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Allegiance

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AN Update For New Readers: For those who are reading this fic specifically for Sansa/Margaery, please note that they are a secondary pairing in this fic that occurs later on, starting in Chapter 23.

 

.....

 

She wished she could have killed the girl anywhere other than the kitchen.

A drop of sweat ran down her temple as she was guided in an iron grip through the Keep towards the throne room. Two Unsullied in full uniform held her like a wild animal, regardless of the manacles on her wrists, even as she bowed her head and followed without question. Had this happened only a few years ago, the indignity of the the entire situation would have bothered her - but now, after years of harsh training that in many instances stripped away any self-respect she had, it barely even registered.

She remained silent as she was led through a crowd that had gathered for an audience with the Queen. Using quick, sideways glances, she calculated the best methods to extract herself from her captors if need be. Eyes. Neck. A blade in either would do it - and if I'm quick, I can hit each before they realize what has happened. They had taken the shortsword that hung from her belt, and found the knife she had strapped under her tunic, but they had not noticed the thin blades expertly hidden between the intentionally broken stitching in the soles of each of her boots. Easier if I could grab both, but with these chains I'll have to make due with one. Fast - I will need to do it faster than I've ever done it before.

She was brought to an abrupt halt in front of the man she recognized to be Queen Daenerys' Unsullied commander. The men on either side of her spoke High Valyrian in quiet, accusatory tones as the commander nodded. She tried to make out their conversation, but their familiar tongues loosed the words far too quickly for her ears to wrap around more than a few phrases - murderer, caught, sentence, immediate. Her brow furrowed as she realized that she may not even have an opportunity get out of the Keep before being cast to the Queen for judgement after all. No, all of these people have been waiting here - she is a Queen who prides herself on the equal treatment of her subjects. Important matters of state and gods know what else are on the line. Surely they will come before-

"Come," the guard on her right spoke in a broken common tongue. "You speak now, before death."

Apparently a Queen who prides herself on the equal treatment of her subjects placed what appeared to be cold-blooded murder very high on her priority list.

She was hauled up a flight of stairs and through a pair of heavy, ornate doors. She barely had time to glance at the Iron Throne before she was tossed to the stone floor, cutting her lip on her chains as she tried to break her fall. She shook her head and shifted to one knee, eyes darting quickly around, trying to assess her surroundings. A full row of guards to both the right and left - twelve. Twelve on each side. The only doors leading out are barred - except for the ones they brought me in through. Stained glass windows, they're too high up and there's nothing for me to climb. She took the space of a heartbeat to accept her fate. Valar Morghulis.

She kept her head down as the Unsullied commander climbed the steps towards the throne. She perked her ears, and heard the faint crackling of his leather as he bowed before speaking to the Queen at her behest. She didn't bother trying to catch the words this time; there was no point. She was done, she'd made her choice, and it was only going to be a matter of time before she paid in blood. The only question was how long would it take, and which hand would be stained once she'd fallen. Swallowing hard, she finally allowed herself to look up, and decided to take one last thing from this life for herself - a full, open look at the fabled Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Daenerys Targaryen. The Queen was paying full attention to her commander as he described what the guards had told him, unaware of the intent gaze that fell upon her from the prisoner in question. That was good. She wanted the freedom to look at her with more than the furtive glances she'd had to steal from the stables over the past season. Her porcelain skin, the few locks of hair that would curl over her shoulders as she sat, the way her silks would cling to her curves, the depth of her bloodline's violet eyes - she needed all of these etched into her mind and heart when she met the Many-Faced God. Because if he can see you the way I see you, he will understand. He will know why I had to betray my order. Even if he will not forgive me, he will understand.

An abrupt silence caused her to blink and look away as she finished her unspoken prayer. The Unsullied commander stood beside the Queen now, her eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly as she took in the ruffian that kneeled on her floor. "Rise," she spoke with regal authority, "and tell me who you are."

A shuffle and clinking of shackles, and the murderer rose. "Your grace," a bow, "I have been called Cade."

The Queen arched her eyebrow, catching the wordplay in the response. "Cade," she replied, her tone even. "I asked who you are, not what name you may have been hiding under on my grounds." A pause, and then "I am told that you were found killing one of my kitchen maids."

Instinct pulled a lie to her lips, and she had to bite down on her tongue before it slipped through. Damn you Jaqen, you trained me too well. I don't even know how to speak honestly anymore. Steel gray eyes met violet a moment. "Not so, your Grace. She was not your kitchen maid, and she was dead before anyone found me. And the only reason I was discovered at all was because I took too long lifting her to throw out the window."

A few shocked gasps filled the hall, and even the cool composure of the Queen appeared to falter.

Seven hells. That... came out so very, very wrong. A quiet sigh as Cade shook her head a little, cropped bangs falling over one eye. "What I mean, your Grace," words started to tumble out quickly now, hoping to mitigate some of the truth's blunt trauma, "is that what was seen, was not what it looks like. I did kill someone, but it was not one of your kitchen maids-"

"So I am to excuse murder because you say it was not a kitchen maid?" Daenerys cut her off sharply.

"No! It's... she was going to kill you."

There was no softening of the Queen's eyes. "Yes. Of course. A young girl in the kitchen was going to cripple my guards with a butterknife and end me," she bit sarcastically, her knuckles white as she gripped the warped steel of her throne. "Clearly you take me for a fool."

"No, your Grace," her voice dropped, "the trouble is that right now, you don't know what you are dealing with. She was only the second they sent, but there will be more. May already be another here now."

"Another what?"

There's no turning back. Even if I do not reveal us, I have already failed, and they know. I can never go back to the House of Black and White.

"Another what? I will not ask you again."

"Your Grace," a pause. "The one now called Cade is of the Faceless Men of Braavos. A contract for your death was paid."

Daenerys' eyes widened slightly as a hush fell over the audience chamber. Most had heard of the Faceless Men, but they operated as phantoms. So expert in their craft that many of their targets were presumed dead of natural causes or accidents. They were never caught. They never revealed themselves.

"Nearly a year ago, they sent me to kill you."

Chapter Text

The familiar presence of death permeated the black cell, violently taken and disrespectfully strewn about the stones and dirt. If there had been any light to see, she could pass the time analyzing the faded crimson drops on the walls and beams, piecing together some of the gruesome ends those that came before her met. But there was no light, not even a thin silhouette around the iron door. No sound, not even muffled footsteps at the changing of the guard. Nothing but the heavy weight of stillness and the stench of decay.

A thought came to her, reaching up from the past she had abandoned. Is this the same cell they kept my father in?

My father.

Hidden in the blackness, the persona named Cade fell away, and the assassin allowed herself to remember a little bit of the life that had been entombed in her mind. It’s strange... when I was little, I always wanted to be like you. I wanted to ride at your side the way Robb did, carrying a blade and the responsibility of Winterfell’s future on his shoulders. I wanted to spend my days with Sir Rodrik, training to protect our home and people, rather than being shoved in a tower with Sansa and all of the useless stitching and courtesies. And it’s only now, after I gave you up along with my name and everything else I had known, that I am like you. My heart softened and I spared her rather than keeping my vows to Death and doing my job. Just like when you betrayed your oath as Hand of the King to try to warn Cersei before bringing the truth to Robert. I am afflicted with your weakness. She let out a sigh and rested her head back against the cool brick. The dark was just fine, she’d gotten used to it when she had to train blind, but the waiting was another matter. The empty space afforded too much damn time to think.

Forcing her mind to shut down, she dozed in and out of shallow sleep. Sometimes she saw faces through the sleepy haze, those who were long gone, those she had given the Gift to through the years. She felt phantom fingers grip her chin as ruby eyes peered into her soul - I see a darkness in you. And in that darkness, eyes staring back at me. Brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes. Eyes you’ll shut forever. We will meet again. Then the eyes melted away and she panted and ran through forests thick with summer game, the padfalls of a loyal pack behind her as fangs sank into the soft neck of a deer and howls of victory pierced the northern sky. She shifted and twitched, paws morphing back into hands and feet, and instead of a deer she felt Daenerys’ neck under her teeth as she pinned her down, the life dimming from her eyes.

“No!” she woke with a start, lurching forward with eyes widened in the black. Her heart hammering, she took a deep breath. There would be no rest from any of this, not even in sleep. She will be alright for now. I called them out in front of that entire room - if any them had been watching, or waiting, they would have gone. I bought her some time. Slowing her heart and calming her mind, she reached for one of the thin blades hidden in the sole of her boot and pulled it out. Holding it carefully, she brushed the fingertips of her free hand over the cold metal of the manacle on her wrist, mapping it out in the dark. It felt smooth, recently forged. There was no rust or corrosion to betray its age or stain her skin, and, more importantly, the locking mechanism was clean. The hilt of the blade had been crafted to work as a lockpick, just for situations like this. She had tested the functionality many times at the House of Black and White, but had never had to use them in the field.

There was a first time for everything.

She slid the edge of the hilt into the lock, slowly circling it inside the steel. It would be subtle, very easy to miss, but there should be a cleft in the metal - yes. Right there. Using the base of her palm as leverage, she forced the pick device into the groove and then twisted. There was a telltale ‘clink’, and she felt the grip on her wrist slacken as the cuff dropped. She pulled her hand into a fist a few times to coax circulation back to her numbed skin, then unlocked the second shackle as quickly as the first. She stood up and stretched, letting out a slow breath. Although it didn’t do much to change her immediate circumstance, it did put her back in control. She could kill the next person who walked through that door and escape, if she needed to. Depending on their build she may even be able to take their uniform and face and use it for a while, to help secure Daenerys in the Keep while watching for infiltration by her brethren. It would only be a matter of time.

She didn’t have to wait too long to see that particular plan fall apart.

There was a metallic scraping sound as the heavy door to her cell was unlatched. Soundlessly, she shifted her weight and leaned back against the wall, arms crossed and one knee bent as her foot found a good grip on the stone. What would appear to be a position of casual disinterest to most was just another deception. Her blade was hidden up her sleeve, and her weight was shifted back against her foot that had found purchase on the wall. In the space of a breath she could launch herself at the intruder and have the blade buried in his neck before he could make a sound. The door started to slowly open, letting in the flickering low light of the torches that lit the hallway beyond. She fought a wince as her eyes adjusted to the poor light abruptly, drinking in all that they could after hours of denial. She tensed her muscles with fluid, feline grace, and readied herself to give the Many-Faced God an offering.

“Hello,” a rich voice spoke as a small figure holding a torch entered the cell. “I would appreciate it if you didn’t kill me tonight, as I have come bearing gifts.”

Her shoulders sagged imperceptibly as she looked down to find the Queen’s dwarf councilman with a small satchel slung over his shoulder making his way to the sconce bolted to the pillar in the middle of the cell. He turned to look over his shoulder at her. “Would you mind putting this torch in here? Seems it’s one of the many things I can’t manage to reach in this Keep.”

Still puzzled, the killer known to them as Cade nodded slowly and stepped forward, taking the torch from his hand and setting it. Once it was secure, she moved back to her place against the wall. She had expected to see a guard bringing her some sort of stale ration, or even a septon to hear her confession before her sentence was carried out. Not a member of the Queen’s own small council come to slum it with her for a while.

“Excellent, thank you.” The dwarf pulled his satchel from his shoulder and set it aside, then slid himself down the pillar to sit on the ground. “Well,” he let out a sigh, “I was hoping to never step foot in this place again. Seems they have given you my old cell. Whatever you do down here, avoid that northeast corner. I can’t count how many times I pissed over there.” He reached and opened up the sack, pulling out a bottle of wine and two goblets. He held one out to her in offering. “You won me a good sum of money tonight, you know. You should at least get to indulge in some of this very expensive wine I purchased with some of the winnings.”

Cautiously she reached out and took the goblet while he opened the bottle. “How did I win you money?” she asked, thoroughly confused.

“Ah,” he started to pour into her goblet, a clever grin tugging at his mouth. “There was a little wager about whether or not you were a young man, or a woman. Most thought you were a boy with slight frame, coming of age. The clean-shaven, pretty kind that young ladies find so fascinating these days. But most people are not nearly as observant as I am, and I bucked the trend and bet you were a woman. When you were being dragged down here, a few of us managed to catch a glimpse of you close up. Your hands gave you away, you see. They were were too small to be a man’s, even in his youth.”

“Oh,” she looked down at her hands. They were lightly scarred and calloused, but he was right. They were not very big. “I hadn’t even considered that.”

The dwarf topped up his own cup, and lifted it to her in a salute. “My name is Tyrion Lannister, good killer. And I drink to your small hands and the many coins they have brought me.” He closed his eyes and took a long drink. “And now I must ask, who are you?”

“I am called Cade,” she spoke quietly as she raised the glass to her lips and drank.

Tyrion paused a moment, considering. “We can call you anything you wish. But in all truth, I need us to have a very good conversation here.” He started to pour some more wine. “I am in a small minority who believe that for the Queen’s sake, we need you alive and with us right now. There are others who believe you are either lying or mad, and want to see you dead at sunrise.”

“Valar Morghulis. I’m not afraid to die, dwarf. I’ve spoken the truth.”

“Even if you have, truth is not always enough. What will happen is her guard will be doubled. Egos will puff, and broad men with sharp blades will all claim that they will keep the Queen from any harm, Faceless or otherwise. And for a time, things will be quiet. Nothing will lash out from the shadows, there will be not so much as a hair on her head out of place. The rantings of a murderer before execution will be forgotten. Guards will drop. And then-”

“And then she will be dead,” Cade finished flatly.

Tyrion nodded into his wine. “Yes. I do not know much about your order, but I can guess that is how it will go.”

“Good guess,” a long drink of wine. “Tell me what it is you need right now.”

Tyrion looked up at her. “First, I do need to know that I am not wrong, and that you are who you claim to be. Can you show me? Can you,” he waved his hand in a smooth motion across his face, “change?”

It was breaking another sacred vow of the order, to ever perform the glamour in front of someone. But she’d already reached the point of no return, so deep down in a black dungeon stained with the already dead, she closed her eyes and pressed her fingertips to her temple. She spread her fingers across the side of her face and pulled slowly over her features, stopping only when her thumb brushed up against her ear on the opposite side. She opened her eyes to meet Tyrion’s widened ones, his jaw slightly slack as he took in the visage of the young man he had seen cleaning the stables over the last few months when he’d crossed the grounds.

“That’s...” he murmured, “that is..”

Her voice deepened as she cut him off. “Will that suffice?”

“Yes,” he nodded slowly, still awed. “I will be able to work with that.”

Chapter Text

Alcohol was not forbidden to the Faceless Men, but Cade wondered briefly if maybe it should have been.

“Alright, please change it back now," Tyrion waved his arms in protest, a rosy tint coloring his nose and cheeks. “I can’t tell you how unsettling that is. I need to look at you and make sense of everything without imagining piles of horseshit.”

The wine flowing relaxation through her veins and giving her a bit of a playful buzz, Cade-as-the-stableboy smirked. “All part of the job, you know. Mucking stalls by day, planning regicide by night,” a pause, “then preventing that same regicide while loading bales of hay, grooming temperamental stallions, lifting wealthy fat women up to their saddles and wearing a face the tavern keep’s daughter seems to like a little too much. I have a very full life here in King’s Landing.”

Dornish merlot made everything absurd seem even more ridiculous, and the two of them burst out laughing. “The next time I think my life is complicated,” Tyrion started, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, “I’ll be sure to remember that.”

“Be sure you do, dwarf,” Cade chuckled, slightly flushed. “Sometimes it’s all just about perspective.” Bowing her head she closed her eyes and pressed her fingertips to her temple, just like before. Fingers spread, she peeled the stable boy off of her own features, and he melted away as if he never had been.

“I will never get used to seeing that, you know.”

“That’s alright,” Cade said, shifting against the wall. “I wasn’t planning on showing you again anyways.”

Tyrion squinted, studying her a moment. “You know, your eyes didn’t change when you put on his face. Was that a mistake?”

“No,” Cade shook her head, “they never change, for any of us. A face is a mask each of us wear, but it is said the eyes are windows to the soul. You can change a mask, but your soul - that’s something you can never hide.”

“That’s quite poetic, good killer.”

Cade shrugged. “It’s just what it is.”

Bolstered by liquid courage, Tyrion decided to continue pressing the assassin as he mentally built his case for the Queen and the small council. “Are there any side effects to it?” He drank the last of his wine, feeling a twinge of sorrow when he reached for the bottle and found it empty. “To changing your face like that?”

“No, but it can be painful. The longer you wear a face, the more it fuses and becomes part of you. I learned that the hard way.” A scowl tugged at the corner of her mouth as she remembered one of her first missions, a lethal bounty hunt sponsored by the Iron Bank. A man foolish enough to try to revive the slaver trade had been eluding capture for months, so it was decided enough time and resources had been wasted on the Queen’s justice. She had been dispatched to end him in such a way that would send a very discouraging message to anyone thinking of casting their lot with his ilk. To do so, she’d had to wear the face of a deckhand for three months. When she was finally on her way back to Braavos, message clearly sent, she removed the face and the agony had sent her reeling. It felt like tearing open hundreds of tight, tiny stitches all at once. She never kept a visage on that long ever again.

“I can only imagine,” Tyrion responded, running his fingertip down the scar that split his face. “When this was healing, I accidentally tore the scab open while I was sleeping. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried manly tears. I can only imagine what it’s like for you.”

Cade just nodded a little.

“So,” Tyrion started, looking to fill the awkward silence.“I noticed you speak with a flawless Westerosi accent, and you have the angled features of the north. Is that where you are from, originally?”

Cade immediately sobered, and felt a fist around her heart as she saw a flash of snow falling over a grave beneath an old Weirwood tree. She had heard the echo of a lone wolf’s howl as her fingers, frost-bitten and bleeding, clawed a small channel through the frozen earth of his final resting place. She remembered how heavy Needle felt in that moment - the strong steel carrying the dead weight of every last hope she’d hidden away. It cut her palm as she’d placed it in the ground with him, and she’d stared at it for minutes that felt like hours. Of all of the losses she’d endured, it was this one that finally killed Arya Stark. Jon’s death beyond the wall in the battle with the Others proved him a hero to the world, but her brother - and he was her brother, no matter how her mother had shunned him - had already been a hero to her. Mechanically, she had worked her bloodied hands over the small blade and buried it, one fistful of dirt at a time. The temperature dipped with the sun over the horizon, and still she had sat, staring at the turned earth and the jagged-rust tears of the tree. At some point, a pair of pained red eyes peered into her own and Ghost joined her in silent mourning. Shivering, she reached and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face into his fur and whispering wounded apologies as her soul cried the tears that her eyes would not. After that, it was much easier for her to become no one - or at least, anybody else.

She bit her tongue and swallowed hard. “Yes.. I was from the north.”

Sensing that he had struck a nerve, he didn’t press further. He had no desire to see her strike any part of him in exchange. He was quiet for a moment, and then, “I see. I married a woman from the north, years ago.” He looked down at his hands. “She hadn’t wanted me, and all things considered it was a very cruel arrangement. Fortunately for her, she was granted an annulment when I was charged with my nephew’s murder. I never saw her again, after that day. It’s a regret I still carry with me.”

Sansa. She had heard about her sister’s forced marriage while hucking oysters in the Braavos market. Gossip coasted the waves with every ship, and it wasn’t long before she knew how much the world had changed while she had been scavenging with the Hound. It was also the first time she’d learned of Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains. “Why is that?” Cade asked quietly.

“I hate - hated, my family,” the dwarf’s eyes darkened with a familiar rage Cade recognized all too well. “I wanted her to know that I had no part in the grief they caused her. I told her, so many times. But I don’t know if she ever heard me. I don’t know if she ever really even saw me, or just the banner of my house.”

Cade answered carefully, betraying nothing. “Even if she didn’t back then, most still believe you did kill Joffrey, and everyone heard about you killing your father. I think that would have sent a message about who you are, and how you felt. Isn’t that the main reason Daenerys pardoned you and took you in?”

Tyrion let out a breath and visibly eased. “Part of the reason, yes. It was a lot easier to allow me to bend the knee when I’d already killed the patriarch of an enemy house. She’s also a very clever woman - she’d spent her whole life away from the kingdom she wanted to claim. She knew very little of Westerosi politics and grievances at that point. I, however, was very well-versed in every level of its corruption, and was more than happy share that knowledge.”

Maybe, if I live through this, I could tell her who I am. “She does show grace then, even with her enemies. Sometimes it’s hard to believe things that you hear.”

Tyrion slowly rose to his feet and dusted himself off. “She does,” he answered, hesitating a moment. “But she’s also fed her enemies to her dragons.” He lifted his satchel and set it over his shoulder again. “I’m going to do what I can to make sure you end up the former, rather than the latter.” He picked up the empty wine bottle, settling it in the sack. “Regardless of what happens, it was good to meet you Cade. Thank you for not killing me. There are many whores who would have been very upset if you had.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to grieve the prostitutes.”

He made his way to the iron door, and turned to look back at her once more. “Before I leave, if things don’t work out tomorrow - do you have any last requests?”

A thoughtful pause. “Only one, if you’re able. At the foot of my bunk in the stables is a small wooden box. Open it, there’s a sealed letter at the top, addressed to the stable boy’s mother. She’s sick, and she didn’t know her son died before he ever made it to King’s Landing. I’ve been writing to her in his place. She hasn’t seemed to notice the difference. Send that last letter off to her. You can keep everything else in the box as payment.”

Eyes blinking in surprise, Tyrion nodded. “I’ll make sure of it.” Lifting his arm, he pounded the door three times. It opened with a painful scraping sound, and he stepped out of the cell while the door was forced shut and latched behind him.

Chapter Text

AN: As I work on it, this is becoming bigger than I had originally intended. The nature of the beast, I guess. As such, the muse has lashed me as she sees fit - we're gonna go back in time a bit.

.....
One year ago-

The water dance still ached in her muscles, and bruises colored her skin beneath her tunic. She was faster now, fast enough to snap practice swords out of large, strong hands, and fast enough to dodge blows that would have tagged her only months ago. She bound her wrists and practiced with different blades - daggers, rapiers, shortswords, longswords - until she found a rhythm with each of them. She pulled her sleeve up and started to work ointment on her arm, spiced herbs from the east ground into a paste that made her skin burn as it settled. The smell was unpleasant, but if she left it on overnight her bruises would be faded by morning.

Although every one of the Faceless Men was adept at killing using any method, they each had a preferred specialization. Some swore by the careful art of environmental shifting, turning the corner of a heavy rug at the perfect moment or giving a brick a small nudge over a ledge. Others touted the virtues of giving the appearance of a natural death through sickness - with the right preparation and a deft hand, plagues, bloodtaints and fevers of all types could be bottled and stored for future use. Poison was employed out of necessity at times by every one of them, but those who excelled at it rarely used any other technique, so convinced they were of its superiority. She was one of a small minority that preferred a quick hands-on kill, using speed and physical skill to give a mark a ‘clean’ end. The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.In her world, that was the only way she could ever come close to honoring that philosophy, twisted as the effort may have been.

“Valar Morghulis.”

She turned, straightening. “Valar Dohaeris.”

“A girl has been here while now. Has learned our ways and practiced our magics. Grew from an angry child into a competent servant of the Many-Faced God.”

She bowed her head in respectful silence.

“The gift is to be given. The Many-Faced God has chosen you and you alone for this task.”

“How is this so?” her brow furrowed a little. “We are all no one.”

“It is not for us to question, but to serve.” He lifted his hand and held out a pouch to her. “You will need this.”

She reached for the pouch and found it heavy with coin. Through the thin leather she could feel their varying sizes and shapes, and knew without looking they were currencies from all around the world. This job would take her very far away. “Who does the Many-Faced God name?”

“Daenerys Targaryen, ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.”

 

----

 

After nearly two weeks in the cramped hold of a Braavosi cargo ship, she felt as if she was every inch the same scruffy urchin who had left these shores years ago. She stood on the deck as the ship started to slow in Blackwater Bay, preparing to dock at King’s Landing. Even years after the wildfire had burned out, the water still had a slick, scorched look to it. She waited for the anchor to drop, and sought out the captain. He had refused payment when she first booked passage, claiming Valar Dohaeris, but she knew he had a large family back home. She found him and shook his hand, thanking him for passage and wishing him calm seas for his journey home. He only noticed the gold coins she’d left in his palm after she was already out of sight.

A thick sack over her shoulder, she wandered the docks with a slow shuffle, hunched and unobtrusive. It was hard for her to believe this was part of the same city she’d struggled to survive in as a child - the planks of the walk were new, and the carts and storefronts that lined them were all clean and freshly painted. There were Unsullied guards patrolling, deterring the usual thieves and cutthroats from plying their trade. The air still had a stink to it, but it was salt, sweat, and sea life rather than the sewage and rot that used to permeate. So the rumors were true. She has used the Treasury for more than just holding feasts and hunts.

She made her way down River Row, towards the King’s Gate. She needed a place she could take in the whole of the city without being noticed or questioned. There used to be lighthouses that dotted the shoreline for trading ships, and she hoped a few remained standing. Still hunched, she left the city of King’s Landing almost as quickly as she’d entered it, and started to hike the sloping plains outside of it. The sun had peaked by midday, and she found her steps were growing heavy under its heat. Wolves were not meant for summer, she thought to herself, before shaking her head and reminding herself she was no one and that the heat was fine.

A few lighthouses still stood after the burning of Blackwater, and she quickened her pace when she found one on top of a steep slope. This will be perfect. I can map out everything there. Tightening her grip on her sack, she started to run up the hill. It was only the sound of a quiet cough that stopped her.

Tensed, she dropped her bag and pulled out the shortsword she had buckled to her belt. She steadied her breathing, turning slowly, ready for an ambush. There. A slight rustle in the tall grass to her left. She stalked over to it, silent, her knuckles whitening around the hilt of her blade. Steeled, she raised her right arm and swept the grass aside - only to find a young dark haired man laying face-first in the dirt, coughing in the blood pooled around his mouth.

Sheathing her sword, she knelt down beside him. “Hey,” she spoke in the quiet whisper she used in the House of Black and White, becoming the Reaper. “Can you hear me? What happened to you?” She knew at first glance that he was beyond help, but the instincts she had honed through years at the Fountain took over, and she carefully turned him over on to his back and lifted his head.

“I made a mistake,” he wheezed, pale and shaking. “I stopped, I shouldn’t have stopped, shouldn’t have-” he was cut off by a violent coughing fit, blood spraying on to her hand. His eyes were dimming, and his breathing slowed. “They.. said they just needed me to mark their map. I was on the way to King’s Landing. My family, we’re farmers.. I was always good with horses..” his breath caught, and the blood bubbled. “They took my bag.. my contract..”

“It’s alright,” she spoke, calm as still water as she tilted his head. “Do you know where they went?”

Chest heaving, he reached a shaking hand up and pointed towards the lighthouse she had been headed towards.

She nodded slowly. “It’s alright, boy,” she rested a hand to his cheek. “don’t fight. The Father sent me to you, and there will be justice here.” She felt him shudder, and his weight grew heavy. She closed his eyes, and set him down in the grass she had found him in. She looked up over her shoulder at the lighthouse, and then back down at the dead boy. There would be justice for this, the Many-Faced God would want that. She whispered a quiet prayer in offering, and rested her palm over his face. She bowed her head and closed her eyes pressing her fingertips to her temple. Spreading her fingers, she pulled his features across her own, stopping only when her thumb brushed her ear. The boy lay dead, blank and shapeless under her hands. She would bury him later.

Slowly she rose up to her feet, gaze intent on the lighthouse before her.

That night, the brigands believed it was a ghost who cleaved them apart. Their pieces were thrown over a rocky cliff to feed the fish, and the bag they stole fell into the hands of a Faceless Man who looked just like the poor farmboy they’d murdered to steal it. She rifled through it and found a some coins, a comb and a razor, along with a few blank pieces of parchment and a sealed contract offering work to ‘Cade Bauer’ at the royal stables. When the moon rose, strong, small hands gripped the shovel that dug a proper grave for the faceless boy. “Valar Morghulis,” she whispered into the night winds for him.

The next day, the stablehand’s contract was honored and he was welcomed into King’s Landing.

Chapter Text

AN: The muse wanted us to stay in the past this time too. Don’t worry, she’ll let me get back to the present once she is appeased.

.......
8 months ago-

There was one thing both the rich and the poor had in common: they loved to gossip. And this thoughtless vice served Cade well. In the barns with the other stablehands she learned about the strange horse-people the Queen had brought with her from the other side of the Narrow Sea; savages who had trouble speaking the common tongue and grew their hair like women the more battles they won. The Queen had been married to one of them, they said. Some whispered that she’d killed her beastly husband and hatched her dragon eggs with his sacrificial blood; others slid into crude sneers and said she’d whored for a demon who gave her power over flame in exchange for carrying his winged spawn. Cade would groom the horses, mute, as they snickered over the exaggerated perversions they’d press on the Queen if they ever had the chance and boasted over who was most likely to please her with them. They didn’t notice the scowl of distaste that tugged at Cade’s mouth whenever they did this, so they never did correlate her anger to the burning powder they’d all found in their bunks one night. Just the same, they were much quieter after that.

In the servant’s kitchen the women shouted over tables full of mixing bowls while complaining about their husbands, or lack thereof. They giggled and played matchmaker every time a young noble walked by, regardless of how homely he may have been - apparently a jeweled scabbard combined with some crushed velvet and silks made up for unibrows and soft jawlines. They spoke of the many guests who came and went; which wing they were housed in and for how long. They clucked their tongues and shook their heads while chatting about the foreign attire some of Daenerys’ eastern ladies pranced around in, and a few of the braver even slipped in a word or two about the exotic apparel of the Queen herself. Whenever Cade came in to pick up the lunch basket to bring to the stables, heavy-set Maybel would always slip a carefully wrapped cookie inside before handing it off. “This is for you, from Talia in the kitchens upstairs,” she’d say. “I think she’s sweet on you, boy.”

“Such a beauty is beyond my humble station,” Cade would respond with crooked grin, every inch the shy farmboy she claimed to be. “But give her my thanks, and tell her I will never eat the cookie of another.”

Even though she kept her distance, it would be impossible for her to go entirely unnoticed. Inevitably, there were moments when guilt would gnaw at her with its tiny sharp teeth. In any job, it was always a possibility that the face she wore could be a face someone else found themselves caring for. It had shocked her, the first time it had happened years ago. She’d been at a tavern with the face of a scarred veteran. Layered leather and chainmail filled out her frame, and she’d been sitting alone, nursing an ale while watching a cardshark prepare to fleece an entire table from the corner of her eye. He was her mark, and she’d let him enjoy one last evening before following him out and sending him to his maker. A few hours had passed before the quiet voice of a small woman had broken her reverie. “Marcus?” she asked, staring right at her with incredulity. “Can it really be you..?”her hands had cupped the cheeks that were not really her own, thumb lightly tracing over the ridge of a scar. The woman’s eyes welled and her lower lip trembled, and before another word could be spoken she kissed the Faceless Man, deep and desperate as if she had been drowning.

“I thought you were dead,” she murmured breathlessly, “I thought you were dead...”

It had taken two concerned companions to pull the woman away, telling her she’d had too much to drink and that it was time to go home. The false Marcus sat, hands shaking and heart pounding. She’d never felt such a torrent of emotion from anyone before. How can anyone possibly feel so much for another? It had rattled her, and she nearly missed the cardshark slipping out the back. After she’d run him through, she left his body in the alley like a common thug and ran for the canals. She removed the face in a near panic, chest heaving as she caught her breath. The depth of feeling a person could carry inside of themselves frightened her, and she wanted no part of it.

She reflected on lessons learned as she set the basket out on the makeshift table for all of the stablehands, minus one particular cookie that she hid away for later. Right on cue, the boys came in with their bowls, spooning up portions of thick stew and tearing away chunks of bread. “Did you hear?” the thin one she nicknamed Mantis asked while chewing. “We all have tomorrow afternoon off.”

“Wot? Why’s that eh?”

“Flea Bottom’s all finished up. They’re gonna open it back up with a celebration. They say the Queen herself is gonna come out an’ see it for the renamin’. Everyone’ll be there, I think.”

Cade’s ears perked. Yes. Everyone would indeed be there.

-------

According to good word, after Daenerys had taken King’s Landing, she’d been disgusted by the filth and squalor of Flea Bottom. She’d had the residents gathered and moved into campaign tents outside the city, and streams of soldiers needing work after the war tore the borough apart brick by brick. Once it was destroyed she sent in guilds full of carpenters, stonemasons, and architects to rebuild. Painters and landscapers had followed, and the results were impressive - what used to be the worst slum in any capital city was now as clean and respectable as some of the wealthier settlements.

Cade had made it early, and enjoyed a spectacular view from the high sloped rooftop of the freshly minted orphanage. It was the largest of the the new structures, and even at that may have still been too small; the wars had taken too many grown, leaving only their children behind. At least they’ll never know the horror of a bowl of brown, here. She steadied her stance, and scanned the streets. There. She was coming.

The crowd began to roar and cheer as the Queen and her guardsmen started down the street, all on horseback. She had no formal Queensguard, but was well-defended just the same. Tower-shielded Unsullied led the way, edging back the crowds if they pushed in too closely, and a few of her heavily-muscled savages rode in the open spaces between. Blade-wielding riders that looked like unwashed sellswords kept wary eyes on every movement coming from the windows and rooftops. They would see her, and she would allow it; she was not intent on giving the Queen the gift today. She would observe the woman and those she surrounded herself with, noting every any detail that would be of use later on. And, on the off chance that the Many-Faced God did happen give her an unexpected opening, she would be in the right place to take it.

Instinctively, she slid a light throwing knife from her sleeve into her hand, her eyes narrowing against the harsh glare of the sun.The Queen passed by slowly, and her people reached for her as much as the Unsullied would allow. They called out blessings of the Seven, and bid her long reign in many different tongues. Despite all of foul-mouthed bravado and judgemental snipes Cade had heard, it seemed that the people were generally quite happy with their monarch, and she appeared to have a genuine affection for them in return. There must be something very dark, underneath all of this. Otherwise, the Faceless Men would never have accepted her name. I may not see it right now, but I will find it.

Suddenly, a loud wail from the side street pierced through the procession and caused a guard’s horse to rear up. A crude, worn leather ball rolled out into the thoroughfare, and a tired woman ran over to pick up two scuffling children who had tripped into the march- a boy with a hard scowl and a bleeding nose, and a smaller girl, red-faced with her hands curled into tight fists. Visibly frustrated, she set each one back down, ensuring there were a few other children between them as buffers. “Of all the times to do this!” she cried out. “I am so sorry, your Grace,” she bowed low, cheeks flushing with embarrassment.

“I’m not sorry!” the little girl called out as she turned around to find the bloodied boy, staring past the children between them. “You hurt my little brother for that stupid ball. If you do it again, I’ll hit you even harder next time!”

The Queen gave a reassuring smile to the woman, and motioned for her entourage to stop. With an ease that reminded everyone of why one of her titles was Khaleesi, she slipped down from her horse and picked up the ball. She kneeled in front of the temperamental little girl, holding it out to her. “Is this your brother’s?” she asked.

Suddenly quiet, the little girl stared up at her and nodded, reaching for the ball.

Daenerys smiled as she handed it back to her. “It’s a brave thing, to protect someone small. If you stay brave, and grow strong, one day when you’re older you can find me and join my army, if you’d like.”

The girl’s eyes widened and she nodded. “I will,” she said, back straightening like a determined soldier.

“I will see you again, then.” And with Dothraki grace, she lifted back on to her horse and motioned for them all to continue.

Something in Cade’s heart folded in on itself as she watched the exchange. Eyes softening, her hand dropped to her side, the throwing knife skidding down the roof and dropping to a window ledge below. She lowered herself, sitting on the hot slope of the rooftop, the sun at her back as she watched the Queen ride away along with the throngs that followed her.

And what do we say to the God of death?

Not today.

Chapter Text

AN: Without further ado, good readers. You have been more than patient.

 

.....

 

Present-

 

Cade unlocked her shackles again, clicking them open and closed. She had no idea whether it was day or night, and had lost track of how long the black cell had been her home. It couldn’t have been that long; a rusted slot on the door had been opened four times in all, sliding a hard heel of bread and some warm water through. She’d only taken a few sips of the water each time, and tossed the bread far into the northeast corner Tyrion had warned her against. She didn’t believe the Queen would kill her with poison, but there was no telling if the guard was actually hers, or another of her Faceless brethren. That rats could take the risk for her.

The familiar metallic scraping of the door latch interrupted the chess game she was playing in her head. She quickly hid her blade up her sleeve and settled her manacles on her wrists, keeping them unlocked. She stood up, resolved to either meet an attack or accept whatever fate the Queen had decided for her.

Two Unsullied came in, each of them taking one of her arms as they had before. “It’s time, now.”

 

.....

 

The Queen sat on the Iron Throne, her Summer Islander standing to her right, and Tyrion to her left. The room was silent as she took Cade in, sizing her up. “There are some,” she finally spoke, “who say I may need you, if I hope to survive an order of the Faceless Men.”

Cade met her gaze, carefully measuring her response.“Your odds would certainly improve, your Grace.”

Daenerys motioned to the two rows of Unsullied guards that stood at attention on each side of the stairs leading up to the throne. “These are just a handful of my elite soldiers. I am never without protection. Can you tell me why I would need any more?”

“Your soldiers are the best that have ever been,” Cade replied. “But they are trained for a different kind of warfare. They will fight to the death for you, and protect you from any threat they can see. But they will not see a Faceless Man coming. He will not cleave through your guards to reach you, he will strike from the shadows your guards would never even think to look to.”

“And you are capable of protecting me from these shadows?” Daenerys asked, skeptical.

“I have been so far.”

“Show me.” The Queen clapped her hands once, and gave a nod.

As the words left her lips, three of her Unsullied slid out of formation, shields raised and spears drawn. Wasting no time, Cade slipped out of her manacles and swung them around in a ferocious arc, throwing them in a spin at the first of them. There was a loud cracking sound, and his helmet fell to the floor as blood gushed from his nose and mouth. As he staggered, she slipped her blade from her sleeve, charging at the second guard. He was quick; his spear nearly skewered her, but she was water and shadow - she dodged the blow and leaped on to his shield, her weight pulling him down to his knees. She carefully slid her blade across the side of his neck, and launched herself from his shoulder, closing the space between herself and the last guard. He stepped back defensively, his trained instinct demanding he give himself the advantage of distance before striking. Cade refused to allow him any ground, and tucked herself into a roll under his spear. Before he could react, she was back on her feet, her blade thrusting into his underarm, then cutting a shallow line across the front of his neck.

“Enough,” the Queen called, raising her hand. “Missandei,” she addressed the Summer Islander while staying focused on the temporary arena below her, “please call for the Maester.”

Obeying her command, the guards lowered their weapons and slowly pulled themselves back to their stations, leaving thin trails of blood on the floor. Cade stepped back to her place before the throne, adrenaline still surging through her veins. “They’re bloodied, but they’ll live. If you test me again, I can’t guarantee the next will be so fortunate.” She smoothed the flat of the dagger over the cuff of her sleeve, cleaning the blood from the blade.

“I see your chains were a deceit.” Daenerys tilted her head towards the bloody cuffs laying on the floor.

“I wore them as a token of goodwill. I didn’t want you to feel uneasy.”

There was a very subtle shift on the throne, and she could see some of the tension that held Daenerys rigid had dissipated. “That was impressive,” she said after a thoughtful pause. “I wonder, would you be able to do that against the rest of my guards?” she motioned to the remaining force lining each side of the throne.

“That depends. If you sent them at me a few at a time, yes. All of them at once, no.”

“So a Faceless Man can be killed.”

“Valar Morghulis, your Grace,” her eyes held the Queen’s. “Anyone can be killed.”

“And yet you have decided you don’t want me killed. Why is that?”

Cade let out a slow breath. “There is something wrong in all of this. I haven’t figured it out what it is yet, but given time I will. The Faceless Men should never have accepted a contract on you; it goes against everything Braavos stands for, killing the Breaker of Chains.”

The Queen weighed her answer thoughtfully. “That may be so, but how do I know your will stands fast in this? That you won’t decide to go ahead and complete your mission later on?”

Cade shook her head. “I made my choice. Even if I wanted to kill you, it’s too late now. My hands are stained with the order’s blood, and the Many-Faced God has seen my betrayal. I can never go back.”

Daenerys considered this, casting a glance over to Tyrion, who gave a slight nod. She looked back to Cade, raising an eyebrow. “So you are to be mine, then?”

Taken aback by the sudden shift in tone, Cade felt a slight flush creep up her neck. “I.. what do you mean? I can protect you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Slowly Daenerys rose from the throne, standing on the dais. “I’m asking if you are willing to swear yourself to me. If you will come into my service, and give me your allegiance.”

“Oh,” Cade whispered as she processed the turn of events. This was... unexpected. Her brow furrowed. “You would want the pledge of someone who cursed themselves, breaking an oath made to a god?”

“You wouldn’t be the first oathbreaker I’ve taken into my service. Nor the first murderer. It is some of these, as you say, ‘cursed’ people who helped me both take back and keep what is mine.”

“I see.” Cade took a moment, and nodded. “You will have it, then. I give you my vow.”

Daenerys gave a slight shake of her head. “No, not yet. Before I will accept your allegiance, I want you to tell me who you are. Not one of the many names you’ve used with your other faces, no further deceits meant to set me at ease. Who were you, before you became one of the Faceless Men? Who truly is swearing themselves to me?”

Cade closed her eyes, a war raging in her mind as she felt the north rise up in her blood. Images flashed, one by one - her father’s head bowed in prayer to the old gods, just before being executed. Jaqen H’ghar, pressing a strange coin into her hand. The fear in the Red Woman’s eyes when she had gripped her face and whispered prophecy. Grey Wind’s head stitched to Robb’s corpse, paraded around the grounds of the Twins while drunken Freymen cheered and pissed on Stark banners. The Hound’s broken body; his bloody lips pulled into a snarl pleading for her to kill him. The towering Titan of Braavos leading to a set of black and white doors. A switch across her face when she could not lie, a stick cracking against her when she could not let herself go and become no one. A whip flaying her back when she stole a kill to shorten her list. Blades of all sizes, cuts and bruises. She saw her frozen hands burying Needle with Jon Snow, and then saw the same hands covered in the blood of everyone she’d given the Gift to. Finally, she saw the snarling face of a direwolf, and everything around it burned away.

She opened her eyes and looked up at the Queen, stormy gray meeting violet again. “My name is Arya Stark, and I am pledging my allegiance to the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Daenerys Targaryen.”

Jaws dropped and eyes widened. It was as if the room became locked in time, a moment where no one even dared to breathe. Even Missandei, just returning with the Maester, halted her steps and looked incredulous.

“How interesting is this,” Tyrion finally broke the silence, moving to stand beside his liege. “A rogue Stark fighting against a league of deadly assassins to save a Targaryen. I did mention our good killer was a bit poetic, your Grace.”

Chapter Text

AN: Well, it seems this fic is going to be a lot more than the short piece than I first intended! I hope you'll all stick with me for the ride. I want to, as always, thank my readers and particularly my reviewers - you are the reason I keep typing even after a 12 hour workday, working on this crazy thing that is turning out to be far less niche than I anticipated.

.....

 

Daenerys turned to Tyrion. “Did you know this?” she asked pointedly.

Tyrion shook his head. “No your Grace. I had guessed she was of the north, but not this...” his eyes darted between Daenerys and Arya, trying to puzzle out how history may have run its course and explain it to the Queen. “Arya Stark was just a child when she was pronounced dead. Right after Ned Stark was executed by Jofferey, King’s Landing was placed into lockdown for weeks; no one in or out without royal consent. Her sister Sansa had been held in custody, but Arya went missing. I remember the Goldcloaks were ordered to scour the streets looking for her. The Keep had been torn apart from top to bottom. No sign of her was ever found.”

“But you were married to Sansa Stark. Surely you could recognize her own sister.”

“It was a long time ago, your Grace.” Tyrion murmured. “Sansa had always looked a Tully, after her mother. Arya and her brothers were Stark through and through; there was little resemblance between them. I’m sorry, truly, I did not see it.”

Daenerys stepped down the stairs, stopping in front of Arya. She was much smaller than she had looked on the Iron Throne; her regal frame petite, the top of her head only reaching Arya’s brow. For the first time since they’d met, Arya had to look down to meet the Queen’s eyes.

“I knew there was a familiarity about you,” Daenerys said, reaching a hand up and tracing Arya’s cheek, gently brushing her bangs aside. “You are Commander Jon Snow’s sister.” She studied the assassin, recognizing Stark eyes and sharp angles. “I met him, during the Wight War. He was a good man,” her voice softened, “and I can see him in you.”

Jon. Heart clenched in her chest, Arya nodded. “Jon was my brother,” she whispered roughly.

“How is it that you are alive, come to us here now?”

“It’s a long story, your Grace.”

Daenerys turned and started toward the door. She paused and looked over her shoulder at the dead come back to life. “Come with me. We have plenty of time.”

…….

 

Daenerys, Missandei, Tyrion and Arya were seated around an elegant wooden table in the Queen’s quarters. Surrounded by the opulence of mahogany, silks, and gold, Arya couldn’t help but feel like an black oil spot on a beautiful watercolor painting; smudging the finery around her. A tanned serving girl set down a tiered platter of fresh fruits and small spiced cakes before them, along with a decanter of deep red wine. She poured the wine into sparkling crystal goblets etched with High Valyrian runes, and placed one down before the Queen and each guest. Daenerys gave her a nod, and she bowed, stepping out of the room.

“Forgive my caution, your Grace,” Arya said quietly as she took Daenerys’ goblet and exchanged it for her own. The Targaryen gave her silent approval.

Quiet moments passed, and Arya could feel all of their eyes on her as she stared intently at the woodgrain of the table. She knew what they wanted from her, but she couldn’t bring herself to give it. To them, Arya Stark had been alive and well all throughout her disappearance, with a lustrous tale to tell. But in truth, she’d killed Arya Stark herself years ago - only in the seconds that had passed before the Iron Throne and the deep eyes of the Queen had she risen back to life. And there were not enough words in the world to make them understand that.

“You know,” Tyrion cleared his throat, “I do remember a little about your time here. There were moments you drove your father to despair,” he chuckled and took a long drink from his glass. “Sometimes we could hear him shouting from the Hand’s tower. ‘She has the wolf’s blood!’, he’d yell. ‘She’s half a boy, half a wolf pup, and will do only exactly what I tell her not to!’. I think his desperation is what drove him to let you learn the sword. He hoped it would reign you in a way nothing else seemed able to.”

Arya’s cheeks warmed as she remembered the truth of it all. She knew there were times she had deepened his frown lines and grayed his hair, but some of it had been his own fault. If he had dealt with her as he did Robb or Jon, understood that she was like them rather than trying to mould her from Sansa, he would have spared himself much grief. “It’s true,” she said. “I’m surprised you remember that, after so long.”

Tyrion tapped his temple. “I never forget a good day,” he said. “And watching you tear around the Keep barefoot with a wooden sword while nearly knocking my loving sister down a stairwell - that was a very good day.”

Though silent, Missandei broke into a little smile and looked over at Daenerys, who seemed to be fighting the tug of a grin at the corner of her own lips.

“But I digress,” Tyrion continued with a wave of his wineglass. “we all know you were at the Keep. What we don’t know is how you escaped it.”

Arya let out a slow breath. This was, at least, a place to start. “After my father’s arrest,” she answered, “they sent the Kingsguard and his men after me. Meryn Trant,” her voice lowered with contempt when she spoke his name, and she remembered how easily her blade cut into him when she had found him again years later. “I was with my dancing master, Syrio Forel. He wouldn’t let them take me. He told me to run, and he fought them. All of them.” She didn’t need to tell them how his battle ended. The look on her face said it all.

She took a drink of her wine. “When I got out of the Keep, I headed to Flea Bottom. Managed to hide there for while, until I saw crowds rushing to the square. I didn’t know what was happening, so I fell in with them. They had all been running to see my father’s execution. Thieves and whores all gathered to spit on him..” she ground her teeth, and took another drink. “Yoren from the Night’s Watch found me there. Covered my eyes when the sword dropped, but I knew what happened anyways. I kicked and pushed, trying to get at Joffrey, but,” her eyes cast down into her wineglass before she continued, “I was just too small. Yoren carried me away. Cut my hair; named me Arry, told me I was to be an orphan boy leaving for the Wall. That he’d drop me off at Winterfell on the way.” That was the first time I killed someone. If I look back, far back, it was this city that made me a killer.

Tyrion let out a low whistle. “That’s so clever I wish I had thought of it myself. No wonder you made it out of the city unscathed - no one would ever stop a wandering crow from heading back to the wall.”

Arya nodded. “We did get out of the city, but we didn’t make it far. Lannister soldiers led by the Mountain caught us in a holdfast near Harrentown. They set it on fire and started killing any recruit holding a blade. I remember Yoren grabbing me and telling me to gather up all of the boys I could, and run. Run fast and far.” She traced her thumb around the base of the goblet. “So I did. I unlocked the caged wagons, and we ran. Didn’t matter though. They caught us all, and brought us to Harrenhal.” Arya looked up at Daenerys. “Have you heard what they say about Harrenhal, your Grace?”

Daenerys fingered the three-headed dragon choker around her neck. “I’ve heard nothing pleasant.”

“They say blood mixed the mortar that holds the stones in place there. And after what I saw, I believe it.” Arya fingered the blade in her sleeve, comforting herself with its presence. “We slept in an open pen, freezing, beside the cattle they’d slaughter.” For an instant she could remember reciting her prayers, curled up in the bloodied mud with wet clothes and her hair plastered to her face with nothing but hate to keep her warm. “They’d take men and strap them to a chair while holding a bucket of rats to their stomachs, laughing while they screamed.They broke bones with rusted hammers and cut the feet off of anyone who tried to escape. Half of the prisoners there had missing limbs, open wounds, or were riddled with infection. Sometimes all three.” She brought the wine to her lips. “To this day I still have nightmares of that place.”

Braced with liquid courage, she continued. “It was at Harrenhal where I met my master - the Faceless Man who later trained me. He’d been trapped in one of the carts I’d unlocked before Yoren was killed. He offered me three deaths in exchange for the three lives I’d saved and stolen from the Red God.”

Daenerys leaned forward, intrigued. “He would kill any three men in the world, at your command?”

“Yes,” Arya nodded, scowling. “And before you ask, no, I didn’t understand then how I could have changed the course of the entire war just by naming the right names.” She raked her hand through her hair. “I wasted two of the names, and gave him his own name as the third. Told him the only way I’d take his name back is if he helped me and a few others escape.”

“A dangerous wager, good killer. But I’m guessing you landed on the right side of that coin toss?” Tyrion asked as he topped up his wine glass.

“I did. A small group of us got out.” Arya swirled the wine in her goblet, and took another drink. “And that man, my master, he caught up to us. He offered to take me with him to Braavos, to become a Faceless Man. I nearly went, right then, but I knew I couldn’t leave until I found my family.” She let out a bitter laugh. “After all of this, I still thought I could somehow go home. That there’d be a home left to go back to.” She licked her bottom lip and shook her head. “He gave me this iron coin,” she pulled the token of the House of Black and White from the pocket of her jerkin, and rolled it across her knuckles. “Told me that when I was ready, all I needed to do was find any man from Braavos and say ‘Valar Morghulis’ while showing him this coin, and he would take me where I needed to go.” She flipped the coin with her thumb, and caught it in her palm.

“The Brotherhood Without Banners found us next, a few days later when we were scavenging for food,” she continued. “Could have been worse, all in all – they thought we were orphaned war refugees. Decided that we’d join them, whether we wanted to or not.” Arya spun the iron coin on the table, and watched it turn. “I could have waited it out with them a while, if the Hound hadn’t shown up.”

“The Hound?” Tyrion asked, unsure if he had heard right. “He defected during the Battle of Blackwater. There was a bounty on his head that no one ever did come to claim.”

“That’s because no one we came across ever lived long enough to take that reward.” The coin fell flat on the table, motionless. “The Hound took me from the Brotherhood. Decided he’d ransom me off to my family, then take the money and cross the Narrow Sea. Maybe join the Second Sons.” She jerked her head toward Daenerys. “He’d heard there was good work over there, swinging a blade for a Dragon Queen.” She picked up the coin again, rolling it between her thumb and forefinger while she paused thoughtfully. “Killing became easier, while I was with him.”

Looking around the table, Arya noticed that she was the last to finish her wine. She gulped the end of it and pushed the goblet away. She could feel her heart start to jump in her chest, and she fought to keep her voice level. The King, the King, the King of the North! “He took me to the Riverlands.” The King, the King, the King of the North! “Caught word that my brother Robb would be hosted by Walder Frey for my uncle Edmure’s wedding.” The King, the King, the King of the North! “He stole a pig farmer’s cart and disguised himself as a merchant to get to get me to The Twins-”

“No,” Tyrion cut her off with a quiet plea. “Don’t tell me you were there, that night,” his face paled as he looked at Arya, praying to all of the gods that he didn’t believe in that it wasn’t so.

The King, the King, the King of the North! Arya’s eyes hardened, and a shadow passed over her features. She gave a slight nod. “Yes Tyrion, I was there.” The King, The King, The King of the North! Her voice dropped dangerously. “But I’m sure you already know this part of the story. Why don’t you go ahead and tell everyone here exactly what it is your family arranged that night?”

Tyrion shook his head, horrified. “I never knew about any of it until it was already too late.” He looked up at her, swallowing hard. “Arya, I never had anything to do with what my father did to your family. I never would have-”

“Such a clever man, and yet you knew nothing.” She picked up the iron coin and flipped it at him. “You know nothing, and I am no one.” Her heart was pounding now, a beast in her chest, while blood rushed in her ears. This morning she had been dead, and now she was alive; a phoenix rising from the ashes of rage rekindled. “Will that be our game, then?” Arya rose to her feet.

“Enough!” Daenerys stood, her palms hitting the table in front of her. She turned to face each of them, the dragon within her visibly rising. “Each of us here have family that have destroyed each other!” Her chest heaved and her cheeks flushed, and for a moment Arya could see the grief the pretty Queen had buried deep inside herself clawing to the pale marble surface. She saw it through the red and it dizzied her; made her hands start to shake. She felt her entire body heat and her knees weaken. Her vision blurred around Daenerys, and she could smell a soft, sweet scent that caused her to lurch like a drunkard. When they write about love, they say this is how it feels. Funny, how it feels so much like-

Poison.

“It wasn’t the wine,” Arya mumbled as she fell back into her chair nearly tipping it over. “It was the glass.”

“Arya, what’s wrong?” she felt the Queen’s hand on her forearm, hot on her clammy skin.

“Dwarf,” she growled, “get Daenerys out of here. Now.”

Eyes widening as he saw Arya break into a cold sweat under the low light of the flickering candles, he got to his feet. “Where?” he asked. “Where do I take her?”

Arya winced as her arm started to twitch involuntarily. “No guards. Take her where no one else will follow you. Wait for me there.”

Before he could ask any more questions, Arya’s head hit the table.

Chapter Text

AN: I have the best readers and reviewers ever. That is all.

.......

To serve the God of Death, a girl had to be brought to his doorstep many times.

The Strangler. Essence of Nightshade. Wolfsbane. Basilisk’s blood. Manticore venom . All of these and more were locked in the hidden vaults of the House of Black and White. There were none more expert with liquid death than the alchemists of the Faceless Men. They spent fortunes on procurement from every corner of the Seven Kingdoms, and spent their days studying and refining every strain of toxin. Faded black ink filled archival parchments with diagrams and notations on how every poison exploited a specific weakness of the human body - and how the body could be trained to absorb and overcome them.

She’d been taken down the winding stairs many many times. Weighed and measured while a quill marked her skin over her organs, and large fingers counted the beats of her pulse through her wrist and neck. She’d lain on a cold slab just like the bodies she respectfully tended, and small blades would cut her just so while tiny drops of venom were spilled in. She’d been strapped down through delirium, iced down through fever, and lifted to avoid choking on her own vomit. Heavy rope had tied her down when she thrashed, and cool cloths wiped blood from her lips and nose even when her skin had turned blue. For years they had done this, a small nod from Jaqen granting them permission to bring her to the brink. And when they were finished, Arya Stark was immune to the lesser of the deadly poisons, and had built up a tolerance to most lethal of them.

The Sweet Farewell ran through her veins now, and her body thrashed within itself to remove the taint. It was very rare, and cost as much as a fleet of ships. It was so potent that merely absorbing it through the skin would stop the breath of its victim. It had been on the Queen’s glass, and had she touched it before Arya took it, she would have fallen dead at the same table Arya was fighting to pull herself from now. Focus. You’ve been through this before. You can do this.

Coughing up a spray of blood, Arya forced herself to her feet. A wave vertigo ran through her, and she had to lean against the table. Tremors ran up and down her legs as she took a shaking step forward. Sweat plastered her tunic to her skin, and she nearly pitched forward on to the floor. Can’t stop him like this. Seven hells, pull it together. Blood of the wolf, blood of the wolf.

Her weapons had been confiscated upon her arrest, and there had been no time to return them. She still had the thin blades in the soles of her boots, but nothing more. She could barely entertain the thought of having to kneel to pull one out. She took a few more slow, clumsy steps out on to the Queen’s terrace, then keeled over on to her side, panting. Her cheek pressed to the cold stone under the night sky, she knew that if she couldn’t will her body into motion, the Faceless Man would escape the grounds of the Keep and strike again - and next time, he would likely succeed. All it would take was just one touch.

She was going to need the help of a friend.

.......

Powerful alpha jaws snapped the bone, crunching the marrow from it. The moon was high, and the hunt was good. Her pack had swelled, hundreds becoming a thousand. They flooded the Kingswood, taking the prey they needed and keeping other beasts away from the Dragon Queen’s city below. The air was humid and warm, and the terrible toll the long winter had taken on her pack was all but forgotten.

Nymeria, with me!

Her ears pricked and her senses sharpened. She stood up, sniffing the night air and looking for her Stark.

Where are you, girl? Will you let me see?

The direwolf gave a consenting huff, and allowed the familiar warmth of her master to slip into her skin. Through Nymeria’s eyes, Arya could see the the edge of the farmlands that fed King’s Landing. It wouldn’t take long for the massive loping strides of the wolf to close the distance. She melded into Nymeria’s muscular frame, placing one paw in front of the other until she felt in sync with the canine body. Then she bolted into a hard run, tearing up the earth behind her.

.......

 

It was long into the night when the direwolf’s paws hit cobblestone. The streets were empty aside from a few weaving drunkards trying to find their way home after the taverns had closed their doors. Nymeria’s nostrils flared, and a hint of Braavosi salt carried on the wind. There! Two massive paws thudded on stone and and she started into a dash down towards the docks.

A lantern lit the deck of a single small ship, and a hooded figure was walking toward it, obscured by the evening mist. As the direwolf drew closer, Arya could pick up the rich scents of the Red Keep emanating from him: oiled leather, the Maester’s incense, and the familiar sweet of cookies from the upper kitchen that only Talia made. There was no doubt; he was the one. Feeling adrenaline rushing through Nymeria’s limbs, she hurled the wolf on to his back, throwing him to the ground. She pressed a heavy paw on his arm as he tried to reach for a blade, and sank her teeth into his neck as he tried to turn and look at her. Massive jaws that could snap the leg of a horse splintered his neck, and he managed only a pathetic gurgle before falling limp. Arya lifted Nymeria’s head to the sky and let out a long, deep howl - then she turned away, and darted towards the Red Keep.

 

.....

 

Arya Stark’s own body lay still on the landing, eyes closed and heartbeat slowed like a broken drum. With Nymeria, she tore through the royal gardens, snarling, leaping over drowsy guards and breaking through shrubs. When she reached the green grass under the Queen’s patio, she could smell the sickness that was wracking her own body above. Shifting back on her haunches, she launched the beast up, the wolf’s heavy body landing with a soft thud only a few feet away from Arya’s own.

Thank you girl. Be still, and stay with me a while if you can. I’ve missed you.

Slowly Arya peeled herself from the direwolf, making sure they were completely separated before falling back into her own weakened body. The pain of returning made her gasp and wince, and she curled in around herself. Worrying, Nymeria lay in front of her, the wolf’s eyes peering into her own.

“S’ok Nym...” Arya murmured, reaching her hand to rest over Nymeria’s paw.

Nymeria nuzzled Arya’s shoulder, then bumped her chest with her head, trying to move her.

“You want me to get up, then..” Arya sighed. “I think you’re gonna have to help me, though.” Mustering all of her strength, Arya sat up, wrapping her arms around the direwolf’s neck. Grimacing, she got up on one knee, then gave Nymeria a pat. Nymeria stood up, dragging Arya up to her feet with her. “Thanks girl,” the assassin whispered into coarse fur.

Leaning on her direwolf, Arya took shuffling steps back into the the Queen’s quarters. “Only one more thing we need to do now,” she told the wolf. “Stop and take a sniff. Then show me where Daenerys and Tyrion are hiding.”

Pausing, Nymeria snuffled at the table they had all been gathered around hours ago. Then she gave a quiet “Gruff!” and led Arya through the corridors of the Keep.

Chapter Text

AN: Yes, this is a chapter with a different POV. They’ll only happen once in a while, like flashback chapters, and I hope they add a bit of extra dimension as we move forward.

My readers and reviewers are still the best ever.

 

……

 

Queen Daenerys Targaryen, Breaker of Chains, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Mother of Dragons, and Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms sat on a wobbling chair that was missing an arm in a dank wine cellar. Her companions Tyrion and Missandei were with her, making the most of their own dreary corners while hoping the large spiders that were inevitably nested within the damp stone cracks and musty barrel casings would stay hidden away.

“You know your Grace,” Tyrion spoke quietly so as not to attract unwanted attention, “usually this room is a place of joy for me. It’s not so bad.”

Daenerys raised an eyebrow in the dark. “I can see that. I remember these shelves used to be full – now I see they are in desperate need of replenishing. Strange, how so many of the empty holes are only at the bottoms of the racks.”

Tyrion just grinned.

“Missandei,” Daenerys turned to her friend, “how long do you think we’ve been down here?”

“A few hours at most, your Grace,” the Summer Islander replied. “It is still too early to worry.”

If she were in any other company, she would have swiftly denied concern. But Missandei had been by her side so long she could often anticipate Daenerys’ thoughts to a level of precognition. Truth be told, Tyrion was also coming to understand her in a way that was unnerving as well. She would not lie to them. “What must I attend to tomorrow?” she asked instead.

“The Tyrells have an audience with you in the morning, to negotiate terms for the export of the next grain harvest from Highgarden to King’s Landing.”

Daenerys sighed. “And, of course, to not-so-subtly suggest to me that the price would be much lower if I married one of Mace Tyrell’s children and allied our houses.”

Missandei smiled. “Of course, your Grace. Though, I think after he offered you Margaery the last time, he may have run out of children.”

“Minds have become very open since you dissolved the Faith Militant, m’lady,” Tyrion cut in wryly. “He still has his already-wed son Garlan to bring before you.”

Daenerys rested her head in her hands and groaned. “Not that open, I would hope. Maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible, to have to stay in here a while.”

It had started almost immediately after she took the Iron Throne. Every noble house left standing with the exception of the Starks had made the journey to King’s Landing to bend the knee and swear fealty. They brought offerings, held feasts, and would inevitably introduce her to the most eligible member of their family line, transparently hoping to woo their way into her power. After having to use her name and body as a bargaining chip to protect her subjects and take back her birthright for so many years, the whole proposition repulsed her now. She was beyond it; there was not one thing any of them had that she needed anymore, and she was through with empty alliances. Had any of them realized she would not be able continue their legacy by conceiving a child, maybe they would not be so desperately trying to win a short term gain to begin with. Then again, the Tyrells had already gone so far as to offer her their daughter – so ambition could trump everything for those who wanted something badly enough.

The Starks were different, though, and she had to credit them that. They had not once come south trying to pander or cultivate favor. Lord Rickon and Lady Sansa had sworn their oaths after the Wight War, while she was still in the North. She knew that they had not done it out of any particular love for her at that time, but out of gratitude for saving what was left of their country and people with her soldiers and her dragons. The war had left the land there terribly ravaged; she had seen the northern dead heaped into frozen bloodied piles. The same dragonfire that had saved the realm had also scorched the earth and melted away a third of the Wall, leaving a gaping maw that the undead had clambered through for days before being finished off. The Night’s Watch had been decimated. Karhold had been left a ruinous heap. The Dreadfort had come down on everyone within it, wiping out what remained of the house of Bolton and leaving nothing but pierced, mangled flesh beneath sooty stones and charred timber. Winterfell had stood against the rotted tide, but barely. To this day it was still being rebuilt.

I wonder if they even know that Arya is still alive?

Heavy thumps on the wooden beams above them broke Daenerys from her reverie. Immediately she tensed, looking to Tyrion and Missandei, who both met her stare with widened eyes.

Thump. Thump. Thud. Thump. Thump. Thud.

There was no doubt, the strange steps were getting closer to the entrance. The three rose to their feet, reaching for empty bottles and any debris that could be used as a makeshift weapon.

The thunking stopped, and there was a scratching at the door. “Gruff!”

“It’s safe,” Arya called out, her voice hoarse. “Nymeria, to me.” The scratching at the door came to an end.

Daenerys closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh of relief. She allowed Tyrion the chivalry of opening the door and stepping out first, then followed him from the dank into the warm torchlight of the narrow passage. When her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw the muscular frame of a hulking beast standing with the assassin. Alarmed, she stepped back into Missandei, who let out a quiet gasp.

“This is my direwolf Nymeria, your Grace,” Arya said, her voice still coarse and raw. “She won’t harm any of you, unless you threaten me.”

Taking a breath to compose herself, Daenerys stepped forward to get a closer look at the wolf. She was nearly as tall as Arya herself, the top of her head reaching the killer’s chest. Her eyes glinted, reflecting the shifting dance of the torchflames surrounding them. There was dried blood on her muzzle, and her jaw opened slightly as if she had wished to speak and thought better of it.

The Queen thought she was beautiful.

She reached out, slowly, as she did with Drogon when she was unsure of his mind. “Hello, Nymeria,” she spoke softly. “I am Daenerys.”

Nymeria studied her, instinct weighing the woman reaching to her. To the direwolf, she was no more than any other man or woman, and as such would be judged no differently. She stared into Targaryen violet eyes, the same way her master had, searching her. Then, finally, she bowed her head and pressed it to Daenerys’ hand, allowing the Khaleesi to pet her.

“She seems to like you, your Grace.”

Her hand still entangled in the direwolf’s fur, Daenerys looked up at her assassin turned savior, and was taken aback. She looked like death warmed over, and more savage than her beast – her eyes were bloodshot, her skin the pale of the grave, and a thin trail of blood had dried from the edge of her mouth and down her neck. She was leaning against Nymeria, and from the look of it the wolf was bearing up under most of her weight. There was a rattling wet sound each time she took in a breath, and Daenerys felt a momentary panic wondering if she’d be able to take in any more.

As true a friend as ever, Missandei stepped in before she even had to say a word. “I’ll go wake Maester Tarly, your Grace.” Not waiting for a response, she ran down the corridor toward the Rookery tower.

“Not much point,” Arya murmured. “This isn’t something a Maester can help with… I’ll be fine.”

“Good killer, what has happened to you?” Tyrion asked, swallowing his fear and stepping towards Nymeria and Arya. The direwolf bristled as he drew near, sniffing at him as she considered him much as she did the Queen only a moment ago.

Coughing into Nymeria’s neck, Arya shook her head and looked over at the dwarf, dismissing his question. “I’m sorry for earlier, Tyrion. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in my own skin.” She turned and set her sights back to Daenerys. “I’ll need my weapons back soon, your Grace,” she rasped. “I’m not sure where your guards took them.”

Arya’s eyes were heavy lidded, and Daenerys knew she wouldn’t be able to keep on her feet long. She stepped in beside the Faceless Man, wrapping Arya’s free arm around her own shoulders. “Come, Nymeria… help me get her to the guest wing.”

