Actions

Work Header

Runs in the Family

Chapter Text

People know Sansa Stark as the perfect young lady. She is the type of girl a man dreams about taking home to his mother and then straight into their bed. Her legs are longer than snow covered mountains, with vibrant red hair and jewels for eyes, a dainty figure with the right amount of curves to draw anyone's attention. Her voice is sweet and melodious, and she drew people towards her like an enchantress on a deserted island. She is obedient and well mannered, perfection in every single form.

The people who think this, however, will never get to see Sansa Stark as she is now: scantily clad in her favorite nightie, a transparent blue dress that reveals her tantalizing breasts and soaking cunt. The fabric ran down to the middle of her thighs, and despite its length, did nothing to hide the wetness dripping down her legs.

She casually brushes her hair off her shoulders, raising the dress up enough to give a little peek. She had no intention of hiding it in the first place.

Sandor Clegane stares from his doorway, entrance by the fantasy in front of him. He is stunned speechless and his lack of words only serves to amuse Sansa. The sound of footsteps awaken Sandor to reality, and he promptly slams his door shut.

He stalks towards her and takes a hold of her lips. “Is it my birthday?”

Sansa giggles and she jumps on him, her legs wrapping around his waist while their lips meet. He ravishes her body with his rough hands and forces her against the wall to give her more, thorough attention. “I take it your last day went well,” he suggests when they part.

Happy that he remembered, she begins to plaster kisses along his neck as she explains. “Couldn't wait to see you.” She tries to tighten her legs around him and rubs. His crotch dampens from the contact.

It is a challenge, but he manages to locate his bedroom door. “Your parents must be very proud.” He wouldn't know, he never went on to college. He also doesn't give a flying fuck, but it also turns the bird on when he talks about her mum and dad when he's inside her. He might make her call him daddy later. She kisses him, and soon the only thing he could think about right now is how great her ass from behind.

“Proud enough to let me stay the night at a friend's house,” She whispers in his ear, causing his cock to harden even more than he thinks is possible.

They finally reach the bed and he drops her onto the sheets. Sansa excitingly pulls him on top of her. He could see perky little nipples and he backs away to undo his jeans. To his horror and delight, Sansa lays there, displaying herself like a Greek goddess. She isn't even trying to help him, just enjoying the show. Her legs provide a bit of an opening, a wanton invitation to take what is his.

When he is finished watching, he pulls off his shirt desperately and then ravages her lips, earning a delighted little shriek from the eager teenager. He is on top of her now. One of his hands found their way to her pussy, feeling the heat that is radiating from there. Sandor's fingers rub her slit before diving in completely. He plays with her a bit and he can hear Sansa moaning through her kisses.

When they stop for breath, Sansa gives these weak little whimpers of protests. The noise makes Sandor's cock leak more precum and he knows he has to get inside her. With one hand still fingering Sansa to no end, Sandor frantically searches his drawer for a condom. He wastes no time putting it on when he finds it. The action causes him to stop finger fucking Sansa, and she responds by assaulting him with her lips.

In public, Sansa has this air of delicacy around her; an invisible stamp that says 'fragile' and 'handle with care.' In the bedroom, the red-headed vixen liked it rough.

For caution, he does a slow test nudge to be sure of the angle. He's done this a thousand times before, and half a thousand of those times were with Sansa (a scary thought now that he thinks about it). He knows the way she likes to be fucked and she knows how he likes to make love to her.

She scratches at his arm impatiently, telling him to hurry up without words. Sandor chuckles at her petulant expression. He backs out an inch and she groans in frustration. It doesn't last long before he rams himself forward, busting her open.

Her legs wrap around his waist, bringing him closer to her. She rocks her hips up against him, clenching around his dick the way he likes. “Good girl,” he praises her, earning a happy chirp. She's fucking adorable, he thinks to himself.

Sansa moans start to fill up the room, and it's the greatest turn on in the world. “Harder! Please!” She begs, and he has to laugh through his own moans. Even in bed, she's fucking polite. Sandor complies, nonetheless, making deeper, faster thrusts inside her. His heavy balls slap against the lips of her twat with wet smacks, while Sansa's own juices drip out of her. He could feel the slick even through his condom and regrets not barebacking. There's nothing better than being surrounded by her raw, tight pussy.

"You're leaking all over the place, little bird,” She tightens at her pet name and Sandor has to dig deeper. “How long has it been since I've fucked you good and proper?"

"Too... long..." she pants weakly, and Sandor laughs.

“No wonder you want it so much--I might have to stuff your pussy a few more times a week if you keep getting this desperate for my cock.” She moans even louder and speeds up the movement of her hips. Sandor can feel her orgasm coming and he loves to have that little flutter around his cock.

He thrust into her a few more times and then maneuvers them so that she's on top. It's a great view, and he can see her nipples, red and swollen from the lack of attention. He takes one in his teeth and bites onto it. "Oh!" She moans.

He squeezes her ass, and she rewards him with another chirp. "Time to show me how much you missed me, little bird. I want to see you fuck yourself on me like it's the last time we'll see each other." As best as she could, she began to fuck herself up and down on his dick while Sandor continues to play with her breasts. They are the nicest pair of tits he's ever seen, though he supposes he's a bit biased. First loves are incomparable to an old fling.

Sansa keeps moving, trying her best to go faster, to please him, but she was already worn out from her first orgasm. He remembers one time she was so determined that she ended up slamming herself down on his tool until the neighbors called the cops. The screaming had gotten to them.

To make sure she doesn't get hurt (she told him she liked it, and he knew did, but rough sex three times a week wasn't healthy for either of them), he grips her hips to control her speed. Sandor pounds into her pliant, welcoming body until he is pumping a huge load into the condom. Sansa shudders through a second orgasm.

He pulls out and carefully lays her onto the sheets. Tossing his condom to the side (he'll throw it away later), tucks her into his arms. Her nightdress, while still on, is stained with various fluids and ripped in a few areas; her thighs are bruised, and more liquids drip out of her swollen cunt. Sansa's red hair washes over her like fire and sweat glistens on her body. It is a sight to drive any man towards a second round, but he was spent for the day. He has to wait until night time to try again.

“That was amazing,” Sansa applauds, she stretches out as much as she could without hurting and snuggles closer into Sandor's arms. “Was it always that great?”

“Dunno,” Sandor mutters, “Been so long without it, I can't remember. I think you broke my dick, though.”

Sansa playfully smacks him on the chest while her face burns as red as her hair, “It's only been two weeks!” Sansa had exams to study for and she couldn't afford any distractions. Sandor never complained once. He understood how important school was to someone her age.

“Two weeks too long,” he counters and then kisses her deeply before she could say anything else. Sansa slid on top of him. When they broke for air, Sansa laid her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat.

“I missed you,” she confesses. “I missed you lots.”

“Me, too."

“Really?” She sounds so hopeful and Sandor finds himself smiling because of it. He quickly sighs to cover it up, and acts as if he was put off by her expression. Sansa tries to keep a neutral face but it doesn't work with Sandor. His kisses her again to assuage her fears. “I'm going to make you something to drink. You got to be thirsty after that.”

Sansa blushes so prettily that she earns another kiss. “I can help...” she offers weakly.

Sandor raises an eyebrow. “Can you walk?”

Sansa attempts to stand up but there's a painful reminder in her lower regions that says otherwise. She looks down. “I'll stay,” she murmurs.

Sandor chuckles and Sansa glares in embarrassment. He leaves the door just when Sansa throws a pillow at him.

In the kitchen, he grabs a few ingredients to make one of those ridiculous girly drinks that Sansa likes. He use to be reluctant about keeping the ingredients in his home, but then he thinks about those long legs and how her breasts fit in the palm of his hand. He thinks about her cunt and how it opened up for him like it was made for his cock. He thinks about the bruises on her skin that can be covered up but will still remain for days.

His cock twitches, and instead of getting glasses, he grabs a few bottles of water and wine.

It is going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

I hope you don't mind, mum, ” Robb apologizes over the phone. “ But Jon is really special. When we met, we just connected. I mean, I felt like I've known him my whole life.”

Catelyn sighs. Where has she heard this before? Oh right, with Talisa, Jeyne, Margaery, Roslin (who ended up marrying her brother much to their dismay), Meera, Daenerys, Dacey...And it is a boy now. Did her son fall in love with all the available women in the United Kingdom already?

“How long have you been seeing him, Robb?” Catelyn asks, trying not to sound judgmental. Last time she disapproved, Robb eloped. Twice.

Two weeks,” Robb gloats, “But I've been pulling him for a month. It was love at first sight.”

“Of course it was,” Catelyn agrees dryly. “I'm sure he feels the same way."

"He...will. At the moment, he finds love to be...unfulfilling," Robb reveals and Catelyn rolls her eyes. Her son's in love with a realist, "But I'm so close to convincing him that the union between our bodies and the moment of perfection we accomplish together is a sign of future matrimony."

It's called an orgasm, Catelyn thinks dryly. But the whole 'sex is love and love is sex' is something he got from his father. "So his family won't mind him staying here for the summer?”

He only has his mum and she's working in France,” Robb explains, “They're free spirits. You should meet his friends. Gods, what eclectic group of people. There's Sam..." 

Robb spends a good while talking about Jon's friends, how amazing this young man was, how she'll love him. She always hates them before the meeting. Robb says independent and thoughtful and she hears 'skeptical free spirit who probably hates being tied down.' Adventurous is code for sex addict. Well travel means he's leasily unsatisfied. Catelyn patiently waits for the rant to end.

"Besides, Jon loves Yorkshire. He has some cousins he's been dying to see again. He's great with kids. All I have to do is persuade him to have them with me.”

“Well, that's nice,” Catelyn responds indifferently. “I guess I'll prepare an extra room for him.”

No need,” And Catelyn is sure he's grinning over the phone, “Jon can stay in my room.

Catelyn groans, “Robb, you are not having sex where your siblings can hear.”

Don't worry!” Robb soothes, “We won't be having sex.

Catelyn arches an eyebrow even though her son couldn't see. “Is that so?”

We'll be making love."

Catelyn almost throws the phone down in frustration. Before she could respond, Robb immediately speaks up. She hears a door opening in the background.

Anyways, Jon just came in. God, he's gorgeous. You should see him, mum." Robb sighs like a love struck fool. "I swear, every time I look at him, it's like watching Galatea come to life, kissed by the lips on Adonis and birthed into this world with the beauty of Psyche and Eros." 

And there goes the poetry.

"He wants to have sex."

"Did he say that?" Catelyn asks incredulously.

"No, but he's wearing grey. And he knows grey is my color."

She needs a drink.

"He likes to tease me like this. He always wears just the right color that says he wants sex. We've been doing it every day. And night. And in-between classes and breaks. God, it's like my cock is apart of him."

Some Irish whiskey would be good.

"I'm going to tell him the good news so that we can start packing. See you Tuesday!

“Robb--” Catelyn starts before the phone hangs up on her. Once again, she is left completely alone.

The Stark Estate is depressingly empty without her children or husband around, and even with the servants, Catelyn feels alone. She sighs. Robb is at uni and wI'll not come home until Tuesday. When he did, he'll probably be spending most of his time with his new love interest. On the bright side, when said love interest breaks up with him for being too intense, too needy, and too commitment prone, she will be there to comfort him as always.

Sansa is staying at a friend's house, or at least that's where she told them she was. If Sansa is anything like her (pre-Ned), she is probably at some guy's place, enjoying her independence on her back and knees. She's lucky that Ned is so trusting, or else he wouldn't let either of his girls out on the street.

Arya has a performance with her dance class. Afterward, she will probably be celebrating with her friends. Her male friends whose she's probably shagged at least once. They tried reigning her in a long time ago and it backfired on them horribly. The best they could hope for is that she uses protection. Judging by the box of condoms a maid found on her dresser (and pills in her drawer), she'd say Arya was listening.

Bran and Rickon are camping (how Ned could get her to agree to such a thing, she doesn't know) with their caretakers Hodor and Osha. Rickon loved the outdoors and needed to be outside as much as possible in fear of him lashing out. Bran, after his accident, enjoyed the scenery of nature and had taken to bird watching and other activities. He hates feeling like an invalid, and did as many hobbies as possible to avoid such a thought process. Caelyn understands this, but that doesn't stop her from sending texts every fifteen minutes and getting irritated when Osha does not reply. She knows the woman disapproves of her 'coddling.' She once, in a more that almost got her fired, told Catelyn that she might as well cut off Bran's balls and feed it to the wolves. 

After listing off her children, Catelyn grows more depressed. There is no one for her to cook for, to clean after. She had no babies to take care of or problems to listen to.

She should have had more kids, Catelyn regrets.

Catelyn Stark has always wanted to be a mother. As a little girl she would imagine herself in a beautiful home, a kind husband who loves her, and a large brood of children running around in pure chaos. When her father introduced her to Brandon Stark, the son of her father's new business partner, Catelyn was sure she met 'the one.' He was handsome, her father approved, and like Catelyn, he was the oldest in a large family. They had a lot in common, both attended the same university, both popular and both enjoyed the social scene. Everyone agreed that they were a perfect match.

Then, she met his younger brother.

Ned Stark was nothing like Brandon, and it wasn't long before Catelyn realized she liked that. Brandon loved to spoil his siblings. At first, she considered it a trait of a good parent, the thing she wanted most in a partner. But when she saw the wicked mannerisms of Lyanna and the complete apathy of Benjen, she became disheartened. Ned was the one who helped his siblings with their assignments, and made sure they took care of themselves. He was the one who carried Brandon back to his bed when the man got too drunk to walk and made it incredibly painful in the morning so that Brandon would learn his lesson (he never did but it was still amusing to watch).

Catelyn praised him on it. Ned just gave her that half a smile and told her that he liked the practice. He revealed that he wanted a big family one day. When she asked him how many, he told her he wanted five kids, or at least as many his wife would give him.

Catelyn can't remember the last time she was so aroused.

She realized that while Brandon was handsome and charming, Ned was the man she wanted. The Tully born girl was nothing if not stubborn. She saw the way Ned looked at her and sought to use his affection to her advantage. She used to come out of the showers in nothing by towel, dress scantily in Ned's favorite shade of blue--the one that makes her eyes pop, and laughed at all the rare moments Ned told a joke. It wasn't long before they were sneaking off into the gardens and behind Brandon's back. A wedding and five children later, Catelyn knew she made the right choice. Ned eventually ended up taking over Stark Industries from his father (Brandon had gone to jail and lost his rights to the company outside his hereditary shares) and Catelyn became the perfect housewife. She got what she wanted, as always, and she adores her five children with all her heart.

Despite the fact that they all plan on abandoning her for the comforts of cheap whores and rent boys.

She grabs a bottle of Irish whiskey and the whole box of Bailey's Mouse Pie. One of the maids offer to cut her a slice but Catelyn growls at her. The poor girl simpers away.

When Ned came home, Farlan warns him of her poor mood. Ned is a little perturbed, but nonetheless braves the crises. He understands what his employee meant when he sees his beautiful wife devour a whole pie with little mercy.

“Are you pregnant again?” Ned inquires as he walked into a room.

Catelyn scoffs, “I wish, you're too busy to give me a baby.”

Ned chuckles, and Catelyn feels as if she's being patronize.

“Ned, what do you see?” Catelyn motions around the lounge.

Ned looks around curiously. “Nothing.”

“Exactly,” Catelyn hisses, “Nothing. My children are all gone. Do you know why?”

Ned thinks this is a trap. He answers anyways. “Well, Robb is at uni-”

“No Ned!” Catelyn refutes, “The real reason I am all alone.”

This will not end well for him.

Catelyn slams her nearly finish plate on the table. Ned winces, mostly because it was a family heirloom. “I am alone because my children are being taken away by a bunch of frivilous little tarts. Do you know Robb called today?”

