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Longing for home

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Arya 

On the morning after the feast, Bran asked Arya to take him to the godswood. She rolled his wheeled chair easily to the godswood where they sat in companionable silence. 

“I saw you, at Harrenhal,” he announced suddenly. 

“You saw me?” 

He chuckled. “When I went over the Wall, I learned how to greensee and how to see through the weirwoods, like the Children used to. I can see anything from the past or the present through the eyes of a weirwood,” he explained. “So I saw you, at Harrenhal, when you’d practice with your broom. I wanted to join you. It reminded me of us playing sticks here.” 

Her brother had tears in his eyes. He was always as quick to cry as her when they were children - but only when they had good cause. 

“What was it like for you here during the war?” she asked him. She spent so long trying to get back here before she got the news of Bran and Rickon’s deaths.

“Tedious,” he snickered to her surprise. 

“When Robb and Mother left, Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik would tell me I had to be the Lord of Winterfell and I’d remind them that I would never be Lord of Winterfell. Robb’s children would get the title before me-” he trailed off. 

She squeezed his hand. 

“Then, Robb became King and I became the Prince of Winterfell. That wasn’t the worst part though. Even not being able to use my legs wasn’t the worst part.” He started laughing to Arya’s confusion.

“What was the worst part?”

“The Freys!” 

“The Freys?”

“During the war, Mother made a deal with Lord Frey for his support. As part of this alliance she fostered two of  his grandchildren who the Freys promptly sent here. I’ve never met two more annoying people in my life,” he laughed, before she joined in. 

“Mother also made another promise to Lord Frey.”

“I know,” she told him, “Robb was to marry one of his daughters.” She’d learned Robb’s failure to honour that promise was the cause of the Red Wedding.

“Yes, but I wasn’t going to say that,” he responded, mirth in his eyes.

“What then?” 

“Mother agreed to have you betrothed to one of Lord Frey’s sons.”

“What?!”

Her brother was choking with laughter. She didn’t understand what was funny about that. She’d been betrothed without her knowledge! 

Finally he composed himself. “You’ll laugh when I tell you who it was, trust me,” he said, right before he broke out into laughter again. 

She was unimpressed. What was funny about this?

“Who was it?” she demanded.

“I believe you know Elmar Frey.”

“What?” All of a sudden she remembered Elmar sitting on the steps at Harrenhal, alone, sobbing about the princess he couldn’t marry before she broke out in a cackle. She looked at Bran and he had tears running down his eyes from his laughter. 

“He cried to me about not being able to marry his princess!” she cackled. “I was crying about you and Rickon dying and he told me no one cares about a serving girls' brothers so I told him, I hope your princess dies!” 

“Well, I for one am glad she didn’t,” her brother smiled. 

“Do you know what became of him?” she asked. “Should I be expecting my betrothed to come riding in one day?” She’d wring his neck before he tried to touch her. 

“He’s dead.” 

“How did he die?”

“At the hands of Lady Stoneheart.”

“Who?” 

“You must remember. You found Mother’s body in the river as Nymeria.” 

She felt as if her heart would stop. Rise. Rise and eat and run with us. She felt herself filled with dread.

“The red priest, Thoros of Myr, refused to bring her back when Harwin found her body. He said she’d been gone for too long.” 

She felt the tears sting her eyes. Harwin remained her father’s man, even though he didn’t leave the brotherhood for her. Loyal to House Stark even after her mother died.

“So Beric Dondarrion gave his life to bring Mother back, in honour of his love for Father.” 

A lonely tear escaped her right eye when she realised where this was going. The woman at the Neck who Nymeria...

“But the creature who came back wasn’t Mother,” Bran fumed. “She wasn’t!” he shouted when she looked at him.

“At first, I told myself what she was doing was right. The Freys killed Robb and her and so many of those who followed them south. But then she started killing people who weren’t even at the Red Wedding just because their name was Lannister or Frey. That wasn’t Mother. Mother was not vengeful, you know that.” She didn’t know if he was trying to convince her or himself. 

“Then one day,” he continued, his voice sounded so small, “She was about to kill a boy, not much older than me, for no reason other than his last name. I couldn’t watch it Arya!” he choked looking at her eyes. “Arya I swear it, you have to believe me, it wasn’t Mother anymore.” 

She gripped his hand tighter, “It’s alright,” she said.

“I couldn’t watch it, so I killed her, in Nymeria. I had to stop her Arya, she was going to kill that innocent boy,” he sobbed. She stood up to hug him as he shook in her arms. 

“It’s alright,” she told him as she stroked his hair. All men must die. Suddenly, the Brotherhood’s reluctance to talk about their time before they came to Winterfell made sense. They were following her mother and they either didn’t want to upset her with the knowledge of what she’d become or they were ashamed of what they became. Or both. 

She bent down to look at Bran, holding his face up to hers, she told him, “What you did was a mercy Bran. You gave Mother a gift. Mother would have wanted us safe and she would have wanted to rest. We’re safe and together now and who knows? Perhaps Mother is with Father now hmm?” 

They returned to their silence after that. She sat back down resting her head against his knee.

“Now you know one of my worst secrets. Will you tell me what you hide from the world Arya?” he asked. “You can hide from everyone but you and I were always close. Will you tell me what weighs heavily on your mind? Is it Jon?” 

“What?” she shouted, confused but not wanting it to show on her face, using all the lessons the waif and the kindly man had taught her. 

“What about Jon?” 

“I saw you two,” he said. “At the laughing tree. When you first came back and then again the night before the wedding.” 

She tried to change the subject. “Have you not grown out of sneaking up on people Bran? You’re a man grown with a wife!” 

“If you won’t tell me what’s wrong with you, I have to find out in other ways,” he shrugged loftily so reminiscent of their fights as children. 