 

…….

 

Arya had been wrong, Maester Tarly was able to help to some degree – with milk of the poppy. She slept in a large pillared bed, unmoving except for the shallow rise and fall of her chest. Nymeria lay beside her, watching. Guarding.

Samwell had known Daenerys’ Faceless Man was a Stark immediately, the same way she herself had seen it earlier; the ghost of his friend etched on Arya’s true face. The direwolf only confirmed what he already knew, and he had lit up like a child the moment that he saw Nymeria. She in turn must have sensed her littermate’s connection with the big man, as she warmed to him immediately.

“I don’t know how she’s still alive,” the heavyset Maester said, shaking his head in bewilderment. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“What was it?” Daenerys asked, seating herself on the edge of the bed.

“From what she managed to tell me, it was a very rare poison called The Sweet Farewell.” Sam rubbed his chin, bringing the faded lettering of his book to mind. “It’s colorless, odorless. Absorbed through the skin. Extremely expensive.”

“I remember her saying ‘it wasn’t the wine, it was the glass.’”

“That would fit,” Samwell nodded. “She’d only need to hold a glass with the Sweet Farewell on it. Her outward symptoms match the poison’s effects. Except for the fact that, by all the old gods and the new, she should be dead.”

“Forgive my caution, your Grace.”

“It was my goblet she took,” Daenerys whispered, looking over at Arya’s still form.

“Oh,” realization dawned on the Maester, and he frowned. “It.. The Sweet Farewell would be a perfect choice, to assassinate royalty.”

“Can she survive this?” She didn’t turn back to look at him, keeping her gaze focused on Arya.

“In any other case I would say no. But she’s made it this long and never should have.” He fingered the lead link of his Maester’s chain, thoughtful. “Unless she’s been intentionally exposed to it before.”

“What do you mean..?”

“Nothing I’m sure of yet, your Grace. But gods willing, I will find out.” He bowed. “I need to get a few things from my room, if I may. It won’t take long.”

Daenerys nodded absently. “Of course. Get what you need, I’ll wait here.”

Morning light started to break through the window, and Daenerys felt her shoulders sag. She was exhausted, her thoughts sluggish and scattered. The events of the evening had taken a toll, and for a moment she found herself wanting to just lay down right there beside the wary direwolf and her master, and sleep the day away. The wolves would keep me safe, she mused. If she were free to be Daenerys the girl, she would do just that, and to hell with anything else. But as the Targaryen Queen, it was a luxury she could not allow herself. The day would demand, and the realm would keep moving.

I may have killed you, had it not been for Tyrion. I was going to kill you. Her eyes softened and she reached over to rest her hand over Arya’s. And now you are the only reason I am still alive today.

“Kirimvose,” she whispered to the sleeping killer.

 

……..

*Kirimvose is ‘thank you’ in High Valyrian.

Chapter Text

For too long, Arya drifted in and out of consciousness.

Sometimes she’d jolt, as if struck by lightning, and find that she couldn’t move; her eyes were too heavy to open. The milk of the poppy dulled her pain, but it also kept her outside of herself even when she fought to rise. She could feel Nymeria worry against her when that happened, letting out a low whine and placing a paw on her chest, so eventually she unclenched the fists of her mind and gave in, resting in the white, well-tempered seas.

Occasionally she’d hear voices; snatches of conversation patching together like a quilt.

“..she’s a warg. I saw her brother Jon do it once before, too, at the Wall..”

“...breathing is steadier…”

“On purpose… would have had to do it over and over…”

“So many scars…”

Every so often she felt a hand on her own, warm. Warmer than the fever that was burning through her body.

“It’s late, your Grace…”

And then she would dream.

In her dreams, she would see the Many-Faced God turning toward her, black-hooded with eyes of flame and the fangs of a wolf. “She has been promised to me. And now you are promised to me.” Then she would fall, through darkness, reaching for her sword and finding none. She’d spin in the air, catching glimpses of the acolyte robes of her brethren, blood dripping from their sleeves and hems as skeletal arms reached for her. She’d rail at them, kicking bones apart and splintering them under her fists. She fell further, into the Fountain of Death, holding her breath as she sunk like a stone, waiting to hit the bottom. She could see cups being filled with water above, and lifeless bodies toppled over the ledge. Her lungs burned, and she was so far down the surface became nothing more than a pinprick of light she would never be able to reach. Her foot touched the bottom, and it cracked beneath her, water cascading and spilling her into the void below.

She hit ground with a heavy thud, still gasping for air. Stars in the night sky shone above her, and snowflakes fell to her cheeks, melting against them. She was cradled in a snowdrift, the tundra surrounding her painfully familiar. No, not here. Not this. She craned her neck back, and saw the teared Weirwood tree a few feet behind her. Her heart clenched painfully as she realized she was laying on Jon Snow’s grave.

“I tried, Jon,” she whispered up to the night sky of dreams. “I nearly killed myself trying to make it to you.”

There was a crunch of snow beside her head, and a black clad figure got down on one knee beside her. “I know,” he said, voice rich and warm. “I saw you.”

Bolting up, Arya turned and saw a pale reflection of her brother in his Night’s Watch blacks. “Jon..?” she whispered, eyes widened in disbelief.

He nodded. “It’s been a long time, Arya.” He broke into his sad smile.

“I killed them Jon,” she whispered roughly, feeling a lump form in her throat. “Everyone who wronged our family, all of them are gone now.” Against her will, she felt her voice start to crack. “But I didn’t make it in time to save you. I saw you on the battlefield – I ran, Jon, I ran faster than I’d ever thought I could run, and I was still too far away. I saw you fall,” her breath hitched, “and then I saw you stand again, with those horrible blue eyes. I had no choice, Jon.. I had no..” she clamped her jaw and ground her teeth, willing herself steady.

“It wasn’t your fault,” he reached, placing a hand on her shoulder that she couldn’t feel. “You have to know that. I’m so proud of you, Arya,” his eyes shone.

Arya shook her head. “Jon, you don’t know what I’ve become… the things that I’ve done…”

“But I do,” he interrupted her. “I can see everything, here.”

Her brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

Another pair of boots marred the snow, and a beautiful woman with long, flaming red hair knelt down beside Jon. “Don’t listen to a word he says,” she said, a playful glint in her eyes. “He knows nothing.”

Suddenly Arya felt her body lighten, and she could feel herself flying to the brink of consciousness. No! Not yet! “Jon!” she called out, trying desperately to hang on.

“Go back,” she heard Jon call out to her, his voice fading. “She needs you. And soon you’ll come to need her just as much.”

…..

She finally awoke, heart pounding, staring at the ceiling of the Keep. Nymeria licked her face and wagged her tail hard enough to shake the entire bed beneath them. “Nym,” she whispered, reaching up to wrap her arms around the direwolf. “It’s ok girl,” she hugged her tight, reassuring.

Arya sat up and looked around the suite, orienting herself. She could barely remember making it to the room – was that really Daenerys herself under my arm? – and needed to get her bearings. How long had she been asleep? It couldn’t have been that long. She saw a glass of water on the bedside table, along with a few fresh cloths and small bottles of colorful tonics. There was a silver dish in the corner of the room that had a few bones sticking out of it, and she breathed a sigh of relief – Nymeria had been well-fed, at least.

She took a deep breath, the first proper one since she’d collapsed, and grimaced. The sweat of days in fever had taken their toll. “Seven hells, Nym,” she muttered out loud “I need to find a bath. I bloody stink.” Ever helpful in agreement, Nymeria reached a paw over to the nightstand and knocked the glass of water that had been sitting there over on top of Arya, dousing her and the bedsheets. The assassin sighed and let her head drop back down on the pillow.

“Finally!” Tyrion exclaimed from the doorway. “You had us all worried, good killer!”

“Dwarf,” a grin tugged at the corner of Arya’s mouth. “Just in time. How long have I been laying here? Nym was kindly confirming to me that I need to find a bath. Also, I need to go back to the stable and get the rest of my clothes. And where are my weapons? I told the Queen I needed them back-”

Tyrion held up a hand, quieting her. “First thing’s first. I need to send word to Missandei that you’re awake; it’s been two days. Then, we need to let Maester Tarly look you over. I already had your belongings retrieved from the stablehouse, and they’re waiting in your new room. I did send that letter to the boy’s mother as well, before you ask. As for your weapons, they’re being held in the Armoury, which you will now have full access to.”

Full access to the armoury?”

“Yes, by order of the Queen. Once you are cleaned up, I will take you there. You are to be outfitted with anything you require, as a member of her royal service.”

“Like one of her sellswords?”

“No,” Tyrion shook his head. “Not like a sellsword.” He turned and stepped out into the hallway. “Maester Tarly will be here shortly. I’m going to find Missandei, and then we’ll discuss everything further.”

“Alright,” Arya nodded, pulling herself up to sit on the edge of the bed. “And Tyrion?”

“Yes, good killer?”

“Thank you again.”

He gave her a quick salute. “I’m sure you’ll repay me someday, either by keeping me alive or winning me some more excellent vintage wine.”

……

In truth she was still woozy, and there was a slight tremor in her hands, but she had hid it well from the Maester. He had questions – too many questions, and she chose to selectively answer only a few to appease him. He said he had been Jon’s friend on the Wall, and Nymeria seemed to quite like him, so she bequeathed him with far more patience than she actually felt. She promised she would return to speak with him again soon and answer more of his questions in the coming days, once she was back in full health.

Tyrion returned shortly after he’d left, and informed her that they were to have dinner with the Queen that evening. He led her to a hot drawn bath, and a servant brought her a pair of black britches and a charcoal gray tunic to change into after she was done. Once she had cleaned up (with Nymeria giving her an approving sniff), a young Island-skinned woman came in with a set of onyx combs and a pair of silver shears to trim her hair. Arya felt awkward throughout all of this; she was quite capable of drawing her own bath and fetching her own things. But she was still weak, and the energy she did have was best spent strategizing to keep Daenerys from harm. She let it go, this time.

“Well,” Tyrion nodded in approval once she was cleaned and groomed. “Seems that stableboy I first met in the black cell has been washed clean away.”

Arya gave a low chuckle. “While his small, bloodstained hands live on.”

“And now to retrieve your weapons, so those vicious little hands remain bloody a while longer.”

Tyrion led her to the bottom of the keep, opposite the dungeons, to the Targaryen forge. The loud clanging of hammers on steel echoed through the chamber. The air was hot, stifling her winter blood, and she felt sluggish after just a few moments in the dirty heat. “Bear!” Tyrion called out to the back of a broad shouldered man.

The smith turned, his massive hand stifling a flame that broke out on his rolled-up sleeve. “Halfman,” he smiled, a row of white teeth gleaming under a grizzled black beard. “What can I get for ye? Dull yer axe again?”

“No, not since the last time,” the dwarf waved his hand, clearly wanting to avoid discussing ‘last time’ any further. “We need those Braavosi blades that were confiscated about a week ago. And,” he pushed Arya forward. “We need some regimental armor for this one here.”

Bear gave Arya an appraising look. “Yer a bit small, aren’t you lad? I don’t think I have any plate that would fit you straight off, I’d need to hammer it down some.”

Arya shook her head. “No platemail. It only slows me down.”

Bear nodded. “Hard leather, then. Most pit fighters prefer it for the exact same reason.” He looked past her over to Tyrion. “Mercenary grade?”

Tyrion shook his head. “No. The best you have. By order of the Queen.”

Bear raised his eyebrows as he looked down at Arya. “Seems you have friends in high places, lad.” He tilted his head toward Tyrion. “Best we’ve got would be the leather dragonplate that Aegon’s rangers used to wear. Twice as thick as standard issue, but just as light. Studded with Valyrian steel.”

“That’ll do it.” He turned to Arya, grinning playfully. “Come, boy. Let’s get you suited up.”

……

The black leather was strong, and Bear sheared away the worn edges of it until it fit Arya like a second skin. A matching black-lined-red cape was draped over her shoulders, held at the left with a silver Targaryen dragon clasp. Would you be ashamed of me, father, wearing the emblem of a house that isn’t ours, no matter how small? She was given a set of rangers gloves to match, double-stitched and gently notched at the knuckles so as to easily cradle an arrow shaft. Her shortsword and Braavosi blade hung from her hip, and her knives were securely strapped against her skin again, a comfort she had missed. Valar Morghulis, she whispered in prayer to herself. Come for her again, if you dare. I am ready.

She paced in front of the Queen’s terrace, wary. It had been two days since she had killed the Faceless Man with Nymeria, and by all accounts there had been no further threats while she’d been incapacitated. It was possible they had only sent the two she had already dispatched, buying both her and Daenerys some time for word to reach Braavos. The Faceless Men had eyes and ears with Braavosi traders throughout Westeros, and likely a raven had already been loosed– but even so, there was only so fast they could fly.

The Queen, accompanied by Missandei, entered the royal quarters before she could finish calculating how much time it would take for another ship to reach King’s Landing. “Your Grace,” Tyrion set down his mug of wine and gave a bow, “our good killer has joined us tonight, as you requested.”

Arya turned to face the Queen, stepping into a bow. “Your Grace,” she said.

Daenerys stepped toward her, and only the most observant would have noticed the slight catch of breath and hesitation in her step. She took the assassin in, eyes softening in a way Arya had never seen before. “You look well,” she spoke softly. “And the new uniform suits you.”

“She cuts a very dashing figure in it, your Grace,” Missandei gave a slight, knowing smile.

Arya looked down, missing the entire exchange. “Forgive me if I worried you, your Grace,” she said. “It was not what I wanted.”

Daenerys was quiet a moment, and then reached over, resting her hand on Arya’s cheek. “Thank you, Arya Stark. For saving my life, and all you risked to do so.”

Arya felt her neck and ears flush. “I…” steel gray eyes met violet, holding. “It was nothing, your Grace.”

“Daenerys. When we are here, away from court, please call me Daenerys.”

Arya nodded slowly, feeling suddenly as if she was melting into the tiny Queen’s hand. “Daenerys.”

Behind them, Tyrion and Missandei exchanged a brief look.

The sound of footfalls at the entrance broke the quiet spell of the room, as servants started to carry in and set dinner. Daenerys’ hand fell from Arya’s cheek, and the assassin instinctively moved to step in between them and the Queen, senses heightened as she carefully watched each servant, searching them out for any sign of danger. Even after they’d left she scanned the room, until she was satisfied that nothing was amiss. “Forgive my caution, your- Daenerys,” she said finally, a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“I will forgive you,” the Queen said, “on one condition.”

“Oh? And what is that?”

“That you will agree to become my Queensguard.”

Chapter Text

AN: We’re set with POVs again – Dany and ..another. ‘Cause the muse threatened to deny me my gummy bears if I did not obey. For those who are curious, I am both an ASOIAF reader and GoT watcher. Which means that I’m a greedy bastard who has decided to play with GRRMs ENTIRE Westeros toybox and screw it up as I see fit.

And how I love my readers who indulge the happy messes I make. =D

 

…..

 

“Daenerys. When I was young, all I ever wanted was to be a knight. And to be your knight; your Queensguard… that would be beyond anything I ever could have dreamed of when I was swinging my brother’s sword in Winterfell. But if I take your offer – it will be at the cost of your safety. If I escort you everywhere, openly, recognized and known, I will be making it easier for them to kill us both. I can’t be a thing of honor, your Grace. It’s too late for that now.”

The Targaryen Queen marched with Missandei to the guest quarters, the wolf-girl’s words echoing in her mind. She knew that Arya was right; knew that she was placing her safety above all else. So why was it that she wanted to reach out and slap the Stark?

“This is the room, your Grace,” Missandei placed a light hand on Daenerys’ arm. “It is the only one with no window.”

“Oh,” Daenerys murmured absently. “Thank you.”

She opened the door to a small, clean room, already lit by torch and candle. Missandei was right, there was no window anywhere.

“I won’t lie to you, Daenerys. Three times. It was three times I nearly killed you, and one of them was in that very room. You rest too easy there; the crossbreeze leaves you open. And your Unsullied are too slow.”

“I’ll bring some of the Maester’s tea, your Grace. It will help you sleep.”

Daenerys nodded as Missandei stepped out.

The Queen strode over to the small hearth at the center of the room, kneeling down in front of it. She watched the flames roil and flicker, tilting toward her as if reaching. She held her hands out over them, slowly lowering them until the caged blaze engulfed them. I am the blood of the dragon. And they will all die screaming.

She could kill them all. Call up her army, fill her fleet, and sail right to Braavos. With her numbers, the entire city would be rubble within days, at most, including that cursed house of the dead. Or she could wait until Drogon next returned, and go mounted on him alone as her ancestors had done when they needed to mete out judgement. Dragon’s fire would melt their stones, cook their fields, and boil their port. Most would die, and those who did not would live to speak of the wrath of the great Targaryen Queen, Mother of Dragons. Their shaking whispers and scarred flesh would pass through other cities, continents, stamping out the imaginings of treason before they could ever be entertained.

To destroy an entire city for the threat of but a few – that is my father. That is the mad king; that is my dead brother who was no dragon. That is the taint that runs in my blood.

She felt the heat of the flames start to soften the gold of her mother’s ring around her finger, and reluctantly pulled her hands back. Power, absolute power, was a weight that could barely be borne sometimes. Years ago, she had naively thought her battles over when she won back her Kingdom, her birthright. Then, after that, she believed that her ending of the Wight War, through the power of her dragons, would settle the remaining disquiet of her rule amongst those who still carried feuds in their hearts. For the most part, it had. But not entirely.

There was a quiet shuffle that broke into her thoughts as Nymeria butted the door open, tilting her head and looking over at the Queen.

“See that there, your Grace? When Nymeria’s eyes change like that, that’s when Arya’s shifted into her. She’s probably not able to control it now, being so deep asleep and with the wolf so close.”

Daenerys could see no steel in the direwolf’s eyes this time, though she’d kept the Maester’s words in mind. “Has she sent you to stand guard, then?” she asked the beast.

Sensing an invitation, Nymeria walked over and sat down beside Daenerys, looking into the fire that had melded to the Queen’s hands only moments ago. Her bond with Arya gave her a particular sensitivity to the energy and temperaments of people, and she could feel the frustration and melancholy that surrounded this one. This one had helped her master when she was in the dark sleep; had brought her fresh meat after her kill. She burned hotter than most and had a strange scent to her, the char of the firebreathers and an unfamiliar spice similar to the one with the large hair. She was an odd, tentative addition to her pack – but not an unwelcome one. She sat in silent support, now.

They were still like that, lady and beast, sitting in companionable silence in front of the fire when Missandei returned with Daenerys’ tea. She poured it into an elegant cup and took the first drink, knowing that it came from safe hands but wanting to set her friend’s troubled mind at ease. “Here, Khaleesi,” she said as she held the cup in offering.

“Thank you Missandei,” she spoke quietly before taking a drink. “Where is Arya now?”

“Out scaling the tower, your Grace. She was concerned about the rooftop of the Royal Keep, above the archer posts. She said she wouldn’t be long.”

“Scaling the tower?” Daenerys repeated, raising an eyebrow. “So my repenting killer can fly, as well?”

“No, your Grace. She had leather bands strapped to her hands and feet, with some kind of steel grips. They were in the box Tyrion had brought in from the stable.”

Daenerys took another long drink of her tea, suddenly wishing it was something a little stronger. “That’ll be all for tonight Missandei. Please, get yourself some rest. If I am this tired, I can only imagine how you feel.”

“Your Grace,” the Summer Islander bowed her head respectfully and started toward the door. Just before stepping out, she turned to the Queen. “You know,” she started, “for what it’s worth, I could see that she very much wanted to accept. It was there in her eyes.”

“Of course. Goodnight, Missandei.”

When Daenerys finally fell asleep, she dreamed about the only place she had ever considered home during her childhood, in Braavos. She was at the house with the red door again, and when she looked she could see the lemon tree that grew outside her window. A steel-eyed wolf lay beneath it.

 

………

 

In the House of Black and White-

A man sat in a hidden room beyond the Hall of Faces. The parchment that the raven had brought lay crumpled on a nicked wooden table, beside a half-empty glass of pale green Volantene liquor. It had been a long time since he’d indulged, the import was costly and its numbing a danger, but it was a time for such things.

A girl had not died trying to obey the Many-Faced God. Instead, she had denied him his claim and sent him two lives who were still in his service. Only death could pay for life, and a girl knew that.

He had chosen her, so many years ago. He had slendered his form and wore a different face back then; but remained Braavosi. He had only meant to stay a short while, teaching the Northern Lord’s daughter the start of the water dance while waiting to be summoned back to Braavos with word that there were no more Westerosi to be given the Gift. He had not been expecting to find such an eager disciple in the wolf girl; had not expected the cruelty of the following years to unknowingly shape her into his successor.

A girl was safely away when the Kingsguard attacked, so she could not possibly see the dart that had made his bones heavy as stone and his muscles frail. A man left him there, paralyzed amongst his disarmed soldiers and changed his visage, escaping the Keep. He had wandered King’s Landing, looking a begger and hearing every word of gossip chattered in the filthy streets. It was guidance of the Many-Faced God that led him to be taken to the black cells; brought him the wandering crow that would deliver both him and his protégé out of the city.

It was the Many-Faced God that fated her to open the cage, divining his great will that a man continue in service, and marking her as his heir.

She had always been difficult. The same fate that had moulded her into the one who should take his place had also hardened her, etched vengeance in her heart. There were lives she stole, a list of prayers she never relinquished, even as she called herself No One. She had even gone so far as to leave them when the Wight War broke out, taking every coin she had earned to smuggle herself out of the locked-down port to the north of Westeros. A man knew it was because Arya Stark had a bastard brother there, but he had told the order it was the will of the Many-Faced God that she had gone. The wights mocked his finality; he demanded retribution. Despite this, they had still called for her death. Too many times she broke their precepts and disobeyed their commandments. A man had fought for her and swayed them, as he did time and time again. She had been blinded, deafened, scarred, and flayed with a whip for her crimes through the years, but it was always less than what was asked.

There would be no swaying them, this time.

The other, a true no one, she had always resented a girl. Had always been there to help hold her when the lash struck, or to pour the vial when the alchemists conditioned her. That no one, she wanted to be chosen – she coveted what a girl was freely given.

He could not yet bring his own hands to undo what he had created. A man would give that no one her chance.

It was an exceptional thing, to craft a living face. A gift that the Many-Faced God gave only to the head of the House of Black and White. He gently held the face of a girl, perfected down to each tiny scar. A girl was close to the Dragon Queen now; had betrayed them for her.

An envious no one would sail to Westeros, and become a girl she had always wished to be.

Chapter Text

AN: This chapter turned out to be a little longer than most, but that’s an anomaly – don’t get too used to it ;)

Much love to my readers, and even more love to my brave reviewers.

Long live the Stargaryen revolution!

 

…….

 

She became known only as ‘Wolf’, after the Queen had referred to her as such once in court. Clad as a Targaryen Ranger, the stranger was seen throughout the Keep, always near the Queen. She’d lean against a shadowed pillar, arms crossed, watching as Daenerys stepped in to settle petty noble disputes and grievances from the Iron Throne. When the Queen met with her generals to receive news from the royal strongholds scattered across the continent, her shadow was there with her, always within an arm’s reach. Lands were distributed, peaces were brokered, penalties were administered, trades were negotiated – all under the watchful gaze of a steel-eyed shadow.

She never spoke a word. As she had learned months ago as Cade, there was really no need when gossip would always speak for you anyways. Some said she was an enforcer from the Iron Bank, gently keeping the Queen captive until debts charged to the Throne by its past monarchs were paid. Others said she was a bastard half-Targaryen the Queen had brought from across the sea to mentor, in case of her own untimely death before she could produce an heir. A few decided that her silence indicated she was a Dragonspeaker, one of the few living members of a lost tribe hidden under the ruins of Old Valyria, come to translate the will of the fiery beasts to their tiny mother. There were also very guarded, quiet whispers amongst the more bold of the highborn ladies that said she was the Queen’s new lover; that they were infatuated and had married in secret to hide the lusty scandal along with her low birth.

It was better that they whisper, than know the truth.

If murmurs, sidelong glances and a continual threat on her life vexed Daenerys, she was as gifted as a Faceless Man when it came to hiding it from others. Only the Wolf could see the subtle signs of stress wearing on the Dragon Queen – a tiny furrow to her brow a little earlier in the day, a small crinkle at the corner of her eye widening, a slight slouch to her shoulders as she sat at the council table. As the councillors started to make their way out of the chamber when the latest meeting had adjourned, Arya took Missandei aside.

“Missandei,” she said quietly, out of earshot of anyone else. “I’m worried about the strain everything has been putting on the Queen. I know you can see it as well as I.”

Missandei nodded in agreement, keeping her voice hushed. “She’s bearing up well, all things considered. The Queen is strong.” She paused before continuing, “but yes, it is taking a toll.”

“Is there anything that absolutely requires her presence here for the remainder of the day, or could Tyrion fill in?”

“I’m sure that he could, but why do you ask?”

“I have an idea. But I’ll need your help.”

 

……..

“Your Grace,” Missandei gave a slight bow. “Please, I need you to come with me, right away.” She reached for Daenerys’ hand and started to lead her through the Keep.

“Missandei, what has happened?” Daenerys looked around, feeling an edge of panic when she did not see the assassin anywhere. “Have they come, then? Where is Arya?”

“Arya and Nymeria are safe, your Grace,” Missandei responded cryptically. “We’re going to them now.”

Daenerys let out a deep breath, following her friend. “You need to tell me what is going on, Missandei. Has anyone been hurt?”

“Everything is alright, your Grace. Please, just come and you’ll see.”

Puzzled, Daenerys moved in sync with the Summer Islander, down the stairwell towards the courtyard. Missandei stopped abruptly, just before the iron doors that led outside. “One more thing,” she said quietly as she pulled a woolen cloak down off of an iron hook. “Here, put this on,” she started to wrap it around her liege, pulling the dark hood over Daenerys’ hair. “There we go..” she gently tucked a few stray strands in the heavy fabric as the Queen looked at her, questioning. “Now come,” she pushed open the heavy door that led outside.

There in the courtyard was Arya and Nymeria, along with two fresh horses. Missandei led a hooded Daenerys over to them, and once they were near Arya bowed respectfully. “Your Grace,” she said with a quiet calm, “for the sake of your security, it’s very important that you come with us now.” She took Daenerys’ hand and helped her up on to a strong white mare, then mounted a chestnut of Northern breed. She looked over at Missandei and gave a slight grin, and a silent word of thanks.

“Nymeria,” Arya said with gentle authority, “lead us.” The direwolf, more than happy to be outside for a while, stretched her muscles then shook the indoors off much like a dog would shake off stagnant water. She started into a rhythmic lope, leading them from the courtyard towards the stables, then through the pastures beyond.

The Queen sidled up next to Arya, suspicious, the reigns gripped firmly in her hands. “Wolf, this had better be important. I am not dressed for riding!”

Arya just smirked. “You were a Khaleesi long before you were a Queen, Daenerys. I’m sure you’ll manage.”

 

……

 

They followed Nymeria outside of the boundaries of King’s Landing, and up along the coast. They didn’t speak much, and Arya knew it was Daenerys’ sense of responsibility that was stilling her tongue more than genuine upset at the ruse. After being on horse for just a few minutes, the tension that had held her entire body rigid was visibly melting away, and she was at home again, riding with graceful ease as she must have years ago with her Khalasar. “Forgive my caution, your Grace,” Arya broke silence as an old lighthouse came into view. Gods keep you Cade, and may you continue resting in peace. “But, you see…” Arya skipped a beat before finishing, “Nymeria told me she was quite concerned about you.”

“Oh she did?” Daenerys raised her eyebrow, looking sideways at Arya. “And why was she so concerned?”

“It’s been a long time since you got out. She thought you needed some time to feel the wind on your face and remember who you are.”

A smile curved Daenerys’ lips. “I hadn’t forgotten, you know.”

“Ah,” Arya started to slow her horse, dismounting like a military northman and tying it up to a wrought-iron horsepost a few yards away from the lighthouse. “Not entirely, no.” Out of stableboy habit, she crossed back over to the Queen, taking her reigns and leading the white mare to the same horsepost before tying it up as well. “But, maybe sometimes the reasons you want to stay alive can get buried underneath all of the reasons that other people need you to.”

“I see.” Daenerys looked over at the Direwolf, who was scouting the perimeter. “Seems that I may need to thank Nymeria, later. For being so unexpectedly thoughtful.”

“Or not,” a grin tugged at Arya’s lips. “Don’t want it to go to her head. She already thinks she’s smarter than everybody else.”

Arya whistled, and Nymeria returned from the rocky-cliffed shoreline. “Wait with Daenerys, girl,” she ruffed the soft fur on top of the wolf’s head. “I’ll be right back,” she looked over at the Queen, then started toward the lighthouse.

Hopefully Missandei came through. I know I didn’t give her much time. When Arya reached the door, the rusted iron lock was open, and she pushed through easily. There, on the dusty wooden table, was the full basket she’d requested, along with a longbow and a quiver of Bodkin arrows. A training dummy stood off to the side, its straw arms spread and painted markers faded. She strung the bow and quiver across her shoulders, and hefted the dummy under one arm. She gripped the handles of the basket with her free hand, and made her way back out through the grass to the Queen.

“What is all of this?” Daenerys looked at the Ranger-turned-packmule and gave a surprised laugh.

“This,” Arya set down the basket, “is me giving you a little bit of peace.” She hauled the archery dummy to the jagged shoreline that Nymeria had been scouting at earlier, cutting a base into the hard earth to set it in. Once she was satisfied it was secure, she made her way back to Daenerys, pulling the longbow from her shoulder. “Have you ever shot a bow, m’lady?”

Daenerys shook her head. “No, I have my archers for that.”

“And during a time of war, they will serve you well. But you can do as much as they can, and you may find it to your liking. There is a calm that slows your heart and steadies your mind when you focus on a target. The control of being hunter, rather than hunted.” She guided Daenerys to stand in line with the target, a small and clownish scarecrow from such a distance. Arya turned to look over her shoulder across the clear wide plains, and found the only sign of life for miles was the slow turn of a rickety woodmill. Appeased with the lack of any visible danger, she gently pulled back Daenerys’ hood and loosed her cloak, letting it fall behind her as her telltale Targaryen locks spilled out over her shoulders. “Let me show you.”

The assassin stood beside the Queen and lifted the bow, settling her feet shoulder-width apart. She nocked the arrow, finding the shaft slid easily into the worn notch of her glove, and lifted her arm, matching the feathered bolt up to her line of sight. Her elbow pulled back, drawing to the corner of her mouth, and she let out a steady breath, releasing. The arrow shot across the grassland, hitting the spindly target in the eye. She tilted her head to Daenerys. “Now I’m going to teach you how to do it.”

Arya unclasped the black leather vambrace from her forearm, and set it on Daenerys, tightening it a little to accommodate her smaller size. “This is so the string doesn’t sting or bruise you after you let the arrow fly.”

“I see,” the Targaryen said with a hint of worry. “Is this something you learned when you were at the House of Black and White?” The fact Arya had chosen to shoot the straw mark dead in the eye was not lost on her.

“No,” Arya shook her head, pressing a hand to the small of Daenerys’ back to ease her into an archer’s stance. “I learned this from my brother,” she said softly, “back in Winterfell.” It was still strange to her, to remember pieces of her life and to speak honesty.

“Oh...” Daenerys was quiet after that, as if sensing the vulnerability of memory. “You were lucky, to have a brother so kind.”

Arya guided Daenery’s hands into a firm grip around the bow, then coaxed her fingers around the arrow until it was properly nocked. “You’ve never said much about Viserys, your Grace. But I have heard a few things, from the Dothraki who rode with you and Khal Drogo years ago.” She steadied the bow as Daenerys lifted it, and shifted the Queen’s elbow up so she could feel the proper angle for a draw. “And if it was him the Many-Faced God called for,” her voice dropped to a whisper as Daenerys pulled the string taut, “I would have killed him without hesitation.” Daenerys shifted ever so slightly against the assassin in quiet surprise at her claim, and released the arrow.

It flew, arcing high and landing in the grass near the trainer’s foot.

“Well,” Arya pulled another bodkin from the quiver. “That was actually better than the first shot I ever took. Let’s try again.” Once more she guided Daenerys as the Targaryen corrected her grip on the bow and nocked her arrow. She barely had to steady the bow when the Queen lifted it this time; Daenerys was a quick study. “Keep both eyes open, your Grace,” she spoke gently, “at first, you’ll feel an instinct to close one eye, thinking it clears your sightline. That’s just an illusion. With both eyes open, you’ll see twice as well.”

“As you say,” Daenerys shook her head a little, opening her other eye, then started to draw. Arya lifted her elbow with a calloused fingertip, perfecting her arch. She took a slow, steady breath, as she’d seen Arya do earlier, and released.

The arrow sailed through the afternoon sky more surely this time, cutting into the trainer’s stuffed leg, just above the knee.

Arya gave a whistle as she saw Daenerys break into a startled smile. “By the time we go back to the Keep, I think you’ll be ready to hunt dinner for us, m’lady.”

Daenerys gave her a playful shove. “Don’t tease,” she motioned over towards the target, breaking into a giggle. “I was aiming for his head!”

“Well, no matter,” Arya grinned wickedly. “If that had been Tyrion, you would have hit your mark spot on.”

“Poor Tyrion!” The giggle grew into a full gale of laughter. “By the gods you are cruel, do you know that Arya Stark?” There was no sting to the Queen’s words as she looked up at the killer, violet eyes warm with amusement.

“There are worse things I have been, your Grace,” her eyes softened, her grin turning lopsided. “Cruel is a step up for me, some would say.”

“Arya,” Daenerys started, sensing an opportunity in the lighthearted mood. “I want to ask you something.”

Feeling herself reflexively tense inside, Arya reached for another Bodkin. “I’ll make you a deal,” she held the arrow out to Daenerys. “Shoot a few more of these. If you can land one in that target’s head, I will answer any question you ask of me.”

Daenerys raised her eyebrow. “I am the Queen you know. I could just order you to answer me.”

“It’s true, you could. And I would be obliged to fulfill my oath of allegiance and answer you. But,” she held up a gloved hand, “if you did that, you’d have no guarantee that I’d be answering you honestly.”

“You would lie to your Queen?”

“Would my Queen try to coerce me?”

A battle of wills played between them as the mood shifted, subtle as a breeze. Violet eyes held steel gray as they had so many times before, and for an instant Arya could see a flicker of the Targaryen house rage and power behind them; saw herself reflected in their deep, inky pools. If the Queen felt the need to strike, she would allow it - but once, and once only.

Dragon saw the devoted calm of Wolf, and the storm in Daenerys’ eyes subsided. “Alright then. I will play your game. However,” she took the arrow from Arya, “If I aim true, you will not answer me one question. You will answer me three, without delay or guile.”

Arya weighed the skewed proposal, considering. “Agreed,” she said finally, “so long as you hit your mark by the time I’ve finished unpacking lunch.”

Her jaw pushing out a little, stubborn, Daenerys nodded. “We are pledged, then.”

“We are.” Arya pulled the quiver from her back, and set it down on the ground beside the Queen. “Your ammunition,” she gave a small salute. “And I wish you good fortune.” Unconcerned at the odds of Daenerys’ success, Arya returned to Nymeria, who appeared to be intensely preoccupied with the well being of the basket Arya had set down earlier.

“I know girl, you’ve been waiting long enough.” Arya kneeled down and opened the basket, tugging out a neatly folded blanket from the top. She unfurled it, and settled it over a warm patch of green. Then she reached in and pulled out a considerately wrapped bone, hefty and thick, laced with dripping meat. Arya tossed away the waxy encasing, and set it down in front of Nymeria. The direwolf let out a pleased ‘Gruff!’ and set to work on it, much the way a shameless, overgrown puppy would.

Arya emptied out the rest of the basket, laying the delectables out on the small silver platters Missandei had stacked below Nymeria’s snack. The woman was incredibly resourceful, sparing no effort to pack anything that may please her liege: small clusters of juicy ripe fruits; nutbread so fresh that moist steam still clung to the weave enfolded around it; delicate blocks of at least a dozen different types of cheese; thick slices of rich game dotted with aromatic spices; tiny sweetcakes of chocolate and mint. There was even a bottle of Dornish wine, which – there was no doubt – Tyrion had managed to smuggle in at the last minute. She was just about to remove the stopper, when soft footsteps came up beside her.

“It seems, my dear Wolf,” Daenerys started with smug satisfaction, “that I have, in fact, won our little wager.”

“What, now?” Arya stood up and turned around with a start. There in the distance, the tip of an arrow hung, barely, to a bit of straw at the edge of the trainer’s head. She let out a sigh. “Seven hells. Seems the gods favor you, your Grace,” she opened the wine, a mere instant too late, and set it down with the rest of lunch.

“And now you shall favor me, Stark, with your company over lunch and the truths you have promised me.” A slight tug pulled at the corner of the Targaryen’s lips as she sat down on the blanket, setting aside the bow and loosening the vambrace Arya had shackled on her.

The assassin lay herself down on the opposite side of the spread, crossing her arms behind her back as she looked up at the sky, accepting her defeat with dignity. “Three questions it is, my Queen – as you have earned.”

Arya watched Daenerys pick a few of the red fruits Missandei had packed, eating them with deliberate, dainty bites. Her look was thoughtful, and Arya suspected that she hadn’t really believed she was going to win their wager and was now trying to decide how to best spend her rare currency. The Queen turned her way while taking a purple berry from a curved dish, then asked: “Why did you choose not to kill me?

One. Arya had expected that she would ask this question at some point, but it still quickened her heart and caught her breath to hear it now. I couldn’t bear to do it. I looked at you, and hesitated. Once. Twice. Three times. My hand shook, every time, like a novice. “I couldn’t bear to do it, Daenerys,” she said quietly. “After years of killing without question, I found I did have questions, this time. And giving the Gift to someone like you, where the repercussions would be felt across the entire world… I couldn’t do something like that, with doubts.”

Daenerys rolled the purple berry between her fingertips, studying it as she considered Arya’s words. There was a long pause before she continued, her voice much quieter this time. “Would you have made the same choice if I wasn’t the Queen, Arya?”

Two. Arya leaned up and turned, resting on her elbow. The high sun felt too hot, suddenly. She had to genuinely contemplate Daenerys’ question. She had killed lords and ladies before without a second thought, but none rivaled the absolute power of the Dragon Queen. Was it a damnable remnant of her father’s loyalty to the Westerosi crown that stilled her hand? Was it random acts of mercy; lightning striking three times through her that caused her to fail? Would fate’s hand have gripped her so tightly if Daenerys had been anyone else in the world? Yes. It would have. Because it never really was about her being the Queen at all. “Yes,” she said finally, in a voice barely audible. “Even if you were a miller’s daughter, I don’t believe I could have killed you.”

Although she said nothing, she could tell Daenerys was taken aback by her response as she popped the berry into her mouth. She didn’t even remember to ask her third question.

 

……

 

It was dark by the time they returned to the Red Keep. Missandei had clearly been worried when they met her in the royal quarters, but tension melted into relief when she saw the improved state of her Queen. Daenerys hugged her friend and whispered heartfelt thanks, knowing how much painstaking thought and care the woman put into her well-being not only today, but every single day that came before as well.

Arya caught the ebony woman’s eyes from over Daenerys’ shoulder, and gave her an appreciative nod. “Fifth room on rotation tonight, your Grace,” Arya said, turning for the door. “Nymeria and I will do a sweep.”

“Wait,” Daenerys called from over Missandei’s shoulder. “I’ll come with you.”

“Nymeria, scout ahead,” Arya called. The Direwolf came back in through the terrace entrance, and started to prowl through the halls of the keep ahead of her master, sniffing at all of the nooks and crannies as she passed by. Arya waited for Daenerys to join her, then started to follow along behind the wolf.

The two walked in companionable silence, light footsteps padding over worn stone. Nymeria’s tail started a slight wag ahead of them as she smelled the spiced tea that marked the room the Queen would be staying in for the night; no foreign threat marring the sweet aroma. Arya bid Daenerys to stand back with the Direwolf as she opened the door and did a thorough search of the room: running her hands over the silk-topped bed to check for any powder or residue; nudging to feel for any loose stones in the mortared walls or under her boots; a careful scan of the beams that crossed under the high ceilings. When she was finally assured that the room was secure, she stepped back out so Daenerys could go in and retire for the evening.

“Goodnight, your Grace,” Arya gave a slight bow, set to continue her evening work of mapping out the rest of the keep.

“Arya,” Daenerys rested a hand on the assassin’s arm, pausing her.

She turned to face the small Queen. “Yes?”

“This here,” Daenerys whispered, reaching to trace her fingertip along the line of a thin scar at the corner of Arya’s mouth. “Where did you get this scar?”

Three. “That was a switch, m’lady. Used to teach me to lie easily enough that truth would be lost.”

Daenerys let her fingertip fall, and leaned up to press her lips to the corner of Arya’s mouth, over the lightened skin that marked her there. “That,” she murmured softly, “is for unlearning.”

Chapter Text

AN: If you get a bit of ‘League of Shadows’/Ninja vibe from Arya and the Faceless Men at times in my fic, it’s quite deliberate. Arya is basically GRRM’s Batman (no, seriously, Google Arya is Batman and see what I mean).

Have I mentioned yet that I love my readers?

 

…..

 

Three. “That was a switch, m’lady. Used to teach me to lie easily enough that truth would be lost.”

Daenerys let her fingertip fall, and leaned up to press her lips to the corner of Arya’s mouth, over the lightened skin that marked her there. “That,” she murmured softly, “is for unlearning.”

Daenerys was the blood of the dragon, and her touch was dragon’s fire. Arya felt her skin heat; her hands, her chest, her neck, her cheeks, her ears – her winter blood ignited, and suddenly it became difficult just to stand. “I…” her voice was hoarse, like when she had just woken from a broken fever, “I need to finish securing the floor.”

Her lips still pressed to Arya’s skin, Daenerys murmured softly, “I know.” She tenderly brushed her cheek against the assassin’s, then slowly pulled away.

“I’ll… Nymeria will stay, in case anything.. if there is..” Arya fumbled.

“Are all Faceless Men so quick to blush, or is that just you?” there was a sparkle in the Queen’s eyes as she pressed.

“It’s just too warm up here,” Arya mumbled, aware of how absolutely pathetic it sounded even before she said it.

“I suppose it can be difficult for a northerner, when winter is not coming,” Daenerys said with a slight, knowing smile.

Arya nodded, grateful for the merciful reprieve regardless of how transparent it was. “Your Grace,” she said quietly, stepping into a bow before turning on her heel and continuing down the hall with the few shredded scraps of dignity she could manage to muster. She could hear Nymeria let out a beastly sigh that too much resembled exasperation, and decided right there in that moment that if the ground were to split open and swallow her up – well, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

……

 

As soon as she was out of sight, Arya set her fingertips to her temple, reaching to pull the face she wore away. It left her confused a moment when she realized there was none there; only her own skin feeling a useless tug. Who am I now? She wondered briefly, panicked. I can’t remember who I am.

Arya Stark. Not no one, not a lost love, not a stranger with a pretty face. It was Arya Stark the Queen had kissed. And it was that realization over any other that set her mind racing. The Queen is an affectionate woman with those she is close to. She hugs Missandei and holds her hand, she’s mussed Tyrion’s hair more than a few times, she even pats Maester Tarly’s cheek when he says something endearing. It’s just her nature.

She set her mind to finishing her sweep as she reasoned with herself. From what she had heard from those who knew her best, even when the Queen did crave… companionship, it was never with a noble. Not since her last political marriage, at least. And if she was no longer no one, if she truly was going to be Arya Stark again, she had to remember that despite all appearances to the contrary, she was of noble birth. Whatever that even meant, at this point.

She took a deep breath, and slipped from herself, reaching for Nymeria. She slid into the Direwolf’s skin, and scanned the room around the Queen. It was still and warm – her keen ears heard nothing out of place; she could smell nothing amiss. If there was a threat in the Keep, it was not near the Targaryen.

She came back to herself, and started for her room. She’d been given the former Kingsguard captain quarters, empty since Daenerys had dissolved the order after taking the Iron Throne. Regardless of what kind of ruler the Mad King had been, he had still been King, and he had still been her father. The fact that one of his elite sworn protectors had been the one to end him likely left a bitter taste in the Queen’s mouth. And yet it is a position she offered to me. She either trusts me more than she should, or believes that the cloak of a traitor will serve to remind her of who I really am, lest she ever start to forget.

The wooden box she’d brought with her from Braavos sat at the foot of the immaculate bed she had rarely used, a thin layer of dust dulling the rich surface. She opened it, taking a quick inventory of her supply level, and scowled. Her neglect was apparent; she had elements and reagents but none of their final craft produced. She pulled the box over to the small table in the middle of the room, and took a seat.

She lifted the hefty money pouch she’d been given at the House of Black and White, unstringing it and dropping the varied currency on the polished surface in front of her. She scanned the coins, sliding a few Volantese Honors and Silver Stags from the rest. She carefully filed those particular mints down to fine shavings, then measured out equal parts to combine in a thin plaster casing. A few flakes of brittle fireweed topped the enmeshed metals, and then she airlocked the mixture with a tiny cork. This crude device would sit, harmless as a child’s playtoy, until thrown and broken against the blunt exterior of anything hard enough to shatter it. Then the oxidization of the two conflicting metals ignited by the fireweed would violently spark a deep red, and fill the area with heavy smoke. She was able to make three of these, with the coins she had on hand.

Then she pulled out a small leather case with two rows of neatly aligned darts. A few had tips marked in blue; those were Nightshade and could be used to cause an instant, heavy sleep. The rest had been untouched. She took a few out, marking them with a green tip. Then she uncorked a small vial of Wolfsbane, dipping the verdant darts in and soaking them before setting them back into the firm grip of soft leather grooves to dry. She had never liked using poison, but the grim reality was that she was one against a small, deadly army at this point, and she didn’t have the luxury of honor if she was pinned in a corner.

Content with her work, she reached for the candle burning at the edge of the table and carefully tipped the now-dry darts with melted wax before placing them in the leather pouch she wore at her hip, opposite her swords. There was a comfortable familiarity to this ritual of cautious preparation, and for a few brief moments she actually found herself longing for the House of Black and White. Whatever else it may have been, and regardless of her stand against it now, it had been her home for years. No matter where she had travelled to do the bidding of the Many-Faced God, it had always been there for her to return to. Jaqen had opened the door for her when she had nothing and no one else. Maybe No One could forget that, but Arya Stark couldn’t.

She stood and strode over to the window, watching the sky lighten as the morning sun started to rise. It had always done so, long before she was born. It would continue to do so long after she was dead. Grief, pain, loneliness, rage, doubt, betrayal – all of these things, eventually, burned away under that flaming orb. That inevitability could be her home, as much as any walls surrounding her.

Her ears motionlessly perked as she heard quiet, shuffling footsteps come down the hall. The stride was short and slightly favored the left, and she knew it was Tyrion even before he stepped into her doorway. “Good morning, dwarf,” she said, still watching the sunrise.

“How do you always know?” he asked, walking over to join her.

“If I told you I’d have to kill you.”

“Fair enough, I don’t really need to know. I have mentioned to you before how much I enjoy living, haven’t I?”

A grin tugged at Arya’s mouth. “You have. Don’t worry; I haven’t forgotten.”

“Well then let me also tell you that the big, strong men who stand guard in this place – they whisper like eight year old little girls. And those whispers sometimes tell me very interesting things.”

“Oh? Such as?”

Tyrion looked up at her with as much genuine earnest as he could muster while keeping a straight face. “I know you lost your parents at a very young age, so they may not have had the opportunity to sit you down and give you the talk.”

Arya’s brow furrowed with perplexity. “What do you mean-?”

“I’ve taken a liking to you, Good Killer. Now I am no Ned Stark, but I was technically your brother-in-law, which did make us family for a time. I want you to know if you ever have any questions about pleasing a woman, I am always available to you.”

For the second time within the span of just a few hours, Arya truly wished the ground would just swallow her up.

 

…….

 

No One kept her head bowed, viewing the Queen’s audience chamber through the careful side glances of deceptively humble eyes. She had escorted the head of the Merchant’s Guild to this appointment, taking the face of his tiny clerk who had the misfortune of drinking from the wrong cup early this morning. She carried his ledgers, unrolling his taxation parchments as needed, while trying not to cough each time she caught a whiff of the oversaturated ladies perfume that soaked his silks. The Queen sat above, listening, somehow filling the jagged throne she sat on despite her small stature. Alive and well.

So the rumors were true.

She had scarcely believed it, even when a man who sometimes wore a face called Jaqen had told her, and given her Arya Stark’s face to sail to Westeros with. It had been obvious for years now he had been grooming her to take his place in leadership one day; there was no other reason she could have been permitted to live after her rebellions, and no other reason he would have given her so much more of himself than he had the rest of them. She had hated it, hated the Stark girl, and eventually she had had to bite her tongue until it bled and clench her fists until her nails pierced her skin just to be in the same room with her.

It should have been me. I kept no part of myself from the Many-Faced God. I never failed you. It always should have been me.

She saw her then, leaning in the shadow of a pillar dressed in black, eyes scanning the crowd much the way her own had been. She quickly lowered her head again, hiding from the dark gargoyle that stood watch idolatrously over her porcelain white church of the living dragon.

Not only have you betrayed us, you’ve gone so far as to become a pet to the whore queen.

No matter. That would only make her mission easier later on.

She glanced up briefly as the Guildmaster was dismissed, and noticed Arya staring at her with narrowed eyes, as if she could hear her thoughts and see right through her. She fought a wave of dread as she briefly considered whether or not she’d have to fight the traitor to escape, a risky proposition she would undoubtedly lose. Combat had never been her gift the way it was Arya’s. No. She can suspect anything she wants, but she does not know this face. With feigned assurance, she followed the rotund, perfumed man out of the audience chamber, resisting the urge to look back over her shoulder as the heavy doors closed behind her.

She winced as her eyes adjusted to the blazing noonday sun, barely hearing the gibberish the Guildmaster was spewing from his crooked lips as they made their way over the cracked cobblestones to the Keep’s open gates. Fate had a twisted sense of mercy as it spared her any more of his continued babbling by a piercing cry from above, and a rush of wind that nearly knocked her off of her feet.

A massive black dragon was returning home.

....

2nd AN: Tyrion was kidding about 'that talk'. It was pointed out to me that I wasn't very clear about trying to be humorous there...

Chapter Text

AN: I need to clear up a bit of potential confusion. Arya IS in fact, wearing her own true face here, and has been with Daenerys from the start. She is mistaken for a young man often since chapter 2, as per Tyrion:

"Most thought you were a boy with a slight frame, coming of age. The clean-shaven, pretty kind that young ladies find so fascinating these days. But most people are not as observant as I am, and I bucked the trend and bet you were a woman. When you were being dragged down here, a few of us managed to get a glimpse of you close up. Your hands give you away, you see. They were too small to be a man's, even in his youth."

So strangers glancing at her likely won't know the difference. Bear the Smith mistook her for a 'lad' too. That's just part of my badass Arya's character in this particular fic.

.......

 

“I think it was that clerk, your Grace. The one who came in with the Guildmaster who always wears too much perfume.”

“Are you sure?” Daenerys’ brow furrowed with concern as she looked at Arya from across the table.

“Oh yes, he really does wear too much, your Grace.” Missandei’s nose crinkled. “It wafts all the way up to the dais, I’m surprised you haven’t- oh,” she quieted, realizing the Queen was inquiring about the more pressing issue.

“Sure enough to be talking about it,” Arya replied. “ They’ve been in before; she’s never been that quiet. She likes to flirt with the guards; one of those ‘man in uniform’ types I guess. But today? She barely looked at anyone. And she handed the Guildmaster the wrong scroll the first time he asked for the quarterly ledger.”

“So,” Tyrion started as he reached for a steaming slice of nutbread, “how do we verify and if necessary eliminate before he or she returns?” He looked over at Arya. “I expect our Good Killer has a plan?”

Arya gave a slight nod. “I have a pretty good idea of who she is, based on her build. I’ll find out where she’s staying, and then I’ll kill her.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” Daenerys asked.

“I don’t think I am.”

“You’re asking my blessing to kill someone who may have nothing to do with any of this.” Daenerys’ tone took on the regal resonance it had when she decreed from the Iron Throne, the maker of laws and the examiner of justice.

“Actually, I wasn’t asking your blessing for anything.” Arya met Daenerys’ stare, her jaw setting. “And even if I am wrong, I think we’d all agree it’s a mistake worth making to keep you safe.”

The table was silent, until Tyrion gave a quiet cough. “Perhaps,” he started, “there is a way to be sure. If this clerk has been killed, it stands to reason there would be a body somewhere. I have some very good friends in very low places. I could see if anything has turned up,” he turned to Daenerys. “If that would satisfy your Grace?”

Daenerys’ demeanor visibly changed, the dragon within her subsiding. “Yes. Thank you, Tyrion.”

Arya just shrugged, stabbing into a cut of thick steak. “Sure. As long as they can recognize a body without being able to see its face.”

Daenerys, Missandei, and Tyrion all stared at her, questioning.

Arya chewed her meat slowly, considering how best to disclose the answers they all believed they wanted. “It’s a lot to explain,” she started. “The faces we use – they’re not created from nothing. They were all somebody else, once. After they’ve died, we can take the features that used to be theirs and meld them over our own.”

“How is that even possible?” Daenerys asked, incredulous.

“Same way a Pyromancer can take oil and turn it into wildfire,” Arya replied. “Ancient knowledge passed down, a deft hand, and the right magic. Something that was is changed into something that is, and then used with new purpose.”

“So to be a Faceless Man, you would need a bloodline that carried old magic, then. Such as your ability to warg into Nymeria?”

Arya stared at the Queen, her fork dropping from her hand. “How did you know about that?” she asked quietly.

“I…” Daenerys’ eyes quickly darted to Tyrion and Missandei regretfully, then studied the table a moment before meeting Arya’s. “Maester Tarly told me. When you were poisoned, Nymeria wouldn’t leave your side,” over by the hearth, the Direwolf’s ears perked when she heard her name and Daenerys continued. “Sometimes she’d look at me – and I could feel something different. He told me that your brother Jon had been able to do it, and pointed out the way her eyes would sometimes change color. To the same color as yours.”

“I see,” Arya whispered, not knowing what else to say. She’d managed to keep that one thing secret, her own, for years. Not even the Faceless Men knew that she could shift into beasts.

“It’s always been known that the Stark line is blessed by the old gods,” Tyrion said, his gift with politics rising to the occasion. “It’s said that it used to be an ability all of them possessed. Some say Bran the Builder himself was such a skilled skinchanger that he built the Wall by inhabiting Giants, making them lift and climb until the top could be settled by human hands. And where would we all have been, long ago, if he had not done so?”

“It is a blessed thing, to be gifted with magic,” Missandei added. “Our Queen has dragon’s blood, and carries the magic of fire.” She paused a moment. “There is no shame in being who you are.”

Arya shook her head. “It’s not shame. Just took me off guard, is all. No one’s ever known.” Not even those who would, literally, bleed me until the truth came out.

“Arya, can you…” Daenerys started softly, knowing her indiscretion may have crossed a boundary, “is it only Nymeria you can shift into?”

“No.” Arya took a drink of spiced tea, remembering how it felt to launch through the air in the skin of a cat, to claw through rough bark as a wolverine. “But I’m bonded with Nymeria. I prefer not to connect with anything else.”

“But it is possible? If you needed to?”

“What is it you really want to ask me, your Grace?” Arya set down the teacup, guarded.

“My dragons,” Daenerys said, her violet eyes betraying a soft vulnerability. “Drogon flew right by earlier, but he didn’t stop. He always stops, near the Kingswood, to wait for me, but not this time. Viserion, Rhaegal; I’ve seen no sign of either of them for nearly a year. I was hoping that maybe, somehow you would be able to find them. Find a creature near them, something that would tell me where they are. If they are safe.” Her voice dropped to a quiet whisper and she looked out toward the terrace. “They are the only children I will ever have, and most days they feel lost to me.”

The only children she will ever have? Arya tilted her head and gave a questioning glance to Tyrion and Missandei. The Summer Islander shook her head, and Tyrion gave a small wave wordlessly saying ‘not now’.

Saying nothing, Arya stood up. Nymeria instinctively rose to meet her, and the two stepped out to the Queen’s terrace, a mild summer breeze billowing the sheer curtains behind them. Nymeria sat down as Arya kneeled before her, the assassin resting her forehead against that of the Direwolf.

Daenerys’ dragons.. have any of your pack seen sight of them, girl? The great winged beasts from the sky?

Nymeria threw her head back and gave a deafening, tenebrous howl, loud enough for keen, furry ears in the Kingswood to pick it up.

Arya could hear nothing after that in the skin of herself, her own ears leaden and bumbling compared to that of the direwolf, but Nymeria moved to stare intently over the veranda towards the line of trees jagging the horizon, ears twitching. She howled again, high and terse, then turned back to her deadly master.

Arya accepted Nymeria’s invitation and shifted into her, briefly, seeing flashes of images as the wolf openly shared her thoughts. It wasn’t all the Queen had asked for, but it was a start – and something was better than nothing.

The two stepped back in, and Arya took her seat back at the table. “Her pack saw the black one,” she tilted her head in Nymeria’s direction. “It headed south of King’s Landing, past the Kingswood towards Tumbleton. Apparently there’s a very old mine there he’s taken for himself.”

Despite Daenerys’ composure, Arya could see how pleased she was. “And Rhaegal? Viserion?”

Arya shook her head. “The others haven’t been seen, at least not by Nymeria’s pack. But they are going to communicate your search to neighboring packs, see if any of them have seen any sign. It will take some time, but if they are on this continent, we’ll find them.”

“And how far is Tumbleton?”

“In this weather with clear roads? Two or three days on horseback.”

Daenerys gave a nod and stood up. “I will see Drogon. We leave tomorrow.”

“No,” Arya started, “it’s really not a good idea to set out into the open right now-”

The blood of old Valyria ran hot, and would broker no argument. “The Queen does not make requests.”

“Perhaps,” Tyrion interjected carefully, “it would stall our unwelcome visitor if the Queen was not available for a time. So long as she is smuggled out of the city without being spotted, it can’t make anything worse.”

Arya sighed inwardly. If Tyrion wouldn’t side with her on this, she knew there would be no changing Daenerys’ mind. The best she could do was set a few terms. “The party needs to be as small as possible, on standard issue horses. Cloaked. We’d need to stay off the main roads, which will slow us, and there will be no comforts available.” She looked pointedly at Daenerys. “We can’t risk an inn. Even covered, one close look at your eyes would give you away.”

Daenerys raised an eyebrow at the assassin. “I am a Khaleesi. I used to live in a tent. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I lack the fortitude to make a small trip such as this.” She turned to Missandei. “You will join me in this, I hope?”

Missandei smiled and bowed her head. “Of course, your Grace.”

“It’s settled then. Tyrion,” she motioned to the dwarf. “Make all of the necessary preparations. We’ll leave at first light. Arya will escort us to this mine. A party of three should be small enough to avoid the suspicion of any onlookers. You will remain here; my voice in any matter that absolutely cannot wait until I return.”

“As you say, your Grace. Everything will be ready for you at the stables come morning.”

 

……..

 

They rode out before the break of dawn, denying anyone who may have been watching the blessing of daylight. The saddlebags had all been packed a little too full for Arya’s approval, but to the Queen’s credit she spoke no word of complaint when she pulled the overly roughspun cloak over herself, while Missandei ensured every shimmering Targaryen lock was pinned out of view before pulling one on herself.

Nymeria led them at first, guiding them through a winding pass that cleverly avoided any other travellers. As they neared the Kingswood, Arya could feel her heart skip, and she knew it was the Direwolf’s need to check in on the pack she’d been so long away from. She brought her horse to a halt, and whispered into the mind of her beast.

There is some time now, if you want to see them.

Nymeria’s tail started a slow twitch.

You know where we’re going; the path we’re taking there. Go, girl, take care of yours and then meet us on the way back. It’ll be ok.

Nymeria tilted her head at Arya, making sure her master would not change her mind.

“S’ok girl,” Arya said out loud, so Daenerys and Missandei could hear. “Tend to them, and then meet us again.”

Nymeria gave a quiet ‘gruff’, and then darted into the trees.

“Is she alright?” Daenerys asked, watching the direwolf leave.

“She is. She’s just worried about her pack; she’s been away for weeks. She won’t be gone long – she knows you’d miss her too much.”

“Well she is excellent company. And a wolf’s loyalty is very endearing,” she said with the hint of a smile.

The three travelled steadily for a few hours, stopping only to eat a light lunch and water the horses at a babbling brook before pressing forward. As they followed the soft ruts that marked the slender road, Arya felt the hair at the nape of her neck prickle, and motioned for the two ladies behind her to stop. She halted her own horse, and felt a twitch of annoyance at the corner of her eye upon realizing they were no longer alone.

“Well, well,” a large, grimestuck man stepped out from the trees, holding a crude wooden cudgel splintered with shards of twisted metal. “We’s gots guests, boys, here at our humble pass. Come on out, all mannerly-like, and let’s escort ‘em down to the ridge.” He looked up at Arya from under a heavy brow, grinning with a mouth full of broken, half-rotting teeth. “For a small fee, of course.”

Three other men, equally unsavory, stepped out of the foliage to stand in tow behind their filthy captain. “Ain’t that bloody nice,” a thin, stringy long-haired man smiled, breaking open an oozing sore on his bottom lip. “We was hopin’ for a guest.”

“Ey boss,” a short man with a crooked eyepatch sneered. “That lad’s gots two wimmens with ‘im.”

The leader licked his lips, eyes raking over Daenerys and Missandei’s forms beneath their cloaks, noticing the subtle curves beneath the heavy fabric. “Aye, he do indeed,” he looked back at Arya, eyes narrowing. “Seems yer right greedy there, boy. The Seven say that greed’s a sin. So how’s about you leave them two with us, and be on yer fuckin’ way.” He reached to unbuckle his belt, leaving it hanging in one loose loop around his waist.

“I think I have a better idea,” Arya said softly, her eyes cold steel in a face of stone. “There are four of you. I’ll give you twenty coppers – that’s five for each of you, in case you don’t know how to count – to leave now. Share a chicken; buy some soap. Never come back here again.” She paused, realizing too late that she may have been using words too large for them to understand. “If you take me up on my generous offer, I won’t kill you all where you stand.”

“Hey, boss,” the smallest of the bunch, red-faced and pockmarked, pointed at the clasp that held Arya’s cape over her shoulder. “Ain’t that there the mark of the Queen? Maybe this ain’t such a good idea, if he’s travellin’ on her business, you know?”

The Cudgel smacked the man upside his head, and gripped his crotch through his stained trousers. “Queen’s business? This ‘ere is the fuckin’ Queen’s business, you lousy pisser!”

Arya could sense Daenerys’ silent rage behind her and heard Daenerys’ white mare snort, a hoof clipping forward. She held up a gloved hand, motioning for her to stay back, to stay quiet.

“So,” Arya interrupted them, her voice maintaining the soft calm of a white wolf in a snowstorm. “Are you ready to take your twenty coppers, then?” Hidden beneath the folds of the Targaryen mantle she wore, her hand slipped into her leather pouch, carefully easing the wax capping from two darts as she gripped them between leathered fingers.

“Twenty coppers then, ya goddam sprig? Sure, I’ll take yer twenty coppers. I’ll take yer twenty coppers and shove them down yer pissant throat, then cut ‘em out of you later.” The Cudgel snapped his fingers, and his men stepped up beside him, dirty fingers gripping the shabby hafts of rusted weapons.

Arya gave a slight shrug. “That’s about what I expected.” She threw her hand forward, and two Wolfsbane darts lodged in the necks of Pockmark and Stringy, dimming their sight and forcing them to their knees as they felt their throats closing within them. She dug her heels into her Chestnut’s flanks and pulled up hard on the reins, rearing him, then launched him forward, bringing him down heavy on Eyepatch, a hoof cracking his skull as he fell to the dirt.

Arya jumped to the ground as Eyepatch twitched, seeing through a light sheen of red. It had been a long time since she’d felt the rage she’d buried away with her identity, and it was both horrific and euphoric. She made her way to the Cudgel, who stood slack-jawed and confused as the space of a few blinks sent his minions to the Many-Faced God. Arya hauled back and drove her fist into the soft space of his stomach, just beneath his ribs. He doubled over, breathless, as she grabbed the loose buckle of his dingy belt and tore it away from his waist, looping it expertly around his neck. He reached a hand up, sliding it under the shabby leather, desperately trying to pry it away. She tightened her grip, trapping his hand there against his neck as she started to strangle him with it. He heaved, trying to shake her off of him like an angry bull, and she rewarded his efforts with a quick knife to the spine. He dropped, unable to move, and she knelt over him, grimacing as she pulled the belt harder; muscles flexing and burning under the strain. She held him there like that, long after his eyes had started to bulge and his breath had given out. This is who I am. I am a wolf, and you are my prey. Any of you. All of you. I am a wolf.

Wolf.

“Wolf!” Daenerys called out, tentatively resting her hand on Arya’s shoulder.

She turned, eyes savage, teeth bared in a snarl. Missandei stood behind the Queen, dark skin now pale and eyes wide, her hand lifting to her chest. Daenerys did not shirk, did not flinch; as unafraid as the blood-stained wolf before her. “He’s done,” she said softly.

The snarl slowly went slack, and Arya blinked, the red melting back into the subdued colors of the world around her.

She turned away, and kicked the purple-faced body off of the overgrown roadway. She did the same with the other bodies, gripping them and pulling them into the ditch to rot together in a putrid heap under the summer sun.

Yes. He was done. 

Chapter Text

AN: StarkyD7 will be away for the weekend, so the update schedule will be (temporarily) interrupted. All comments/questions will be answered once I return.

This is a chapter that (likely) a few of you have been waiting for. Fingers crossed that it was worth the wait.

 

……

 

The snows were gone, and an evening frost crunched under the white Direwolf’s paws. He would come sometimes, south through the ruins of the Wall, to these grounds that still smelled of his departed master. This time he brought another, the smaller one with the same eyes his master had, the one who had grieved with him under the Weirwood. He could feel her there, sharing his skin, foreign but familiar enough to give him small comfort.

Home, his beast mind spoke to her. I remember.

He soundlessly stepped through the rubble of the eastern wall, on to the training yard where the humans once learned to swing sharp irons. He could smell oiled leather and steel coming from a cold, locked armory, and knew that one day again small ones would be here, swinging and hitting and falling and growing.

He could feel a soft thrum of emotions run through him, not his own, but those of his passenger. So she did remember, too. She had been gone so long from this place that no trace of her scent remained, but it was hers as much as it had been his, once.

He turned and made his way through the courtyard, toward the Stark family crypt. The heavy doors were closed, but he had learned they were never latched anymore. He stood up on his hind legs and rested his paws against the aged wood, pushing, pushing. They swung open slowly, giving under his great weight, and he dropped to the stone floor. He padded in, silent. Resting, he thought to his spiritual rider. Come see.

Flickering candles respectfully lit the entire crypt; the red-headed one made sure they never burned out. He could smell her presence everywhere here, mingled with the faint remnants of soft salt. Here, she cries. Away from her pup. He brought to his mind an image of a young boy around four years old, holding the hand of the one who lit the candles, his auburn hair as Tully as his mother’s. He felt his passenger pulling away, gathering herself to slip from him, and he closed himself off, trying to slow her, to hold her a little longer. Stay. See.

Her presence in him stilled, hearing his call. He started down the shadowed aisle, looking at the great stonefaces that lined each side. The Stark and the Direwolf moved forward, glancing reverently through the same ruby eyes. Once they reached the end of the long rows he sat, looking up at the newly carved face of his master, cold rock hands held open before him, holding a burning candle. Resting. Remember.

He felt her grief mingle with his own, and he lifted his head to let out a silent howl for the both of them.