This will definitely not end well for him.

“About what?” Ned asks neutrally.

“He's bringing a boy home this break. He says that this is the one.”

Ned snorts, “Did they run out of women in this country already?”

“That's what I thought!” Catelyn agreed. Ned sees a pout forming on her face, a positive change from her earlier depression. "His name is Jon and he's some sex fiend whose seducing my son. Robb was telling me how they have sex every night."

"He said that?"

"And it's such plain name! Who names their kid Jon?"

"My sister? My godfather's parents?"

"My children are leaving me," Catelyn sighs and leans on her husband's shoulder. Ned pats her on the shoulder in a comforting manner. "I wouldn't worry too much. Once summer break hits, this house will be happy and full again."

Catelyn moan. "Summer is so far away. It might as well be a dream."

"It's a week. Sansa's already finished with her school. It's just Robb and Rickon and Bran left."

"Arya?"

"Arya comes home when she wants to come home." He points out the obvious. All of them knew that Arya is just biding time before she applied to an academy or dance trope.

Catelyn agrees. "I'm tired of going home to a quiet household."

Ned hesitates for a moment. Then, bites the bullet and clenches the sword. Right now is the perfect time to break the bad news.

“Besides, I have a good feeling that this is going to be the busiest summer of our lives,” Ned starts out.

Catelyn goes on high alert. She knows Ned's 'bad news' voice when she hears it. "Is that so?"

"Yes." Ned coughs. "One might say it is the time to finally fill up all the empty rooms."

Catelyn groans. “Just say it.”

“Cat-”

“Don't 'Cat' me. You use the exact same tone when you revealed you hired a caretaker for Bran without my consent."

"But Osha's doing a great job."

"Only when's not disagreeing with me."

"Discord evolves a society."

"So what is it? Robb does the same thing except he pretends it's good news.”

Ned laughs softly, but then sighs. Catelyn looks at him with a mix of apprehension and boredom.

“Robert wants to come over.”

Oh. 

That is rather lackluster. “That will be interesting,” Catelyn states. She has always had mixed feelings for Robert. She tolerates him well enough, but there are times where Catelyn couldn't stand being in the same room as the man.

“He's hoping to bring his children so that they can spend time together.”

Catelyn did not know what to say to that. Instead, she does what she always does. Speaks her mind. “It's been nine years since he's had contact with them. How does he expect to bond?”

“He wants to take them hunting, amongst other things.”

Catelyn shrugs. “Well, if there's anything a Lannister knows how to do, it's kill.”

“They're expert hunters," Ned corrects.

“That's what I said,” Catelyn sighs and says the next thing on her mind, “Cersei won't be happy.”

Ned nods, “I know. She called my office seventeen times making death threats.”

“Should I be expecting her as well?”

Ned eyes her cautiously, “Would you leave our children with him?”

“I wouldn't leave our dogs with him,” Catelyn confesses seriously. As if on cue, Nymeria runs after Lady, the latter seems dead set on getting away from her aggressive sibling.

Ned agrees. “He's trying.”

“Any man who can make me feel sorry for that witch isn't trying hard enough. I hugged her when she announced the divorce. That's how sorry I felt for her.”

Ned smiles, and Catelyn feels herself relax. “Any more house guests?

“Well...”

“Ned!” Catelyn seems aghast. “Who else?”

“You won't like the answer.”

“When has that ever stopped you?” Catelyn asks him sarcastically. “Is it Brandon?” She asks horrified. Just the thought of seeing her ex again made her squemish. She already needed to buy extra packages of cigerettes during Christmas.

“No.”

“Lyanna?”

“No.”

Thank goodness for that.

“Renly?”

“I thought you liked Renly?”

“I did until my children caught him having sex with his boyfriend on our couch.”

“Well then, no.”

“Stannis?”

“You don't like Stannis? When?”

“I like his daughter. I don't like the potential chaos brought on by his seven stepsons. How did he meet Davos again?”

"Davos was a janitor at his company."

"Ah! The one he promoted to general manager and then became his vice CEO. Good for him." Catelyn whistles. "Didn't know he had it in him."

"It wasn't like that," Ned defends, though he can't fight the smile growing on his face. "Stannis is a good man."

"Of course! The fact that he promoted Davos after having great sex with him was a complete coincidence."

"How do you know they had great sex?"

"Davos has seven kids. You don't have that many children from bad sex."

"We have five."

"We have great sex," Catelyn smirks. Ned kisses her tenderly.

“No.”

Catelyn jumps into game mode. “Do I know them?”

“You have to know them to dislike them,” Ned teases her.

Catelyn hits him with a nearby pillow for his smart mouth. “Let's see...is it one of your old friends?”

“Yes."

“But I don't like them.”

“You don't like a certain attachment that comes along with them,” Ned reluctantly discloses. He watches for the chain reaction.

Catelyn thinks further before she gasps. Her gaze darkens. “No!” She all but shouts at him.

“Cat-”

She shakes her head furiously. “I have accepted a lot of things into this house, each stranger than the next. I will not let him in here with Bran.”

“They need a place to stay. He was one of my best friends growing up,” Ned defends. "He saved my life." Ned takes her hands into his own. "Do you remember the fires from a couple of weeks ago? Well, their homes were hit. And he just lost his wife, and with his daughter going off to university, times have been rough. They can't afford a hotel right now. Meera is a good girl. Remember when she was dating Robb? You told me you liked her."

"This isn't about Meera, Ned," Catelyn hisses. "This is about his other child. The dangerous one." 

"Jojen is..." Ned tries to find the words, anything that could provide ailment to the situation. Aloe to a third degree burn. "He's special, intense, I agree. But I don't think he meant any harm--the psychiatrists all agreed that it wasn't anything perverse.”

"I don't care what the bloody psychiatrist say! I care that, for months, our son had a target on his back and we allowed the archer to enter our home!"

"It was a phase." 

“Bran was a child, Ned,” Catelyn emphasizes, obviously frustrated by how this was going. “Jojen was sixteen. Bran was barely a teenager, and for some reason, Jojen decided he was--what was the phrase he used--"the only thing that matters to him". Don't you see what's wrong with that?”

“I do,” Ned sighs, “But I owe a lot to Howland, and Jo-Meera is a good kid.”

"Do you even care about what he could have done to our son?”

“I doubt it was ill will," Ned disclaims. "I'm not saying he's completely ready to be out on his own but he's trying Cat. He goes to therapy twice a week and works to support his family.”

Catelyn laughs as if it was the funniest thing in the world. “Right, what did the doctors say again? He worships Bran, right? He saw Bran as a God.

Ned groans. “I've met him, and I swear to you, he would never hurt Bran. He...”

Catelyn waits for it.

Ned takes a breath. “He loves him.”

It was too much for Catelyn to handle. ”Fine. Fine! You can bring him into this household. You can even introduce him to the other kids but not Bran. If they ever meet, God forbid, I want them supervise at all times, especially by Osha.”

Ned agrees with no complaint.

Catelyn wasn't finished. “Jojen is allowed nowhere near Bran's bedroom and I want him on the other side of the estate. And if I see so much as a longing glance, or a brush of fingers, I am throwing him out, Ned.”

“I'll do it myself if it comes to it,” Ned promises her. He places his hands on her shoulder in an motion to massage them. Catelyn brushes him off. “It'll be okay.”

“It better be,” Catelyn threatens. She storms off into her bedroom without a second thought.

Chapter Text

Robb Stark started dating when he was twelve, and since then, he's had over eighteen girlfriends. The oldest relationship was three months. Two left him at the alter. One left him for his uncle.

The reason isn't that Robb is a bad boyfriend. He's actually the perfect boyfriend, a regular prince charming who does everything possible to make his girlfriend happy.

He just really, really wants to get married.

And most of the women he meets--don't.

In all fairness, it is not Robb's fault he is obsessed with finding a wife. He's the son of the happiest couple in Europe. His father, "the quiet wolf," the forever brooding middle child who never spoke a word, the former army man who has never read a poem for enjoyment in his life, used to spend hours talking about how his was his first love. When he saw Robb's mother, the gracious and beautiful Catelyn Stark, he claimed to have fallen in love at first sight. He said their first kiss tasted like raindrops in a dessert, and that there was no greater feeling than to wake up next to the warmth of her body and the touch of her fiery locks and soft bosom. Robb has dreamed of his wedding day since he was five and played ring bearer to his parents vow renewal. He wants the dream house and the happy spouse. He wants a half a dozen kids running through the estate with a puppy attached to each of them. Robb has made it clear in all of his relationships that he's looking for The One. He's made it even more clear that he will never be truly happy until he finds her. This belief carried all the way through sixth form and the university, where he finds himself walking to a bar to meet up with his beautiful girlfriend.

It is universally acknowledged that the only way to get rid of Robb Stark (without feeling like a puppy murderer) is to find someone else for him to fall in love with right after breaking up with him. If not, Robb will fail in his studies (making your professors hate you), stop hanging out with his mates (making the men hate you), and become public enemy number one for breaking the heart of the Edinburgh's golden boy (making the other available women hate you because they have no chance with a man still pining over another woman).

With that being said, Jon Snow was not meant to be the sacrifice that day. Robb's girlfriend at the time didn't even know Jon as anyone other than the cute customer with the luscious, hair pulling curls. Unfortunately, Alys was desperate when her 'replacement' hadn't shown up at the pub that night. She had tried leaving Robb two times before, only to be charmed into another date. She couldn't keep going like this! She had exams! Jon had been the one to pick up the fork she dropped, and in her cowardice, the petite thing begged him to relay a message to her boyfriend. Jon agreed.

He had not expected the message to be 'I'm breaking up with you.'

Before he could get clarification, Alys ran into the boy's bathroom and climbed out the tiny window. The tiny, impossible to climb through for a human, window. Robb came in shortly after with a charming grin and a sensual voice, waiting for his girlfriend's 'news.' Out of pity, Jon tried to soften the blow by starting a conversation, and after ten minutes, Jon declared that the girl must have been stark-raving mad.

Robb was absolutely wonderful.

So wonderful, that after relaying the message, Jon foolishly asked if Robb wanted to come over to his place for some tea. Robb said yes. He would love some 'tea.' And with his perfectly shaped jawline and smothering gray eyes, Robb clutched Jon's hand and went to his flat that night. Several rounds of intense fucking ('love making,' Robb corrected) later, and Jon found himself with a stalker, who, after two weeks, wore him down long enough for them to go out on an actual date.

Thanks to that whole event, Jon is now fishing for his keys to their flat. It's so domestic that Jon prays his friends never find out. They would be so ashamed. Lyanna still refused to speak to him after finding out he was in a monogamous relationship. He even called Robb his boyfriend.

"Where did I go wrong?" She moaned. 

Jon replied, "Somewhere after the second paternity test."

Speaking of disapproving mothers, Robb seems to be on a conversation with his right now. His boyfriend is in a good mood, meaning he is disregarding any signs of discomfort on his mother's part. Robb brightens up at his presence.

“Jon just came in. He wants sex,” Robb assumes shamelessly.

Jon rolls his eyes. He could only imagine how awkward his mother must feel.

"No, but he's wearing grey. And he knows grey is my color,” Robb explains with self-satisfied grin.

This makes Jon laugh. Feeling kind, Jon saunters over to Robb and sits in between his legs, making Robb groan softly. He entwines a hand into Jon's curls and tightens when Jon begins to mouth his crotch.

"He likes to tease me like this. He always wears just the right color that says he wants sex. We've been doing it every day." He licks his lips. "It's like my cock is apart of him."

Jon blushes. The boy really has no shame. Despite his boyfriend's inability to read a mood, Robb is too adorable to leave alone. Jon undoes Robb's zipper with his teeth, freeing his boyfriend's hard, mouthwatering cock. It's so big and wet. Jon licks his lips before bringing his mouth down on it.

Jon's oral fixation is a running joke amongst his friends. He loves giving head, loves the taste of a fat cock or a wet pussy more than anything. He likes how his tongue melts in the heat, or how badly his throat has to stretch to accommodate. Robb likes to receive almost as much as Jon likes to give, and they found themselves at a fun two-three times a day quota. Robb never complains to waking up to rich, intense heat or a quick blowie before he leaves for school. It's almost addicting how much Jon loves his cock. 

"I'm going to tell him the good news so that we can start packing. See you Tuesday!” Robb moans out hastily. He quickly drops the phone in order to clutch Jon's hair with both hands. “Fuck, don't stop.”

Jon made no plans to.

He suckles the tip before taking him all the way. Robb’s eyes roll to the back of his head as he begins to pant out excitingly. Robb has never been quiet in bed, and Jon loves it. He makes a little gagging noise which just spurs Robb on, and he begins to thrust into the tight heat of Jon’s mouth. His tongue slides along the underside of his cock and Robb groans. Jon looks up at him desperately, mouth stretching prettily around Robb’s thick cock.

“Love fucking your face,” Robb murmurs. “Love how you look with my cock in your mouth.”

Jon pulls off Robb before swallowing him whole again, bobbing his head in a slow, dragging way that Robb almost cums at. Robb is one of those guys who revels in giving praise and showering their partners in affection. He starts to mumble these little compliments and words of encouragement. 'Beautiful' and 'Perfect' were the most common. Jon hates to admit it but he's really eager at this point, and his hands start fondling Robb’s balls.

Jon's bobbing begins falling into a steady pace until Robb says, “I'm coming!”

Ever since he discovered Jon's limited gag reflex, Robb has stopped managing his self control.

Robb thrusts fervently into his throat. His eyes roams over the beautiful boy on his knees before pushing his cock past Jon’s throat to feel it flutter. The grip is hot and tight around him, and Robb tries to push in deeper. Jon responds by gripping Robb’s hips harder and pulling off to toy with Robb’s slit. Overwhelmed, Robb comes with a groan. Jon's mouth doesn't catch all of it, and Robb watches through half lidded eyes as his cum splatters on Jon's face.

Jon swallows what he can and wipes the remnants off his face with his fingers. Knowing how it gets Robb off, Jon crawls on top of Robb's lap. He slowly slips a finger into his mouth, blowing it for all its worth. With the cum on it, it almost tastes like Robb's cock. Before Jon could add in the others, Robb pulls Jon into a deep, tantalizing kiss.

When they separate, Jon rests his forehead against Robb and Robb lays sloppy kisses all over his face, like a puppy saying thank you.

“You are the most amazing man on earth,” Robb praises sincerely. The kisses get more wet, more intimate. “So perfect. So sexy. All mine.”

Jon loves it when Robb gets possessive. Robb throws Jon on the couch and hastily takes off Jon's pants to get a clear view of that nice, firm ass. There's some lotion on their table (they kept it all over the flat since Jon moved in), and Robb starts slicking up his fingers.

Jon can feel Robb hardening and he can't help but be impress by his vigor.

When Robb thinks there's enough slick on his fingers, he places one of them in Jon's entrance. He slides in easily and immediately decides that two fingers is ready to stretch the tight hole. Jon relaxes easily enough, already use to the glorious sensation of being fingerfucked by Robb. Moaning, Jon thrusts back on those coated fingers and Robb places a third digit in which jolts Jon back to reality.

“What...what were you...fuck...were you talking to your mother...god, don't stop...about?” Jon huffs out.

Robb actually laughs at the question. “Is this the best time to talk?”

Jon takes a deep breath and tries to calm down. “When else can we talk?”

Robb chuckles. He moves his fingers to search for Jon's prostate. Jon can feel the joints rubbing against his sides raw. After a few seconds, the older boy cries out in pure pleasure. Robb does a scissoring motion to stretch him further. The hole looks absolutely obscene, pink and gaping around his fingers. Robb withdraws his fingers and Jon whimpers at the lack of sensation.