“It was you!” she realised. “The talking tree was you!” 

He grinned mischievously. “ Perhaps I know something you don’t, stupid!” 

“You’re so annoying!” 

“So? Do you love him?” 

When she scrunched his face at him, he continued, “Love is not as stupid as you and I used to say. I love Meera.” 

That made her smile. She saw the love in his eyes now and whenever he was with his wife. 

“I-” She didn’t know what to say. “I don’t want to marry a prince,” she lied. 

He huffed, a smile on his face. “When we were little I wanted to be a knight, perhaps the next Arthur Dayne. I wanted to ride out with a warhorse between my legs, bright armor adorning me and streaming banners flowing in the air above me. But that wasn’t to be my lot in life. Life took me elsewhere, but I’m no less happier now for it. And there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be happy with Jon. Prince or no, he’s always been your home.”

Floored by his words, she only managed to rasp out, “When did you grow so wise?” 

“Will you tell me the truth now?” he questioned. 

“Jon, won’t want me if he knows the things I’ve done,” she admitted. 

“Do you know the things he did when he couldn’t find you? Or even before that? Something tells me whatever you did, he’ll forgive it.” 

“I became a killer Bran!” 

“Every one of us became a killer, Rickon included and none of you have done anything worse than me.” 

She looked up at him, eyebrow raised. “What?” 

“Hodor.”

“What about Hodor?” 

“He was strong and big enough to be a knight. His great-grandfather was Ser Duncan the Tall. He could have grown to be a knight if not for me.”

Her brother had lost her again. “Bran, Hodor was a grown man before you were even born and everyone knew he was slow of wits, kind and gentle, but simple-minded nonetheless. The only thing he could say was his name.” 

“His name wasn’t Hodor. It was Wylis and what happened to him was my fault. If I didn’t keep trying to skinchange into him he could have been a great knight.” 

“Bran. I don’t understand.” 

“When we went beyond the Wall. We were attacked by wights. I skinchanged into Hodor to fight them and when I realised I could walk again through him, I started to spend more time within him. It used to scare him but I did it anyway. I told myself I wasn’t really harming him. Then one day, when Hodor walked outside of the Cave, just to get some fresh air, I was looking through the weirwoods at Winterfell when Father and Wylis were children. They were all playing together. Aunt Lyanna was there and Uncle Benjen and even Uncle Brandon. Hodor was attacked by wights outside of the cave while I was still watching the past. Meera begged me to help Hodor so a part of my conscience tried to move to help Hodor while the other part of me stayed stuck in the past, looking at the young Wylis. I’d never been stuck in the past before. But that day I couldn’t leave what I was watching. I was still new at it, so when I skinchanged into Hodor I skinchanged into the young Wylis at the same time, all the while Meera and the children screamed Hold the door at him. Leaf, one of the Children, died trying to help him. As the wights began stabbing Hodor in his attempt to shut the door of the cave shut, young Wylis started convulsing. HOLD THE DOOR he screamed as he fit on the ground. HOLD THE DOOR, HOLD THE DOOR, HOLD DOOR. Finally as Hodor took his last breath after shutting the door, young Wylis sighed, HO-DOR as his fit ended. Ever since that day he was unable to pronounce another word.” 

Bran was crying again and Arya realised before long she was too. For Hodor and for Bran and all the guilt he carreid. 

She decided then to tell Bran about Jaqen and the faceless men. Her brother had bared his soul to her. She would do the same. Perhaps, when she did she wouldn’t feel so heavy anymore. 

 

Jon 

 

After the feast their guests began returning to their keeps. First to go were the Ryswells and Lady Dustin, for which Jon was grateful. No two Ryswells were ever found in close proximity except that they were engaged in one quarrel or other which, more oft than not, he would have to quell. It was for that reason that he was glad to see the back of Lord Rodrik Ryswell and the gold horse on his arms, his son Roose Ryswell with his black horse, Rickard Ryswell and his brown horse and Roger with his grey. Why one family had to have so many arms befuddled Jon. 

Their sister, Lady Dustin with all her airs and graces was no less exhausting. One would think she spent years studying just how to get under someone’s skin without saying anything truly offensive. For all she tried to hide it, he was not unaware of her deep dislike for House Stark. He only had to play along with her courteous ruse because she was central to the recapture of Winterfell and because she was the one to return Father’s bones to Winterfell. 

Lord Manderly and his knights and retainers followed them shortly after but not before the portly lord joked that if he were thirty years younger he’d send Bran a proposal for Arya’s hand in marriage. The man was over sixty. Even if he was thirty years younger, he’d still have been too old for Arya. After his misplaced jest Jon could not wait for the heavy lord’s litter to disappear down the King’s Road on its way to the White Knife.

The Glovers followed the Manderlys along with the mountain clans while Maege Mormont and her girls left shortly after. Jon had stood there while Maege and Tormund engaged in a very public display of affection that was met with whoops from both the free folk and Lady Mormont’s company and barely hidden derision from the more proper lords and ladies. While uncomfortable with the voyeurism, Jon supposed he’d do the same if he were to have to wait thirty years to acknowledge the person with whom he had five children. 

Today, the third day after the feast, it was the turn of Tormund and the free folk who joined him to return to the New Gift.  

Once the wars were over, most of the free folk settled south of the Wall with Tormund as chieftain. Somehow King Beyond the Wall didn’t work well for a king who’d settled behind the Wall. Semantics aside, the free folk had gathered behind Tormund after the death of Mance Rayder and he was for all intents and purposes their leader. The free folk, as was their culture, refused to bend the knee to Daenerys but had agreed to keep the queen’s peace and regularly worked closely with Jon to do so. Any feuds between northmen and free folk were normally brought to Winterfell for judgment. While Tormund had some reservations when Jon declared Bran Lord of Winterfell these were easily dealt with when Jon pointed out Bran’s education with the Children of the Forest, who were held with high regard by all First Men, as well as the fact that Bran and Rickon were protected by a woman of the free folk. 