They stayed like that for a time, each silently howling within him. His passenger, she was not like him, in herself she could make the sounds, but she wouldn’t. He knew; had felt her mute herself that day, years ago, when she had finally walked away after burying his kin. Let go, his mind whispered. Howl.

He turned then, to the last stoneface, standing beside his granite master. It was her, his rider, etched in the slab, her open hands holding the same slowly-melting candle as the rest. She was young, as small as she’d been when they left for King’s Landing so long ago, with a thin sword carved out to rest on her cold hip. Not resting, the direwolf thought to her. Not resting.

And without warning, his passenger was gone.

 

…….

 

Her eyes flew open in the dark of the small tent, and for a moment she couldn’t move. Sometimes the wolf dreams came, Arya was used to that, but this was the first time she had been taken in by a beast who was not Nymeria. Ghost must have been reaching for her, waiting. To bring her back to Winterfell, against her will. To make her see everything she had been resisting for so long.

Returning to her senses, she sat up, pulling on the hardened leather breastplate that lay beside her, and fastening the dragon clasp over her shoulder. She pulled on her boots and slid her hands into her dark, worn ranger’s gloves, and quietly slipped out of the tent.

The moon was high, bathing the small encampment with a pale light that her eyes quickly adjusted to. She could hear a quiet rumbling from one of the tents behind her, and a quick twitch of her ears reminiscent of Nymeria told her it was Missandei, snoring softly. She chuckled and shook her head, making her way over to the glowing embers of the night’s dying fire.

Arya sat with her back to a wide oak tree, letting out a deep breath. There were Starks in Winterfell. They were rebuilding. They believed her dead. And that was for the best, no matter what anyone else thought. What was she to do? Walk through the gates one day with her bloodstained hands and a bag slung over her shoulder while darts from the House of Black and White flew at her back? Pick up Sansa’s little boy in her sword-scarred arms and tell him ‘hi, you are my nephew, it seems. I wore a stranger’s face and killed your father Petyr after I had learned about how he had raped your mother. It’s good to meet you.’ ? No. It was better for them, like this. And she couldn’t afford to let herself think about it anymore.

She reached into the sleeve of her tunic and slid out the blade she kept there, fastened to her forearm. Then she opened her satchel, and pulled out a sharpening stone. The blade was honed to a razor’s edge already and needed no care, but the familiar routine would help to still her mind and give her focus.

She could hear the Queen’s footsteps through the soft scraping of the blade against the stone, bare feet rustling the grass. “I’m sorry if I woke you,” she said as Daenerys approached. “I know it’s late.”

“You didn’t,” Daenerys shook her head and sat down beside the Faceless Man, sharing the span of the old tree, a smile curving her lips. “Missandei did. Poor woman must have been exhausted.”

“I think I horrified her, earlier today. She was quiet over dinner.”

“Missandei has seen much worse than the corpses of a few thugs. Don’t think much on it.”

“I won’t.” Arya turned the blade, drawing the other side across the small roughened slab.

“But you are thinking about something,” the Queen said, knowingly. “And I’m sure it wasn’t Missandei’s snoring that roused you.”

“I’d rested enough. Wanted to check the perimeter.”

“You said you’d never lie to me. Don’t start now.”

The assassin scowled, easing the pressure on her blade as she pulled it again. “Just a bad dream, your Grace. Of Winterfell.” A pause. “All of us have things we’d like to forget.”

Daenerys let out a small breath. “Arya… do any of your family know that you’re still alive?”

Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. “No.” Scrape. Scrape. Scrape. “And it needs to stay that way.”

“I don’t know if it can.”

Scrape- “What do you mean?” Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.

“It’s not because I seek to push you, even though I do think you need to tell them.” She sighed. “It’s politics. I haven’t named a Warden of the North since I took my throne. And I will need to, soon. You should know better than anyone how traditional Northerners are. If I neglect this, they will view it as an insult, especially after all they sacrificed during the Wight War.” Daenerys smoothed her riding leggings, quiet a moment. “I had sent a raven to Sansa Stark, before… all of this happened. They’ll be expecting me in a few months time.”

Arya closed her eyes and rested her head against the rough bark of the tree. The weight that settled over her was palpable, slumping her shoulders. You couldn’t have said something sooner? She wanted to say, but feared she’d choke on the words.

Daenerys looked down at her hands. “I can call you Wolf forever, and, even if you change your face… it’ll never hide your eyes.”

Could you bear it? The unspoken question hung between them. And what was unspoken became a fissure within her; it was all she could do to keep it from breaking her down. Enough. Hold fast. No one. No one.

Arya pulled the small blade from the stone, wiping it down with a cool cloth. She slid it into a soft brown leather case, and held it out to Daenerys. “Here,” she said, “I want you to have this. You need to start carrying a weapon.”

“You know,” Daenerys started, her tone inflecting good humor, hoping to lighten the mood, “some would think to give a woman flowers.”

“You wouldn’t want a flower from me, your Grace,” Arya said quietly, her eyes hazy and distant.

“No?” Daenerys lifted her eyebrow. “Break a few hearts, Wolf?”

“Stopped a few.”

Daenerys was quiet, searching the leagues in the Stark’s eyes. “Is that all there has ever been for you?” she asked softly.

Arya could feel Daenerys seeking her, in that tender way she had. It was unsettling, the way the Targaryen could gently reach in, uninvited, and start to peel back the layers she buried herself under. She felt herself instinctively wall up stronger, hardening. “It is an honor to serve the Many-Faced God,” she answered, practiced and sure.

Undaunted, Daenerys pressed on, her voice still as soft as the breeze that ruffled Arya’s hair. “Do you truly believe that? Truly believe in this Many-Faced God?”

Arya started to lie; lips forming around the word ‘yes’, and bit down on her tongue before it could be uttered. “I believe,” she said finally, carefully, “that there are things that have to be done, sometimes.”

Daenerys was quiet, considering. She reached a hand up to the clasp that held Arya’s cape across her shoulders, fingertip tracing over her family sigil. “Did you ever love any of them, before you killed them?” she whispered. “Did any of them ever love you?”

Arya shook her head. “No, I never felt anything for any of them.” She took a slow breath, her voice lowering. “Sometimes… a few of them loved a face I wore. I would look like their son, their daughter, or a lover long gone. Look like something they had lost but still clung to, with everything they had.” She swallowed hard, a small rush of memories slipping through the hairline cracks of her segmented mind. “When I’d slip a blade into one of them… the way they would look at me after, as they were fading. It was as if they forgave it, forgave everything, because I made them believe for a short time. They didn’t care anymore.” She stared down at her gloved hands, focusing on the indented notches beside her knuckles. No one.

Daenerys lifted her hand to rest on Arya’s cheek, gently turning the assassin to face her again. “Is that what you’ll do to me before long, Arya Stark?” she murmured, almost inaudibly, her fingertips light on the shell of Arya’s ear. “Will you have me love you, and then end me that way..?”

Arya’s eyes met Daenerys’, steel melting under rich, soulful violet. “I would not have you love someone like me at all, Daenerys,” her voice barely escaped her lips; was nearly lost in the evening breeze.

“Dany,” Daenerys said, holding her gaze as she leaned up, almost imperceptibly. “And that will not be for you to choose, killer,” her thumb lightly brushed Arya’s cheek, delicately correcting her.

“Dany,” Arya whispered the name, tasting it as she felt the Queen’s breath on her skin.

And then it was Daenerys’ lips against hers, and she could not, would not turn away. She felt herself slide her arm around Dany’s waist, pulling her closer as she met the Queen’s kiss, ice melting hopelessly before fire.

A lifetime passed, and Arya could swear she felt her heart stop beating as, in that moment, Daenerys Targaryen cut through the black chains piercing it. By the time they parted, barely, her breath was heavy as if she’d taken to the sword and slain a hundred men. She rested her forehead to Dany’s, mind racing, searching for words and finding none.

Fortunately the blood of the dragon needed no words and demanded nothing, as she pressed another achingly sweet kiss to the curve of Arya’s bottom lip, then nestled herself in against the assassin, pulling the cloak of her house that hung from Arya’s shoulders around the both of them.

If this is where you will be, this is where I am, the silence said.

Chapter Text

AN: And I am back! And I’m gonna pretend that you all actually missed me while I was slaving away for my corporate overlords ;) We have Dany’s POV here. This chapter references events that happened earlier in the fic, and ties them into the present.

I want to point out that Christmas came in June for me here. One of my absolute favorite fics, When the Sun Rises in the East by prplmunky has been updated again. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it – it reads as if it actually WAS an ASOIAF novel, albeit a much better version of events (in my biased opinion).

 

……

 

The sky lightened in cerulean patches as Daenerys watched Arya sleep, slumped against the trunk of the great oak. She kept herself still, knowing that the instant she moved, or the wind blew a little too heavily, those steel eyes would open again, looking for the next fight. Dark, shaggy bangs hung over one closed eye as the assassin’s chest steadily rose and fell under her hand; the savage beast soothed, if only for a few moments. The wolf was like her dragons in that way – angry, fierce, and deadly, but eventually calmed under a soft touch.

Missandei had told her once that there was an old saying amongst the Naathi elders: you may live a hundred years and take as many lovers, but at the end of it all you will look back and see you have really just fallen in love with the same person over and over again. She, and likely Tyrion, had probably seen this coming. It would be a lie to say that Arya hadn’t exhibited some of the traits that were known to appeal to her, despite being so guarded and solitary. It had been a long time since she felt more than a passing interest in anyone, and it would be fair to say that, in her own way, she’d become as reserved as the wolf. For years her heart had been a gentle, foolish thing that had done nothing but fail her, both politically and personally. It had gifted her with betrayal in exchange for her mercy, division for her idealism, degradation for her pride, and grief for her love. Once she had finally taken Westeros, she had learned enough harsh lessons to break it in ways it had needed to be broken.

‘You’ve made a Stark mistake,’ Tyrion would often tell her early into her rule. ‘Good and evil, black and white, honor and debasement – these are all beautiful absolutes. But if you are to rule without executing some of those who could be your most powerful supporters, helping you to maintain a peaceful order in the realm without further bloodshed, you must learn to accept a few shades of gray.’

‘Why do you compare me with the Usurper’s dogs?’

‘Because believe it or not, Ned Stark was likely the most honorable man this kingdom ever knew. And that is, in the end, what killed him. I am ashamed to say this because it was my blood, my sister, who orchestrated his demise when he had tried to show her and her children mercy. The same way he showed you mercy, when Robert demanded to have you killed across the sea. Ned didn’t care about his friend or that throne more than he needed to stand against a man who wanted to use his power to kill a young, pregnant girl a continent away. So when I say that you have made a Stark mistake, your Grace, do not think it an insult; consider it my way of saying I like you, and I want to see you live and rule a long, long time.’

Arya had given Daenerys her pledge, not knowing it was years of Tyrion’s ‘Stark mistake’ speeches that had made her actually want that oath in the first place. She wanted that devotion and honor that had been squandered by her mad father for herself; that nobility that had become like a fading legend. And when she saw Arya unshackled, staring up at her from the bloodied floor before her Iron Throne proclaiming her true name as her guards licked their wounds, there was nothing that would stop her from taking it.

And then when she had it, it had been nearly snatched away from her the very same night. Forgive my caution, your Grace. The Stark had switched her wine; a slight she had initially felt herself benevolent for overlooking. Until she heard the cough and saw the professed killer pale as if she were bled out by a phantom; ordering Tyrion to hide her away.

‘She was right, Tyrion, she was right. They’ve come. We can’t just leave her there like that!’

‘We can, your Grace, and we will. She said she would find us, and she would very much need to be alive to do that.’

‘But there-‘

‘No. No buts. She is a Faceless Man, and she knew exactly what was happening. I am going to do precisely what she said, and so are you. Because we both like living, and we both need to start trusting the Good Killer right now.’

Again, Tyrion had been right. Arya and Nymeria had come for them, hours later, even as Arya could barely stand. Not one full day after she had given her oath, she had already kept it.

The following days had been a nightmare. She had not slept, the sunlit hours spent halfheartedly meeting obligations for the realm as she worried over the Stark who appeared to be dying in her guest chamber, while the moonlit ones were spent in that very chamber with the deathbound, Maester Tarly, and the horrific truths that were being revealed.

She was sweating right through that tunic, through everything, so I had Gilly put a lighter linen shirt on her instead, your Grace, while I went to get some more milk of the poppy. Thought it might help, at least some. When I come back in, Gilly’s pointin’, havin’ me check over her back. It’s been lashed, it seems. Repeatedly.’

‘What do you mean? She was a slave? I have abolished slavery on both sides of the Narrow Sea. Punishable by death.’

‘Don’t know if she was one, only know that she’s been beaten like one. Here – help me turn her over. Look for yourself.’

There are... so many scars…’

‘It’s not just that, your Grace. I’ve been up all night, trying to figure out how she’s lived through it, the Sweet Farewell. And I had a theory I tested. See here, I made a small cut to her palm. Now this bottle here is full of Griffindown. A very mild poison, usually used by angry wives who want to teach their husbands something they likely should have already known. I pour some over that cut, like so, and, well, usually what should happen is a swelling, and a few irritated blotches.’

‘Samwell, don’t! Do you need to make things worse for her right now?!’

‘That’s the thing your Grace, I’m not. Look. No change, no reaction at all. She has a tolerance for poisons.’

‘Is that a gift she was born with, then? Like the warging?’

‘No… no, it wasn’t. Only way it’s possible is if someone with a lot of knowledge and skill poisoned her in small doses on purpose. They would have had to do it over and over again, probably over the course of a few years, until her body built up the ability to just fight it off same as anything else.’

And the next day, she had not bothered to tend to the realm at all. She had left it to Tyrion, staying with Arya while Maester Tarly administered concoctions that may or may not have helped, but had seemed better than doing nothing.

‘Her breathing is steadier. Sure enough, I think she may actually come through this.’

‘……’

‘It’s late, your Grace. Please, we’re all worried for you. Get some rest.’

And then the woman had become the Queen again, and finally left the chamber. She sought out Tyrion and gave him explicit orders to check on Arya every few hours, and to send word to Missandei as soon as she was awake. A private word with her friend would not garner the questionable attention an announcement made to her directly while governing would. He was to take the Stark to the armory as soon as she felt well enough to leave the room, and supply her with the best they had to offer. Then she was to be brought back to the Royal Chambers to discuss how they would move forward in all of this.

‘She will be my Queensguard.’

‘Your Grace, forgive my confusion, but.. you don’t have a Queensguard. You never wanted one. Actually, you have shown nothing but contempt for the very idea of forming a-‘

‘I’m not forming a Queensguard. I said she will be my Queensguard.’

Her will became obeyed command, and Arya had been brought before her, absolutely striking in the dark leather that marked the armed service of the Targaryen house. Even then, there was an appeal to having the Stark marked as her own in that small way, though she hadn’t really allowed herself to acknowledge it.

‘Forgive my caution, your- Daenerys.’

‘I will forgive you, on one condition.’

‘Oh? And what is that?’

‘That you will agree to become my Queensguard.’

‘Daenerys. When I was young, all I ever wanted was to be a knight. And to be your knight; your Queensguard… that would be beyond anything I ever could have dreamed of when I was swinging my brother’s sword in Winterfell. But if I take your offer – it will be at the cost of your safety. If I escort you everywhere, openly, recognized and known, I will be making it easier for them to kill us both. I can’t be a thing of honor, your Grace. It’s too late for that now.’

‘You would refuse the Queen you have sworn yourself to?’

‘For her own sake, yes.’

Arya had bowed her head, claiming to be a thing of no honor, even while doing the most honorable thing she could to better serve her Queen. The thorn to her pride had prevented her from seeing that right away, but once it had been removed and she took some time to reflect on it, she had found herself humbled.

That humility would privately strike her again in the weeks that followed, as the Targaryen ranger she would refer to only as ‘Wolf’ attended her even without appearing to do so, every waking moment. There was no one who could so much as draw near her Iron Throne without being thoroughly assessed by the assassin, analyzed with such stealth that a man wouldn’t even realize the wolf had stripped him bare with her cold eyes before allowing him to move forward. Any time someone lied in her presence, Arya would look over at her, giving a light shake of her head, revealing the truth of a conflict before it could escalate. If she ever so much as slid her foot too far across a slick stone, Arya’s hand would press gently to her back or shoulder, steadying her. Unintentionally, she’d been more attentive than a smitten suitor; continually putting herself in the way of any harm, real or imagined, that could possibly touch Daenerys.

For a while it had been simple enough to quantify all of this as an appropriate level of caution in service to the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms; renowned Stark loyalty in as fine a form as it had ever been. Until she was forced to recognize that really, it wasn’t.

‘Would you have made the same choice if I wasn’t the Queen, Arya?’

‘Yes. Even if you were a miller’s daughter, I don’t believe I could have killed you.’

Many times, despite the destiny of her birthright, Daenerys had longed for the peace and security of the simple life she briefly had in the care of Ser Willem Darry in Braavos. Had she been born with a different name, she could have been content in a house like the one she had loved with the big red door. And, if she had been a common woman living that uncomplicated life that she often thought about, Arya still would have turned against the deadliest organization in the known world to spare her. She had not done it for the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Breaker of Chains, the Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. She had simply done it for the woman named Daenerys. And when that reality settled itself within her, shaking her entire foundation - that is when she found herself not just wanting the Stark in her service, but wanting Arya for herself, personally.

But you have no idea, do you, sweet wolf?’ she thought to herself, watching as Arya’s brow furrowed just slightly as she slept on. ‘You devoted yourself to the Faceless Men, and the revenge their training could give you, as much as I devoted myself to taking back my Throne. But where I had the favor of those who believed in me; those who became friends and good counsel, all you had were more lives you were sent to take. How long have you been lost?’

The light humming of Missandei’s snoring stopped. It would only be, at most, a few moments more before she stepped out of her tent, and found them both there under the oak. She briefly considered whether she should move before that happened, unsure of whether or not she wanted to deal with the inevitable questions that would come on the road as they made their way towards the mine.

Your Grace. I am not a superstitious man - though I do quite enjoy it when ladies believe dwarf-cocks are magical because of their own irrationality – just the same, I do feel the need to point something out, should it ever come up in the future, for any strange reason.’

‘And what is that?’

‘The last time a Targaryen loved a Stark, it ignited the war that destroyed this land for decades.’

‘And why do you feel I would need to be reminded of that, Tyrion?’

‘No reason, really. I suppose I have probably had a bit too much wine.’

After careful deliberation, she decided she would not move. She was the Queen, and she would make a Stark mistake anytime she pleased.

Chapter Text

AN: Upping the rating to M in advance, for mostly violent reasons. There is a very slight mention of our timeline here. Arya was at the House of Black and White for seven years, and has been away on her failed mission to kill Dany for another year, for a total of eight. Age is a place I take from HBO more than the original novels, because I can, dammit – long story short, Arya is about twenty-three. Dany is only a few years older at twenty-seven.

Chapter Dedication is to Amreen: Get strong, and get well. Dany and the Good Killer will it so.

 

……

 

Death served in a small cup in the House of Black and White had always been the most difficult for her to deliver. There were times when it was a relief, a mercy - an end to a sickness that was rotting a child from the inside; a soft death for an overextended gambler who would have otherwise found his end slowly, in small, flayed pieces; a last attempt to restore the forfeited honor of a man who had lost a duel and could not bear the shame; an elder ready to join the gods that they worried may have forgotten them. But most of the time, death in a cup was not drunk by those who needed these mercies. Most of the time, it was given to the heartbroken.

They would come in, eyes either red-rimmed and tear-puffed, or hollowed with dark circles pulling beneath them. They would rarely cry; by the time they had come to the House they were always beyond simple tears. They were at once both hoarse and fragile; light and leaden. They would go and stand before the statue of their god, whichever it was they had placed all of their hopes in, and stare up, silently blaming the stone for all that had happened, and what was about to come next. Sometimes they would spit at the unmoving deity, or hammer at it with their small fleshy fists, a final act of religious divorce, before taking ghostly steps over to the fountain.

The Braavosi knew the traditions of the Order. They were to wait until an acolyte approached them and offered to give them the Gift, they were never to drink the water of the Many-Faced God of their own accord. And if they truly wanted the Gift, they would wait for as long as necessary to receive it. This was because some didn’t really want to die, they just wanted, for an instant, to feel like they had complete control of their burdensome lives before walking back out of the heavy doors. Others though, they waited for death with the same grim resolve as a reluctant husband waited for his arranged bride to meet him at the end of the aisle. They saw no other way, they only wanted to drink the Gift and fall to the floor in consummation.

Sometimes the bereaved would speak, even though they knew they would receive no response; mistaking the servants of the Many-Faced God for confessors that would silently grant them absolution. Other times they would say not a word, only sit before the fountain, their knees drawn to their chests, staring out with eyes that had already preceded them to the afterlife. When Arya would finally come to them, prepared to be their Reaper, they would often whisper the grief that had driven them into her arms before drinking their relief. ‘She left me’, she’d often hear. ‘He chose my sister.’ ‘She’s with another man’s child.’ ‘He found another, while out at sea.’ ‘She couldn’t forgive me.’

This thing, this force, that broke these people apart and tore them inside out – that was love, as Arya Stark grew up to know it. The faint memories of her mother and father in Winterfell, their devotion to each other, they had all but vanished in the seven years she spent in the darkened House, fading to a point where she questioned if they had even had been real at all. For her, love was just carrying the sin of a stranger and staining her own hands with the blood that someone else had drawn.

Wiping the sweat from her brow, she turned over her shoulder to look at Daenerys, following on her mare a few paces behind her along with Missandei, the two women speaking softly under their cloaks. That woman, the impossibly beautiful ruler of the entire realm, was trying to push open a door inside of her that could end up leading her straight to the fountain she once served from.

It was a strange thing, to fear something. She hadn’t feared anything in so very long.

Arya opened her canteen and dumped the last of its warm water out over her head. Small tendrils of steam rose up around her face as wet trails hit her armor, burning off almost instantly. She had no idea how the horses had managed to bear up under the pulsing heat of the sun all day, or how Daenerys and Missandei managed to stay so elegantly poised beneath it, but it was clearly a blessing she hadn’t been given. “Only about two more miles to the mine, your Grace,” she said, her voice raw from the damned heat. “Once we’re closer in, we’ll find a nice shaded place to water the horses. After I’ve made sure the path to the mine is clear, I’ll take you both to Drogon.”

“As you say, Wolf,” Daenerys replied, her voice holding a hint of the regal tone she’d heard so often at the Keep.

She’s upset. She only ever takes that tone with me outside of court when she is vexed by something. Arya sighed and tugged the reigns, leading them all off the dusted road and into the thicket beside it. It was very faint, but she could hear the tinkling rush of running water. She strained her ears, both to find the direction of the flow’s source and to pick up on any potential threats. They were alone though, save for a few songbirds sharing their tune overhead.

They found a babbling brook about a half mile away from the mine, and stopped to unburden the horses as they drank. The apex of the sun had fallen to the treeline, finally lessening its scald. The Queen had hoped to make it to Drogon by nightfall, so Arya had pushed them all through the blistering day so as not to disappoint her. So long as the rest of the path was clear, they’d reach the dragon under the fading light of dusk.

The assassin knelt beside the brook, upstream from the horses and cupped cool water in her hands, splashing her face, raking her fingers through her hair. She had burned, she could feel the telltale sting on her cheeks, but that was a smarting she could deal with tomorrow. As her skin cooled, she scanned the vicinity to look for a secure area that could serve as a camp. She couldn’t keep them too close to the stream, not only would the noise make it difficult for her to make out the sound of anything approaching, but it was bound to draw wild animals all through the night. Hopefully there would be something suitable closer to their destination.

She got back up to her feet, shaking her damp bangs from her eyes. “This place is safe for now,” she said, turning to Daenerys and Missandei. “Except for a few bugs.” She smacked a mosquito from her arm. “I’m going to scout ahead to the mine. Once I know it’s clear, I’ll be back to take you the rest of the way.”

Daenerys pulled her hood back, shaking her silver tresses out over her shoulders for the first time since they’d set out that morning. “And if we need to find you before then?”

“Just whistle, and I’ll come right back.”

Daenerys gave an approving nod and Arya turned away, heading west under the thickening canopy of leaves. She rested her hand on the hilt of the blade at her side as she strode forward, checking soft patches of moss for any sign of a footprint and casually inspecting branches for any sort of unnatural twisting or breakage, anything jagged or amiss that would give an indication that others had passed through this way recently. So far, so good.

I’m going to see a dragon. Once alone, she allowed herself the simple pleasure of letting that reality sink in as she lightly stepped over a gnarled branch. She had always wanted to, ever since she’d first heard the tales of Aegon, Visenya and Rhaenys Targaryen riding in to conquer Westeros hundreds of years ago. She wasn’t supposed to love that history as much as she did; the Targaryen’s rise to power came at the cost of her own ancestors bending the knee and giving up the Kingship they had held over the land from the North – but they had dragons. It was fate, and surely it was a wiser thing to accept that which is meant to be than to lament over what was lost in the shadows behind it.

She could see rays of dappled fading light coming through the trees ahead when she heard the quiet footsteps coming up behind her. “You know,” she said, calling Dany out, “all you had to do was whistle.”

The steps paused a moment, and then slowly continued their approach. “Would you have come if I did?” Dany asked, a hint of regal command still tinting her inflection. “You’ve so skillfully avoided me today that I had to wonder.”

Arya whirled around to face the Queen, her eyes stormy as she spoke with ferocious resolve. “I will always come for you, Daenerys. Think of me what you will, but don’t ever doubt that.”

She saw Dany falter, ever so slightly, clearly not having expected the intensity of her declaration. The air was thick between them as the dragon closed their distance, and slid her pale hands up along the wolf’s arms before resting them on her shoulders. “I think many things of you, Wolf,” her voice quieted. “And afraid is never on that list. So tell me what it is that is gripping you in place of me.”

Her heart quickened as she took in Daenerys’ scent, felt the heat of her dragonblood palms even through the thick leather resting on her. “It’s..” she felt her mind scrambling, desperately trying to piece together fragments of the vivid images that she saw so clearly earlier. They were dissipating into pools of violet, falling in along with the clever words she had thought to say. “There is nothing –

--CRACK!

Arya deftly wrapped her arms around Daenerys and launched, throwing them both down to the ground behind a thick, overgrown log. She pinned the smaller woman beneath her and pressed a light finger to her lips, hushing any protest she may have conjured, and tilted her head, listening. There was stillness for a few moments, and she could feel Dany’s breath against her cheek. It distracted her, though she would not let herself admit it. She nearly brought them both back to their feet, an apology for overreaction to a falling branch ready on her lips, when faint voices started to carry on the summer breeze:

“…he’s not even movin’. Jus’ layin’ there asleep. Figure even just a few scales would be worth a fortune.”

She could feel Daenerys tense under her, blood running hot with ire. She pressed down against the Dragon Queen again, reinforcing the need to be still and silent. She could feel Dany’s heart hammer against her as she slowly acquiesced, remaining motionless despite the rage thrumming through her.

“So we’ll tear a few off,” the same voice continued, strengthening as the interlopers neared, “or more than a few, dependin’. And that’ll be it. We can spend the rest of our lives in a Lys pleasure house, not breakin’ our fuckin’ backs for that Tyrell shit anymore.”

There was a soft crunch as dried foliage buckled under the weight of cheap, heavy boots on the other side of the rotting timber. As they passed, Arya pressed a soft hand to Daenerys’ chest, motioning for her to wait. She met the Queen’s eyes, trying to offer her wordless assurance before she carefully got up, gripping the handles of two thick blades she pulled from the sheathes in her boots. She glanced at the two men lumbering up ahead, and lightly tossed up the blade she’d held in her left hand, catching it again easily and clutching the sharp beveled edge above the hilt. Quiet as a shadow. She carefully started to follow the crude trail the men had broken into the earth, discreetly closing the gap between them.

They had been laughing together at the expense of a tavern girl they’d pawed at a few nights prior when her blade slid into the back of the noisy one’s neck, turning his laughter into nothing more than a few wet, sickening gurgles as the handle of her opposite blade smashed into the base of the quieter one’s skull, crumpling him into a still-yet-breathing heap at her feet. That one knew nothing, she thought to herself, staring at the slow-bleeding corpse. Men who can’t stop talking never have anything of value to say. She knelt down and hefted the unbloodied form up over her shoulder, then stood, hauling his prone frame to a solid cedar tree. “It’s alright now,” she called over her shoulder in Dany’s direction, hearing a few leaves rustle as she came out of hiding.

“Arya, we need to get to Drogon now. And if there are any more of these… poachers, I will have them. You will bring them to me, and I will have them die screaming, I swear it on the blood within me!” The Dragon had risen within their mother, and Arya could feel violet eyes branding into her back as she set her filthy payload down on the jutting roots of the softwood, leaning him against its trunk.

“I won’t let them harm your dragon, your Grace” she said smoothly as she unbuckled her belt, pulling it from her waist and wrapping it around the still figure, lashing him to the tree. “And if it is your will, I will kill each of them for you, however you see fit.” She slid the tip of her blade under the stitching at the shoulder of her shirt and pulled, cutting a few strong threads away before tearing the sleeve off completely. She twisted the torn fabric into a serviceable rope, and gagged the unconscious man lolling before her. “But first I am going to extract a bit of information from our temporary friend here.” She turned over her shoulder, looking up at Daenerys. “You may want to head back to Missandei until I am finished.”

“No,” Daenerys responded with a soft gravity. “I will not turn away.”

Arya acknowledged her will with a small nod, then opened her leather pouch. She felt around inside it, mindful of the few darts she had left, and pulled out a small wooden cylinder, sealed shut with a groove-spun top. She loosened it, holding it ready at her side as she rapped the knuckles of her free hand across her captive’s face. “Wake up,” she said sternly.

There was a twitch and a groan, then foggy eyes started to pry open in front of her. An incoherent mumble accompanied a weak pushing against the leather that bound him, and Arya lifted the wooden canister to his nose, arcing it up so a fine blue powder tinted the air in front of him as he helplessly breathed it in through flaring nostrils. She watched as his head slid back against the bark behind him, dazed, his pupils starting to dilate. “There we go,” she said, cool and smooth, her voice dropping to a low, hypnotic rasp. “You’re calm. You are pleased to be here, chatting with me now.”

He sat in soundless agreement, glassy-eyed and docile as Daenerys watched from behind, intrigued.

“I’m going to take that gag off, good sir, and then you will answer a few questions for me. We’ll speak as gentlemen, neh?”

He nodded slowly, arms limp at his sides.

Arya tugged his makeshift muzzle down over his weak chin, assessing him. “You have a few friends waiting for you down at the mines now, don’t you?”

“I have friends, yes.” A pearl of drool slid over his bottom lip.

Arya nodded, still cool and placid as a frozen lake. “How many friends do you have down there, waiting?”

“..bout fifteen or so.”

“Of course. I’d expect no less from an entrepreneurial man like yourself.” Arya idly tossed her blade from one hand to the other. “That’s risky business though, isn’t it? Trying to take the scales from a sleeping dragon?”

“S’why I’ve got so many friends,” he slurred. “Set ‘em to tearing a few off, an’ if he wakes up, well, that’s jus’ time to leave with a few less shares to pay out.”

“And that is why you are such a captain of industry.” Arya patted him on the shoulder with the flat edge of her blade before looking over her shoulder, up at Daenerys. “Your Grace, are there any further questions for our guest here, before we let him rest?”

“No.” She spoke the word with regal displeasure, a charge as much as a statement.

She fixed her sight back on the doped fool, and gave a slight shrug. “You heard the lady.” She thrust her blade forth, ramming it through his eye and twisting it in his skull. She held it there, steady as he twitched around it, convulsing pathetically before falling limp. “Valar Morghulis,” she whispered as she pulled the knife from his head, letting his eye socket secrete to the dry underbrush below.

“What… was that?” Daenerys asked softly as Arya rose to her feet, dusting herself off.

“A merciful death, undeserved,” Arya replied stoically. “I didn’t think you’d appreciate me wasting time considering the circumstances, though.”

“No,” she reached for Arya’s gloved hand, brushing her fingertips over the light dusting of blue dust that remained. “What is it that made him speak so easily?”

“An alchemist creation from the House of Black and White. Breathed in and accompanied by a low, calming tone it addles the mind and loosens the tongue, so long as the mind in question isn’t particularly strong. I figured in his case,” she nudged his corpse with her boot, “well, it wouldn’t be that hard.” She instinctively wrapped her hand around Daenerys’ smaller one, starting to lead her back the way they had come. “I just need a few things, and we’ll get rid of the riff-raff surrounding your boy,” she said as they started back towards Missandei and the horses.

 

…….

 

“Missandei,” Arya said, tossing aside a fishing pole that had served as false hope wrapped up in the unnecessary spare cloak her horse had been carrying, “please tell me that somewhere in your saddle roll there’s a bow. Longbow, shortbow, crossbow, just… something.”

There was a rustling sound as the Summer Islander unfurled canvas and blankets, searching the folds of fabric. “No,” she said timidly, “there are none here, either.”

Arya grimaced, resting her forehead against the tough leather of her chestnut’s saddle. “Four types of cheese,” she muttered. “ Two bottles of wine. Twelve satchels of sweet herbal tea blends from every corner of the Seven Kingdoms. Three extra blankets, because we may just freeze out here in the summer heat.” She let out a slow, restrained breath. “All of this excess he packs, and yet he couldn’t manage to make sure there was even one bow sent out with us.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “He’ll make a lovely little wife one day.”

Her plan had been simple: lure the ruffians out a few at a time and snipe them as they exited the mine. After she had thinned the herd, she could go in and finish the rest without the numbers being so riskily lopsided. Now that plan had set with the sun, leaving her very few options – all of them with the potential for serious liability. Seven hells. If there are gods, they must all take their amusements by pissing on Starks any given day.

She suddenly regretted letting Nymeria go tend to her pack. With the direwolf’s ears, she could at least hear how far they were down the mine; visualize their grouping and placements based on the echoes of sound. Between the two of them, the shock of a coordinated blitz would probably be enough to put down the brutes. Or, hell, maybe she could just let out a howl loud enough to wake the slumbering dragon, so he could-

“A dragon doesn’t need us to fight its battles,” she muttered to herself, her mind already stepping into dangerous territory. “He just needs someone to wake him up to do it himself.”

There was a hand on her arm, and she turned to face Daenerys. “What are you thinking?” she asked, a note of worry in her voice.

“I think that rather than go to Drogon down in the mine, it’d be best to try to bring him here to you instead.”

She thought of how it felt to launch forth in Nymeria’s skin, and wondered if she could possibly feel the wind beneath a dragon’s beating wings as well.

Chapter Text

AN: Some POV changes alternating in this chapter. I wonder if any of my amazing, awesome, clever readers saw this coming…?

 

…….

 

No One swung a pickaxe under the night sky as she wore the face of an unshaven miner, helping to clear the debris that was knocked across the entrance of the mine when the massive black dragon had ambled in and claimed it for his own. There was just over a dozen of them gathered together in total, most already inside the maze of caves, eager to pull onyx trophies from the sleeping death within.

No One had no interest in the bounty that they all coveted, but she needed to stay close to the sleeping dragon. The Silver Queen’s love for her monsters was well known, and the moment she’d seen the beast swoop down past the Red Keep, she knew that she need only follow him, and the Targaryen would inevitably come soon after. Arya would delay the mother and child reunion, naturally –but only temporarily. It was clear she was entirely sold to Daenerys, and her tendency towards overconfidence coupled with her loyalty to her new liege would ensure that the Queen’s arrival would only be a matter of time.

She’d been waiting in a blind spot on the ridge overlooking the mineyard when she saw thugs loosely guised as laborers starting to trickle in from the south, speaking of harvesting scales and black market riches. It was a nuisance, but she knew she would need to join in if she wanted to keep her vigil. She watched them as they clustered, picking out the smallest one in the bunch and mentally marking him. When he stepped behind some trees to relieve himself, a Wolfsbane dart made quick, quiet work of him, and she drug him through some tall underbrush before taking his face and clothes for herself. Then, it was just a matter of pitching in and feigning interest while her false comrades laughed and made grandiose plans about how to spend the crowns their black pot of gold would net them.

She set down the pickaxe and knelt to pick up a large chunk of rock that had finally broken free, setting it to the side of the entryway. She nearly started to whistle a chipper tune as she set back to work, but the ground shifting beneath her feet and the screams cut her off.

 

…….

 

Arya slipped from herself, her body falling limp on the cool grass in the clearing they had settled in. She could feel the dragon’s presence immediately, his existence humming in the air like the heavy electrical charge before a storm. She drew herself to it, melded against it, and started to push in.

It was nothing like entering Nymeria, this beast. The dragon’s blood burned her as she merged into his skin, not unlike the way Daenerys’ hands heated her any time they touched, only now amplified to a point of being nearly unbearable. She is the blood of the dragon – but even her line carries only a trace of this. She tried to gain her bearings, to shift the enormous body in tandem with her efforts, and instead just spun herself within him.

Drogon.

She could feel the dragon’s consciousness, slowly pulsing like a steady drum within him. She could hear the men outside, knew that they were pulling and tearing, but the beastflesh felt no pain. There was nothing she could draw his mind to, rouse it with.

Drogon, you need to wake up.

She steadied herself and tried to phantom his limbs again, bearing up under the blistering heat running through his veins. She could feel his shape around her; enormous the way you imagine a god as big. Her efforts were rewarded with a lash of his tail, scattering the vultures that had been gathered around him. She could hear screaming, one of them had been shattered against the rockwall and left there to die. A concentrated effort and she was able to lift the tail again, dropping it down on the screamer to finish the job.

Drogon. Your mother is waiting for you, and I can’t bring you to her on my own. Wake up!

Arya threw herself within him, veering him from the inside, her consciousness pummeling his with urgency. She pictured Daenerys, over and over again, pressing him to see, recognize, and understand.

Seven hells dragon! WAKE UP!

The pulse stopped, and there was a small flicker of awareness.

Desperate to capitalize on the subtle opening, Arya managed to lift one of the dragon’s massive wings before it collapsed on him again, a heavy gust of wind carrying coaldust across the beast’s face. He snorted in irritation, and the flicker grew into a flame.

Arya set to join her thoughts with the dragon’s, to finally take enough control to get them out of the cavern and into the air, when she felt him bristle with awareness, wrathful at her presence. She could feel his essence raging at her, and she became inundated with visions of teeth, claw and inferno. She felt him buck and seethe, trying to force her out of him, the fiery bellows within his chest filling and pumping, and she knew he was overpowering her. She clung within him, gripping with everything she had, pressing to his mind over and over again, forcing it to accept images of Daenerys waiting for him in the clearing even as he submerged her in depictions of brimstone and ash. She felt herself slowly slipping out of his skin when suddenly his onslaught ceased, his thoughts finally fixating on message she had been flooding him with.

As he calmed, Arya could feel the dragon’s blood bubbling within him as his heart constricted. When he slowly rose up with her, she could feel how leaden his strong limbs felt; the toxic exhaustion that had lulled him into such a deep sleep. She had endured enough poisons to recognize that some kind of venom had afflicted this creature, even as the incredible heat of his blood was rapidly burning it out of him.

She nudged at his mind, very cautiously, trying to touch a memory and get a sense of what it was that could have possibly incapacitated the mighty beast. She could see glimpses: the rocky shore beside the narrow sea, with small boats sailing out to cross. Then, the great Titan of Braavos-

He flared again, and she reeled within him, staunching the crack in his memory with the same image of Dany waiting for him.

Just take us to your mother, and I’ll be gone. That’s all we have to do together.

Lumbering steps made in reluctant harmony led the two out of the mine as great wings outstretched. Arya fumbled within Drogon, trying to start a beat between them that would take the dragon to the sky. His blood continued bubbling and it started to feel like soft acid wearing on her as he finally lifted.

She knew she couldn’t endure much more.

 

…….

 

No One ran as soon as she heard the screams, knowing exactly what caused them. She was quicker than most, and it was a gift she had used to serve the Many-Faced God countless times. Now, she used it simply to save herself. She ran into the edge of the forest, taking refuge in the shelter of the trees when she saw the Queen’s obsidian pet trudge out into the open. A few others had managed to escape, one having to drag himself away with his leg grotesquely twisted under him, but no more were seen. They were likely smears and broken heaps left in the dragon’s wake.

She watched as the beast beat his great wings together, gusts of wind barraging the dry earth beneath him as he took to the sky with a roar.

Did he grow weary of this place.. or did his mother call to him?

Hidden under the canopy of branches and leaves above her, she started to follow him, blazing her own trail directly below his. Through the inky blackness she jumped logs, climbed embankments, and pushed through waist-high grass with her pickaxe drawn, never losing sight of the majestic homing beacon lit by the stars soaring above. She felt a light sheen of sweat break out over her skin as she pushed herself faster, her strong legs and speed still no match for the ease of dragonflight. Had she been wrong? If the creature continued east, he was more likely leaving the continent than encountering his mother.

Her breath was heavy and she started to feel the sting of a gamble lost when the beast reared back in the air and gave a deafening cry. He circled, slowly lowering himself, until he finally touched down on the ground below. She threw herself down into the underbrush a few yards away from his landing, eyes widening as she peered through the foliage camouflaging her.

The Many-Faced God favors me.

There, sitting in the grass was the Mother of Dragons herself, cradling an unmoving Arya’s head in her lap. Her sun-kissed attendant was there as well, taking slow steps backwards, clearly afraid of the deathgod that stalked toward them. No One watched in fascination as Daenerys looked down at Arya, then up at the beast, an unheard question passing her lips. She spoke again, her hand pressed to Arya’s cheek as she watched her monstrous offspring approach with heavy steps. What… is it that I am seeing?

Suddenly the dragon threw his head back and roared, rage and death given voice. She saw Arya stir on the Queen’s lap, coughs wracking her body as she rose to her feet in a clumsy, awkward motion. The beast snapped at her, and she fell back, his teeth grazing her in an unsatisfying failure. “Drogon, stop!” She could hear the Targaryen yelling now, the tiny queen fearlessly wrapping her arms around his jaw even as Arya rose back to her feet, pulling her blade from its scabbard. The fascinating theatre continued as she heard Daenerys order Arya to put down the sword, even as ruby eyes studied her, already planning the next strike.

The Summer Islander crouched behind a large boulder, and even from this distance No One could see how badly her entire body shook. A cruel thing it was, to be bound in service to a woman who called nightmares her children. The dragon closed his eyes and tilted his head against Daenerys, a low rumble emitting from his chest. This was the closest thing to affection that No One could imagine a creature such as this displaying. There were words spoken that sounded like a beautiful poetry – High Valyrian, maybe? – and the aura of rage that surrounded the beast seemed to dissipate. Unarmed, Arya slowly stepped up to the dragon, silent and still. Of course, that’s exactly what you’d do, you arrogant fool.

The dragon opened his eyes again, still tilted toward his mother, searching Arya for anything it was that fire made flesh felt the need to see. His teeth bared and he gave a heavy snort, but he did not snap this time. Was that some kind of acceptance, brokered by the silver-haired Queen they both found so endearing? It was enough, whatever it was.

Even in the shade of evening, No One could see something was wrong with Arya. She’d been unsteady on her feet ever since the dragon had appeared, and every move she made had the grace of a first-time drunkard. Has she been ill? She watched Arya make her way over to the terrified Summer Islander, a slight weave in her step, and hold out her hand in offering. The darker woman took it, standing up, slowly looking around the curve of the stone, taking in the sight of her Queen with the beast tamed against her tiny frame. The two exchanged words, quietly, but the frightened woman seemed to become a little more at ease, taking small steps to return to her liege’s side.

She didn’t make it far before the dragon shifted, bellowing. He turned on massive feet that dug craters into the soft earth, a nearby horse catching his attention. No One watched as Arya pulled the Queen’s confidante back, placing a hand over her eyes as the monster blew flame over the light-colored steed, then lunged forward, snapping it like a twig inside its powerful jaws. Still chewing, the behemoth reared up before his mother, spreading his wings and swinging them into heavy arcs as he lifted off the ground again, set to soar away.

The three ran to the remaining horses, Arya still stumbling, trying to calm them as they kicked and railed, pulling at the tree they’d been loosely tied to. It took a few moments, but the frantic jumping turned into agitated whinnies and impatient hoofing. When they became manageable, Arya bowed her head and spoke to the Queen, a few words only that No One couldn’t quite pick up. She watched as Daenerys pressed a palm to Arya’s forehead, then her cheeks, pulling her hand away in apparent shock. Arya glanced out, scanning the dark horizon, and then stepped away, heading towards the lush growth that had been serving as her cover. She tightened her grip on her pickaxe, tensing, praying to the Many-Faced God that whatever ailed Arya had dulled her enough to survive this encounter.

The Many-Faced God blessed her with more than she had hoped for, as Arya took a hairpin turn only a few steps away from No One, heading towards the brook she had nearly tripped in earlier when she followed beneath the airborne beast. I will offer them both to you this night, she prayed, feeling the cool sensation of holy anointing. And all your House has suffered will be put to an end.

Staying a careful distance away from the traitor, she watched as Arya knelt down beside the water, working off the Targaryen clasp and unfastening the thick leather that so clearly marked her as the Queen’s pet. She started to douse herself, a ruddy flush to her skin apparent even in the poor half-moon light. Now. No One pulled a Briarhart dart from her pouch and threw it at the back of Arya’s neck, landing it with pinpoint accuracy.

The Stark fell back, motionless. No One stood up, walking over to her immobile mark. “Well, it took long enough,” she muttered, kneeling over Arya. She opened her palm, spreading her fingers across her face, and pulled the visage of the unshaven miner away. Recognition dawned in the Stark’s eyes as they narrowed, penetrating her with as much wrath as a body could withstand. “You’re trying, aren’t you?” No One purred, unable to resist the upper hand. “You know that I’ve hit you with Briarhart, and you know that will leave you paralyzed for hours, but still, underneath, there’s a part of you that thinks you can force yourself to move just by sheer will alone.” She patted Arya’s cheek, noting the heat that emanated from it. “Interesting. No wonder you were stumbling around like a fool.”

No One reached over and took the Targaryen Ranger chestpiece that Arya had set aside, and started to buckle it on. “You were always a little broader than me,” she muttered as it slid over herself, noting that it was fitted for shoulders that carried more than her own ever did. “But I don’t think anyone will even notice.” She pulled the red-lined black cape from the grass, billowing it over her shoulders before clasping it with Daenerys’ sigil. “Not quite there yet, are we?” She reached for Arya’s hands and pulled off her gloves, one by one, working her own hands into the worn leather. “These are nice,” she opened and closed her fists, admiring the flex and craftsmanship before she shuffled herself down a few paces to pull off Arya’s boots. “A blade in each,” she gave Arya a wink, “and I already know they’re honed to a perfect edge. You always did prefer getting your hands dirty. I never really understood that.”

Arya remained motionless, hate-filled eyes following her every move. “Now,” No One continued as she took the shortsword and Braavosi blade from Arya’s hip, and settled them against her own. “Knowing you, there’ll be a few more of these hidden away.” She patted Arya down, quickly finding the single thin blade strapped to her forearm, its twin having been given to Daenerys the evening before. “Only the one? You must be going soft,” she lifted the sleeve of her shirt and strapped it to her forearm, the same way Arya had always done.

No One stood up, looking herself over, then glancing down at Arya before returning to herself again. “I see,” she said as she began reconciling their remaining differences, cutting the sleeve off of her linen shirt to match the one Arya had removed to use as a makeshift gag earlier. “Do I even want to know how you lost that to start with?” She shook her head and clucked her tongue.

Arya’s eyes narrowed further, and a small twitch jerked the corner of her mouth.

No One compared and appraised them both, finally satisfied with her appearance. “So what do you think?” she looked down at Arya and spun around. “Are we sisters in Targaryen service, now?” Arya silently seethed in response. “You know, you’re right – the truth is, this does suit you much more than it ever would me.” She sat down beside Arya, crossing her legs and letting out a sigh. “So it would be best if it were you who continued wearing it.”

No One turned, opening her palm and pulling Arya’s face across her own features. She watched with a pleasure that bordered on euphoria as steel eyes widened in disbelief, looking up at a perfectly rendered copy of herself. “You remember,” No One’s voice lowered to a whisper, “that my gift was always imitation.” She pulled the corner of her mouth up into a slight grin, perfectly mirroring the one Arya occasionally displayed. “You’ll be proud. This time, I will get my hands dirty, in your honor.” She leaned over, tracing a fingertip over Arya’s bottom lip. “And don’t worry,” she continued, “I’ll kiss her goodbye for you.”

And then she was gone, headed back towards Daenerys and Missandei.

Chapter Text

AN #1: Some offensive language and good ol’ fashioned violence below, reader discretion is advised. More detailed AN’s follow the chapter.

 

………

 

As with all things related to bloodline magic, there was a harmonic balance of give and take maintained between skinchanger and beast. Just as only death could pay for life, you could not give without also receiving. Usually this would manifest in shared traits between the two entities; man displaying a few prevalent habits of the beast, and the beast evolving with a keener sensitivity and intellect that could better understand the world around them beyond their base instincts. The first time Arya had slid out of Nymeria after intentionally walking in the direwolf’s skin, she had to fight the urge to scratch behind her left ear for a week, and woke herself growling in the night. As their bond deepened, Nymeria, in turn, grew to understand many of the words spoken around her, and was able to respond within her means in a way that was much more human than any simple wolf could ever hope to manage. When she had slipped into the skin of a cat she became fond of in Braavos, she found that for a while she could see clearly at night, even when there was no moon in the sky. And the cat – suddenly, he was keenly aware of exactly where he could poach a fresh fish from the docks every morning without being chased or scolded.

Arya had given Drogon a push to wake, and kindled his desire to see his mother. She had clumsily, gracelessly, pushed a few of his massive limbs into motion, and in return she burned, her own blood punishing her by carrying his heat even after she returned to her skin.

Everything happened in a thick red mist for her once she opened her own eyes. She could hear Daenerys speaking her name; feel her herself resting in the lap of the smaller woman. The ire the black behemoth directed toward her still wracked her even out in the open air, and she had fumbled to her feet, fully expecting a physical attack to embody the mental outrage. There had been a snap – she could remember falling back, amazed at how cold the grass beneath her felt. The line between what was real in the dragon’s skin and her own blurred, and she instinctively pulled her blade, feeling the threat radiating towards her.

She saw Dany, in a moment that registered as complete fearlessness, embrace the monster. Transfixed, she sheathed her sword, obeying the command given, her feet moving of their own accord to step up beside the silver Queen who held back death. I’ll love this creature who desires nothing more than to kill me, because you love him, she had thought, her heart scorching in her chest. He is yours, and I am oathbound to you, so he may end me, if that is what you decree.

The flame demon did not snap again. Yet he still took his due, burning and devouring Missandei’s horse before taking flight again, the toxin running through his colossal veins demanding he find a cool dark to rest in.

She remembered hearing the panicked cries of the other two horses, understanding their fright in a way no one but a skinchanger could. She touched them carefully, feeling the sear of her own palms and trying to shield them from it. Daenerys and Missandei were with her, bringing alarmed hoofs to heel, trying not to look at the blackened earth only a few feet away. She felt herself grow lightheaded, the continual heat of dragon’s blood overwhelming her cool northern frame.

She went to the brook.

And then she couldn’t move.

She knew exactly what had happened, as soon as the first words spilled from the lips of the wretched cunt’s mouth. She cursed herself for her carelessness as she watched herself being stripped down of her equipment, railing ineffectively within her own body. She thought of her brother Bran then, when she tried to thrash her leg out in a kick, remembering the last time she’d seen him; a broken body in an oversized bed with their mother hunched over him, shoulders shaking, too grief-stricken to even say goodbye to their father, her, and Sansa.

The rebellion in her blood that had driven her throughout her entire life tripped and stalled when she saw her all-too familiar hunter put on her own face. I’m not dead… this isn’t possible. How could she have taken that? The breath she was still able to draw halted, as dread washed over her. Daenerys won’t know… it’s so dark, she won’t see it. She’ll think I betrayed her.

“And don’t worry, I’ll kiss her goodbye for you.”

She clashed within her body, savagely trying to force herself to stir as her own boots walked away to destroy everything.

She was so lost in her desperate rage she didn’t even notice when her foot shifted, just a little.

 

……..

 

To become an expert in an objects use does not always require one to become knowledgeable in its creation. A swordsman doesn’t ever need to wield a smith’s hammer to carve out legends with his blade. He doesn’t need to understand the forging process, the heating and cooling of the metals, the careful tempering that strengthens the steel. Nor does he need to understand how the ore is extracted from the earth. It was the same with liquid toxins. The alchemists of the House of Black and White could detail every characteristic of each component within every compound they mixed, but the majority of the Faceless Men would never memorize such excessive detail. They knew which elixirs did what, how much to administer, and what the main active ingredient was in each. Their task was to utilize that competent understanding and administer at an opportune moment, nothing more.

Had No One’s specialization been in the lethal mixtures that coated her darts, she would have realized the grave error she was making and would never have left Arya breathing to cut apart later.

Briarhart was never to be used on the sick, or the fevered. Because in any extreme temperature, Briarhart burned away quickly.

 

…….

 

Arya closed her eyes, reaching outside of herself and searching the area for a beast she could join with. There were plenty of creatures around – rabbits, squirrels, moles, a few foxes, birds – but the largest she could find within a feasible distance from their temporary camp were a few deer.

Seven hells!

She took in a deep breath, staring up at the starry sky. This would be it then, valar morghulis. She was no coward afraid to die, but to do so while someone else somehow wore her face and murdered those who had trusted her was more than she could bear. Old gods… are you there? I haven’t spoken to you since you let my father die, all those years ago. He loved you… always praying in the godswood. I remember learning how to sharpen a sword there, watching him under the Weirwood. Even my mother had come to accept you, along with her own Seven. If you are there, help me. Just this once. And when I go back to Winterfell, I’ll return to you all, and be a true Stark again.

She didn’t know how gods that may or may not be listening answered prayers, but the absolute nothing and silence she received was an unsurprising kick while she was down.

To hell with all of you, then. She tightened her hand into a fist and shot it upward, as if she could hit the invisible entities that were supposed to be with people, always. It wasn’t until the force of her swing lurched her forward that she realized, incredulous, that her limb had actually moved. She turned her wrist, feeling a delay in the motion, but obedience just the same. Slowly she stood up, her entire body tingling the way an arm or leg would when it had fallen asleep. She shifted from foot to foot, managing to maintain her balance as her nerves woke.

She whispered a ‘thank you’ to the old gods that she had cursed only moments ago, and broke into a run across the forest floor, tearing up moss and cracking pinecones under her feet. Drogon’s blood still burned within her, but it was easing now, the pain lessening along with the strain it had placed on her heart. She could see the clearing up ahead, the skittish horses she had left earlier now calmed, and wished for a moment she still had the eyes of a cat as she scanned the dark vista for any sign of Daenerys or her imposter.

She found them both together, finishing some irrelevant conversation and then falling into an embrace. ‘This time I will get my hands dirty, in your honor.’ Her jaw tightened and she pushed herself faster, unencumbered by armor or blades, knowing that she was likely about to witness the deathstroke. The wind whistled in her ears as she crossed the divide, and her mind went blank as she saw a glint of steel in the dark. It was impossible – she wouldn’t make it.

Her eyes widened as she saw that it was her own false figure stumbling back, hands reaching to pull out a familiar thin blade that had pierced her, angled into her side beneath her ill-fitting leather. She saw Daenerys edge backwards as the wounded No One started towards her again, devoted to finishing her mission before she bled out.

No more. Enough distance finally closed, Arya threw herself at No One, tackling her to the ground. She brought a heavy fist down on the assailant’s wrist, forcing it to jerk open and drop the blade she’d held. She took it, gripping it white-knuckled, and held it to her former brethren’s throat as she tore her own face off of No One. “Tell me how you wore my face!” she demanded furiously. “How is this possible?!”

Through the blood pumping in her ears, Arya could hear Daenerys call out, but she couldn’t afford to turn away from her adversary. “Valar morghulis,” the Faceless said, a pool of blood slowly widening in the grass beneath them.

“No,” Arya spat through clenched teeth. “I will hold you from death until you tell me, I swear it by the old gods of my father.” The blade still pressed to her enemy’s neck, Arya slid her free hand up under the edge of the hard leather, finding the punctured skin beneath. She pushed her fingers into the wound, staunching the bleed and tormenting the broken flesh within. “Tell. Me.”

No One threw her head back and cried out, jerking as she tried to pull herself away. As she struggled, Arya dug in deeper, her darkened eyes cold with the unforgiveness she had always carried with her for a decade. She pressed the blade in closer, allowing it to cut a shallow ribbon under No One’s neck as she waited, breaking her.

Pale and shaking, the Faceless Man looked up at Arya, her eyes glassy. “Jaqen,” she whispered, finally. “If you had killed her… he would have shown you, before giving you the House.” Unwilling to give Arya any further satisfaction in her suffering, she lifted herself up against the blade held at her neck and turned, slicing it through her own throat. Her mouth opened and closed, gurgling, trying to take one last breath, and then there was no more as the Many-Faced God welcomed her home.

“Arya,” Daenerys’ voice, unsteady and shaking, cut through the reaper’s voyage. “What’s happening..? I thought you were dead, I thought she was going to kill us both..”

Arya stood up, keeping her voice calm and even despite the chaos swirling in her mind as she processed everything that had happened in the space of just a few minutes. “She was going to. Nearly did,” she absently rubbed at the back of her neck where the dart had hit, “how did you know?”

“What do you mean..?”

“She had everything,” Arya muttered, finally turning to face the shaken Queen. “My armor, my blades, my face.. she became me. How did you know to strike?”

“Because I know you, Arya.” Dany’s voice caught a moment, a tremor in her hands betraying the fear she’d hidden so well to ensure her survival. “You have been at my side for weeks now, and I’ve seen more of you than anyone else could ever claim. I know the way you bow your head just a little as you step into a room, as if you are crossing some sort of holy threshold that is forbidden to you. I know the way you move, the way you carry yourself. I know the way your hand feels when it grips mine, and I know the uncertainty in your eyes.” She took a steadying breath. “But most of all, I know how I feel when you are with me – and even though she looked like you, down to the tiniest scar, I was afraid. And you have never, ever made me feel afraid.”

Arya turned to stare down at the corpse, numb. She is only seeing what she wants to see, what makes her sleep better at night. If she is not afraid of me, then she needs to face the truth. I was sent to murder her, because that is what I chose to become.

“You think you know me, your Grace?” she kicked the dead at her feet. “I am no different from this.”

“Don’t you dare say that.” The fire was starting to return to Daenerys’ voice, the strength of monarch kindling her again.

“This is who I am, Daenerys.” Angrily she pressed her fingers to her temple, spreading her fingers as she pulled Cade’s face over her own. “I kill,” she tore Cade’s face aside, and pulled another down across her features, a hardened middle-aged woman with a scar cutting across her brow, “and I become someone else.” She slid the scarred face away and pulled another in its place, a sun-tanned young man with a nose bent from an unclean break, “over and over again.” She pulled so hard on that particular face it split and tore as she rolled it back, every mask hidden away again, leaving only a wild, steel-eyed Stark with barely restrained savagery in its wake. “Now tell me, is that what you want?!”

The dragon did not waver, stepping in and reaching to grip Arya’s collar with her fists. “Yes.” Her voice carried the surety of rule, her eyes reflecting the same certainty. “You are what I want.”

I was born a wolf, and I have been consumed by dragons. Dragon bones have hidden me, dragon blood has burned me, and the last dragon’s touch has ignited me. I am a wolf, and I will not be afraid.

Arya wrapped her arms around Daenerys’ waist, capturing her lips in a sudden kiss that betrayed a desire that bordered on ferocity. She felt her heart start to hammer between them as the Queen gave a soft whimper, a firm hand releasing its grip on her collar and sliding up the back of her neck, fingertips running through her hair as she arched up into the assassin, inviting as much as yielding. The Stark answered the unspoken bid, melding against the Targaryen, seeking her with taste, breath and touch, until she felt as if she would drown in the silver queen.

The nature of the wolf overcoming the dragon blood still running hot through her, Arya pressed a heated trail of light kisses from the corner of Dany’s lips down to her jaw, following the soft curve of it until she felt her quickened pulse thrumming under the porcelain skin of her neck below. She bowed her head and leaned in, grazing her teeth over the fluttering beat and then nipped, her entire body tensing as she heard Daenerys’ breath catch. She flicked the tip of her tongue over the flushed indentation she’d made, a primal apology, and continued to practice idolatrous worship on Dany’s skin with pressed lips and hushed whispers, biting back a groan as she felt the Queen silently encourage her; fingernails sliding down her shoulders, hot breath against her ear, a half-kiss pulled up over a light scar from a full, kiss-bruised bottom lip. I would drink from the fountain for you, the thought came to her, hazy. I know I will likely end up dying for you anyway.

“...your Grace?” The weak call came from the direction of the treeline, accompanied by a rustle as Missandei started to pull herself up from the tall grass she’d been left in.

Both dragon and wolf paused, the reality of the moment starting to break the dazed stupor they found themselves in. “I..” Daenerys cleared her throat, a flicker of guilt crossing her features as she realized that in the heat of the moment she’d forgotten entirely about the absence of her friend. “I’m here, Missandei.” She tenderly kissed Arya’s cheek before pulling away, starting towards the Summer Islander. “What can you remember? Are you hurt?”

Arya shook her head, trying to clear it, and started to head for the horses. They would leave now, tonight, without stopping until they were out of the open and back at the Red Keep.

 

……..

 

Missandei pressed a hand to the back of her head through her hood, comforting the knot that had formed there overnight. She had apparently been struck, and aside from that she wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, but when she woke to find blood on her Queen’s hand and saw the dead figure wearing Arya’s armor, she was able to piece enough of the gruesome picture together.

She’d ridden beside Daenerys through the night on the Queen’s own white mare, with Arya insisting on taking the lead ahead on foot for the most part since Drogon had made a delectable out of their third horse. Every few hours the Stark would slow pace and ride double with the Queen on the large chestnut, forgoing uninterrupted chivalry to ensure she could manage to stay standing throughout the entire duration of their escort back home. She was mounted there now, under the morning sun, loosely gripping the reigns as Daenerys leaned against her back, a cheek pressed to her shoulder as the Queen dozed.

As Missandei watched them, she could see that something had happened between the two that she could not quite put her finger on. It was if an invisible wall that had stood between them had crumbled, and they were meeting for the first time over the wreckage of it. It was both a beautiful and concerning thing.

“Arya,” Daenerys spoke softly, her eyes still closed. “What was it like, when you were in Drogon?”

“It was very hot,” the Stark answered quickly, without her usual purposeful consideration. “And he didn’t much like me being there. But he knew you – when I pictured you, that was the only thing that would settle him at all.”

“I wonder why he didn’t wait for me in the first place..” the tired Queen mused out loud.

Missandei saw Arya’s brow furrow slightly before she finally responded. “He had his reasons, I would say. But he loves you, Dany. Don’t ever doubt that.”

They continued on together in silence after that, while Missandei mused on the nature of wolves. Be sure of this one, your Grace, she thought to herself, be very, very sure. Wolves do, in fact, choose their mates for life.

 

…….

 

AN: ‘Dragon bones have hidden me’ is a reference to when Arya hid amongst the dragon skulls in the cellar of the Red Keep as a child, before Ned was executed.

For those who have sent me inquiries, this fic will not devolve into smut. It’s not the kind of writer I am, so anything lemony that does occur will always be written tastefully, leaving some to the reader’s imagination. Hopefully that won’t disappoint too many of you =P

Chapter Text

AN: And we have politics. Because, Westeros reasons.

And for Luce, the first in a trail of northern breadcrumbs ;)

 

……

 

“You were snoring, good killer.”

Arya slowly opened her eyes to look up at the ceiling of the Red Keep. She was sprawled fully armored on the bed in the old Kingsguard suite she’d been given, with both Nymeria and Daenerys flopped just as inelegantly beside her. Tyrion stood just a few steps away, openly amused.

“How long have we been here?” Arya rubbed her eyes, stretching.

“Since you all first crept in this morning, I presume. Not even so much as a hello. If I were a lesser man I’d be wounded.”

“There were just too many stairs to get to your tower,” Arya muttered, vaguely remembering considering the prospect when they’d arrived earlier.

“Yes, well,” Tyrion grinned wryly. “I had company anyway.”

Arya chuckled as she looked down, noticing that even her boots were still on. “Of course you did.”

They’d arrived at sunrise with Nymeria in tow, the direwolf having joined them back on the overgrown trail at the same place she’d left them a few days earlier. It was a blessing to have the wolf to lean on again; after nearly two days of searching every shadow along the way, Arya’s eyes were strained and her head had throbbed with a not-so-dull ache that made the landscape swim in front of her. Daenerys and Missandei had fared little better, both leaning and swaying clumsily on their saddles long before the stables dotted the horizon.

“Supper is in the Royal Chambers, and I’ve had baths drawn for you both.” Tyrion smirked. “You smell like Dothraki.”

Daenerys turned then, her cheek half-buried in her pillow. “If Arya were Dothraki, Lord Tyrion” she mumbled, “her hair would be much longer.”

Arya grimaced. “I don’t even want to think about that. And don’t get me started on those bloody bells they weave in.”

Tyrion raised his eyebrows, noting the easy exchange of soft banter between them. He had clearly missed interesting things while they were out on the road.

Dany slowly opened one eye. “How is Missandei?” she asked, voice still rough with sleep.

“Still resting, your Grace. But Maester Tarly assures me that her head is already healing, and there is no cause for worry.”

“Good,” she reached a hand over to pat Nymeria’s side. “Now has my kingdom fallen apart, or can I just go back to sleep?”

Tyrion clasped his hands behind his back. “Your kingdom is generally intact, and yes, you could go back to sleep. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell that you have a guest.”

“Who waits, then?”

“The Spider has finally returned, your Grace.”

 

……

 

Of all the places in the Red Keep, Arya hated the small council chamber most. It was a place for those who wanted to shape the future of Westeros; to use their power to forge a legacy. She had no interest in such things. But as the Queen led, she followed. She took her place a few feet behind Daenerys, leaning against a pillar with her arms crossed. Some had commented before that it was a disrespect to have an armed, unknighted attendant present in a room with the history of kings lingering in its stones, but one hard look from their Queen had quieted any further protests.

At least it would be only a very small gathering, tonight.

Tyrion poured wine for the Targaryen and himself, then took his place seated at her right hand. “Varys will be with us shortly,” he said, taking his first drink. “In the meantime, I regret to inform you that Mace Tyrell has perished in your absence.”

Daenerys sighed. “Under what circumstances?”

“Natural causes, the Maesters say. At home in his bed.” Tyrion looked up at her, reading her concern. “This is not something that will spark any sort of war.”

Daenerys sipped her wine, visibly relieved.

“However,” Tyrion continued, “this does mean that you now have to name the new Warden of the South. Lord Willas is ready to step into the role, and Highgarden supports him.”

“I can not go and name a new Warden of the South when I still have not yet named my Warden of the North,” Daenerys replied with a hint of exasperation. “Send a raven to Lady Margaery marking both my condolences and my intentions to name her brother Warden. But make sure it is understood it will be a few months from now, after I have returned from Winterfell.”

Tyrion pursed his lips. “Lady Margaery has left Highgarden, your Grace. A day after her father died. I am told that she also headed for the North, upon Lady Sansa’s invitation.”

Arya’s brow raised as she considered what kind of alliances her sister had possibly made, but she remained silent, as she always was in this room.

“Then send word to Lord Willas directly,” she ordered. “And in the coming days I’ll make preparations to travel north.” She turned to look at Arya then, her eyes apologizing for the fact she could no longer delay the inevitable.

Arya’s stomach clenched the way it always did when she thought about returning home. But the old gods had answered her prayers when she sought them, and she had made a promise; owed a debt. It would be paid in the Godswood of her birthplace. She gave Daenerys a small nod.