Robb teasingly places his tip inside Jon. He's still soft from earlier, but the feeling of the flesh rubbing against Jon's hole is frustrating and arousing all at once. He moves the head around the slick hole, lotion slipping out lewdly. “You should see yourself, Jon. You're so wet.

Jon gasps in response.

Robb grins and pulls out completely. Jon whimpers. The teasing, insufferable penetration is still better than no penetration. He attempts to reach out for the cock with his hips, but Robb holds him firmly in place. The university student flips the other over until Jon is on his hands and knees. Doggy style.

“Figures you'd liked this position,” Jon pants out.

Robb doesn't reward Jon with a response. Instead, he slowly slips into Jon as punishment. Jon, tired from a long day and from his surprise, gives out instantly. Jon presses his forehead into the couch and lets out a wanton moan.

Robb reaches forward, lacing his fingers with Jon's own. It's one of those small, intimate gestures that helps Robb's argument that this isn't sex, it's love making. Jon likes it a lot more than he cares to admit, and maybe his body knows it because Robb's grunts get louder.

“I want you to meet my parents,” Robb informs him, as if talking about your parents is typical conversation during sex. Jon is less horrified by this fact than what is actually being said.

“W-what?” Jon's breath comes out in harsh pants as he tries to think. The squelching noises brought on by the thrusts made his thoughts hard to hear. “What-what were you thinking?”

Robb's hips move back to his own grueling rhythm. “That my boyfriend deserves to know how serious I am about him.”

Your entire university knows how serious you are about me, Jon thinks half-serious, half-joking. He's surprise by how coherant his thoughts are. His cock hung heavy between his legs, leaking and throbbing. Robb is nothing if not attentive; he untangles one of his hands from Jon's fingers and reaches down and strokes him furiously.

Jon lets out a pleased sound, which somehow causes Robb to fuck Jon even harder. Jon comes a few moments later, crying out and shaking hard. It spurs Robb on to pound more erratic thrusts into Jon, pushing him flat on the couch and spilling deep inside him.

Jon sinks into the couch, his body is boneless with pleasure. He doesn't even know where the strength to roll over on his back comes from. Robb is quick to fall on top of him, and even quicker to cuddle. Jon can't help but chuckle when Robb nuzzles his neck affectionately.

“This isn't over, you know,” Jon mumbles. Their lips rub against each other while their fondling hands move.

“Sorry bout that,” Robb answers, lapping up the sweat running down Jon's neck. His inability to stay on track is one of Robb's most annoying traits, even to his best friends. “We can discuss it later.”

They don't. After recovering from their post-coitus haze, Robb suggested that they discuss it over dinner. Jon's stomach growled and he agreed. Robb tried to help (try being the operative word), but as a single bachelor from a posh family, he was absolutely useless with housework. It took a full thirty seconds and Robb's idea to use vegetable oil as salad dressing before Jon promptly kicked him out and tended to their meal in peace. He looked back only to see Robb cruising on the couch.

During dinner, Robb distracted him again by bringing out a memory from his childhood, playing with his favorite cousin (who coincidentally was named Jon).

“You remind me a lot of him,” Robb quipped. "I think it's the curls."

Robb is a sentimental bastard. He goes on and on about how regretful he was that he missed Jon's visit last year due to exams. And the one before that because of a winter trip with his friends.

“I just really miss him,” Robb admits longingly.

“I can tell,” Jon grinned, despite knowing it was a ploy. “Careful, I might get jealous.”

“Don't be,” Robb appeased, taking a bite of his spinach. “You're much cuter.”

“How do you know?” Jon japes.

After dinner, Robb took a thirty minute phone call from mother, stalling 'the talk' once more. Jon doesn't like to think of his boyfriend as manipulative (he was but that doesn't mean that Jon actually likes to think it), but the way he casually congratulates his sister on her performance was perfectly planned. Jon ended up talking with Arya for a whole hour. He looked up once in the whole conversation, and found that Robb was on the phone with Theon. By the time both of them were finished, it was time for bed. Robb had an early appointment, and Jon really didn't want to have to wake him up. He reminded himself to talk with Robb after he gets home.

On Sunday, their bags are packed and ready for travel. By Monday, they are already boarding the train. Jon doesn't remember the details of how it happened, only that Robb should really consider a degree in law.

Theon Greyjoy is already waiting in their cabin when they get in. He's lying on one of the couches in a wanton 'fuck me' pose directed at Jon's boyfriend, and his shirt is button down enough to see his chest. It's shameless and tacky, and Jon almost bashes his head against the wall for not doing the same. He fights the urge to undo his own shirt. Gods, what is it about Robb that makes people so crazy?

“You're late!” Theon barks at them petulantly. He casts an appreciative look in Robb's direction, eying his body like a piece of meat. Jon bristles. He places himself in front of Robb to block those undressing eyes.

Robb sees no foul play, and steps aside to greet Theon. “We could have come together if you'd stayed with me like planned.”

Theon scoffs, “And listen to you two poofs fucking all night? No thanks.”

“Says the fashion major,” Robb retorts playfully. Theon grins. He catches Robb off guard when he pulls the younger man on top of him. Robb tumbles in laughter and the two wrestle like children in their limited space. Jon almost growls when Theon tightens his hold on Robb.

Jon's knuckles turn white. He knows that the right move would be to brush it off. Theon only wants a reaction. He knows that they are best friends, and that they have history. Jon's never been the jealous type; his best friends/ex-lovers Ygritte and Satin are proof of that.

But when Theon starts moaning, all the gloves are off. He grabs Robb off of Theon and throws him onto their side of the cabin. He then proceeds to send Theon a threatening look, and presents Robb with one that says he's not happy. The action leads to an uncomfortable silence which they sit through until the train starts moving.

A few minutes past. They look around at their surroundings awkwardly. When Jon's mobile rings, the music makes the situation even more awkward. Because of the ring tone, Jon already knows who it is. Knowing that there is no way for him to avoid answering, he takes it out and gets up to take it in the train's common room.

“Have something to hide, bastard?” Theon can't shut his mouth to save his life. The nickname is dirty, and Jon knows Theon knows how much it annoys him. Robb is about to defend him before Jon speaks up.

“It's my old boss.” Jon reveals. He doesn't elaborate, and allows the little demons in Theon's mind to plot maliciously.

Theon snorts, “That doesn't sound suspicious at all.”

“Theon,” Robb warns. Theon pouts petulantly and directs his attention to the window.

Robb switches his gaze to Jon, and his puppy eyes can't hide his curiosity for shit.

“I was his nanny,” Jon explains, maybe a little irritated by the distrust. Jon isn't a perfect angel, but he likes to think of himself as a good person. He leaves the room in a huff, not listening to Robb's pleas to come back.

After landing himself in the common area, Jon picks up the phone. He's a bit surprise to see it ring for so long, but his employer has always been a patient man.

“Mr. Baratheon?” Jon assumes politely.

Jon, I need you.”

Always to the point, this one.

“Does Mr. Seaworth know what you're asking?” Jon hears a few breaking vases in the background and fights the urge to laugh. It must be hell raising eight kids. And to think, Stannis always wanted a boy.

Don't be daft!” Stannis reprimands breathlessly. He shouts at one of the kids to stop hanging off the curtains. “Davos isn't here.”

That doesn't sound suggestive at all. Jon really needs to give him a lesson in euphemisms. “Where is he? Where are you?”

He's signing the papers to our house. We've moved. North Yorkshire. Steffon, I swear if you-” Stannis pants out. There's a brief period of silence, and then a huge tackling noise that implies someone got hurt. The groan implies it was Stannis. The man, not the kid.

“Why did you move?” It's a reasonable question. Stannis was a corporate lawyer and most of the work he did was in London where the headquarters of Baratheon Inc. is located.

Too crowded,” Stannis huffs out. “Housing prices are horrid. My condo isn't big enough for four kids.

“I thought it was eight,” Jon asks curiously.

Allard and Dale moved out already. Matthos and Maric are in university-

“What if they come to visit?”

Fuck! I forgot! No! Don't repeat what I'm saying! Stop it, Stannis! Shireen go back to your room-!” There's silence again, and Jon can only assume that he's trying to lay down the law. After a few minutes of crashes and cries of mercy, Stannis returns. It actually sounds peaceful. Stannis acts as if he just fought a great battle.

How much will it cost?” Stannis bargains.

“What?” Jon doesn't know why he feels thrown off. He knew this is what it was leading to.

I can't trust any of the help. They're the twits who gave Steffon and Stannis chocolate. It has to be you.

Jon chuckles. It's actually the sweetest thing Stannis has ever told him. “Stannis, I'm flattered-”

I need you to get here immediately. I'll text you the address. Hell, I'll send you a jet. Please, Jon. I'll do anything.

Dear Gods, Stannis is begging.

“Don't bother,” Jon informs him, amused. Stannis makes a noise of protests, but Jon cuts him off. “I'm heading to Yorkshire to visit...family.” Stannis has been sort of a father figure to him, up there with Uncle Ned and Aemon from the nursing home he used to work at. He doesn't need the man judging his life choices. “Just give me the address and I'll try to send you a schedule.”

Thank you,” the relief in Stannis' voice is overwhelming.

“No problem,” Jon replies and they say their goodbyes. To Jon's surprise, he feels some serenity after accepting the offer. When he turns around, his serenity is shattered when he sees a conscience stricken Robb who has obviously heard the conversation.

“How much did you hear?” Jon calmly asks, placing his phone back into his pocket.

“Most of it,” Robb smiles sheepishly. “I didn't know you were a nanny.”

Jon shrugs, “I used to be.” It was a temporary gig until he could find something he was passionate about. He liked it well enough.

“Sorry for doubting you,” Robb apologizes. It's sincere, like all things Robb. “I just...I don't know anything about you."

That's because we've only been together for two weeks, Jon sighs. He takes pity on him, and holds his face still for a kiss. It's incredibly public, and Jon could practically sense some of the other passengers watching. He doesn't care. Not really. When they part, Jon grins.

“You have all summer to learn.”

Chapter Text

Arya is no stranger to hospitals.

The youngest Stark girl has always been drawn to danger, earning more bruises and scratches than all the boys in her neighborhood together. Her first bone was broken when she was five, and the black eye and swollen lip followed shortly after. She lacked an impulse control, an inability to reign in the energy deep within her. She mouthed off to her teachers and didn't play nice with the other girls.

When her mother decided to her enroll her into her first ballet class, the intention was to teach her discipline, or at least, give her a decent distraction before she moved onto her next death wish.

No one expected her to be actually be good at it.

Arya Stark was a prodigy, her first ballet instructor declared, and was advancing three levels in the year she enrolled. Despite her late age in joining the art, Arya was already advised to move up in classes, or be transferred over to a more formal education. It got to the point where Ned Stark was recommended to enroll her under the private tutelage of Syrio Forel, a dancer of great, international renown. He, like all the others, claimed that Arya had the potential to become a professional dancer.

"When she is old enough, I will recommend her performance schools. Talent like that should not confined in a lackluster education."

Catelyn was ecstatic when she first heard the news. Arya had stopped picking fights with her sister, stopped getting hurt playing sports with the boys, and even stopped disobeying her teachers. She would actually listen to Catelyn and Ned now that she had something she wasn't willing to lose.

It wasn't until her fourth recital, when Catelyn visited her backstage to congratulate her on her stunning performance, that she realized the mistake she made.

Her daughter laid on the floor, collapsed in pain. Her feet were swollen purple with her nails colored black with blood, and with a closer look, Catelyn could see day old blisters and bunions, more than a few scabs, and some bleeding. Syrio had checked her once, his face covered in familiarity.

“It's broken,” he told her youngest girl calmly.

Catelyn gasped in horror when she heard Arya laughed. “I could have told you that.” She winced and bit her lip to keep herself from crying.

Syrio did not yell at her, nor did he criticize her for her foolishness. Instead, he praised her for her strength, as if dancing on a broken foot was her greatness accomplishment in life. “You did majestically! They sing praises of your name! Be careful, boy!” Syrio affectionately titles her, after her first performance with a male's part, “They might try to steal you away.”

Catelyn saw her laughing all the way to the hospital. While there, she begged the Stark girl to quit--there were many other, safer hobbies to try out. Maybe she should sign her up for a an all girl's football team, or perhaps fencing. She always liked the stories of knights and warriors. Arya refused all of them. “I'm good at this,” she reminded her, “I can be great.” And as far as Arya was concerned, the discussion was over.

It's almost midnight when a young man rushes into the emergency room and therefore Jaime Lannister's care. On his side is the petite heiress known as Arya Stark, limping slightly from another dance injury. Jaime notes that her companion is a handsome lad, younger than Jaime himself but visibly older than Arya herself. From his clothes to his wearied face, it was obvious this young man came from the estates, and that' being generous. What was he? Eighteen, nineteen? Either way, he was far too old to be spending time with a girl like Arya, who looked thirteen to her actual sixteen. Dancers and their small frames were ideal jailbait. Arya smiles at him and laughs at his concern Jaime wonders if that is a smile reserved for this young man alone, or her true face amongst friends.

“Good to see you again. I was getting worried you gained some self-preservation."

Arya rolls her eyes, but Gendry becomes more concerned. He's probably unfamiliar with the extent of his girlfriend's hobby. “Three hour performance,” she reveals. “Nothing too serious.”

Jaime sighs, wondering when it'll get to the point that a broken arm is no big deal as long as she could still be the lead. His father use to say that the best part of Arya is that she thinks she's the best, and she probably is.

But Jaime really doesn't want to think about his father.

“You know the drill,” Jaime orders her, much to the young man's surprise. “What compelled you to come this time?”

Arya hops on the bed, and as always, brings up her feet for speculation. She's not wearing her pointe shoes, so he isn't too concerned about the damage. When Jaime takes her sneakers off, Gendry speaks again.

“I brought her in here as soon as she started to walk funny-what the hell is that?” He stares in awe at the complete ruin of Arya's foot. “I know you said you had ugly feet but fuck, that's a--”

“Gendry!” Arya shrieks indignantly, a little put off by his behavior. It's the most childish reaction she's ever seen him have. She playfully attacks the older boy who blocks it with laughter. Jaime watches in fascination, and when Arya notices, she stops hastily.

“Gendry, can you wait in the lobby?” Arya asks, trying not to make a big deal of it.

Gendry frowns. "You're not going to try and run away again? Right?" 

He's not an idiot, Jaime will give him that. It must have been hell getting her here. He imagines a ferocious kitten clawing up its owner's arm to the vet. Arya promises to be a good girl and strokes his arm, affectionately definitely, sensually almost. When he leaves, Arya watches him go with a unique spark.

Jaime doesn't taunt her with Gendry's presence, but Arya explains anyways. “He's a friend.”

Jaime arches an eyebrow, and recalls the boy's muscled arms, attractive face, and riffraff manner. He's working class at best, and definitely not the type of guy Arya would meet at her posh public school. “Just a friend?”

“Sometimes more,” Arya coolly responds. “Would you like details?”

Jaime bristles at the offer. He doesn't bet against Arya to give him actual details. She still waiting for the moment he pisses her off enough where she explains how much his father liked her flexibility. “He's a bit below you, isn't he? Is someone keeping a little secret from mummy and daddy?”

"I'm not the one with the daddy issues," Arya retorts.

Jaime does not falter. "Still, out this late at night and with a man that looks like that. One would think you were hiding something."

"Well, Gendry is easy to hide behind. He's so big and strong," Arya smiles. "He takes after his father."

And the lion is chased into the trap: a den filled with torches and spears with wolves growling at the entrance."

"And who is his father?"

“Funny you should ask. See, remember the man your sister married because she got knocked up, and then years later, you realized he didn't stop fucking other women? Well, dun dun dun. Gentry is Robert's son. He's seven months older than Joffrey.”