Jon escorted the party as they made their way out of the castle to begin their journey.

“Your she-wolf is ferocious, har!” Tormund bellowed with a belly laugh, smacking Jon’s back in the process. 

“She had three grown men on their arses in the yard this morning and didn’t even break a sweat! I told you before, better move fast King Crow, or she’ll be stolen afore y’know it.”

As was often the case, Jon didn’t know how to react to Tormund Giantsbane’s barbs. So he tried to move the conversation on. The man was already much too loud for the confines of the castle. 

When they reached the North Gate of the castle, “Arya will be travelling to The Gift for her progress.” Jon said. “She plans to travel beyond the Wall as well. I cannot be there, I ask you to look out for her while she is with you,” Jon requested of his friend. 

“You mean make sure she’s not stolen.” 

“I mean, make sure she comes home in one piece.”

“Aye, crow, I’ll look out for her but I don’t think she needs much looking after.”

Jon smiled at that. 

“Farewell friend, he bid Tormund. 

“See you at this council,” he replied. 

Making his way back to the inner castle Jon was distracted by the clack of wood on wood. Rickon was training with Lem. Having seen Jon train one morning with the Brotherhood, Rickon had taken to joining them every day as well. 

“Look here, little one,” the voice, surprisingly, belonged to The Blackfish “you need to bend both your legs so you can move speedily to attack or defend. If you keep standing straight, you make your job that much harder. Now, try again. Knees bent, sword arm upright, keep your other arm behind you. Now move toward me, front foot first.” 

Rickon got the hang of things fast, lunging, then parrying The Blackfish’s attacks. 

“Aye, that’s it!” The Blackfish beamed. “Now block this.”

Rickon blocked the parry easier than he had in previous days, trying to hit The Blackfish’s lower body on the riposte. Clack, clack, clack the sound went. To their left, in the inner ward, Anguy was training his men in archery while Tom O’Sevens nursed a hangover sat atop a stone bench by the Broken Tower. 

Meera was there too, watching Rickon with Osha. Jon enjoyed getting to know the two Reed siblings. The knowledge that Lord Howland Reed would be joining Bran’s Great Council in seven moons’ time, delighted him. Jon had truly missed the man and was glad to know that he would soon be reunited with the children he thought dead during the wars. 

“Jon, did you see!” his brother called out, when he managed to hit his uncle twice in quick succession. 

“I did little wolf! In no time you’ll be better than me,” Jon replied, earning himself a smile from Rickon. 

When Rickon returned to his training, Jon asked Lem, “Have you seen Arya?” 

“She was walking towards godswood with her wolf when I last saw her.” 

When he got there, all he found were Ghost and Nymeria lying side by side at the mouth of the black pool by the heart tree. Arya was nowhere to be seen.” 

“Where’s your mistress?” he asked the she-wolf. Nymeria regarded him with cold indifference, humphed then looked away from him. 

He moved round to the direction she faced and asked “What’s gotten into you?” He could have sworn she rolled her eyes at him right before she got up to shake off all the water in her coat all over him.

Stunned and soaked, “Ghost?” he beseeched. Ghost gave him an exasperated look. Don’t ask me, he seemed to say. 

Confused at Nymeria’s attitude, he walked across the godswood, made his way beneath the windows of the Guest House, to the underground hot spring that fed the pond above. The steam from the hot pools felt like a mother’s embrace despite the mild weather outside. Inside, Arya was lying in one of the hot pools. He hardly made any noise entering but she was looking in his direction the moment he saw her, as if she had been expecting him.

“Hello,” he smiled. “Where have you been all day?” 

“Busy,” she replied tersely before getting up and walking away from the pool, the sight of the beautiful woman in front of him with water dripping down her naked, tight body, made his cock twitch.

She didn’t even turn back to look at him, or smile.

He moved toward her, stripping out of his doublet and woolen tunic at a speed that was embarrassing. His breeches and boots took longer to remove. He all but tripped his way to her in nothing but his small clothes before she left the room. Finally, he caught her and undid the tie of the drying cloth she wrapped around herself and removed it from her hand, holding it just out of her reach, 

“Jon,” she reprimanded him, “I don’t have time for this, give me the cloth and move!”  

Somehow the angry naked woman in front him aroused him further. 

“Jon!” she carped, “Give me the cloth, or I’ll throw you in the pool.” 

“Fine,” he shrugged loftily, “Throw me in the pool.” 

Moving down to her ear he added “I’ll take you down with me and then... I’m not responsible for what I do to you in there.” 

“Is that so?” she leered, right before she pushed him. True to his promise he pulled her down with him creating a mighty splash as they hit the water, earning him a yell from her before she began to fidget within his arms. He held her against him as she thrashed, his clothed arousal hard against her backside as they got to their feet in the pool.

“Are you going to tell me what’s gotten into you, my love?” he whispered, low, against her ear, moving his hand down her stomach toward her mound, then languidly moving his finger up and down her slit, purposefully avoiding the nub that made her keen every time. 

“Would you like me to ease your frustration?” 

“Let me go,” she protested, barely, her breath heavy as she pressed herself into his hand, seeking more. 

“Not until you tell me what’s upset you,” he said, turning her around to face him,backing her into a corner until she was surrounded by him, trapped against the wall of the pool. He moved  his hands below the water to rest on her arse, grinding against her, relishing in the quiver that came out of her lips. 