There was a squeal as the large wooden door opened then, marking Lord Varys’ arrival. Arya scowled, remembering his portly frame from her father’s brief time as Hand of the King. Though he hadn’t outright betrayed Ned Stark, he certainly had supported those who did. Daenerys’ gray-shaded forgiveness did not also buy her own.

“Your Grace, forgive my long absence,” the eunuch started with a graceful bow as he took his seat at the small council table. “Your messengers reached me weeks ago on the road back to King’s Landing, and I booked passage on the first ship sailing across the Narrow Sea. Not since the War of the Five Kings have so many of my little birds been singing at once, and some of this symphony absolutely had to be attended to in person before I brought word back to you.”

“I trust then, that your time was not wasted.” Daenerys’ voice rang with regal authority.

She slips between the persona of woman and ruler as easily as I pull on a stranger’s face, Arya mused as she watched the exchange.

“Certainly not, my Queen. My whispers today span the four corners of the world. Tell me which you wish me to start with.”

“Tell me of Braavos first, Varys. What do you offer me regarding the House of Black and White?”

Arya felt herself tense as the words slipped from the Queen’s lips. Arya knew that it was reasonable caution, not insult, that drove Daenerys to seek out whatever information she could find regarding the threat to her own life. But the fact she, and likely Tyrion as well, had done it through this man in particular galled her.

Varys steepled his fingers on the table in front of him. “I had a few little starlings who tried to slip in through those massive doors, but to no avail. It seems that, for the first time in centuries, the heavy doors are closed completely. None have been seen going in or out, and there is no longer any access to the Fountain of Mercy.”

“Surely you bring me more than this, after so long.”

The eunuch gave a small tilt of his head. “While the front door was shut to me, I did manage to find a back entrance that offered a glimpse. I made a very, very good friend with a high-ranking member of the Iron Bank.”

Daenerys raised an eyebrow. “And how can the Iron Bank see through barred doors any better than your ‘starlings’?”

“In most respects, I admit they can not. However, it is well-known that the Iron Bank has very strong ties with the House. They enforce valar dohaeris for the Faceless Men throughout the city, and employ their services extensively when they do not receive their due. Even in a city as free as Braavos, he who has the gold still holds power. In this instance, the power is a large role in the political order of the House.”

“Go on,” the Queen bid him continue.

“According to my new friend, the order of the Faceless Men is on the brink of collapse.”

Arya’s brow furrowed with confusion. What could have happened since I left…?

Clearly intrigued, Tyrion swirled the wine in his wine goblet, then took a healthy drink. “And how has this come to be?”

“A successive mistake that has, apparently, cost them dearly.” Varys reached to pour himself a delicate cup of tea from the ceramic pot that had been steaming at the centre of the table. “From what is sung, the current leader of the Faceless Men is older than most would guess. As such, he has spent the last ten years grooming his replacement, as is required.” He took a small silver spoon and stirred the fragrant leaves at the bottom of his cup. “I am told his selection was the subject of much discord within the upper echelons of the order.”

“How so?” Daenerys prompted.

“His choice was undeniably gifted. A prodigy, in fact. But struggled with a few of their tenets. Had even spent a fortune to leave once, during the Wight War. The Iron Bank had locked down the entire city when the Wall was breached, and not even an iron coin of valar dohaeris could grant anyone passage out. The resourceful heir apparent managed to find a smuggler regardless, and ran to the Wall.”

Arya felt her heart catch in her throat. No… this can’t be..

Varys closed his eyes and took a sip of his tea before continuing. “Came back, though, after the war was done. Quite changed. The former conflicts dissipated, and she came to embody the doctrine of the order with such excellence that the previous objections to her succession eventually ceased.”

A pause. “She?” Daenerys asked quietly.

“Oh yes,” Varys replied. “That had actually been one of the many points of contention. Though there had been plenty of women serving as Faceless Men throughout the years, none had ever led the House. But he claimed her both blessed and chosen by their Many-Faced God, and toward the end, they had started to believe it.” He took another drink of his tea. “So they decided to send her on one very difficult, high-profile mission, and upon completion, she would be brought before the council and initiated.”

No, Arya thought to herself, no.

Tyrion pursed his lips, and carefully avoided looking in Arya’s direction. “Somehow I am guessing this did not work out as planned.”

“Why no,” Varys confirmed. “It didn’t. She was sent across the narrow sea, and then, by all accounts, cut off contact with the House. Not only that, when they sent other Faceless Men to complete the contract, strangely, they were never heard from again either.”

“How very interesting.” Tyrion muttered into his mug, doing his best to feign surprise.

“Oh, my good Lannister, it gets even more interesting,” Varys looked at Daenerys, earnest. “At the same time I am hearing this song in the east, I hear murmurings on the wind from the west. Seemingly overnight, the Queen is seen everywhere with a mysterious new companion called only ‘Wolf’.” He finally glanced up over at Arya. “And you are everything I heard, albeit perhaps a little shorter than I envisioned.”

Through her own turmoil, Arya regarded him with practiced cool, refusing to respond. Daenerys’ security was her concern, any words spoken at this table were irrelevant. No matter what they revealed, or how they cut.

Varys was undeterred. “Am I correct in presuming that our Queen’s continued rule is at least, in part, thanks to your change of heart?”

Arya shrugged, betraying nothing.

“Tell me of the south, now.” Daenerys smoothly interrupted, unwilling to broker the standoff she could sense about to occur.

Varys bowed his head. “Of course, your Grace,” he obeyed with practiced elegance. “I presume Tyrion has informed you of Mace Tyrell’s death?”

“Yes, shortly before you joined us.”

“Then the south is covered, for now.”

“I see.” Daenerys maintained her regal poise, though Arya noticed a slight shift in her shoulders that betrayed the discomfort she carried from their previous conversation. She will want to speak with me, later. Likely thinks I kept this hidden from her. “Speak of the west.”

“The Iron Islanders are raiding again, your Grace. Entire villages between Banefort and Castamere have been pillaged, and set to flame. They are continuing now toward Tarbeck Hall.”

Daenerys stiffened, and Arya knew the dragon was reflected in her eyes without even seeing them. “Then they shall pay their own ‘iron price’. Tyrion,” she turned to the dwarf, “I want the reserve force at Casterly Rock to intercept them. Sink their ships, and kill those who swim to shore. There will be no trials. I have warned them once; I will not do it again.”

Tyrion nodded. “Consider it done, your Grace.”

Daenerys took a moment before continuing, pushing down the rage that cursed her bloodline. “The North, Lord Varys.”

“Ah,” the eunuch set down his empty tea mug. “You have saved the most.. interesting.. for last, your Grace.” He smoothed the fold of his long sleeve. “For the first time since the defeat of the Wight Walkers, the dead have once again arisen.”

Tyrion cleared his throat. “I certainly hope you don’t mean to tell us that the Night’s King has somehow returned.”

“No, thank the Seven. But it seems a dead Stark has.”

Arya felt her heart stop. He can’t possibly know. He hasn’t even been here.

“The second youngest,” Varys continued, unaware of the quiet assassin’s slip in composure. “The crippled boy thought killed on the other side of the Wall. Whispers say he returned to Winterfell riding the back of a giant. The northerners are calling him greenseer; say he was at the edge of the world with the ‘three-eyed raven’.”

The killer couldn’t swallow for the lump in her throat. Bran. Old gods, Bran.

“On top of all of this,” Varys looked at Daenerys, his expression grave. “Two of your dragons followed him, your Grace. Visirion and Rhaegal. He said they would be safe there, awaiting your arrival.”

Chapter Text

AN: WOW! I can’t believe how much positive feedback I got from the last chapter. Thank you all, as a niche-fic writer I am both extremely encouraged and humbled by your support. This futureverse is still expanding, the point where I’m already toying with the idea of a sequel once this is finished.

For those who were curious, yes there will be some Sansaery in the snowy future. ;)

 

…….

 

“On top of all this,” Varys looked at Daenerys, his expression grave. “Two of your dragons followed him, your Grace. Visirion and Rhaegal. He said they would be safe there, awaiting your arrival.”

“Are you telling me, Lord Varys,” Daenerys started slowly, “that the Starks are holding my dragons hostage?”

Arya’s brow furrowed. How could she even think that? My family would never… they wouldn’t.. do I even know anymore? I’ve been dead so long I don’t even know who they’ve grown to become. And Dany, she doesn’t really know them at all, yet. How can I expect her to know what I can’t even tell her?

“No, your Grace,” the eunuch’s voice cut through her mental narration. “None of my little birds have given any indication of that. When the young man returned, they flew overhead above him. When he entered Winterfell, they both landed down in the old courtyard. They’ve remained on the grounds of the north since, by all accounts of their own accord. Some even claimed to have seen them laying under the sun with the direwolves there.”

“I don’t understand…” Daenerys’ voice trailed off.

Varys bowed his head. “I am expecting to hear more of this song soon. I will tell you the moment that I do, your Grace.”

“See that you do. Is there anything more you have to bring to my attention tonight?”

“There are a few marriage proposals that-”

Arya felt an instinctive snarl start to tug at the corner of her mouth. She caught it before it took form, taken aback by her own response.

“No,” Daenerys cut him off abruptly. “I have no desire to hear any of them tonight.”

“Then that is all, your Grace.”

“Thank you,” Daenerys gave a regal wave of her hand. “This session of the small council is dismissed.”

Chairs slid back while Daenerys, Tyrion, and Varys stood.

“Oh, one more thing,” Varys turned to Daenerys again. “I wanted to know if, officially,” he tilted his head and glanced over at Arya, “ you would prefer it if I acted as if I didn’t know that your ‘Wolf’ was in fact Arya Stark.”

Daenerys took a small step back, the only outward indication that she had been taken off guard, and Arya felt her hand move to grip the hilt of her sword.

“You must forgive me,” Varys addressed Arya over Daenerys’ shoulder. “But I’m told I have an unparalleled memory when it comes to faces. Yours was much smaller when I first saw you here, years ago, but it has grown to mirror that of your late father.” The eunuch slipped his hands into his sleeves, resting his arms comfortably in front of him. “I remember sitting at this very table when Ned Stark threw down the Hand’s sigil, refusing to kill a younger Daenerys Targaryen. It seems that you, now, have continued in his stead, honoring his wish.”

Arya stared hard at the table, trying to picture a memory she didn’t have while considering this. Is this true? My father had wanted to save her. Of all of the things I’ve done that would shame and disgrace him, things that have tainted the Stark name – this, this one thing, in the end, was something that he wanted?

“Officially,” Daenerys said softly, resting a hand on Varys’ arm “no one outside of this room is to know that Arya Stark is alive.” A pause. “Until I say otherwise.”

“Of course. As you wish, your Grace.” Varys bowed and shuffled to the door, the echo of it closing behind him filling the small chamber.

“Arya,” Daenerys started, her voice still holding the regal edge that demanded rather than requested.

“No, Daenerys.” Arya said flatly, shaking her head. “I never lied to you,” she continued in hollow monotone. “I didn’t know. Not about Bran being alive after all this time, not about Rhaegal and Visirion following him, and not about anything else. At this point that man knows more about my own bloody life than I do.”

Tyrion made his way over to the wine decanter and poured a full glass. Wordlessly he stepped over to Arya, holding it up to her in offering. Arya took the glass, studying it, then set it down on the council table. She made her way over to the decanter and uncorked it, gripped and started to drink from it directly.

Tyrion lifted a finger as if to wipe an imaginary tear from his eye as he watched the assassin gulp. “Is it wrong for me to feel so proud at such a terrible moment?”

 

…….

 

“It was Jon, wasn’t it?” Arya felt Daenerys elegantly take her arm as the killer and her direwolf led her back to the Royal Quarters, her steps still steady and sure despite the wine. “That’s why you left to go to the Wall when the Wight War broke out.”

Arya hadn’t wanted to talk about it, but Dany refused to let it go. “Yes,” she said finally, noting that the little Queen could be as stubborn as herself when she set to it. “For all of the good that it did.” She scowled. “I ended up burying one brother, and didn’t even look for the other who was alive beyond the Wall the entire time.”

“You couldn’t have known. No one could have.”

Arya opened the door to Daenerys’ room, blade drawn. Once she saw no visible threat, she stepped in and started to check for the invisible. “I should have,” she muttered. “Somehow I should have known.”

It was only a few moments before Dany dropped another gauntlet.

“What oath did you give them?” the Targaryen asked softly, referring to the Faceless Men.

“I didn’t give them an oath,” Arya replied, her neck and ears still slightly flushed. “Why do you presume that I did?”

“Because you are a Stark, and the hunch in your shoulders tells me that you are blaming yourself for something. I believe you’re trying to carry the weight of both your brothers and that entire House on your back.”

Arya shook her head and knelt in front of the hearth, sparking some tinder to start a fire. “I gave no one but you any oath, Daenerys. To them.. I only promised I could pay the price.”

Dany sat down in front of the hearth beside Arya, pulling her knees to her chest. “Then tell me what that price was.”

Flame sparked and caught, and Arya closed her eyes. “It was the first time I took a face.” She could remember the tip of the blade pressed to her temple, the same place she always started when she pulled on a new face even years after. “ ‘The price is you’, he had told to me, ‘the price is all you have and all you ever hope to have. We took your eyes and gave them back. Next we will take your ears, and you will walk in silence. You will give us your legs and crawl. You will be no one’s daughter, no one’s wife, no one’s mother. Your name will be a lie, and the face you will wear will not be your own.’ ”

Arya raked a hand through her hair. “They’d blinded me, as part of my training. To teach me to see without sight; to learn and fight with my senses. I survived it. It made me stronger, and more than anything I needed to be strong. There were so many yet to kill…” her voice started to trail off as she remembered her list of death prayers, long fulfilled. “I was willing to give them everything. I didn’t care if they deafened me; it would only make me better. If they paralyzed my legs, that was fine; as long as I had hands to grip a blade, I’d make the kill somehow. My parents were dead, I didn’t need to be anyone’s daughter. From the time I was little I had no inclination to be any sort of lady, so the title of wife was easy to throw away. A mother? That went hand-in-hand with wife, and was set aside just as quickly.”

Arya picked up a few quartered logs and added them to the growing blaze. “I’d been using fake names on the road long enough, so that wasn’t even much of a change. And my face… well, with half of Westeros looking to either kill me or ransom me, I didn’t much want that anymore either.” She sat back as the wood started to snap and pop, legs outstretched. “I told them I would pay the price, and he cut me with a blade that burned. Let me bleed just enough, and put my first new face on me.”

Dany reached out her hands, holding them in the flames, turning them as the fire licked harmlessly over. “It sounds to me like you did give them everything you promised. You just didn’t let them keep it all forever.”

“No. I denied them the most important part of that promise.” Arya reached up to give Nymeria a scritch behind her ear as the direwolf came in to join them after her rounds through the hall.

“What was that?” Dany gave Nymeria an appreciative pat as well.

“I gave them all I had, but..” she turned to look at the Targaryen in a rare moment of honest vulnerability. “I couldn’t give them everything I ever hoped to have. ”

“Oh…” Daenerys’ pale cheeks tinted, making her look every inch the beautiful, young exile princess conquering the Eastern continent that Arya had heard so much about when she was hauling nets years ago on the docks in Braavos.

“It won’t always be like this, you know.” Daenerys murmured, pulling her hands from the fire and shifting to rest her head on Arya’s shoulder as they watched the hearth blazing in front of them. “You heard what Varys said. The Faceless Men are on the brink of collapse – surely they can only hunt us for so much longer.”

Arya draped an arm around Daenerys’ shoulders, sighing. “Don’t be so quick to take his words to heart, Dany. Strong ties or not, the Iron Bank is still just the Iron Bank. They don’t see inside the House, and inside… there is far more at work than just politics.”

“But even if that’s so, one way or another, this will come to an end, one day.”

Arya gave a slight nod. “One day, it will.”

Daenerys turned to look up at her. “Have you thought about that? About what you want to do when this is all over?”

“I haven’t. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine living through this, most of the time.”

“Let yourself think it. Let yourself believe that this will end, and that we will both live.” Daenerys spoke with a quiet determination. “What will you do with that, Arya Stark? What will you do with the freedom to start a new life?”

Arya stared at a newly-formed glowing orange ember at the far edge of the hearth, watching the waves of heat it emanated ripple around it. “I truly don’t know,” she said finally. “I’ve been a Faceless Man since I was a child. I don’t even know what else I could do, now.”

Daenerys took Arya’s hand, her fingertip tracing the lifeline etched on her palm. “You could continue fighting. Just not for them.” She paused. “My offer still stands, you know. I still want you to be my knight. My Queensguard.”

Arya watched the delicate finger that trailed over her hand. “It would be no ordinary thing, an assassin being knighted by the Queen they were sent to kill.”

“You were no ordinary assassin, unknowing heir. And I am no ordinary Queen.”

“No,” Arya’s eyes softened as she pressed a light kiss to Dany’s temple. “You truly are not.”

Daenerys laced their fingers together and lifted their hands, pressing her lips to Arya’s knuckles. “Then swear to me you will, when we get through this?”

…Even my father wanted her kept safe.

“If we make it through this,” she said softly, “I will.”

 

…….

 

Daenerys’ handmaidens wove braids through her hair and expertly fit her in full travel regalia while Arya leaned over a large map of Westeros spread out on the table, marking a trail with dark ink while finalizing the route with Tyrion. “We’ll take the King’s Road out of King’s Landing, then head north through Brindlewood. From there we’ll pass Harrenhal, and cut through Darry.” She drew a small ‘x’ beside the city’s mark on the parchment. “Daenerys has a healthy garrison posted there, so if there’s any trouble on the road that’s where we’ll bunker. We’ll also check for any ravens you may need to send while we’re there.”

Tyrion nodded, taking a few notes for himself.

“Once we leave Darry, that’s when it’ll get tricky. There’s a long stretch of open road that’ll take us about two weeks of steady travel leading to Moat Cailin. We’re avoiding the Twins entirely, but we will be cutting close to Greywater Watch. That’s where we’ll stop if we need to top up any supplies.” She pressed the quill down beside the watchtower. “Dany has another regiment stationed at Moat Cailin, so once again, if we lose any men on the road we’ll pick up more there.” She drew another ‘x’ over the Moat. “After that, it’s straight to Winterfell.”

“And if anything goes wrong, which it tends to do,” Tyrion looked up at Arya, “will you push on or double-back?”

“We’ll push on. Daenerys is determined to see this through.” She pressed her finger to the western coast of the map, following the etched line northward. “If it comes down to it, I’ll take the Queen, Missandei, and two good men, and slip them out of the retinue. We’ll place a double in her carriage, and they will continue on our original path while I lead the small group north along the coastline. Her escort will wait at Cerwyn, and we’ll meet up with them after about a week or so, then finish the last few miles to Winterfell together again.”

“So be it, then. It’s a shame I have to stay – I pissed off the edge of the Wall years ago back when it was whole; it would bring the whole experience full circle if I got to do it again with so much of it in shambles.”

“Lord Tyrion,” an Unsullied stepped in, bowing. “All preparations are complete. The carriage is loaded and secured, and the men are gathered and ready to move out at the Queen’s leisure.”

“Good man,” Tyrion acknowledged the report with an easy authority he’d become accustomed to. “Tell the men to standby, her Grace will join them shortly.”

The soldier pressed his fist to his chest in salute, and walked back out.

“So,” Arya raised her brow at the dwarf. “Who exactly was in charge of packing our supplies this time?”

Tyrion sighed in exaggerated exasperation. “You will never let that one go, will you? There are bows this time, good killer, two of them. I had Bear select them from the armory himself this morning.”

“With arrows?”

Tyrion hung his head. “Yes, with arrows.”

Arya smirked. “Why thank you, Lord Tyrion.” She gave a crooked, sweeping bow.

“You’ve become quite the snarky bastard, you know.” He grinned. “I always knew that I liked you.”

Her smirk remained. “I’ll miss you too, dwarf.”

Chapter Text

AN: Longer chapter this time, to make up for the fact the next will end up being late. I’m working a shift schedule borne from the blistering, fiery abyss of hell right now.

The trip from King’s Landing to Winterfell takes place over the space of about a month.

Dany’s POV, as she’s as much a hopeful outsider by the end as we are.

 

……

The first week had been the most difficult. The road between King’s Landing and Darry was heavily populated, and as such posed the most risk. Daenerys had been essentially confined to her carriage until her retinue of eighty made camp every evening, when Arya would then cautiously escort her to her tent. The wolf trusted no one else, and would keep vigil as she slept, posting herself beside the covered entrance while Nymeria encircled the grounds.

To keep from going mad while enduring her forced enclosure, Dany had decided to prepare herself for the North by finally learning of its current political landscape. She was not an ignorant ruler by any means, but she’d taken the Iron Throne just in time to have to fight the Wight War, and once that had ended she’d had to try to repair the damage done by both the undead and the self-serving Usurpers in the years that followed. It was no small task, and far from finished. Learning about the leanings and allegiances of every lesser house that dotted the country she was trying to rebuild had fallen to a low point on her priority list.

The Karstarks of Karhold, recognized by a starburst sigil, had been kin with the Starks and served faithfully until Robb Stark had executed Rickard Karstark for murdering two small Lannister boys that he’d been holding hostage during the War of the Five Kings. A noble gesture meant to send a message and prevent further dishonor, but one that had cost Robb half of his troops. A Stark mistake. The Karstarks later sided with the Boltons when they’d seized Winterfell, and there had been no reconciliation between the descendants of original King of the North since.

The Boltons, who bore the sigil of a flayed man that Dany had found particularly distasteful, had been wiped out during the Wight War. Not one member of that treacherous house remained, and any of their bastards who may have been left standing were smart enough never to reveal that part of their tainted bloodline. Outside of the Karstarks who had their own reasons for turning against the great house Stark, the northerners were an intensely loyal people who had seethed with rage at Boltons in Winterfell. The name was cursed, now, and spat upon by Lord and peasant alike. If rumor was to be believed, northern hatred for the destroyed house ran so deep that any Bolton banners that had remained after the destruction of the Dreadfort were hung in privy houses.

When Arya had pointed out the Bear sigil of House Mormont, Daenerys was reminded of a heartache she’d thought she’d long forgotten. “My father was going to execute Jeor Mormont’s son Jorah for selling to slavers . In the north, that was illegal even before you arrived, your Grace. He ended up running off though, leaving his people like a coward. Jeor’s sister Maege Mormont rules there now.” Arya had explained, matter-of-factly. The Starks had known the man for what he was, it seemed, long before she’d had to learn the hard way.

She learned about the four gold chains that represented the great warriors of House Umber; the lizard-lion of the Reeds who manned the southernmost seat of the north at Greywater Watch; the battleaxe of House Cerwyn that lay just south of Winterfell; the bullmoose of House Hornwood. She had known how large this territory was, every time she looked at a map its wild space dominated nearly half of it alone. But only after studying it with Arya did it start to make sense to her, and become more than just a large expanse that carried with it the ashes of an unnatural war and failed rebellion.

While Daenerys learned Northern politics in the stuffy heat of the carriage, Arya had taken on language. She’d been learning High Valyrian at the House of Black and White to better ply her trade on the eastern continent before she’d been sent to kill Daenerys, and with Missandei’s expert assistance, she was able to pick up nuances she’d been missing and correct some of her pronunciation. It was the first time Arya and the Summer Islander had been able to connect on anything other than immediate concern for her own safety, and it warmed her to see them become more comfortable in each other’s presence - even getting to a point where Missandei felt safe enough to tease the poor killer.

When Arya’s speech was noticeably improving, Missandei handed her a thin leatherbound book with High Valyrian runes delicately stamped in goldleaf on the front and spine. “Try to read from this, slowly,” she had said with a smile. “You know more than you think. Just let the words roll from your tongue, and I will correct you if needed.”

Danaerys had sipped from her wineglass, silently watching the exchange and raising an eyebrow over at Missandei as Arya had opened the book, turning to the first page. The Summer Islander sat with a serene smile as the wolf read carefully, cleanly enunciating words she had been stumbling over only a few days before. After a few moments, Arya’s neck and cheeks flushed, and she dropped the book down into her lap. “He’s talking about her… chest!” she’d exclaimed, flustered.

Missandei had remained as cool as spring water. “It is Valyrian poetry, Wolf. This one in particular is a heralded classic. Please, continue.”

Arya’s jaw had dropped a little then as she’d sputtered, “I can’t read this out loud! Don’t you have a different book?”

“You know, her Grace very much enjoys Valyrian poetry,” Missandei continued, as if she’d never heard Arya’s protest. “It would please her very much to hear you read in her mother tongue.”

Arya had looked over at Daenerys then, eyes wide. The Queen had slipped her amusement behind a mask of regal authority, meeting the Stark’s eyes and giving a slight nod. “It does indeed please me, Wolf.” She took another drink of her wine, deliberately slow with a practiced elegance. “Continue.”

And so Arya had lifted the book again, blushing furiously, and read through all five pages of the lusty narrative, pausing only as she bit her own reluctant tongue when the carriage had passed over a particularly large pothole that jolted the trio within. Daenerys and Missandei had barely been able to look at each other for fear of breaking out into laughter and further distressing their casualty. Poor Arya never did figure out that she’d slipped into their pincer trap, and had abandoned any further language lessons after that.

When Daenerys had kissed her later that night, caressing the cut on her tongue, she apologized for Missadei’s cruelty.

 

…….

 

After they’d passed through Darry and neared Oldstones, crowds on the Kingsroad had thinned considerably. Both the eastern and western landscape were clearly visible on either side of them, so Arya would take Daenerys out to ride amidst her royal escort party while Nymeria loped ahead. The wind in her hair and the sway of a horse beneath her reinvigorated the Queen, and she found herself looking at the country surrounding her with genuine pleasure. This is my home, she’d think to herself, as much as King’s Landing and the Red Keep. She’d watch the tiny figures of farmers tending their far away fields, hearing children’s laughter cut through the air, and a surge of warmth would fill her heart. And all of these are my people. Every one. And in that moment, she felt a fierce love for them all.

It had been a long time since she felt such a connection to the lands she’d fought so hard take. It was a change within herself she welcomed.

As they drew further north, Daenerys had started to notice slight changes in Arya as well. The Stark rode with the relaxed confidence of a northern soldier treading on home ground, and it quickened her in a way that was difficult to define. She started speaking with the guards that surrounded them: asking their names, where they had come from, about their families, and listening to their answers with earnest interest. Had Daenerys questioned the reason behind the broken silence, she knew Arya would tell her that it was strategic; that she wanted to assess who the most loyal were if they ran into trouble and had to break for the coast. But she could see it was more than that – over the course of their journey, she was coming to view these men and women as people, rather than just potential enemies. Others who loved and served their Queen, with faces that were their own and blades that would draw to protect their liege as quickly as hers did.

Somewhere, buried under years of hatred, stranger’s faces, and fountains of death and bloodshed, were the living remnants of a noble house that was renowned for both its honor, and the justice it granted its people.

I am watching my Wolf become Arya Stark again, she mused to herself.

It was only Daenerys’ bloodriders who remained uneasy around the assassin, vexed by her presence ever since their Khaleesi had brought her into the fold. They saw no purpose to this stranger who wore the armor and mark of their Queen, as they knew nothing of the Faceless Men or the kind of threat they presented. That was a thing that would be difficult for them to understand, so Daenerys had decided early on not to tell them, blood of her blood or not. The Targaryen had watched as they goaded and taunted the stranger they knew as Wolf, wondering if the blades that hung at her hip were nothing more than extravagant Westerosi decoration. She had started to draw her mare towards them, to order their silence as she had times before in the Red Keep, when she saw Arya turn her horse around and rear it up in challenge in front of Rakharo.

“Enough,” Arya said evenly, trying to make the entire scene less of a spectacle than it already was. “Come at me then, if you are so eager to be shamed in front of your men.” She led her horse off of the Kingsroad and into the grassy field to the northeast of the entourage. She drew her Braavosi blade, twirling it casually before locking it into her grip, waiting for him.

Daenerys raised her hand, wordlessly ordering her retinue to stop. She had not wanted this, but had known for a while it would most likely be inevitable. This was the Dothraki way; they needed to measure Arya before they would ever accept her unexplained presence beside their Khaleesi.

Rakharo picked up the gauntlet Arya had tossed, guiding his steed to meet her on the green plains. He drew his arakh and rushed forward, slicing the curved sickle in a vicious arc towards her chest. Arya nudged her chestnut a step to the side, letting the edge cut through the empty air where she had only been a heartbeat ago. She waited until the Dothraki fully extended, then slid her blade diagonally across his back, flaying skin and muscle with controlled expertise. The bloodrider hauled his reins and spun around, attempting to pull his steel across her neck with a quick swipe. Arya shifted back in her saddle just enough to avoid contact, and flicked her blade with frightening precision across his face, trimming away the dark hair of his drooping black mustache.

“Fall back.” Was all she said.

Rakharo’s horse stamped its front hoof and he eased it back, placing a few paces between himself and the Khaleesi’s stranger. “Again,” he spoke, guttural, lunging forward and drawing the arakh down in a gruesome crescent meant to bury within her skull. Arya ducked her head and kicked her steed forward, avoiding the blow and darting her blade twice through his abdomen as she passed, making sure to keep the wounds shallow.

“Fall back.” She repeated.

Daenerys had seen the deadly Braavosi water dance years ago in the Pits of Mereen, and a few times later on during the Wight War as well. Though there were foundational similarities, what Arya displayed now was something entirely unique to her. She wastes no motion at all, Daenerys noted as she watched intently, her hands tightly gripping the leather of her reins. There is none of the bravado or theatre of a pit fighter, none of the vanity of a tourney knight. She doesn’t strike for any praise or attention, and every move is just enough.

Rakharo looked down at the lines of blood that trailed from his midsection to his saddle, a savage grin curling his lips. He spun his horse once more as Arya reined hers back, sword steady in hand. “Again,” he repeated, pressing forward and quickly swiping the half-scythe across the side of her face, as if he’d meant to take an ear. Arya deftly tilted her head, then cut a thin warning line across his throat in exchange, the same way she’d done with Daenerys’ Unsullied guard months ago when she’d been tested before the Iron Throne.

The wolf stilled her horse, waiting, a few drops of blood falling from the tip of her blade to the grass below. She did not ask Rakharo to fall back again.

This was the chosen heir, believed to be blessed by the Many-Faced God of Death. In that moment, Daenerys understood the truth of the Spider’s words, and let out a breath she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding.

A rich, throaty laugh came from the bloodrider, breaking the tension that had held the entire brigade in check as much as their Queen’s command. He turned to them, this time breaking into a barbaric smile. He pulled his hand across the cut on his neck, smearing blood over his palm. He held it up toward Daenerys and his brothers, turning it slowly. “Blood Wolf!” he called out to his Khaleesi and two bloodrider brethren in traditional Dothraki dialect.

Blood Wolf!” Jhogo and Aggo roared out to him, accepting the battle-christened new moniker of the Khaleesi’s stranger. “Blood Wolf!”

Wary, Arya led her chestnut back to Daenerys on the Kingsroad, sheathing her blade only when she saw Rakharo rejoin his brothers, his arakh back at his side. “What just happened?” she asked the Queen, confused.

“They have named you Blood Wolf,” Dany replied, pulling her white mare up beside Arya’s chestnut.

Arya scowled. “Not very creative, are they?”

Daenerys smiled and shook her head. “They are not a linguistic people,” she said. “The Dothraki don’t even have words for many things. Much of their communication comes in the form of actions.”

A grin tugged at Arya’s lips. “So no High Valyrian poetry books for them?”

Daenerys could only laugh.

 

…….

 

The slow transformation Daenerys had been witnessing continued when they were only a few days south of Cerwyn, pitching camp after a rough slog through the deep mud that cold winter rains from the night before had gifted them with. Once the stakes were driven, the canvases raised, and a large fire started, the soldiers opened a cask of ale and drank a mug with their Queen’s blessing as she sat apart with Missandei and Arya, the ghost of a smile gracing her lips as she listened to them laugh and toast.

“Hey, Wolf!” A large man serving in the Honor Guard from The Reach named Jarek called out from the far side of the fire. “Come have a drink with us!”

Arya just smirked and shook her head good-naturedly. “Like there’ll be any left for anyone else by the time you’ve had your fill you bloody dumb oxe!”

A barrage of laughter rose from the company, and Jarek could only shrug before giving a small nod. “You’ve called the truth of it,” he started to laugh with the rest of them, some ale sloshing from his mug. “But I’ll be damned if I won’t at least try to share a drink with anyone who can bloody up Rakharo.” Murmurs of ‘aye’ could be heard following his statement, as heads nodded and mugs were lifted in salute.

Understanding something that Daenerys herself did not, Arya had gotten up then, muttering that she’d be right back. Daenerys watched, puzzled, as she strode over to the fire and took a took a mug, dunking it into the wooden cask and pulling it back up frothing. Foaming ale spilled over Arya’s gloved knuckles as she clashed her full mug against Jarek’s, then drunk it down as the other soldiers thundered and slapped her on the back. When she finished, she tossed down the mug and slammed her fist to her chest in salute, then made her way back to the Queen and her herald.

“What was that about?” Daenerys asked curiously when Arya had settled beside her again.

“Keeping the Queen’s peace,” she responded casually.

“Which we didn’t have already?” Dany raised a brow.

Arya shook her head. “It was an invitation. They were offering me a place with them of their own accord, rather than tolerating me based on your command.” She paused. “If I hadn’t accepted it, they’d have been insulted, and you’d have had a schism in your ranks the rest of the way to Winterfell, and all of the way back.”

“Oh,” Daenerys breathed softly. “Were you ever a soldier, when you’d been sent out by the House of Black and White?”

Arya looked down at the grass, studying a long blade that curled around the heel of her boot. Dany could see the telltale shadow of bad recollection flicker through grey eyes, and immediately regretted asking. “I’ve worn a soldier’s face,” she said finally.

Something in Arya’s voice shattered Daenerys’ heart right then, and she wanted nothing more than to be a skinchanger at that moment, to slip into Arya’s skin and erase her memories while imprinting her own affection over the darkness she carried within her soul.

She had nearly taken the wolf as her lover that night, needing to heat her too-cold northern blood with dragon’s fire and take what she already thought of as hers. But Daenerys Targaryen was nothing if not patient when she truly wanted something in its entirety. She’d waited most of her lifetime to take the kingdom of her birthright; waiting for the Stark to come to her would take far less.

 

…….

 

The Kingsroad became more a well-worn path as it led to Winterfell, the lush green hills that outlaid the Stark’s domain threatening to overtake it with wild summer greenery. The great stone castle stood with its ancient towers majestic against the horizon as Stark banners waved in the wind that crossed the plains. There was a living history to this place, and Daenerys felt herself drawn to it simply by looking at it. Perhaps this is why the Boltons so lusted after this seat, she thought to herself. But would it even hold the same pull if there were not wolves within its walls? She didn’t think so.

Arya rode at her side, straight-backed and rigid, a dark hood shadowing most of her face as they neared Winterfell’s gates. Daenerys had gotten the prodigal Stark’s word that she would reveal herself as soon as her Queen saw fit to present her, and Dany knew she would keep her vow. Though it may have seemed an unkindness or an abuse of her authority, in truth she had only done it to spare Arya the agony that deliberation of her own timing would have caused.

Her bannermen led the way, pulling embroidered dragons between the giant stone direwolves standing sentinel at the open gates that bid them welcome, with Missandei trailing only a short distance behind them. A few members of her Honor Guard rode in next, black plate polished to a shine, and then it was Arya and Daenerys herself, with a few more soldiers bringing up the rear. She had refused the lavish pomp of arrival that she’d been told the Usurper indulged in during his time, wanting to make a very clear distinction between his false reign and her own strong rule.

The Starks and their own Honor Guard were dressed in full regalia, standing at attention in the courtyard to receive the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Once she rode in they all dropped to one knee, heads bowing respectfully as Missandei heralded her arrival. “Starks of Winterfell,” the Summer Islander called out in a rich tone, “I present to you Queen Daenerys Targaryen, First of her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons.”

Daenerys slid from her saddle, stepping forward to stand before the old family. “Rise,” she commanded.

Lady Sansa stood first, with a small boy who had his mother’s auburn hair at her side. “I don’t remember seeing this young man the last time I was here,” Daenerys said with the hint of a smile. “What is your name, little lord?”

“Robb Stark, your Grace,” the boy spoke in a shy hush, bending into a full bow.

Named for the eldest brother who’d been killed in the War of the Five Kings. That may be an.. unlucky.. name. “It’s very good to meet you, Robb Stark,” Daenerys replied, lightly russling his hair.

To Sansa’s right Margaery Tyrell rose to her feet with the same feline grace that had made her beauty famous. “I was surprised to hear of your quick departure after your father’s death, Lady Tyrell,” Daenerys said smoothly. “Allow me to give you my belated condolences now.”

“Thank you, your Grace,” the Highgarden Rose replied with a genuine smile. “There are many irresistible charms to be found in the North. There is no better place to mend a wounded heart.”

Lord Rickon stood next, much grown since she’d last seen him just after the Wight War, a strong beast of a young man with wild curls in his hair. He lifted his older brother with him, the man who had returned from the dead according to the songs of little birds, and could not stand for a broken back bestowed upon him by a Lannister long gone. “I am told that you have only recently returned home, Bran Stark,” Daenerys addressed the cripple with intrigue, “and that my dragons have taken such a liking to you that they followed you here all the way from the edge of the world.”

Bran looked at her with eyes like she’d never seen before, a familiar Stark-grey but with an added depth that could only be described as otherworldly. “They’ve found refuge here in the North,” he said softly. “Once you and your men are settled, we will take you to them. And if it please your Grace, it’s important that I speak with you about them.”

Refuge? “We will discuss my dragons after I have tended them, Lord Stark,” she responded with easy grace, her manner in no way betraying the many questions his words had brought to rise within her.

“It seems,” Daenerys addressed them all now, “that for reasons I do not yet fully understand, you have taken it upon yourselves to host my children long before my own arrival.” She paused, feeling all of their eyes on her before she carried on. “I thank you for this. As you all know better than most, it is a painful thing for family to remain parted. That was the legacy the Usurper left you, along with countless other families across the realm.” She could see a few heads bow as they accepted the stinging truth of her words.

“Those who are loyal to me,” she continued, “will find themselves granted a far better future than the broken past they’ve set behind.” She turned away from the somber family to face Arya and her Honor Guard, still mounted warily on their horses a few yards behind her. “Wolf,” she said in a tone that brokered no argument. “Please step forward.”

Dany saw Arya dismount, a slight twitch at the corner of her mouth the only sign betraying her shock. She had expected me to wait, I know. But I want no guile between our houses now, and to keep them from the truth for any length of time would only be perceived as an unnecessary cruelty.

Soft footfalls came to a halt a few feet in front of the Starks.

You can do this, my Wolf. You need to do this.

Daenerys watched as Arya slowly pulled back her hood, ruffled dark hair hanging over steel eyes as she looked up from the dirt to her blood, the pack she’d held herself away from for so many years. She swallowed hard, looking down and then back up, gaze finally settling on her sister Sansa. “I once knew a girl,” she said quietly, “who would scream when I chased her with a wooden sword, and who loved lemon cakes.”

She turned then to Bran, leaning against their youngest brother, tall and thin with his limp, angled legs and knowing eyes that shone with the remnants of veils no ordinary man could see through. “And a boy, who climbed turrets and battlements with his bare hands, but fumbled every time he notched an arrow.”

Last, she tilted her head towards broad Rickon, the youngest she’d told Daenerys that she’d hardly even known. “I can remember a small boy,” her voice was hoarse now, “who cried out too often as a baby, and would get so angry he would shake if I wouldn’t give him my sweetmints.”

Sansa, the eldest, the she-wolf who remembered more than any of the rest could, had a bottom lip that trembled ever so slightly as she took a step forward. “I remember a girl,” she said in a voice that she couldn’t quite hold steady, “who pulled my hair and tore my dresses, and always managed to ruin everything.” She stopped in front of Arya, looking down at her with glistening eyes. “And after she was gone, and I grew up.. all I wanted was for her to come back with her stupid sword and ugly bruises, and ruin everything just one more time.”

Daenerys felt a heat rise in her chest and tears well unbidden as she watched the exchange, surprised at how much her heart ached for all of them.

Arya’s expression was almost that of a child again, looking up at her older sister who would always be the bright sun to her shadowed moon. “I need to tell you, Sansa…” her eyes flickered over to the small boy now holding Margaery’s hand. “It was me who killed Petyr. I nearly went to you, after,” her hands reflexively balled into fists at her side, “but I just… couldn’t.”

Even in tears the dragon missed nothing, and Daenerys caught Arya’s glance at Sansa’s son. His father. Petyr Baelish was the boy’s father, then. There was no good that could have enabled that particular circumstance, and she knew then that for every scar Arya bore on her skin, Sansa likely had one to match beneath the surface.

Sansa broke into a small, watery smile and pulled her sister into her arms. “So you did ruin everything again,” she choked out, “.. just when I needed you to the most.”

It was the first time Daenerys had ever seen a tear fall from Arya Stark’s eyes.

 

Chapter Text

AN: Character interaction time. ‘Cause we’re in the North now, and we’re gonna stay a while and enjoy it. Some politics sprinkled on top because Westeros. Continuing in Dany’s POV.

Now StarkyD7 is gonna sleep for a good long time.

*Yes I did shamelessly alter Wyman Manderly’s character to fit my plot point. But, in the GRRM toybox, Wyman is sort of like a broken, armless Aquaman doll that a family pet has chewed up anyways – unloved and unrecognizable.

 

……

 

The Stark direwolves, a pack brought together once more as much as their masters, had jumped and nipped and howled in unison when the Starks reunited. It was a wild song Daenerys would never forget.

The Targaryen Queen still heard it echo as she sat at the head of the Lord of Winterfell’s table, the highest seat of honor in the ancient home. All of them had feasted on a rich fare that was spiced, thick and hearty, so very different from the carefully refined and controlled elegance of the South. These northerners were hard soldiers and huntsmen, and even their meal offerings emphasized these traits above all others.

Lady Sansa had been the epitome of a noble hostess, and Daenerys found herself quickly impressed by the woman’s etiquette and, more importantly, the genuine respect and affection those who served in her house seemed to have for her. Margaery Tyrell’s constant presence only bolstered the charm, as she quickly stepped in for the red Stark even when it wasn’t required. It was clear that the two knew each other very well, almost to a point of precognition, and the puzzle they presented the dragon with was very compelling indeed.

Dessert trays had just been served when a small woman came before Sansa, begging her pardon and speaking of the unexpected arrival of a Lady Manderly. “Excuse me,” Sansa had said with an apologetic tone, “I will only be a few moments.” Lady Margaery had taken the vacant seat beside Daenerys then, commenting quickly on how endearing a picture it was to see three massive direwolves curled up together beside the hearth, with Bran dozing under a fur beside them. Daenerys was quick to agree, but she didn’t miss the wary look Arya cast toward the doorway her sister had walked out of.

They made small chat, the dragon and the rose, until an overtired cry brought to mind a question Daenerys had harbored since her arrival earlier that afternoon.

“Robb,” Daenerys started quietly, ensuring that only her neighboring feline ears could hear. “I thought,” she said carefully, “that his last name would have been Snow, given the northern custom.” She pulled a red grape from the long dessert tray laid out across the black oak table. “I met Jon Snow during the Wight War campaign,” she quickly added, hoping that Margaery would understand that she had been asking out of genuine curiosity rather than some sort of intrusive elitism.

“Oh,” Margaery gave a tilt of her head. “It’s precisely because of Jon that she refused to name him Snow.” After a pause, she fell into the carefully groomed speech of a woman who had survived the capital’s court: “And as the Lady of Winterfell, there had been no one with enough authority to try to make her do otherwise.” She let those last words hang in the air between them, more a question than a statement.

“Nor should they,” Daenerys replied smoothly, alleviating any unspoken concern the Tyrell may have had in regards to her own personal morality on the subject. She felt her lips curl into a smile as she watched the tired boy tug at Arya’s leg, reaching for her swords. Her wolf knelt down and lifted the boy up on to her shoulders, telling him that he was going to help her serve in watching the Queen tonight. Robb’s face went from incredulous to sober as he bore his responsibility with as much determination as a boy of just a few summers was capable of from the perch of Arya’s shoulders.

Margaery had noticed where Daenerys’ gaze fell. “Poor Rickon has been temporarily replaced as his hero, it seems,” she said with a warm laugh. “A Targaryen Ranger with dual blades serving directly under the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms herself – right now as he sits up there on her shoulders he’s decided that he wants to be just like her, when he grows up.”

Daenerys wondered how Arya would feel about that.

“How was it that you two crossed paths?” Margaery asked, obviously finding herself more at ease now than she had been a few moments ago.

Funny story, that. She was sent by the Faceless Men to assassinate me and decided not to go through with it. Now we fight to survive each day as they hunt us both. Daenerys decided that a partial truth would be simpler. “She was presented before me in shackles. Within the space of seconds she was unchained and had dispatched three of my Unsullied guards.” She bit into a slice of spiced pear. “She was sworn to me, and has been by my side ever since.”

Margaery raised her eyebrows. “So she was a criminal, then?”

“Suffice to say she was affiliated with some very dangerous people.”

“Forgive me for rambling on, your Grace.” Margaery said, sensing the Queen’s reluctance to say anything more on the subject. “I forget myself. As much as I have come to love the north, we rarely get visitors here.”

We? The puzzle pieces were starting to lock together.

“So,” Daenerys cleared her throat. “You and Lady Sansa are..?” She left the question open as she tapered off.

“I am hers, and she is mine.” Margaery said softly after a considerable pause.

Danaerys found herself surprised not by the answer, but by how openly it was presented. “How long?” she asked.

“How long have I loved her, or how long has it been since I pledged myself to her in front of the old gods?” Margaery asked, undaunted as a gladiator.

“Both,” Daenerys replied, unable to mask her intrigue.

“Oh,” Margaery’s eyes softened then, and she became as warm as a cat wrapped in mink. “I’ve loved her for years, ever since she was a Baratheon captive at court. She was the most innocent little thing.. I’d never come across anyone so beautifully naïve. When my grandmother tried to arrange to have her married to my brother Loras, I remember my heart pounding as much as if she’d planned to give her directly to me. For that’s how it would have ended up, for all intents and purposes.”

The Rose absently twirled a thin lock of hair around her finger. “Of course we all know how that turned out. I kept close to her through the years, as best I could. We sent letters, and stole what moments we could in between playing our parts. The letters stopped for a while though, while she was at the Eyrie. I had wondered if she was dead,” the Tyrell’s eyes took on a haunted look then, a foreign sorrow on such a pretty face. “I finally received word from her again, around the same time she’d retaken Winterfell. I came to her then, and as often I could after. And once my father died.. well, I decided that there was no real reason that I needed to go back at all.”

Margaery reached for a strawberry and dipped it into thick cream. “We pledged ourselves just a few weeks ago, in the Godswood. A private affair, only Bran, Rickon, and a wildling come south from the Gift to officiate.” She took a small bite of the dolloped berry, before continuing, “I’ve been wed in the most lavish fineries in the Seven Kingdoms, with no expense spared and a guest list of every noble and elite who drew breath. But it was all empty pageantry. Out there, with her – that was the only time I gave someone my heart. It changed everything.”

“It sounds beautiful,” Daenerys said, truly touched.

“It really was.” Margaery dabbed a silk napkin to the corner of her mouth, setting aside the strawberry stem. “If you don’t mind me asking,” she turned to face the Queen again, “how long have you been in love with Arya?”

Daenerys’ breath caught, and then she let out a soft sigh. “Is it that obvious, then?”

Margaery smiled at that, reaching for her wine glass. “It is her duty to always keep an eye on you, your Grace, but not so much for you to keep watching her.”

“Oh,” was all Dany said, turning to look away from the object of her distraction as if she’d meant to all along.

She was saved from further probing when Sansa strode back into the hall. “Please forgive me your Grace,” she said with a perfect curtsy. “I trust you were well-tended in my absence?”

It could not be stated enough that the girl had impeccable manners. “Yes, thank you Lady Stark. Your entire house has been nothing but gracious,” she said earnestly.

Behind Sansa, Arya had set little Robb down in front of a tray of honeyed walnuts. She came up behind her sister, resting a hand on her arm. “After all these years, this is still happening to Lady Manderly?” she asked.

Sansa turned to the darker Stark, giving a slight nod. “Yes. She will be fine here, though.”

Daenerys saw Arya’s eyes narrow. “Keep her here,” she told Sansa. “Keep her here until he has to come here looking for her. Then I will deal with him.”

“Arya please, this is not the time. Just leave it be. She will be fine here for a while.”

“She’s been ‘fine here for a while’ every time he got drunk and beat her within the vicinity of Winterfell. I told you: I will deal with him.”

“Arya,” there was an upset flush starting to tint Sansa’s cheeks. “Just stay out of this. Things are more complicated than that right now, and I don’t want to fight with you when you’ve just returned home. Please.”

“We’re not children anymore, Sansa. We don’t have to step aside and let these things happen. I’m not asking you to dirty your hands, I’m only asking you to step aside while I dirty my own.”

“That’s right, we’re not children anymore Arya, and that is exactly why none of this is as simple as you think.”

Arya scowled and shook her head. “This all seems pretty simple to me.”

Sansa sighed in exasperation. “That’s because ten years later you are still an angry brute! Arya, you haven’t been here since the end of the Wight War. Everything north of Winterfell was decimated. It wasn’t just soldiers killed, it was farmers and tradesmen too. Entire strongholds and villages gone! The wights never reached White Harbor; none of their earth was scorched. Lord Manderly has sent hundreds of his tradesmen for us to distribute to help rebuild between here and Queenscrown. There are people who are just now getting their homes back. Now what do you think is going to happen if I hold his wife here just so my sister, freshly returned from the dead, can beat him within an inch of his life?”

“I wasn’t going to beat him within an inch of his life,” Arya muttered.

“No,” Bran called out from his place beside the hearth, suddenly awake. “She was going to kill him.” He said simply.

You and your beautiful Stark mistakes. Daenerys stood as Sansa started to pale. “Arya,” she spoke above the din, her inflection commanding. “It’s getting late and I’d like to retire. Please respect Lady Sansa’s word and show me to the guest tower.”

Arya turned from Sansa to face Daenerys, her jaw clenching as she bowed her head. “As you wish, your Grace,” she said through gritted teeth.

 

…….

 

“Arya,” she said, once the door was latched behind them and the assassin had started her sweep of the chamber. “Stop.”

Arya’s back stiffened as she dropped a carpet that she’d lifted, ensuring that there was nothing in the crawlspace hidden in the floorboards beneath. “Your Grace,” she said in clipped obedience.

“Sit with me,” she gestured to a small square table at the corner of the room beside the frosted patio.

Wordless, Arya strode to the table, pulling out Daenerys’ chair for her, and then sat herself at the other side.

“You’re angry with me.” Daenerys said.

“You are the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms,” Arya replied flatly. “As you decide, so shall it be.”

“But do you understand the reasons behind my decisions?” the Queen asked, raising a brow.

“I can’t say that I always do, no. I guess that sort of thing is beyond a brute like me.”

Dany let the snipe slide over her. “Your reaction was just, Arya. And I agree it is a situation that should be dealt with-”

“Oh? Could have fooled me, your Grace.”

“-but there is a time and a place and a method for all things. And this was not the time or place; not when your sister is working so hard to maintain relations that are benefitting her people, which are, might I remind you, also your people.”

“I’ll chat with Rickon once he is named Warden of the North, and then we’ll-”

“I’m not naming Rickon Warden of the North.”

Arya’s brow furrowed. “But Bran already said he would only be staying a while, and-”

“I’m naming Sansa Warden of the North.”

Arya was silent then, words cut off as if by a blade.

“Your brother Rickon is a sweet boy, Arya. But he is still just a boy. If I named him Warden of the North, it would truly be a puppet rule. He’s too inexperienced; too eager to befriend everyone he comes across. The north is the single largest territory in the Seven Kingdoms, and I can’t afford to leave it in the care of someone so… compliant.”

Arya still said nothing.

“Your brother Bran, you know as well as I do that he’s following a different path, whatever that may be. He will not stay at Winterfell – and you have told me yourself, more than once, that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell.”

“Well I’m sure Sansa will be thrilled to see how richly Daenerys Targaryen rewards cowardice, then.”

Dany felt her temper flare, and if this had been anyone else sitting across from her, her hand would have found its mark in a heartbeat.

Arya just sat, having read her intentions, her face as much a mask as if she’d put on someone else’s. “Go ahead then, you Grace.”

Daenerys let out a slow breath, her heart still pounding as she wrestled with her dragon. “I know that it’s difficult for you to understand the kind of strength it takes for a woman to survive the game of thrones.” She felt the tension that had coiled her start to ebb as she spoke. “The path you took allowed you to overcome more like a man would, which is not to say that it was any easier for you, but it is so very, very different.”

Dany reached to finger the dragonhead choker around her collar. “Who am I, Arya?”

“You are Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.” A pause. “And probably quite a few other things as well, that I can’t remember to list. You really have a lot of titles.” She raked a hand through her hair.

“Yes,” Daenerys nodded, her thumb still circling fire-forged silver. “I am all of those things. But before all of that, years ago, I was just a little girl exiled across the sea with her older brother. I loved Viserys. He scared me, more often than not, but back then he was all I had, and I had truly believed he was the rightful King, because that is the yoke of tradition that was placed on me.”

Dany’s brow furrowed as she felt herself slip back in time. “Because I believed he was meant to be King, I didn’t question it when he sold me to Khal Drogo for his khalasar army. I told him I didn’t want to be Drogo’s wife; that I was afraid, but in the end I took it as my duty to him. And when he took my chin in his hand after he had promised me over, and told me that he would let all forty-thousand Dothraki in that khalasar and their horses fuck me if that’s what it took for him to get his crown, I knew he meant it. And had Khal Drogo been a different sort of man, maybe that is exactly what I would have had to endure.”

She could hear Arya’s breath catch, but she wouldn’t allow herself to meet those steel eyes. Not now.

“The great Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms started out as a piece of property to be bartered for someone else’s ambition. And even though I came to love Drogo, it was not until long after I had been a scared young girl, raped in exchange for promises between men.”

“The next man I married,” she continued, “was after I had taken Mereen – Hizdar zo Loraq - I took him to try to stop the underground civil war that had broken out.” She let out a sad laugh. “For as much power as I had then, it still wasn’t enough to stop the streets from running red with the blood of the former slaves I had freed. For their sake, for the promises I had made them, I had to sell myself again.” She shook her head and then finally looked over at Arya, running her hands up her arms to bolster against a sudden chill. “Arya, you can’t even imagine what it is like to have to submit the most personal part of yourself to something you despise; someone who you either feel nothing for, or who disgusts you, knowing that if you don’t you may wake up to another pile of people who placed faith in you dead in the morning. To have to choose to make that kind of exchange.”

Arya moved from her chair and knelt before Daenerys, reaching to wrap her arms around the silver queen. “You’re right,” she said softly, “I’m sorry, Dany. I didn’t know.”

Daenerys rested her cheek on Arya’s shoulder, returning her embrace and clinging to the present. “Of course you didn’t. Those are not the things minstrels sing about when they write their songs.” She took a deep breath. “People look at the end result of sacrifice and write it as history, but rarely do they truly understand the cost of shaping it. You already have an idea of what your sister endured at the Eyrie with Petyr Baelish. But that’s likely only a fraction of what she has gone through. How do you think she was treated by the Lannisters at King’s Landing, once your father was dead and your brother Robb had declared war? How do you think her forced marriage to Tyrion served her once he was accused of killing Joffrey? Or after he killed Tywin, and escaped across the Narrow Sea?”

“Not well,” Arya said with more than a hint of shame in her voice.

“No, my Wolf, not well at all.” Daenerys whispered. “She wouldn’t have been much better off than I once was. And yet, despite all of this, she didn’t break. Once you had removed Petyr, she wasted no time in convincing the young Lord Arryn to grant her enough of his forces to retake Winterfell from the remaining Boltons. And once it was cleared, she rallied loyal bannermen of her own to keep it. All throughout the entire Wight War, Sansa Stark held this place. And the people here respect her for it. That is a what the North needs. To be held, steadfast.”

Dany tilted her head to press a warm kiss to the underside of Arya’s jaw. “Your courage is that which led you to the front lines when the time came to fight. Her courage was to hold one last line here, trying to keep everyone alive behind it when there was no front left.” She closed her eyes, breathing against Arya’s neck. “There is no cowardice in either of you. And in truth, neither of you could have survived if you had been in each other’s positions.”

Arya pressed her temple to Dany’s, holding fast there with her as much as Sansa had held Winterfell. “When I’m not angry at her,” she whispered, “I know she’s the right choice. I’m sorry, Daenerys, this ‘game of thrones’ as you call it – it’s a game I don’t understand. I wouldn’t even know how to play if it were forced on me.”

Daenerys tightened her grip around her. “Don’t ever, ever try to learn, Arya Stark. I couldn’t bear it if you did.”

Chapter Text

AN: First and foremost, I want to draw everyone’s attention to an awesome piece of Stargaryen fanart Strix04 made. I want to link this up as a title page soon if I can, but until I get that figured out please get a direct view right here:

http://41.media.tumblr.com/9205975105a20adb58a350177168d758/tumblr_nrmmivt6dv1ro4xe8o1_r1_1280.jpg

Thank you Strix04. You have totally rocked my socks off! I wasn’t lying every time I said I really do have the best bloody readers ever.

 

As for this chapter - Sometimes to go forward, we must also go back.

 

……..

 

I see you. I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death… you are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!

 

……..

In the first year of the reign of Queen Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name –

It cost far too much to turn a few backs and close up murder holes. It was more than many men broke their backs to make over the course of their entire lifetime, and still it was not enough. The difference had to be paid in blood.

She’d been told that the mark had slept with the captain’s wife, and that may have been true. But while that particular detail was up for debate, there was no question that the captain’s livelihood would markedly improve when his closest rival was no longer able to set sail. She knew this, and she had done it regardless. There was absolutely no other way to get out of Braavos.

The ship was small but quick, and it had managed to sail under the Titan in the few meagre minutes her entire fortune and unauthorized services had bought them. The wind was favorable, and it pushed the vessel quickly across the Shivering Sea, shaving a few days off of her time in the crowded cargo hold she’d hammocked in. The gain was quickly lost though, when the captain had her disembark at the Grey Cliffs. He’d made excuses about winter setting in and icing the sea further north, but she’d seen the truth of fear in his eyes. He was as close to the warzone as he would get – regardless of any agreements made while on safer ground.

She slung a bag of supplies over her shoulder and started the cold hike to Karhold. She changed her face then, giving herself the countenance of a young horse thief named Dane who had drank from the Fountain rather than face the noose. She knew it was a wasted penance to mark herself this way, but the attempt at atonement seemed better than nothing.

Dane would continue to do in death the same he had done in life. It had taken her a day and the better part of a night pushing through biting winds to reach the outskirts of Karhold. Under evening’s shadow, she darted two shivering guards and slipped into the stable. She chose the largest horse she could find to blanket and saddle, fierce and black with an impatient snort that betrayed his temperament, then loaded him with an extra bag of corn, oats, and a few choice apples. She had to take a running jump to finally launch herself on to the steed, who barely noticed the slight weight of her mount.

The beast was used to a much heavier burden with an authority and clout that matched his own, and would not obey the first few times she tried to lead him out into the wintery dark. She’d had to lash herself to the saddle, entangling her wrists in the reins while she slid into his skin, forging enough of a connection with the stallion for him to finally acknowledge her. While the tenuous bond held, she returned to herself and urged him onward. He was slow at first, but when he realized she was going to let him bolt so long as it was in the direction she needed, there was no stopping him. She hunched herself down and leaned forward, urging him on with her heels, and held fast as he tore through snow-packed earth.

They headed northwest, blazing trails through seldom-used roads that were arctic mud and rutted dirt when they were visible at all. Needle clung to her side, bound to her with thickening ice, and frost glistened over the heavy fabric of her cloak. They stopped to eat and rest only in short bursts, in alcoves or under slight overhangs that offered a bleak imitation of shelter as she cracked through still pools of frozen water to refresh the stallion and top up her canteen. Determination that bordered on desperation pushed them forward long after they both should have keeled, and a trip that should have taken nearly two weeks in the blustery conditions was halved.

She’d seen the first patch of scorched earth just a few miles south of Castle Black, where she found the road well-worn and far more welcoming, having been broken down under the heels of the brigades that had apparently already marched up by order of the new Queen. She’d changed then, pulling thick black over herself and making Dane a repentant servant in his afterlife. When she rode up to the gates of the Night’s Watch, she did it as if she were a brother who belonged there.

The brother-who-wasn’t was shocked at the state of chaos the ancient keep was in. Arrows and exhausted watchmen (or were they dead?) littered the yard, and empty weapons racks were splintered and laying on their sides. Bloodied bandages were strewn over platforms and wooden steps, and from somewhere within the dark stone she could hear the sickening pull of a wet medsaw followed by pained screams.

She found a boy in black, a little younger than Dane, hollow-eyed and staring out at nothing. She rode up to him, circling a few times until she finally saw him snap out of his stupor and tilt his head to look up at her.

“Where’s the Lord Commander?” she asked him quietly, not wanting to jar him further.

“Lord Commander,” he repeated, brow pinched as he tried to make sense of her words. “That’s Jon Snow. Lord Commander.”

“That’s right, Lord Commander Snow. It’s very important I speak with him. Can you tell me where he is?”

As if sensing the edge of her frustration, the stallion flicked his tail at the boy’s face. He blinked, as if starting to find at least part of himself back in reality. “You’re one of the rangers?” he asked, making the connections she had intended with her theatre.

Vowless Brother Dane nodded. “Yes.”

“You’re supposed to be with the rest, gathered at the Wall,” he mumbled. “The last we have left, heading out with those soldiers from the south.”

“Is that where the Lord Commander is now? Beyond the Wall?”

The boy reached out to pat the stallion. “Of course. Left over a week ago, after that Queen and her dragons came.” He paused. “I don’t think he’s still alive, though.. none of them have come back..”

Of course he was alive. He was Jon. She pulled the last Karhold apple from the filched bag and tossed it to him. “Thank you,” she said, before plunging herself into hell.

 

………

 

It didn’t matter that no one recognized the black brother named Dane who rode a horse that was far too big for him. He had blades, two working arms and legs, and even a bit of food to share. At a time when everyone was running towards the Wall, anyone willing to step out away from it was more than welcome.

There were only four rangers left, including the fraud. The rest of the group consisted of Queen Daenerys’ soldiers – an ethnic mixing pot if there ever was one. There were dark skins from the Summer Islands, olive hues from Volantis , Yunkai and Mereen, and even a few war-painted Dothraki. Many of them bore light scars on their neck where collars were once fused to flesh, and some even had tattoos on their faces, denoting whatever it is they had once been. As eclectic as the party was, they all had one thing in common: they were all uniformed now as they marched under the banner of the three-headed Targaryen Dragon, and to hear them speak, they did so with pride.

“Your horse,” a man with tiger-stripes inked across his cheeks asked her on their second day of tramping north, “he is very impressive. What is his name?”

“Stranger,” Dane said after a moment’s pause, remembering the Hound.

“That is a dark name,” the man replied.

A slight nod was all he was given in response. The name was no darker than the times.

They passed blackened ruins on their third day, a place murmured to once be known as Craster’s Keep. It was a joke of a name, surely, for even what remained of the charcoaled timbers betrayed the fact it couldn’t have been more than a large, glorified log house. Keen hearing of careless whispers taught her that it was once home to a man who wed and bed his own daughters. She turned to look behind her as they passed the ashen ruins, taking solace in the decimation.

“How much farther is it, then?” a Volantene asked one of the true rangers.

“At this pace, another three days. We’ll bolster Lord Commander Snow’s forces at the Fist of the First Men.”

The journey was hard on the soldiers. Most of them had spent lifetimes in eastern warmth and summer heat, and although they were well-equipped for battle they were not experienced in traversing the harsh terrain of the North. Even the horses they had were wrong; Destriers rather than Drafts pulling wagons full of rations, steel weapons, some strange shards of onyx glass, and barrels of oil and tar.

She’d been curious about the oil and tar, but didn’t dare ask because she knew a true ranger should know. Fortunately, one of the soldiers marching had a shamelessly inquisitive mind and unknowingly asked for the both of them.

“Are you daft?” the oldest ranger asked with a frown. “Ya can’t kill those white fuckers with normal weapons. Only thing that’ll put ‘em down is dragonglass,” he pointed to the small number of sharp black shards trembling on the wagon, “an’ fire. So when we run into ‘em, you take your sword, or your hammer, or your club, or whatever strange foreign shit you’re usin’, an’ you dip it in one of those barrels an’ light it up. An’ when that fire runs out, you run your ass back an’ do it again.” He cleared his throat, turning aside and spitting into a snowbank. “An’ if you live long enough for the heat to break down your weapon,” he waved his hand across the unclaimed steel, “ya take another one, and keep goin’. Until all of us or all of them are dead, you keep goin’.”

Dane had taken two shortswords and deftly pocketed one of the few shards of dragonglass, after that. Needle would be spared that kind of abuse.

A blizzard halted them a few days later, just as the peak of the Fist slivered on to the horizon. Targaryen banners were pulled down and draped across the shivering soldiers who bore them, and they all took turns sheltering under the wagons, praying to whichever god they believed in. Under the visage of Dane, Arya did not pray, but only steeled her resolve. She would fight whatever came. She would find Jon. They would win. And maybe, just maybe, after this nightmare was over, they could both go back home. She’d heard Sansa and Rickon were alive, at Winterfell – maybe Bran was too. Maybe her pack hadn’t all been killed and skinned.

Maybe it wasn’t too late.

They’d become so desperate for heat that they’d started tarring and burning a few of the shabbiest weapons that had been loaded into the cart. Snow piled and shifted into drifts around them, and the worst off huddled by the small fires, holding pale fingers about to tinge blue over the flames as they shook so terribly their teeth ground. Two of the horses died, and Dane watched in revulsion as some Dothraki expertly split their stomachs open, pulling out innards and then burrowing inside their steaming corpses. Meat was carved from them in haphazard chunks, held at sword-end to singe over open flame before those hungry enough would eat.

And then they came.

Skeletal forms in varied stages of rot started to shift and rise in the deep snows surrounding them. Glowing blue eyes shone as bony fingers started to grab at the living, and jagged chunks of rusted iron began to bury into bones and bloody animated meat. Dane drew two shortswords as a corpse leaped down on her, cutting a hand off by the wrist just before it could tear into her stomach. She lifted and crossed them both through the brittle bones of his neck, watching his head fall soundless into a drift. Undaunted, the body continued after her, reaching with the one hand it had left, and she could hear teeth clacking as a jaw that was buried carried on, still trying to bite.

“Get the dragonglass! The fire!” She heard a deep voice cry as barrels were cracked open on the cart behind her. Hands reached and shards were plunged as the cadaver mob descended upon them, and shattering sounds could be heard whenever a shank hit its mark; screams were heard every time one missed. Dane pulled herself up the side of the wagon, tarring the blades of the shortswords and igniting them with one of the torches that had been lit beside the barrels. She fell back quickly, nearly toppling backwards in her haste, making room for the others scrambling to do the same while their companions were falling around them.

The wind and snow blinded the living, yet seemed no hindrance to the walking dead. Dane pushed forward, stepping over the mangled forms of both enemy and ally alike, hacking flames into anything that was not brother black or did not bear the mark of the three-headed dragon. Wights fell twitching like beheaded snakes, burning tundra into thick, bloodied swamps. Smoke and the acrid stench of rotted flesh burning hazed her eyes and caused her to gag, her stomach heaving as she felt a blade cut across her shoulders. Broken teeth clamped into her arm, tearing it at it through her blacks, and a still-quivering organ pulled from a body that had not perished yet flew across her face with a wet smack.

This is impossible, she thought, the heavy weight of resignation and failure cloaking her under its mantle. Even if Jon is alive, I’ll never be able to reach him through this. No one will.