Arya never pulled her punches, physically or verbally. The girl could take it as good as she could give it out, and Jaime can't help but marvel at the pure ruthlessness she possessed. He returns to inspecting her foot.

“Well, it's not the worst thing you came here with,” Jaime Lannister concludes. He checks for swelling and asks her to move it as well she can. There is not pain when she does, and aside from the cracked and blacken toe nail, there seems to be very little damage. “There might be an infection. Either way, we'll have to remove the nail.”

“Surgically?” Arya asks, her voice slightly above a panic. She must not want her parents here. Jaime is almost tempted to say yes in order to spite her.

“It's almost completely off. I think the mixture will do just fine,” Jaime informs calmly. He leaves the room for a few minutes to get the necessary materials. After ten minutes or so, Jaime arrives with the removal liquid.

“Shouldn't there be a doctor doing this?” Arya asks dryly. She puts out her feet anyways, use to the ritual by now. Arya can't even find it in herself to be grossed out. “I think I'd feel safer with a doctor.”

“He's lighting a fag outside,” Jaime informs with a smirk gracing his handsome face. His scrubs are surprisingly prim and proper. Arya does feel regretful that she never had a chance with him intimately. She didn't even notice when he speaks up again. “You're stuck with me.”

Arya sighs, “Why are you always on duty?”

“Because I take the night shift when Brienne out of town and when Brienne is out of town, you happen to get hurt.”

“Brienne's not here?” Arya asks curiously. “Where is she?”

“London, working with Renly,” Jaime recounts bitterly. Arya giggles at his obvious distaste. His girlfriend's first love is as gay as pineapple and currently engaged to the football player, Loras Tyrell. He still didn't like it. “Apparently, her trip to Japan has made her his new favorite. He insists on having his favorite assistant every where he goes.”

“What happened in Japan?”

"A photographer took a picture of her and demanded she come in for a photoshoot."

"I didn't know she modeled." 

“She doesn't,” Jaime answers, “But apparently the androgynous look is popular there.”

“Good for her,” Arya says sincerely. Jaime prays that the Stark girl leaves it at that. He's not willing to talk about it further but knows that Arya will try. The stubborn brunette never left anything well enough alone. Especially things that weren't good for her. Especially men, the dark side of his mind whispers hatefully. “Can I ask you something?”

“No.”

Arya asks him anyways, her feet dangling around to prolong her stay there. He tries to grab onto the injured foot but Arya never stills. “You never liked me, did you?”

Jaime stares at her, wondering how she will react to the truth, wondering if there's a way to throw her off his scent. “I'm not fond of anybody, to be fair.”

“Oh, we both know that's not true,” Arya acknowledges. Jaime hides his expression well, but she could always see through such masks. “You joined the military to protect, you became a nurse to heal. You don't hate people, Jaime. Not even close. But you don't like me.”

Jaime looks into her catlike eyes, a enigmatic gleam that reminds him of his dark past. Arya is a clever girl, but she enjoys playing with fire, even after her fingers burn off. He finally manages to catch her foot and gets ready to paste the mixture on. Knowing she would act up, Jaime says the one thing he knows will silence her.

“You remind me of my sister.”

When Arya's smirk falters and no words escape her mouth, Jaime thinks he's won for once. He thinks the girl will be quiet, allow him to fix her wounds in peace. The process is almost finished when Arya speaks up.

“That's what your father said.”

Jaime nearly takes her toe off.

"That hurt, didn't it?"

In all honesty, Arya is surprised there wasn't an accident. She should be grateful by how stable he is. He bandages her feet and finishes up the job flawlessly. Despite his work ethic, there is definite resentment raging through that body. Arya wonders if she should be worried. It's a touchy subject for the Lannisters twins, and their relationship to Tywin Lannister is one of great turmoil and regret.

"If it's any consolation, I don't think about him, and I'm sure he doesn't think about me." she explains. "We had nothing."

"You had something," Jaime whisper bitterly. "He treated you with more care than he ever did his children."

"He wanted something from me and I needed something from him. There's no love between us."

Then explain why he did what he did, Jaime thinks. "There was something."

"There was affection, and respect."

"That's more than he gave us."

Arya sighs, more than a bit tired of their familial drama. "You know what Jaime?"

Jaime raises an eyebrow.

“You like to play games. I do, too. So let's agree never play a game you aren't ready to lose." She looks at his arm. "You've lost so many."

They both remain silent. When Jaime finishes, Arya steps off the bed and walks out the doors as if nothing happened. She will either forget this night ever happen, or hold a grudge that will last decades. The girl has a will that rivals all his siblings, and Jaime wonders if that's what caught his father's eye in the first place.

Gendry drives her home instead of his place. The ride is painfully quiet, the silence only being broken by the call from her cousin. The news that Jon will be visiting for the summer made her happy enough not to criticize him for staying with his boyfriend instead of them.

Finally, Gendry stops in front of the Stark Estate. He stops across the street, perhaps fearful of the impossibly high gates and ominous air. Despite the reputation of the Starks, he never felt safe around it, only wonder. He cannot believe anybody could be raised in such a cold environment. He waits for Arya to get out. He doesn't look at her; he doesn't even say goodbye.

Arya will not have it.

“What's the matter with you?”

Gendry keeps his mouth shut.

“Are you serious?"

Gendry looks straight ahead.

“Stop being such a girl, Gendry,” Arya snaps.

No answer.

Arya makes a noise of aggravation. She angrily shifts the gear to park, undoes her seat belt, and crawls over to Gendry's lap. “What are you--?”

He doesn't finish his sentence before Arya kisses him. It's rough, a mess of uncontrollable lips and tongue. Gendry tries not to react, but Gendry's never been able to resist Arya for long. He grips her waist, kisses her madly, deeply, as if they are in love. Sucks on her neck and bites into her skin. Grabs her ass and digs bruises into her flesh.

When they part, Arya smirks in victory, and Gendry feels more like a tool than ever. She kisses him again, softly this time. He turns away. “Get off Arya.”

“Don't tell me what to do.” She giggles and kisses his neck.

Gendry groans and tries to push her off. Arya tightens her thighs around him, both turning him on and making him even more frustrated. She's stronger than most girls, Gendry knows that she can take down a man twice her size with little effort. He seen her do worst. “Get off,” he orders, keeping his voice firm.

Arya actually laughs, as if amused he could say no to her when no else has. Not really. She's a Stark. People listen to the Starks like there word was law. She goes back to the passenger seat and places her legs on top of the dashboard but doesn't get out of the car. It's intentionally seductive and Gendry wonders how she could cause such a reaction within him. He's known her since they were children. He was sleeping with university girls before she even had her first kiss. “I'm not leaving until you tell me why you're acting like this.”

Gendry sighs in frustration. “How did you know that nurse?”

Arya doesn't hesitate to answer. “I'm in the hospital a lot. I know a lot of nurses.”

“You know a lot of dangerous men, too,” Gendry accuses.

“Is that suppose to offend me?”

Arya has never been ashamed about her promiscuity. Gendry respects that about her. He remembered a time when he used to like that she never wanted a relationship and never wanted to be anything more than friends. She was the only girl he considered a real friend, anyways.

“I'm worried about you,” Gendry says instead. “You're the type to peel off a scab just to see it bleed again.”

Arya becomes strangely quiet, and Gendry wonders if he step on one of Arya's landmines. He's knows she has quite a few, some of which he's been the victim of. Arya is open about a lot of things, but there are some wounds she carefully stitches up for no one to see.

“He's Cersei Lannister's brother,” Arya admits suddenly. “That's why I wanted you out.”

The confession startles him, but it helps Gendry get the picture. Arya had told him her suspicions after finding her father's old school pictures with Robert Baratheon. They did the DNA test as a joke, and then the two found themselves solving the lost mystery of Gendry's father.

It was so anticlimactic, he laughed.

“Is that it?” Gendry asks. He does not buy the excuse entirely, but he's more forgiving now.

“No,” Arya tells him, “But it's all I'm telling you.” Arya finally gets out of the car. Gendry doesn't stop her, but he regrets not saying anything back. To his surprise, she stays a few minutes longer. “Can we hang out tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Gendry agrees. “I can pick you up after work.”

Arya smiles, and kisses him on the cheek. “See you later.”

Gendry sighs and bangs his head against the wheel. Lommy and Hot Pie were right. He is so whipped.

When Arya arrives at the home, she is nearly run over by her mother's storming figure. The red haired matriarch almost doesn't see her when she rushes to her bedroom, but stops to give her a kiss goodnight and congradulate her for her performance. She's sure it was stunning even if Arya didn't want her to come. Arya tries not to feel bad during the guilt trip but she fails. Arya can tell that she's extremely angry about something. When she leaves, Nymeria pounces on her, causing Arya to giggle when she feels the wet greetings. Her father follows shortly after, and welcomes her home.

“How was your performance?”

“I got a standing ovation,” Arya offers, she fiddles her feet, trying her best not to show any discomfort. She wants to hurry and get her shoes off so her feet could breath. “What's up with mum?”

“My friend Robert is coming.”

Arya can't help the frown that arrives on her face. She composes herself easily enough, though. “I guess me and Gendry have something to talk about tomorrow.”

The statement makes her father more uneasy.

“Is there anything else I should know?” Arya asks.

“Another friend is coming to stay, and so is Robb's boyfriend.”

Boyfriend? “They need more women at that school." Ned has to laugh at that. She tries to smile but earlier events made it forced. “Whose your friend?”

“We were in the army together. His name is Howland Reed.”

The bells are ringing in Arya's head. “The one with the son? Jordan?"

"Jojen," he corrects. 

"That's the one whose caused that court case. The one about Bran?" The one you never told us about.

Her father nods.

"No wonder mum's bent out of shape.”

Arya doesn't know the details (only her mother, father, and Sansa were privy to that incident). She was away the entire year and all she knows is that when she came back, the name 'Reed' had been banned from their household. “Are you ever going to tell me what happened?”

Ned is reluctant. “I want you to draw your own judgments. The Reeds are good people.”

“Cause history proves I have the best of that,” Arya sarcastically mumbles. She picks up her bag and heads to her quarters. “I'm way too tired to have this talk so I'll just be off to bed. See you at breakfast,” Arya informs. She gives him a kiss on the cheek before heading for her bed. Nymeria follows accordingly.

Ned loves his daughter, but he fears for his life if Arya turns out to be the reasonable one.

Chapter Text

Ned doesn't go to bed until 3:00 in the morning, when he is absolutely sure his wife was asleep. He strips down to his boxers and enters. Despite the risk of startling her, he wraps her arms around her, which she subconsciously allows. After accomplishing his goal, he rests his eyes and eventually falls asleep. He wakes up 6:00, earlier than normal on his day off, and finds his bed empty and cold. Catelyn is angry with him, and even a night alone to her thoughts could not change that. Ned isn't surprised. Only a fool would think that time alone heals a wound.

He goes downstairs to find her in the kitchen but she isn't formally dressed. She is wearing the same blue nightgown she wore to sleep while her red hair is held in a loose braid. The maids are nowhere in sight, leaving the two of them alone. He sees her on her knees, rummaging through the refrigerator, trying to find something.

Ned watches by the doorway the whole time. He loves watching her little expressions, how she would have this little furrow in her brow when she was upset, to her little smirks of victory. His wife was adorable.

Ned walks up to her, his steps virtually unheard of. He used to be called the quiet wolf for his silent nature, coupled in with his ability to sneak up on anybody and everybody. It made it damn near impossible for Lyanna (and of course Brandon) to not get caught in their teenage years, not when their brother was on watch, waiting in the shadows like some creeper. Their father said their mother had the same power.

“Cat?” Ned murmurs softly.

Catelyn jumps and bangs her head against one of the refrigerator shelves. She lets out a string of curses that makes Ned flustered. He hastily heads over to her side to check for injuries.

“Are you alright?” Ned asks. He begins to investigate but Catelyn is clutching her head, covering the area that needs to be checked.

“I'm fine,” she tells him. She drops her hand, and though Ned can see a minor bump, there is no bleeding. He sighs in relief. He kisses it. Once the worst is over, he sees that she got more dessert. This time, it's ginger snaps, potato candy, and chocolate mint brownies. She sees his gaze, and blushes furiously.

“I was getting a snack,” Catelyn defends herself weakly. She looks down at her food selections and seems to contemplate putting one back to save her honor. There's nothing she doesn't like, though, and so she stares. They keep their drawers well stocked with treats of all kinds. The Tully sweet tooth was genetic, and almost every single one of his children have it. 

Ned Stark doesn't know what to say to make his lovely wife feel better (he's never been good with words), so he brings a brownie to her lips. Catelyn flushes but opens her mouth regardless. They share a look, and Catelyn can see the guilt in Ned's puppy eyes.

“I'm sorry,” he tells her sincerely. “I should have asked you first."

Yes, you should have. Catelyn wants to keep fighting, but being mad at Ned is hard since all his wrongdoings come from a good place. She settle for being content with his apology. “You have a good heart.” Too good, really. It's why he does stupid things like invite his friends into their home. “It's why I love you,” Catelyn reminds him, and herself. She couldn't have been one of those pathetic little things that ignored their boyfriend's cheating and tried to change them. Nope, she just had to be proactive. It's why she left Brandon. It's why she choose Ned. 

Ned continues to feed her the rest of the brownie, and smiles when she lets him. Once she is finished, there are traces of crumbs all over her lips. He makes a move to wipe them away, and unintentionally slips a finger into her lips.

At first, it was just a few gentle sucks, teasing little motions to get the chocolate off. But then Cateyn took the fingertips into her mouth up to the first knuckle. She ran her tongue over the pads of skin, looking up to her husband as she took more of the fingers into her mouth.

Without warning, Ned retracts them back with force causing Catelyn to whimper. Before she could ask why, he drags her over to his lap, making a mess of the desserts on the floor. He brings her down to meet his lips and grinds her into his lap. They kiss passionately, with Ned's hands roughly lacing through her braid and sending the band across the room.

Catelyn barely has enough time to pull down his boxers before he rips off her panties and throws it across the room. Catelyn makes a shrill noise of approval. She loves it when Ned loses control. It reminds her of their first time together, after countless days of 'accidental' touches and flirtatious little winks, she finally had him taking her like an animal in their living room floor, the woods, the basement, Brandon's bedroom.

Her thoughts become lost when she feels his unbelievably hard cock rubbing against her slit. It takes a little longer to get as wet as she used to, but once there's a drip, Cateyn presses against him to get him to go further.

“It might hurt,” Ned grunts out.

Catelyn nods frantically. “Yes it will, now hurry up and come inside!"

"Cat, we should slow down."

"I've been taking your cock for twenty years," Catelyn moans. "If you don't shove your dick inside me now, it's not the only thing that's going to hurt!”

Ned heeds her warning, and enters her in a single motion. Catelyn's moans ring throughout the kitchen, and she prays that no one hears her. She holds onto Ned like a lifeline and pants directly into his ear.

“I love your voice,” Ned gasps out as he starts to thrust. He pumps into her eagerly, listening to her cries of pleasure spurring him on. He uses his wet fingers to play with her clit and elicit more moans from that beautiful mouth he loves. She's breasts are bouncing in front of him, one escaping the protection of her dress. Ned quickly takes it into her mouth and suckles on it like babe.

Because of their love making, neither of them heard the upcoming footsteps or the sound of a chair wheeling its way to the kitchen. The two were so lost in each other that as they were getting close to completion, it took a second for them to realize that the door was opening.

"Cover their eyes!” Osha's shriek is heard as she pushes Hodor aside to cover Rickon's view.

Hodor is knocked out of the way before he could do the same for Bran. The poor boy is stunned silent as he watches his parents frantically try to compose themselves. He literally watches his father's cock slip out of his mother and feels the bile forming in his throat. Oh Gods, there's liquid. Gross. Gross. Gross. And there's food all over the place. Even more gross cause that means there was something kinky happening.