“If you must know,” she began, breath hitching in time with his thrust, “I had a very interesting conversation with Tormund this morning before I broke my fast. He told me all about how you like women whose hair is kissed by fire. Are you sure you should be bothering me in this pool?” she stifled a moan when he moved his hand down to the apex of her thighs, pressing a finger to the bundle of nerves he knew would distract her. 

“Shouldn’t you be running off to the Eyrie after your beloved redhead? I’m sure she still wants a crown,” she managed to continue after her surprise. 

He was somewhat amused by her jealousy but only because she had nothing to be jealous about. 

“Tormund is a tall-talker,” he said, circling his finger just where she wanted it. Involuntarily she bucked against his hand. 

“Oh is he?” she mused, removing his hand from between her thighs so she could speak.

“Did you not have yourself a spearwife lover? Was that the bit that was the lie? If it’s not a redhead you want but a wildling I’m sure Tormund can help you out.” 

He smiled mischievously.

“I didn’t care about her hair or the fact that she was a wildling,” he teased, moving his hand back to her waist.

“Is that so?” she bit back, cocking her head to the side. “What was so special about your woman who was kissed by fire?” 

“I’ll tell you,” he said, pulling her back against him. 

“I saw a skinny, stubborn girl who’d fight when she should run, tangled hair that made me wonder if she combed her hair once a season and a tendency to say whatever comes to her mind. Sound like someone you know?” 

“I cannot say that it does” she retorted, flipping her wet, wavy locks so they hung alluringly over her shoulder, barely concealing a smile.

When he looked at her with desire, all but saying she reminded me of you, she took her fingers to her hair, combing through her tresses. “As you can see my hair is not tangled and I am more muscle than skin on bones.” 

“But you’ll fight instead of run and no one in this world can match your stubbornness.” 

She had no response to him so she smiled sheepishly. He should have known she was planning something devious. 

“Tormund told me all about your lord’s kiss.” 

That made him smile and his manhood throb. Did Arya play this entire ruse just to ask him to take her into his mouth? The thought aroused him further, his cock aching against his small clothes. Her eyes were dark, the grey gave way to black and she breathed heavily, her chest rising with each breath, her lips parted. 

“Is that what you want, my love? I think I’d really enjoy that but I should warn you, a lord’s kiss is nothing compared to a prince’s. Are you sure you can handle it?” 

He should have known Arya would not give in without teasing him senseless.

“No, my prince. I cannot say that I can. I am but a mere lady, I’ll have to find myself another bed partner,” she declared wryly before pulling his hands away from her waist to move away from him.

The words provoked a deep growl from him. He crashed her back towards his chest before she could leave the pool, prompting her to splay her hands across it to steady herself.  

“You are mine,” he rasped, grazing his lips against hers, a barely there kiss into which she keened, chasing his lips when he moved away. “Only mine,” he whispered as he trailed kisses down her jaw.

“I have never wanted anyone the way I want you,” he groaned against her neck. “I want you to know that. No one has ever come close to you.” 

She placed her hands, gently around his face, pulling him up, raw emotion in her eyes. Her eyes darted around his face, searching his eyes as if she was trying to find something in them. 

“I love you.” He wanted her to know if that was the truth she was searching inside him. He waited so long for her to return to him. He pressed their foreheads, bumping his nose against hers, the familiar gesture eliciting a teary whimper of a smile from her.

Heat surged from his stomach to his chest as her lips moved closer to his, he brushed his thumb across her lower lip, her breath hitching as he did so. He gazed into her eyes, hoping he could communicate the depth of his love for her. Slowly he lowered his eyes down to her lips, covering them with his own, sliding his tongue against hers, trying to pour his longing for her into this.

She melted into his arms, her fingers knotting themselves in his hair, until he gasped into her mouth, in surprise or in pleasure he did not know and didn’t care. She smiled against him. He was home. 

“Let me make you feel good,” he murmured raggedly against her lips, before taking her hand and walking her out of the pool and laying her down on top of her discarded drying cloth. 

As he hovered above her, she guided his hand to her breast, fondling it as she cooed. He moved his mouth to her jawline, kissing a slow trail down her neck, then her chest, all the while keeping up his ministrations on her chest. 

Then, moving his hand from her chest, downwards, slowly, gently, he kissed each of the scars on her torso.The ones she hadn’t spoken to him about. As he did that, he took the opportunity to part her thighs wider for himself, sliding his hand down her hip. 

“If you want me to stop, tell me now,” he teased, stroking his way down her sensitive skin. She gasped.

“Or now,” he whispered as he trailed his fingers through the barely there curls, Does she shave? he wondered. I’ll have to ask her later . Her breath hitched in response to his movements while his mouth watered in anticipation. 

“Or now,” he husked right against her swollen, sopping centre. She trembled as he licked her in one long, slow motion. And when he took her nub between his lips, sucking, slowly, she rewarded him with the most delicious of moans.

Dizzy with want, he pressed his mouth into her hot centre, nuzzling closer, sucking faster, dipping a finger inside her. She mewled at the shock of it, raising her hips. 

She thrust against him, as he stroked his tongue urgently, firmly against her, her gasps mixing with his groans. She throbbed against his tongue, wriggling above him, moaning.

“Jon,” she finally managed. 

Hearing his name in this tone drove him crazy, every time. 

“Jon - I,” she mewled. “Please.” 

Heady with need, he licked more urgently, pushing his face against her, inhaling the musk of her desire, tasting her want, drawing a slow, searing, spiral around her folds with his tongue. Round and round and round, until she could only pant above him, whimpering, unable to form any words,  simply thrusting harder against his finger and his mouth. 

He paused briefly to look up at her, her eyes tightly shut, her teeth clenched, hips rising and falling, hands groping her own breasts. He chuckled at how the cold girl of earlier gave way to this scorching woman of his, lost in her pleasure. 

