Robb, even though he represented no house but Castle Black; and, too, with no claim to anything except mayhaps by her, Gendry would fight for her and her family. No one would know him, no one would honor him, and the only woman who knew him well enough to do so...was her, and he wasn’t hers. Not in the way he’d need to be for her to speak of him as he was, as great and strong and someone she so desperately needed by her side.

The knock at the door is light, tentative, and in the middle of the night. Arya is curled into a ball, and she’s finished crying but still wants nothing to do with anyone, let alone the man who matched that knock.

“Go away, Gendry.”

A pause follows.

“I leave at dawn, Nym. Let me come in.”

Dawn, she thinks sadly, noting that the sunrise has begun. It was so soon. He’d been at her side since she was a child, and now he would leave her at dawn.

She rolls over to her other side so that she faced the door.

“Why should I?”

Gendry sighs, and Arya hears his hand softly clap against the door as he leans into it.

“I have something for you,” he offers, and his voice is so sad that she has to give in.

“Fine. Come in. But remember, you can’t stay long.”

When he opens the door, his face looks like he’s been contemplating every decision he’s ever made. Part of her wants to comfort him, but most of her thinks that it’s a justified result to having chosen to leave her behind.

She tries to remind herself that he didn’t do the choosing, but it takes away none of the sting from the betrayal she feels.

He was her pack.

She gulps and turns her face away from him.

“I’m sorry, Arya,” he tries, and a tear bubbles to the corner of her eye.

“I’ll come back for you when it’s over,” he says, walking closer to her side of the bed, and opens the floodgates.

“Like hells!” she shouts back, lurching to her feet.

“Gendry, you can’t even promise me you’ll survive all the way to King’s Landing! You can’t promise me anything!”

He bitterly bites his tongue, glancing down her cheeks to consider whether or not to wipe her tears and, mayhaps smartly, deciding against trying to touch her.

“No, I can’t promise you that I’ll survive. But I can, and I do, promise that if I do, the first thing I will do is come back for you.”

She takes a heavy breath, trying to pout at him but a bit too busy trying not to sob. It’s now that he reaches for her, cupping her cheek with one of his large, warm hands.

“I cannot forsake the demands of our king and queens, but I will come back and I will do...whatever it is that my lady commands.”

She would wish that his last time saying that could have been in jest, but she knows too well the genuine manners of his eyes. She’ll never forgive herself if she forgets.

His hand leaves her and she blinks, hoping to shove away the thought of how lonely her skin feels without his warmth - it was like to be a relentless winter, wasn’t it? - as she watches him muster some sort of courage and push a hand into one of his pockets, pulling out something small that she can’t see until he shakily opens the hand: a necklace.

No. Not just a necklace. The necklace from the market. The necklace that Weasel had found for her, the one she’d wanted.

She doesn’t manage even a “how,” but her expression gives her voice to him nonetheless.

“You’re rather memorable, even to strangers. Naturally, the seller remembered you.”

“You...bought me a necklace.” Somehow that’s still what Arya is stuck on. Gendry shrugs.

“I thought it could be for your next name day, but…”

“But you won’t be here with me,” Arya murmurs sadly.

“I wish I had something to give you in return,” she sighs, and Gendry grumbles.

“It’s a gift, Arya.”

“As is a lady’s favor. And it helps you fight.”

“Favor? I thought that was just for proper ladies, and their lovers.”

“No, you stupid,” Arya recoils.

“I’d just like you to think of your promises to me whenever you want to do something dumb with a sword, so you don't end up dying.”

Gendry chuckles at that.

“Don’t worry, milady. I won’t be forgetting you. And...and if I die, I die fighting for you, in my hope that I can come back here.”

Arya sighs shakily as he slings the necklace around her neck; the pendant, a snowflake cut of silver, falls between her little breasts, and shimmers from the lantern flickering on the wall. Gendry tries not to look at her figure, and it’s noble of him, particularly for a man who’s about to leave her alone, but she’s honestly a bit disappointed.

There remained a chance they’d never see each other again; he could at least call her pretty again, couldn’t he? She hated that it mattered, but her feelings quite clearly disagreed. Other men might say it someday, just as some had propositioned her, but she knew that Gendry really meant it when he complimented her. She missed it already.

She shudders at the thought of that man who’d touched her in the inn, shortly after she’d begun her moonblood. No man might ever be so angry about that as Gendry had been, not really, so protective in a way that wasn’t possessive, so willing to defend what little honor she had.