Osha is busy taking Rickon away from the mess (like the good nanny she is), and Hodor seems desperately deliberating whether he should wheel Brandon away or not. The man looks so confused that Catelyn feels sorry for him. But she has other problems to worry about, like how Bran is now staring at them with his mouth open and his eyes as big as balloons.

Silence beat through the kitchen. Long and hard and cold. Catelyn can't look. She's staring at the floor like it's the most interesting thing in the world. She'll probably have to clean because she just had sex with her husband on it and her son caught her and Catelyn really needs to just stop thinking.

"I thought you were camping,” Ned begins, more calmly than she ever could.

"There was an accident or something," Bran replies. “The rangers evacuated everybody.”

Fuck the rangers and their woods. “Well, you probably want a bath right now,” Catelyn suggest weakly.

Bran nods, frozen and stiff like a zombie made of ice.

Ned agrees, “Yes, I'm sure it got rather dirty-”

Bran goes white.

“From the woods! Because the woods are dirty, not sex-” Ned rectifies.

Bran looks ready to heave.

“Because sex is not dirty-”

Bran stares at the smashed desserts on the ground and on their bodies. Catelyn thought his eyes couldn't bulge any further, but he proves her wrong. Ned follows his gaze.

“Well, this time it was. But normally-”

Oh gods, they did it more than once? Bran was so blissfully happy believing that his parents have only had sex five times in their whole marriage.

“Well, normally we're not in the kitchen. Sometimes we are but most-”

“Be quiet, Ned!” Catleyn hisses, her face growing redder than her hair. “What your father is trying to say is-”

"I'm going!" Bran promises. He grabs Hodor's arm, signaling that they have to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. "I'll take that bath and… and… you can continue, or whatever! Come on, Hodor!"

“Hodor,” Hodor agrees innocently.

"We'll be back later. Lots later,” Bran informs them, though he seems more than reluctant to see them again.

"Be back for breakfast!" Catelyn shouts, reverting back to maternal phase.

Bran nods his head so fast that Ned thinks his head would fall off. The boy is wheeled away in at an alarming speed.

They waited until the door slams shut. Catelyn sinks her head into her husband's shoulder, mortified.

"Oh my God," Catelyn says, when she could speak again. "We've scarred him for life."

Ned gently pats Catelyn's shoulder. “He'll get over it. We'll have to talk to them about it though.”

“You and your talking was what got us into this mess,” Catelyn reminds with touch of bitterness and amusement. Then they look at each other and both bursts into hysterical laughter.

Breakfast is a ridiculously awkward affair. Judging by the lovey-dovey nature of her parents, she knew it wasn't because of their fight last night, and from the mortified expression on Bran's face and the confusion on Rickon's, she could easily guessed what went down.

Bran finally caught them having sex.

Well, it's about damn time.

Arya thinks it's cute how many of her siblings are in denial about their parents' sex life. Especially considering how active the two were. She's seen the tale tell signs of a mysteriously broken vase, and the suspicious marks on their bodies where they hope none of the children could see. It's not rocket science, and Arya is surprised it took so long for her younger siblings.

Robb caught them when he was twelve, underneath the bleachers of his football game.

Sansa was fourteen when Catelyn was receiving head in the living room.

Jon had said he'd seen them in their car when he was ten, but didn't think too much of it (his mother was Lyanna Stark after all).

Arya had also been ten and she was going to ignore it, but she really needed to get her ballet flats. So she just walked in and walked out without confronting either of them.

Uncle Benjen told her that he was fifteen and it was the garden. Aunt Lyanna said she was eighteen and it was in Brandon's bed (she also gave her a slew of curses towards her mother that Arya will not repeat).

The point being, Arya really doesn't get why everybody is freaking out over nothing. Taking the proactive, concerned sister approach, she decides to confront the problem head on. God forbid he thinks sex is a bad thing.

"Do you have any questions, Bran?"

Her parents' squeak of “Arya!” is followed up by Bran's face palming "Oh my god, why?"

Arya delicately places her mother's delicious poached egg on one of her whole wheat toasts and sprinkles it with black pepper. During her performance season, Arya got fairly obsessive about her diet. She always ate a lot, but nothing too fatty or oily that could damage her figure. "You're obviously upset. I don't want you to get the wrong impression about sex.”

"Oh my god," Bran repeats dramatically. His face has yet to rise from it's place on the dining room table, and he seems hell bent on keeping it there.

Ned, however, takes Arya's words to heart. He rewards Arya with a nod of approval. “Your sister is right. We should talk about what happened.”

"There is no amount of talking," Bran mutters through the table, "that will make any of this okay. No amount of talking will remove that image from my mind!”

“What a drama queen,” Arya complains under her breath. Bran finally gets up to shoot his sister a dirty look.

Catelyn tells her to hush before turning to Bran. “It's just that we're worried about you. I know that sex seems like a far off experience, but we want you to be prepared when the time comes.”

“That means use protection,” Arya quips. “And no babymama drama, alright?”

“Arya!” Catelyn gasps.

“What? I'm not the one caught humping my husband on the kitchen floor."

“Arya!” Ned orders her more forcibly. He tries to get back into control. “Bran, what do you want to know?”

“What?” Bran asks, horrified. They are seriously not having this talk now, are they?

Ned looks at him grimly. “About sex. There must be some questions you have about our love making. We will try to answer you as truthfully and as honestly as possible. Please keep in mind, though, that while your mother has had multiple partners in the past-” Catelyn makes a choking noise. “I have only been with your mother. Also, you should note that the both of us are solely familiar with the mechanics of heterosexual sex-”

"Are you serious?!" Bran shrieks. This is so not happening.

“Yes, I have yet to feel urges towards members of my own sex. Therefore, I can not provide you with that sort of information.” Ned looks unbelievably serious. “There are clinics though, and we can go get the pamphlets together.”

Ned gazes calmly at his son, as if he had not seen his father's penis in his mother this morning. In the kitchen. Where his mother made his meals. Bran looks down at his food and suddenly feels very sick.

"Sex is a perfectly natural part of a relationship, especially in a marriage," Ned says, not noticing his son's diminishing health. "Sex, though not exactly necessary to be happy, is a common way to show affection. Your mother and I love each a lot, and we like to show it by having sex.”

Bran might have thought that was lovely way of putting things, if he had not seen them going at it like bunnies this morning. Such thoughts made him think about where he was conceived, like a couch or the garden, and oh my god, he's slept on the couch and in the garden!

“Please stop,” Bran begs.

“Dad, you forgot that Jon and Robb are currently in sexual relationships with their boyfriends. Bran could get advice from them if he starts to feel urges!”

“Shut up, Arya!” Bran complains before thinking 'did Robb go through all the women in the world already?' “I don't need your advice!”

Arya rolls her eyes, and gets up, bringing her breakfast with her. “I was just trying to help. Now, if you excuse me, this looks like it's going to be one very awkward sex talk that I don't want to be apart of.”

She ushers Rickon out of the room, whose attention span had no chance against such a topic.

Ned, however, seems to truly contemplate such a suggestion. “Arya has a point. How about we hold this discussion until Robb returns for the summer?”

"Yes, please," Bran agrees fervently. Salvation at last! He manages to force down a bite of sausage (dear god, why is he eating sausage of all things?) before Ned looks at him with a thoughtful frown.

“You know what, Bran? I don't think it's too inappropriate for you to learn about protection now. Both homosexual and heterosexual people use condoms and it's good that you think about the sizes and the quality-”

There was a loud crash as Bran slides all the way to the floor.

When Sansa comes home, freshly fucked but still dolled up to look innocent, she sees Bran wheeling lifelessly around in the living room. She goes up to him in concern, but Arya stops her.

“What happened to Bran?” She asks worriedly.

“He saw mom and dad doing it."

Sansa sighs. “Where?”

“Kitchen floor.”

“No!” The poor thing must be traumatized. “Did they...?”

“Yep, they even brought out our birth videos and showed them 'The Banana Trick.'” Sansa looks rightfully horrified.

"So they...?"

"Yep."

“And wrapped it around the....?”

"Uh-huh."

"And father talked about how he and Uncle Brandon once grabbed a whole bundle and just..."

"And mom was telling him that's normal so he should be prepared or stay single."

Sansa shakes her head. Her little brother will die a virgin.

Chapter Text

The Starks are an old family, and as a result, they have a great deal of family heirlooms. Amongst Robb's favorite is a silver ring with his family sigil on it: a large wolf with the words 'winter is coming' engraved on the inside. It's not particularly expensive, but filled with the richness of his ancestor's tales and the unparalleled spirit of determination that made the Starks who they were today. These were the stories that Robb used to hear growing up from his tutor, Luwin.

Despite its meaning, Robb has never thought about using it. For one, it has been in his family for millenniums, and he can only imagine the throttling he'll receive if he gives it away. Secondly, he's a romantic, not an idiot, and he knows that no girl wants a 10,000 year old ring worth less than the down payment on a truck. It's an heirloom, a device for storytelling if anything at all.

Then, he met Jon, and suddenly the ring that has collected dust for thousands of years looks all the more appealing.

Robb has fallen in 'love' a lot, but some part of him has always been aware that it wasn't true love. He spends most of his relationships trying to fit each girl into that image of a perfect life, and tends to forget who the woman was in the end. Jon is special, because there is no need to fit him into that boxed in image. He wanted to fit that image around Jon. He came to the understanding that Jon and him may not always be together, and even soul mates could be separated.

That's why he wanted to make it official.

The ring is resting in his father's den, under lock and key. It will take some convincing, but Ned is a good man who believes in the value of love, and Robb is sure he can convince his father to give it to him. Besides, once his father realizes how amazing Jon is, Ned will begging Robb to make Jon his son in law.

Robb spends most of the train ride planning the proposal, the engagement and the wedding. A small, logical part in his mind starts to seep through and reminds him that Jon hasn't even said yes, yet. That he may never say yes, and break up with him before Robb even gets the chance. The infection called doubt wrecks his brain with other scenarios, such as his parents disapproving and Jon leaving him. It freaks him out to the point that Robb has made four (illegal) cigarette breaks in the last hour.

On the fifth one, Jon finally acknowledges that he needs to confront Robb about his unexplained stress, and to do so before one of the conductors discovers Robb's smoking habit and kicks him off the train. Before catching him, though, Jon decides to confront the only person who might know what's happening.

“What's up with Robb?”

Theon peers up at him from his magazine, before returning to his reading material. “Aren't you his boyfriend? Shouldn't you know why he's upset?”

I would, was the unspoken message. Jon glares at his boyfriend's best friend, who is eating up Robb's distress like half starved cat. Jon knows what a home wrecker looks like (his mother used to be the reigning queen of that practice) and he could spot Theon's tricks a mile away. The nipple slips and pouty lips may win over some men, but Jon knew how to keep a guy's attention from trollops like him.

“He's hiding something from me,” Jon concludes, trying his best not to sound worried. “I thought that, you, being his friend, would know what. But I forgot that you're just a friend.”

Theon bristles at the insult. “I'm not the one getting dumped,” Theon mutters, clear enough that Jon could hear him.

The bastard boy snaps up at the accusation. “Fuck you, you jealous prat!”

“I'm not lying!” Theon growls, “Why else do you think Robb's acting like a lunatic? He's been freaking out about it since last week. He doesn't want to hurt your feelings,” he mocks.

“We've only been together for three weeks!” Jon protests. "We've move in together already. He's not going to break up with me right after that.

“Yeah, and now the chase is over,” Theon smirks, knowing his words are getting to Jon. The boy had more abandonment issues than he did. “When he met you, you were this sexy, unobtainable challenge. Now he's had you, he's probably bored to pieces.”

Being an asshole doesn't make a person less convincing, and Jon finds himself swallowing every word of it.

“If he was going to break up with me, why would he introduce me to his family?” Jon retorts weakly, the insecurity making its way home.

“Because he'll have an easier time doing it when he realizes his family doesn't approve,” Theon deduces, “Do you seriously believe Robb's posh little family is going to accept the fact that their perfect son is dating a guy who has almost no future? Whose teenage mother got pregnant by some guy she doesn't even know?”

The words hit close to home, and Jon angrily storms out of the room. Theon almost feels guilty at the hurt expression on Jon's face. He quickly tells himself that Jon deserves it. If he didn't want people like Theon to know about his past, he shouldn't be so brazen about it. The bastard could afford a little shame.

Jon searches the train toilets for Robb. When he catches the barest whiff of tobacco smoke in the cubicles, he gently taps on the door. “Robb?” he whispers softly. He can hear some brief shuffling, before the door opens up to a smokey compartment and a severely panicked Stark.

Jon steps into the tiny area without question, and Robb closes the door to avoid getting caught. There is silence between them, and Jon begins to look around their confined space. He glances at the fags on the counter, and notices the one still in Robb's hand.

"Did you disarm the smoke alarms?"

Robb shrug like some disobedient schoolboy. "They're fairly easy to dismantle." 

Fucking engineers and genius college kids. "Isn't that dangerous?" 

"I'll fix it before we get off." He takes a drag from his cigarette. 

“Those things will kill you,” Jon informs casually. There's no real bite to his words. Robb is in wonderful health, and his workload is probably going to kill him faster than a cigarette ever will.

Robb chuckles, and its husky appeal sounds absolutely pornographic. The younger man simply brings the stick back into his mouth and inhales. When he blows the smoke out, Jon is pretty sure he just got an erection. He's staring Jon with those intense bedroom eyes, and Jon feels himself growing a bit breathless. Robb obviously notices and beckons him closer.

“Come here,” Robb orders. “Open your mouth.”

Jon obeys and parts his lips as Robb takes another deep drag of the cigarette. He keeps it in as long as he can, before moving closer to Jon, pressing their lips together, and exhaling into his mouth.

Jon gasps when Robb slips his tongue inside, and there's something so arousing about the way Robb's breath heats up Jon's lungs with smoke. The taste is bitter and burnt, and Jon wants so much more. Jon wraps his arms around Robb, while Robb sneaks one hand around Jon's waist. Before they knew it, they are kissing each other passionately.

Their panting mouths are dry when they separate. Robb releases himself to take another drag, and to Jon's surprise, places his cigarette into Jon's mouth. Jon puts the tobacco to his lips, and inhales slowly. It's not the first time he's smoke (though it's certainly less illegal than those times). Robb watches him take another breath like it's the most erotic thing in the world, before leaning forwards and pressing his lips to Jon. Jon exhales, pushing the smoke into Robb's lungs this time. They do not part; Robb breathes the smoke out of his nose and they try to catch their breath in between harsh kisses.

When the air becomes too scarce to continue, Robb lets go, much to Jon's dismay. He takes back his fag and takes a drag. “You'd rather smoke than kiss me?” Jon asks in an accusatory tone.

Robb laughs breathlessly. “Trust me, there's nothing I'd rather do than kiss you.”

Jon pouts his pretty lips, and looks up at Robb through his lashes in an attempt to be sultry. “Then, why'd you stop?” He brings his fingers down to the hem Robb's trousers, suggesting a very nice reward if Robb answers correctly.

“A man needs to breathe,” Robb jokes, though his voice grows harsh as Jon begins to palm his crotch.

"That's ironic," Jon says, fiddling with the buckle.

Robb pulls Jon into another kiss. Jon grounds their hips together, causing Robb to groan. “I can't keep this up if you keep doing that.”

“You will if you want my mouth around your cock,” Jon threatens, kissing him more roughly this time. When they part, Jon is cornering Robb against the wall, and sucks his neck while talking. “Can you feel how hot it is? It's not that wet but I bet you can fix that if you put it in me. I'll be drooling all over that delicious dick.”