She groaned in frustration when she finally realised he moved his mouth away from her but she was clearly not annoyed enough to say anything as he slid another finger inside, curving them forwards, moving faster before returning to lap against her, all lips, tongue and teeth all while his fingers continued to crook inside her.

Her cries of pleasure drove him wild, as he continued to suck and stroke, wanting to milk every last bit of pleasure from her. Her inner muscles squeezed down upon his fingers as a long, wanton cry of release ripped out of her chest before giving way to ragged pants and trembling thighs. He lapped her nectar slowly, revelling in the fruits of his labour, savouring each drop of her sweet, tangy taste. She shivered at the contact. 

Once she was sated, he moved up to lie down beside her. 

“I told you a lord’s kiss was nothing like a prince's.” 

She rolled her eyes, then rolled to her side, draping her thigh across his hip and resting her head on his chest. 

“You’re welcome to remind me any time you wish, my prince.” 

He looked down at her, nestled against him, her cheeks were flushed and she had a serene smile on her face. Suddenly, a surge of possessiveness rushed through him. He wanted her to be his. Forever. His bride.

She looked up at him then, questions in her gaze. 

“Will I have to deal with two ferocious she-wolves every time you’re annoyed with me?” he probed. 

“What do you mean?”

“Nymeria all but glared at me in the godswood. I should have known she was getting her cues from you.”

“If all works out you’ll have more than two she-wolves to worry about,” she grinned in return. 

He looked at her quizzically. 

“I think Nymeria is carrying pups…I’m not sure but I, I think so,” she explained.

“You know what this means he thought. I’ll have to give you pups for Nymeria’s to look after. The thought of spilling his seed in her later turned him on even more. 

Unaware of the dreams he was planning in his head, she got up and dressed, while he watched her, somewhat disappointed that she left him rock hard and wanting. He was hoping for more. 

Once she was fully clothed, she looked over her shoulder at him, “Aren’t you coming?” she inclined, lowering her eyes to the bulge in his small clothes. 

“If I’m going to introduce you to the Meereenese Knot we’ll probably need some privacy.”

He shot up with burgeoning excitement. 

Once in her rooms, he shut the door - too loudly he would have said if the wild thumping of his heart against his chest didn’t sound like a loud roar in his ears. 

Barring the door, he pinned her against it, crashing his lips against hers as if she might disappear otherwise. 

He stripped her of her clothes, desperate with anticipation. He didn’t know where this was going but the sight of her naked body was always welcome. 

She took his roaming hands in hers and guided him further into the room, walking backwards as she tried  to take charge of what was happening, the sight of her bare and in front of him drove him mad with need.

When she started to remove his clothes, she moved at a decidedly slower pace than he did when he rid her of hers. But the burning desire in her eyes remained a mirror to his own. He moved his hand to her cheek before trying to brush his thumb across her top lip and toward her lower lip, just as he did earlier. He loved the gasp that came out of her the last time. This time though, she didn’t let him simply rub her lips, she sucked his thumb into them, teasing him all while holding his gaze with her heavy lidded eyes. All he could think as his thumb slid between her kiss-swollen lips was another part of him in its place. A shiver ran down his spine as he twitched inside his breeches. 

Perhaps she read his mind. She looked up to him, smiling around his thumb before releasing it from her lips. Her lips pulled into a feral grin more reminiscent of her wolf than the woman she was. She began to rub her hand firmly against his breeches. 

 “Arya,” he groaned into the silence. 

She moved into him, kissing his neck, licking. He could only hiss as wildfire fire raged within him. He pulled her face up, biting her lip into his mouth, tongue sliding against hers fervently. She returned his hunger for her, drawing her tongue along his in long, slow sensuous pulls, moaning in his mouth. His favourite sound. As if they had a mind of their own, his hands moved down her back to caress her tight her arse, his stomach twisting into a knot when she groaned. 

As his lips worked against hers and their tongues battled for dominance, she pulled his tunic out of his breeches, slowly lifting it above his head. He broke away from their kiss to help her, throwing the tunic against her bed in his desperation to return his lips to hers. 

Then, in a motion that rendered him breathless, she broke away from him only to sink to her knees, kissing his hip bone, just above where his breeches were laced. It was only when she began kissing a trail down from his navel as she undid his laces that he realised what she meant to do. His breaths came out sharper, shallower. 

She stopped, looking up at him, eyebrow raised, in a mocking tone “Would you like me to ease your frustration?” she winked. 

He was almost too lost in his need to realise she was imitating his earlier words. He groaned above her,  pulling her head back to where it was, just above his groin, she licked him there in continuation of her teasing. He’d return the favour later but right now he just wanted her to take him into her mouth, or to sink into her wet heat or anything really, anything that would make this ache subside. 

With a handful of his woollen breeches in each hand, she tugged them down to his feet, commanding him to step out of them with her eyes. He was more than happy to comply. He even volunteered to remove his small clothes himself, head heady with excitement, breath ragged. 

His cock sprang free, aching and already dripping. She bit her lip as she came closer. 

“Take a seat.” She motioned, to the bed behind him. “Let me make you feel good.” He realised as he sat that she was parroting his own words back to him again but this was something he’d have to return to later. For now he'd obey. He sat on the edge of the bed, nervous with excitement.  

She crawled toward him on all fours. The sight of her approaching him as if she were stalking prey had his blood roaring in his ears. He widened his legs to make space for her, his breaths coming out in shallow rasps. Then, before he knew it she was right there. Between his legs. She brushed her hair over her shoulder, moving it out of the way. Then she placed a hand on each of his knees, meeting his gaze with hunger in her eyes as she slid her hands from his knees up his thighs. She dipped her head down to sweep her tongue around the tip of his cock, licking the wetness that began to leak from him. Evidence of his arousal. A guttural growl escaped his throat. She chose that moment to lick  slowly up the thick pulsating vein under his shaft. 