She dropped to one knee as something sharp burrowed into her calf and then pulled back out, barbed spines mutilating muscle as they tore. The tar on her blades had burned away, leaving only a new black smoke and smell to add to the medley already concocted around her. The wagon was far enough behind her that she could no longer spot it within the meagre scope nature currently entitled her, and telltale shuffling told her that she was surrounded on all sides. And now my watch has ended, she thought sadly as she pulled herself back up to her feet, pulling out the shard of dragonglass she’d kitched. She’d take as many of them as she could with her, at the very least. That’s what Jon would do.

She was violently pitched forward just as she’d rammed the unnatural shiv into a glowing eye, as a high-pitched wail pierced the sky somewhere above her. She sprawled into a bank, feeling heat permeate her entire body for the first time since she’d left Braavos. At least we won’t die freezing, she mused to herself as her ears rung. Through a fog of steam, she could see fire burning everywhere, igniting the dead grass that had been hibernating beneath the snow and ice and incinerating the horde that had been surrounding them. Was that a dragon..? She looked up to the sky, but could see nothing through the heavy gray.

Jon. I need to get to Jon.

She got up, dizzy, and stumbled onwards, not knowing if she was even going in the right direction, but resolute regardless. A few dead stragglers crossed her path, and the dragonglass cut into her palm as she felled them with graceless hacks. In time, the winds finally ebbed, and she could hear faint voices up ahead. The dead don’t speak. She pushed herself faster, loping lopsidedly as blood from her leg started to pool into her boot, until finally she saw black shadows moving across the plains, rallying against another throng of undead.

“Lord Commander, we need to fall back!” she heard one of the men yell as the mob drew nearer. “Reinforcements won’t make it in time!”

Jon! Jon is there!

Done with Dane, Arya pulled his features away and became herself again. Adrenaline coursing through her veins, she dashed faster, ignoring the drop her limp caused with each step. She saw him then, in the middle of the small sea of black, swinging his longsword at a large wight that bore what looked like a crown on his head.

“Jon!” she called out, trying to reach him through the din.

A watchman careened into her as he stepped back to avoid a blow from a warped pitchfork. She fell on her side, the wind knocked out of her as stars danced around the corners of her eyes.

Her breath came back with a vicious cough, and she looked up just in time to see Jon’s sword cut through his adversary, while a curved blade pierced through his own neck.

JON!”

The Lord Commander fell back, sword dropping from a hand the no longer had the strength to grip it. A body fell on her then, driving her back down into cold that cradled her as she stared in disbelief.

The crowned wight lay as Jon bled out, the glow in his eyes starting to pulse and fade. Arya dragged herself out from under the dead weight she’d burdened, crawling towards her brother. She didn’t notice the wight raise his arm when she saw Jon start to slowly sit up. The mind of a trained killer who understood that too much blood had already poured from his body was lost somewhere, silent. “Jon,” she called out, her voice something ethereal and far away. “Jon it’s me, Arya. I left the Faceless Men to find you,” her words were as fragile as the icicles forming at the tips of her hair. She started to rise to her feet as he did, shuffling closer.

He was nearly close enough to embrace when she saw his eyes, glowing, the same horrible blue as those things. Her throat closed. No, no, no, please gods, no, not this, no.

He reached for her, an iron grip closing around her throat. She felt herself being lifted off of her feet as he started to squeeze. “Jon,” she choked out, pleading with eyes that no longer saw her. Don’t make me do this. I can’t, I can’t, please don’t make me do this-

Her lungs pulled for air that was out of reach, and black spots began to form in front of her eyes.

First lesson, she heard echoing, remembering the first time she’d held Needle and the last time she’d hugged Jon, stick ‘em with the pointy end.

She could still feel the ghost of his arms wrapped around her when she plunged the dragonglass in.

 

…….

 

Bran sat in the Godswood, his palm pressed to the trunk of the Weirwood as sticky red sap slowly trailed between his fingers.

The tree held memories within it much the same as others gained rings as years passed, and the old gods saw through the barked eyes that no one believed in.

He could feel the grief that emanated from the Godswood since Arya and the Queen arrived, and now he understood why.

“Hodor”, he said quietly, rousing the part-giant who dozed a few feet away. “Help me back inside, please.”

He would take the Queen and his sister to the dragons at sunrise, and once she was satisfied with their well-being, they would need to talk – all three of them. About many things.

He’d start by finally telling Daenerys how her nephew died.

Chapter Text

AN: R+L = J even in this fic, such as it is.

I prefer the term ‘Three-Eyed Raven’ over ‘Three-Eyed Crow’, so I’ll be using that. This time we have Bran’s POV.

I still love my readers =P

 

……..

 

His body was that of a young man, falling not to far past the mark of twenty summers, but he never felt that way. Even now, mounted atop a strong horse that carried him in a custom saddle as if he were whole and unbroken, he still felt ancient.

He’d been at the edge of the world with the three-eyed raven. He’d been gone so long that he’d forgotten just how little that would mean down south beyond the Wall. So when Arya, Daenerys, and even the soft-spoken, pretty herald that accompanied the Queen had looked at him with blank stares, he knew he would have to explain what the earth itself already knew. The three-eyed raven had been the last of the greenseers, skinchangers who also had the extremely rare ability to watch the ebb and flow of the river of time, and held dominion over the living things of the earth that served him as a thousand eyes. He was old, and had been dying for years before Bran was born, pressing beyond his mortal span by melding into the tree that housed him for the sake of the one the old gods would have succeed him.

He had finally found Bran as he lay comatose after the fall that left him a cripple.

He spoke of how the raven drew him north after the Greyjoys had taken Winterfell, calling and urging him to a point where sometimes he felt he had been going mad. There had been no reprieve from it; even when he ran in Summer’s strong body there the raven would be, sitting on a branch somewhere above him, cawing, almost as if casting judgement on his warging distractions. The three-eyed raven had even sent him help in his journey in the form of Meera and Jojen Reed, the latter being gifted to a lesser degree with the greensight that slept dormant within Bran himself. As Bran had gone farther north, he’d sent Rickon away with the wildling Osha, fearing for his brother’s safety. As far as he’d known then, Rickon may have been the only other Stark left alive and he would not risk the boy on the potential madness that was gripping his own mind.

He’d barely made it through the wights that had already risen to the Haunted Forest, where the last of the Children of the Forest remained and led him to the cave where his mentor awaited. “He was once called Brynden Rivers, your Grace,” Bran told Daenerys, “a bastard son of your ancestor, Aegon the Fourth of His name.”

Daenerys had looked puzzled then, as she did the math in her mind. “But how could that be? He would have to be over one hundred years old...”

Bran had just nodded. “He’s been dying since before I was born, held upright only by the will of the old gods and the earth that sustains him. I think he may finally rest, once I return.”

They were all quiet for a while after that, each trying to understand in their own way, as the crunching of hooves on brittle leaves and frosted grass that had frozen over the night before accompanied them. Even in the summer, the chill never truly left the North, and it was hard on anyone who hadn’t been raised with a neglectful sun. Despite being clad as she was in a dark Stark cloak, with the warm fur of a northern wolf draped across her shoulders, he could tell the Queen was not likely to become accustomed to the lack of heat anytime soon.

“Why didn’t you come home before now?” Arya finally asked.

“Are you of all people going to ask me that?” Bran countered.

He heard her sigh.

“I wasn’t ready to step out on my own yet,” he admitted, reluctantly. “Ten years with the three-eyed raven, and there is still so much to learn.” How could he explain what it was like, to see the entire world connected with the greensight? To see how every living thing was a thread that branched and split and intertwined with everything else? How could he make any of them understand how it felt to see the truth of the past, to see the echoes of what had already been for those you loved, and to also see what may yet be for each of them as well - strands of probability interweaving in multiple directions at once, based on the outcome of so many exertions of free will? He was still so lost in it all, inundated and drowning, and so very soon his only guide would be nothing more than a stitch in the tapestry he could only see when he wakened the memory of a Weirwood. “I couldn’t afford to lose any time with him,” he finished somberly, “until now.”

“Why now, then?” Arya asked, a note of concern edging her tone.

He pulled his horse to a halt, then drew it over to his companions. “Because there is something I was charged with returning to Brynden’s blood, that awaits back at Winterfell,” he said with a slight bow towards Daenerys. “And because now is the time for reconciliation and truth, for both of our families.” He looked at the three of them, understanding that the Queen considered Missandei family as much as anyone who bore the name Targaryen at this point. “Those who came before us never lived long enough to speak of any of it. It falls upon me to do so, in their stead.”

“What do you mean to say, Bran Stark?” Daenerys asked, wary.

He pulled his horse back, moving time into a straight line in his mind, trying to find the best place to begin. “You never knew your brother Rhaegar, did you your Grace?”

“No,” Daenerys gave a slight shake of her head. “I’ve heard things from those who did, but he was killed before I was born.”

He started his horse forward again, leading the rest, settled by the easy sloping motion beneath him. “And Arya, what did you hear of Rhaegar Targaryen?”

He could see his sister glance at Daenerys from the corner of his eye before she answered, choosing her words carefully: “The same thing you heard growing up, Bran. That he’d taken an.. interest.. in aunt Lyanna, while she was promised to Robert Baratheon. And that not long after they’d met, she’d been taken from Winterfell.”

This much at least must have been known to the Queen too, as she made no effort to contest it.

“They met at a tourney held at Harrenhal,” Bran continued, starting to flesh out the skeleton of the story they’d been told. “You were not the first Stark woman to decide she wanted to be a knight, you know,” he said, tilting his head toward Arya. “Lyanna made her debut there, wearing mismatched pieces of armor she’d filched. The Knight of the Laughing Tree, they’d named her, not even knowing who the stranger that suddenly appeared in the ranks was as they watched ‘him’ unseat the knights of House Haigh, House Blount, and House Frey.”

Though she said nothing, he could see a hint of surprise in Arya’s eyes.

“She didn’t carry on until the end. There was a small score she had to settle for Howland Reed, and once it was done the Knight of the Laughing Tree disappeared. It was Rhaegar who won the tournament,” his brow furrowed as he could see the day in his mind, as clearly as if he’d been there himself. “When he won the winter rose laurel, he rode right past his wife Elia, and lay it on Lyanna’s lap. He didn’t care who saw, or what they whispered. He was the Dragon.”

“Later that night at the feast,” he continued, “while Lyanna sat with her brothers, Rhaegar played a song so sweet and sorrowful it caused her to cry without even realizing it.” He smiled, always amused by this part of the memory. “Benjen started to make fun of her, and she poured her glass of wine out over his head.” She had been just as angry at her own infatuation as she had been frustrated with her tears. I could see that much too. “Lyanna left Winterfell about a year after this.”

“She left Winterfell?” Daenerys asked, catching and emphasizing his word selection.

“Yes,” he responded simply. “It was true that Ser Arthur Dayne and Oswell Whent had taken her, but it had been no abduction. She left with them willingly.”

“But why would she do that?” Arya asked. “Why would she let everyone believe she’d been abducted? Grandfather and uncle Brandon died trying to get her back!”

The Queen knew this much as well, judging from the quick downward cast of her eyes.

“She had no idea any of that would happen when she left. She loved him, Arya.” Bran answered. “He was married to another woman; she was betrothed to a man she did not care for. There hadn’t been any other way, at the time.” He paused. “You heard father say more than once that Lyanna had been wild; that she had the wolf’s blood. She wasn’t going to force herself to do something just because it was what others expected of her. When the dragon called, the wolf answered,” he finished pointedly.

Bran turned to face Daenerys, then. “Rhaegar accepted the role of villain in all of this, just to spare Lyanna any dishonor. Your brother was a good man, your Grace, despite his flaws. He truly did love her.” He could see her visibly soften at his words, likely being unfamiliar with feeling any measure of family pride when it came to this particular piece of history.

“So,” Arya spoke, hesitant. “The war.. Robert’s rebellion, everything,” her voice grew quiet. “It was because of Rhaegar and Lyanna. Because of our family.”

Bran shook his head. “No. That just happened to be the match that ignited a very large pyre that was already built by a very mad King.” He quickly bowed his head before the Queen, “begging your pardon for saying such, your Grace.”

“Although I will never condone what happened,” she said resolutely, “I am aware of what my father was. I know why he was called the Mad King.”

And you are the last of your bloodline, the gods’ way of ensuring that the madness that has miraculously spared your mind carries no further. But there is greatness lost in that as well, isn’t there? “There’s more,” Bran said, looking down at his reins. “Arya,” he addressed the sister who had been dead as much as himself for all of this time. “ Jon Snow wasn’t our brother.”

Arya scowled, her countenance darkening immediately. “I’m sure mother would be very proud to hear you say that.”

“He wasn’t our brother,” Bran continued, ignoring the jab, “..because he wasn’t our father’s son.” He looked up at her then, with all of her own wolf’s blood ferocity that so closely resembled the aunt he’d seen in memories that they’d never actually known. “He was Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son.”

He watched incredulity slowly spread itself across both Stark and Targaryen features as their minds tried to catch up with what their ears had just heard.

“At the end of the war, our father and a few of his men went to the Tower of Joy, in the red mountains of Dorne after hearing Lyanna had been kept there. They’d nearly died, trying to fight the Kingsguard that had been stationed there.. only father and Howland Reed survived, in fact.” Bran’s lips pulled into a grim line. “There was blood everywhere. Lyanna.. she was laying in a bed of blood, surrounded by the blue winter roses Rhaegar had always favored her with. She’d just given birth to a baby boy, who had killed her with his coming into the world.” He took a deep breath, still seeing shocked disbelief painted across Arya’s face. “She gave the boy to our father, making him promise that he’d never speak of who his parents were.”

“Why would she make him promise such a thing?” Missandei finally broke her silence, speaking on behalf of her stunned Queen.

“So that Robert Baratheon wouldn’t kill the boy.”

“So that Robert Baratheon wouldn’t kill my nephew,” Daenerys finished then, finding her voice.

Bran nodded. “Father brought him home at the end of the war as his own bastard. He looked so Stark that no one had questioned his lineage, even though many wondered at what kind of woman could cause Ned Stark of all men to stray.”

The four carried on in silence after that, each lost in their own thoughts. It was the kind of silence that was sacred; breaking it would be as much a holy desecration as spilling blood on an altar of thanksgiving or taking an axe to a Weirwood. He saw Daenerys and Arya steal glances at each other as they rode up the long hill that led to the deserted old farm, speaking with their eyes that which they could not yet form in voice. It was only when the crest was reached, and the outline of two large dragons dozing in cropless fields appeared that the spell was broken.

“Viserion and Rhaegal, your Grace.”

 

……..

 

Nymeria and Summer growled, nipped, and ran after one another as they had when they were pups while Bran watched the tiny Queen tend to her dragons. Arya stood close behind her, clearly and fearlessly in awe of the creatures. Even when she was a child, she was always fascinated with dragons. Visenya and Rhaenys Targaryen, riding their flying firebeasts while battling with Valyrian steel beside King Aegon – how many times did we hear about that when we all played in the courtyard? Enough times that when I first saw her with the Queen, through a pair of eyes serving the three-eyed raven, I could only laugh to myself. Of course that is exactly who Arya would set her sights on, and no less.

It was strange for him to watch his sister with the silver queen, displaying a softness he had not seen in her for so many years. He’d known where she’d gone and who she became for a long time now, having sought out all of his family as soon as he’d had enough skill with the eyes to muddle through doing so. He had seen the trail of blood she left behind her; her thread weaving red through so many yesterdays as she cut off thin strings that had once been others with blades in flesh and bodies in canals. There seemed nothing tender left in her after that fateful day at the Fist of the First Men. Sometimes when the greensight took him of its own accord, he’d tried to follow the strands that emanated from her, chasing down the many paths of what could be to see if there were any that would divert her from the course of self-destruction she was hell-bent on walking. Daenerys always turned up at the end of these lines; a stop-point he had not been able to see beyond no matter how hard he had tried for years.

You were a crossroads for her, your Grace. A dividing line chosen by fate itself. Nothing would be written for her until she had made her decision regarding you.

He knew the danger they were still in, but he didn’t know nearly enough on his own to guide them through the storm. The Faceless Men were a powerful force to be reckoned with, of that there was no doubt, but they were not the alpha and the omega behind the turning of worlds. They were the instruments of such. He’d tried to follow the lightly glinting trail that had led to the House of Black and White in the first place, but there were places that even a thousand eyes could not reach, and the dark catacombs of the House was one of those places. A greenseer was connected to the essence of life; that temple was the abode of death.

But there is time yet. I will keep trying. For both their sakes.

Knowledge, and what to do with it, and when, was such a heavy burden. There were times he felt as if he would end up cracking under the weight, ending his time long before the rock that was Brynden.

Bran sighed, shifting as he remained on his horse, unwilling to give up the dignity it afford him despite the strain it placed on his back after a while. Missandei stepped in beside him after she’d tied her mount up with the other two, clearly preferring to keep her distance from the Mother of Dragon’s children.

“I have been with her for many years,” the Summer Islander said softly to him, “but in truth, they still frighten me. I think they always will.”

“Do you think they would hurt you, even with her there?” Bran asked.

“I think,” she said with a slight smile, “that I don’t want to find out.”

He felt his lips curve into a smile, even as he felt a pang of longing that he had thought himself beyond. The woman was beautiful, exotic with an unsuspecting wit that he’d come to appreciate ever since they’d arrived at Winterfell. Had things been different, had he grown up whole, marching as the soldier King Robert had once said he would be, he could allow himself this luxury of attraction and even the hope that it could possibly be reciprocated.

But as it stood - he was the Crippled Stark, long-believed dead and heir to a tree in a cave and a thousand eyes. A bit of shared conversation was the most he could ever hope for.

“They’re really not so frightening, when you can speak with them,” he said as he wound a leather-rein spiral around his thumb, pulling his mind away from the dangerous abyss of self-pity. “They’re actually very intelligent.”

“You can speak with them?” Missandei asked, brow raised.

“In a way, yes,” Bran nodded. “Not like you and I are speaking – but they do have understanding, so long as you know how to tap into it.”

“So then you did bring them here, and had them wait for her Grace?”

“No. No one can make a dragon do anything that it doesn’t want to, really. I only helped them to understand that she was coming here, and that this was a safe place to wait for her, in a world that is full of places that are not currently hospitable for them.”

“How were you able to do that?” the herald could not hide her fascination.

“Well, it’s-” the words caught in Bran’s throat as he stared at the Queen’s back, his vision shimmering in a deep verdant as his eyes changed from Stark gray to a lightly glowing green as the greensight took him.

Chapter Text

AN: This chapter is placed as an offering before the fanfic gods as a token of thanksgiving for the improving health of prplmunky, who (still) rocks my Stargaryen socks off.

We start by continuing in Bran’s POV, then switching to Arya during the last segment.

 

……

 

The world grew dark around Bran Stark as he was taken beyond himself, his eyes alive with the sight that the old gods had entrusted him with. He could hear Missandei asking him what was wrong, but she sounded far away, as if she was trying to speak to the sky from the bottom of the sea.

He could see delicate tendrils of light surrounding Daenerys, so many strands woven around her and weaving to others that were too far away to glimpse, while even more shifted and threaded to her as quickly as he took a breath. This is what it is to rule. So many lives connected to your own, even unknowingly, depending on the peace that you keep, the laws you uphold, the ordinances you pass. One word spoken can either end or save so many of these strands, every single day.

He could see thicker, banded cords that connected the Queen to Arya, and Arya back to her. Interdependence. They’re becoming linked now, one needing the other else all of the strands connected to each of them individually are in jeopardy.

The dance of light representing life and time stopped abruptly then, and Bran could feel himself pitched forward even as his body remained still. The farm, the dragons, Arya and Missandei were all gone as he was torn through the invisible veil of possibility. Instead he found himself in an unfamiliar room with walls of red stone and the wealthy ornamentation that was only found in the south. He could see Daenerys seated in front of a blazing hearth, a northern wolf-pelt cloak still over her shoulders, stroking Nymeria’s head as it rested on her lap. Her brow creased with an unspoken worry, and every so often she’d absently turn a ring that glinted on her finger. He took a step to look closer, and felt himself pulled again.

He could see the wind but feel none of it on his face. He stood weightless on the back of a dragon, the golden one named Viserion. To Viserion’s left flew Drogon, the massive black who Bran had never yet had the pleasure of speaking with. Daenerys rode on his back, silver and tiny upon his gargantuan frame, and he could see a cold blank in place of the warmth that usually animated her features. Her eyes were red-rimmed and dark, and there was no hesitation within their violet depths. He knew what command she was about to issue before she spoke it. Flames burst forth, pelting a city as a massive sword-bearing titan below shook, defenseless against the onslaught. No! Bran tried to call out, horrified, forgetting that he was only a voiceless observer. Please, stop!

He was pulled sideways this time, feeling himself crossing into a neighboring branch of what may be. He was in a well-tended garden with the glow of a warm sun he couldn’t feel upon his back. That same sun lit up the Queen as she strode across the grass, heading towards a large tree with thick branches full of some kind of ripened fruit. “Rhaegar!” He heard her call out as she shook her head in affectionate exasperation. “Jon! Both of you get down from there right now.”

“Oh, but we just-”

“No buts.” Her tone was firm, but a smile still graced her lips.

There was a rustle and a few thuds, and two small boys clambered down to the lowest branch, then jumped to the ground. They both ran to her, laughing, and she lifted each up in turn to kiss their cheek. Neither of them bore the features of a bloodline Targaryen, yet they clearly thought of her as their mother regardless, and she seemed to readily reciprocate the endearment.

What is the difference here? Bran’s mind cried out. Which of these will come to pass? Is there anything I can do to direct any of this? He craned his neck, trying to find the starting point of each thread and a common weave that would indicate the trigger of change.

“What fell did not truly die.” He saw a skeletal face then, rasping, parched and pale as the death that constantly sought to bring it home. “Tell the Faceless to trust the man who bows beneath her blade.”

“The Faceless? Arya? Brynden, do you mean I need to tell Arya?”

There was no response.

“Brynden?”

“Bran?”

The room with the hearth was gone, the beat of Viserion’s wings had ceased, there were no little boys in a climbing tree and two of the thousand and one eyes vanished. What was left was the worried face of Missandei, as she reached up to press a palm to his forehead. “Are you alright Bran? You’re warm, and your eyes.. they weren’t.. right.”

“I’m fine,” he said finally, returning to himself. “I’m sorry. It’s the greensight. That happens sometimes – I can’t really control it yet.”

“What did you see?” she asked.

“I’m still trying to piece it all together,” he answered honestly before changing the subject. “What had we been talking about?”

“Oh,” Missandei said, noting his evasion but allowing for it. “You were about to tell me how it is that you speak with dragons.”

“Ah, yes,” he looked over at Daenerys as she smoothed her palm against Rhaegal’s scaled cheek, mouthing words in a language he wouldn’t have been able to understand even if he could have heard their conversation. “Well,” he smiled, “how about I just show you?”

He could feel Missandei’s eyes on him as he reached out for the guarded energy of the green beast who rested beneath his mother’s hand. He spoke to him, mind to mind as the creature would understand it. “Here,” he pointed to Arya then, still standing just a few feet away from the Queen. “Watch this.”

Rhaegal moved quickly, knocking Daenerys’ hand aside as he stood up, spreading his wings and bellowing a deep roar right at the assassin. Bran saw his sister’s eyes widen as she took a step back, both horrified and confused. “What did I do?!” he heard her call out as she stepped back further while the dragon leaned in, watching her with dark eyes as smoke trailed from his nostrils as he turned, deliberately putting himself in between her and Dany.

“Bran!” Missandei exclaimed, her voice rising along with her fear. “Something is wrong, why is this happening?”

His shoulders shook as he let out a quiet laugh. “No, it’ll be alright Missandei, just keep watching him.” As if on cue, Rhaegal bunted his head forward against Arya’s chest, knocking her to the ground before she could back up any further. “He’s not going to hurt her, he’s just... warning her.”

Missandei’s eyes widened even more than Arya’s had when Rhaegal first turned on her. “Warning her?”

He turned to the Summer Islander, unable to mask his amusement. “I told him that their mother had chosen Arya as her mate.”

Arya tumbled into a roll as Rhaegal knocked her back again, ensuring that he was asserting his point. When Daenerys ran after him, calling and waving her arms, even Missandei couldn’t help but break into a laugh. “Bran, you are entirely cruel,” she managed between fits of giggles.

“Sometimes. But you have to admit, this is kind of worth it.”

 

……..

 

“Have you ever heard of a tome called ‘The Death of Dragons’, your Grace?” Bran asked as they started down the beaten path back towards Winterfell.

“No,” Daenerys replied, her eyes narrowing. “Nor does it sound like something I would much enjoy.”

“You’re quite right on that count,” the young man sighed. “I hadn’t known it even existed, until I saw it in a vision.”

“What is it?” Dany asked warily.

“A very dangerous thing. There is only one copy of it in existence. From what I understand, it describes how men may possibly kill a dragon unscathed.”

“And why are we speaking of this?” he could hear the ice in Daenerys’ tone without even looking at her face.

“Because, your Grace, this is why your dragons are in as much danger as you are. This book was locked in a vault under the citadel for centuries. Only a small handful of people even knew it was ever there. And about a year ago, give or take, it was stolen.”

“And how are you so sure of all of this?”

“The same way I knew about Rhaegar and Lyanna, your Grace. The same way I knew that Arya had joined the Faceless Men ten years ago. The same way I know that they’re hunting you both now. I saw it all with the three-eyed raven.”

He heard Arya’s horse pick up pace as she pulled it up alongside him. “You’ve known this whole time?” she asked him, an unpleasant edge to her voice.

“Yes.” He paused. “I didn’t tell Sansa or Rickon, or anyone else for that matter, if you’re wondering.”

“I..” she opened her mouth to continue, then closed it again, as if she was unsure of what to say. Then, after a moment, “thank you. For not saying anything to anyone. I… didn’t want any of you to know.”

“I know,” Bran said softly. I know the shame you bear, especially being back home. That’s a phantom you’ll need to face on your own – but I won’t make it any worse for you.

“So,” Arya cleared her throat, clearly shifting the conversation back to it’s original tangent. “This book that was stolen, do you know who has it? What they’re doing with it?”

I don’t know who has it,” Bran replied carefully, “but you do.”

“What do you mean?” Daenerys cut in. “Arya wouldn’t have been involved in something like that.” Although she spoke with confidence, Bran could sense a sliver of doubt arising. She is not the type of woman who will let herself become a fool for the sake of love. But the caution is unwarranted, just the same.

“No,” Bran shook his head, “she wasn’t. But when I saw the vision, and tried to follow the thief’s thread,” he spoke carelessly, as if his companions would understand the complex matrix of greensight, “I saw that he had a connection to her. He’s someone she knows.”

Arya let out a deep breath. “So a Faceless Man, then.”

“That would be my guess.”

“Well.. in that case there’s no point in me asking you what he looked like.”

He saw Missandei barely manage to hold back a laugh, the absurdity of the comment nearly trumping the somber tone of the subject matter.

“So what are they doing with this book?” Daenerys asked, her eyes narrowed and her voice carrying a steel edge as sharp as the blade strapped to Arya’s side. “How is someone trying to kill my dragons?”

“From what I’ve been able to see,” Bran rubbed the back of his neck, “it’s some sort of toxin that’s released in smoke. I don’t know how it works exactly, but, after they breathe it in, they just… drop.”

“They stop flying?”

“Yes.” He could remember seeing it as he’d slept at the edge of the world. A thin, soft white smoke rising from the cities of the east, spreading throughout the sky, waiting for the beat of long leather wings to ride the currents straight into their blight before seizing up and falling like stones to their ends. “I don’t know how many are behind this, your Grace, or where they all burrow. I only know for certain that the North is no part of it.” He straightened his back, feeling the subconscious pride in his homeland that all northern-born felt, whether they admitted it or not. “This is a vast territory, and for now at least, the air here is clear.”

“We’ll find Drogon, Dany,” Bran overheard his sister tell the Queen with quiet assurance, reading her concern before it was given voice. “One way or another, we’ll get him here too.”

“When we’re back at Winterfell,” Bran continued, “I’ll give you a list of the places I can remember seeing this. I know it’s not much, but it will give you a starting point. And now you know what it is you’ll be looking for.”

“Thank you, Bran Stark,” the Queen said with a militant resonance, betraying the direction her mind had taken on the matter. “I’ll need to send out a few ravens come dawn as well.”

“Of course, your Grace.”

He looked over his shoulder, and watched as Arya raked a hand through her hair. “All of this feels like it’s spiralling out of control,” she said with a frustrated sigh. “What the hell could have all happened while I was gone?”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Daenerys said evenly. “I will contend with this. And I will have answers.”

He felt a shiver run down his back as he remembered how he had seen her, deadly and fierce in the greensight only short hours ago, mounted on the great black beast that rained hellfire from the sky.

 

……..

 

Is it possible that a soul can become tired?

Arya had wanted to ask Bran that more than once during the quiet miles back to Winterfell, but couldn’t bring herself to say the words out loud. Even in her mind, they sounded small and weak somehow, and she wouldn’t allow herself to be seen as such just for the sake of curiosity.

She glanced over at Daenerys, seeing the same unruffled poise that everyone else did, while also knowing just how much was roiling far beneath the surface. Still waters ran very, very deep, and she’d been pushed far enough; she was considering war. She was trying to place pieces together that were not quite fitting, and it vexed her. When the ravens flew tomorrow, Arya knew they’d glide straight to Tyrion and that damnable Varys and gods knew who else she had slithering in the underbelly of the Westerosi beast, and when they returned south they would, undoubtedly, have filled in every gap for their liege.

As difficult as it was to keep the Queen safe during a time of peace, it was nothing compared to the challenge that would await in a time of open hostility.

And then there was the truth of Rhaegar, Lyanna, and Jon to contend with.

No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t bring herself to think of Jon as anything but her brother. Perhaps it was a byproduct of a lifetime spent being anything other than noble, but the direct lines of lineage people came from didn’t really matter to her. She’d spent her childhood playing with the sons of daughters of servants and commoners, and running around in the same helm her father’s bannermen wore. They were her pack as much as her own siblings were, most of the time. She’d never understood why she was chastised for it – they were all northerners and good people. Why shouldn’t she be with them? It was only years later after she’d been long gone that she’d truly understood the ugly truth behind class systems and their hierarchies.

No One had never had to concern herself with these petty lines of division. Arya Stark wouldn’t bother to either. Jon Snow was her brother and would remembered as such because that is what she chose.

She couldn’t help but wonder what Dany would choose as well, in light of it all.

The sun was setting by the time they saw Winterfell looming before them again, already alight with torches as the guard changed up on the battlements.

“Bran,” Arya asked as they rode through the great gates, giving a nod to the guards who held it open, “I haven’t had much time to look around yet. Does the glass garden still stand?”

“Yes,” Bran nodded, “it’s still there. Lady Margaery tends it often.” He gave a wry smile. “I think she’s adopted it as her own piece of the south, up here.” He gave a slight tilt of his head. “I know Sansa was planning to give the Queen a full tour tomorrow.”

Arya slowed her horse, looking over at her brother through the blue twilight that hung the world suspended between day and night. “Go on ahead with Missandei. Tell Sansa we’ll rejoin you all shortly. I’ll stable our horses myself, once we’re done.” She turned to Daenerys “if I may steal you away a while longer, that is.”

Even in the fading light, Arya could see the faint traces of intrigue beneath the regal bearing Dany still maintained. Slight as it may have been, it was the first shift from the stoic royal persona she’d seen in hours, and it warmed her immediately. “You may,” she said, her agreement giving Arya’s words command.

Arya gave her horse a nudge and led them through the castle grounds, remembering the way as easily as if it were mapped despite being gone for so long. She took a left at the Northern Gate, stopping in front of a spectacular glass structure, the size of a small farmhouse, alight with bright colors that were so out of place everywhere in the north and a soft steam that reflected them all through the lightly dripping planes. She dismounted, and then offered her hand to help Daenerys to the ground as well even though she knew the Khaleesi would never really need it. “I want to show you something.”

“What is this place?” Daenerys asked in wonder as Arya guided her through the swinging glass doors. “It’s so.. warm.”

Arya pointed to a small steam vent that ran along the edge of the greenhouse. “It’s built over a natural hot spring,” she explained. “During winter, it’s the only way we can manage to keep anything growing. All of Winterfell is built over the spring, in fact. When the builders were raising it up, they carefully carved out hollowed pathways in some of the stone to catch the heat that rose from the ground and guide it through the castle. One of the reasons we’ve been able to survive so many winters.”

“That’s incredible,” Dany said in genuine surprise as she looked around. “I’ve never heard of anything being built that way before.”

Arya grinned. “Not much need of it anywhere else. Most kings don’t choose to rule from such a harsh terrain. I suppose my ancestors were.. unique, that way.”

She led the silver queen through rows of well-tended vegetation, herbs, and small fruit trees, all thriving under an apparently attentive hand and warm misty heat. Growing strong indeed, Arya thought to herself, having to admit that Margaery clearly had a gift for all of this to flourish as it was.

She stopped them at the far end of the arboretum, where the practical gave way to the fanciful and a large display of hue-riddled wild flowers was growing. In the centre of all of the reds, pinks, yellows, purples and oranges, was a patch of soft blue, still encircled with thorns.

Arya heard Daenerys’ breath catch. “So then these are..?” her voice trailed off.

“Yes.” Arya slid a blade into her hand and cut the stem of one of the cerulean blooms. “These are blue winter roses. The only flower that is native to the north.” She deftly nicked the thorns from the stem, and held it out to Dany. “Someone once told me that I should think to give a woman flowers,” she finished quietly.

Daenerys took the offering, her hand lingering over Arya’s as she did so. She looked down at the rose, her fingertips tracing the velvet petals as her eyes glistened. “They really were fools, weren’t they?” she said softly.

Arya gave a small nod. “They were.”

A different Stark, a different Targaryen, and a different time.

Dany closed the small distance between them and wrapped her arms around Arya’s neck, gripping her as tightly as the pale blue blossom that now rested over her shoulder. There was nothing else that needed to be said.

Chapter Text

AN: This will be a quieter chapter (apologies to my action junkies), continuing with some northern connections.

POVs: A Man, followed by Arya

 

……

 

The House of Black and White’s doors remained shut and bolted. No one would have wanted to see the gruesome scene that lay behind them anyways.

Dried blood streaked the floors in front of the Fountain of Mercy, which had become nothing more than a stagnant pool with rancid debris floating within. Chunks of dried or decomposing tissue adorned the stone curves of the many gods who once stood vigil to hear final pleas and confessions. The discolored, bloated corpses of acolytes that had been in varied stages of sensory deprivation training lay scattered and untended.

There was no life left in the house of the dead, except down below in the hidden catacombs.

The Faceless Men had originated hundreds of years ago, before the Doom of Valyria, when the Freehold still stood and held power over the rest of the world. Their founder, the first Faceless Man, watched the slaves who worked in the mines, beneath searing volcanic rock that scorched their skin while the very air they breathed burned and blackened their lungs. Sometimes he’d hear them cry out to their god, whoever or whatever it may have been, while tears cut trails through the coal and soot that dusted their cheeks. He couldn’t make out their tongues, these unfortunates stolen from every corner of the world, but even without knowing their words he knew their desperation, and understood what each one of them had been praying for.

Death.

The first Faceless Man had became the hands and feet of these many gods who seemed deaf to their worshippers cries, this one god of many different faces. Cloaked he would come to them, resting a hand on their shoulder or brushing a tear from their eye before sinking in a blade or pushing them down an unlit shaft, salvation made flesh and celestial mercy personified.

After the slaves, it was only right that the masters soon followed.

Apostles slowly began to join this Faceless savior in easing the torment of the slave-nation, until the Doom put an end to the tyranny of Valyria entirely.

Those few who were left after the fall gathered with their unshackled brethren in what became known as Braavos, the Free City.

And that was the beginning of the end, a Man thought to himself as he pressed quill to parchment. That was when the Faceless Men began to lose themselves and their true purpose, becoming well-paid whores who used blades rather than skin and poisons instead of pleasure, selling their services to the highest bidder, many of which were descendants of the same slave-masters they had risen up against in the first place.

He had truly believed that a girl would have understood this. That all of them would have seen the slow decline that had all but removed any religious meaning from their services and turned them into little more than specialized mercenaries, used like pawns by the very people they had been created to destroy.

He was wrong.

Only a handful had stood with him, understanding the need to destroy the Targaryen threat in its infancy before the mistakes of the past were repeated and King’s Landing became the capital of an entirely reborn Valyria, complete with its dragons. Only a handful had stood with him when he cried out that they must no longer serve for hire, a mockery of their very foundation and origins.

And only a handful stood with him still now, as the civil war that broke out between them all had decimated their ranks and bathed their home in brother’s blood.

It would have all been easier, if a girl had succeeded him. She was of the old blood, the northern blood of the old gods themselves, and whether or not she knew it, she would have the ability of her ancestors. That was part of why he’d chosen her, so very long ago. They could have awakened her, helped train her to warg, to skinchange. Once the Queen was gone, a girl could have slid into each of the dragons, one by one, and forced them into death on the rocky crags of the earth or crushed under the breathless weight of the sea.

A girl could have spared so many lives that would be inevitably lost, now.

 

…….

 

“Little Arya Stark!”

She’d aged quite a bit, the small woman who was hugging her and ruffling her hair. Arya remembered her from back when time had been kinder to both of them – she used to bake bread and delicious sweet tarts full of berries and nuts. She used to dream of those tarts, back when she was cold and starving in Harrenhal. She felt a tug on her ear as old Eira pulled it, just like the way she used to when she’d check behind it for godswood leaves and dirt before allowing her to join her family to sit for supper. “Yer much tidier now, too,” she broke into a smile. “You finally remembered to wash behind your ears like I always told you.”

Arya indulged her with a little grin. “I do, Eira. Just for you.”

Eira lifted up to her tiptoes and kissed Arya’s cheek. “I remember you’d run in here, caked in grime, holding handfuls of flowers you’d picked for your father. Not your mother, mind, but your father.” She chuckled. “And he’d keep them, you know. He had a glass vase, always stuffed full of your flowers. Didn’t matter how ragged some of them were. Had us make sure they always had water.”

“My father was a very patient man,” Arya said soberly as she remembered how he’d always laugh and thank her for her offerings, never once chiding her for ruining her clothes or cutting herself on thorns. “I miss him very much.”

“We all do, little love,” Eira smiled sadly. “But now is not the time for grief. You and young Bran have found your way home. Four true-born Starks in Winterfell, along with the good Queen of the Seven Kingdoms besides! It took some time, but the old gods did hear our prayers.” She wiped at the corner of her eye.

They do hear our prayers at that. And yes… sometimes they even answer. I remember. “I’ll go to the Godswood later and thank them for us all, Eira.”

“You do that,” Eira patted her cheek before starting off to finish up in the kitchen.

Arya took a seat at the end of the table and turned to look up at the Lord’s station, watching Daenerys, Missandei, and Margaery (with little Robb smiling on her lap) laugh as Bran launched into a story about a Night’s Watchman who had once gotten his lips stuck to his frozen sword after he kissed it in gratitude for toppling a Thenn that had come to raid for crow dinner. Her eyes softened as she saw the winter rose resting behind Dany’s right ear, the stem shortened and skillfully weaved into one of her braids to hold it in place. She’d refused to part with it once they’d left the glass garden, even to have it set in her rooms for when she retired later.

“Is this seat taken?” A soft, familiar voice asked from beside her. She turned to see Sansa, statuesque as ever, with only a slight crinkle in her brow betraying her insecurity.

Brow raised in surprise, Arya shook her head. “No,” she made a welcoming sweep with her hand, “by all means.” Sansa eased up her skirts and sat then, only a few inches away from the sister who looked positively barbaric when placed beside her.

“I wanted to apologize,” Sansa said carefully. “I.. the truth is, I’d been afraid of this royal visit for weeks. I didn’t know why, until Margaery helped me to figure it out. The last time someone who sat the Iron Throne came to Winterfell, our family ended up dead, lost, or crippled, and everything was destroyed for all of us. Every day that passed, drawing the Queen closer, I felt more and more a wreck.”

Arya reached for a flagon of wine, pouring some for each of them. She pushed a goblet in front of Sansa, listening.

“Thank you,” Sansa took the glass between well-manicured fingers, taking a light drink. “So when she finally came, and had you with her – gods, I cried like a baby, didn’t I? – I was.. overwhelmed.” She stared down into her wine. “I loved you for being back and alive, and hated you for taking so long. And right then I was a child again, and in my eyes so were you, and suddenly all I could remember is that I never could understand you.”

“If it’s any consolation, I was in a pretty raw state too,” Arya replied. “And I’ve never been able to understand you either. Almost everything you’ve ever done or said has been the exact opposite of what I would do. You drove me mad, Sansa – as much as I did the same to you.”

“Would you have ever come back if you hadn’t been escorting the Queen?”

No. If not for Daenerys, I would never have come back. I’m sorry. Arya acted as if she hadn’t heard the question.

“Where have you been all this time?” Sansa tried again.

“Braavos,” Arya answered. “I had to finish my training,” she lifted her knee, tilting up her sword. “And I needed to be somewhere that didn’t care about the name Stark for a while. I’m sure you understand.”

Sansa gave a small sigh of agreement. “I do. Better than you know. Or not.. since somehow you found out about Petyr.”

“The narrow sea carries news and gossip into the ports as readily as crates of goods. A few coins in the right hands can buy much more than you’d think.”

“How… did you kill him?” she asked softly.

“That’s a story for another time, if that’s alright.” Was her guarded response.

Sansa looked as if she wanted to press, but thought better of it, changing the subject. “Well, it seems I had been needlessly distressed over the Queen’s arrival the entire time. She’s been nothing like I had feared.”

“You met her once before, didn’t you? After the Wight War?”

“Very briefly, and not under the best of circumstances. She’d stopped here on her way back to the south, wanting to know if the north was still in rebellion as much as if we’d endured the wight onslaught.”

“She didn’t know who you were – who any of us were back then, really. All she had were stories and second-hand accounts with no time to verify most of them before the dead came. If it had been someone else on the throne after all of that,” she shook her head, “they may have decided to not to ask any questions at all.”

“She is.. quite different from her father, isn’t she?”

Arya nodded. “She is. Dany is a good woman, and a just Queen. A rare thing, at least in our lifetimes.”

“Dany?” Sansa’s eyebrow raised a little.

Arya flushed slightly. “Daenerys. Queen Daenerys, her Grace, I meant,” she added quickly.

“It’s alright Arya,” Sansa said with a soft smile. “I understand.”

“Understand what?” Arya asked cautiously.

Sansa tilted her head toward Margaery. “I feel the same way about her. We married, just a few weeks ago, out at the Godswood.”

Arya’s eyes widened incredulously. “Y.. you’re married? And to..?” she looked over her shoulder at the Tyrell, staring in disbelief before turning back around to face her flame-haired sibling. “But… but you always wanted to marry a prince, and… cook, and, and sew, and be a girl,” she sputtered.

Sansa let out a light laugh. “I am still a girl, and I do still cook and sew. I just happened to learn that my prince was very good at those things too.”

“Oh,” Arya said quietly, continuing to process the unexpected turn her sister’s life has taken. It was certainly a day for life-altering revelations. “Well,” she said after a long pause, resting a gloved hand over her sister’s own, “Congratulations are in order, then. She’s good to you, I take it?” it was a loaded question, but one borne of genuine concern.

“Yes,” Sansa answered, looking over at Margaery affectionately from their vantage point across the room. “Ever since the day I met her, she’s been good to me. Many times the only person who ever has been,” she finished softly.

Arya felt herself relax, and gave an approving nod. “I’ll give her my well-wishes before the end of the evening as well, then.” A pause. “I’m sorry that I missed your wedding.”

“It’s alright, most of the North did. We kept it very quiet.” She slid the cuff of her sleeve up a little to reveal a delicate gold band wrapped around her wrist, detailed with an etching of a wolf chasing a rose. “We had these made, rather than the traditional rings. Although the North has all but abandoned the faith of the Seven and some of its more intolerant doctrines, there are still some here who have very strong views that conflict with my decision. People outside of Winterfell will always whisper and speculate, but so long as they don’t see a ring on my finger and my son and heir at my side, it will never become any more a threat than any other gossip.”

Daenerys wouldn’t bother to leave anything to speculation, Arya thought to herself. She’s bold in a way few women are. Then again – having the largest army on either side of two continents along with three fully grown dragons probably does a lot to bolster one’s courage, too . “I’ll trust your opinion on the northern politics of it all,” Arya took a long drink of her wine, offering the concession as an olive branch. “I’ve been away too long to claim to know the way of things here now. And it’d bore me stiff trying to find out.”

“It really would,” Sansa said with a sigh. “Half the time I can barely tolerate it all myself.” She started to turn the stem of her goblet between her fingertips, lightly spinning the wine inside. “I.. don’t suppose you would consider staying, would you?”

The question caught Arya off-guard. Never once had she considered that someone would even want her to stay. Then again, Sansa only knew part-truths about her, and what she had done with the last ten years away. If she knew the whole story.. she’d likely have a very different opinion on things.

“I can’t,” she said quietly. “As much as I love Winterfell, it’s.. no longer my home.”

“Your home is wherever she is now, isn’t it?” Sansa spoke gently, glancing over at the silver queen.

Arya took another long drink of her wine, welcoming its dull warmth. “It might be. I think so.. yeah,” she said finally, admitting out loud what she’d known in silence for a while.

“And she’s good to you?” Sansa asked, mirroring Arya’s earlier inquiry.

A grin tugged the corner of Arya’s mouth. “She is, actually. And surprisingly patient.”

“She’d have to be, dealing with you all day.” Sansa gave her a wink and a good-natured elbow to the ribs.

Something we can both understand, finally. After a childhood in conflict and years apart as strangers, there’s common ground. There may be hope for us yet.

“Lady Sansa,” a handmaid bowed while holding a thick rolled bundle under her arm. “I’ve brought it for you, as requested.”

“Thank you Alva,” the elder Stark stood, taking the heavy fabric into her own arms, “that’ll be all for the evening. Enjoy yourself for a while.” She turned to her younger sister. “Arya, please stand up.”

Puzzled, Arya stepped back from the bench and stood up. “What is it?”

Sansa didn’t respond, instead stepping in behind Arya and straightening her posture with a slight corrective nudge. Brow furrowed, Arya turned to look over her shoulder, only to have Sansa guide her head back around with a light push from the back of her hand. “Just stay still a moment,” she said.

Arya felt a weight settle across her shoulders, and could see a vaguely familiar charcoal-shaded pelt draped there. She felt the burden shift a little as thick, richly-dyed dark wool rolled down the back of her legs, stopping just above the heel of her boot. Sansa was in front of her then, crossing black leather straps under her arms and buckling them for a snug fit. “The measurements may be a little off,” she said as she examined her handiwork, making tiny adjustments, “but I can fix that before you leave.”

Recognition struck Arya then, as she remembered just where she’d seen this particular Stark wolf-pelt cloak before. “Sansa,” she said quietly, “wasn’t this…?”

“Yes,” Sansa answered with an almost imperceptible hitch in her voice. “This used to be father’s.”

Arya felt like the air had been knocked from her lungs. “I.. I can’t wear this,” she said, barely audible.

“You can, and you are,” Sansa said with a grief-edged resolve. “If I can bring myself to pull this from his chest of belongings after so many years,” she faltered a little before continuing, “..and stay up half the night re-stitching it to your size, then you can stand tall and wear it the way he would want you to.”

Arya swallowed a lump in her throat. But he wouldn’t want me to wear it Sansa, you don’t understand. You should have given this to Rickon, or saved it for your boy. “I..” she tried desperately to find the words to convey her turmoil without revealing every one of her ugly truths, and failed.

“Follow her if you love her, Arya. Wear her sigil, protect her, go wherever it is your life will take you. Maybe,” she said with a smile that held just the slightest hint of a tremble, “maybe even find a bit of happiness while you’re at it. But don’t forget who you are. Don’t ever forget that you are Arya Stark of Winterfell, and that everything they all may have taken from us and burned around us will never change that.”

Arya could hear a soft clapping in the corner, as Eira stood in the doorway looking up at her. Mugs started to pound on wooden tabletops, and there was even a loud whistle from somewhere near the hearth. She felt herself shrinking under the din of a spontaneous makeshift northern unification – claps, thunks, cheers and roars as ale spilled and pitched from steins and toasts were made. She looked up at the Lord’s station up on the dais, finding a set of violet eyes amongst the many that fell on her. “I’ll follow you,” she said under her breath as she held the gaze, knowing that no one could possibly hear her over all of the clamor. “I’ll wear your sigil. I’ll protect you, wherever life may take us. Maybe.. even try to find out what happiness is, along the way.” Her ears perked as she heard Nymeria let out a howl.

“And I’ll stop forgetting who I am.”

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AN: Happy Anniversary Allegiance! It’s now been two months since the fic started, and 28 chapters later I am continually amazed at how many people have embraced it and stuck with me through the crazy ride so far. We’re officially 2/3 of the way through now, so hang on just a while longer good readers.

 

Another chapter in the North, very heavy on the dragonwolf interaction =P

 

POV: No One, followed by Arya

 

……

 

It was a difficult thing, to stitch yourself up as you were flung about in a cargo hold. It had been years since he’d had to stow away; he’d still been only a boy the last time he’d done it, and even then it had at least been on steady waters that minimized the churning of his empty stomach and allowed him snatches of sleep as he needed. This trip was already an altogether different kind of beast, undertaken as if by a man cursed.

When the needle slipped a third time, tearing as much as it had been meant to mend, he threw it into the dark, damning it and every god whose name he could remember with it.

He’d barely survived the slaughter behind the looming black and white doors. It had been nothing like he had ever seen before – the most disciplined, well-trained killers in the entire world turning on each other like rabid dogs, using their talents to tear down hundreds of years of history along with the body of any man or woman who stood in opposition before them. He’d watched with eyes that appeared dim with death as he’d floated in the fountain, covered in the blood of corpses he’d hidden under as he slowly inched his way towards the doors. Blades sparked as they’d struck each other over and over again with skill so evenly matched it felt as if hours would pass before one would inevitably keel, sometimes only after striking a counter-blow that ended up taking their killer to the Many-Faced God with them.

Those who had been unarmed, or had blades slip from blood-slicked hands carried on with strength of arm and fist, beating each other until the flat-packing sounds became wet and followed up with loud snaps as they broke each other from the inside out. He could hear it all still, even as the waves pounded and thundered against the ship, wondering if he’d even live to make it to the western shore.

There was a terrible irony to it, really. He’d been against the girl from the start. They’d taken her in too young and too angry, two characteristics that made for excellent soldiers but poor assassins. On top of it, she was a noble – it was always painfully difficult to take a person who had spent their lifetime genuinely being someone and then expect them to adapt to being nothing. How many beatings had it taken for the stubborn insolence to finally ebb away? Too many. His voice had been one of the loudest when the council debated her death, and now here he was, on a slow ship bound for Westeros to seek out the very woman he’d wanted dead.

Because he, that deadly, traitorous man who was destroying everything, had made her.

Who else could possibly unmake him?

 

……

 

Lady Sansa Stark spoke the old words pledging her oath, and was named Warden of the North by Queen Daenerys Targaryen, First of her Name, Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms before the Lord witnesses of House Cerwyn, House Mormont, House Glover, and House Ryswell.

Arya watched from the sidelines, hooded, at a respectful distance with Margaery Tyrell, little Robb, Rickon, Hodor, Bran, and a small host of Stark honor guards. Rumors spread like wildfire even across frozen grasses, so she knew it was likely every one of the lords and ladies present today would have heard that she had returned from the dead shortly after her younger brother, and would be trying to seek her out to verify the tales. She had no desire to draw any of their attention away during such an important moment for both Sansa and the north in general.

Arya had barely spoken to Margaery Tyrell despite wanting to find some way to break the ice for Sansa’s sake, finding her to be nearly as intimidating as her own sister was from a distance, so entirely sophisticated and well-mannered and seemingly born for holdfast rule. Her entire life appeared to fit her as perfectly as a custom-stitched dress, and it was difficult to be around a woman so entirely sure of herself while Arya was still sorting out who she was meant to be outside of No One. Today though, she could sense a chink in the Tyrell’s armor, and knew that despite the controlled perfection of her soft expression, the lady was grieved.

“She knows you mean to be standing there beside her,” Arya said quietly, years of observing the truth in people’s eyes before she’d close them forever serving her in a different capacity now. “She knows that you love her, and that you’re proud of her.”

Margaery started just ever so slightly as she contemplated Arya’s words, unable to completely conceal her surprise. Finally she spoke as a slight smile graced her lips. “So there is a sort of charming sensitivity there, underneath the black and brooding.” She glanced at Daenerys for a moment. “I can see why she likes you.”

They said no more, remaining silent as thick ink and the Targaryen seal made declaration law, and in the space of a moment the Starks were reinstated as the royal justice in the North.

 

……

 

The feast had run long into the night by the time Daenerys had bid everyone still present a good evening and had Arya escort her to her room, followed closely behind by Nymeria and her Bloodriders.

“Nymeria,” Arya motioned as they climbed the last steps of the tower, “scout ahead.”

The direwolf took the lead as she did every night, surveying the hall and each room connected to it as Arya led the Queen into her chamber and began to search it out, never complacent regardless of the familiarity of the routine.

Her diligence had never gone unnoticed, but tonight Dany took a particular interest. “You never leave anything to chance, do you?” She asked softly, stepping in behind Arya to rest her cheek on her shoulder.

“Not when it comes to you,” Arya replied without hesitation. “Not if I can help it.”

The Targaryen was quiet a moment, as if weighing whether or not to speak further. “Do you love me, Arya Stark?” Daenerys asked finally, turning a little to brush her lips against the killer’s neck.

Yes. Arya felt herself tense, her throat suddenly dry. “I care for you very much, your Grace.”

“Dany,” she corrected with tender patience, “and that is not what I asked.”

Arya swallowed hard, feeling a slight tremble in her hand, the same tremble she’d felt nearly a year ago on a rooftop when she’d dropped a blade like a novice. “That’s not a question you should ask me, Dany,” she said in a hoarse whisper.

“Why shouldn’t I?” the queen asked with careful measure, noticing the slight shake in the hand she had always only seen as steady.

“Because I swore never to lie to you, and any answer I could possibly give you would just complicate things. And I think we both know that I’ve complicated your life enough already.”

“I didn’t become ruler of the Seven Kingdoms by avoiding complications, wolf,” she spoke with an assertive certainty that was entirely her own, regardless of the heraldry she had referenced. “Do you love me?” and there it was again, hung between them like a fine gossamer thread.

“Yes,” she said finally, losing some of her voice with each word she spoke, “I love you.”

She tried to turn away then, mumbling something about checking on Nymeria, unable to bring herself to face the reality of hidden truth she had just given life by words spoken.

“Stay,” Daenerys said quietly, not as a command of the silver queen but as a simple request from the woman beneath the titles. She reached up to cup Arya’s cheek in her palm, her skin hot even against the warmth of the assassin’s flush. “If there is any danger out there, let it remain.” She leaned up and pressed her lips to Arya’s, soft and full. “They would still have to come through you to reach me,” she murmured as she kissed Arya again, her lips as sweetly insistent as every word she spoke, “and that would be their end.”

I was born a wolf, and I have been consumed by dragons. Dragon bones have hidden me, dragon blood has burned me, and the last dragon’s touch has ignited me. I am a wolf, and I will not be afraid.

Arya felt her pulse quicken as she met each of Daenerys’ kisses, hesitant at first, then boldly as her hands instinctively fell to rest on the curves of her hips. It made her heady, the whispered faith between shared breaths and the taste of spiced pear on Dany’s tongue. She could deny her nothing now, like this, and even if she had the strength to resist, in truth she did not want to. “I’ll stay,” she said, as she felt the Targaryen’s fingertips unclasp the three-headed dragon that always sat as a silent claim upon her shoulder, then work their way down to the steel buckles that held leather dragonplate in place.

Arya felt smaller for a moment, when her armor hit the stone floor, followed by her thick leather belt and accompanying swords, and a part of her knew that allowing Daenerys to continue this would be an unmasking as much as when she pulled away a stranger’s face to become herself again. It was a vulnerability she had never entirely granted anyone; had never been able to bring herself to fully allow, even when it would have made the end of certain marks so much easier. She closed her eyes as she felt Dany’s lips press to the corner of her mouth, as if to seal away any possible protest as she unlaced the dark wool of the killer’s jerkin, sliding it down her shoulders with a graceful ease that made Arya’s breath catch in her throat.

She braced herself as she saw the queen’s eyes immediately fall upon the scars that marred her skin, eternal reminders of parries that came too slowly, daggers that had once been quicker than her own, missions that had nearly failed and a frozen front line that had once been lost. She opened her mouth to mumble a self-conscious apology, to tell Daenerys that her body had been one built for war rather than love, but her thoughts were lost as Dany’s fingertip traced the uneven ridge of a particularly savage wound that remained ugly even long after it had healed, following its arced line down from clavicle to sternum. It had been an early hit that had gone sideways, and the sailor with a hook for a hand had taken his due before he finally met the Many-Faced God. “It’s-” Arya started to explain, then found her words muffled as her lips were coaxed into silence by her queen’s fervent attentions.

“They are markers,” Dany whispered heatedly as her fiery hands found purchase over the worst of the former traumas. “Times the gods thought they would dare take you from me, and were denied.”

The wolf felt her blood rush at the dragon’s words, her inhibition burning away as her hands slid up the queen’s back until they found the delicate hooks and clasps that held her silk gown to her slight frame. She gripped and tugged, loosening a few and tearing others, until the relaxed fabric clung to Daenerys by only the virtue of a few stubborn folds. She bowed her head, burying it into Dany’s neck and nipping as her arms locked around her waist, lifting the smaller woman off of her feet. Daenerys did not hesitate, jumping to meld against Arya as she lifted, wrapping her legs around the Stark’s waist as she shrugged her dress off entirely, leaving it in a pool on the warm stone beneath them.

Arya quickly closed the short distance to the canopied bed as she pressed fevered kisses to Daenerys’ skin, laying with the queen on heavy northern furs. She felt Dany deftly unlace the thin leather corded around the waist of her trousers, tugging them down before dragon talons set to work in sync with wolf’s fangs, marking her back and shoulders as compelled by the same primal urge that had led the wolf to bite only a few paces ago.

They were both one another’s skinchangers that night; impulse and intuition meeting in perfect harmony as they led each other with an animal instinct that bordered on precognition and left them breathless and shaking.

Candles had burned down to nothing when they finally slept, sweaty and entangled, both refusing to let go.

 

……..

 

Arya woke before Daenerys, the soft light of dawn glowing behind the tower’s frosted windows. The queen slept soundly, her breath a steady, warm rhythm against Arya’s neck, dispelling the chill in the air. She quickly scanned the room, eyes falling to her weapons still laying on the floor. She immediately chided herself for not keeping at least one within arm’s reach; that was foolishness no matter what the circumstances - but despite that, she still couldn’t quite muster the will to extricate herself from Dany’s sleep-tousled grip.

She could feel Nymeria’s presence outside the door, thoughtful and entirely at ease. She slid into the direwolf, using senses much keener than her own to pick up any sound or smell that didn’t belong, and found none. She could hear the light clatter and din of the early kitchen staff, already starting to prepare breakfast and plan for the day ahead; the yawn of the Bloodrider who had kept vigil with the guards on duty through the night (with some snoring from the guest barracks from those who were off duty); and the rustle of fir trees as their tops bent with a strong easterly wind. Satisfied, she left the body of the direwolf and returned to herself, just in time to feel Daenerys start to stir against her.

“Good morning,” she said softly as violet eyes opened.

“G’morning,” Dany responded, still drowsy, while curling back in against Arya. “You stayed,” she mumbled, sleep-rough yet clearly pleased.

“I did,” Arya said while smoothing her palm down Daenerys’ back. “I told you I would.”

“Are you still beside me only due to that storied Stark honor, then?” Her tone was playful as a light kiss landed on Arya’s shoulder to accompany their banter.

“No,” a grin tugged at the corner of Arya’s mouth. “And you know as much, your Grace.”

The assassin closed her eyes, allowing herself the indulgence of a connection she’d seen in others and even played the temporary role of a few times before, but had never actually understood or felt for herself. Love.

The door creaked as Missandei walked in just then, as she did every morning with a silver tray of fresh cut fruits, light cakes, spiced tea, and the day’s agenda. “Good morning, your Grace,” she said, setting down the tray on the dark wood table. She tilted her head a little, the hint of a smirk briefly lighting her features though she did not miss a beat, “good morning to you as well, Arya.”

Arya quickly tugged up the sheets, glancing over at pieces of her clothing strewn about the floor, wishing to every god that ignored her far too often that she’d risen just a few moments earlier. “Good morning Missandei,” she mumbled, flushing and not quite able to look the Summer Islander in the eye.

Dany had no such reticence, sitting up as she reached for the steaming cup of tea Missandei brought to her, entirely unconcerned with her state of undress. “Thank you,” she said with a smile, savoring the first drink. “What news do you bring me?”

Missandei gave a respectful bow of her head. “Several ravens arrived for you in the night, your Grace. Lady Sansa has roused the Maester and will have these to you shortly.”

Daenerys nodded, her back straightening and her every movement becoming more deliberate as the woman became the Queen once more. “Go on,” she said.

“Preparations for the return trip to King’s Landing are underway,” Missandei continued. “ Lady Margaery is working with the quartermaster this afternoon to ensure a full stock of all provisions.”

“Very well.”

“Finally, Bran Stark is waiting downstairs at your leisure, your Grace. He says it’s urgent that he speak with you,” she turned to look at Arya then as well. “Both of you.”

 

……

AN#2: So, I’ve had another Arya/Dany fic idea I’ve been tossing around for when I finish this one up, which I’ve playfully nicknamed ‘Dany by the Docks’ (not a working title!). General gist would be an alternate run of events very early on - Ser Willem Darry, who hid the Targaryen siblings after Robert’s rebellion, does not die and keeps them both in Braavos as his wards until Viserys strikes out to re-take Westeros, leaving Dany behind in the free city to use as an alliance bargaining chip later on. Arya’s storyline remains unchanged, bringing her to Braavos with the Faceless Men as per canon, where she ends up meeting a Daenerys with a very different upbringing while she’s training/working at the docks. Temperature check – would any of my readers be potentially interested in this before I start scribbling notes that would inevitably become outlines..?

Chapter Text

AN: So we’re tying up a few loose ends in the north as the Winterfell arc nears its end. I want to really thank everyone for stepping up last chapter not only to review, but to share thoughts on ‘Dany by the Docks’ as well. Response has been quite positive, so it seems that I will have a new project to jump into once I’ve finished this up! And oh, what a massive project it will end up being… my muse is actually kind of cruel, to give me an idea that has such a butterfly effect.

 

POV: Dany

 

……..

 

More than once, she had wanted to think the strange crippled Stark mad. It wasn’t as if madness was a condition that afflicted only her bloodline after all; she’d seen its presence in many forms on both sides of the narrow sea, from the harmless nonsensical nattering of the elderly and the ‘touched’, to the absolutely depraved who always somehow needed the pain of others to quiet the twisted voices that screamed within their own minds. Somehow a boy, unable to walk, with only a simple-minded part-giant and two other Reed children who had been as similarly otherworldly as him by all accounts, made it through the natural perils and the rising wights in the north to the Haunted Forest, where her own distant ancestor had called for him through dreams and visions of three-eyed ravens as he waited for them, still alive and carrying on long beyond his years by... fusing into a tree.

She truly would have been Targaryen mad if she hadn’t questioned it. Even Arya had glanced sideways at him more than once, at first.

But then he spoke of Lyanna and Rhaegar, and poor Jon. And the pieces of the tale she could remember Viserys telling her so many years ago started to make much more sense. And her doubts started to ebb.

And then there were her dragons, calm on northern lands, hunting the safe tundras as he had apparently told them to do. That could not have been coincidence.

Missandei had mentioned seeing his eyes change color as well, when she had been tending her dragons that day. They were glowing green, she’d said in a reserved hush. He said it happened when the greensight took him; that he could not control it yet. Missandei had seen as much as Daenerys herself had in their years together, and would not have spoken of such things lightly.

Any remaining doubts she may have still had though, were completely eradicated when he’d presented her with the Vayrian steel longsword Dark Sister, a Targaryen ancestral blade long believed lost to her house along with Blackfyre before it. This is part of the reason Brynden sent me home now, after so long, he’d said. He had taken it to the Wall with him so many years ago, and never returned. He wanted this back in the hands of a Targaryen, where it belongs, your Grace.

With her faith in Bran so complete at that point, every word he had spoken thereafter was given her utmost consideration. Which is why by the time their conversation had ended, she had found herself in such a state of violently conflicting grief and hope she’d needed to lean on Arya as the wolf drew her outside, away from the dark walls of Winterfell that suddenly felt too much like a tomb.

 

.......

 

Arya led her from the castle through oaks, ironwoods, hawthorns, and soldier pines. There was a light mist to the air, and Dany could feel the slight, familiar warmth of the hotsprings that ran under Winterfell give up ground to the natural chill of the breeze.

There was something here, beneath this canopy of trees. She felt it all around her, low and humming, wary at first and then slowly breaking into welcome as she followed Arya deeper in. Their pace slowed as they stepped into a clearing with a still, dark pond and a large tree with bark as white as bone that had a melancholy face carved into it, deep-cut eyes bleeding dark red sap.

“What is this place?” Daenerys asked with a soft reverence.

“The Godswood,” Arya said, bringing them towards the ancient, watching tree that somehow felt more alive than many things that moved. “Where us northern heathens come to pray to the old gods,” she added with a wry grin.

“The Godswood at the Red Keep is nothing like this,” Dany finished in the same hushed tone.

“There is no weirtree in that ‘Godswood’. The old gods are never present there; it’s more just a pretty acre you can go to when you want a bit of quiet, since you’d rarely find anyone else around.”

They sat in front of the large, somber tree, though Dany did so with more trepidation than Arya. Her blood was that of the dragon, southern and running hot – would it be an offense to this ancient northern presence to have her so casually tread upon its holy ground? Apparently not, as the light thrumming she felt surrounding her remained in its state of welcome.

“Do you still have the blade I gave you, Dany?” Arya asked.

“Of course,” Dany answered, easing her cloak aside and pulling it from the leather sheath she’d strapped around her thigh. Then: “Arya… we really should talk about what Bran said.”

Arya didn’t respond right away, instead opening the small leather pouch that hung from her belt opposite her swords and pulling out a familiar sharpening stone. “Here,” she took Daenerys’ free hand, placing the roughened stone in her palm. “Hold this steady.” She then rested her own hand over Dany’s where it still gripped the hilt of her blade, and guided it over the stone. “You pull lightly against the angle of the edge, like this,” she led Dany’s hand in a slow downward arc. “And then draw back, and do it again.”

“Arya, I don’t think this is the time to worry about my ability to hone a blade,” she said, more sharply than she’d intended.

Arya didn’t skip a beat, her hand shadowing Dany’s over the stone again. “It’s not about the blade,” she said with the same warm patience Daenerys had granted her so many times. “Let your arm relax a little – you’ll overstress it before long, gripping that tightly.”

Daenerys sighed, easing her grip and carefully following Arya’s lead. There was a familiar scraping sound this time, one she had heard so often that it became unnoticed when the assassin had set to the task so many times before.

‘Forgive me for waiting until now to say anything, your Grace. But I didn’t want to come to you without having a bit of time at the weirwood first, to better piece together what I had seen.’

Arya gave a slight nod. “Much better. Now turn the blade,” she coaxed Dany’s wrist into a turn before easing the bevel of the edge over light grit again.

‘What did you see, Bran?’

‘It was not what once was, but what could be. It’s always difficult, looking forward – everything keeps shifting. One thread moves, and it changes everything that was once to follow, and then there is a whole new strand with all of its own weaves of possibility.

Arya’s hand started to lighten over her own as she pulled the blade again.