Robb uses one hand to grab onto Jon's hair and throw him down on the floor while the other one crushes the butt of his cigarette. Jon almost laughs at the fact that it's still lit, but then Robb knocks Jon against the zipper of pants, giving him a forceful reminder of what he wants.

Jon wants to take his time, but Robb will have none of that. He practically rips his pants open, before shoving his cock into Jon's mouth. Robb, eyes lidded, feels the validity of Jon's words. His mouth is hot from the cigarette smoke and it provides a sauna like sensation around his dick. It's also drier than usual, but Robb can feel the saliva pushing through to soak his cock. Always aiming to please, Jon is. It'll take a while for it to be fully drenched, and Robb doesn't have that long to wait.

“Fuck,” Robb grunts. “Your mouth isn't wet enough. Maybe deeper…”

Jon thighs rub together, trying to get off on his own terms. Robb won't have it and pushes his head up. “No love, you're gonna get off from me pounding this hole, or not at all.”
Jon chokes his response and attempts to swallow. “Good boy,” Robb murmurs proudly. He fucks his cock into Jon's mouth until his tip is at his throat, then pushes inside it, his eyes rolling back at the slick tightness around his dick. Jon continues to swallow as Robb pushes further down.

Robb takes one last drag before crushing his cigarette against the wall and focusing completely on Jon. He places the now free hand against Jon's throat and squeezes. The tightened grip causes convulsions around his cock and Robb can feel Jon's neck bulge to accommodate his shaft.

“Yeah, that’s better,” Robb pants out. He still isn’t all the way in, but stops where he is about to pull in and out. “Fuck,” he moans, drawing the word out. “Gonna pound it in so hard, love, but make sure you keep quiet or else someone will come check on us. Okay?”

Jon would scoff if he could. If they haven't checked on Robb's smoking escapades, they probably didn't care, or didn't want to piss off one of the richest men on the train. Jon swallows hard nonetheless, coupled with Robb's firm grip around his throat. As a result, his muscles are milking Robb's cock in an exquisite massage.

After this, Robb lets loose, hips flying, ravaging Jon’s throat with rough, noisy thrusts. Jon is confident that everyone can hear the way Robb's balls slap against Jon's face. Jon keeps his mouth open wide, letting Robb use his hole however he wants. Robb concentrates on how his cock visibly stretches Jon's throat every time it thrusts in, a few solid inches distending on his neck. “So fucking hot,” he mutters. “You take my cock so good, love.”

Robb drags this out as long as he can, but his stamina has a limit. His balls are heavy and aching to release his load into Jon. “You ready to drink my cum down, pet?” Robb asks.

Jon moans and sucks him in hard. Robb hips provide a few more jerky thrusts, and finally lets himself cum. His cock twitches where it is deep seated. Thick globs of cum is released down Jon's throat in large spurts, and goes straight into his stomach. As he slides out of Jon's mouth, there is still some being released, and he keeps the tip in for Jon to clean.

“Oh Gods, Jon,” Robb grunts when it is over. He pulls his freshly licked dick out of Jon's mouth. “You were amazing.”

I better be, Jon thinks to himself, swallowing the remains in his mouth. Robb looks so satisfied that Jon is sure he'll be thinking about it until the end of their summer.

“You okay?” Robb asks, shifting his mood from horny to concern. “I can help you out if you'd like...”

Jon looks down to his deflated cock and smiles playfully. “I think you helped just fine.”

Robb tries to hide his proud grin, but fails miserably. Not every man can make his lover cum from receiving a blow job alone. “Next time, I'll return the favor,” he promises.

Jon shrugs. He gets up and buttons Robb's pants for him. “I rather you just pay lots of attention to me.” Instead of acting like a nervous wreck, Jon complains to himself. He removes such thoughts by kissing Robb again.

Robb smiles into the kiss, and pulls away. “Did you come in here just for that?” He doesn't sound angry or confused. In fact, he seems flattered. Jon already knows he's not going to tell the truth, which runs along the lies of 'I heard from Theon that you were breaking up with me and I wanted to convince you otherwise.' Nope, never going to happen.

Robb is still waiting for an answer, though, and Jon decides to rely on the truths he is willing to share.

“I got worried,” Jon confesses. “You normally don't smoke that much.”

Robb flushes at being caught, but his heart begins to flutter at Jon's concern. Gods, how could he ever believe that Jon would say no? “I was just preoccupied with something. It's no problem, now.”

Jon visibly relaxes. Then, another possibility hit Jon, and he wonders if his own actions have caused Robb to realize that maybe having an oversexed boyfriend wasn't a good idea and that he was sure he wanted to end it. “What were you preoccupied about?” He pushes.

Robb hesitates before answering. “I...was just thinking about my family.”

Jon's heart speeds up. “Do you think they won't like me?” Don't sound sad. Don't sound worried. Be calm.

Robb eyes widen. “No! Of course not! They'll love you, Jon. I swear it.”

“How about you?” Jon stares into Robb's eyes seriously. “You do love me, don't you?”

Robb almost looks offended that he asked. “Of course I love you! Haven't I made that clear everyday?”

Yes, you do, Jon remembers. He blushes shamefully. He was such an idiot for letting Theon poison his mind. The conclusion made him angrier just thinking about it, and before he knew it, he was storming off to give Theon a beating. He ignores Robb's demands to come back, and rolls up his sleeves to avoid blood.

Jon is so busy with his revenge, he didn't even notice his phone vibrating furiously.

“Ugh!” Arya almost throws her cell phone out of the car in frustration. From the rear view mirror, Ned looks at her in amusement.

“Is there something the matter, Arya?”

Arya groans, “Jon isn't answering any of my calls!”

“Maybe he's busy?” Ned suggests, “He's seems quite taken with his new boyfriend.”

Arya glares, “Did he tell you that?” She cannot believe that traitor decided to actually settle down with some prat he's just met. “You know, the guy is probably a serial killer. Why else would you ask the bloke you've been dating for three weeks to move in with you?”

Ned chuckles at his daughter's jealously, “Robb asks his boyfriend to move in together after three weeks.”

Arya scoffs, “But that's Robb! Jon has more sense than that!”

“You should be happy for him,” Catelyn advises, “Jon is such a sweet boy. It's nice that he finally found someone special instead of whoring himself out like some people.”

That type of bitterness is reserved for one person. Ned holds his tongue from defending his sister in front of their children (less it leads to a very heated argument), but makes a note to talk to his wife later.

Arya throws her hands up in frustration, “No one ever understands what I'm going through!”

Ned and Catelyn share an amused look. They decide to change topics by addressing their other daughter, who was currently having a relationship with her phone. Catelyn sees the occasion blush and the tightening of thighs, and immediately steps in.

“Are you excited to see your brother again?” Catelyn asks hastily.

Sansa looks up for the briefest of moments, smiles sweetly through her flush face, and answers her with a curt “yes” before looking back down.

“What do you Robb's boyfriend will be like?” She tries again.

“Same as always,” Sansa replies. She seems both irritated at her mother's interruption and thankful for a distraction. “They'll be completely different from the last one, and Robb will be madly convinced that this one is 'the one.'” She finally puts down her phone and places it in her handbag for protection (against her siblings).

“Maybe he's right this time,” Bran quietly defends. They all (with the exception of Ned who was driving) turn to the second youngest in the car, riding in the backseat with his younger brother and shyly backing away from all the attention. “Wasn't mum his age when she found dad?"

"That was a very different situation," Catelyn denies promptly.

"Weren't you living together?"

"Only for the winter," Catelyn points out. And I was getting engaged to your uncle at the time, was left unsaid. No need to bring out old skeletons.

"Well, isn't Robb's boyfriend staying with us for the summer? Besides, this is the first time Robb is inviting someone to stay over for a whole season. He's never done that before, right?"

"Maybe he's trying to emulate mother and father's romance?" Sansa supposes. "Or show this mystery man what's awaiting him if they last?"

"Then, he has to be serious, right?"

It's observations like that, that make Ned a proud father. Bran has always had an 'old soul,' and when he spoke out loud, it was like enlightenment had fallen on them all. Ned uses his free hand to take Catelyn's and smiles. “Maybe,” he agrees. Bran smiles in contentment at the reaction. The rest of their drive is spent relatively peacefully, with a few stray arguments here and there between siblings.

“Freedom at last!” Theon shouts joyfully, sucking in the fresh air after being confined in a train's cabin for hours. Robb agrees readily, and the two boys began weird, inhaling rituals that drew far too much attention. Jon, having been practically raised in airports and private jets, paid no heed to the transportation. He merely checked his phone, and found several missed calls from Arya.

“I have to make a call to my cousin,” Jon tells Robb, “Tell them I've arrived.” The younger man nods, and kisses him in front of the entire station, drawing much attention. Jon tries his best to pull away, but Robb's tongue began to work its magic and Jon finds himself falling. When they finally separated, all the voyeurs (including Theon) hustle themselves away.

“Meet us at Platform Seven, alright?”

Jon agrees and attempts to find a quiet area amongst the bustling individuals. He sees a corner in between a phone booth and a convenience shop, and heads over there quickly. Once there, he attempts to call his cousin to no luck. Either she was too busy, couldn't hear her mobile, or was ignoring him for ignoring her on the train. He hopes it isn't the latter. He knows Arya was a bit upset when he told her he had a boyfriend. She claimed he was falling into the trap of heteronormativity.

After a third voice mail message, Jon gave up, his mood seriously depleted. He detaches the phone from his ear, and Jon can finally listen to the sounds around him, including the cheerful barks of a very familiar canine.

Osha had ridden in a separate vehicle from the rest of the Starks, and her car carried Grey Wind and Ghost. It was supposed to hold the luggage. Osha doesn't know why they needed to bring the dogs, but Catelyn was adamant in her decision. She didn't mind all that much. Grey Wind was ridiculously well behaved and heeded all commands given by a trusted family member. The only problem was that ever since Ghost came (his owner, Jon, had to leave him at the Stark residency until he found a flat that accepted dogs), Grey Wind has yet to leave his side. She even caught them fornicating once or twice in the gardens. He also rarely let anybody near Ghost, and stalked him possessively.

It was practically incest. And kind of gross.

“Sorry bout that,” Osha apologizes calmly, not recognizing the victim. “He's usually not this friendly.” Ghost did not feel the same, however, and continued lapping at his owner's face.

“Osha?” She hears a familiar voice question. Once the large dog stopped his wet attacks, Osha could finally see the man's face.

“Jon?”

Jon laughs in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

“Picking up the king,” Osha reveals, playing on Robb's former nickname. “He just came back from Edinburgh, all educated. How bout you?”

“Meeting my boyfriend's family,” Jon admits sheepishly. “We've been...uh...living together.”

“Congratulations,” Osha responds with a smirk. “I remember when I first settled down.” Jon isn't sure if she's sincere or not, but there's always a minor amount of sarcasm whenever Osha said something. Jon doesn't dwell on it, though, when Grey Wind sneaks up on him.

Jon hasn't seen the other wolves since he dropped Ghost off, but he can't help but be surprised by how large Grey Wind has gotten. The beast was about the size of a real wolf. It made him believe the rescue rangers' tales of their puppies being wolf hybrids. The creature nudges his nose into Jon's hand to receive confirmation. After getting it, Grey Wind promptly heads over to guard Ghost's side.

Jon cuddles them both regardless. “So where are the others now?”

“At Platform 7, waiting for Robb.”

“Brilliant, I'm heading there to meet my boyfriend.”

Robb met up with his family with little hassle. The train had been on time for once, and his parents were too, so there was little wait or searching. Upon his entrance in the platform, he was immediately assaulted with kisses and hugs from his mother. So far, the day back home had started off great.

“Jon's making a call to his cousin to tell them that he's here,” Robb explains for his boyfriend's lack of presence. He just finished hugging the last of his siblings (Rickon), and couldn't wait to be home again.

“Perfect,” Catelyn exclaims, trying her best not to sound apprehensive of meeting Robb's boyfriend. She didn't think she'd feel so nervous but suddenly, the mysterious lover is becoming real. “Osha is trying to find parking. She brought Grey Wind.”

Robb brightens up even further at the mention of his companion. “You are aces, mum.” He kisses his mother on both cheeks shamelessly. Catelyn grins with pride. Most boys were ashamed to show affection to their mothers, but not Robb. She still remembers the envious gazes of the other mothers who had to deal with their own beastly teenagers growing up. While everyone is enjoying Robb's presence, Arya's mind caught a hold of something else.

“Wait, your boyfriend's name is Jon?”

Robb, who Arya swears has a switch for these kinds of conversations, nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, it's a lovely name, isn't it?”

“It's our cousin's name,” Arya emphasizes. She sees everybody looking at her strangely, and she wonders how everyone could possibly be so oblivious.

“It's a very common name, Arya,” Sansa smart mouths.

“I got that, Sansa,” Arya grits out. “But Jon told me his boyfriend's name is Robb, and that he's an engineering student at Edinburgh. Like Robb.”

Half of the family visibly blanches at the information. Catelyn is the first to attack.

“Did you meet him at uni?”

Perplexed by the sudden interrogation, Robb answers. “No, he doesn't go to school.”

“What about his family?” Ned questions, and Arya sighs. Of course, father would ask about that first.

“No siblings, but he's great with children.”

“Single mother?” Ned pushes. “Travels a lot because of her job?”

Robb looks almost hurt. “Yes, but are you seriously planning to judge him on that?”

Arya interrupts. “You said he was calling his cousins?”

“Yes.”

Arya frantically digs into her purse to check her phone.

Three missed calls.

All from Jon.

Shit.

Before they could break the news to a highly confused Robb, the 'pitter patter' of paws were heard. Grey Wind obediently came forth to be piled on with affection from his master. Behind him, a familiar, curly hair twenty-one year old made his presence known to his boyfriend.

“You're so good with animals,” Jon praises fondly. He went straight to Robb upon seeing him, and did not noticed the other people on the platform. In other words, he hasn't noticed their horrified faces yet.

“I have a gift,” Robb claims playfully, “I can show you quite a few of them now,” he says suggestively, before pulling Jon into a searing hot kiss. Jon allows it this time, having his limit on PDA increase after seeing how sexy Robb looks with his cousin's dog. Instead, he focuses on meshing their eager tongues together and placing those wandering hands on where it mattered.

When they separated, Theon is the happiest person in the world and their immediate family is staring at them like they just admitted to massacring a litter of puppies.

Chapter Text

Jon did not take the news very well. His reaction was fairly typical, and no one was surprised when he ripped himself away from Robb, refused all forms of eye contact, and ran out of the station, face white as a sheet.

Robb, on the other hand, is taking it too well.

“I'm not breaking up with him,” Robb announces once they're on the road, much to his family's chagrin (and Theon's). “I refuse to let something like a little blood relation ruin the most meaningful relationship in my life!”

Ned sighs, knowing this was coming all along. He's just grateful that Jon (who had the sense to ride with Osha and Arya) will probably disagree. The boy looked absolutely horrified by the revelation, and almost ran into a wall trying to get away. “Robb...” He clears his throat. He has to be delicate about this, knowing how dramatic his son could get.

“Robb, you're cousins,” Catelyn snaps, stopping Ned before he could even start. She refuses to let him sugarcoat this. “When you two were younger, everyone thought you were twins. Some people even believed Ned had an affair.”

“You're not seeing the bigger picture,” Robb accuses, “All weekend, I was worried about you not liking him, and now that he's family, I know that you love him! Besides, you once told me that he was like a son to you.”

“I said he was like a daughter to me,” Catelyn corrects, “And that's because he's the only one who bothered to learn how to cook.”

All her children had given up before actually trying, and it didn't help that Ned had actively encouraged them to find a partner who will do it for them (the Stark way). Catelyn is definitely going to rub it in Ned's face when they get home. Look at what happens when your children follow your advice; they end up dating their cousins!