“Seven hells - Ar, ah.”  His eyes rolled back and his head crashed against the bed, his knuckles turning white as he gripped her sheets. He couldn’t stop himself from thrusting his hips upwards, desperate for more.

When he finally opened his eyes to look down at her, he found her licking her palm slowly before wrapping it around the root of his cock concentration etched on her face as she worked her hand up and down. Any other time he’d laugh at how serious she looked but right now he was too lost in the feel of her hands moving up and down his shaft.

“Fuck-“ he howled as she took him back into her mouth, sucking him this time as she placed her free hand under his balls cupping them. The feel of her velvet tongue and the sight of him sliding in and out of her lips threatened to send him over the edge. He’d been hard since the moment he found her naked in the pools, he’d spill any moment now. 

“Arya stop, otherwise I won’t last,” he gasped, voice hoarse. 

When she didn’t stop, he tugged her by the hair. “Arya, please, you need to stop if you need me inside you. If you continue this I’ll spill before I can do that.”

Her mouth slipped off of his cock. With strands of her wet hair plastered to her forehead, she turned her eyes up to him. “Good,” she mused, “I wanted to taste you.” 

When she returned her lips to him, he let out a strangled moan. He tightened the grip on her hair the faster she worked against him. She moved up and down his length with desperate abandon all the while working her fingers on his balls. He could feel himself coil. He could only breathe in sharp pants as he pressed his head further into the bed and his hips up into her mouth. Then, to his surprise, she took him into her mouth from base to tip, his length touching the back of her throat. She sped up, still cupping him and working her fingers around his balls. 

After one sharp pull of her hair she moaned around him. The sound, the vibration and her movements all combined to make his balls tighten right before he came with a shout of her name, body tense, as he fell over the edge. He came apart inside her mouth and she took every drop of what he gave. His head dropped back against the bed. 

She joined him in the bed after she removed his boots,  nestling herself against him. He moved his hand down to her stomach, wanting to please her just as she pleased him but she placed her hand on top of his and held it against her stomach. She turned her head to the side to smile at him, the love in her eyes made his heart skip a beat. She moved up to his face, lowering herself in for, what he hoped was, a kiss but she simply bumped her nose against his before moving to pillow her head against his chest. He stroked her hair as they reveled in the silent aftermath of their pleasure. 

“Where did you learn how to do that?”  

She raised her head up to look up at him. “I sold clams to a brothel in Braavos, the girls at the Happy Port were my best customers.”

He pulled back to look down at her before breaking out into laughter. Of course she would, Arya Underfoot. Every time his eyes met hers he started laughing all over again. 

“What?” 

“Nothing, tell me more.”

“This was cheaper than fucking so it’s what men requested the most. My friend, her name was Merry, ran the brothel, she taught me just how to move my tongue.”

“Did she ever ask you to work for her?” he asked, suddenly aware this could take a decidedly worse turn than he expected. 

“No!” she exclaimed, shooting up, her tender breasts and hard nipples landed on his chest when she put her hands on either side of him. 

“But, if you must know,” she murmured, “I did apprentice as a mermaid with the Merling Queen, one of Braavos’ most beautiful courtesans. She taught me how to charm any man to do my bidding.”

“Is that what you were doing in the pool?” 

“No!” she scoffed, then she admitted, in a small voice, “I was jealous.” 

“Well, you have no need to ever be jealous about my love for you. Besides, I’ve never been with a courtesan's mermaid,” he teased. She rolled her eyes at him. 

“Did your Merling Queen ever ask you to-?” he didn’t know how to word it.

“I seem to recall you wiping my blood off your cock our first night together,” she responded. “No Jon, I’ve never lain with another man before you or shown him the Meereenese Knot,” she grinned. 

“What does being a mermaid  even entail?” 

“First I just had to accompany her everywhere, holding her veil for her and doing her hair. It’s why my hair is no longer the tangled mess it used to be when I was a child,” she laughed. 

“I didn’t really speak to any of the men who’d visit her, I was only there to learn. I was with her the day I heard of your de-” she trailed off, looking down at his mangled chest with tears in her eyes.

She kissed each of his scars. “I thought I lost you,” she whispered.

“I thought I lost you too,” he said. “When I came to Winterfell. You weren’t here. Over the years everyone had their own theories of what happened to you but everyone agreed that you were dead. Imagining a life without you ever returning to me was so hard so I refused to believe it more out of stubbornness than anything else. The only other person who didn’t believe you dead was Sandor Clegane.” 

She snickered before returning her head to his chest, limbs still wrapped together. She thread her fingers through his burnt hand, interlocking their hands. Looking at their entwined fingers she asked him, “You never told me how you got this.” 

“When I was still a new brother of the Night’s Watch, Uncle Benjen went ranging beyond the Wall. Then he disappeared. For weeks no one had heard of him. Everyone thought him dead, everyone except me.” 

She raised her head and sat up, looking at him with teary eyes. Uncle Benjen was always good to her.

“The Old Bear, Lord Commander Mormont, ordered us to go beyond the Wall to go looking for Uncle Benjen. Not far from the Wall, we came across the bodies of Uncle Benjen’s men but he was nowhere to be found. So we brought their bodies back to Castle Black. That day, we found out about Father being arrested.” Her eyes dropped at that. He knew the day of Father’s arrest would always be associated with the massacre at the Tower of the Hand for her. 

“The Master of Arms at the Watch, Ser Alliser Thorne, hated me. Hearing of Father’s arrest delighted him, he called me a traitor’s bastard .” 