Is that what he means to be fighting for? My honor? My name? Mayhaps, just...me?

He could be so unclear sometimes, but now the sun shined into the room and they were up against the little shred of time they had left.

She leans in and hugs him, tighter than she ever has. He grasps her around her back, and they have at least a couple of moments before a knock is at the door.

“Gendry? Are you there?” asks Sharna.

“I’ll be down shortly,” he replies, mustering a surprising amount of breath and loosening his arms around Arya, a cool emptiness left behind against her skin.

“You haven’t very long. They’re almost ready, and Hot Pie and I are both keen to see you off.”

“Of course, Sharna.”

She pads away and Arya starts to let him go. He softly tells her goodbye and reticently meanders to the door before she decides it’s not enough.

Even an unsteady “wait” stops him in his tracks and gives her the few seconds she needs to cross the room and press her lips against one of his cheeks.

He hugs her tightly enough to raise her off the ground, and she notes that his hands actually wrap about her hips, which is unusual and also rather nice. No other man will ever make me feel this safe.

When she takes her lips away, he kisses her forehead and sets her down.

“Come outside, please. Wish us luck as we go.”

She follows him down and watches he and the others fade into the distance.

She can't help but think of her lady mother, who had endured such events so many times; so many times had people Catelyn loved rode their horses away from her, some of them never to return, and she'd kept her head high through it. Arya can't imagine how she does it - how she kept herself from riding to King's Landing on her own and taking Joffrey's head herself after her husband's murder.

She prays that Gendry will meet her brothers or her sister.

Smiths are special, she reminds herself. Even Sansa could see that they need to keep him alive and well. He will work for them like no one else would, no one except mayhaps Robert, mostly for Lyanna. He fought an entire war for her when she was kidnapped; that's the sort of passion that Gendry has inside him.

She prays the gods make them see the best of him.

Chapter Text

Chaos. Absolute fucking chaos. Lannister banners, madness, darkness, fear, fire, blood, and chaos. That’s practically all she can see. She hears little more than screaming, the fearsome rhythm of horses’ hooves, and wood crackling as it burns.

When the bannermen ride in, Sharna tells Arya to stay in the inn, to stay away and safe, and since Sharna can scare her into behaving just like her lady mother used to, she almost succeeds, but the moment she hears Sharna’s voice raise its pitch, she reaches under her bed for Needle. She doesn’t make it to the door before a rapid knocking is on the door, and she races to open it only to find it’s a skinny blonde girl she doesn’t know, a young woman, mayhaps not even older than Arya, with a child wrapped against her back.

“Y - your mother s-said you could h-help,” the girl mumbles fearfully, shaking as Arya pulls her into the room, startling further at the unexpected sword in Arya’s hand, though she lets Arya shut the door and pull her cloak over her head. “My-my babe and I, we escaped them. Lord Lannister, he - he’s looking for her.”

Heavy footsteps down the corridor scare her even more, her probably-pretty face contorted in fear.

“We need to leave. Now,” Arya declares. She grabs her bow and arrows, and reaches for the woman’s hand, pulling her towards the window. “We’ll jump, and run for the forest. I’ll help you.”

The woman slips her gloved hand into Arya’s as tightly as she can and follows her. They land in a snowdrift underneath Arya’s window, and Arya realizes that running may not have been her smartest plan, as the girl with the babe is much slower than she. She stops them against a particularly large tree, to trade the child, and though Arya realizes the child must be older than she’d expected, as they’re heavier, she still can run faster.

It’s their downfall.

Spies riding through manage to spot them, perhaps by the woman’s bright yellow hair, not completely concealed by her cloak, and they haven’t made it much further before an arrow is wedged in the woman's side.

It all happened so fast, Arya thinks. Nothing but Father’s death had ever happened so quickly.

Gripping her side, the woman leans against a tree and moans softly: “Go on. Please. The child, save the child. They’ll have no mercy.”

She falls to the ground, clearly still breathing, but the spy grows closer and Arya decides.

She confirms that the child is tight against her back, and runs.