“Exactly! Don't you want me to be well fed? Being with Jon means never having to resort to fast food again!” Robb leans over into the driver seat to meet his mother's eyes. “Mother, if it weren't for Jon, I'd be fat...and hungry.”

Bran and Rickon snicker in the back, while Sansa rolls her eyes. Even Ned couldn't fight a smile from coming onto his lips. Theon and Catelyn are far from amused though.

Theon groans in frustration and brutally drags Robb back to his side. “Listen to me, Robb! What you have with Jon isn't real. It's just a product of your subconscious making friends with your penis. All that love you gave him was just you missing your family.”

To Theon's immense irritation, Robb actually has the nerve to snort. “Trust me, the loving I've given to him is not something I give to family.”

"Robb!" Catelyn shrieks, scandalized. She checks on Rickon to make sure he didn't understand. Once she is confirmed that he's too engrossed with his video games, she returns back to the fight.

Ned's throat makes this strain, choking noise and almost swerves into a different lane. At this point, Sansa decides to put her two cents in. “Robb, it's not right. Jon isn't some third cousin twice removed who we never see. He's Jon. We used to build pillow forts together, and force him to make us homemade ice cream. He might as well be our brother.”

"It's not the same!" Robb protests.

The oldest Stark sibling tries to find an adequate response but his mind remains blank. As the outnumbered criticism begins to overwhelm his positivity and damper his reassurances of love, Bran speaks up in his defense. “If that's the case, then why are we trying to break them up? If they stay together, doesn't that mean Jon will live with us after Robb graduates? It'll be like having the whole family back again!"

Theon resists the urge to throttle the brat. Robb, however, brightens up. If Bran wasn't in the backseat, he would kiss him for being such a wise, open minded young man. “Bran has the right idea. It's almost as if you're trying to push Jon away when really, we need to keep him in.”

“That's not true,” Ned immediately defends. “We love Jon.”

“Really? I couldn't tell,” Robb bites back sarcastically. At this point, Ned sends him a warning look, saying that while he'll entertain the opportunity for an argument, he isn't going to let disrespect slide. Robb crosses his arms in petulance, but keeps his tone even. “Besides, he's only my cousin.”

“Right...” Ned trails off, wondering where this is going.

“So you have your twin siblings, then your regular siblings, than your half siblings, and then you have your cousins, followed by your second cousins, and then we move onto-”

“That's so not right,” Sansa argues. She knew she should have went with Arya and Jon. Now, she has to deal with the first circle of hell.

Robb looks scandalized, “It's completely right. Not to mention legal, in almost every single country on Earth.”

“She means, it's not proper,” Catelyn clarifies, while silently thanking the Gods for her reasonable daughter.

“The Targaryens' do it all the time!” Robb justifies, though is fully aware of how weak his argument is. That family is twenty tons of crazy in a small size Ziploc bag.

“You're not Targaryens!”

"How do you know? We don't know who Jon's father is!"

The final line sets the stage for another argument. The excessive yelling eventually led to Ned swerving into a few different lanes, and getting an excessive amount of cussing thrown at the car. From behind them, Osha, Jon, and Arya could all see the screaming motions of their mouths and the over the top hand gestures.

Arya only hopes that they get it out of their system before they come home. Ghost and Grey Wind are sleeping in the back, unmoved by the earlier declaration. She turns to her Jon, who is currently brooding on the side, staring outside the window like a puppy about to be euthanize. It's cute, in an incredibly pathetic way. Grabbing his arm, she manages to get his attention on her.

“Okay, in order to avoid...that,” Arya motions to her parents' car. “Let me be clear. I don't care who you fuck, and even if I did, it's not my place to judge you. All I want to know is how the hell could you not know?”

Jon groans in despair, but is grateful for Arya's understanding. He sinks his head into his hands in dejection, trying his best to avoid the Stark's eyes.

Even his curls look gloomy, Arya muses. She hears the curls mutter something she can't hear. “Care to repeat that?”

“It just never came up,” Jon manages out.

Arya calls bullshit. “This is Robb. Family always comes up.”

“Yeah, but he didn't give me any names. He just told me he was the oldest of four siblings, and when he talked about them, he just said 'my brother this...my sister that...' There are a lot of girls who perform, and a lot of boys who are handicapped. I just never found a reason to put two and two.”

“The average family in the UK has 1.7 children,” Arya points out. Osha throws her a look through the rear view mirror which she ignores. “Are you seriously telling me this didn't ring any bells to you?”

“I was a nanny. My last employer had eight children, so no, it didn't,” Jon retorts, agitated

Arya knows when to back off, and then focuses on another clue. “What about names? I can get why he overlooked yours-I still don't know why Aunt Lyanna changed your last name-but Robb Stark?"

“In my defense, I didn't know that 'Robb' was short for 'Robert,'” Jon explains. “I just thought that spelling his name with two B's was cute.”

“And the Stark?” Arya asks dryly.

“When I was in America, I met tons of 'Starks.' It didn't mean they were all related.”

It was a fairly sound argument. There was one thing that unnerved Arya, though. “So he didn't talk about you at all?” Arya raises an eyebrow. “I swear, one ex-girlfriend actually broke up with him because of that reason alone.”

Jon flushes a deep red, which makes Arya bite her tongue to keep from teasing him. “Yeah...he talked about me, it was just...he was so...”

“So what?”

“So...sweet,” Jon actually looks embarrassed. “It was like he was talking about his first love. Whenever he reminisce about something we did together, he would just go completely off topic.”

“Like what?” Arya asks curiously.

“He would remember these minute details, like how red my lips were after eating cherries or how adorable I looked in my green sweater or the way a bruise would form on my elbow after falling off a sled. Fuck, he was obsessive back then.” Jon doesn't mention that he, too, was becoming increasingly jealous over himself. That was just too pathetic. "I always got so irritated that I'd change the topic."

Arya sighs, and leans on his shoulder. It's a small gesture, but it causes Jon to relax a bit. “If it's any consolation, I don't care if you want to stay with Robb after this. I mean, I was a little hurt when you decided to get a real boyfriend, because I thought we were together on that, but you have my support. And if you decide to leave him, just do it gently. He's a delicate little teacup,” Arya jokes lightly. She really does want Jon to be kind, though. Robb is her older brother, and she loves him.

“Thanks, Arya,” Jon smiles in spite of his poor mood. “So let's move on to a less incestuous topic. What's going on in your life?”

Arya shrugs, but there's a change in her body language that screams excitement. “I got an audition with the Faceless Men.”

Jon's expression immediately shifts to one of happiness. “Congratulations!” He praises before pulling Arya into a lively hug. The Faceless Men was a contemporary dance troupe that Arya has wanted to join since she decided she wanted to be a professional dancer. “When's your audition?”

“Next month, so I have to be very careful not to damage anything. Oh, and be prepared for lots of evil glares and temper tantrums because with my new diet, I'm going to be a bitch.”

Jon laughs mirthfully. “So don't get on your bad side and make sure you don't overwork yourself. Anything else? Do you want me to keep anyone off your back, or provide a distraction?”

Arya is reminded again of how much she loves her cousin. Jon never coddles her or tries to make her out to be somebody she's not. If he sees her pushing herself too hard or being too critical, he simply finds a way to get her to relax without forcing it on her. He knows that when she's stressed out or excited, the best thing was to give her space and let her come to him. Arya could understand why Robb was so infatuated with him (and slowly fights the jealousy seeping into her gut, the thing that makes her hate her youth and how Jon will never look at her like a woman).

“You know, when I get in, I'll be their youngest performer in history,” Arya mentions offhandedly.

Jon smiles sincerely. “Even better, your parents will be so proud."

“It also means I won't attend sixth form,” Arya confides. The car suddenly makes an sudden motion, almost lifting them out of their seats. It is obvious that Osha heard. Arya was less worried than she should be; snitches get stitches and Osah knew the honor code well.

“I'm guessing you didn't tell your parents yet,” Jon states, sharing a look with Osha, who is already foreshadowing the disaster.

“I was going to wait until I get in,” Arya reveals. She is going to make it, though. Failure isn't even a possibility. “They won't be happy.”

“It'd be a different story if your grades were poor. I heard your marks were spot on this year?”

“Am I to be blamed for the British government making their tests easier?” Arya complains. Both she and Jon smirk at the irony. Arya, despite her roughness, had a sharp mind and a talent with academics when she choose to use it.

“Well, know that I'm on your side the entire time,” Jon vows. “If you need anything, I'm here.”

“Just being with me is enough,” Arya admits, before clutching onto his hand and laying a soft kiss on his cheeks.

“Hey! There's too much of that going on!” Osha complains loudly. The two cousins pull away immediately, before bursting out into giggles. Arya turns slightly to catch Jon's cheery expression and remembers how much she prefers this to his mopiness.

Before they get home, they make Osha swear not to tell Arya' parents. Osha is many things, but she isn't a snitch and promises to keep their secret. She does, however, warn Arya not to throw her into the line of fire when they find out. She loves her job and isn't going to risk it for Arya's hide.

Robb and the rest get back before the three of them, having lost them at a red light. Arya can hear that they are still arguing.

“Jon is sleeping in my room, like he's been doing for the last three weeks,” Robb orders, which has little effect on his mother.

“I wouldn't have let him do that before I found out you were cousins; do you honestly think I'm going to let that happen now?” Catelyn retorts. To his irritation, she tells one of the maids to ignore Robb's complaints and clean up Jon's old room.

Before Robb can ground out another refusal, Jon steps in. “I'm good staying in my old room. I think I'd prefer it.”

Robb looks crushed while Catelyn smiles victoriously. “It'll be ready in a moment,” she tells her nephew sweetly, ignoring the glower from her son. “Are you joining us for dinner?”

Jon says yes, and tries to avoid his boyfriend's betrayed expression. “I just have to wash up.”

“You can get ready in the guest room we prepared for...Robb's boyfriend. One of the maids will show you where it is,” Catelyn motions one of the girls to get Jon.

Robb immediately dives in to give Jon a goodbye kiss before he leaves. Just as he is about to lean in to capture that beautiful mouth, Jon sidesteps and maneuvers him into a hug. It's awkward and forced, and when Jon rips himself away, he's looking down and fidgeting. “I'll...um...see you at dinner.”

When Jon heads up the stairs, Robb is visibly traumatized. He stands like that for a good number of minutes, just staring at the invisible footsteps Jon left behind. After snapping out of it, he promptly turns to glare at his parents for their cruelty against him. “If we break up, it's all your fault!” He accuses, before rushing up the stairs to either follow Jon or sulk.

Theon, who is practically jumping for joy at Jon's negative reaction, pounces on the opportunity. “I'm going to 'talk' to Robb for a bit. Don't worry, Mrs. Stark, you're definitely doing the right thing. Robb's a resilient young man, he'll get over it,” he reassures before dashing after his unrequited love.

Catelyn sighs, knowing something is wrong if Theon approves. She is well aware that the blonde has been more involved in Robb's breakups than the boy himself, and is more than a little horrified by her apparent assistance.

“Great, why don't you just gift wrap him to the nearest slag?” Arya quips while rolling her eyes. Ned looks horrified by her language, and she leaves for her room before her father could berate her on it.

Catelyn rests a hand on Ned's shoulder. Arya's scolding could wait; she wants to have a talk with her husband now. Bran has already been ushered by Osha to the elevator, while Rickon looks around.

“Sansa, could you be a dear and-”

“Already on it!” Sansa chirps, making sure to keep a composed face for her sibling. She takes her eleven year old brother by the hand and leads him up to his room for her parents' 'talk.' When they get inside his room, she hears his questions.

“Sansa?”

“Yes?”

"Is Jon a bad person?" Rickon asks casually. It's a startling question, and Sansa wonders what brought it up.
"Of course not. Jon is absolutely wonderful," Sansa denies.

“Then why does everyone want him and Robb to break up?”

Sansa sighs, detesting the conversation already. “Because it's weird, Rickon.” She hopes he leaves it at that.

“But why?” Rickon pouts. “Mum and Dad always tells me that love is love.”

“It's like me dating Robb, or you dating Arya,” Sansa explains, she smiles a bit when she sees Rickon crinkle his nose in disgust. “Jon's like a brother to us, and Robb should know that.”

“But I thought Robb doesn't see Jon as a brother. That's why they're dating, 'member?” Rickon actually looks a bit insulted. “If you see Jon as a brother, than you don't date him.”

“Yes, but...” Sansa hates it when she finds herself outsmarted. Especially by an eleven year old. “You'll understand when you get older,” she says instead.

Rickon actually growls, and Sansa recalls that it is the same sound she heard right before he bit something. The red haired maiden hastily puts her fingers away.

“People only say that when they can't think of a good comeback,” Rickon snarls.

Sansa actually looks surprised. “Where did you hear that?”

“I heard Arya say it to you,” Rickon smirks. “And it's true!”

Sansa really needs to have a talk with her younger sister on her poor manners. Look at what she's teaching their younger brother! “Nonetheless, when you fall in love, you'll see.”

“I'm already in love,” Rickon declares.

“Oh?” Sansa raises an eyebrow in curiosity. “What's this special girl's name?”

“Dunno,” Rickon mutters shyly. It's the most adorable expression she's ever seen on him in a long time. “But she moved into the house next door with her family.”

Sansa purses her lips. That means she's rich. The closest house near the estate (that wasn't apart of it in the first place) was a mansion of smaller means, but still large in comparison to most houses.

“How old is she?”

Rickon frowns, “I don't know that either, but she's super pretty and has this large gray scar on her face which is so cool. I was just staring at her, and she smiled at me.”

Grey scar...Sansa briefly recalls encountering a mousy little thing hiding behind Uncle Robert's younger brother at a dinner function in London. She's never been good with names and connections (that's more of Arya's thing, strangely enough), but if they're the same person, it would make her around Bran's age. An older woman, already.

“Is that all it takes to win your heart?” Sansa teases. “A pretty face and a cool scar? Should I be worried about another Robb in the family?”

“Whatever,” Rickon pouts. “I already decided that I'm going to marry her. And I'll do it the wildling way.”

“Wildling way?” Sansa inquires, amused. She knows that Rickon loves their family history, of the raids and the lords and the wars and the Kings in the North.

“I'm going to throw her over my shoulder and whisk her away into my village to become my wife.”

“Oh, you have a village now?”

“We'll start our own village!” Rickon declares seriously. “It'll be a zombie village and I'll be the cannibalistic leader while she'll rule with her heart of gray.”

He looks so serious, that Sansa can't help but feel for him. “Good luck with that,” Sansa encourages, trying not to laugh. She hears a startling noise in her purse and checks her phone. There, she sees a text message from Sandor, telling her to call him back. “Be down in time for supper, okay?”

Rickon agrees. With that settled, Sansa dashes to her room to call her boyfriend. She barely has to wait for a ring before he picks up.

Hey?” Sandor gruffly answers.

“It's me,” Sansa responds, playing with her hair flirtatiously, even though he couldn't see. “Sorry I couldn't get to you sooner. The whole day has just been one hot mess after the other.”

Sounds rough,” Sandor consoles, “Everything alright with you? How's your brother and his new boy toy?

Sansa giggles at the word choice. She adores that Sandor actually remembers and cares to ask whereas other guys would, at best, forget. “Oh nothing much, except the boy toy happens to be our cousin and now my parents are literally downstairs discussing ways to keep them apart. Also, my little brother fell in love with some older girl he wants to kidnap.”

There is silence over the phone, and Sansa is worried that she told him too much, that perhaps the information scared him off. She is about to apologize, try to take everything back, before Sandor speaks up again.

So this summer, your cousin and brother are playing Romeo and Juliet incest version, and your younger brother is going to become a criminal?”

“That's it in a nutshell,” Sansa agrees, a little less humor in her tone. It sounds so much less entertaining when he says it. Sandor always had a way to bring her down to reality with his 'this shit is getting weird, better get out while I still can' tones and looks.