‘There is a moment coming soon, a decision made, that will dictate how both of your lives end – or, possibly, carry on.’

Dany felt her heart start to slow (had it really been beating so quickly without her noticing?), and her breathing steady. She worked steel over stone again, watching the motion this time.

‘You saw death, then.’

‘I saw your death many, many times Arya. Some far worse than others.’

‘But what of Daenerys? Can… will she live, at least?’

She didn’t notice when Arya’s hand had left her own. She moved as if it was still there, finding a tempo between the motion and sound as she tried to forget that death had taken a love from her once already, when she was still a girl.

‘She lives across more threads than you do, but don’t mistake me; I also see her die often, right after you. Sometimes while her hands are still upon you, trying to staunch your wounds. Sometimes alone, before she even has a chance to receive word that you will not be returning home. And when she does not..’

Dany turned her wrist, just as Arya had only moments before. Death hadn’t really taken him from her, despite the vendetta she hid behind; in the end she’d made the excruciating delivery with her own hands. The same hands that would, apparently, try to hold Arya back from that very finality.

‘destruction soon follows. I see all of Braavos leveled under dragonfire, and a massacre in Oldtown.’

  1. Arya was not dead. She was not dead. Scrape. She was not her mad father. Nothing was burning. Scrape. She was in the Godswood of Winterfell, and her blade had been too dull.

‘But as I said, there will be a choice. A crossroads. I’ve also seen a thread, faint though it seems now, where you both live.’

Arya’s hand brushed a lock of hair behind Dany’s ear as she continued, the soft scraping carrying through the crimson leaves of the weirwood above.

‘Tell me how.’

‘I don’t know exactly, your Grace, I can only see that it’s possible. But to that end, Brynden gave me a message.’

‘What is it?’

The fear that had wrestled with the dragon fell back, slowly starting to burn away. She pulled the blade again.

‘Tell the Faceless to trust the man who bows beneath her blade.’

She let out a slow breath. The blade had a razor’s edge now – but it didn’t matter. She drew once more.

‘Bran, what did the greensight show you.. when we both lived?’

“Careful,” Arya’s hand was over her own again, working it back just a little. “You’ll need a very light touch now.”

‘A woman will bring two sons into the world just before she leaves it, bequeathing them to you. Their father’s blood will stain both your hands and your hem, and you will know to seek them out.’

She slowed the pull against the stone, hearing it only whisper this time as the vicious edge held.

‘For the third time you wear a ring upon your finger, and this time it remains.’

The blade stilled, and Dany closed her eyes, calm.

Arya took the blade and sheathed it for her again while Daenerys rubbed her thumb absently against the stone. “My father used to do that, right here in this spot,” the killer said evenly. “Whenever he needed to think something over. I never really understood why until I got older, and started doing the same thing. Figured it might work for you too.”

Violet eyes opened, and a slight smile graced her lips. “So I am privy to Stark family traditions, now?”

The tug of a grin in return. “That’s one way of looking at it.”

“You’ve remained very calm, Wolf.” She still enjoyed the alias, regardless of whether or not it was needed.

Arya was quiet a moment, considering. “I’ve had people telling me that I will die, or that they will kill me for my entire life. I’ve also become quite accustomed to the notion that certain people want to kill you too, just for being who you are, Faceless or otherwise. You lived on the run from the time you were a baby until the day you had an army at your back – you remember what that was like.”

“I do.” She would never forget.

“None of their grim fortunes ever mattered. You lived. I lived. And here we carry on.” Arya leaned back against the weirwood, her steel eyes hardening into resolve along with the rest of her features. “My brother’s given us a warning, for which I’m grateful – but as he said, looking forward is difficult. Everything moves and shifts. Nothing is certain until it’s done.”

She’s right, Dany thought to herself. Regardless of where these ‘ threads of probability’ gathered now, they could change within the space of an hour. Although it would be nice if some possibilities did in fact come to pass. “You sound as if you have a plan,” she said finally.

There was a slight jut to Arya’s jaw then, as the defiance she seemed to be so well-known for at Winterfell rose to the surface. “No more running. Until this is done I will be everything they made me to be, and then some.” Her voice lowered, holding enough cold promise to give Daenerys pause. “And by the time I’m through, there will be no one left standing who could have ever seen it coming.”

Dany’s breath caught slightly as she realized, right then, that death would never take from her again.

Not now that she’d taken death as her own lover.

 

………

 

“Seven hells Arya, how many did you give him?!”

Daenerys watched with amusement as Sansa Stark shuffled back a step, catching Robb after he’d launched himself off of the table at her, all wide-eyed and toothy-smiled as he held empty sweetmint wrappings in his little hands.

“Only a few,” Arya responded with a lazy grin.

In truth it had been more than just a few, since Dany and Missandei both had slipped the young Stark a couple as well, but there was no need to point that out.

“A few? He’s practically vibrating in my arms!”

“I’ve missed out on giving him sweets for a few years now. Figured I had some catching up to do.”

Sansa sighed in exasperation, finally setting Robb down so he could run over to Rickon, who’d been laughing quietly throughout the whole exchange. “Well, I suppose he’ll at least sleep well once he finally burns himself out.” She took at seat beside Margaery, entirely composed once more. “Forgive me your Grace,” she gave Daenerys a weak smile that brimmed with apology. “You must think us a family of wild savages by now.”

Dany smiled and let out a soft laugh. “You may come to find I tend to surround myself with savages,” she tilted her head towards her Bloodrider Jhogo, standing with a hand hovering over the curve of his whip, off to the side where Arya usually stood. “Which only endears your family to me further, if anything.”

And it was true. There was something about Winterfell and the people residing in it that drew her in and soothed the part of her spirit that longed for home and family, things she had believed lost so long ago. Perhaps it was the rich history that practically dripped from every tapestry and stone, or maybe it was the lack of sycophantic static and excessive opulence that constantly surrounded her in the south – whatever it was, she felt a freedom here that she hadn’t felt since she rode with a khalasar. Everything managed to impress her by simply not trying to impress her.

In truth, she found herself wishing she didn’t have to leave so soon.

“So Arya,” Margaery said then, smoothly stepping in as hostess for a while in Sansa’s place, the two of them as synchronized as ever. “How does our Queen feel knowing that her ranger was already trying to kill her enemies before the age of ten?” She finished with a cheshire smile and a wink. “I’m told there was a time you and Nymeria nearly killed Joffrey Baratheon.”

Sansa’s brow furrowed. “Margaery, I don’t think her Grace wants to hear-”

“Oh no,” Daenerys’ eyebrow rose as she looked over at Arya. “I do very much want to hear this.”

“It was such a long time ago,” Sansa said, her voice taking a slightly nervous edge as she continued. “I had been walking with Joffrey down by the riverside, when we heard this terrible racket. When we came through the trees we found it was Arya and the butcher’s boy, sparring with wooden swords. Do you remember his name, Arya?”

“Mycah,” she said quietly.

“Yes, Mycah – he was a good head taller than her, and they were slamming those sticks as if they really meant it. Joffrey decided to take royal initiative and ‘intervene’ when the poor boy got a hit on Arya’s arm.” She took a moment before continuing. “He enjoyed hurting people, was all it really was.”

“So I’ve been informed,” Daenerys said, remembering the psychotic accounts that Tyrion had given her after he had crossed the Narrow Sea.

“Arya told us both to leave; took the blame for it all. She’d told the butcher’s boy to practice with her – Joffrey didn’t listen. I didn’t listen,” she added, with an honest note of shame. “Joffrey took his sword and started cutting across the poor boy’s face. So Arya started to beat on him with her stick.”

Daenerys couldn’t resist a smile.

“He turned on her,” Sansa continued. “He slashed at her with that sword as if he meant to kill her. Long after the stick was gone. He truly may have, if Nymeria hadn’t launched at him and bitten his arm.”

Daenerys glanced over at the direwolf resting in front of the hearth. So there is quite a storied history between the two. She took note of it; she would ask Arya more about it later.

“When Joffrey fell, Arya took his sword. She called Nymeria off of him, and held it to his neck.” The red Stark paused. “I really thought she was going to kill him. He must have too, because he started begging, pleading. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if you had killed him then, Arya,” she said to herself as much as anyone else.

“Joffrey would have been dead and I would have been hung, or worse,” Arya said flatly. “That’s what would have happened.”

“But still,” Margaery broke in, adeptly steering the conversation away from the sharp reefs it was about to crash on. “Isn’t it funny how the years can change someone? To start out nearly killing one royal, only to grow up to become the complete opposite, spending each day protecting another. That is the kind of thing they write stories about.”

Daenerys could feel Arya stiffen at her side, and reached under the table to find her hand. Instead what she found was a tightened fist resting on Arya’s thigh. She glanced over at her, catching steel eyes with her own, speaking without words as they so often did. It’s alright. They mean well. You can let it pass.

Arya’s brow creased slightly, and Dany immediately knew that she wouldn’t. She’d said as much earlier - no more running.

“If that were true,” Arya said finally, breaking the silence that had fallen at the table, “it probably would be a very good story. But it’s not.” She gazed out at all of them, stonewalled. “I came back to Westeros, to the Queen, with no good intent.”

“What could you possibly mean, Arya?” Sansa asked, confused. “You serve her.. you.. would never leave her, you told me so yourself..”

“I mean that I was sent to murder her.”

“You can’t mean..”

“I spent the last ten years in Braavos as one of the Faceless Men. And that is why I never came back home.”

Chapter Text

AN: So for the record, I do follow the HBO plot when it comes to Tyrion and Varys and their crossing of the Narrow Sea to guide Daenerys to the Iron Throne. They just work too well together, and anything that skips over Penny is totally fine by me…

 

POV: Sansa Stark, followed by Tyrion

 

……..

 

‘It’s as if Lord Eddard and Lady Catelyn have returned, seeing those two side by side again after all of these years.’

‘Yes, but she’s even more beautiful than her mother was, isn’t she?’

‘She carries the same grim countenance as her father, whenever she’s deep in thought.’

Hushed talk had compared the two Stark sisters to phantoms ever since Arya had arrived with the Queen. Sansa understood why; many of Winterfell’s servants had spent most of their lives within the chilled castle walls, enduring the grief of Stark deaths as well as the abuses that followed when they were forced to serve under the Boltons. Stark loyalists who had openly resisted had been flayed, or were forced to watch as their children were. After surviving that kind of trauma, seeing living reminders of better times, safer times was a powerful balm to the soul.

There was no doubt, however, that the whispers carrying through Winterfell tonight would be of a very different nature.

“What could you possibly mean, Arya?” Sansa asked, confused. “You serve her.. you.. would never leave her, you told me so yourself..”

“I mean that I was sent to murder her.”

“You can’t mean..”

“I spent the last ten years in Braavos as one of the Faceless Men. And that is why I never came back home.”

Sansa was stunned into silence as her sister’s words worked their way through her mind. Everything she knew about Braavos consisted of its base general history and the fact that it was the world’s capital for commerce due to the extreme wealth and power of the Iron Bank, but she had heard of the Faceless Men through the scheming of Petyr Baelish years ago, when he had been plotting the death of sickly little Robin Arryn, who somehow managed to continue wheezing his way through life much to the vexation of Littlefinger’s ambitions.

“You are... an assassin, then,” Sansa spoke slowly. You barter money for murder.

Arya slowly nodded, her eyes cool stone.

“You aren’t the Queen’s ranger.”

“I am, when she says I am.”

“You weren’t in Braavos to finish your sword training, like you told me.” Why does that, of all things, grieve me the most when I have just found out what you really are?

“I did train there, under First Sword Qarro Volentin. It was my connection to the Faceless Men that granted me that privilege.”

“So not a lie, but a half-truth just the same.” She felt Margaery’s hand pressed to the small of her back, and drew comfort from the silent support.

“A half-truth, just the same,” Arya agreed, still stonewalled as if prepared for battery. “I’m sorry. I hadn’t decided yet if I was going to tell you anything when we spoke then.”

“Why?” Sansa heard herself ask in a voice much stronger than she actually felt. “Why would you join them? How could you let yourself become something like that?”

“Because of what they all did to our family,” Arya said quietly. “I vowed to kill them all, and I went to the one place in the world that could teach me how to do that.”

But it wasn’t just that, was it? If it was just that, you would have come back to Winterfell once they were gone. “And how many have you murdered outside of those who wronged our family, Arya?”

“Many.”

It was frightening, the way she could speak so evenly and so casually of death and its delivery. How could the cold, remorseless killer before her be the same Arya who only a short time ago had little Robb on her shoulders while feeding him sweetmints?

Dear gods, how is this my little sister?

“So,” Margaery broke in, as if she could sense the gathering storm building within Sansa and sought to level the tide. “You were one of the Faceless Men, and had been sent on a contract to kill Queen Daenerys.” She glanced over at the Queen, and then back to Arya. “Clearly that didn’t work out, since her Grace is with us in full good health. What happened?”

“It was about a year and a half ago they sent me,” Arya said. There was a flicker in her eyes then – the first sign of any emotion she’d shown since she’d revealed herself. “It was..” she paused, as if explaining the obvious was suddenly a lost art. “I.. just couldn’t do it.”

“But you don’t just get decide that, do you? Whether or not you fulfill a contract for the Faceless Men?” Margaery spoke with a revealing frankness that Sansa was particularly grateful for as she began putting the pieces of the puzzle together for herself.

“No,” Arya answered soberly. “You don’t.”

“How long does it usually take to complete a contract?” The Tyrell asked with the tactful wordplay she was known for. “I’m presuming they know by now that you will not complete your mission.”

“They know. They’ve sent others.” Arya said it in such a way as to leave no misinterpretation as to what happened to the ‘others’.

“Your Grace,” Sansa took control again as she addressed the Queen, her voice steady under a well-trained mask of composure. “Not that I’m ungrateful, but.. how is it that you allowed my sister to live, knowing she’d been sent to kill you? How was it you found out at all?” How is it that you can love her, knowing that? Tell me how, and maybe, just maybe I can find an easier way to push past all of this too.

Daenerys’ violet eyes became nearly as unreadable as Arya’s, and she let out a soft sigh. Clearly Arya was not the only one harboring uncomfortable truths at the Stark table tonight. “I hadn’t planned on it, at first. She’d been brought to me after killing what I had believed to be one of my kitchen staff, and when questioned about it.. that’s when she told me who she was, and why she’d committed the murder.” She paused. “I hadn’t believed her. It was Tyrion who convinced me to keep her alive, if she’d be willing to swear herself into my service. He knew that we were ill-equipped to mitigate the kind of threat the Faceless Men presented.”

Tyrion. Was it for my sake that he intervened? Did he even realize who Arya was when he did? “So she had already killed at least one of the other Faceless Men, by the time you knew she was there?”

“Yes,” Daenerys confirmed.

“My god,” Margaery broke in, looking over at Arya as a realization crossed her features. “You were going to try to just kill every one they sent after her on your own, without her even knowing, weren’t you?”

Arya just nodded.

“That may be both one of the most frightening, and most romantic things I have ever heard.” Sansa felt Margaery reach for her hand, squeezing it gently. Redemption, Sansa, her hold said as clearly as if she’d spoken aloud. If anyone deserves a chance at it, let it be your own blood.

“I still don’t understand why you never came home,” Sansa said, her voice faltering ever so slightly. “Even if you needed to kill all of them, why wouldn’t you come back after? We all thought you were dead. We even placed your stone in the crypt!” If you were willing to sell yourself to avenge us, why didn’t we mean enough for you to return afterwards?

“I was going to, Sansa.” Arya looked downward, and she knew she’d hit a chink in the younger Stark’s armor. “When the Wight War broke out, I left the Faceless Men. I went beyond the Wall to find Jon… I was going to take us both back home when the fighting was finished.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“Because Jon was dead,” she replied, hollow. “And after I buried him I decided it was best off you all believe that I was too. I knew what I was, Sansa. I knew every waking moment what I was, and exactly what you and all the ghosts of Starks past would think of me. And I thought that maybe we’d all had enough grief.”

Redemption. She cared about what I thought of her – about what we thought of her. Sansa eased her assault, placing her sharp tongue into its scabbard before it cut something vital and ended whatever chances at reconciliation still lay before them. “Can I ask something of you?”

“You can.” Years of eavesdropping had left Sansa’s ears finely tuned in the art of conversation, and though it was faint, she could detect a wary note in Arya’s answer.

“Can you change your face for me?” She suddenly needed the tangible surety of seeing it; of knowing there were no more ‘half-truths’ sitting within the gulf that had continually divided them.

Arya took a moment to consider the request. “I can,” she said finally, “but are you really sure that you want me to?” she asked, looking over at Margaery as well.

She glanced at Margaery and got her approval with the tilt of a nod. “I am.”

“So be it, then.” Arya turned and pressed her fingertips to her temple, then spread her fingers across the side of her face and pulled Cade’s familiar features over her own, stopping once her thumb brushed up against her ear on the opposing side. “This is Cade,” she said in a voice a little deeper than her own. “He’s the one I used the longest, while I was working at the Red Keep’s stables.”

Sansa looked at the young man who sat before her, where Arya was just an instant ago. Her brow creased as she reached a hand forward, resting her palm against Cade’s cheek, feeling the warmth and texture of real skin beneath her hand, despite the fact she just bore witness to an illusion. “How is this possible..?” she asked, not even sure she was expecting an answer.

“When you become No One,” Arya said in the voice that was not quite her own, “then you can be taught to become anyone.”

“Your eyes,” Sansa said in quiet wonder. “They didn’t change.”

“Eyes are the windows to the soul. A glamour can never change that.”

Eyes are the windows to the soul… and her and I, we share the same eyes.

It was a start.

…….

 

Margaery kissed the back of Sansa’s neck as she locked an arm around her waist, spooning in behind her. “It’ll be alright you know,” she said softly. “You knew as soon as she’d turned up again that day with the Queen that she’d likely been somewhere dangerous.”

“I know,” Sansa sighed. “I just hadn’t thought that it would be quite so… terrible.”

“It’s not as bad as you think. Honestly Sansa, men kill every day. For war, for pride, for dominance, or even for pleasure. No one even thinks to look twice.” She sought Sansa’s hand, and laced their fingers together. “It just so happens your sister does the same, except with far more precision and skill.”

“She does,” Sansa whispered in agreement. “Lord Baelish-”

“Shhh,” Margaery quieted her. “Petyr got what was coming to him, Sansa. And all the better if it was by Arya’s hand. There’s nothing more that needs to be said about him.”

Sansa closed her eyes and shifted back against the Tyrell, the tension of the evening only just finally starting to ebb. “Still, it’s just strange. I have all of these memories of her and I as children – generally antagonistic memories, mind you – and it’s so hard to reconcile then with now. I feel like I’m missing too much; I can’t just leap from hair-pulling to seeing her sharing a bed chamber with the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.”

“Which only leads to a different kind of hair-pulling, if you think about it,” Margaery said with smirk.

“Seven hells!” Sansa smacked Margaery’s arm as a blush rouged her cheeks. “Stop that!”

“What?” Margaery let out a throaty purr. “Do you think it isn’t strange for her, knowing that you’re sharing the Lord of Winterfell’s bed with me? The same bed your parents once slept in? She has more than her share of that charming Stark reserve, love, and you can bet she’s had a time of her own coming to grips with that.”

Sansa turned and pressed her face into the pillow. “Please, change the subject. For all the love you bear me. Tell me how I can possibly connect to Arya as a sister when knowing her now scares me half to death.”

Margaery let out a soft breath, tickling the red Stark’s neck. “You know,” she said after a moment, “you two are barely sisters in the traditional sense at all. You remind me more of two brothers I once knew.”

Sansa turned a little, removing her face from its feathered shroud. “Who could you possibly mean?”

“Doran and Oberyn Martell,” she replied, “from Dorne. Did you ever get a chance to meet them?”

“No,” Sansa shook her head lightly. “But I’ve heard their names. What were they like?”

“Well Doran still rules in Dorne, though he is so ill now he is rarely seen. But he’s a brilliant man – the Dornish people have thrived under his prudent judgement and gift for policy. He knows when to bow, and knows when to bend, despite their house words. That gift spared the country most of the devastation suffered during the War of the Five Kings.” Margaery brushed a lock of hair from Sansa’s cheek. “Just as your gift for diplomacy will continue to rebuild the north, and possibly even unite it entirely once more.”

That may prove to be impossible, Sansa thought to herself. It seems the Karstarks nurse their grudges even longer and more intensely than Lysa nursed Robin Arryn.

“Oberyn, on the other hand,” Margaery continued, “Oberyn was Doran’s younger brother. And he was called into service when bowing or bending was not in Dorne’s best interest. The Viper, he became known as, for he struck quickly with weapons laced in poison as he carried the Martell banner into battle on behalf of Doran. They were very different, the two of them, opposites really, but each had strengths the other lacked. And together, they were a force few would so much as dare to reckon with.” There was a pause, then: “Though, in fairness, Oberyn was far more lusty than Arya could ever be. You wolves are loyal beyond measure.”

“But didn’t Oberyn die?” Sansa asked quietly, wondering if she’d confused the rumors once attached to that particular name. Word from the capital carried much slower up the many steps of the Eyrie, but it did eventually arrive all the same.

“Oh,” the slight curve of a frown pulled at Margaery’s full lips, “well… yes, he did. Years ago, in a trial by combat against the Mountain Gregor Clegane.” She sighed, suddenly regretting the comparison. “He died quite brutally.”

 

…….

 

The Red Keep, Tower of the Hand –

 

“I hear those crates of Dornish wine you were waiting for have arrived, Lord Tyrion. Always nice to see you put our Queen’s authority to such good use.”

There was a light scratching sound as Tyrion’s quill etched against the small piece of parchment beneath his hand. “Trust me, Lord Varys – the Queen will appreciate having a fine vintage waiting for her when she arrives back here.”

There was the shuffle of a familiar mince, then Varys sat himself across from his small friend. “A few little birds have returned to me from the east,” he said.

Tyrion set down the quill and poured Varys a cup of wine, sliding it to him across the table. “How bad is it?” he asked.

“The Iron Bank has severed all connection to the House of Black and White. Even as bodies are still being pulled from the carnage, all of their assets have been seized and every account connected to the organization on both continents has been closed.”

“So your suspicions were correct, then. The Iron Bank never did sanction a strike on Daenerys.”

“No they did not. Nor was there any exchange of currency or service agreement recorded anywhere that would indicate a contract was ever taken out on her at all.”

“The Faceless Men never work for free. Everyone knows that. Even if there is no gold on the table, they will take a service to be performed at a later date, or even demand your squalling first-born child be granted to them to obey their law of valar dohaeris.” Tyrion drank deeply from his goblet. “I admire a policy that leaves no debt unpaid.”

“So you can see why it is so very interesting that such a potentially lucrative arrangement appears to have been made gratis, especially coupled with the Iron Bank’s standing on the matter.”

“I do,” Tyrion furrowed his brow, deep in thought.

“In regards to the raven her Grace sent from Winterfell,” Varys continued, “I believe that a loyal set of eyes in the Citadel would serve us well. I want to recruit Maester Tarly for the task.”

“You know Daenerys wouldn’t want him placed at risk. And besides, he’s far too… nervous. Good little birds don’t fidget and sweat the way he is bound to do.”

“He’s already been summoned to receive the Valyrian Steel link to be added to his chain. There is no need to sweat or fidget when you are simply arriving somewhere you are supposed to be. This is a rare opportunity, Lord Tyrion.”

“Valyrian Steel? Magic and the occult – interesting field of study.” Tyrion swirled the wine in his goblet with a flourish. “I thought that Maesters were frowned upon if they pursued that particular link.”

“Traditionally yes. But after the horrors beyond the wall shambled through, and dragons can be found roaming the skies once more, there has been a resurgence in the study of old magics.”

Not to mention we have a Queen who can walk through fire without being burned, and a face-changing warg she has become particularly fond of. I’m sure the timing for this particular link is not a coincidence.

Tyrion let out a sigh. “Speak with the Maester, then,” he said.

He was more than grateful for the timely arrival of that wine.

 

……..

AN#2 –Yes, I do know that technically Sansa has rich blue Tully eyes opposed to Stark grey. But eyes can share more than just color, so I took a small bit of artistic license.

Chapter Text

AN: I have learned, very quickly, that even notated artistic license can be upsetting. I will not make the same mistake twice ;)

By the end of the next chapter we do leave the north, my good readers.

-lays out the prplmunky bait- =D

POV: Dany, then Margaery

 

……..

 

“Arya?” Daenerys asked as the chamber door closed behind them. “What else is there?”

Her face was her own again, but Arya was still stone, as if she’d never left her kin at the feast hall. “Wasn’t that enough? There has to be more?” she asked, all northern ice as she took a seat at the table beside the fog-chilled window.

“There doesn’t have to be, but there is, Wolf.” I know you. “Tell me what it is you’re holding back,” Dany’s voice softened as she stepped in beside the Stark, running her fingers through her mussed dark hair.

Arya remained tensed, her breathing as slow and shallow as if she was bleeding from within, invisible to any but a Maester’s eye. “Jon was half-Targaryen,” she said finally, still frigid. “You would have married him, if he were still here. That’s how it works, isn’t it?”

Daenerys’ hand paused for a moment as she blinked, entirely unprepared for the frank inquiry. “If you’re asking about my family’s traditional customs, then yes – that may have been expected of me.”

She watched Arya stare out the iced window, the slow, uneven rise and fall of her chest and shoulders the only sign that she was still really present at all. “I ruined that for you too,” she said finally, her voice hollow and far away, like an echo Dany had never heard before.

Worried, Daenerys knelt down in front of Arya, lightly gripping the thick leather of her collar. “Arya, look at me,” she said, calling upon her internal commander to reinforce her as her instincts prepared her for more than just grief laid bare. “What are you talking about?”

Arya kept staring out that godforsaken window, as if she never even heard her, so Daenerys’ tightened her grip on her collar and shook it lightly. “Arya!”

Finally, Arya slowly turned, hard steel eyes finding her own. “I killed him, Daenerys,” she said, in that same even tone she’d held with her sister only short moments ago. “I killed Jon.”

Dany felt her grip start to slacken. “That’s impossible,” she muttered. “You gave up everything to find Jon. You wouldn’t have hurt him.. I know you wouldn’t have…”

“Do you?” Arya asked, as stonewalled as if she was still sitting in front of the red Stark. “I took the black, Dany,” she said. “After I left Braavos I was called Dane; I took the black without a vow and rode out beyond the wall with three other rangers and your last regiment, sent as reinforcements to Jon and what was left of the Watch at the Fist of the First Men.”

Daenerys felt her heart start to speed within her chest. She remembered this regiment; she’d had to fly out on Drogon during the worst blizzard she’d ever seen to try to find them when they’d been more than a day late to engagement. By the time she finally located them, once the winds had finally died down, she’d been horrified to see that her child had charred most of the unit along with the nest of wights that had surrounded them. “You couldn’t have been with them,” she said slowly. Gods, you couldn’t have.

Her dread fell upon Stark ice and slid away into the same deep, dark canyon in which Arya buried her secrets. “I was there,” she said, revoking Daenerys’ denial. “And I nearly died with the rest of them, but for the fire of a dragon that I couldn’t see.” She looked at the Queen pointedly. “It threw me back when our wagon full of pitch blew.” She reached down and slid off her boots, then rolled up a trouser leg, revealing a thick, purple scar that marred the length of her calf. “I got this, surrounded, moments before,” she said. “And this.” She slid up the sleeve of her jerkin, revealing a patch of discolored, mottled skin that suddenly became dreadfully recognizable as the uneven circumference of a jaw full of broken, jagged teeth. “What killed the rest of them saved me… for all the good it was worth.” The last words were spit bitterly from her mouth.

“When I pulled myself out of the snowbank,” she continued in that haunted, empty tone, “I headed towards the Fist on my own. I didn’t turn back; didn’t look for any other survivors – I just kept pushing towards Jon.” A pause. “And I found him, Dany. Him and what was left of the Night’s Watch.” Her eyes were far away again, as if she was looking through that Winterfell glass once more. “And I killed him,” she whispered, almost inaudibly.

“No,” Daenerys shook Arya’s collar again, harder this time. “That is not what happened,” she spoke with the surety that she was desperate to feel. It can’t be. “Tell me the rest, Arya Stark. Tell me exactly what happened after you found him.” Her voice became that of the Queen, the Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, and carried the full authority of such as she demanded.

The oath that lay within acknowledged and heeded commitment, and Arya’s head tilted just slightly as she returned from the howling winds and ice shards she had lost herself in. “I saw him,” she said, “and a handful of others in black. Couldn’t have been many.” She reached up and pressed a fingertip to her temple, brow furrowed. “I pulled Dane away; didn’t need him anymore – and I called to him. I called, but I was still too far away – he couldn’t hear me.”

“Go on,” Dany prompted, her grip still tight.

“He was fighting a wight that was different than the rest. He… it looked like he had a frozen crown on his head. That thing, it was like he couldn’t even see anything beyond Jon; he didn’t notice any of the others warring around him, even though some of them fumbled so badly he could have killed them.”

The Night’s King, Daenerys thought to herself, remembering the stories that some of the Free Folk had told. The legendary Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who found a cold bride in the Haunted Forest, and broke his vows to claim her as they ruled by wicked bloodshed in the Nightfort, until the old forces of Joramun and the Starks finally put an end to them both. Her mouth pulled into a grim line. Of course he would fixate on his successor within the Watch, with Stark blood besides.

“I started to run towards them, and was knocked down. A dying brother, I think. By the time I looked up again, I saw Jon’s sword cut through the wight while a blade sunk into his own neck.”

Dany let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She didn’t do it. Oh gods, she didn’t do it, thank you.

“He fell,” Arya continued, as if in a trance. “I knew better, Dany, the part of me that could still think knew that the cut was too deep; that too much blood had already pooled, but I went to him anyways.”

“Of course you went to him,” Daenerys said, softening even as she pushed away the assault of her own memories of that day, the empty spaces now filling with images of further crimson heartache.

“Then he got back up.”

What?

“He rose up, as if his neck hadn’t been cleaved, and he walked toward me.” Daenerys watched as Arya’s eyes tempered in front of her, no longer seeing through her but anchoring her as steadily as her own small hands constrained the wolf. “He walked toward me, with those damned, cursed blue eyes, and he wrapped his hand around my neck, and he lifted me off of the ground as if I weighed nothing.”

But he killed the Night’s King. Arya saw it herself – how could Jon have risen as one of them if the Night’s King was defeated?

“…I stabbed him with a piece of dragonglass.”

Bran. I need to speak with Bran about this, before we leave for the south. “Arya,” she said, “that wasn’t your fault-”

“I killed my brother.”

“No. What you killed wasn’t Jon anymore, it-”

“I killed your nephew.”

“Stop it!” Her voice began to rise with her dragon, quickening her breath and pounding her blood through her veins in a heavy thrums.

“I killed the man you likely would have taken as your king.”

Her dragon roared within, and her hand struck true.

Arya turned, slowly, the print of Daenerys’ palm blossoming in an angry red on her cheek.

Her heart hammered in her ears, and her hand, stinging, fell to her side. “I am no longer beholden to a legacy someone else forged,” she seethed. “And I am no more a sum of my family than you are of yours!”

There was a flicker in Arya’s eyes then, and suddenly the queen found herself swept from her feet and laid back on the table, pinned against the dark oak beneath the wolf. Arya’s lips were a breath away from her own when she spoke, a low, cool rasp that ignited her shamelessly as rage immediately morphed into desire. “None of it even matters,” she whispered. “I carry death with me.” Each word brushed ever so faintly against Dany’s lips, and she found herself lifting slightly to seal them away with tiny, evanescent kisses. “Everyone I’ve ever truly loved has died.”

Valar morghulis,” Daenerys murmured as she wrapped her arms around her Stark’s neck, pulling her closer as she felt Arya’s hand slide up the length of her leg, the silk of her gown riding up her thigh.

Valar dohaeris,” Arya breathed, catching Dany’s lips in a kiss that seared even the dragon and left them both panting as Death took her claim.

 

……..

 

The midday sun had long melted the frost that slicked Winterfell’s training grounds, and a morning full of heavy footfalls had rutted the dark earth where weight had shifted to parry, slice and feint.

Daenerys watched as Arya stepped back from the massive hammer’s arc, a light breeze from the swing ruffling her hair as it whistled through the air where her jaw had been just an instant ago.

“Better,” Arya said as Rickon drew back to strike again. “But you keep shifting your foot just before you lunge. It’s giving you away.”

The burly Stark boy looked down at his feet, noticing the angled point of his boot. “You’re right. I never noticed that before.” He shifted his stance, straightening his feet. “Better?”

Arya nodded, tightening her grip on the handle of her shortsword. “Good. Now, try again.”

Daenerys heard light footfalls behind her as Arya dodged another hammer blow, nicking Rickon’s chin before she closed the gap between them and held her sword to his neck. The boy was a quick study, and good-natured enough to both accept and implement the older Stark’s suggested corrections when she granted them – if he kept up his training, he’d be a force to reckon with when he started in the tourneys.

“Oh my,” Margaery winced as she stepped in beside the Queen. “Does she always wait till the last moment to evade like that?”

Dany nodded. “She does. And always just enough for the strike to miss.”

“That must be terribly frightening to watch.”

“It was, but only at first.” Now it is something else entirely.

Margaery let out a small sigh. “Starks can be terribly difficult, can’t they? How long has she been out here?”

“Since this morning.” She brushed a wavy platinum lock of hair behind her ear. “First she sparred with a few of my Honor Guard, then with one of my Bloodriders.” Jhogo had fared no better than Rakharo had weeks ago in the field beside the Kingsroad, and had started to cut off his hair in shame before Daenerys had forbid him, telling him that it should be known that Blood Wolf was also blood of her blood, and that this was not a true battle to be lost. “Then Rickon asked if she would train with him,” she motioned towards the current match.

Margaery gave a slight nod in understanding. “Mine decided all of a sudden this morning that she needed to ratify every agricultural contract from Moat Cailin to Deepwood Motte.”

“Both of them have drawn their respective swords, then.” Daenerys said evenly.

“They have,” Margaery replied, “though I’m confident that I’ll have Sansa set hers aside before your departure tomorrow.”

Daenerys considered this for a moment. “Maybe it would be wise not to press the matter. I don’t think Arya would want Sansa to feel coerced. In fact I know she wouldn’t.”

“I know my wife, your Grace. It wouldn’t be coercion as much as helping her realize what she already wants, while allowing her to think she came upon that understanding all on her own.”

Dany let out a laugh. “Oh, the unspoken intricacies of marriage certainly pose you no obstacle, do they?”

A feline smile. “You could say I’m well-practiced. Though strangely enough, I didn’t require half of my repertoire until I had to contend with a stubborn northerner.” She tilted her head. “Something I am guessing you are learning all about as well?”

“You could say that,” the hint of a smile curved Daenerys’ lips.

They enjoyed a few moments of companionable silence watching Rickon skillfully tighten the swings he aimed at his deadly sister. “I wish you’d consider staying longer,” Margaery eventually said with a touching earnest. “We both do.”

“In truth I would, if I didn’t have a new Warden of the South patiently waiting to be named in Highgarden.” She let out a soft sigh. “I meant it when I said I’ve come to find your family to be quite endearing.”

“Perhaps,” Margaery started, “one day you’ll come to find this savage, endearing family has also become your own?”

Daenerys looked over at Arya as she and Rickon sheathed their weapons, Nymeria and Shaggydog circling around them, tails wagging.

Perhaps indeed.

 

……..

 

Margaery was nearly back to the entrance of Winterfell with the practice yard a good ways behind her when she saw Arya step in beside her, soundless. She gave a start, stopping mid-step. “Gracious, you startled me,” she said, her hand resting on her chest.

“Apologies,” Arya said, ending her silent stride. “I was hoping I could speak with you a moment before you went back inside. It won’t take long.”

“Of course,” Margaery turned to face her, welcoming. “What is it?”

“It’s.. something I need to leave with you. To give to Sansa, when the time is right.”

“Arya,” the Tyrell said gently, “Please, just give Sansa a bit of time. I know it seems difficult right now, but I’m sure she-”

“No,” Arya shook her head. “She won’t. Not with this, at any rate. But from what I’ve seen so far, you understand what is in my sister’s best interest. You love her, and that’s why you’re the only one I can trust to leave this with.”

Margaery’s brow creased, and she briefly wondered if something that could cause such unease should be given at all.

“Here,” Arya took her hand, placing a wax-sealed piece of parchment into it, along with a strange, battered iron coin. “When you have the chance, take Sansa south to King’s Landing,” she said. “Go to the Street of Steel, and look for the only smithy that has no name, just a sign with a faded axe painted on it above the door. You go in there with her, and you ask to speak with a man named Ragnos. When asked who wants to speak with him, you give him the name Alayne Stone, and hand him both of those.”

Alayne Stone.

“Arya, what is this for? And why would you use that name?”

Arya pointedly ignored her questions and continued on. “When I had decided that I wouldn’t kill Daenerys, I had all of my assets pulled from the Iron Bank. Blood money, Margaery, but a sizeable sum just the same. He will be expecting someone fitting Sansa’s description to retrieve it, at some point. Please make sure that she does. Use it to train up more craftsmen, and continue rebuilding Winterfell. Maybe by the time her son is grown, the north will be strong again.” The dark Stark let out a slow breath. “Just… don’t tell her exactly where it came from. You know how she gets.”

Margaery looked down at the articles entrusted to her hand. “Please, Arya, you shouldn’t do this,” she started, lifting her head to look back up at the assassin.

But Arya was already gone.

Chapter Text

AN: Reconciliation often comes paired with farewell.

 

POVs: Sansa/Dany/Sansa

 

……..

 

‘You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you.’

 

……..

 

She had never imagined that she would be the Stark that held Winterfell.

It was a game that she used to play long ago, the game of ‘what if’. It had started with the ships she would watch pulling away from the docks of King’s Landing when she was held a Lannister hostage there; she would look at them with their bright billowing sails and embroidered crests and imagine where they were going, what they were hauling, and how it would feel to be going with them. She could still afford to be a silly girl then, when Robb was alive and the fields were stained with lion’s blood as the wolves had pushed them back time and time again. She had truly believed that her brother would save her, that he would kill Joffrey and avenge their father, and that a Stark would rule as King in the North once more.

Because that’s how it went in all of the stories.

Her game changed, once Robb and her mother were dead and she realized how terribly wrong she’d been.

She no longer stared at the ships sailing over clear blue waters. She no longer imagined herself as someone else going on a fantastic journey to new worlds across the sea. Instead, she stared at a timeline she’d drawn up in her mind much like a map, with Winterfell and her family at one end, and the death of them all at the other. She’d look at every event that occurred since King Robert had arrived at Winterfell, and wondered how different all of their lives would be if even one scenario had been altered. What if Bran hadn’t insisted on going climbing that day? What if father had just told the King he couldn’t be his Hand? They’d been such good friends for years – surely Robert could have borne it. What if Arya had killed Joffrey by the lake that day? What if my father had never found out about Cersei and Jaime? What if King Robert hadn’t gone out on that last hunt? What if, what if, what if.

It had all come down to the death of Jon Arryn, she’d decided after weeks of thinking herself into knots. Jon Arryn’s death was the alpha and omega; the catalyst for the entire chain of events that had destroyed her world, and his life continuing on would have been the only thing that spared them all. Once she’d figured that out, she’d packed up that game too, locking it away neatly within a dusty little compartment of her mind never to be opened again – until tonight.

What if Jon Arryn had never died, and we had never left Winterfell to go to King’s Landing?

Sansa closed her eyes and cobbled together memories of her family before King Robert’s fateful arrival - faded, but healthy and whole.

Jon would have still left for the wall, there was no way around that. The truth that Bran had brought them all about Jon’s parentage would never have come to light in time to spare him the black unless their lord father had confessed it, and he could not so long as Robert Baratheon drew breath.

Robb would have married, and being the future Warden of the North he would have been granted a match from one of the Great Houses. Sansa felt her stomach clench as she realized Margaery would have been a very legitimate candidate; then comforted herself with the fact that the Tyrells were always far too ambitious to have ever considered anything less than the crown itself. It’s possible that she herself would have been sent off to Highgarden as a Tyrell bride for either Willas or Loras – that would have kept Margaery in close proximity. Even though this was only a very old game within her mind, she needed to have that matter settled in some fashion before she could even think to play any further.

Rickon would still be as he was here in Winterfell now, though more civilized without having lost a few key years of his childhood to the wilds of Skagos. The boy had become as much an animal as Shaggydog for a time even after the wildling Osha had returned him home, running around in furs and speaking in growls and snarls as much as words. He’d even refused to sleep in a proper bed, instead hanging sheets and moulding pelts into a makeshift den on his floor near the hearth. Any approach he disliked was quickly deterred by a warning snap from Shaggydog, and for weeks he made it abundantly clear that he disliked any approach whatsoever. It was only after months of being under Winterfell’s roof and seeing physical reminders of his family while smelling familiar scents that both he and Shaggydog could remember that he finally started to come out of the savage cocoon he’d buried himself in.

Bran, a summer child in spirit as much as his direwolf was in name, had been her match in southron ambition, and she loved him fiercely for it. He’d wanted to be a knight from the moment he could stand, and his eyes would light up as much as her own at talks of tourneys and valor and all of the legendary battles fought to protect the good. He’d wanted to earn a lady’s favour before a joust and stand tall in gleaming armor, a hero of House Stark.

But there were no heroes. So even if King Robert and the Lannisters had never come to Winterfell, perhaps Bran still would have fallen, sooner or later. That was what the world did to those who believed they could be noble paladins – it broke them, one way or another.

And then there was Arya. Had they never left for King’s Landing, Arya never would have met that dancing master of hers.

But she still would have had the sword from Jon.

She never would have fought with Joffrey, or gotten Lady killed.

Lady would have lived, but Arya would have continued fighting anyone who would indulge her. Whether it was that butcher’s boy, a smith’s son, or even a poor Stark guardsman who would be unable to refuse her.

Their lord father would have forced her to lay the steel down.

Like he had managed to do with the bow? How old was she again before she was hitting all of her targets true before even her brothers?

He would have put an end to her shenanigans as she grew older, making her truly understand the life she’d been born into and the expectations that came along with that.

She would have rebelled. ‘I’m not a lady, I’m a wolf!’ she would have cried out as she so often did, and she would have burned his ambitions for her to the ground like so much rubbish.

He would have arranged a suitable match for her.

Would this match have been set before or after the Daenerys Targaryen sailed to take back King’s Landing, and the rest of Westeros with it? Because even if Jon Arryn had lived long and strong, there was nothing that could have stopped the force of nature that was the Dragon Queen.

He would have arranged a suitable match for her – and Arya would have run.

She would have fled south, with her sword and her bow and her stubborn rage the moment she’d heard of Daenerys’ arrival. She would have run, and she would have found that silver queen and thrown her sword at her feet, pledging her service before any of us could even figure out that she wasn’t just out hunting in the Wolfswood.

Perhaps the Queen wouldn’t have accepted Arya into her service. There was bad blood between the Starks and Targaryens back then, after all. Would she really want the child of a traitor wielding a blade anywhere near her?

She would not have sent her away any more than she had sent away Tyrion Lannister, who still serves as her Hand. She was a woman who led armies into battle on the back of a black dragon; she was fearless and would have welcomed any woman with courage and a sure blade to fight for her, Stark or otherwise.

Faceless or not, Arya would have inevitably killed for her Queen. Time and time again.

But it’s different when it’s on the field of battle. It’s honorable, and it’s fair. It’s how father would fight.

Sansa sighed and rubbed her temples, picking up all of the sharp little pieces of her game and packing them away once more. That was all it came down to, really. Not that Arya killed – that much was in her and always had been, if she was being honest – but how and why she did it. If she had been a Queen’s knight and killed twice as many in battle, she still would have been a Stark like their mother and father had raised. But this shadow work; these deals made behind closed doors and in traitorous shade that weighed out life and death based on the size of a coin pouch, and stole breath from the unsuspecting who may not have even done anything to warrant it – where did that come from? Couldn’t she remember what their father had taught them all for the years they’d been lucky enough to have him?

‘It’s not that she’s forgotten our father. It’s that she’s had too many fathers since ours was lost.’ That was what Bran had told her, when she’d confessed her struggles to him earlier. And it struck, like not much else did, because if Sansa Stark had become anything throughout her younger years it was an expert on very dangerous father figures.

She’d never forget that day when she’d found Petyr’s body cleaved into two crude, grisly halves beside the Moon Door. In her shock, she had thought for an instant that she’d caught a glimpse of someone in the shadows behind a pillar a few paces away from the corpse- a knight of the Vale, whom no one else could attest to seeing before and she could barely remember after, with a bloodied broadsword far too large for his body strapped to his back. He gave her a respectful salute, as if she were once again a Lady rather than the bastard Alayne Stone she had been for so long, and then he was simply gone.

 

……..

 

Daenerys watched little Robb wrap his arms around Arya’s neck as she lifted him, hugging her tight as he tried not to cry.

‘He’s going to miss you, you know.’ She’d told Arya earlier as she’d dressed in their bedchamber, determined not to let Missandei catch her under the sheets again.

‘Nah, he’s going to miss swordfights and sweetmints. He doesn’t need me for those.’

‘You’re going to miss him too.’

‘…I might, a little.’ A pause. ‘He has a great mind for mischief.’

There were moments she could see her wolf was less a beast and more a teddy bear, but she’d never tell anyone that.

“C’mon now,” Arya said to the young Stark as she carried the boy over to the direwolves that had all gathered together to say their own farewells. “Remember what I told you? We’re soldiers of Queen, and stronger than anyone. So you’re going to train with Rickon, and when you’re old enough..” her voice started to fade as she drew further away, Robb’s cheek still pressed to her shoulder.

“You had wanted to see me, your Grace?” Bran took a seat with all of the grace he could muster, with the help of his part-giant.

“Yes Bran, thank you,” Dany looked away from Arya and Robb to take a seat of her own across from him. “I was hoping to speak with you about the day… about the day Jon died,” she said.

“Oh,” Bran let out a quiet sigh. “So Arya told you, then?”

Dany nodded. “She did.”

“Then I have to thank you, your Grace.”

“What for?” Dany asked, unsure of what he meant.

“Arya is coming back to herself, finally, and it is in no small part thanks to you. It seems that you love as fiercely as you rule.”

Daenerys found herself at a rare loss for words. She took a moment, then cleared her throat. “I do love her,” she replied softly.

Bran gave a knowing smile. “I know you do.” He looked for a minute as if he were going to say something more, but thought better of it. “So,” he continued, steepling his hands in front of him. “What was it that you wanted to ask about Jon’s death?”

“That day – was that something you saw in the weirwood? Something Arya mentioned has been bothering me.”

“I did see it, yes. Not until a few years after it all happened unfortunately; I was only just starting to learn how to see the threads back then, but now I know all of it.”

“Arya described a clash between Jon and the Night’s King,” Daenerys continued, her hands tugging her wolf-pelt cloak tighter around herself as an involuntary chill coursed through her. “And from what she told me, Jon had killed him. Yet somehow Jon still rose up again even after he was dead.”

Bran’s expression turned somber, and suddenly the young man looked far too old for his age. “Do you know, your Grace,” he said quietly, “what the one question no one thought to ask throughout that entire awful war was?”

“What question?” Daenerys asked.

“How did the Night’s King ever come back in the first place? ” he said.

The truth of it hit like a punch to the stomach. Even she, riding Drogon where the carnage had been thickest, knowing the wildling tales and the relevant historical tidbits Tyrion had imparted to her, had not once bothered to question ‘why’ or ‘how’ the Night’s King had returned. They had all just been so desperate to survive.

“Do you know how?” She asked Bran, uneasy.

Bran shook his head. “No,” he said, “but when I return to Brynden, I intend to find out. Because he will come back again one day.” He scowled as if he’d just eaten something extraordinarily bitter. “I can still feel him, faint, buried deep beneath thick ice and stone.”

Daenerys felt her resolve quicken. “What can we do to stop him? To make sure that nothing like that cursed war ever happens again?”

“For now your Grace, help us rebuild the Wall. And keep Dark Sister very, very sharp.”

 

…….

 

Sansa found Arya loading up the last few crates on to the wagons, the Targaryen colors she wore the only thing differentiating her from the rest of the help. All of the formal farewells had been spoken, a few tears had been shed, and all that was left were a few more ropes to tie down before the Queen and her entourage returned south.

“Hey,” Sansa said quietly, resting a hand on Arya’s shoulder. “You forgot something.”

Arya turned, puzzled, as Sansa held out a familiar charcoal wolf-pelt cloak.

Arya’s brow furrowed as she tentatively reached to take her father’s heirloom. “I thought… after you knew, that you wouldn’t want me to have this,” she said quietly.

Redemption, Sansa. If anyone deserves a chance at it, let it be your own blood.

“You’re not an assassin anymore,” Sansa said matter-of-factly, as if she hadn’t spent the better part of her days wrestling with such a simple conclusion. “I didn’t give this to No One, I gave this to my sister, Arya Stark.”

“I see,” Arya said as she ran a hand over the dark fur.

“Besides,” Sansa continued with the trace of a smile, “there are some traditions and gestures that women, even incredibly powerful women who rule entire continents, happen to enjoy.” She took a moment to amuse herself with Arya’s blatant confusion before enlightening her. “Whenever you decide to marry that silver Queen of yours, you’ll need a Stark cloak to drape on her.”

It was a priceless thing, seeing a battle-hardened killer’s jaw drop as she blushed like an adolescent, mumbling and stammering.

Sansa pulled her into a hug, and kissed her cheek. “Now go,” she whispered. I love you.

Arya tightened her grip around Sansa for a moment longer, then stepped away. “I never forgot you, Sansa. I never forgot any of you, even if it seems like I did.”

“I know,” she replied, finally accepting it for truth.

Arya secured the last knot on the wagon and turned away, heading to the coach where Daenerys was already waiting. She was only a few steps away from the door when Sansa called out to her:

“Arya! Was it you I saw that day? The day Petyr was killed?”

Arya stopped and turned around to face her. A grin tugged at the corner of her mouth, and she gave her the same salute a Vale knight had once given a bastard as if she were a Lady.

 

…….

 

AN#2: And now for a moment of silence, as the Northern arc comes to a close.

As I mentioned a while back, I do have a sequel in mind for Allegiance (which I will work on after ‘Dany by the Docks’) – and as such, I am starting to lay some groundwork for that in this fic. These are particular plot-points that may seem unrelated to the main conflict or end up ‘unresolved’ by the time the epilogue for this one gets posted. This is entirely intentional ;)

Chapter Text

AN: And here we step into the final arc of Allegiance. A lot more ASOIAF material than usual is in use at this point, just to warn any of my readers who are strictly HBO watchers. Don’t panic if you are a little confused at first – all questions will be answered, and all things leading up to this point revealed in good time.

 

POV: Arya (Arik) / A Man

 

…….

 

“I trust you have found your accommodations in Oldtown to be acceptable, Master Strake?”

Arik gave a slight shrug, feigning indifference. “The view of the Honeywine pleases my wife,” he spoke with a perfectly accented common tongue, ensuring that every syllable was stressed with a Qohorik lilt, “and as such I am pleased.” Daniah shifted at his side, pressing against him as she slid a delicate hand up the front of his leather tunic, idly toying with the thick straps that fastened it just beneath his collar. “But you have not brought us here to watch the slow lapping of the waves.”

Archmaester Castos shook his head as he stepped behind a cool, tall iron anvil that served as both his desk and his workbench. “No, I did not. You’ve come with the highest recommendation, Arik – I would like to see if your work lives up to its lofty reputation.”

Arik reached over his shoulder and pulled a familiar Valyrian steel longsword from his scabbard, resting it on the anvil. The blade shone with a telltale distinctive ripple pattern, and boasted a unique dark blue tint that was visible when turned in the light. “This is Dominus,” Arik said, the smooth lie enveloping Dark Sister’s true identity as much as the reforged hilt did.

Castos reached for the blade, carefully lifting it in his palms as he expertly weighed the legendary steel. His eyes followed the reflective angled curves on the surface of the dragon-forged metal, unable to mask a rare wonder as he caught refracted shades of cobalt every so often. He carefully pressed a thumb to the honed edge, and watched as it split his skin with painless, elegant ease. “This is absolutely magnificent,” the Archmaester said finally, unable to suppress his awe. “How is it that I have not heard of you before?”

“I make it my business not to be heard of, Archmaester. Few pockets are deep enough to afford our work. There are plenty of smiths in the world, and even a handful who can reforge Valyrian Steel. But no others who can imbue further enchantments to the blade once cooled.”

Castos brushed his palm over the blade reverently, then handed it back to Arik with obvious reluctance. “If we could have a small sample of your work to study, I believe you will find the Citadel’s coffers to be quite ‘deep pockets’ indeed, Master Strake. Perhaps you could be persuaded to forge us a small token here? Our facility is of the finest caliber, and-”

“Absolutely not.” Arik’s eyes narrowed as he slid Dominus back into its sheath. “You have already seen my work. You will speak with your colleagues and draw up a contract as we discussed, or Daniah and I will be on the next ship back to Essos.”

“Come now, there is no reason to be so hasty,” the Archmaester’s gaze fell on Daniah again, staring into the warm, inky depths of eyes that held as much enchantment as the sword on display only seconds ago before following curled waves of dark raven tresses as they came to rest on the swell of her chest. “I will speak with the Conclave this very evening. I fully expect the outcome should please us both.”

Arik’s hand shot out, gripping a few heavy links of the master chain that wound around Castos’ neck and hung over his shoulders. “I will warn you once, thin man – should I catch your weathered eyes upon my wife again, you will experience an outcome that is anything but pleasing.”

The Archmaester’s eyes widened as he gaped, his mouth gulping like an offended goldfish as he stuttered denial. “I… I wasn’t…”

Arik released his grip and patted the Archmaester’s cheek as a wolfish grin played across his sharply angled features, wordlessly emphasizing his threat. “That’s right, you weren’t.”

Castos cleared his throat, his face flush with both grudging restraint and embarrassment. “I will send word to you once we have convened.”

“Very good.” The picture of a composed eastern gentleman once more, Arik gave a slight nod as Daniah took his arm and he turned to lead her away.

The two had stepped only a few paces before Daniah turned to glance at the Archmaester over her shoulder. “Do heed my husband’s warning, ser,” she said, her common tongue inflecting a Qohorik cadence as expertly as Arik’s. “He wields a sword as adeptly as he forges them, and believe me when I say I have seen him kill for far less.”

 

…….

 

They walked arm in arm down to the harbor, just two in the roaming crowd strolling the docks. Sound provided them guise as much as the constant motion surrounding them as vendors hawked their wares, captains called commands to their crews pulling in to port, and sailors who had were landlocked sung bawdy shanties heedless of who may be listening.

Arik took Daniah aside, brushing a lock of obsidian hair behind her ear as he carefully examined her eyes. They were still dark, the drops overshadowing their natural violet hue just as Maester Tarly had promised they would. “Does it hurt at all?” Arik asked, cupping Daniah’s cheek.

“No,” she replied warmly, turning a little to kiss his palm. “It is as painless as Sam promised.”

“Good,” Arik said, leaning in to kiss her lightly before pulling her into an embrace. “I managed to take the key Castos kept around his neck,” he whispered against Daniah’s ear as he pressed his cheek to hers, remembering how easily the thin chain snapped as the flustered Archmaester shifted under his angry grip.

“And here I thought you were just defending my honor, you rogue,” Daniah whispered playfully, her breath tickling his skin.

“I was doing both,” Arik said with the hint of a smile.

They stayed like that a few moments, enjoying the brief respite of anonymity as the Oldtown natives shuffled past them, their conversations carrying on the salty sea breeze.

“Have you heard? They say the Queen hasn’t been seen because she’s with child.”

“Oh? I heard she was still in Highgarden, dallying with that Tyrell.”

“The cripple? Have you gone mad? No, I have it on good authority she’s been locked up tight in the Red Keep ever since she returned from naming the Warden of the South, due to her delicate condition.”

“Well either way she was dallying with someone, and all while refusing to take a husband. Tsk tsk – what is this kingdom coming to? Just how many bastards will we have to endure on that bloody throne?”

Arik had to give the Spider credit where it was due. There was no better cover to both explain Daenerys’ temporary absence from the public eye, and keep a steady flow of gossip and misdirection churning down the Kingsroad for any Faceless Man loyalists still remaining to hear. Regardless, he could still feel Daniah stiffen in his arms as the rumors spilled like so much cheap wine.

“You can’t be her right now,” he said, gently reminding.

“I know,” she said softly, taking his hand as they pulled apart and continued to walk with the milling crowd.

“This is almost finished,” Arik said with a cautious quiet, steel eyes carefully scanning the crowd. “Archmaester Marwyn will need to be in attendance if the Conclave is meeting.”

“Do you think he’ll finally stumble out of whatever tavern he’s been holed up in to join them?” Daniah asked, her voice slipping into a well-practiced hush. “Or will they just carry on without him as they have been so far?”

“They’ll need his seal to approve this contract. All sixteen Archmaesters must sign and seal or it’s worthless.” Arik let out a slow breath. “We’ll catch up with Jarek and watch the roads leading into the Citadel tonight. If Marwyn appears, we’ll intercept him there.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“If he doesn’t, we still know that the rest of the Archmaesters will be gathered in council for a while.” He closed his eyes, calling to mind the crude floor plan that Samwell had sketched out for him back at the Red Keep. “I’ll take advantage of that and go in to see what’s hidden away inside that vault. Then we’ll continue on as we have been until we find Marwyn and find out exactly how far this all reaches.”

Arik felt Daniah squeeze his hand, the sharp cuts of flawless ruby in her ring indenting his skin. “And what if you run into Maester Pate?”

Pate… no more real than Jaqen ever was.

“Then I do what needs to be done, Daniah.”

 

………

 

“Ten Archmaesters have already entered the Tower of the Conclave,” Daniah said, still watching from her vantage point at the top of the lighthouse on the Honeywine’s edge.

“Was Castos one of them?” Arik asked.

“Palesteel mask and rod – yes, he’s there.”

The gods continue to piss on Starks, even when they do not bear the name. The sun had set, and Marwyn still had not stepped foot near the Citadel. “Seven hells,” Arik muttered in resignation as he unlaced the satchel at his feet. “Alright. I’m going in.” He pulled out a Novice robe and unfurled it, then gave it a hard smack, scattering dust particles into the air before pulling it over his head.

“Jarek,” he turned to the large man in merchant’s garb, his vigilance and proximity to Daniah the only clue as to his true occupation. “No one comes back up here except for me. If anyone tries, kill them. Quickly and quietly.” The muscular man just nodded, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword. “And if I don’t make it back tonight,” stormy grey eyes fell upon the concealed Targaryen, “you take Daniah and run.”

Daniah slipped down from the windowed alcove she’d been perched in, stepping in to wrap her arms around Arik’s neck. “You will come back,” she said, kissing him. “It is almost finished, remember?”

Steel eyes softened as Arik gave a small nod, holding steadfast the truth of his own words. “It is.” He turned then, his courage bolstered, and headed down the spiraling lighthouse steps and out on to the Weeping Docks.

The sun-blistered wood creaked under his weight as he shifted to give himself a slight limp, then arched his shoulder to commit the illusion of a slight hunchback and obscure the bulge of Dominus’ hilt beneath the thick cotton of his Novice robe. It would be easier if people thought him maimed – no one particularly enjoyed staring at an infirm, and the last thing he wanted was for anyone at the Citadel to pay him any heed. It had been years since he’d committed so entirely to mummery, truly losing himself in another identity, but now there was no choice. Arya Stark was sealed away back at King’s Landing as much as Queen Daenerys Targaryen, and here, in Oldtown, there was only Arik Strake and his wife Daniah – expert smiths from the eastern city of Qohor, come to commission for the very assembly that far away Arya and Daenerys needed to destroy.

He limped through the Citadel’s gate, tall green sphinxes flanking him as he made his way to the Scribe’s Hearth, where only a handful of acolytes finished up quilling letters by candlelight for the illiterates who had already commissioned them. Others packed up crates full of books, maps, ink and stationary, closing their stalls until the next day’s bustle of commerce rose along with the sun. He turned left, keeping his shuffle constant as he followed Samwell’s map in his mind, until he reached the marbled stones of the Great Library.

Arik favored his right leg as he climbed up the steps and pushed open the heavy wooden doors. He was immediately assaulted with the smell of must and cured leather as he stepped over the threshold and into the grandest athenaeum he had ever seen – entire walls, interconnecting under grand arches in hard geometrical patterns not entirely unlike a rocky Frostfang maze were lined with books and scrolls from top to bottom. Tall ladders leaned crookedly against thick shelves, their steps starting to bow in the middle after years of repeated use. Torches burned high above in heavy sconces surrounded by thick glass, providing only the most rudimentary light by which a few incorrigible and determined Novices remained huddled beneath, demanding answers of tomes that they could not sleep without.

Arik had no time to appreciate the marvel of it all.

Forward to the centre of the hall. Then left, right, and left again. He shambled his way through Sam’s directions, his thumb idly turning the ring resting at the base of his left-hand finger. This was a new habit he’d developed; something he hadn’t even noticed until Daniah had pointed it out to him.

You’ll see a half-flight of stairs leading down to a locked iron-oak door. An Archmaester’s key will open that door.

The crooked lines on thrice-folded paper notwithstanding, Sam’s details were accurate. Arik carefully stepped down the stairs, slipped Castos’ key in the heavy lock and turned. There was a soft ‘click’ as the mechanism released, and he pushed the door open, locking it up again once he was inside.

It will be dark inside. There are corridors to your right and left – ignore those, they are only other paths leading to the same destination you’re already at. About twenty paces forward, stop and reach out. You should feel the outline of a heavy iron door. This is the vault. The Archmaester’s key will open this as well.

Arik smoothed his palms against the cool metal in front of him, feeling for any bump, indentation, or change in texture. His fingertips found a notch, and he slid the key into it. The turn did not give easily; he had to coax the lock with quick tugs for fear of snapping the key entirely, but it yielded to him in the end. He pressed his shoulder into the door’s heavy weight until it relented, and the vault was revealed to him.

Crates stood stacked against the wall, a fine white powder dusting their tops and the stone floor beneath them. A single candle stood burning on an old wooden table, wax dripping beside a large, thick volume left open. The false smith made his way to the simple workspace, marking the page with a fingertip as he tilted the tome to a near close to read the etched title:

Blood and Fire: The Death of Dragons

He swallowed a sour lump in his throat as he realized what exactly the crates contained, and what it was meant to be used for.

Visirion. Rhaegal. Drogon.

No One had died with truth on his lips. If he wanted to save Daenerys and her children, he would likely have to burn part of an empire down.

 

……..

 

The heavy evening fog shrouded A Man as he watched a novice with a limp become a swordsman with strength to spare once he stepped out of the lighthouse with two companions.

It was a night for strange happenings.

Dust was shifted and unsettled where it should have remained undisturbed, and strange faces were appearing in his second home. Now the lame could walk, and perhaps if he took a walk down Beggar’s Alley he would find that the blind could suddenly see as well.

He followed the trio, silent, hanging back far enough to remain enshrouded in fog. The swordsman reached for his blade twice, as if sensing him beyond the periphery, and A Man couldn’t help but notice that he was left-handed.

He remembered training a girl who was left-handed, once.

A girl who was, perhaps, far more clever than even he had ever realized.

Chapter Text

AN: Everyone still with me after the confusion last chapter? Have faith in Starky – it is all going to make sense soon.

 

POV: Arya / Arik

 

……..

 

Three months ago –

 

Everything had changed once they left Winterfell.

Wolf was Arya Stark, and now the entirety of Daenerys’ entourage knew it. Scarred, returned from the dead, and wearing Targaryen colors with no trace of the sigil denoting her own lineage, Arya was as much the target of thinly-veiled curiosity on the Kingsroad as she had been when she first appeared in court.

She found it to be just as unnerving within her own identity as she did when she lacked one.

It had also quickly become public knowledge amongst the royal retinue that she had been taken as the silver queen’s lover. This was not due to any boasting or indiscretion on her part – she was, as always, particularly reticent and formal in service – but occurred as a natural consequence of Dany’s own uninhibited affections. The Dragon Queen did not subscribe to the Stark reserve that governed Arya, and she made her claim on the wolf apparent with continual displays of endearment too intimate to be mistaken for anything less.

To Arya’s dismay, this ended up causing the very schism between herself and the rest of Daenerys’ ranks that she had tried to avoid on the trip north. Past fellowship notwithstanding, she could no longer be considered a comrade when she had taken what so many of them secretly desired. Noble, ranger, assassin, water dancer – all of these characterizations were swept aside and replaced by her new unspoken title of ‘thief’ the moment Daenerys had kissed her in full view outside of the enclosure of her tent for the first time. Some were obvious about their resentment, and she’d often catch them glaring at her with envious loathing. Others were less forthright, instead opting to employ the petty cruelty of diminishment, glancing at her and Dany with knowing smirks as if to tell her that this was nothing new; they were used to seeing their Queen with an unconventional lover.

Even though she knew this was a situation that was out of her hands, she couldn’t help but feel she was disappointing Daenerys somehow. First she’d been the catalyst of strife during their stay at Winterfell, and now she was inadvertently dragging further discord with them back down the southern road.

Night was falling and she was securing the camp’s perimeter with Nymeria when a familiar voice cut through the morose weight of her thoughts. “Hey,” a large hand belonging to an equally broad man held out a full mug of ale to her. “Looks like you need one of these as much as any of us.”

Jarek, from the Reach. Arya gave cautious thanks and took the mug, eyeing it warily.

Jarek noticed her suspicion and gave a hearty laugh. “Think I drew the short straw and got stuck comin’ to deliver you a mug laced with Wolfsbane?”

Arya glanced over at the rest of the soldiers and Honor Guards gathered around the main fire. A hard day of marching combined with the mellowing effects of good ale had softened some of the obviously rougher temperaments, but there were still a few who looked at her with eyes as sharp as the daggers strapped to her forearms. “Thought crossed my mind,” she said flatly.

“Ah,” Jarek took a long drink from his stein, following Arya’s gaze. “Can’t blame ‘em for that,” he said. “Most of ‘em have spent at least part of their time in service believing that they’re in love with the Queen.”

Arya raised her eyebrows. “And you’re the exception?”

Jarek gave a quick shake of his head. “No, I do love her Grace as well, just… not the same way that they think they do.”

No, of course not. He loves her all the way to the deepest depths of the Shivering Sea, while their pale devotion is more akin to a shallow mudbank on the shores of the Iron Islands. Just like all the rest of them. She felt herself growing more irritable by the second, and had to fight the urge to roll her eyes.

“I never would have met my wife without her.”

Or… not.

The brute put down his half-emptied mug and pulled the glove off of his left hand, revealing a thick band around his finger. “Laelia,” he continued, entirely unaware of the jaded misgivings Arya was quickly setting aside, “grew up in Meereen. She was a slave there, like her mother before her, when Daenerys Targaryen took the city and set them all free.” He looked down at his ring for a moment. “The Queen herself cut the collars off of many of the children there, did you know that? Laelia was one of them. She was just twelve years old.”

Arya did not yet know all of the details of Daenerys’ conquests in the east, but she was learning. Dany would speak of the haunts she carried with her across the Narrow Sea sometimes when they’d lay together in the dark, and more than once the assassin had found her skin christened with the queen’s tears after. She felt her heart collapse in on itself. Of course she cut those collars by her own hand.

“Laelia was one of many who chose to come across with the Queen when she came to reclaim Westeros.” Arya saw Jarek’s eyes soften as he spoke of his wife, and realized in that moment his expression was a mirror of her own ever since Daenerys had so tenderly disarmed her. “She was a cook for the army. And once the war was over, she settled in Ashford. Ended up running the kitchen at my favorite tavern.” He smiled then, full and genuine until it crinkled the corners of his eyes. “I near stalked the poor woman until she agreed to let me call on her.”