Her dress catches against the ground, and she can hear the spy kill the girl she left behind, but she keeps running, just like Nymeria when Arya had sent her off so long ago. She runs until she can’t feel her feet any longer, until all that’s around her is trees and ground and snow, and then she runs even further than that. She runs until the sun begins to come up, telling her that she’s heading West. She hadn’t thought about it before, but she knows she’s going vaguely towards Riverrun. She doesn’t know what she’d do if she were to reach it: would Uncle Edmure know her? Did they believe she was dead? Would they protect her? How would she explain a child? How was Gendry going to find her again?

When she stops to make a fire, and looks down at the little girl, she realizes she never even thought to ask the babe’s name, let alone why a Lannister had been looking for her.

What she does know, though, is that they'll remember where they lost her. Arya might not know who's she protecting, but she's always been good at doing so, and she tells herself that this time will be no different. Now, she just can't go back to the Inn.

It hurts more than she'd ever admit. She notices the pain and tucks it away; it's a good thing she's good at doing that, too.

***

The Keep brims with harried nobles and the citizens of King’s Landing, an anxious buzz of chatter constant even when nightfall washes over the city.

Renly and Loras, having ridden under Dacey’s command that day, stay in the guest solar Renly shares with Margaery, nursing muscles much sorer than they’d expected for a trip to a wedding, but Margaery walks the ramparts with Daenerys, hand-in-hand and almost alone, Jorah being the exception, a short distance behind them - loyal and protective but not invasive. Most of the days following Tywin’s rebellion against the Starks and the Khaleesi had given them little time to even speak, let alone to make love or to sleep soundly.

“Khaleesi,” Jorah eventually mutters, asking the women to look back at him. Dany’s hair spins around her shoulders and her crown wears a glimmer as she turns to face him, keeping her hand in Margaery’s.

“Someone is approaching the city,” he nods out to their left, past the castle and past the walls, over to a barely-visible figure, looking clothed in grey and upon a black horse, galloping quickly enough it could be said they meant to storm the castle themselves. Margaery can’t help but think that the ground outside King’s Landing remains wet with blood from Tywin’s first bannermen, who had actually been quite lucky only to have been met with a portion of King Robb’s army.

That had been all they’d needed, she recalls with an undue pride. All they had needed was Robb’s orders and Dacey’s lead and now there was another battle won and another traitor’s head atop the parapets.

“Is- are there two riders there?” Margaery wonders aloud, realizing that the rider seems to have two shades of cloak and indiscernible arms. Of course, they are still quite far away, but Marg's vision was sharp, and she’d certainly mounted horses before when they’d had other riders also, although she’d only ever done so once as a grown woman, on a jaunt through the Kingswood with Dany. It was quicker, although nowhere nearly as comfortable, as a carriage, especially if one riding at night wanted to be shrouded in secrecy as well as their cloak, disregarding that any careful watcher, like Jorah Mormont, may well see them anyway.

Dany and Jorah go to meet them first, before informing Robb and Sansa - who, if past experience meant anything, were likely in bed, strictly wishing not to be disturbed - outside the city gates and almost alone, but Marg waits in worry, trying to observe her world rather than just glare at the heads of her former king and a man of his grandfather’s banners.

She hopes, meekly, now to none but her own heart, that Renly has enough sense to keep his own desires for the Iron Throne to himself. The last thing she needs is to be rid of a reason to be here: King’s Landing may be unsafe, but she has friends here, and a queen who’s making a proper lover out of her, and while the relationship between Margaery and her husband could be stressful and tumultuous, he and Loras did truly love each other, which ultimately meant that Margaery wanted - no, needed - him to live through Tywin’s challenge. Knowing Renly, and having met Tywin, she knows it will be easier said than done.

"One woman can only be so clever," she recalls her grandmother saying once, when Marg had asked Lady Olenna why Queen Sansa never tried to escape King's Landing or kill Joffrey herself and it had turned into a lesson on public kindness and private disgust.

"The future of the Seven Kingdoms depends on the strength of a lady's shoulders, too, not only her own fate."

Chapter Text

The child, Arya recalls, almost out of nowhere, as she’s sitting silently, awake before the morning light, tending to a small fire. Right before she died, the woman hadn’t called the child her own. She called her ‘my babe’ when she asked for my help, and then...it was as though she’d forgotten from whom the child had come.