Before he could continue she interjected. “And this man, is he still alive?” 

That made him smile, “No. he died during the War for the Dawn. But on that day I wanted to take his life. I lunged at him with a dagger in my hand. My brothers stopped me but I was thrown in a cell as punishment. That night Ghost started scrabbling on my cell door. When I opened the door the guard was dead and the tower was unnaturally cold. When I got to the Lord Commander’s chambers one of Uncle Benjen’s men, the dead ones we brought back, was up and walking. He was a wight, he’d killed the guard downstairs and when he saw me he began attacking me. Try as I did nothing I did could stop him so I grabbed a fire and threw it at him. I burned myself in the process but it finally killed him.”

She looked too stunned for words so she kissed his hand. “All men must die,” she said, before returning her head to his chest, hands still interlocked. 

She decided to tell him a story of her own scars, showing him little burns on her hands and arms. “When I first got to Braavos I used to cook food with a lady called Umma,” she began.  “I..I couldn’t see properly,”she whispered, “so I burnt myself a dozen times as I learned.” 

“And this?” he asked, tracing a long cut across her middle finger.

“I was chopping onions and cut my finger down to the bone.” 

“I knew you always collected scabs as a child but your hands have never been anything short of deft,” he told her. The words had new meaning now after what she did to him. 

“I told you,” she challenged, “I couldn’t see properly.” 

Then she hovered just above him to caress his face. He leaned in to her touch but kept his eyes open, her breasts were too close to his face for him to close them.

“And this?” she asked, running her hand down the scar on his face. 

“A wildling skin changer’s eagle. I killed him so he went into his eagle and attacked me.” 

She started laughing then. 

His eyes dropped to her stomach, the painful scars were right in front of him.

“And these?” he asked, tracing his fingers across them.

She sat up and he followed her.

“The day I heard about your death, I was with the Merling Queen as I told you, by the harbor. In Braavos, I’d hear about you sometimes. They’d call you the Black Bastard on the Wall. The news used to make me both happy and sad. Happy you were alive and sad that you might not even recognise what I’d become,” she had tears in her eyes as she tried to smile bravely at him. 

“But the day I heard about your death, I sobbed in a way that I hadn’t after the Red Wedding. I thought I lost the last good thing in my life.” The tears burst forth from her eyes like water from a dam, spilling down her face. 

He could feel burning in his eyes as well. 

“I decided then, that I’d come back to Westeros. That I’d kill everyone who ever hurt anyone I love. I got so close.” She smiled then, but it didn’t reach her eyes. 

“Of course, as you know, I never made it. If I had, I would have got back to you years ago. I was standing on a bridge, looking forward to coming home to bring winter upon everyone who ever hurt me or those I loved, but ever since I left home never getting to the places I sought out to reach became the thing that defined me.”

“What do you mean?” 

“An old woman asked me for directions. She looked so much like Old Nan, Jon. She stabbed me, twice, but like your Wildling man, I skinchanged into cats in the alley and they killed her.” 

“An old woman stabbed you?” 

“She wasn’t truly old.” 

“But you said she looked like Old Nan!” Jon had never met anyone who looked as old as old as Old Nan except maybe Maester Aemon. 

“She wasn’t truly old,” she explained. “In Braavos...there’s a guild of assassins. They’re called the Faceless Men. They can change their face at will. They can change their faces like someone else might their clothes.” 

He bent down then to kiss her scars. His heart broke at what she had to suffer. “I’m sorry, Arya,” he said, crying at all that she had to suffer. 

“It was not all bad,” she replied, pulling him up to her face, trying to console him with a smile. “The kindly man I told you about found me and patched me up and he gave me better jobs than before. He taught me even more languages than before, and sums and-” 

“Wait. Why did an assassin try to kill you?” he interjected. First an assassin saved her life and then one tried to kill her.

She gulped, eyes darting around his face, searching his eyes like she did earlier, blinking the threatening tears away. 

“Arya. Why did that girl, woman,” he shook his head in confusion, “Whatever she was! Why did she stab you?” 

She stared at him, tears spilling down her face.

“Arya, are you in trouble? Arya I promise you I won’t let anyone hurt you. Please tell me. What happened?” Panic took hold of him. 

She wiped her tears with the back of her hand, hurriedly scanning the room for something to cover her nakedness. She threw on a dress. No shift underneath nor smallclothes or stockings. She slipped her feet into slippers and bolted for the door.

He grabbed her before she could leave. 

“Arya what’s wrong? Talk to me.” 

Gently, he put his hands around her face, tilting her head up to look at him, aware of his nakedness and her vulnerability as the tears streamed down her face.

“Arya what happened to you?” 

That look was back on her face, the one that suggested she was trying to read him. Desperately searching for something.

“Arya, whatever happened, we’ll get through it together. I promise you. I won’t let anyone hurt you ever again,” he told her with conviction. She was his to protect. “I want you Arya. Now and always, whatever has happened. Just talk to me.” 

She smiled at that, tears still flowing. “You think you want me,” she agonised. “But you you shouldn’t. I’m not anything good anymore.” 

She removed his hands from her face and darted out of the room, leaving him standing there, confused, heartbroken and not sure whether it was for himself, because she didn’t trust him, or her because of all the hurt she’s been through. Perhaps it was both.

He waited all day in her room, waiting for her to return. Then he sought her out in the evening and throughout the night asking everyone if they had seen her. No one had. Even Ghost couldn’t find her. It was as if she had disappeared. 

Then he saw her, the next morning leaving Lord Stark’s solar before Bran left for Greywater Watch. 