Arya, easily discerning truth when she saw it, finally relented and took a swig of her ale. “Must be she didn’t mind so much,” she gave a half grin. “Unless that ring is just for show.”

“No show,” he said, finishing his drink with a few deep gulps. “Married just last year, while I was on leave.” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and chuckled. “Got a little one on the way, too.” He tilted his head in Daenerys’ direction. “We decided to name her after the Queen, if it’s a girl.”

“And if it’s a boy?”

“No bloody idea. But, we’ve still got a few months left to figure that out.” He looked down at his empty tankard and frowned. “This won’t do at all.” He waved his hand toward the open cask. “I’m gettin’ another drink. Feel free to join in later, Wolf.” He turned and made his way back to the others, entirely oblivious to the fact that the he’d just given himself the same black mark that she bore with them.

 

……..

 

“They all want me to die in terrible ways.”

Daenerys shifted under the sheets beside her, pressing a kiss to Arya’s collar as she rested her cheek on her chest. “They don’t,” she said lazily, with a smile Arya could feel rather than see.

Arya ran her fingers through strands of soft white hair. “Oh, they really do. Push me into the fire, most likely. That way they can still enjoy their ale while they watch me crisp.”

“If they pushed you into the fire, I would walk right in and pull you out.”

“You would, my heroic Queen. You would step in and pull me from the blaze, all while your exquisite dress incinerated into nothing around you – and suddenly they would all find themselves entirely pleased for a whole new reason.” Arya chuckled as she felt a quick, playful jab to her ribs in response.

“Speaking of exquisite dresses,” Dany nipped Arya’s shoulder affectionately, “Missandei says if you tear the clasps from another of mine she’s going to make you stitch them back on yourself.”

Arya snickered. “Now I know that’s an idle threat. You both saw my incredible needlework skills when Sansa insisted on pulling out those old cross-stitchings we had to do as children.”

Dany’s shoulders shook lightly as she began to giggle. “Which one was yours again – the fat bear getting sick on the tree stumps?”

“That was a mighty dragon. Breathing fire. On his enemies.”

Giggles erupted into full-fledged laughter that Arya couldn’t help but join in on. “Really though,” she said after she and Daenerys both caught their breath, “all kidding aside.. do you really not see the way some of them look at you?”

Dany was quiet a moment, and Arya thought that perhaps it was a question she was not comfortable answering. “When you fight,” Daenerys said finally, reaching to take Arya’s left hand, “do you focus on your opponent, or the crowd surrounding you?”

“On my opponent, of course.”

“And why is that?”

Arya’s brow creased as she wondered what Dany was trying to get at. “Because if I drop my guard and look out at the crowd, I’ll lose. He’ll see the opening and kill me.”

Dany’s fingertip traced a thin scar that led from the base of Arya’s thumb to her wrist. “Fighting and ruling is not so different,” she said. “I can no more afford the luxury of staring out at the crowd than you could, or I’d miss every threat to myself and the realm standing right in front of me.”

“Oh,” Arya said quietly, humbled. I was one of those threats, not so very long ago. She laced her fingers in with the queen’s, a silent apology she couldn’t quite find the words to give voice to.

“The riders who came up from Darry earlier today,” Daenerys said after they’d shared a few moments of amorous silence, “they brought letters from Tyrion and Varys.”

“Did they?” Arya felt herself unconsciously brace, knowing that neither of them would have sent word ahead without good reason.

“The House of Black and White has fallen,” she said softly. “It.. the Iron Bank’s mercenaries finally broke through the doors.” She let out a breath that warmed Arya’s skin. “Everyone they found inside was dead.”

Arya stiffened. “What…?”

“No one knows exactly why, only that they started warring amongst themselves over something.”

Arya felt her stomach tie into knots. Although her allegiance belonged to Daenerys alone now, and she would have killed any who came after the Queen without hesitation, the idea that her former brethren had decimated themselves so brutally without even knowing the reason made her sick.

“Can I ask you something?” Daenerys asked softly.

“You know you can.” Arya willed her own questions into empty stillness.

“How much were they going to pay you to kill me?”

Arya let out a slow breath. “Nothing. It wasn’t.. it never worked like that.”

Dany looked up at her, confusion evident in her violet eyes. “I don’t understand.”

Arya reached up and raked a hand through her hair. “Don’t get me wrong, we were paid.. but it was never until after a job. And we never knew how much that payout would actually be.” She sighed. “I was never involved in setting up the contracts. That was always the council. They were the ones who met with anyone requesting services, and decided what the cost would be on an individual basis. Once the terms were agreed upon, one of us would be dispatched to carry the job out.”

She knew how cold it all sounded even as she said it, but there was no way to soften any of it. “The price wasn’t always money, you see – there was a system. It was based on what a person valued the most. We – they – had a code, strange as it may seem. The basis of this code was the understanding that, whether people realize it or not, their own lives are what they value most. So, if you wish for that to be taken from someone else, you must also be willing to give up something extremely precious to yourself in exchange.”

“So that’s where the stories came from,” Daenerys said dismally. “About Faceless Men taking babes from their mothers.. family homes, businesses..”

Arya just gave a small nod. “Though that sort of thing never happened too often. For most of the people who came to the temple, gold is what they treasured the most. Their money was their power, and it grieved their souls to part with it.”

Dany didn’t question her any further on it, and Arya was grateful. Though there was no honor in what she’d chosen to become, and she knew that, there were still times when the realm had been better off for the blood that she shed.

And after Winterfell, she’d grown tired of always having to be sorry for it.

 

……..

 

Present -

A light rain had started to fall as Arik led Daniah and Jarek away from the Weeping Docks and through the empty cobbled streets of Oldtown.

He could see nothing amiss, but he was uneasy just the same.

He motioned for his companions to pause after just a few more steps, unable to make out anything more than a few feet in front of them in the heavy gray mist that had swaddled the entire city. He took a slow breath, and closed his eyes.

He could hear droplets of rain splashing into puddles all around them, enlarging the small pools that had started to gather between old broken stones. Somewhere nearby a stray dog padded through an alley, his rough nails quietly clicking on cobbles in tandem with his steps. There was a quiet squeak as a wooden shutter closed, the soft ‘click’ of a thin door locking, and the tinkling shatter of a glass as it fell from some drunk’s nightstand. And-

There.

Arik spun and drew the Valyrian Steel blade he’d falsely named Dominus, pointing it at the hooded man who stepped towards them through the thick fog.

“That is a beautiful blade,” the man said, smiling.

“It has no equal,” Arik replied, eyes narrowing.

“You remind me of someone,” the man said as he took a step closer. He whirled then, gripping a blade of his own within the space of a heartbeat, and lunged toward Arik.

Arik waited until the man’s blade nearly pierced his chest, then pivoted at the last instant. The man did an about-face, his blade held defensively in front of him as Arik shifted his stance to take the offensive.

The man smiled. “I always told a girl not to do that. Not to tempt the Many-Faced God so needlessly.”

Arik froze as cold dread washed over him.

“Do you know what a girl would say to me when I told her this?”

Arik tightened his grip on the hilt of his blade, his knuckles whitening. He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. “A girl would say,” he began, his voice losing its Qohorik inflection, “that it’s about counting the cost. That sometimes you need to be willing to take a hit in order to strike a final blow. That you must always be ready to make that choice.”

The man nodded. “A man never forgot.” He reached up and pulled down his hood, revealing a long, familiar face that had never really been his own, framed with thick locks of red and white hair.

 

Chapter Text

AN: Some of the unsettled dust of chapter 33 should be (slowly) clearing, though this chapter does set forth a few new questions as well. A big thank you to my readers who are still willing to stick with me as the last chapters unfold.

 

POV: Daenerys/Daniah

 

…….

 

Nine weeks ago -

 

Margaery Tyrell had not been exaggerating when she’d said that Starks could be terribly difficult.

“How can you possibly be so upset?” Daenerys asked.

Arya raked a hand through her hair and sighed. “It’s just too soon,” she said, visibly frustrated. “We just got back. We should have discussed it first, before announcing anything.”

“We did discuss it. More than once. And if I waited for your blessing before announcing it, I would have gone to my grave without it.” Dany rested her hands on Arya’s shoulders. “Arya, you swore to me you would allow me to knight you if we lived through all of this.”

“But that’s just it. We haven’t yet, Daenerys. I don’t care what ‘songs’ Varys’ little birds sing from the east,” she scowled. “We both know this isn’t over. It’ll never be over until I’ve found the last of them.”

I haven’t earned this, is what Dany knew she really meant.

“Arya,” Dany said softly, “it will never be completely over, even when you do.” She leaned up to kiss the corner of Arya’s mouth, keeping her lips pressed there a moment until she felt the Stark’s resolve start to ebb. “You were by no means the first assassin sent to me. You were simply the only one who could have succeeded. And even if you kill every single last Faceless Man remaining, there will still be others who rise in their place against me so long as I hold the Iron Throne.”

Arya sighed, resting her forehead against Dany’s. “They’ll never get near you.”

“They won’t,” Daenerys cupped Arya’s cheek in her palm, fingertips tracing the shell of her ear. “Because my knight will stop them.”

Daenerys could sense that Arya was still unconvinced despite softening, and cut off any further argument with a kiss. She knew she was pushing things ahead faster than the wolf wanted, but it was for Arya’s own benefit whether she realized it or not. After spending years being anyone, anything, other than herself, she was back at the social viper’s nest of King’s Landing with everyone in Westeros newly aware of her identity. Daenerys saw the toll it was taking on her, and she knew part of it was because Arya still had no idea who Arya Stark actually was – she’d gone from no one to someone without any chance to define herself amidst the constant threats that swirled around them. She needed a starting point from which to build a new life, and the return to her family in Winterfell had been too often strained for it to serve.

Daenerys herself had needed much the same when she stepped into a pyre years ago. But a wolf was not a dragon to be born from flame – it was honor that would reforge her.

“We should go to the Godswood tonight, after I’m through with the Small Council,” Dany said, her fingers running through the hair at the nape of Arya’s neck as Arya’s hands came to rest on her hips. “We haven’t been there since planting the weirwood seeds Bran sent with us.”

“Or we could just skip the Small Council and go now,” Arya said with a lopsided grin that was as full of mischief as little Robb’s had been. “I know you’re starting to dread that chamber as much as I do.”

Before Daenerys could seriously consider giving in to the temptation Arya presented, the door opened and Missandei stepped in. “Forgive me your Grace,” she said, bowing her head. “But Lord Tyrion needs you in the audience chamber immediately.”

Biting back a sigh, Dany turned from Arya, stiffening into the regal posture of Queen once more. “Who has come, Missandei?”

Missandei looked up at the Queen, concern etched on her face. “Emissaries from the Iron Bank, your Grace.”

 

…….

 

For all of his faults, and they had been many, the Mad King had been no fool when it came to stewardship. The Targaryens had amassed an incalculable fortune by the time Aerys Targaryen II had ascended to the Iron Throne, and within only fifteen short years of his stolen reign the Usurper had not only managed to squander every gold dragon in the royal treasury, he had also taken out numerous loans from the Iron Bank that he’d had no ability or intention of paying.

These loans had not been charged to Robert Baratheon directly, but to the Iron Throne of Westeros itself - a fact the Iron Bankers had made Daenerys keenly aware of the first time they’d sailed to King’s Landing after word had spread that the Wight War was over and the lockdown was removed from Braavos’ Purple Harbor. At first she had spurned them, claiming that any debt accrued by the Usurper was not her responsibility and that she would, at most, grant them Storm’s End as an appropriate Baratheon forfeiture. They had countered that they would accept Storm’s End as a partial repayment and adjusted their total remaining figures, presenting them to her only days later as a considerable balance still owing. Her patience quickly thinning, she had then offered them a second proposal - sail home to Braavos with any outstanding balance considered paid, and she would not have her dragons melt the Iron Bank down around them.

Understanding that the silver queen had made no idle threat, the Bankers had agreed to do so, but with the caveat that they would immediately call in the debt of any Westerosi who had borrowed from their coffers before leaving the western shore, effectively bankrupting thousands of businesses and causing economic devastation throughout the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms at a time they could least afford it. Seething, Daenerys was forced to accept liability for the remaining debt of her predecessor in order to keep what was left of her damaged realm standing long enough to rebuild. And once a year, without fail, she sat with the Master of Coin and allocated the Banker’s cut from the treasury, trying not to think about the fact that she was, quite literally, paying for the many excessive pleasures of the man who’d murdered most of her family.

But pay she had. And would continue doing so for decades. So it was with great displeasure that the Targaryen Queen addressed the purple-clad emissaries that knelt before her now.

“Rise,” she said, after they’d spent enough time on their knees to placate the dragon. “And tell me why you are here. By all accounts the Crown is in good standing with the Iron Bank, is this not so?”

They rose slowly, keeping their heads respectfully bowed as they did. “It is so, your Grace,” a short, stocky man beneath a purple-tiered hat said in an accented common tongue. “The Iron Bank is nothing but pleased in its dealings with the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.”

“Then why have you come?” Her voice was as cool as an executioner’s slab.

The Iron Banker removed his hat, holding it in front of him as if it could help ward her wrath. “Forgive me, Your Grace, but it is actually not you who we came for,” he looked over at Arya, her silent sentinel beside the throne. “May we speak with your… servant?”

Daenerys paused, feigning consideration to mask her confusion. “You may speak with my knight,” she clarified after a moment, deciding that now was as good a time as any to emphasize Arya’s new role.

“Of course,” he bowed his head again as he gracefully accepted her correction before looking up at the Stark. “Valar Morghulis,” he said, addressing her with the crude, bastardized Valyrian that was so common in the Free Cities.

Arya just looked down at him, unreadable, refusing to respond.

So it is true then,” he said after a long pause. “You no longer serve.”

I do serve,” Arya replied finally, slipping into a Valyrian as rough as their own, as though her lessons with Missandei had never honeyed it. “But it is under the Silver Queen. Not you.”

Just so,” he replied with a nod. “That is exactly why we have come.” He turned and snapped his fingers, beckoning to a thin man in a drab brown robe holding a black lockbox behind him. The man stepped in beside the emissary and knelt, setting the box to the ground. Wary, Arya drew forward, sword in hand, as the drab man’s slim fingers unlatched the box to reveal its contents.

Row upon row of freshly minted golden dragons stood glistening, filling the box from bottom to top in perfect uniformity.

Surely you have heard of the ruin that has befallen your former order Arya Stark, knight of the Silver Queen?”

Arya nodded. “I have.”

Then let me also tell you that the Iron Bank is of a similar mind to your own at this time, and wants nothing more than the threat against Daenerys Targaryen to be eliminated swiftly.” He ran a hand over his slicked hair, smoothing it. “With permission of your liege, we wish to enlist your services.”

To what end?”

We can confirm that there are four Faceless Men who escaped the carnage left at the House of Black and White, not counting yourself,” the stocky man said, his grip tightening on his hat. “It is the Bank’s desire to employ you in both locating and dispatching them.

Arya sheathed her blade, stepping back beside Daenerys. “I am no mercenary,” she said with a shake of her head. “My services are not for sale. Take your gold and go.”

“You misunderstand,” the man said, sliding back into the common tongue as his absurd hat started to crinkle. “This,” he gestured to the shimmering box, “is payment you have earned for those you have already slain. It is yours, regardless of what you choose.” He turned back to Daenerys. “I am authorized to inform your Grace that if you will lend your serv- knight’s- services to the Iron Bank, that upon successful completion of this assignment not only will your knight be further compensated, but all of the Iron Throne’s remaining debt will be cut by one-third.”

“By half,” Daenerys said after a momentary pause. “And you will also provide me with every piece of intelligence the Iron Bank has on the four who remain, including their last known locations.”

The stocky man fell into a deep bow. “Your Grace, I do not have the standing to offer you these things on my own. But if you will permit me, I will send a raven to Braavos detailing your terms to my employer, imploring his agreement.”

“Very well.” Daenerys stood up. “Go and send your ravens. Return to me when you have an answer.”

 

…….

 

An evening hush had settled over the Godswood of the Red Keep; a twilight that merely held its breath rather than slumbered. A soft, familiar humming surrounded her, as faint as a dying whisper with an underlying tenaciousness, and she knew it to be the same welcoming presence she’d encountered weeks ago in the north, shepherding the tiny white tree slowly growing within the earth.

Daenerys did not consider herself to be a religious woman. When she was young, she had prayed to the Seven of Westeros that her brother had spoken of, sometimes begging the Warrior for courage, other times petitioning the Mother for mercy. Once, after an exceptionally harsh blow from Viserys, she’d even gone so far as to beseech the Father for judgement against her brother. Years of continued abuse taught her that her pleas only fell on deaf ears.

The Great Stallion of her late husband had served no better. For his sake, and for the sake of the people she was adopting as her own, she became educated in his worship and customs as was befitting a true Khaleesi. She observed the sacred laws of Vaes Dothrak, chanted with the dosh khaleen, and even ate the tough, fibrous heart of a stallion. Yet for all of the respect, ritual and reverence, mass death and near-starvation in the red wastes had been the only reward. If there really was a Great Stallion, he clearly bore about as much love for his people as the apathetic Seven did.

So when she finally crossed the Narrow Sea and took her throne, she claimed worship of no deity. Her people could believe as they saw fit so long as it fell within the boundaries of acceptable law, but she herself had no time to waste on figments demanding obedient tribute.

And now, here she was, walking hand in hand with Arya through a Godswood she had found herself longing to be in.

Winterfell had changed so many things.

Arya had said very little since she’d met with the Iron Bankers, despite the misgivings Daenerys knew she had. They would speak of it of course, but Arya had not once publicly or privately questioned her judgement on the matter. She’d had well-seasoned advisors in the past who had challenged her for far less, and it was a testament to the faith Arya had in her that she’d acquiesced to her ruling and all it could entail without demanding any sort of explanation.

Daenerys loved her all the more for it.

They strolled through the green acre that enclosed them, towards the patch of dark soil that would one day sprout a new weirwood.

“They don’t want my help to save you,” Arya said finally, staring down at the tilled earth. “Whatever it is that happened at the House of Black and White, the Iron Bank was directly involved. And now they just want someone else to clean up their mess.”

“I know,” Dany agreed, brushing her thumb over Arya’s knuckles. “But that means they likely know a few things we don’t.”

Arya shook her head. “They won’t know where they are. No way they’d be asking for any kind of help if they did.”

“No, they don’t,” Daenerys looked at her pointedly, “but depending on what kind of information they have, you might be able to find them.”

Arya’s brow furrowed. “Even if I do, Dany - I can’t risk leaving you to go try to hunt them all down.”

“No, my wolf, you can’t. And I do not intend for you to,” she replied carefully, not yet ready to reveal the first threads of a plan that had been slowly stitching themselves together in her mind.

The weaving was interrupted with a start as Daenerys felt Arya’s hand abruptly pull away from her own. She looked up just in time to see steel eyes narrow before she found herself roughly pulled aside as Arya turned toward the shadowed elm trees that lined the clearing, drawing back her hand and throwing a blade. There was a soft ‘thud’ as it hit its mark, and within seconds a slender figure staggered out from behind a crisscross of low-hanging branches.

It was the drab, thin man from the Iron Bank.

He stumbled forward, slowly, with no steel in his hand. “Good,” he said, pulling back the nondescript face he’d worn as if it were no more than a thin sheaf of paper, the hilt of Arya’s blade protruding from his shoulder. “I had worried that the Queen’s bed had made you soft.”

Dany had come to learn that Arya’s eyes changed as quickly as she could change faces, once she had learned how to read them. And just as much as a new face would, they made her someone else now – someone from the temple of death, who recognized this stranger as more than just another assassin. She watched as Arya closed the distance between them, wrapping her gloved hands around his neck as her swords hung neglected at her side.

Valar Morghulis,” he choked out in unrefined Valyrian, taking a familiar iron coin in his hand and tossing it towards Arya’s feet with a flick of his thumb. “I will save you the trouble of hunting me down, dog.”

Dog. Dany’s eyes widened in realization. Gods no –

“You would deny me such a pleasure and speak of it as if you were doing me a favor!” she spat the Valyrian through gritted teeth, tightening her grip around his collar and twisting.

-not this one…

“But I am here to grant you a favor,” he wheezed, his cheeks reddening as he reached for Arya’s wrists, trying to loosen her hold. “One you would be wise to accept if you want to save both your Queen and her dragons.

Arya released his neck and set her hands on his shoulders as he coughed, pulling him down as she brought her knee up hard into his face. She kicked him as he crumpled, over and over again, her boot finding havens within a soft stomach and between the ridges of fragile ribs as he tried to crawl away from under heel.

“Arya, wait!” Daenerys called out as she watched Arya draw her shortsword and kneel beside him, pressing the edge of the blade to the back of his neck. He turned to her, one glance conveying as much loathing towards her as her entire beating had expressed to him. Shoulders heaving with breath he couldn’t quite catch, he closed his eyes and bowed his head, prepare to meet the god he had spent his years serving.

“Arya stop, please!”

Arya swung her blade.

 

…….

 

Present –

 

Under the summer storm, steel rang.

Daniah saw a spark fly as Arik parried another slash from the red and white man. He was fast – faster than anyone she’d ever seen, and the long, shallow cut across Arik’s cheek was evidence that he’d drawn first blood.

She hadn’t even been able to see the strike that had landed.

“A girl was a boy when a man first met her,” she heard the swordsman call out to Arik through the pounding of the rain. “In so many years, it seems it is still the role a girl plays most convincingly. A man wonders though,” he looked at the ring on Arik’s finger, “if some of this is more than just a guise?”

Arik didn’t answer, instead opting to take the offensive with Dominus, barraging the man with a flurry of strikes that pushed him back and left a trail of blood trickling down his brow.

Second blood drawn.

 

……..

AN#2: I’m thinking of doing a collection of Stargaryen ‘drabbles’ to write alongside all of my ‘epic-sized’ fics when I want a light, creative break. I guess they won’t technically be drabbles because they WILL be longer than 100 words, but you get the gist. Any requests? Let me know...

Chapter Text

AN: And Allegiance is back from hiatus! This is another chapter containing a lot of ASOIAF historical elements, given my own personal twist. More pieces locking into place, and hopefully a few payoffs here for those who have been waiting for some of these answers.

 

POV: Dany/Daniah

 

……..

 

Nine weeks ago -

 

Daenerys’ breath caught in her throat as she watched Arya’s blade arc above the Faceless Man’s neck-

...to trust the man who bows beneath her blade...

..and then cleave through the yielding earth, a fraction away from his head.

She felt her knees nearly give out from under her as she found herself thanking the old gods that surely surrounded them both. She watched as the false banker pulled himself away from the irate wolf, coughing through bloodied lips as he sat up, a hand pressed to his ribs.

Arya’s chest heaved as she pulled breath in angry gulps, her obedient restraint taking far more strength than the beating she’d rendered the man. The Stark’s knuckles were white around the grip of her sword as she pulled it from the ground, and Dany knew that if it were possible, that blade itself would bleed.

But for as much willpower as it had taken Arya to forego his execution, it had taken even more for Dany to call for her to do so.

‘Arya, the scars on your back.. where did they come from? I know those can’t be battle wounds..’

‘It was when I returned to the House of Black and White, after burying Jon and leaving the Wall. They knew that I had left with the intention of deserting them. That is not permitted. You can not give the gift of valar morghulis unless you are also beholden to valar doeharis.’

‘The Faceless Men… did that to you…?’

‘The Faceless Men intended to follow their laws and kill me. I knew they would, when I had gone back. At that time in my life, I really had nothing else left. But they didn’t kill me – instead, they gave me a trial. First they lashed me once for every time I’d given the Gift in service. Then they lashed me for every time I’d murdered outside of the boundaries of the order. Then they beat me within an inch of my life, and left me before the weirwood statue near the Fountain of Mercy. They would let the Many-Faced God decide my fate – if I lived, then they would accept that I had been working in his service against the undead, providing divine retribution against the dark magic that attempted to steal from him, and I would be restored. If I died, then I had been a rebellious thief, and justice would have been served.’

‘Dear gods Arya… that is one of the cruelest things I have ever heard…’

‘For them, it was an unprecedented mercy, Dany.’

‘Do you know which one did it..?’

‘The lashing? I didn’t, at first, but I learned later on. I had never turned to look at his face, but he kept calling me ‘dog’. It got to a point where I thought ‘dog’ was the last word I was ever going to hear.’

“I have come,” the faceless banker said finally in an accented common tongue, “to ask you to kill him. The man you call Jaqen.”

Arya’s eyes were cold and empty, the way Dany had always imagined they would look when she gave the gift. “You spit on me as a dog,” she said, her even tone masking the rage that roiled just beneath the surface, “all while begging me to take your master’s neck between my teeth.”

“Not my master’s neck – yours. He has always been your master, Arya Stark. From the day your lord father hired him in King’s Landing, to train his unruly daughter the Water Dance.”

“That wasn’t Jaqen. That was Syrio Forel, the former First Sword of Braavos.”

The man just looked at Arya with something akin to pity. “The great teacher you made sure to avenge, despite never actually seeing him die. Convenient, isn’t it, how ‘Jaqen’ was right there in the Crow’s cage when you were smuggled out of King’s Landing.”

Daenerys saw Arya’s shoulders stiffen as realization broke in those cold steel eyes, and she felt a knot twist in her stomach.

“Jaqen… was… also Syrio, then..”

The man nodded. “As I said, dog – your master.”

“It seems that you know him far better than I ever did,” Arya countered. “Perhaps you should kill him yourself.”

“It is precisely because I know him so well, that I am sure I can not kill him myself.” He looked down at the Braavosi blade that hung at Arya’s side. “To be a Faceless Man is one thing, to be a Water Dancer is entirely another. To be both, that is rare indeed.”

Arya rose to her feet and sheathed her shortsword, hand still readied on the hilt. “You said you were here to grant me a favor. It seems you’ve only come to beg them of me instead.”

The man wiped his bloodied mouth with the back of his hand. “The favor I will grant you, Arya Stark, is the truth. The truth behind all that has happened, and all that will happen if you refuse to do what I have asked of you.”

“Then give me this ‘truth’, while I consider whether or not I should allow you to keep breathing to speak it. What really happened in the House of Black and White? Why was Daenerys targeted? Where is Jaqen now?”

“The answer to all of those questions are all linked by the same thread, dog. A very old thread.” He turned to look up at Daenerys, who was still a few safe feet behind Arya. “A thread that even your silver Queen may find interesting.” He tilted his head back towards Arya. “You believe that you know the origins of our order, yes?”

Arya gave a slight nod. “The first Faceless Man had been a slave in Valyria. He gave the gift of mercy on those who suffered the most within the volcanic mines.”

“ ‘Tis true. But there is more to this history, dog. Much that has been hidden away, and passed down only to those who reach the pinnacle of our organization. It is this shrouded history that holds all of the answers you are looking for.” He coughed, wincing as his broken ribs pressed within his chest. “As you say, the first Faceless Man came to answer the prayers of the desperate in the mines of Valyria. He freed them the only way he could, with death. It was not long before others sought to join him, seeing no other way to help ease the pain and oppression so many endured around them.” His lips curled into a sneer. “Perhaps your new master can give you some more details on that time. The Targaryens were one of many houses responsible for the slavery of Valyria, after all.”

Arya’s eyes narrowed in warning. “Not my Targaryen,” she said, her voice lowering dangerously.

Reigning in his contempt, the man carried on. “The Faceless Men started by giving the slaves the gift of death, then visiting it upon the masters, as you know. But what you do not know, is that it was not long before the successes of our predecessors caught the attention of the Alchemist’s Guild.”

The Alchemist’s Guild? Those charlatans who eked out their living brewing wildfire beneath my father’s Keep?

The Faceless Man continued as if he had been reading Daenerys’ mind. “You must understand that hundreds of years ago, the Alchemist’s Guild was a true power, unlike now. Yes, they had wildfire, but also flame-beasts they forged with Valyrian Steel and powerful pyromancies. Valyrian Steel beasts that would fall to neither sword nor bow, that needed no sleep, and knew no pain. They believed that with these flame-beasts, they could finally steer the course of the world. And the only thing that stood in their way was Valyria itself - and its dragons.”

Daenerys tried not to picture the home of her ancestors as the man spoke, with dragons as beautiful as her own circling the skies.

“The Alchemist’s Guild forged an alliance with the first Faceless Men. They both wanted the same thing, you see, only for different reasons. The Alchemist’s Guild wanted the power to write history, and the Faceless Men wanted an end to the horrific suffering of the slaves in Valyria.”

“The Doom was their solution.”

The Doom of Valyria. To this day, no one knew what had caused the great destruction of the mightiest stronghold the world. There was no warning, and the greyscale, sickness and poison that cursed the land ended any hope of investigation. It was said that the Smoking Sea was still frothing and boiling, centuries after the cataclysm.

“The Alchemists had created powerful pyromancies that were capable of tearing the earth itself asunder. They gave these to the Faceless Men, along with instructions on where to set them, and how to strike their charges. When the time came…” the false banker shook his head. “Everything was gone. The Faceless Men who handled the pyromancies knew that it would cost them their lives. They must have also known that the Alchemists had less than altruistic intentions, for they made sure to set charges beneath the Valyrian Steel forges as well, destroying the metal and all who knew the secrets of its tempering. Valyria was gone, and there would be no Alchemist fire-beasts to re-create it, either.”

It was only when her chest started to burn that Daenerys realized she had forgotten to breathe. They killed them all. All of those people… all of the dragons… even their fellow slaves. It was only through the prophetic gift of Daenys that my family had managed to escape the same fate.

“The Faceless Men and Alchemists that were not directly orchestrating the Doom had escaped before it was set in motion, joining the Valyrian refugees who had settled in the Secret City of Braavos, their new capital. The House of Black and White was built, and our order served as it was always meant to – we granted death as a mercy for those who longed for it, and sent those who would oppress and victimize others to the Many-Faced God for their atonement. We were not for hire. Death could not be bought or traded from us like some harlot’s cunt.”

What changed, then?

“Having lost the ability to produce Valyrian Steel for their fire-beasts, the Alchemists redoubled their efforts on their secondary field of study – the transmutation of metals to gold. And after many years, in this they succeeded. They found a way to turn iron into solid gold. And with this new art, what was once known as the Alchemist’s Guild became the Iron Bank of Braavos.”

It had always been a mystery to Daenerys, how the free city had come to possess such incredible wealth without the profit of slavery that so much of Essos thrived on. Although the interest payments to the Iron Bank alone could easily account for much of that excess now, the Iron Bank still needed to have vast amounts of gold to supply the initial loans in the first place.

It suddenly made perfect, terrible sense.

“Some of the Alchemist Wisdoms broke from the guild at this time, refusing to leave the purifying study of flame. They maintained the traditional order, and have become the impotent sect that we all know of today, brewing wildfire for zealous monarchs all while trying not to set themselves aflame. The rest converted to the art of transmutation, and became the first Iron Bankers. These Iron Bankers held the same lust for power that their predecessors in Valyria had when they had planned to shape history with their fire-beasts. Only now they saw a way to do it through commerce, rather than martial advantage.”

“He who has the gold holds the power.” Daenerys said.

“Just so.” The man agreed. “The ties that had bound the Faceless Men to the Alchemist’s Guild extended to the Iron Bankers. They existed as independent allies for many years. But as time wore on, the Iron Bank slowly but surely exerted more and more influence on the House of Black and White, often procuring their services to enforce debt repayment. As generations passed, the Iron Bank had come to completely infiltrate the House, and it became the corrupt ‘business’ that you see today. Highly skilled murder for coin, whether it come from the Iron Bank itself, or anyone else willing to pay its exorbitant prices.”

The man licked his split lip. “It was the man you call ‘Jaqen’s’ plan to break the ties between the Iron Bank and the Faceless Men entirely, and return us to our roots. That was why he had chosen you to succeed him, Arya Stark. We were never able to truly break you of your rebellions. And he believed that he needed that stubborn determination to ensure that the Faceless Men never slid back into the Iron Bank’s hands again, even after he was dead and gone.”

“He never told me any of this…” Arya said.

“He never got the chance. His plans were interrupted by a more dire threat – the threat of the revival of the old Valyrian Empire, led by the conquering Targaryen Queen and her dragons.”

“I am not the catalyst for a revival of Valyria!” Daenerys snapped. “I am the Breaker of Chains!”

“For now you are. But how long until you wake up one day and realize you have amassed an army so powerful that no other nation can pose any threat to keep you in check? How long until Targaryen madness grips you, as it did your father?”

“Daenerys is nothing like the Mad King,” Arya spat.

“Not now, she isn’t. But Jaqen’s worry was not for what is now, but what may be. Even if the Queen herself maintains her military restraint along with her sanity, once she is gone there is still her dragons to contend with. And whatever hold she has on them dies with her.”

Arya knelt down in front of the man, subconsciously starting to pull her blade from its scabbard. “If you are so enamored with Jaqen’s beliefs… why is it you are here now, asking me to kill him?”

“Because much depends on his failure.”

Arya pinned him under a glare, wordlessly commanding him to elaborate.

“While she was still in Essos, before Daenerys ever took the Iron Throne, Jaqen was pre-planning the demise of her and her dragons. The Queen herself, he was not so concerned with. But the dragons, those were another matter. You cannot simply slip a blade into its neck. And Jaqen was not the only one concerned about the Queen’s ‘children’ – he found much of his worry was mirrored in Oldtown, where many Archmaesters were of a like mind with him regarding those beasts and the magic that many believe came along with them.”

Of course, Daenerys thought with a sigh. The Citadel has never been shy about its views on magic, or anything that it believes may supersede its own physical studies.

“I accompanied Jaqen to the Citadel on a few occasions. He took the face of a Novice named Pate who had sold an Archmaester’s key him. It was in the Citadel’s vault that he found the only surviving copy of Blood and Fire: The Death of Dragons.

Daenerys immediately remembered the volume, first mentioned by Bran while they were riding in the North. Jaqen was the one who stole it. That was the connection to Arya he had seen!

“At first, I had cast my lot with Jaqen. But that was before I got to know Marwyn the Mage.”

“Who is Marwyn the Mage?” Arya asked.

“The Archmaester of Magic and the Occult. The only man in the Citadel who has any real clue about why Westeros suffers seasons that last for years, and why a Night King who was supposed to be long dead rose up again to lead a new army of corpses. For decades, magic had been disappearing from the world – slowly but surely, ever since the last of the Targaryen’s dragons died off. This correlation has led Marwyn to deduce that the presence of magic is intricately linked to dragons, though how exactly he is not certain. He hypothesizes that it was strong, old magic wielded by the wildlings and the Starks that had bound the Night’s King centuries ago. Once the last of Valyria’s old bloodline dragons were gone, and magic began to fade, the power that had held him weakened until finally he was free once again.”

“And Jaqen… he doesn’t believe this.”

“No. He does not. He believes that whatever the wights and the Others were, they are gone now, never to return. Whereas I… I believe that time flows like a river, and history repeats. I do not know if Daenerys Targaryen will become clutched with the madness that flows through her lineage. But I do know that I am more willing to risk that possibility than I am willing to risk another Wight War – especially one without dragonfire. When I told him this... he turned on me. I knew I could not change his course. But I could not allow him to continue pursuing the death of the dragons. So I did the only thing I could do – once we returned to the House of Black and White, I told the council of his plot to separate the Faceless Men from the Iron Bank, in hopes that they would rise up and put him to death.”

“And in doing so, you instead ignited a civil war that ended up killing the majority of your order, but left both you Jaqen alive,” Daenerys said cooly.

“It is as you say.”

“Jaqen, and those who are left – are they still in Oldtown?” Arya asked, her expression inscrutable as she finally pulled her throwing blade from the man’s shoulder.

He closed his eyes and grimaced. “That is where you will find them all, dog.”

“Good.”

In the time it took Daenerys to blink, Arya stabbed the blade into the side of the man’s neck, gripping a fistful of his hair as she twisted it. “Valar morghulis,” she whispered softly as he slid to the ground.

“Arya-”

“Bran said I needed to trust him, Daenerys. Not that I had to let him live.”

Dany watched as his blood began to soak into the dark soil above the weirwood seed.

 

…….

 

Present –

 

“Jarek!” Arik called out through the heavy roar of thunder. “Like we planned. Get her out of here now, and I’ll catch up with you later!”

Before she could voice protest, Daniah was lifted by two massive arms and thrown over the Reachman’s shoulder as he began to run from the two drenched, duelling figures. “Jarek stop!” she yelled, watching through dripping strands of dark hair as Arik continued to fall back under the force of Jaqen’s blows. “We can’t leave Arya!” she cried, forgetting for a moment both who Arik was, and who she needed to be.

“I’m sorry, but we can and we will, Daniah.” The large man said, emphasizing her alias as he rushed over the slick cobblestones. “Arik can handle this, but not if he’s worried to distraction about you.”

Lightning struck overhead, illuminating the two figures for one brief instant as Dominus hit its mark, staggering the taller man’s frame.

 

……

AN#2 – For Arya/Dany readers who may not already know, I have started another collection of short fics called ‘Between the Lines’. If you need a bit more of a dragonwolf fix, you may find it entertaining.

Chapter Text

AN: I just want to welcome all of the new readers who have recently started this fic, and once again thank everyone who has been reading it all along. 

 

POV: Arya/Arik

 

………

 

Eight weeks ago-

Small council chamber

 

“I want to discuss a full reinstatement of the Night’s Watch.”

Arya leaned against the familiar pillar of the small council chamber and crossed her arms as she tried not to stare longingly at the door. She had known that this was coming; ever since the Faceless Man in the Godswood had spoken of Archmaester Marwyn’s theories on old magic being the only thing that bound the Night’s King, she and Daenerys had both been unsettled about the broken, abandoned state the Wall and its fortresses had been left in once the Wight War had ended.

She had also known that most would not share this concern.

“Your Grace, the cost of restoring just Castle Black alone, nevermind any of its surrounding towers would be quite steep. And then there is provisioning to consider-”

“Your Grace, the moment the Night’s Watch becomes active again, we will inevitably see an increase in the most reprehensible of criminal activity. Taking the black would once more become a viable option for those who wish to escape the hangman’s noose, and the deterrent of death is the only thing keeping some of these cretins at bay. There is also-”

“Your Grace, can we even consider this when the Wall itself is in such a state of disrepair and-”

“The Starks will rebuild the Wall,” Arya said quietly, breaking the long held silence she’d always kept while the full council was in session. “It was Brandon Stark who built it; it will be his descendants who reconstruct it. And the Warden of the North will treat with the wildlings settled in the Gift to make arrangements for provisioning Castle Black until it is manned to a state of self-sufficiency.”

Everyone knew who Arya Stark was now. She decided that the least she could do was put her identity to some good use.

“As you can see,” Daenerys said to the council, her tone softening just enough that Arya could tell she was pleased, “this will be a joint effort. I want a team of architects and carpenters sent north to survey the extent of the damage to Castle Black, Oakenshield, Queensgate, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. I also want a raven sent to each kingdom requesting an estimate of the number of men they can send once these fortresses are habitable again. Once these figures are acquired you will present them to me.”

There were quiet murmurs of assent, and only a well-trained ear could hear the notes of reluctance in each of them.

“Next order of business?” the Queen asked.

“Your trip to name the Warden of the South, your Grace.” Tyrion said. “All of the preparations have been made, and Highgarden is prepared to receive you at your leisure.”

“Good. Send a raven to the Tyrells informing them that I leave the day after tomorrow. Is there anything further?”

“No, your Grace.”

“Then this session of the small council is dismissed.”

Heavy chairs scraped the floor as the council proceeded out the door that Arya had so yearned to pass through over the last few hours, until only she, Daenerys and Tyrion remained.

Varys had gone to retrieve Maester Tarly, who had just that morning returned from the Citadel.

“Good killer,” Tyrion raised a goblet of wine in toast. “Your first words to the council and you set all of their wagging tongues to silence. The Queen may just make a respectable consort of you yet.”

Arya felt a familiar flush begin to run up the back of her neck at the implication, but stood her ground against the dwarf’s good-natured taunting. “Never. The moment I become polished and appropriate, Daenerys will lose interest. So I fully intend to remain as ill-suited to her as everyone believes me to be.” She said with a wink.

“Touché!” Tyrion took a heavy drink. “It seems I must up the ante with you now, good killer. Bedding a dragon has emboldened you.” He smirked.

Daenerys raised an eyebrow. “I am still right here, you know.” Her voice smiled even as her expression maintained its regality.

“Forgive me your Grace.” Tyrion said, still smirking into his mug. “I will go back to pretending that I did not see this entire thing coming all along.” He looked up at Arya. “Though in all seriousness, I’ve seen that wall – do you really know how it was built?”

Arya gave a slight nod. “Bran the Builder started construction on it after the Long Night. Huge blocks of ice had to be quarried and dragged from the frozen lakes scattered throughout the Haunted Forest to create the foundation. Night’s Watchmen carried on the work for centuries, raising the Wall higher and higher until it became what you saw. Two-thirds of the Wall is still intact; we can start rebuilding what was destroyed. It will take time… and a lot of labor. But the Starks- my family,” she corrected herself, “will see it through.”

And she knew they would. She had no doubt that Sansa and Margaery would step into action as soon as she sent a raven to Winterfell. Rickon was coming of age, and the boy was gifted with a strength that echoed the Northern Kings of old. He could lead the construction while Sansa negotiated and brokered for northman and wildling labor, and Margaery –

Margaery held the key to the small fortune that would serve as Arya’s own contribution to the restoration.

There was a sharp squeal, and Varys opened the heavy door to the chamber once more, leading in Maester Samwell Tarly. “Your Grace.” The rotund man said as he gave a respectful bow.

“Maester Tarly,” Daenerys motioned for him to take a seat at the table. “I was so relieved to hear of your safe return.” She glanced at both Tyrion and Varys with narrowed eyes. “I want you to know it was never my intention to put you in harm’s way.”

The heavyset man took a seat, shyly looking down at his feet for a moment. “It was no trouble your Grace,” he said, “I was happy to help. You’ve always been so good to Gilly and me.” He gratefully took a mug of wine that Tyrion poured him. “Though I don’t know if I found out anything that will be of much use. I couldn’t get into that vault, and even if I had I wasn’t exactly sure what to look for.”

“You likely know much more than you think, Maester Tarly.” Varys said. “Please, just start from your arrival. Was there anything odd in how you were received?”

Sam shook his head. “No, same as always. I was escorted to a guest chamber by two novices who helped me with my bags, then told I was to appear for testing the next morning.”

“And I see your testing went well.” Tyrion tilted his head toward the glistening Valyrian Steel link that had been added to Sam’s chain.

“Oh, yes it did,” Sam broke into a smile, “though I was a little disappointed that Marwyn wasn’t there for it. Archmaester Vaellyn had to test me instead.”

Arya’s ears perked as she heard the name. Marwyn the Mage.

Daenerys had caught it as well. “Does Marwyn normally do the testing, Sam? Was there any specific reason he was gone this time?”

Sam chuckled. “He doesn’t do much testing, since it’s rare for a Maester to opt for a Valyrian Steel chain, your Grace. And I suppose it wasn’t that out of character for him to be gone, either – he’s a brilliant man, Marwyn is, but he’s also a drunken letch. I remember when I was still a novice, he’d be gone for weeks or months at a time, and we never knew if it was actual Citadel business or just another wild bender.”

Arya felt her stomach sink, and saw a subtle slump in Dany’s shoulders. This was supposed to be the great Archmaester that understood Westeros’ seasons and the link between dragons and magic? The only man who had any feasible hypothesis on what had allowed the Night’s King to roam the Land of Always Winter once more, growing so strong he nearly succeeded in wiping out the continent?

Faith in the knowledge of a drunken letch had led to bloody civil war in the House of Black and White?

The assassin scowled. Maybe she and Dany had been wrong. Maybe the Faceless Man she murdered in the Godswood hadn’t been the one Bran had cautioned them about at all.

“Samwell,” Varys continued, “did you happen to notice anything strange about any of your former instructors or comrades?”

Sam gave a thoughtful pause. “There was something I found strange. Nothing huge, mind you.”

“What was it, Sam?” Dany asked.

“It was Archmaester Perestan and Maester Pate.”

Arya stiffened, and Dany’s wine goblet nearly toppled to the floor.

Oblivious to the impact his words had made, Sam continued on. “Pate was a novice back when I started at the Citadel. He was, well, I don’t mean to be rude, but the boy was thick as a stump. They had him tending old Archmaester Walgrave during his last days, since there wasn’t much else that he could manage.” Tarly took a drink from his mug. “But when I went back this time, he was like a new man. He’d earned a chain somehow, even had more than one link on it. And he was always talking with Archmaester Perestan, which is odd because Perestan is not the friendliest fellow in the best of company, nevermind dealing with.. well, a simpleton.”

It was all true.

Jaqen was in Oldtown.

“Did you happen to hear anything they were talking about, Sam?” Dany pressed gently.

“Only bits and pieces,” the Maester said. “But it was something about Valyrian Steel. I’m guessing they needed something reforged. There’s not many people who can do that, I’m told.”

“Not many people at all.” Tyrion agreed. “I remember when my father went to-” he stopped abruptly, glancing up at Arya regretfully.

“When your father went to what, Tyrion?” Daenerys asked.

The diminutive Lannister cleared his throat. “My late father had a difficult time securing the services of a smith capable of working Valyrian steel, back when he..” he looked up at Arya again, and then to Daenerys. “When he reforged Ice, after Ned Stark’s execution.”

Arya felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She’d known that Ice was long gone, but she’d presumed it had been stolen as so many other treasures had been in the battle for King’s Landing when Daenerys crossed the Narrow Sea.

Not that it had been intentionally destroyed by the very lions who had betrayed her entire family.

“Where is the new blade he had made, Tyrion?” Arya asked through gritted teeth. She would find it, wherever it was. She would find it, and she would have it restored.

“The blades,” Tyrion carefully corrected her. “Ice was a greatsword as long as many men are tall. Tywin,” he let out a sigh of dread, “had it broken down and forged into two new blades.”

Two. The greedy bastard had taken the blade that had helped protect the realm against the Long Night, that had been with her family since its founding, and he destroyed so he could have not only one, but two new blades.

Had Sansa known about this, and kept it from her?

She felt her hands start to tremble with rage.

“Then where are the blades, Tyrion?” Arya asked in a cold whisper.

The Imp instinctively shifted back in his seat. “The first was given to my brother Jaime. But the loss of his right hand rendered him incapable of ever really using it. He gave it to Brienne of Tarth when she set out in his stead to try to find you, and your sister Sansa after she’d fled the capital following my arrest for Joffery’s murder.” He looked up at icy gray eyes. “For what it’s worth, Jaime did try to keep the promise he made to your mother to return you both to her . He knew Brienne would have a much better chance of finding you two than he would at that point – and I like to think he had wanted the Stark daughters to be protected with Stark steel, when they were found.”

Arya closed her eyes and pictured her father in the Godswood beneath the weirwood tree, oiling the legendary blade as he so often did.

Gods damn them.

“The second blade,” Tyrion frowned, “was given to my beloved nephew Joffery. And upon his death, it passed to his younger brother Tommen. I’m told that when Tommen was killed during her Grace’s siege of King’s Landing, it was stolen from his still-warm corpse by a Lannister soldier.”

“Who was this soldier?” Daenerys asked, glancing over at Arya with unmasked concern.

“I don’t know, your Grace. No one had seen him before, and he was never found after.” Tyrion reached for the wine decanter.

“You know,” Sam said nervously, as if he was hoping to cut through the thick layer of tension that permeated the chamber. “Jon had a Valyrian Steel sword from Lord Commander Mormont. Longclaw.”

Daenerys gave a small nod. “I vaguely remember that. I think it had a wolf for a pommel. Do you know where it ended up, Samwell?”

“No, I don’t think anyone ever saw it again after, well, after Jon fell.” He said quietly.

Arya’s brow furrowed as she remembered the day that would always grip her as tightly as a noose. She’d seen Jon strike the Night’s King with a formidable blade, which was most likely this ‘Longclaw’ - but after she’d pierced him with the dragonglass, she’d seen no sign of his sword anywhere.

Then again, it had been hard to see anything through frozen tears.

“Anyways,” Sam said softly, “I’m sorry if I said anything I shouldn’t have.”

“No, no boy,” Varys said after carefully watching the entire exchange. “It’s quite alright. You have done nothing wrong. Now please, was there anything else you noticed? About Archmaester Perestan or Maester Pate?”

“Only that Maester Pate spent a lot more time in the library than he used to. He never much cared for it before, from what I can remember. Though I guess he would have had to change his habits at some point, to earn his chain.”

“Thank you Sam,” Daenerys said, letting out a sigh. “You’ve been more helpful than you can imagine. You may return to the Rookery.”

Sam, clearly confused, stood up and bowed. “I’m glad I could help your Grace, however I managed. Thank you.”

Arya raked a hand through her hair, trying to put Ice and Jon and rage from her mind so she could focus on the matter at hand. “Samwell,” she asked as the large man started for the door. “During your time with my brother at Castle Black, do you remember learning anything about the construction of the Wall? Anything about old magic or enchantments that may have been used as wards within the ice?”

“There were things I heard, Lady Stark-”

Arya winced and held up her hand. “Please… just Arya. My sister is Lady Stark.”

“Right, sorry about that La- Arya. Anyways, there were things I heard, and I do remember reading something about that in one of the books I kept from the Lord Commander’s library. What did you want to know?”

“Just how exactly my ancestors managed to ward the Wall as it was being built. We’re going to start repairing it, and it needs to be just as strong as it was before. The way the first Starks intended.”

“Give me a little time, and I’ll learn all that I can.” Sam said earnestly. “I think.. I think that Jon would be happy, knowing that the Wall was going to protect the realm again.” He headed toward the door, pausing with his hand on the iron handle. “I think he’d be proud of you too, Arya. For what it’s worth.”

 

………

 

Arya took a seat at the small council chamber beside Daenerys once Tyrion and Varys had left. “I know what you’re thinking Dany,” she said, “but he’s not alone. There were two others with him. And we don’t know if they chose to stay with him in Oldtown or not.”

“He said you would find them all there, Arya. You heard Sam, ‘Pate’ is there. That man… he was the one Bran had spoken of.”

They shared a companionable silence as Arya considered all that they knew, and all that they had just heard. “So I should go to Oldtown, then,” she said finally.

“No,” Daenerys said softly, “we should go to Oldtown.”

 

……..

Present-

 

Jaqen pivoted and stepped back, favoring his left leg with a slight limp. “A girl has improved. A man is proud of his student.” He looked at her through damp strands of russet hair plastered to his forehead. “It does not have to be this way.”

Arik held his ground, coiled. “There is no other way it can be. You will never stop hunting her, or the dragons.”

“A man will do what needs to be done, even if a girl has allowed herself to become blinded.” He swung his blade down towards Arik’s head in a vicious arc. The imposter smith lifted Dominus into a high guard, and parried Jaqen’s blade away before thrusting the sword at the taller man’s neck. Jaqen shifted himself just in time to avoid the point cutting into his throat.

Quickly retaliating, the older man feinted left and lunged right, Arik’s blade barely catching his own. He began to slash furiously at his once-heir, his dark, rippling blade seeking to tear into the brief openings that water dancers trained so fervently to find. Arik met him at every turn, deflecting each slice with a skill that matched his own.

When Arik took the offensive again, rushing Jaqen with angry blows that were more reminiscent of a Westerosi knight than a Braavo, he couldn’t help but notice the moonlit glint of a golden lion’s head pommel below his adversary’s grip.

Chapter Text

AN: The last vestiges of confusion from the infamous chapter 33 should be cleared away now, as we step into the final chapters and the time of reckoning they will bring.

POV: Arya/Arik

 

………

6 weeks ago-

 

Arya Stark was quickly coming to learn what the rest of the Seven Kingdoms already knew – that Daenerys Targaryen had a tendency to get whatever it was she set her mind to.

“So what do you think, Nym?” Arya asked as she scratched the direwolf behind her ear. “It’s the only way I can see taking her along.”

Nymeria looked up her with a canine version of a cocked eyebrow. “Gruff.”

Arya sighed. “I know. There’s still a lot of risk involved,” she tilted her head to look over at the Silver Queen across the royal apartment chamber as she was being briefed on the day’s itinerary by Missandei, “but she’s determined. And, in truth, she does have a point. Right now we have the advantage.”

Nymeria looked up at her and let out a snort.

Arya scowled. “I am not ‘whipped’.”

The direwolf’s tongue lolled as she sat in silent disagreement.

“Oh yeah?” Arya smirked. “And what about you? She has you eating out of her hand. Literally.”

Nymeria stiffened as she lashed her tail, affronted.

“That is not different!”

The beast gave a critical bark.

“I’m sure it was a perfect cut of steak. Doesn’t change the fact I saw you eat it out of her hand as if you were no more than a pup, and to top it all off you had her rub your belly afterwards! And you’re telling me I’m whipped?” Arya raised her brow.

Nymeria let out a wolfish sigh and looked at the ground.

“Exactly my point.” Arya chuckled and patted the shamed wolf’s head.

“Good killer!” Tyrion strode in with a roll of parchments under his arm and a mug of spiced wine. “I see our Queen is still receiving her briefing.”

Arya nodded. “Missandei came in at first light. Seems a lot happened while we were at Highgarden.” She raked a hand through her hair, then looked down at Tyrion’s half-empty tankard, questioning. “This early? That’s impressive, even for you.”

The dwarf held up a hand. “Don’t judge me,” he said plaintively. “You have no idea what I endured on that throne while you two were gone. It’s harvest season.”

Arya just looked at him, puzzled.

Tyrion shook his head and frowned. “I forgot you haven’t seen the sort of supplications that are brought before the Iron Throne during harvest season. When you do, you’ll understand.”

Arya still wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but she was willing to take the tiny Lannister’s word for it.

“Before I forget,” he continued, “Bear wanted me to ask if you approve of the chainmail. It’s a new alloy he’s been working on for years; he’s quite proud of it.”

He had every reason to be proud. Arya had been dreading the transition into formal armor that came along with knighthood, concerned that carrying the extra weight would rob her of her main advantages in battle – speed and agility. But the chain that Bear designed was far lighter than the traditional mail her father and brothers had worn, and had already proven to be just as durable. To make sure, she’d had Jarek land a few strikes when they were sparring on the road back to King’s Landing. She’d been bruised where his blade hit, but nothing more. The mail had held firm.

“Tell him he has my thanks,” Arya said. “I couldn’t possibly ask for better.”

“Excellent. He’ll be pleased to know that the Queen’s own Northern Knight thinks so highly of his work.” Tyrion took a long drink from his mug.

The Northern Knight. One of the Redwyne girls at Highgarden had coined the moniker shortly after Daenerys had dubbed her there, and within just a few short hours it seemed to have compassed the entire realm.

Arya Stark could never be No One again.

“Tyrion,” Arya started, “about that order we discussed…?”

“Oh yes,” he waved his hand and lowered his voice. “You’ll find the case in your quarters, beside what’s left of that sizeable box of gold the Iron Bank so kindly bestowed on you. May I ask-”

Arya shook her head. “It’s not what you think.”

Tyrion grinned wryly. “Good killer, one could honestly say that since the day we met, I have always been the first to give you the benefit of the doubt. But in this case, between the goldsmith, having Missandei ensure her Grace’s schedule is completely cleared for a private supper this evening, and swearing me to secrecy, there is only one conclusion anyone can draw.”

Arya let out a long, slow breath. “Then let me just say that it’s not… exactly what you think.”

Tyrion swirled the wine at the bottom of his mug. “I don’t think she’d refuse you, if that’s what you’re worried about. She’s not one to be deeply concerned with traditions, and she’s been quite brazen with her affections.”

“It’s not that. I mean, It’s not that I would presume that she’d…” Arya felt her hands begin to sweat in her leather gloves, and nervously clenched a fist. “It’s just… complicated.”

“Story of your entire relationship, one could say. It would make an incredible minstrel’s balled, if one ever happened to learn the truth.”

Before the dwarf could push the matter further, he saw Missandei give a respectful nod to Daenerys, and step away to set about whatever task the Queen had just given her. “And that would be my cue,” he said, setting down his wine as he started to unroll the parchments he’d been carrying, all requiring Dany’s signature and personal seal. “Remember, I’ll be expecting details tomorrow, good killer. Copious details.”

Some things never changed.

 

……….

 

“I think I’ve figured out a way to get us into the Citadel,” Arya said quietly, once the final course of supper was served and she was sure the servants were out of earshot.

“I never doubted that you would,” Daenerys said softly, the hint of a smile on her lips.

Arya forgot their sober reality for a moment, and felt her heart skip. No matter how grave their circumstances, Dany always had complete faith in her. It continually left her both humbled and amazed.

The knight reached to take the silver Queen’s hand. “You may not like it, Dany. It’s going to require a lot from you. And it’s… risky.”

“Every day I’ve known you has been a risk, Wolf.” She squeezed Arya’s hand. “Tell me what you have in mind.”

Arya was quiet a moment. Then: “I’m going to turn you into a Faceless Man.”

Whatever Daenerys had been expecting to hear, it clearly wasn’t that. “Even if I could,” she started, “how is there possibly enough time-”

“Not a true Faceless Man,” Arya interjected quickly. “But if you’re going to come with me to Oldtown, I need to turn you into someone else. We both need to become entirely different people. And while we are these different people, the Seven Kingdoms must believe that you and I are both here, at the Red Keep.” Arya paused while Daenerys considered the magnitude of what she was proposing.

“And how do you suggest we accomplish this?” Daenerys asked cautiously.

“We’ll need help from the Spider,” Arya answered, grudgingly. “We need him to use his network on both sides of the Narrow Sea to spread word about your status here. Something that would reasonably explain your absence from the public for a time. An illness, maybe.”

Daenerys gave a slight nod. “If anyone could perpetuate a fabrication of that scale, it would be Varys.”

“That’s what I thought. Once he’s sent out word of your ‘condition’, Tyrion will need to continue on as regent for while longer. And then, you’re going to have to leave Daenerys Targaryen behind,” Arya said somberly. “I’m going to give you a new identity, and teach you how to be a completely different person. That is the only way I can make this work.”

Arya’s eyes softened. “I know it’s a lot to ask. Especially when you’ve spent most of your lifetime fighting to become who you are. But I’ll need you to forget all of that for a while if we’re going to do this, Dany.”

Violet eyes met her own. “Who are we to become, Arya?”

“Samwell mentioned that the Archmaesters were looking for someone who could reforge Valyrian Steel. That’s our in. We’re going to become expert smiths, from Qohor.”

“From Qohor?” Daenerys asked, eyebrow raised.

Arya nodded. “For all its eccentricities, Qohor is home to the best smiths in the entire world. Their blades and armor are superior to even the best castle-forged steel in Westeros. And some say that city alone holds the secret to reforging Valyrian Steel. If that’s where we hail from, no one at the Citadel is likely to question our credentials.”

“Alright,” Daenerys took a sip of her wine. “So let me make sure I have this straight. We need to have Varys make the entire realm believe I am indisposed, while you transform me into someone else. Then we need to secure an invitation to the Citadel based on our identities that don’t actually exist, and a skillset that neither of us actually have. And once we’re there, you’re going to find the remaining Faceless Men and discover what exactly needs to be done to neutralize the threat to my dragons. Does… that sound about right?”

“More or less,” Arya affirmed.

“You make it sound so simple.”

“Only because this is exactly what I have spent most of my life doing.”

“Fair enough,” Daenerys said, unable to dispute that truth. “Before we take this any further, is there anything else I should know?”

“Well, now that you mention it, there is one more thing.” Arya shifted in her chair and opened the leather pouch attached to her belt, pulling out the small box that Tyrion had left for her earlier. “You see, in order for this to work,” she opened the box to reveal a delicate band of gold embedded with rubies that were the same deep shade as her eldest child’s eyes. “You’re going to have to marry me.”

 

……….

Present –

 

"A man has a thirst. A man does not drink for a day and night. A boy could make a friend."

There were brief instants when the sentimentality of Arya Stark warred with the persona of Arik as much as Arik’s blue-tinted blade warred with Jaqen’s blackened crimson one.

Jaqen’s swordless hand opened, and with a deft flick of his wrist he sent Wolfsbane darts hurtling towards Arik.

Seeing their glint even through the veil of pouring rain, Arik quickly spun his blade in a tight figure eight in front of his body, sending the darts careening off into the wet, empty space that surrounded them. Jaqen took advantage of Arik’s deflection and lunged forward, his rippling blade set to pierce his former pupil’s chest through the soft, dark leather of his eastern disguise. Arik pulled his blade up with a First Sword’s speed, diverting Jaqen’s Valyrian steel with his own.

If you would learn, you must come with me.

Arik rounded with a vicious slice aimed for the taller man’s throat, forcing Jaqen to step back as the tip of the blade nicked his skin. The hidden wolf moved in as he pushed back, refusing to permit him any opportunity that distance would provide. Arik’s blade came up in blazing, fearful arcs, looking to keep the offensive while splitting open soft skin. Jaqen’s blade lifted and met Arik’s with all of the expert grace years of water dancing patterned within him, and he countered with a barrage of brisk, precise strikes that Arik was barely able to parry away.

From the stinging Arik felt on his arm once the bombardment subsided, he had not been entirely successful.

Jaqen charged forward, using his greater height to his advantage as he leveraged heavy downward swipes against Arik’s smaller frame. Over and over again Arik lifted his sword, blocking the stout strikes as he felt the force of each impact reverberate through his arms. For as fast as the false smith was, he was not as strong as his opponent – and fending off a hail of weighted blows quickly caused his muscles to ache, which he knew was precisely what Jaqen wanted.

Arik would deny him.

Invoking the assassin that lay just beneath the skin, Arik blocked one more heavy blow while shifting his weight to the back of his heel, forcing Jaqen to step forward as he followed through. As Jaqen leaned in, Arik slid a blade from his sleeve into his hand and drove it forward. Recognizing his misstep, Jaqen desperately turned and angled himself away from the thin blade, causing it to tear through his cloak and miss its mark by scant threads.

“A girl still lacks honor!” he muttered as he countered with a back fist that struck the bridge of Arik’s nose, causing the slight man to stumble back as bright spots flickered in his peripheral vision.

Arik shook his head to clear it, and responded the same way he had to the same exclamation so many years past - with a silent shrug. He was not about to take lessons on honor from the same man who’d tossed darts at him only moments ago. Without warning he suddenly closed the distance between them and rammed his shoulder up under Jaqen’s chin, causing the taller man’s jaw to snap closed on his tongue. As he heard the grunt of pain he’d been waiting for, he drove the point of his sword down through Jaqen’s boot and through his foot until it hit the rounded cobbles below, pinning him in place as he quickly arced his dagger around to plunge it into the Faceless Man’s side. Instead, he cut a ribbon of red across the ridges of Jaqen’s knuckles as the man lifted the hilt of his sword just enough to intercept the murderous blow.

A girl should be bloody, too. This is her work.

Jaqen tilted his head back and slammed it down hard against Arik’s, leaving the smaller man reeling as he stumbled back, pulling his sword out of the fleshy, bleeding slit it had carved into Jaqen’s foot. Then the teacher followed his student’s example and pulled a dagger into his empty hand, holding it with a taut, split-knuckled grip. He swung his sword towards Arik’s head, causing him to pull his sword up fast and hard to obstruct the strike. As the dark blade ricocheted off of the lighter one, he punched his dagger towards Arik’s midsection, its point piercing skin before Arik managed to slam his own small blade down and drive it away.

His head still throbbing, Arik feinted an arcing half-moon strike to Jaqen’s shoulder and landed a hard kick to the side of his knee as Jaqen readied himself to parry, causing the taller man to falter. Taking advantage of the opening his stagger provided, Arik whirled in with his thin blade, aiming it for the Faceless leader’s heart. The first inch of the blade sank in before he heard a wet clatter as a dagger fell to the ground and Jaqen caught Arik’s wrist in his hand, slowly pulling it back out and away. Knowing he could not compete with his opponent’s physical strength, Arik instead let his dagger arm abruptly go slack, letting Jaqen’s suddenly overcompensating force push him sideways. He rammed the pommel of his sword into Jaqen’s side as he turned, and felt the iron grip on his wrist loosen. He pulled it free from his hold, and threw himself up against the larger man, knocking him off of his feet and down to the slick stone below them.

…and only death may pay for life.

Arik’s hair hung in thick, wet strings across his steely eyes as his blade finally hit its mark, sinking deeply into Jaqen’s stomach as he fell to the ground with the man who had once taken him under his wing. No, not me – that was Arya. And Arya is far away, back with Daenerys at the Red Keep. Arik felt himself pull down viciously, the blade cutting a gory trail inside Jaqen as the man cried out in pain.

It was only after, as Arik tried to stand up again, that he noticed the dagger in his own side.

The searing pain came after the realization, and Arik fell back down to his knees, both Dominus and his thin, bloodied blade slipping from his hands. He glanced over at Jaqen, then over at the ground where he’d dropped his dagger only seconds ago. The blade was gone.

Help was not promised, lovely girl. Only death.

He had grabbed it when they had fallen, and stabbed Arik with it before he’d even realized.

“It was a girl who taught me,” Jaqen muttered through gritted teeth, his hands pressing to his eviscerated gut, “that it’s about counting… the cost. That sometimes..” his jaw clenched as he winced, “you need to be willing to take a hit… in order to strike… a final blow.” He coughed violently, blood running down both sides of his mouth.

Arik felt himself topple over, his shoulder landing hard in a deep puddle.

“I’m glad that… after everything you taught me, there was something I could teach you in return..” Arik said in a faraway voice that he could barely recognize as his own as he reached for the blade that had skewered him.

He heard what sounded like a laugh force itself from the bloodied lips of his mentor. “A girl has surpassed a man. There is.. nothing more to teach..”

Arik tugged hard on the hilt of the dagger buried inside of him, throwing his head back as he pulled the blade out with a tortured groan. He immediately felt his blood start to stream down his back; so much warmer than the chilled rain that kept falling on his skin.

Arik tilted his head to look over at the man he had never really known, watching as his shallow breaths trembled and began to slow. It had been a cruel death in the end, slow and painful, and despite the irreconcilable differences that rose up between them, he had not wanted that for the man. He would have done it differently, if he could.

But it was too late for either of them to change anything.

He felt his own body begin to tense and spasm, and couldn’t help but wonder if this was one of the many ends that Bran had seen for Arya Stark months ago, way back in Winterfell.

There was a quiet gurgling sound, and Arik could see that Jaqen’s chest had fallen and refused to rise again.

…A man is not Jaqen H’ghar. A man is no one.

Arik squinted through the torrent, and saw Jaqen’s eyes dim, the life finally seeping from them. “Valar Morghulis..

It was the last thing that he saw before the world went black.

Chapter Text

AN: No time-jump this chapter, but no worries, we will watch things from the past unfold again next round (and yes -that- particular question most of you were left wondering about will finally be answered).

 

POV: Arya-Arik/Dany

………

 

Arik woke in a fit of coughing, his hand pressing to his side as his body jerked violently. His cheek was numb, and water had pooled around his mouth in a small pond under the ceaseless torrent of rain. He glanced up and saw the still form of Jaqen just a few feet away, undisturbed. He had not been unconscious long.

Dany.

The safehouse he and Jarek had prepared was just a few blocks away. The Reachman would wait with Daniah there until morning as they’d planned, and then, if necessary, take her to Honeyholt without Arik. From Honeyholt they’d send a raven to Tyrion at the Red Keep, and the Hand would dispatch a secure escort party to bring the hidden Queen back safely.

The sky was still dark. He could still make it.

The false smith pushed himself up from the ground, slowly, gritting his teeth as his side seared him; as if he’d been branded beneath the skin rather than stabbed. A wave of nausea roiled his stomach, and he began to dry-heave as he sat, palm pressed to his wound as he shuddered. Once the sickness had finally crested and ebbed, he reached a pale hand to grab the hilt of Dominus, sliding it over his shoulder back into its sheath.