She’d speculate that the child wasn’t hers at all, but Arya had never heard of smallfolk having nurses who cared for children in the way nobles did. She supposes that it wouldn’t make much sense for the Lannisters to look for a child who wasn’t noble, though - not unless the child was a bastard of Joffrey’s, but then there really wouldn’t have been need for the banners. Besides, it was a girl, and a bastard daughter had less claim than Sansa’s daughter, especially now that Sansa had married another king. Sansa’s daughter was trueborn and it was known; Joffrey’s bastard daughter would have less claim to the throne or even to Casterly Rock than she.

Looking down at the sleeping babe, Arya doubted the bastardy further, too, as this child had too precious and sweet a look to take after Joffrey, and her thin wispy hair was red, barely lighter than Tully red. Joffrey and a blonde woman couldn’t have had a child with hair like Sansa’s, and both Myrcella and Tommen were still too young for children of their own; Arya didn’t think she knew any other Lannisters other than Tywin’s line, but that’s her own fault for paying too little attention to the news and to her lessons.

Her chest tightens as it hits her more fully. This babe is the little princess.

The child curls into Arya’s chest, restless but still sleeping as she paws at Arya’s small breasts, missing a motherly type of care that Arya couldn’t offer. She didn’t even know how old the girl was. She’d heard that Sansa had given birth, but Arya hadn’t wanted to think about Joffrey bedding her sister, knowing he wouldn’t have done it lovingly, and so she’d ignored what she could, and now she regrets doing so, as all the details that the townsfolk around the Inn had fawned over had been lost on her: the date of her birth, her look....she barely recalled that Sansa had named her Catelyn. Sharna or Hot Pie or even Gendry might have recalled other things, but she was without them now. She doesn’t even know if they’re alive, and she takes a tearful moment to stare into her fire, as though it will tell her, and pray to all the gods she knows that they are.

She doesn’t know that she’ll be able to return to Sharna’s Inn, but she wishes fervently that Gendry will manage to come back to her, too, same as he’s on his way back to King’s Landing, although she’s not sure it counts as coming back if he has to find her first. For a moment, she regrets running off, but then realizes that if they were indeed bonded by blood, this child was as much a part of her pack as Gendry was.

The lone wolf dies and the pack survives, she recalls, letting her lord father’s voice echo in her head, and the obligation she’d felt to the child surges back to her with passion. Whether she and Sansa had survived the war because they’d formed their own packs in the absence of their family, Arya couldn’t know, but she could feel deep inside herself that the gods had meant for her to protect this babe. It couldn’t be a coincidence that the attack had happened at their Inn, so soon after Gendry had left her for King’s Landing. He was the strongest member of her pack, in a way, and now she had to take his place, and keep this little girl safe just like they’d done for each other, even when the Lannisters had been after them - just like her lady mother had stopped Bran’s intended killer herself, and then had taken a place with Robb at war, disregarding all those who thought it wasn’t a mother’s duty.

Arya’s not sure if she’ll ever know why they’d wanted Gendry, but she hopes that whatever it is means that her own family needed him alive.

He’ll serve them well, she thinks, but she thinks it bitterly. And mustn’t I?

Ned Stark would have saved Lyanna’s child, wouldn’t he? He’d have raised a child of his sister’s just as lovingly as he had raised all his own. It was Arya’s duty to do the same for Sansa. She’d never gotten good at being someone other than Arya of House Stark, after all, no matter how intently Gendry had helped her. Mayhaps, just like he’d once said, they hadn’t been meant to be family. They’d been pretty good at it for a while, but she’d always be a lady, and he’d felt like he was supposed to serve her. They’d always be trapped in whatever the world believed them to be; even as siblings it had turned out that things had to go unsaid.

She wraps her free hand around her necklace and takes a deep breath.

“I’ll keep you safe, little Princess Catelyn. I promise.”

***

She couldn’t breathe, and nearly couldn’t think. This wasn’t - couldn’t be - happening, Sansa thought, over and over again, before she bolted, nearly shaking with sobs, from the small council. There were too many things that she could think.

Theon, Robb had reported, had written to him, alerting them that little Catelyn had not arrived. Theon, who had been raised with the Starks; Theon, who’d fought with Robb at war, who’d swayed his sister Asha to the Stark cause, and then returned to Winterfell to help advise Bran at his lordly duties and hold the castle; Theon, who seemed, by his words, to think of Catelyn as his own niece. Theon, Sansa trusted, and surely he knew the weight of her daughter’s safety. His concerns were honest.