Jon had gone to the solar that morning with the intention to give Bran Widow’s Wail, one half of the Stark ancestral sword. The Brotherhood had brought it north with them after Jamie Lannister was killed by Lady Stoneheart. It was right that now there were Starks in Winterfell that the sword went back to its rightful owners. 

“This is Ice,” he introduced, “Well, one half of it. The Lannisters melted down Father’s sword into two. This one belonged to Jaime Lannister, they had changed the pommel to a lion’s head and I changed it to a wolf, but it’s still Ice. Sansa’s sworn sword Brienne has the other half. I kept this in safekeeping for the day a Stark returned to Winterfell.” He left, or when I had a child of my own unsaid. 

Bran regarded the sword with the loaded look of a boy who once dreamed of being a knight. 

“Do you remember,” he said, “the first time I saw Father use this sword?” 

“It was the day the Night’s Watch deserter was killed.” Jon remembered. It was the day they found the direwolves.

“How much do you think would be different if Father took the man’s words seriously?” Bran asked. 

“I’m not sure,” Jon said honestly. “We’d have been facing unreal odds regardless.” 

“Perhaps.” Bran replied. “But then Father would not have gone South and he would have lived long enough to tell you the truth of who you were. It was the last thing he wanted before his death.” 

The confession floored Jon. He still struggled, although to a lesser extent, with Ned Stark’s choice to hide the truth of his birth from him, condemning him to the life of a bastard. 

“What do you mean?” he questioned.

“When the moment of his death came, his greatest regret was leaving you alone in this world when he promised your mother he would protect you. He loved you truly as a son, Jon, I think you should know that.” 

When did Bran get so wise, Jon found himself wondering. Instead, “I loved him as a father,” Jon replied, emotion clear in his voice.

“I know you wonder why he allowed you to go to the Wall,” Bran added gently. “Why if he loved you would he allow you to waste away at the Wall?” 

“If I didn’t go to the Wall, I wouldn’t have been able to help the Night’s Watch prepare,” Jon countered.

“And Father knew that,” Bran avowed. “When you were little more than a boy, Father heard a voice from the weirwood telling him that your destiny was at the Wall. Father didn’t abandon you. He knew you were meant for greatness, he just wished he could live to see it.” 

He could feel the tears welling in his eyes. “All I ever wanted was to be a Stark,” he admitted, out loud for the first time ever, “I wanted people to say that Ned Stark fathered four sons, not three. I always wanted to make him proud.”

“I suppose it’s a good thing you weren’t truly his son,” Bran offered, wryly, “Starks aren’t known for desiring their sisters.” He had a cheeky smile on his face as he said that.

“Bran, Sansa and I, it was the queen-“

 “I know about Arya.” 

Jon wanted the floor to open up and swallow him then. He gulped, opened then shut his mouth, once, twice, thrice. He was sure he looked more fish than man. “Bran I-” 

Bran was clearly enjoying watching Jon recoil under his gaze. 

Finally, he spoke, smile still present on his face, “You are my brother Jon. Whoever your father was. You and Robb were the stalwarts of my childhood. When you left, Robb and I felt  lost without you.” 

The mention of their dead brother brought tears to Jon’s eyes. Robb was his rival and best friend. 

“We used to talk about coming to the Wall to visit you or you coming down here to visit us.” Bran smiled wistfully. “But, if there’s anyone who would have felt more adrift without you than Robb or me, it’s Arya. I was her accomplice in every mischief when we were children but you have always been the most important person in her life. There’s no one who could make her happier.”

It felt bizarre talking to Bran about this. Jon remembered Bran in his swaddling clothes yet he found himself wanting to unburden himself.

“I’m not sure I can...make her happy,” he finally admitted.

“Why not?”

“Arya is not as easy to read as she once was.”

“She’s carrying a lot of grief and it weighs her down,” Bran seemed to agree, with sad resignation. 

“She won’t speak to me of it though. She only tells me the less gruesome details. Half of what I know of what she went through is from others and the other half tumbled out of her at the wedding when she recalled all the things she’d witnessed after the Lannisters took Father. She told me only one thing herself and the moment she did she clammed up.” Jon wanted to mention the scars across her gut and between her ribs but somehow he didn’t think that was an appropriate direction for this conversation. 

“That’s always been her way. Arya keeps her secrets locked away in her heart.”

“Not always. She used to tell me everything.”

“Give her time,” Bran replied. 

I am, Jon wanted to protest, but she won’t even speak to me. 

It was then that Maester Elric walked in. 

“Excuse me, my prince, my lord, there are two ravens from Her Grace. One addressed to you, my prince and one, you my lord..”

Bran’s letter was a curt one in which the queen welcomed him back to his home and to his title as Lord of Winterfell.

Jon’s letter was significantly more terse. “ Since you are no longer Lord of Winterfell, you will take your place as Prince of Dragonstone upon your return to King’s Landing.”

What Daenerys seemed to say was, now you’ve lost me the North to parties I do not know, do your duty to your real family and accept the legacy of House Targaryen.   He was sure she’d have more to say once they reunited. 

The thought of living in the South filled him with dread. He’d only ever been to Dragonstone a handful of times and there was something deeply foreboding about the place. For all that the Northern lords were gruff they were a much more straightforward bunch to deal with. Dragonstone’s bannermen were a more tedious sort. There was sour old Lord Celtigar, the child Lord Velaryon whose bastard uncle stole Cersei’s royal fleet, leaving her with no real defence against the Golden Company’s assault upon King’s Landing and Lord Chyttering whose company was the most palatable of the lot, but only because Jon was acquainted with him while King Stannis was still alive. 

The crux of his dread, however, was that he’d just reunited with his family - Arya especially. Something told him Arya, who was avoiding him unless she had to interact with him, would not choose him over staying in the North with Bran and Rickon.