A glint in the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he noticed the golden lion that marked the pommel of Jaqen’s blade. Eyes narrowing, he pulled himself carefully across the cobblestones, until he could reach his mentor’s weapon. Was this one of the swords Ice was destroyed to create? Was this taken from Brienne? Or from the body of Tommen? There was no doubt that the ornamentation surrounding the Valyrian Steel was gaudily Lannister. He tightened his grip on the hilt. Regardless of its true origins, this had become Jaqen’s weapon. He would take it.

He turned toward his fallen foe, and noticed the familiar face he’d seen framed by red and white for so many years was gone. In its place was the visage of a man far older, etched with deep lines and the ridges of a few scars.

All those years, and never once did Arya Stark see Jaqen H’ghar’s true face. Only now, when the old magic that ran through his veins to hold the guise in place stopped completely, did the lies fade away.

Arya reached to her temple, and pulled the angular face she’d chosen for the smith away.

She didn’t need the lie any longer, either.

Grimacing, Arya pulled herself to her feet, nearly dropping the black and crimson blade as agony accompanied by a rush of vertigo unsteadied her limbs. “Seven hells!” she spat, fighting to hold her balance.

I need to get to Dany!

Gripping her side with one hand and Jaqen’s sword with the other, Arya forced herself to step forward. It was an awkward, lopsided motion, but she made herself repeat it, her hand pressing harder against her laceration every time her boot hit the ground.

It would be very slow going, but she didn’t need to get far.

Arya’s mind drifted, longing for distraction from the pain that ravaged her weakened body. She thought of Winterfell, remembering the crunch of hoarfrost under her boots as she’d run after Robb and Jon, hoping Ser Rodrik would let her join them in the practice yard. She remembered Sansa’s cries throughout the castle as she madly searched for the source of the terrible smell in her room, unaware that Arya had cut open her mattress and stuffed sheep dung inside, before closing it again with her terrible, uneven stitches. She remembered watching Bran climb up the castle’s ramparts, while their mother mouthed unladylike curses while calling for him climb right back down the way he came. She remembered little Rickon with his fierce temper and unruly hair, breaking wooden toys in his frustrated outbursts.

For so many years, it had hurt too much to remember. The grief of believing she’d lost them all had shaped her completely; deadened her heart and placed her on path so dark she’d forgotten that warmth and light even existed.

Until she met Daenerys Targaryen.

Arya limped onward, driven by an absolute need to see the violet eyes that so easily held her captive once more. She’d spent most of her life prepared to die, at times even hoping that the Many-Faced God would call her home – but now, she fought his grasp.

If there was any force stronger than death, it was love.

The night remained quiet, aside from the scraping of her boots and the companionable patter of the rain. She felt blood trickle between her fingers, despite her best efforts to staunch its flow, and hazily wondered just how much she’d lost while she’d been out cold.

She was getting dizzy.

“Hey.”

Arya turned at the sound of the voice, and saw a fat little boy standing before her. “Don’t you remember me?” he asked petulantly.

“No. Go home,” she muttered, stepping forward again.

Ignoring her command, the rotund young man began to follow her instead. “I was your first, you know. Way back in King’s Landing.”

Arya shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, kid.” She squinted, trying to make out the distance to the crossroads up ahead.

“You killed me,” the boy said. “Right there in the stables.”

Arya stopped, realization softening her pained features. My first murder.

“There’s been so many you don’t even remember any of us, do you?”

“You tried to steal my sword and hand me over to Cersei Lannister. There was no way around it, boy.” Arya said softly, trying to ignore the twisted truth in his words. Although she vividly remembered every kill from her list, many of the others held no special place in her memory. No One hadn’t needed to care to get the job done.

The boy said no more, silently trailing a few paces behind her. The rain finally began to slow until it became a pleasant cooling mist on Arya’s fevered skin. The crossroads was closer now, and with it the winding street that led to the safehouse. She closed her eyes, and allowed herself a moment to catch her breath.

Her eyes snapped open as she felt fur brush the back of her hand. Brow furrowed, she looked down at the direwolf that had stepped in beside her. Nymeria..? No, not Nym..

She recognized the eyes she’d seen closing beneath the locked kennel door in the Frey’s courtyard, so many years ago. “Grey Wind…?” She whispered.

The direwolf tilted his head up, then perked his ears.

“There you are,” a familiar voice said from behind her. “I told you to wait up for me.” Before Arya could turn, a figure in brown leather and chain took his place beside the massive wolf, affectionately petting his ruff.

“Robb,” Arya rasped, disoriented. She blinked hard, looking at the slick stone road ahead, then back at her brother and Grey Wind.

“I know where you’re going,” Robb said. “Can we walk with you a while?”

Arya nodded slowly, putting one foot in front of the other again.

“I saw how you ended Walder Frey,” the older Stark said as he slowed his pace beside her. “They blamed his age; said his heart just gave out. But a natural death would have been far quicker, and never caused the man such agony. You know certainly know your trade, sister.”

“He had it coming,” Arya muttered. “If he hadn’t already been so frail, it would have lasted weeks. I never forgot, Robb.. I never forgot..”

“If he hadn’t betrayed us, I might have become King,” Robb said. “Do you think I would have been a good King, Arya?”

“You were a good man, Robb. Like our father. And you would have been a great King.”

The Young Wolf smiled.

Arya took a few more shaking steps, while Robb and Grey Wind fell in behind her, beside the silent stable boy. Her hand became sticky at her side, and she clumsily wiped it on Arik’s fine leather tunic before pressing it back to her wound. Despite her sluggish pace, she was almost at the crossroads. Wincing, she carried onward.

Dany.

The pain was lessening. That’s what always happened, when you reached a certain point. Adrenaline pumped, and your nerves became so accustomed to the torment they were enduring that they stopped sending out their frantic signals, resigning themselves to the damage that had been done.

Arya was grateful that she’d reached that threshold.

A light haze started to form over the cobbles beneath the wolf’s feet; the first signs of a morning fog starting to roll in. Arya glanced up and saw a few purple blotches mottling the midnight sky, harbingers of the impending dawn.

Arya reached the crossroads, and took a right down the narrow street that led to the safehouse, a few drops of blood splattering on the rock below.

A clank and rattle sounded to her left as she nearly tripped over an uneven stone. She didn’t bother to turn, immediately recognizing the clatter of her once-guardian’s battered armor. “Hound,” she said quietly.

She received a grunt in response as the large man sidled up beside her.

“I didn’t kill you,” Arya said between uneven breaths.

“No, you didn’t, even though I was probably the only one who wanted you to,” Sandor countered gruffly. “Why the fuck not?”

Arya’s vision blurred for a moment. “Because you didn’t deserve a quick, clean death. Do you know how many times you cut bald patches in my hair, you lumbering bastard? People mistook me for your simpleton son.”

The Hound snorted derisively. “Just admit it. I was as much your daddy as ol’ Ned Stark was, for a while.”

“No.”

“You know, I told your sister once that the world is built by killers. And now look at you, one of the very finest, with the Queen of the entire fucking world pining away for you while you cut a bloody swath around her!”

Arya scowled. “Shut up.”

“Look at yourself, dammit! You are mine, regardless of who sired you!”

“I said SHUT UP!” Arya shouted, dropping down to one knee as Jaqen’s blade fell from her hand. Her heart pounded in her ears, and her fingers began to twitch involuntarily. The Hound fell back, just as the others who’d come before him, staying a few paces behind her stooped frame.

Her hand slipped from her side as her own weight became too much to bear, and she dropped down to all fours, her head hanging limp below her shoulders.

“Just shut up,” she murmured into the thickening fog. “Just shut up… just shut up..”

Dany.

There was a warm, soft hand at the nape of her neck.

“You rarely ever got sick, but when you did, you were always difficult,” a comforting voice said. “Your father was no better.”

Her meagre strength dwindling, Arya found herself barely able to resist the urge to fall to the ground in a listless heap. “Mother,” she finally gasped, feeling a long-forgotten sting prick the corner of her eye.

“Come now,” hands with a vigor that Arya lacked reached under her arms, lifting her back up to her feet. “The end is in sight.”

“I’m sorry,” Arya mumbled, her body heavy as she shambled forward.

“For what, Arya?” A hooded Catelyn asked with a soundless glide.

“I couldn’t be what you wanted… I was never like you, or Sansa…”

“Oh my dear,” Catelyn reached a hand up to pull back her hood, revealing a hideous, sunken shadow of the beautiful woman who’d scolded her as a child. Her hair was white and brittle, and deep scratches were hewn into the once soft lines of her face. A vicious gash marred her throat, and she lifted a thin, skeletal hand to cover it before speaking again. “But you are like me, you see.”

The world spun, and Arya remembered stepping in to the House of Black and White for the very first time. Walking death had greeted her there, with a yellowed, patchy skull and a white worm crawling through the empty socket where an eye had once been. Feverish, glassy gray eyes softening, Arya leaned in and kissed the ghoul who’d once raised her tenderly on the cheek. “It’s alright mother,” she said. “It’s finished. They’re all dead, and you don’t have to be here anymore.”

There was a chill wind, and Catelyn joined those who were already trailing Arya.

The dark purple on the horizon morphed into deep royal blue, as the sun that had already started to rise in Essos slowly made its way westward. In the distance, Arya could see the safehouse, one of many merchant storefronts lining the lane, entirely unremarkable except for the row of Moonblooms growing out front.

Dany.

Fog had enveloped the thoroughfare, and Arya stumbled through it instinctively. Her steps, so heavy and burdensome only moments ago, began to lighten.

A scraping sound cut through the dense vapor that had gathered, and Arya saw her father seated before her, sharpening his greatsword Ice. He paused, and looked up at her with a smile. “You’ve made it, then,” he said kindly.

“Almost,” she replied, her own smile a mirror of his. “It wasn’t that far, but I feel like I’ve been walking forever.”

“And yet you kept pushing, step after step.”

“I did. I had to… she’s waiting for me. I have a promise to keep.”

Ned rose to his feet, sheathing Ice. He wrapped his arms around her, and for a moment Arya Stark was a young girl again, with nothing more than scraped palms and bruised knees. “You have the wolf’s blood,” Ned said as he held her. “Like your Aunt Lyanna and Uncle Brandon did. But this here, the honor driving you now… I like to think that’s how I live on in you.”

Arya swallowed a lump in her throat. “Will you come with me? In case I get lost?”

“Of course,” Ned said softly. “I always have.” Then cold mist replaced the warm embrace, and Eddard Stark took his place at the head of her entourage beside the undead creature that had once been his wife.

Dany.

Feeling her strength returning, Arya led them all forward, up the slight grade of the hill until she finally reached the safehouse. She glanced down at her side, pulling her hand away, then knelt down on the damp grass, wiping her bloodied palm against it until it was clean. Satisfied, she stood back up, pulling a small iron key from her pocket. She reached forward to slide the key into the door, starting when it quickly swung open to reveal a white-haired, violet-eyed young woman clad in form-fitting Dothraki leathers.

A grin tugged the corner of Arya’s mouth. “Dany.”

Daenerys smiled, cupping Arya’s face in her palms and leaning up to kiss her, warm and sure. “I waited for you,” she said tenderly. “I knew you would come.”

“Always,” Arya said. “I’d never leave you behind.”

“You can rest now,” Daenerys said, brushing aside Arya’s choppy, stray bangs. “It’s alright. We’re safe.”

Arya shook her head. “Not now. Plenty of time to rest when I fall.”

Dany’s smile turned sad. “Oh my sweet wolf,” she whispered, “you already fell, way back down there.”

Arya turned to look down the foggy street. There in the distance, near the crossroads, she saw her body laying on the ground.

 

………

 

“Stand aside.”

“Daniah. You know I can’t do that. Please, just wait.”

“I’ve waited long enough! She should have been here by now.”

He,” Jarek quietly corrected. “And there’s still time. Arik will make it; have faith.”

Daenerys felt a slow burn begin to rise inside of her. “She is Arya Stark. And I am Daenerys Targaryen – and this charade is over.”

“Daniah-”

Queen Daenerys,” the dragon corrected. “And it no longer matters who may hear us, because he already knows. And if he…” Dany felt her breath catch suddenly, softening her speech, “..if he killed Arya, we’re both here on borrowed time anyways.”

Jarek frowned and bowed his head. “Dan- your Grace,” he said, “I gave her my word.”

“Whatever oath you made to Arya, I know it was given with the intention of keeping me safe. So I am going to walk out that door, and find her – and if you want to keep your word and keep me safe, you will come with me.”

A long silence stretched between the two. Loyalty had been the reason Arya had chosen to bring Jarek with them, and she knew that he was struggling to find further justification to break his word to his friend.

She would give him that justification in the form of her own absolute authority. “I command you to come with me,” she said finally.

Something in the big man broke then, and he gave a small nod. “Let’s find her,” he said, stepping across the small, dark room to open the door.

They stepped out past the glistening Moonblooms and into the foggy, desolate thoroughfare. Despite her anxiety and impatience, Daenerys kept her steps controlled and quiet, listening to the hush of the world around her, the way Arya had taught her to. She walked the same path she’d run down with Jarek when the sky was still dark as midnight, after he’d finally set her back down. She didn’t know which route Arya would have taken to make their rendezvous, but this was as good as any to start.

Jarek was uncharacteristically quiet as they walked together. Daenerys wanted to attribute it to caution, but she knew that he was afflicted with the same dread that had wound its icy cold tendrils around her.

We heeded Bran’s warning, she told herself. Death was not the only thing he saw. She’s fine. She’s too strong to-

“Your Grace,” Jarek said, his mouth pulling into a grim line. “Up there.”

There in the gloom, near the crossroads, Daenerys saw a still form laying on its side.

Oh gods no.

Daenerys ran forward, her heart caving in on itself when she saw Dominus’ hilt over a shoulder clad in familiar, soft eastern leather. “Arya!”

She knelt down as the heavy footfalls following closely behind her came to a halt. “Arya,” she carefully turned the Stark on to her back, resting her head in her lap as she pressed her fingers to her neck, searching for a pulse. “Please, say something!”

The angled face of Arik was gone, and Daenerys felt panic begin to swell within her chest. Is this what happens when a Faceless Man dies? Do they lose the face they wore?

“This was his sword.” Jarek knelt down beside her, reaching for the rippling lion’s blade that fallen from Arya’s hand. “She killed him, your Grace. No way she would have this otherwise.”

“Arya!” Daenerys lightly shook her shoulders when she hadn’t found a pulse, desperate to rouse her.

“..not now,” Arya muttered, “…rest when… fall..”

Daenerys bit back a sob of relief as Jarek lifted Arya into his arms and started carrying her back.

 

………

AN2: I did have some inspiration for the end portion of Arya’s ‘death-walk’. Kudos to anyone who can guess what that was.

 

Chapter Text

POV: Dany/Arya, multiple switches

 

……...

 

6 weeks ago-

 

Two half-empty wine glasses sat on the oaken table beside a small, empty leather box.

‘Are you asking me to marry you, Arya Stark?’

Daenerys deftly pulled at small buckles and straps until leather and chain hit the floor, her lips pressed against the corner of Arya’s mouth before she turned her attention to the small buttons clasping her wolf’s linen shirt, and the laces cinching her trousers.

‘I just.. would you be willing to pretend to?’

Her breath caught as she felt a sharp nip at her neck, and her knees weakened for a moment before she regained herself and shoved Arya roughly down on the bed, skin sliding against skin as she found purchase astride the assassin-turned-knight. Velvet hands met calloused, and pressed them down into silk sheets.

‘Is that truly all you want?’

The Dragon Queen took what was hers, with lips, tongue, and teeth. She trailed kisses over ridged scars and fading bruises, while tightening her grip on hands that had cracked bone and shed blood as effortlessly as she had waved away handmaids.

‘…no. It’s not.’

She felt an instinctive buck beneath her and tightened her thighs, her teeth grazing sensitive skin as she felt Arya’s restraint. It was a heady rush, undulating over death’s right hand, feeling the barely constrained power under her heat as she danced in and out of Arya’s skilled hands. To rule a kingdom was her birthright; to rule the killer Stark’s heart was her shameless pleasure.

‘Then again – do you wish to be my consort, Arya Stark?’

A pleasure that governed every move she made as she held Arya’s gaze while she felt her tense and tremble, the wolf’s breath heavy even as her own body tightened on the cusp of a shudder.

‘…the only worthy bride price I could ever offer would be paid in blood.’

They’re quiet for long moments after, tangled in a sprawl under twisted sheets. Arya wrapped her arms tightly around Dany’s shoulders, and pressed her lips to flushed skin beneath a curtained veil of silver hair.

‘That blood is already more than most would be capable of paying, Wolf.’

“I want us to go back north for the ceremony, when this is over. To the godswood.” Daenerys said, stretching her long limbs before tracing a fingertip along the curve of Arya’s jaw, “your family is there.”

Our family,” Arya corrected gently, considering. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Dany gave a small nod. “I have no living kin elsewhere. And I’ve endured the excruciating pageantry of two politically-based marriages already. Neither of which ended well.” She felt Arya’s fingers run through her hair and sighed softly. “This is entirely different.”

Arya’s brow furrowed. “Westeros is not nearly as avant garde as Essos. Once the people find out, they may-”

Daenerys pressed a finger to Arya’s lips. “I rule Westeros, and in this shall do as I please.”

Westeros wouldn’t likely be ready for her to introduce the Dornish laws of equal primogeniture as standard across all Seven Kingdoms either, yet she fully intended to do so. Power was wasted if not spent as the currency required for change; and there was no side of the Narrow Sea that would not feel the wake of Daenerys Stormborn’s reigning turbulence. Once her time had passed, the histories could write whatever they saw fit about her rule - but it would not contribute to the archaic patriarchal ‘traditions’ that had made so many women in the land slaves in all but name.

Arya kissed her fingertip, steel eyes soft.

Tomorrow she and Arya would meet with Missandei, Tyrion, and Varys, and she would advise them of their parts in carrying out Arya’s plan. Then, she would surrender herself and take a new name, and learn how to become one of the phantoms Arya was so expert in conjuring.

But for this night, she was still Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and Lord Protector of the Realm. And she would take what was hers, again.

 

………

Present-

 

Daenerys sat on a small wooden stool beside the great ashen table that held Arya’s still frame, the cloth in her hand pressed to Arya’s side.

It had been difficult to find the wound at first; the lower half of Arya’s tunic had been soaked in blood. Only when she and Jarek had stripped it away had she found the telltale tear in the linen shirt underneath, and the deep puncture that was slowly ebbing her life away.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not again.

‘None of it even matters. I carry death with me. Everyone I’ve ever truly loved has died.’ Arya had told her that once, shortly after they’d become lovers in Winterfell. Little did she know that Daenerys had lived under much the same cruel curse – everyone she truly loved, with the exception of Missandei, had already met their end. Some before they had even drawn breath, she thought to herself, remembering the son who’d died within her so long ago.

No more. The cycle had to end.

She leaned over, hovering her cheek above Arya’s mouth until she could feel the reassuring warmth of breath. She turned a little and kissed the wolf’s cool lips. She hadn’t even felt the rising of the hot tears that fell on Arya’s face, but shook off what remained of them as she held her head up and squared her shoulders. “You listen to me, Arya Stark,” she spoke under her long-practiced mantle of command. “You will not go to him. The Many-Faced God can’t have you; you are promised to me.” She took Arya’s left hand in hers, brushing her thumb over the silver band studded with blue sapphires she’d slid on her finger before they’d ever left the Red Keep; complementary to her own.

We are ice and fire, you and I.

 

……..

 

Arya sat beneath the weirwood tree, running a soft, oiled cloth down the length of Ice. The air was warm and still, and the sun flickered strangely through the canopy of trees above her. “Winter is coming,” she muttered to herself. “It’s already stealing the light.”

She felt warm drops of water hit her face as she tended the Stark ancestral blade, and looked up at the uncertain sky, expecting to see dark clouds rolling in. There were none to be found; only the waning sun that struggled to hold its light. She wiped her face with the back of her hand, and set back to her task.

The approach was soundless, but she saw the figure reflected in the wide, shining blade regardless. “Is it time, then?” she asked.

The dark-haired bannerman nodded. “It is, Lord Stark. The guests have all gathered, and the feast is prepared. They await only you, now.”

“I see.” She set the cloth down and slid Ice into its sheath. “Tell them I’m on my way.”

The man bowed respectfully. “Of course.” He turned and walked away.

Arya stood up, lifting Ice reverently. The greatsword, nearly as tall as she herself was, felt inexplicably light in her hands as she settled it over her shoulder beneath the crossguard, her left hand comfortably gripping the hilt.

Crisp leaves crunched underfoot as she made her way through the Godswood toward Winterfell. As she drew closer, night started to fall, despite the ambivalent sun refusing to leave its wavering stronghold in the darkening sky. She began to hear faint strings of music, and when she stepped out of the thicket beside the north gate, she could see the towers and keeps of Winterfell alight with candles.

 

……..

 

The door to the safehouse burst open as Jarek barrelled his way through, his two massive arms struggling to hold a short bull of a man who fought him at every turn. The smell of tavern smoke and wine permeated the stale air, and neanderthal grunts chased by dockworker curses broke the somber quiet. “Found him just a few blocks away,” Jarek said through a newly-bruised jaw. “Wandering out of the Rose and Crown.”

“Jarek!” Daenerys cried out. “You were supposed to find a Maester, not a…”

Her protests died on her lips as she heard the clinking of chains and saw red-stained teeth beneath an angry sneer.

By the gods –

The thick-chested Archmaester paused when he saw her, then lowered his beefy fist. Jarek took advantage of the man’s distraction and twisted his arm up behind his back, then pushed him down to his knees.

-he found Marwyn.

Marwyn’s bloodshot eyes squinted as he looked up at the persona Daenerys wore, as if he was somehow trying to see beyond what his eyes were perceiving. Finally he spoke in a gruff voice: “So it’s you, then.”

Daenerys raised a dark eyebrow. “Perhaps. Who am I?”

The old mastiff just nodded, as if he was sure regardless of any word she spoke. “I saw you like this in the obsidian, years ago. Before they took it from me. I crossed the Narrow Sea to seek you out, in the days before prophecy was fulfilled. But by the time I reached Meereen, you had flown off on a dragon, and none knew if you would live to return.” He paused. “Seems prophecy carried on just fine without my help, regardless.”

He does know who I am, then. Her tinted eyes glanced up to her honor guard. “Jarek, release him.”

She turned her attention back to the man who had eluded them ever since they’d arrived in Oldtown. “We need your help, Marwyn. In more matters than one. You do have a silver link on your chain.” She turned aside so he could see Arya’s prone form, her hand still pressed to her side as the cloth began to slowly seep red.

The heavyset Archmaester rose to his feet, stepping in beside Daenerys while Jarek loomed close behind. His breath stank of sourleaf, but the inebriated fog that had surrounded him seemed to instantly dissipate. “A stab wound, then?”

“Yes.”

“You were smart to keep it open. Most close the wound straight after, never checking to see what else besides blood they may be keeping stitched up inside.”

Daenerys had seen the aftermath of enough battles to know that gruesome truth.

“Tell me what you can about the blade that did this. Once you pull your hand back, I don’t want to waste valuable time guessing. Was it straight or curved? Spined? Was it poisoned?”

The disguised queen shook her head. “We never saw the blade, but from looking at the entry wound I’d say it was straight. No jagged tearing to indicate spines. And even if it was coated in poison it wouldn’t matter - she has a tolerance to most.”

Marwyn stiffened at that, his countenance turning grim. “There’s only one faction I know of that has that kind of skill and practice with poisons. Your Grace,” he shook his head, “l won’t do it. Bad enough the Citadel ever got into bed with them in the first place. Let this one go.”

“You will do it. And if you truly know who I am, you will not question me again.”

The mastiff’s jaw clenched. “If you would let me tell you what they’ve done, and what else they plan to do with those damned grey sheep, you’d think different. It’s as much for your sake-”

“I have every idea, and that’s why I am here.” Dany’s eyes hardened, and her voice took on a cold edge as she cut him off. “And that’s why she is here with me, after having already killed the rest.”

The old Mage’s eyes widened just a little at that.

“Now do what you must. Or I’ll use the blade she took from Pate’s corpse and kill you myself.”

 

……..

 

Arya strode through the shadowy grounds, making her way towards the Great Hall. Warm drops hit her face once more, and she paused. She looked up, again expecting rain, and saw nothing but deep twilight, with the faint sun in place of the moon. She stared at it, enchanted.

“Lord Stark,” the northern bannerman was at Arya’s side once more. “Is something wrong?”

“That pale sun is beautiful,” Arya said reverently. “It’s been following me, even through nightfall.” Entranced, she reached up a hand, as if trying to grasp it.

“Your guests are still waiting, Lord Stark.” The bannerman insisted. “And the sun will never be yours; it belongs to the entire world.”

Arya’s brow creased as she started across the frosted grass once again, the pelt around Ice’s sheath tickling her cheek. Could not the Lord of Winterfell have the sun? Why else would it follow her?

She started up the steps of the Great Hall, the once-distant music now loud and lively. The air became thick with delicious smells, rich and hearty and full of spice. Laughter echoed behind the heavy wooden doors, and she couldn’t help but smile. It would be good to see everyone.

The great doors opened before her, and two figures stepped out, closing the doors behind themselves. Even in the dark, she knew exactly who had come to greet her.

“Jon!” Arya ran up the remaining steps and threw her arms around him, letting Ice fall to the wayside. “I’ve missed you so much, brother,” she said, burying her face against his neck.

Jon smiled, the way he always used to back before he’d left for the Wall. “I’ve missed you too,” he said with a chuckle, smoothing her back. “But I’m not your brother, remember?”

Arya pulled back, distressed. “Yes you are.” She looked at the red-headed woman beside him. “Tell him that it doesn’t matter what my bloody mother says. He’s my brother, a Stark as much as any of us.” She turned and lifted Ice back up again. “Do you see Jon? I’m Lord Stark now. No one will ever call you a bastard again; I won’t allow it.”

The fiery woman at his side sighed. “Oh Jon. She’s just like you were at first – she knows nothin’.”

“It’s not her fault, Ygritte.” He shook his head. “She shouldn’t be here yet.”

“What do you mean?” Arya asked. “There’s a feast tonight. The Lord Stark is supposed to attend. I’m already late.”

“No,” Jon said softly. “You’re not the Lord Stark. That was your father. And I’m sorry, but you can’t go in there.”

 

………

 

Daenerys closed the last suture with a slight tremor in her hand. Although the Archmaester had finally deferred to her authority and did what he could for Arya, his hands were too large to grant him any finesse with a needle. So Dany had taken over at the very end, stitching Arya’s wound closed herself, all while praying to the old gods.

“I won’t lie,” Marwyn said, biting down on a sourleaf. “I’ve seen worse, but not much.”

Dany ignored the doubt in his words as much as she ignored Arya’s deathly pallor. For all his knowledge and wisdom, in this the man was a fool. He didn’t know Arya the way she did.

“So what next?” She asked tersely.

“Now we wait.” He said. “See if she manages to wake up again.” He licked some red foam from his lip. “Being one of them, she’ll have some old magic in her blood. Might give her a more sporting chance.”

Dany let out a slow breath and closed her eyes, her shoulders starting to sag. It had all been temporarily easier when she’d had tasks to set her hands to; when she could act rather than think.

“You said you needed my help,” Marwyn said, breaking her reverie as he continued chewing his foul leaf. “And although I’m a difficult man to surprise, you and your man over there,” he jerked his thumb over in Jarek’s direction, “have done just that. What is the disguised ruler of the Seven Kingdoms doing here, of all places?”

“Was I supposed to sit idly on the Iron Throne and wait for the Faceless Men to kill me while the Citadel did the same to my dragons?”

“No. I just didn’t expect any of that would be something you would come to deal with yourself.”

“Nor did you expect that I even knew about any of it. You certainly didn’t come to me with any word of what’s been happening here. Tell me Archmaester,” she regarded him with thinly veiled displeasure, “if you are as opposed to the Citadel’s plans as I am told, why didn’t you leave long ago? You sought me out once, why not again?”

The burly Mage looked his age then, and he let out a sigh. “Because things had changed here, for a while. When the Wight War broke out, people could no longer ignore the existence of forces beyond our world. For all of the horror it wrought, it was also a catalyst for great change. Questions were finally being asked, not only by the novices, but by my colleagues as well. Artifacts long neglected in the vault were being examined. A Valyrian Steel link was no longer scorned.”

“And what changed?” Daenerys asked.

“Time passed, is all. Enough time to settle back into old ways of thinking. The threat that held the entire continent in thrall was gone, and many began to question what exactly happened up in the north. The southern kingdoms were never touched by the undead, and although they couldn’t deny that you and your dragons played a key role in stopping whatever it was, the nature of that evil was debated. Dragon’s fire will win any war, whether it be with the living or otherwise. And once again, the grey sheep of the Citadel nullified the importance of magic, and went back to their grand design of creating a world where it doesn’t exist.”

Dany was quiet a moment, watching the slow rise and fall of Arya’s chest. Then: “How many others were working with the Citadel against me?”

Marwyn coughed, then spit out a wad of leafy red phlegm. “I honestly can’t say, your Grace. Archmaester Perestan was never kindly disposed towards me on the best of days. I was never a part of that snake’s inner circle. Even less so when he took up with the Faceless Men.”

So he won’t be able to tell me just how far this all reaches. No matter.

“One more thing, Archmaester,” Daenerys said coolly. “What are they doing with all of the Valyrian Steel they’ve gathered?”

“The same thing they’ve done with every magical artifact they seize. Either destroy it, or turn around and use it for their own gain all while pretending it doesn’t exist.”

 

………                 

 

“I… I’m not the Lord Stark?” Arya asked, confused.

“No,” he said gently. “That’s who you wanted to be, once. You loved your father so much you wanted to be just like him, when you were small.”

“I did love him,” Arya said quietly, as something nudged her memory.

“Can you remember who you are now?”

Arya raked a hand through her hair. “Who I am…” Ice vanished from her hand, and the boiled leather and chain of House Stark dissipated from her form leaving a grubby set of boy’s clothes in their stead. “Arry.” She grinned. “I’m an orphan boy.”

Jon’s eyes were kind as he shook his head. “Once, long ago, you were for a while, but not anymore.”

“Oh,” Arya frowned, thinking. A heavy set of battered plate armor pulled from the ether and settled on her, and a helmet forged into the shape of a snarling hound held under the crook of her arm. “This?” Arya asked. “Is this who I am, Jon?”

“No… that’s who you’re afraid of being. That was a long time ago, too.”

Arya sighed. “There’s too many of them in my head, Jon. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just go inside and see everyone.” She pushed forward.

“No, Arya.” He gripped her shoulders, halting her. “This is important. You don’t understand what you’re doing. If you step in there, you can never come back out.”

 

……..

 

The dragon rose within Daenerys then, not with heat and rage as it usually did, but with a cold, calculated certainty.

I saved them. I took what was mine, but also gave all I had in protecting it. I manned the front lines with my dragons, while they hid behind safe walls casting stones. What thanks do they offer me? While feigning allegiance they plan my murder. They plan the murder of my children. All so they can build a world that is not mine.

She brushed a lock of Arya’s hair from her clammy brow.

We’ve done things your way up to now, and you have kept your word in all things, my wolf. But now your role in this is finished. I know my words, as you know yours – and there are some who need to be reminded of them.

Fire and Blood.

“Leave now, Archmaester Marwyn,” she said quietly. “Take anything you hold dear from the Isle of Ravens, and get out of Oldtown. Tell no one of what you’ve seen here, on pain of death.”

The Archmaester pulled out another sourleaf, then bowed his head. “As you will,” he said gruffly as he started toward the door.

“Head north to King’s Landing, you’ll have a place in the Red Keep along with Maester Tarly if you wish to further serve me. If not, sail away across the Narrow Sea. But do not stay here any longer.”

The old bull scratched a hairy ear. “I hold no further attachment to this place, but… may I ask why, your Grace?”

She turned to look at him over her shoulder, exuding cold, regal dispassion. “Let’s just say I have it on good authority that the Dragon Queen’s army is due to march on the Citadel.”

 

…………

 

Arya turned away from Jon, scratching her side. It pricked and stung and itched, no matter how hard she pressed.

“Who are you?” Jon asked again.

She let out a slow breath as a cloak of black and white wrapped around her, a dichotomous hood obscuring her face. “I remember.” She said gravely. “This is what I am.”

The bannerman appeared again, beside her, his eyes glowing with an ethereal light as his lips curled into a thin smile. “Yes,” he said. “That is who you are. And now it’s time to join your guests. Some of them have been waiting a very long time.”

“Arya, don’t listen to him. That is not who you are anymore!”

There was a snarl as the bannerman lunged forward, knocking Jon backward against the door. “This doesn’t concern you, boy. She is mine.”

“Arya.” Jon looked up at her. “You’re not this anymore.” He gestured to the hood that shadowed her features. “You don’t belong to him anymore!” he spat at the being in bannerman attire. “You don’t want to go in there, you want to go back to her!”

Her?

Puzzled, Arya took a step back and pulled down her hood. Her side stitched, and she nearly doubled over trying to temper it with a firm grip. Hunched, she looked up at the winter sky, the sun still shimmering amongst the silver stars. Arya’s eyes softened as she watched the incandescent orb, and once again she found herself reaching up, trying to touch it.

“You see?” Jon said, getting back to his feet. “She’s been with you this whole time, trying to guide you back home.”

The bannerman sneered. “I told you that the sun will never be yours.”

“That’s alright,” Arya said, straightening up again, now in dark gray leather embossed with a direwolf over Bear’s light alloy chainmail. “I will be hers.”

Jon smiled. “Now you remember.”

Steel eyes looked over at blue-grey eyes under a fringe of wild red hair. “Take care of him for me? Until I make it back one day?”

“I always do,” the wildling said with a smile.

“Jon.” Arya swallowed a lump in her throat. “I love you.”

The world became warm and bright as the sun surrounded and enveloped her, lifting her up through the midnight sky.

I love you too Arya – always.

 

……..

 

Daenerys dozed lightly, her hand still loosely curled around the wolf’s and her head resting on her chest. The slow yet steady beat of Arya’s heart had eventually lulled her, despite her efforts at vigilance. The day had just been too much.

She was roused by a brush on the back of her hand, warm and soft, followed by a gentle grip. When she opened her eyes, she saw grey ones staring back at her, and the familiar tug of a grin.

 

………

 

AN: Dany being symbolized by the sun is a humble homage to a favorite fic of mine, When the Sun Rises in the East by prplmunky/Ariadne’s Folly, in which Dany is at one point referred to as the rising eastern sun.

For my Between the Lines readers: I have received numerous comments and PMs requesting that I make some of my one shots into fully fledged fics. As Allegiance is wrapping up, I have decided that I am going to go ahead and do that once it’s complete. Please drop me a line letting me know which ficlet you’d like to see expanded upon. The one with the most ‘votes’ will be selected. It will not be an epic fic like this one, but more in the 10k word range. **For my shy lurkers - if you go to fanfiction.net and check my profile, I have set up a poll. You can vote there, while still hiding in the happy shadows**

Chapter Text

AN: One last time skip, my dear readers.

 

POV:   Arya

 

……….

 

Five weeks ago-

 

“A bloody faceless man?!”

Arya nodded. “Yes.”

Jarek shook his head incredulously. “I knew that there was always somethin’ different about you, but by the Seven, I thought those were just stories. Things angry mothers threaten their children with when they’re being unruly little bastards.”

“What kind of mother would threaten their child with stories about the faceless men?”

Jarek grinned wryly and reached for his stein. “Mine did.”

Arya snorted derisively. “Seven hells, you must have driven her half-mad. Did it work?”

“Oh yeah.” Jarek took a long drink. “A little too well, even. First time she mentioned them I could barely sleep for a week.” He paused, and then smirked. “If my son is half the terror I was, I’ll do the same damn thing to him. And if the little bugger doesn’t believe me, I’ll just have you come along and show him the right of it.”

“So you think it’s going to be a boy, then?” Arya asked, smoothly changing the topic of conversation before she was inevitably asked to demonstrate her ability like some kind of party favor.

“Laelia thinks so. Last letter she sent, she mentioned the midwife said she’s ‘carrying low’, whatever that means. I never really bought into those omens, but she’s convinced.”

Arya took a swig of ale, thoughtful. “Have you figured out a name for him yet?”

“No, not yet.” Jarek strode over to the aged cask and refilled his mug. “Strange, isn’t it? A man usually has the name of his first son chosen before he so much as has a wife to mother the boy. But every time I try to decide on one, nothing seems to fit. It’s like my mind just goes blank.”

“…and then you wake up hours later on the floor, still clutching your empty tankard.” Arya deadpanned.

“That only happened the once!” Jarek scowled. “And it was my name day.”

Arya chuckled. “The brewmasters look forward to your name day with the same anticipation as sailors do dockside brothels.”

“Don’t cheapen my love for beer that way, Wolf. Don’t sully something so beautiful and pure.” He wrapped both oversized hands around his tankard and looked down at the amber brew in feigned wonderment.

Arya gave him a hearty smack on the back. “Fear not, I’m not one to interfere with true love. Speaking of which,” Arya eyed him levelly, “I have a serious question to ask you.”

Jarek set his drink aside and turned to face her, the merriment evaporating from his features. “What is it?”

Arya tilted her head towards his stein. “Think you know enough about that stuff to play a convincing ale merchant for a while?”

 

…….

 

Arya winced as a set of knuckles rapped across the back of her head. “You fell out of accent,” Missandei said sweetly.

“Geeze!” The wolf rubbed her head. “I only said ‘ok’!”

“You only said ‘ok’ without a Qohorik inflection,” Missandei corrected her. “You did tell me to do that anytime you erred.”

It was true; she had. She would be leading Daenerys straight into the lion’s den, where one lapse could cost them both their lives. Many of the most brilliant, educated minds in all of Westeros were at the Citadel, and to think they would be deceived as easily as the rest of the masses would be a grave error indeed. Not to mention the fact that there would be four faceless men hidden amongst them, all playing their own mummeries just as well as she would. She could not afford to slip, even once.

Arya glowered. “Well… you don’t have to enjoy it so much.”

“Of course not.” Missandei bowed her head, hiding a small smile. “I would never.”

Daenerys laughed then, her eyes smiling as she leaned up to kiss Arya’s cheek. “Don’t worry Missandei, Arik is just pouting,” she said with a perfect accent.

Missandei raised her eyebrows. “You’re catching on very quickly, your Grace. That was flawless.”

Arya huffed good-naturedly. “It seems Daniah is a bit of a show off.”

Daenerys winked. “What can I say, Arik? You married an exceptional woman.”

Arya grinned despite herself, indulging in a moment of genuine admiration. It was absolute truth wrapped in a jest. When Arya had presented Dany with their new identities, the queen had set herself to own her conjured persona with as much surety as the legacy she was born into. She was Daniah, and she was determined to put an end to the threats that had hung over Daenerys Targaryen for so long.

She was incredible.

There was a knock on the lower half of the royal apartment’s great wooden door, and a moment later Tyrion came in, holding what was once Dark Sister. “It’s finished, your Grace,” he said, setting the ancestral sword down on the oak table. “Bear forged a new hilt, and added a light tint to the blade. I’ve had the original locked up in the treasury, until you return. I think I may have seen the poor man shed a tear, having to dismantle such an exquisite heirloom.”

The diminutive Lannister looked up at Arya. “Good killer, Maester Tarly has a compound that will remove the chroma from the blade. He’s packing some along with the drops Daenerys will be using to darken her eyes, if you happen to need it.”

“Thank you, Tyrion,” both Dany and Arya said in unison, with impeccable Qohorik lilts.

The dwarf’s eyes widened a little, and he took a step back. “That is entirely unnerving, just so you know.” He blinked twice, and gave his head a small shake. “Your Grace, before I forget – Varys’ little birds have started to sing their songs. The name of Arik Strake, legendary smith is passing through Oldtown already, and should reach the ears of deceitful old men in short order.”

Arya stepped into a sweeping bow. “I try to stay humble,” she said in a smooth lowered voice, “but I can’t help it if I am the best.”

Tyrion grinned wickedly. “Mr. Strake is quite a devil, isn’t he? I like him already. Perhaps I can convert him to the worship of the god of tits and wine?”

Arya cleared her throat. “Mr. Strake is a married man. It’s very much in his best interest to avoid the worship of any false deity’s… assets.”

“It is that wisdom which has allowed Mr. Strake to keep his wife,” Daenerys remarked with a pointed look at the dwarf.

Tyrion held up his hands in mock surrender. “In my defense, I was going to try to convert Daniah as well. I firmly believe in equal opportunity endowment appreciation.”

Daenerys just shook her head, trying not to smile.

“And now that my evangelizing has put everyone in such a good mood, there is one other thing we need to discuss, your Grace.”

“And what is that, Tyrion?” Daenerys asked warily.

“Well, as I was saying,” he gave an uncomfortable cough, “Varys’ little birds have been hard at work. But it seems he has taken some.. liberties .. with the ruse explaining your absence.”

Daenerys’ eyes narrowed. “What kind of liberties, Tyrion?”

The Hand just sighed.

 

……..

 

“With child? You’ve gone and told the entire realm that I am locked away with child?!”

Arya soberly watched the exchange in the small council chamber, and for a moment, almost felt bad for the cringing Spider.

“Your Grace, let me assure you it was only in service to the realm that I took this initiative.”

“How?! Please Varys, explain to me how you are serving the realm in this!”

The Spider’s lips drew into a thin line. “Your Grace, I know that any discussion of an heir is a delicate matter, at best.”

“Delicate… I can not have a child, Varys! A truth that you’ve well known for a while now. Along with the fact that I am taking Arya as my consort once we’ve returned from Oldtown!”

“Exactly, your Grace. And that is why it is so entirely perfect.” He sighed. “It’s not just you that we have to hide, Daenerys – it’s Arya as well. She’s not just a courtly enigma who can come and go without notice, anymore. She’s a Stark, the Northern Knight, and your known paramour.”

Arya shrugged. “Which is exactly why it would be entirely logical for me to fall ill along with her.”

He turned to face her. “If we were talking about anyone else, that would be reasonable enough, yes. But we are talking about the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. A ruler who currently, as mentioned, has no heir. If she is believed to be suffering from an ailment dire enough to keep her confined to her chambers for any length of time, how long do you think it will take for the wolves to start sniffing at the door?” He paused, then: “pardon my analogy.”

Arya waved off the offense, her brow furrowing. This was part of that damned game of thrones Daenerys spoke of, the one that she didn’t understand and wanted no part of.

“So if I’m indisposed due to carrying a child, it will be viewed as a matter that is strengthening my empire rather than leaving it vulnerable.” Daenerys said reluctantly, breaking the terse silence.

“Precisely, your Grace.”

“I still don’t see how that helps in concealing Arya.”

Visibly relaxing now that that Queen’s onslaught was subsiding, Varys clicked his tongue. “Love is a cruel mistress, your Grace. Once word of your condition has gotten out, no one will question Arya Stark’s accompanying absence. Heartbreak is a terrible thing, and often prompts solitude.”

Arya inwardly groaned. For all of its evils, being a Faceless Man had still been easier than all of this.

 

……..

 

Present-

 

Arya woke to a welcome cooling sensation on her brow, and opened her eyes to see Dany pressing a cloth to her forehead. “You know,” she said, her voice hoarse, “I think I remember my mother doing that once. Right before I got sick on her.”

Violet eyes tinged with worry never faltered. “That would require you to eat something. Trying to scare me away, Wolf?”

“No,” Arya swallowed thickly, trying to break through her disorientation. “You don’t scare that easily.” She reached a clumsy hand up, brushing her thumb across Daenerys’ cheek below her eye. “You stopped using the drops. Daniah’s fading.”

“Do you miss her?” Dany asked, gently playful.

Arya took a slow breath. “No. Not even for a minute.”

She felt Dany’s hand take her own. “How long have we been here?” she asked. “How long have I been sleeping?”

“Two days now, on both counts.” Daenerys answered softly. “What’s the last thing you can remember?”

Arya’s brow creased as disjointed images assaulted her mind: Jaqen with the face of an old man; a boy she’d killed when she was just a child; her mother, as some sort of ghoul; Jon with a red-headed woman, under the flickering sun.

“I remember walking with the dead, and you were the sun, pale and beautiful in the night sky,” she mumbled as she closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, another day had passed and Daniah’s dark locks had been washed away and replaced by Daenerys’ silver tresses once more. She managed to sit up and drink some water without choking, and was able to hold her fleeting thoughts a little more steadily. There was pain – deep, searing pain – but Arya knew its sharp presence was a good sign.

A body only protested so vehemently against something it knew it would live through.

“Where’s Jarek?” She asked, finally cognizant enough to look around the storefront.

“I needed him to send out another raven to Tyrion,” Daenerys answered. “He’ll be back soon.”

“He shouldn’t be leaving you,” Arya groused. “That’s why I brought him. In case something like this happened.”

“You worry too much,” Daenerys’ gentle yet firm hand pushed her back down when she tried to sit up. “Rest. Everything will be alright.”

And although Arya was inclined to argue the point, her body overruled her mind and obeyed her Queen’s orders.

 

……..

 

For the first time in over a week, Arya walked out of the quiet safehouse that had nearly become her crypt. Her steps were slow and ginger, and they pained her more than she would ever let on, but she took each with the same stubborn pride that had driven her throughout her entire life.

Daenerys’ army had finally reached Oldtown. They would meet with Grey Worm outside of the Citadel, where Daenerys would take over command and have the entire institution seized, and every Archmaester arrested on charges of treason. Formal trials would be held once they returned to King’s Landing, after which the Dragon Queen would decide just what the future of the Citadel would be.

Jarek led them down the thoroughfare, every inch a Targaryen Honor Guard once more. The streets were empty, Daenerys’ Unsullied vanguard had seen to that, and Arya was grateful for their efforts. Although she knew the grave sentence of the Faceless Men no longer loomed over Dany, old habits were hard to break – and she did not have the strength or fortitude now to gauge every passerby for any possible threat. That was all being spent just placing one foot in front of the other.

“Can you do this?” Daenerys asked from beside her, concern evident even through the well-practiced regality she wore.

Arya gave a small nod, even as she felt herself start to break into a sweat. “I’ll be alright,” she said. “We don’t have far to go.”

As they passed a familiar crossroad all three hesitated, and Arya heard an echo that drove in like a splinter in her mind.

‘Look at yourself, dammit! You are mine, regardless of who sired you!’

“Wolf?” Jarek’s baritone snapped Arya out of her daze.

“It was there, wasn’t it?” She raked a hand through her hair. “That was where you two found me.”

The big man nodded, and Dany’s eyes said more than words ever could.

Never again. Once we walk past, I’ll never have to see this place again. Nothing he said meant anything. Arya steeled herself, saying nothing, and continued marching forward.

The trio spent a few moments in companionable silence, and Arya felt a bead of sweat trail down her temple as she grit her teeth and picked up her pace, despite worried glances from Daenerys and Jarek both. But before either could voice a protest, she abruptly halted, raising a hand. They each paused, still conditioned to working in unison with her. “Do you hear that?” she asked.

“Sounds like a large carriage, coming from the east.” Daenerys said after a moment. “But that shouldn’t be; I ordered my men to keep these streets cleared.”

“Exactly,” Arya said, eyes narrowing. “Something’s not right.” She drew Dominus, and glanced over at Jarek. “Be ready. Sounds like it’s heading this way.”

Jarek rested his hand on the hilt of his bastard sword in response.

It came around the bend then, a black and red coach with three-headed dragon banners streaming, accompanied by twoscore men. Almost simultaneously, they each let out a sigh of relief. Arya sheathed the Valyrian blade, and, barely resisting the urge to buckle, thanked the old gods.

“Your Grace!” A soldier called out, saluting as the carriage drew near. “We’ve come to escort you to the Citadel.”

“And who sent you to do so?” Daenerys asked.

“Commander Grey Worm, your Grace,” another soldier answered as he opened the coach door, then bowed.

Only Arya noticed the slight shift in Dany’s bearing that indicated her assuagement. “Very well,” she said, motioning for Arya and Jarek to follow her in.

The step was steep, and it was only thanks to a helpful shove from Jarek that Arya was able to make it inside the cabin. Once within, she collapsed down on the cushioned bench next to Daenerys, her head tilted back as she fought to steady her ragged breathing. As Jarek settled across from them, the Queen’s hand was on her immediately, her normally heated touch feeling unexpectedly temperate.

“I’m alright Dany,” Arya said, sensing the unspoken dread that rose from the dragon beside her. “I promise. It looks worse than it really is.”

There was a telltale clatter of hooves on cobblestone, and the carriage started forward, shuffling its occupants.

Never again, Arya repeated to herself. It’s almost through, and then I’ll never have to see this godforsaken place again.

“Arya,” Jarek said quietly, “tell me again, how do we get from the crossroads to the Citadel?”

Arya? She thought hazily to herself. He never calls me ‘Arya’. It’s always been Wolf, ever since we first met on the road to Wintefell.

“From the crossroads.. you just hang two rights, then head straight until you see the Sphinxes.”

“That’s what I thought,” he said, hardening. “And these whoresons just turned us left.”

Seven hells.

“Dany,” Arya whispered, reaching for Dominus. “Tell them to stop.”

Eyes widening, Daenerys pulled aside the thick velvet curtain and slid her hand out the cabin window, motioning for a halt. After an unsettling delay, there was finally an unceremonious jerk, and the coach slowed to a standstill. “Is everything alright, your Grace?” A muffled voice called from outside.

Arya slid her hand up the hem of Dany’s dress, then deftly ran it up her calf to her thigh, until she reached the blade that she knew the Queen kept strapped there. She took the blade, then signalled Dany to move behind her and Jarek. She took a deep breath, and gave Jarek a nod.

The Reachman opened the coach door, barrelling out and swinging his sword in a vicious half-moon in front of him. There were strangled, gurgling cries as four men fell cleaved, and he wasted no time in hacking through two more who approached. Once a bloodied path was clear, Arya led Dany out of the carriage, Dominus drawn.

“Who are you?” Daenerys demanded, as the large group of remaining men dressed as her soldiers converged around them. “Answer me!”

“Who we are doesn’t matter, your Grace. You will come to no harm with us.”

“Jarek, down!” Arya called out, tossing the dagger she’d taken into the throat of a false soldier who’d been coming up behind him. As her arm dropped, she felt a heavy fist hit her injured side and she crumpled, the breath knocked out of her.

No, no, no, get up, she tried to will herself, feeling blood start to seep through newly-torn stitches. Stars danced in front of her eyes, and between them she could see boots on the ground circling around Jarek.

“Kill that one,” she heard the command in distorted slow-motion, as if she were underwater. “We don’t need him.” Then she was hauled up to her feet roughly, Dominus knocked from her trembling hand.

Another fist buried itself into Arya’s stomach and she doubled over, her body going limp in the hands of her captors.

“I’m sorry, but Iron Bank will have its due, your Grace. And it demands the last of the Faceless Men.”

As Arya forced herself to look up, dazed, she saw a widening pool of blood on the uneven stones, and a blade being pulled out from the back of Jarek’s neck.

 

Chapter Text

AN: This final chapter is for DaysofFuturePast. Thank you for everything.

 

POV: Dany

 

…………

 

She’d mistaken it for her own heartbeat, thudding through the blood that rushed in her ears.

It first sounded as Jarek fell; the kind eyes she’d grown accustomed to seeing throughout their mission in Oldtown dimming, and then staring lifelessly at the gilded wheels of the Targaryen coach. She knelt beside him, hands bloodying, pressing to find any sign of a pulse even though she knew it was hopeless. It sounded again as strong hands lifted her, pulling her away from her fallen guard even as the blood that had started to pool around him stained the hem of her dress. Finally, it sounded a third time as she watched the mercenaries from the Iron Bank haul Arya to her feet, fists doubling her over as her arms were held behind her back.

Far too steady to be her own erratic heartbeat, it was in fact the sound of winged death.

She saw it reflected in the widening eyes of the men left standing; the absolute terror of her eldest child winging above them. She heard the low thrum of his massive wings cutting through the sky, a gust of his turbulence tousling her silver hair over her shoulders.

Drogon.

Something snapped within her then, something ancient and buried and furious, and she felt him as much as saw him; the embodiment of rage and inferno.

We will kill them all.

The grip that had held her slackened, and large men serving Iron masters suddenly became small beneath the dragon’s shadow. They fell back together, staring up in dread and massing as if to secure some kind of safety in their numbers.

“Release her.” Daenerys commanded. “Now.”

Arya was dropped unceremoniously to the ground as courage failed. With a noticeable tremor in her hand, she picked both herself and Dominus back up, and staggered over to Dany’s side.

Silk ruffled and small rocks skittered across cobblestone as Drogon began his descent, his ire seemingly fueled by her own.

“Please, your Grace,” the begging began. “We were never going to hurt you-”

“No.” Daenerys cut him off coldly. “You only killed my honor guard, and tried to abduct myknight.”

“Your Grace, we had no choice, please, the Iron Bank ordered-”

His pleas were cut short as fire made flesh landed beside his tiny mother, crimson eyes glittering with anticipation that rose up from his bellows. Daenerys rested a delicate hand on his onyx scales, connecting them through touch as well as shared desire.

“I have a message for the Iron Bank that I’d like you to deliver for me.” The silver queen said.

An eager nod from the liar who had only moments ago re-opened Arya’s wound. “Yes, I will deliver anything you ask, please, just tell me your Grace.”

Violet eyes held steel similar to her intended consort’s as she spoke a single word: “Dracarys.”

Daenerys turned, wrapping her arms around Arya’s neck and pressing against her as flame hotter than any smith’s forge erupted from the depths of Drogon’s bowels, incinerating all that had been left standing of the Iron Bank’s mercenary company. Daenerys kept herself between Drogon and Arya, bearing the brunt of the unbearable heat that simmered around them while tormented screams sounded in a macabre orchestra before the throats they tore through scorched to ash. Arya’s eyes shut tight and she winced over Dany’s shoulder, and part of Daenerys knew it was not just from the heat – she had been just as horrified, the first time she’d seen the gruesome effects of dragonfire on men.

She was not horrified today.

Flesh and bone melted down into thick ichor, and smoke rose from charred stone. A singed carriage wheel, all that was left of the coach that had trapped them all, crackled and snapped as embers consumed its remains. There was no trace left, they were dead and gone, but thunder still pounded in Daenerys’ ears, and she and Drogon remained of a like mind –

This is not enough.

Targaryen fire running hot through her veins, she willed Drogon to still and climbed up on to his broad back. Then she leaned over, reaching down a hand, and silently commanded Arya to ascend with her.

Arya looked up, uncertain, then began to carefully clamber up his scaled limbs until she was settled behind Daenerys, arms wrapped around the petite queen’s waist. She felt a flash of resistance from her massive son; his displeasure as he recognized his second rider as a former interloper who had once sparred against his own sovereign consciousness. This is my will, Daenerys pressed him through the Valyrian fissure that had rent between them, blood calling to blood.

Intransigence shifted into acquiescence, and Drogon relinquished his grudge, far more invested in the wrath that exuded from his pale mother.

Fly.” Daenerys commanded him, speaking the High Valyrian she’d used ever since he was small enough to fit into the palm of her hand. The behemoth’s body tensed, coiling like a spring, and he launched himself upward, wings buffeting aerial currents until he was gliding over Oldtown. Once above, she found her army stationed in formation before the Citadel, Grey Worm alone at the forefront, awaiting her arrival as he’d been commanded. She gripped the sides of Drogon’s head, drawing his attention to the assembly below, and nudged him onward. ‘Go.’ She commanded.

Drogon dove, skimming over the Unsullied’s helms as he followed Daenerys’ prompting. Once he had passed Grey Worm, Daenerys urged him to the Citadel gates, flanked by the emerald green sphinxes that had stood since the institution was built. “Dracarys!” she cried, unleashing another blaze of destruction.

The heavy wooden doors blew open, flames feeding on thick, reinforced planks as historical stone softened, melting as if it were nothing more than butter on a brazier. Drogon flew through the smoking ruination, then veered up over Scribe’s Hearth and pivoted, heading back towards the Targaryen military.

Grey Worm!” Daenerys called out in her mother Valyrian as Drogon approached. “Now! Seize the Citadel and all of its grounds! Arrest every Maester and Archmaester, but spare the novices! Take every crate you find in the vault and cast it into the sea! We will meet you back in King’s Landing!”

The Unsullied captain gave a nod and a salute, and started calling out orders that were lost in the whistle of the wind as Drogon flapped his colossal wings drawing them up higher, faster.

They would return to King’s Landing, but not yet.

Neither dragon was satisfied.

 

………

 

They were passing over Horn Hill when Daenerys felt Arya’s weight settling against her, the former assassin’s chin resting on the queen’s shoulder as her steady breath tickled her neck.

As strong-willed as Arya was, there was a limit to what a body could endure. She’d only just started to recover from the wound that nearly took her life before it was traumatized again, all while the first person she might have considered a friend was murdered before her eyes. The absolute awe of flight had granted her a boost of adrenaline that had bolstered her for a time, but once her heart steadied its rhythm within her chest and there was no immediate threat before them, Arya could bear up no more.

She had done all that she could do. Now it was Daenerys’ turn.

Dany felt a slight twitch behind her and stilled, assessing. When she’d first taken Arya Stark into her bed, she knew that nightmares would come packaged along with her. She accepted that, understanding, as she’d had more than a few of her own in the years following the Wight War. Though it was rare for the wolf to sleep soundly enough to fall into a night terror, when she did, she was usually reliving one of the many abhorrent experiences she suffered at Harrenhal, or, occasionally, what was known across the Kingdoms as the ‘Red Wedding’.

The events of today would be added into the rotation, she knew. For both of them.

Arya’s breathing continued as a steady constant, and she remained motionless. Satisfied that she would not accidentally knock them both off of Drogon while gripped by her demons, Daenerys returned her attention to the horizon ahead. Driven by their mutual will, Drogon flew them over the patchwork landscape of Westeros with reckless speed, craving the same carnage she’d longed for ever since she’d sent Archmaester Marwyn away.

They had tried to take what was hers one too many times.

Never again.

 

………

 

The Titan started out as a speck on the edge of the Narrow Sea, ever-growing with each flap of Drogon’s wings. “Daenerys,” Arya asked softly over her shoulder, “are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

“I’m doing what I must do.” She answered, resting a heated hand over the cool one that held her waist. Else this will never end for either of us.

The sun had begun to set, painting the defiant sky over Braavos with the same hues of orange and red as the flames House Targaryen would spill on the ground below. It’s wrong for today to be so beautiful, Daenerys thought through the heady beat of her soul’s war drum. Death should have no place under the summer sun.

Fire and Ice did not speak as Drogon flew them above the sheer cliffs of the Titan, the horn of the Arsenal sounding in low, grave tones of warning as scorpions and spitfires were loaded and prepped for attack. Daenerys paid them no mind; Drogon’s agility and constant motion made him a difficult target despite his large size. They would not be able to save themselves from this.

She urged Drogon onward, toward the small island that bore the now-abandoned House of Black and White. “Dracarys!” she called out, feeling an overwhelming surge of gratification from the bonded dragon as flame cascaded, completely engulfing the temple with the ebony and weirwood doors. Drogon turned and spun, making a second pass, bellowing as much death as the house below him had once dealt. Dany felt Arya’s grip tighten around her as black smoke started to rise, and when she looked over her shoulder she saw the blaze reflected in steely eyes that betrayed no emotion. All that No One had once been there was being consumed by the same deadly heat that devoured the structure itself.

Fire and Blood.

Daenerys heard her words, feeling them come to life and begin to pulse through her.

Fire and Blood.

Both satisfied with the obliteration wrought below, Drogon veered and descended as iron bolts whistled through the air where he had been only seconds ago. He propelled forward, then rode the current until crimson eyes spotted just what it was his mother was so determined to destroy –

The Iron Bank.

Fire and Blood.

People as small as ants dashed down elegant stone steps, screaming as Drogon slowed. Daenerys watched them, detached, violet eyes as dispassionate as a god’s. “Dracarys!” She cried, loosing the hell that she refused to keep under heel.

The black goliath dipped again, avoiding another volley of steel. He breathed in, the great vacuum of his breath rocking both Daenerys and Arya on their perch astride him. His massive shoulders heaved, and fire belched forth from him with a force so violent its rupture rung in the air with a high-pitched shrill. Flames so hot they burned white fell in a holocaust, crumbling stone and softening steel into a searing syrup that started to run down the streets.

Fire and Blood.

Dracarys!” Daenerys looped Drogon around again, their vitriol resounding in perfect harmony. “Dracarys!

“Dany, stop!” Arya cried, looking down in horror as Drogon’s flames extended beyond the steaming crater that was cradling the scorched and liquefying Iron Bank. “It’s done! There’s innocent people down there, please, you need to stop him!”

Fire and Blood.

Daenerys heard Arya, but she was too quiet and small in comparison to the demanding tempo of her words and the ancient, bloodline hold she’d fallen under.

Dracarys!”

“Daenerys!” Arya roughly turned the petite woman, anchoring violet eyes that blazed with something she’d never seen before with her own, desperately trying to reach her. “Stop! It’s done! This is not you!”

Drogon swooped again, narrowly dodging a spiked bolt as he prepared to make another pass.

Fire and Blood.

“Damn it, Dany!” Arya held Daenerys’ face in her hands, stormy eyes pleading. “Turn away. You are not your father!

Something cracked in Daenerys’ eyes at that, and she hesitated.

“Dany please,” Arya’s voice softened, “let go. Don’t become what they feared.”

Daenerys’ breath caught, and the echo of her words slowly began to fade. She looked down at the wreckage below, acrid smoke stinging her eyes and the familiar, sickening tang of char and burnt flash assaulted her nostrils. She began to tremble and heave, nauseated.

Arya held her as she faltered, keeping her steady as Drogon ascended again. She could still feel the dragon at the far edges of her mind, conflicted and unsure, and she reached across the divide to impress upon him once more.

Home. King’s Landing. The Red Keep.

Reluctant yet compelled, the black death tilted towards the Narrow Sea, leaving Braavos to reel in his wake.

Aghast with the realization that something entirely terrible and near-uncontrollable had been unearthed from deep inside of her, and what she’d nearly done, Daenerys buried her face in Arya’s neck and silently wept.

 

……….

 

3 Days Later-

 

Daenerys flew over the small town of Ashford, circling until she found a large abandoned field near the small house she’d been looking for. Tightening her grip on Drogon, she urged him into a descent, guiding him to the warm meadow below.

It had pained her to leave Arya behind at the Red Keep. She knew that she blamed herself for Jarek’s death, and felt that she should at least be the one to break the news to his wife, and tell her how he really died. It was the last thing she could do for him, but Maester Tarly had warned Daenerys against it. Arya needed to rest, or she’d never fully recover.

So Daenerys had summoned her captain of the guard, who’d given her serviceable map with Jarek’s home marked out on it. He’d offered to go himself; insisting that the Reachman had served loyally under him and was therefore his responsibility, but Daenerys refused him.

It was not only Arya who owed this man.

Once Drogon was settled in the greenery, she strode towards the cottage with green trim around the door. Once in the doorway she sighed, bracing herself, and pulled back her hood. She gave a solid knock, and waited.

There was a shuffle, and the sound of footsteps. A latch was removed, and the door pulled open to reveal a heavyset older woman with a face filled with lines etched in summers long past. “Yes?” She asked.

Daenerys blinked, quickly masking her surprise. “Hello,” she said warmly. “I’m here to see Laelia.” She paused. “Is this her home?”

Seasoned eyes widened in recognition. “But you’re…” she quickly bowed, humbling herself as best she could with knees that could no longer well bend to curtsey. “Your Grace,” she said, “I’m so sorry. You’re a day late, Laelia is already gone, you see.”

Daenerys’ brow furrowed. “She… left?”

The old maid shook her head, still bowed. “No, forgive me your Grace, but she perished.”

Daenerys motioned for the woman to rise. “Please, tell me what happened.”

The wizened woman looked up at her sadly. “She died in childbirth, your Grace. Twin boys, one with her dark hair and one sunkissed like his father.”

Daenerys felt her heart nearly stop as she recalled Bran’s words in Winterfell-

‘A woman will bring two sons into the world just before she leaves it, bequeathing them to you. Their father’s blood will stain both your hands and your hem, and you will know to seek them out.’

“But since you’re here,” the woman continued, “that can only mean one thing – Jarek’s not coming back, is he?”

“No.” Daenerys said softly, swallowing a lump in her throat. “He’s not.”

“By the Seven.” The old woman murmured. “Those boys have come into this world just to lose everything.”

“Where are they now?”

“Just down the road, staying with me and my sister, your Grace. I was only over here to pick up a few things for them. We were going to take care of them until Jarek returned. Now… well, now I don’t know..” her voice trailed off.

“What is your name?” Daenerys asked her.

“Maryne, your Grace.”

“Maryne, would you take me to them? Laelia and Jarek’s two sons?”

Maryne nodded hurriedly. “Of course your Grace, if that’s your wish. But, forgive me… I don’t.. I don’t understand why the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms would trouble herself with two orphan boys.”

“Because there is more to a Queen than her title.” Daenerys said with the hint of a smile.

 

 

………

 

For those involved in Between the Lines voting: first tallies from FFnet and A03 currently have Bloodlines and the Accidental Consort in a tie for the win. Not what you want? Drop me a line with your vote or hit the poll on my FFnet profile and change the course of fate!

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Dear Sansa,

Please forgive my poor script, It’s been a long time since I wrote anyone a letter. Also, please forgive my delay in sending this reply – we were away for a while, taking care of some unfinished business. Even though news doesn’t travel so fast up in the North, enough time has passed that I’m sure you can already guess at what that was.

Daenerys is well, and sends her love. It seems that motherhood in all forms agrees with her, though I guess that’s not too surprising after years of ‘Mhysa’. The Targaryen name will carry on, at any rate, and I think that gives her some measure of peace.

Rhaegar and Jon are growing quickly, and I thank the old gods for that every single day. Do you know how difficult it is to get dried spit-up out of chainmail? Come to think of it, no, you probably don’t… well let me tell you, I wish that I didn’t know either. How in the seven hells did father manage with six of us? I worry sometimes, San. In truth, I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just know that I love Dany, and I love them, and I suppose that in the end I’ll get it figured out. Maybe that’s how father survived us, too.

I think about him a lot these days – him and mother both. I wonder what they’d think if they saw us now? I know neither of us has lived a life they ever would have imagined.

We’ve already started packing, and we’ll be heading to Winterfell next month. Along with a ready-made family, it seems I’ll be bringing something else with me as well; something that you conveniently forgot to tell me had been missing in the first place: Ice.

Daenerys had it reforged from Dark Sister and Widow’s Wail. A Stark-Targaryen greatsword, symbolizing the union and bond between our two houses.

I like it even better than the original.

Before you ask, yes, I still have our father’s wolf-pelt cloak, and it seems that maybe… maybe I even found some of that happiness you mentioned when you gave it to me.

Make sure there’s plenty of winter roses in the glass gardens, and next time you’re in the Godswood, tell Bran that we’re on our way. Tell Rickon to keep watching his footing when strikes. Tell Robb I’m bringing sweetmints, and tell Margaery that… well, tell her that I’m glad you found her.

I’ll see you soon.

Love,

Arya

 

 

…….

 

AN:

And thus ends Allegiance.

First of all, I want to thank all of my readers. It is because of you that this wasn’t just the brief, one-arc fic of 12 chapters that I had originally planned. I know I have said it before, but I truly didn’t expect Allegiance to extend beyond its niche the way it did. It shouldn’t have, logically; it featured a very rare femslash main pairing, and on top of that was not a technically perfect fanfic by any means. I know this, and, likely all of you who have read through know this as well. For those who could overlook its many flaws, I hope there was at least something, somewhere buried within these 43 chapters that will stick with you.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do plan on writing a sequel. I’m sure at this point you can see a few loose threads I’ve left dangling, some changes in dynamics for the main characters, and the start of a few new conflicts that will carry over.

If you’re so inclined, raise a glass with me friends, and share in a farewell toast: To Dany and her Good Killer.

-Starky