Lord Tywin, their mother had said, had written for little Catelyn’s ransom - the remainder of his own family in return for her, a demand which Sansa knew, all too painfully, they could not meet. There could have been another way, she’d been sure, for those seconds before Dany advised them solemnly not to think of a way to reason with him.

The injured nurse and the traitorous guard in their dungeons had given the Khaleesi a different story, one that answered Theon’s questions and ripped apart Tywin’s story: the ambush in the Riverlands. The story that had witnesses, the one in which the guards that had been charged with the safety of the princess had not taken their duty deeply enough to heart and had not protected her from Tywin’s banners. Sansa would be, should be, was, furious, and she could feel that inside of her, bubbling, overrun only by grief.

This grief was a feeling she was familiar with: it was standing on the steps of the sept, with the bittersweet expectation that Joffrey will send her father to the Wall, to be with Jon, and screaming and fainting when he’d dashed her hopes, and waking up forever with the knowledge that it had not been a dream; it was convincing herself that she didn’t want Arya to be found when Joffrey sent spies and bannermen to search for her, knowing that she’d rather Arya have run off above the Wall or across the Narrow Sea than be dragged back to the miserable King’s Landing, where she’d be beaten and vilified and ultimately married off.

Arya herself, Sansa knew, would rather be dead, and her lasting freedom may have been the Gods’ greatest mercy in her case. It was better, Sansa thought, that they could imagine Arya somewhere else, somewhere she was safer and happier. Until they regained control of the Realm, Lady Arya Stark would be unsafe many places, but a young common girl with a sword and a temper might well hold her own, even if she couldn’t learn to hold her tongue.

Catelyn, though, was only a babe, an infant who’d not even reached her third name day. She couldn’t even walk on her own, and now she never would. Sansa had so looked forward to seeing it. She’d fought so hard to keep this child at her side, even though Joffrey wanted to erase her existence - to claim she’d been stillborn and have an heir before a daughter - and Cersei had suggested she be sent somewhere as a ward, mayhaps to Dorne, with Myrcella, but Sansa had fought against either girl leaving King’s Landing, even claiming that Robb’s banners might do any manner of things to Myrcella in order to force the hands of the Lannisters, yet all the while she’d sincerely doubted that Robb would have let his men act in such a way. She’d ultimately won that argument, and had the scars from Joffrey to show for it, but what for, now? What for, if her daughter was dead?

They didn’t even know where she’d been last; they knew the town, but another autumn snow had fallen since, and even the Inn there, the one Catelyn’s party had intended to stay at, was difficult to find. Only one of Catelyn’s nurses and one of their guards had been left alive to tell the story, but the child was gone. And yet, for what? What purpose did Catelyn’s death serve for Tywin? He might never have liked that the first child of his grandchildren was a girl, but she was still his blood. Surely Joffrey’s bastardy could not have changed that relationship with Tywin enough that he’d wanted Joffrey’s daughter dead.

Clearly, too, he still cared about his blood, since he’d wanted to trade her for the rest of his family, family he shared with the little girl. Unless he thought...no, she could only have been Joffrey’s, and Tywin would know that. Tywin had been at the Red Keep nearly the whole time that Joffrey had been king. Little Cat was the image of Sansa, yes, but Sansa herself had looked just like her own mother; it dawns on her that Robb shares such looks, but surely, she thinks, little Ned might take after their father, just as Jon and Bran and Arya had. It would be a kinder memory than if Catelyn had been given the Lannisters’ golden locks. Somewhere, too, in the world, Robert left some untold number of children - only the gods knew how many of whom bore the Baratheon look - bastards who most likely deserved the Throne more than Joffrey ever had, and certainly deserved much better than the Lannisters had ever intended for them to get.

Tywin had allowed, even ordered, the deaths of children in the past, Sansa recalls sharply. Most of Robert’s bastard children, and all of Princess Elia’s children. And Robert - he tried to have Dany killed, even when she was barely a maid.

It’s Dany who ultimately finds her, having been guided by Grey Wind through the godswood to where Sansa cries by the heart tree. The wolf nuzzles up to her, more aggressive than usual in his attempt to surround her with his warmth, and she knows acutely that he guards her in Robb’s stead. She can barely bring herself to pat his head after he lays it in her lap, but she manages to grasp some of his fur and bury her face into his side. Dany gingerly sits down at Sansa’s other side, wincing at the cold of the snow beneath her. Sansa would laugh, if she could laugh now, at the thought she has of this queen, so unafraid of fire or battle or massive beasts - tender, apprehensive, and shivering in fright and cold.

The dragon queen and the wolf queen: so often they seemed so very different, two sides of a coin just barely balanced between its two sides ice and fire, but now, here, when Dany lays a firm but gentle hand on Sansa’s shoulder and it’s clear there have been tears in her eyes, she feels a distinct kinship with her fellow queen.

“The Lord Commander Snow regrets that it is tonight that he and his lady must take their leave of us.”

“They came for a wedding, not for a war. They have greater duties to the protection of the Realm than they do to us.”

Sansa’s voice is soft and otherworldly, as though someone else had said the words.

“Aye, Queen Sansa, but it is evident how deeply he wishes to fight for your family’s justice. Know that he is not alone. The Realm will not allow this atrocity to go unpunished. Lord Tywin has fashioned himself far too bold for too long.”

Dany squeezes her shoulder, not with any harshness but with enough urgency that Sansa looks over at her.

“Winter is coming, yes? Soon, it will come for the Lannisters, and lions are not meant for winter. Only Lord Tyrion and Lady Myrcella seem to understand that - and young Tommen is to be forgiven his misconceptions - but the South will need the North just as the North will need it, when the time is here. Not one kingdom, but one Realm, and before Spring comes again, all our enemies will regret their choices as deeply as the snows will fall.”

There’s a reassuring element to the way Dany speaks. Her words come as flawlessly as though she’s an actor who’s memorized a well-written script, but yet the way she pauses to consider herself tells Sansa that’s not the case. She was truly born to rule, Sansa thinks, knowing that no story Dany’s ever told of her brother implied he’d instilled in her such talent himself.

As the light of dawn begins to reach them, the talent almost fades for the first time.

“I...I had a son. Rhaego, I named him. For...my late brother. A sore topic, with Starks, I know, but true. He was stillborn. My...Drogo, my husband, was...injured, while I was with child. I mistakenly trusted a godswife to heal him and...they...they all died for it. Rhaego...the khalasar had called him ‘the Stallion Who Mounts the World.’ He was to unite all the Dothraki into a single khalasar, and ride to the end of the world. But the godswife wanted revenge for what my husband’s khalasar had done to her village...I burned her alive on his funeral pyre.”

“Revenge,” Sansa murmurs. “It sounds so sweet but does it change...anything?”

“Yes,” Dany confirms, surprisingly certain now. “But although I have dragons, and now the Throne, I cannot have either my husband or my child back, and I am sorry that now you have found yourself so similarly hurt.”

“I don’t miss Joffrey. Only...”

“Only your sister, and your lord father, for whom your son shall be named?”

“Yes,” Sansa confirms. “And now, the Lannisters have taken my daughter as well. Tywin’s own blood, and somehow, she is a pawn to him.”

Daenerys sighs, considering her words.

“If anything I’ve heard about Lord Tywin is true, he’s seen his own children as little more than pawns since the day his lady Joanna died. He’s a bitter man who’s been allowed too much power. He cares for his house, but I can’t say a single person’s told me he cares for its members. It is sweet, though, how you still seem capable of overestimating men.”

There comes half a chuckle, many trees away. Ser Jorah. Sansa might have felt violated, in the realization he’d certainly followed after Grey Wind and the Khaleesi, if he did not serve Daenerys so completely.

“That was not an invitation to converse,” Dany says, though her tone tells them both that she’s amused by his reaction.

“If I may, though, my Khaleesi...my Queen,” he glances at both of them in turn, walking closer now. Sansa straightens her back, and Dany releases her shoulder.

“Ser?”

“As horrid as it sounds, I think Lord Tywin may be counting on that. He is counting on you, Queen Sansa, to be shocked, and appalled, and hurt, without being ruthless or cruel.”

“I will not let him make me ruthless or cruel.”

“No, but...time may tell what he hopes to accomplish given any mercy by the crown. His house, under his rule, has wronged all three of you, and many others, many times over, and yet he lives to bring terror another day. That terror...that is what brings him power. That, and gold. He will lose no sleep over any life lost in this war he’s waged against the crown, not unless it costs him dearly.”

The thought belongs to her immediately, but Sansa takes a deep breath anyway.

“Then we must make him pay, for all that he’s done and for all he has failed to do. For all of us, and for all the Realm.”