“I guess this is a bad time, then,” Sandor announces suddenly. He almost sounds guilty.

“For what?” Sansa asks, concerned.

It's nothing...but a...business associate of mine is staying over and I really appreciate it if you don't drop by for a while.”

Sansa bites her lip, more annoyed than disappointed. “How long?”

A week or so,” Sandor replies calmly. “Just until I can repay my debt and kick her ass out.”

Sansa is not naïve enough to dismiss the 'her' comment. “It's a woman?”

Sandor sighs, but he doesn't seem offended by her questioning. “I owe her a favor. Trust me, I wouldn't touch the bitch if you paid me.”

“I know,” Sansa responds calmly. They've been together for over a year now, and she knows that Sandor would never lie or cheat on her. A healthy relationship is based on trust, after all. “Okay, but you better call me when she leaves. We'll have a lot to catch up on,” she tells him suggestively.

It's the first thing on my mind,” Sandor promises. After a few moments, he speaks. “I love you.

Sansa smiles, content with the declaration. “I love you, too.”

Sandor hangs up, a little less agitated after talking to his girlfriend. He slips the mobile back into his back pocket, making sure it's secure and grabs a glass of wine for his guest. It's the most expensive thing he owns, and he doesn't care how much the bitch complains. If she doesn't like it, she can buy her own liquor.

He realizes, as he steps into his living room, that no amount of alcohol can make the smirking face of Cersei Lannister look any better.

Chapter Text

Sandor doesn't like Cersei Lannister.

He doesn't like how the woman's entire vocabulary consists of backhanded compliments, or how she makes the rules and expects everyone to abide by them. No ones' opinions matter but her own and yet she still expects everyone to seek her approval for everything. Her toxicity spreads so that everyone within a five meter distance is sentenced to a lifetime of manipulation, and she has these inane bouts of paranoia in which she believes that everyone is out to get her. She coddles her eldest son, a vile piece of shit if there was ever one, and openly bribed his way out of jail time. And lastly, everything bad that happens to her is never her fault.

Naturally, Sandor would be the best judge. His family has worked under hers for decades now, starting with his father to her grandfather and his brother to her father and him for her. They're not friends by any means, but he's been there for her during her teenage pregnancy, her shotgun wedding, her divorce all the way to Joffrey's sentence, and Myrcella's accident.

Honestly, he shouldn't even be surprised when she shows up at his doorstep unannounced. Instead of indulging her as he's done for countless years, Sandor promptly slams the door in her face. That should remind her that her shit does stink.

Much to his bewilderment, he hears no further argument. No threats of eviction or death or whatever the Lannisters have up their sleeves. It is almost frightening how silent the world becomes. Sandor chooses to count his blessings instead of foreshadow curses, and he heads to the kitchen to get a beer.

He contemplates calling Sansa for a second, finding comfort in her voice alone. They've been together for a little over a year now, and were still at the stage where calling each other just to say 'I love you' was acceptable.

It isn't until he walks back to his living room does he realize why Cersei did not put off a fight.

“I thought I'd give you the opportunity to be a courteous host. I guess such responsibility is wasted on a dog like yourself,” Cersei states offhandedly, lounging on the couch like she owned it.

“How the fuck did you get in?” Sandor snarls without even listening to her bullshit.

Cersei smirks, an ugly expression on her otherwise flawless face. She holds up a copy of his key. ”You live in an apartment filled with crooks and you don't expect your landlord to sell you out for a couple of pounds? Really Sandor, I expected better of you.”

Sandor growls. “Get out.”

“Make me,” Cersei challenges. Sandor is tempted to grab his gun, not to actually shoot her but to scare her a little. Only it wouldn't work since Cersei knows Sandor. Knows that no matter how much he despises her, he wouldn't blow out the brains of one of his top client's daughters. Besides, there's too much history for him to hurt her.

“Why are you even here?” Sandor relents, taking a swig of his beer while a getting a twinge of pleasure watching Cersei's eyes follow the bottle with envy.

“Oh you haven't heard?” Cersei wonders sarcastically. “My cunt of an ex-husband has finally decided to be a father for once and has kidnapped my children to his best friend's home for the summer.”

“The fat bastard did what?” Sandor questions incredulously. For as long as he's known Robert, fatherly is the least of his descriptions. The old drunkard hasn't spoken with his kids in over eight years since the divorce, longer by Cersei's accounts.

“Well according to Lancel,” Cersei's cousin who currently interns at Baratheon Inc. (a decision not made on his own accord), “His godfather just died and it made him 'rethink his life choices' which in turned, reminded him of what a shitty father he's been. So he's taken Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen with him North for the summer.

“And you just let him?” Sandor asks in disbelief.

Cersei glares furiously. “No, I didn't just let him. Believe it or not, the Baratheons have lawyers as well. To argue with Robert again meant going through a long awaited custody battle and I'm not going to risk that.”

“Why? It's not like you'll lose,” Sandor concludes. Cersei, for all her mental issues and smothering nature, is the only parent her children have known. Robert may have his charms, but he is a known adulterer and drunk, and has more than one domestic abuse report against him (though Cersei had decided to drop them all, the record was still there).

Cersei groans in frustration, as if Sandor is a child who could not understand simple maths. “A custody battle takes time, no matter how obvious the result will be, and I am not putting my children through that. Myrcella has auditions this summer for her performing arts school, and Joffrey has been doing so well in therapy. Who knows how horribly this could affect his psyche?”

“I think his 'psyche' is fucked up enough without the custody battle,” Sandor quips.

Cersei practically hisses for his blood at this point. “My son was damaged. He needed help,” Cersei denies.

“He needed to stop being such an abusive cunt,” Sandor retorts. He still remembered Sansa sobbing into his arms when Joffrey backhanded her that day. It took all his strength not to pulverize the little shit.

“Where do you think he learned that from?” Cersei counters back.

Sandor actually keeps his mouth shut at that instance, and Cersei simmers off on the couch. He, unlike the rest of the Lannisters and their employees, wasn't blind to the signs Cersei exhibited. He knows that when Robert got drunk, he got rough. He could see the swollen cheeks and bruised wrists when Robert held a little too hard. Cersei denied it for a good number of years, mostly to her father and to her friends, trying to play the perfect socialite. She would never admit that her life was anything less than spectacular, anything less than something to be envied. Robert never went far enough to send Cersei to the hospital, but Sandor could see it was only a matter of time before it went there. Cersei was a bitch, and she's done some pretty horrible things, but no one deserved to be a punching bag for their husband.

“Why me?” Sandor asks at last. “Does your brother live near here?”

“Living with Jaime means accepting the fact that he's dating that monstrous woman," Cersei pouts.

“How about a hotel?”

Cersei mood visibly darkens, “My father has forbidden me from interfering. He's running for Prime Minister and when he saw how the polls jumped after Joffrey's public rehabilitation, he wants to continue the redemption PR. The hotels only take credit cards which my father can track. As far as he's concern, I'm seething in Sweden. Besides, you owe me.”

Sandor actually snorts. “I don't owe you a damn thing.”

“Fine,” Cersei agrees pleasantly, a startling concession that Sandor doesn't believe Cersei is capable of. “Then, I'll just call Catelyn and Ned Stark and tell them that their teenage daughter is seeing one of my ex-employees, and I'll let them fill the blanks on what you did for me.”

The urge to pummel Cersei rises again, but he keeps his cool for Sansa. “I have no idea what you're talking about,” Sandor lies smoothly. “But fuck you if you think I'm going to fall for an empty threat like that.”

“I saw you, Sandor,” Cersei reveals confidently. “The night Joffrey attacked Sansa, I saw how she ran into your arms.”

“Sansa wanted to get as far away from Joffrey as possible. She would have ran straight into a crocodile's jaws if it meant protection.”

“Joffrey apologized to Sansa four months ago, and as far as I was concern, the two of them were on...neutral terms,” Even Cersei wouldn't call their relationship 'okay.' Sandor remembers that day. Joffrey had been given an assignment by his therapist to make a list of people to apologize for his crimes. Sansa had been seventh on the list, after his family. Sandor almost crushed his skull for putting Sansa so low. “Care to explain to me what she needed protection from when she ran into your arms last week?”

Sandor is about to accuse her of spying on him before he realizes that Cersei probably had a few of his neighbors on payroll by default.

“How long?” He grits out to Cersei's pleasure.

“A week, maybe two.”

“One week.”

“I don't know, I like the number two. Maybe even three,” Cersei teases viciously.

One,” Sandor growls out, like an angry dog.

Cersei stares, as if contemplating whether or not she should push him on this matter. Then, she realizes there was no point. Her children will be here in a week, and that will be plenty of time to guilt Ned Stark into allowing her to stay with them during the summer. Besides, she doesn't think she could hide from her father longer than the time given.

“Fine,” Cersei agrees. “I trust you have a guest room in this disgusting flat?”

Ironically, he did. While Sandor is not a man privy to guests, he had one just in case of 'emergencies.' He's been in the business long enough to know that an extra bed was a godsend when someone was bleeding out on your new sheets.

“Good, now I feel this calls for a celebration. You do have some good wine? Don't you?”

Sandor bites back a response. Instead, he grabs his phone and heads to the kitchen. If Cersei will be staying, he needed to make sure Sansa stayed the fuck away from his apartment at all cost. Like hell was he letting the harpy sink her talons into his bird.

Meanwhile Cersei was not the only Lannister woman having a hard time finding decent living conditions. Myrcella has been replaying the same piece on her cello for the last hour, trying to get it right to no anvil. Her oldest brother and father have been arguing nonstop since they arrived in London. Myrcella has to give it to Robert. She knows Joffrey was purposely baiting their father to hit him so that he'd have a reason to call the police and leave the place. He blamed Robert for everything, his violent outbursts to his criminal activities. She loves her brother but even she found his behavior tiresome.

After screwing it up for the umpteenth time, Myrcella had enough. She doesn't even know how Tommen could sleep through such a ruckus but she was having none of it.

Coming out the room, Myrcella pounded on the wall as hard as she could to get their attention. She barely hears the minor thumps and prays that it is loud enough to catch their attention. Both Joffrey and Robert (she still can't find it in her to call him father) turn to her.

I can't hear myself play with all the noise, Myrcella signs.

Joffrey seems more annoyed by Myrcella's interruption than angry, a huge improvement from his past behavior.

I'll stop yelling when he stops being an arse, Joffrey signs back. Why are you playing so late at night, anyways?

I have to practice, Myrcella defends. Why are you fighting so late at night?

Can't we just buy your way to the school? Joffrey retorts, ignoring her question. Myrcella rolls her eyes. Before she could respond, Robert speaks up.

“What the hell are the two of you doing?” Robert demands raucously. His voice echoed through the halls, and Myrcella can hear her right ear ringing. A flash of feral crosses over Joffrey's face and Myrcella is reminded of the old Joffrey all over again.

“You fucking wanker, your daughter can't hear and you don't bother to learn how to sign!” Joffrey shrieks, almost identical to their mother right before she and Uncle Tyrion fought.

“You little twat, how dare you speak to me that way? I didn't know she was that fucking deaf!”

Hard of hearing, Myrcella corrects dryly in her head. Only one of my ears can't hear. She doesn't bother to sign it, knowing that Joffrey wouldn't bother reading and Robert couldn't read.

Either way, she was putting on her earmuffs and blocking the noise completely. She could practice early tomorrow morning, when they were both knocked out. She still can't believe her mother agreed to let them go. Sure, she liked the thought of heading up North and revisiting her old crush (Robb Stark) and spending time with the girl she's idolized for quite some time (Sansa Stark), but she couldn't bear the thought of having to deal with this for a whole summer.

Chapter Text

Jon’s old room is two rooms down from Sansa, on the right of Arya’s and on the left of Bran’s, across the hall and one room down from Rickon’s, and directly across of Robb’s. The guest room he changed in was at the end of the hall. Jon looks back on his decision and he realizes that he should have taken that room, lack of familiarity be damned. At least he wouldn’t be sneaking through the halls like some cat burglar.

Eventually, he has to talk to Robb. They’re going to have to discuss the parameters of their new found 'relationship' and then discuss what’s going to happen. In Jon’s mind, that means breaking up and Jon is not ready for that. He is not ready to leave someone he cares about (loves) and respects and wants so desperately to be with it, it hurts. So fuck it, he’s avoiding Robb.

Each step is made with caution. Somewhere in his mind, there is a voice that shrieks at him to stop this nonsense. It’s the same voice that used to feed him odd little notes like “wow, your boyfriend and your cousin share basically the same lifestyle and family history, you bloody buffoon.” Jon ignores it as always, especially now, when it’s saying “you will be living in the same fucking house for the next couple of months so stop acting like an idiot and walk normally.”

Jon doesn’t listen again. He reaches his quarters without any confrontations from Robb, and for that he is grateful. He hastily enters his room and locks the door before Robb can catch him. He breathes a sigh of relief as his forehead presses against the door. He is safe.

Then, he feels Robb’s arms wrap around him and realizes that this is a trap.

“I was waiting for you,” Robb whispers, his lips grazing Jon’s ear before biting the top. He begins to suck that one spot on Jon’s neck that drives him absolutely crazy before unbuttoning Jon’s jeans. Jon didn’t catch on it immediately, but Robb is only in his boxers, shirtless, and is obviously expecting to get some.

That cheeky bastard! Jon fumes silently, before removing Robb’s arms and turning to face him. He’s ready to chew him out for coming to him like a dog in heat before Robb attacks him with intense, open mouth kisses.

“Robb-,” Jon is cut off again by a rather determined tongue. “Robb, we need to talk-“

“We don’t have much time!” Robb warns. Jon sees that his shirt is already off, and he’s pretty sure that all Robb did was look at it.

“For what?” Jon pulls off him. He attempts to get on the other side of the room, but Robb simply follows him and even manages to drag him onto the bed. He’s also working on Jon’s jeans.

Robb explains without stopping. “We’ve only got enough time for a quickie before one of the maids hear us and reports to mother. Don’t worry, I’ll be fast.” And the kissing resumes. Robb throws Jon’s trousers to the side. Again, Jon does not remember any of this. He can't even recall lifting up his legs to remove the incredibly, far too tight jeans. 

"Robb, we need to stop--!"

"No time, god, why are you so fit--?"

"Robb--let's talk--"

"No time, talk later. I can be fast--"

“If that was the case, we’d never be together!” Jon kicks Robb off and the eldest Stark boy goes tumbling on the ground like a rejected puppy. He tries to get up, before Jon stops him.

“Stay,” Jon commands.

Robb stills. Jon backs up as far away from Robb as the bed would allow. Hopefully, the barrier of elevation will deter Robb. If not, then Jon’s temper will have to do.

“Good, now sit,” Jon demands firmly. Robb sits. “First off, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m trying to have sex with you,” Robb answers bluntly. “You’re making it very hard.”

Jon almost bangs his head against the wall. “We can’t,” Jon reasons.

Robb pouts petulantly. “Why not?”

“Because of a little thing called a bloodline.”

Robb, still on his knees, walks over to Jon’s place on the bed. He hasn’t risen from the floor, but is instead rubbing against Jon’s bare leg affectionately. He runs a few kisses down the limb, bringing a shiver to Jon’s spine. “It doesn’t matter,” Robb persuades. He looks up into Jon’s eyes confidently. “It doesn’t matter because I love you.”

Jon falters for a second and Robb pounces.

Jon is backed up against the wall as Robb traps him between his thighs. They are still kissing when Robb cups his face and releases his lips.

“You’re so beautiful,” Robb tells him. He’s stroking Jon’s face with an intense expression. Jon’s breathing grows heavy, and he heats up (in embarrassment? Pleasure?) Robb looks ready to say something else before Jon pulls him into another kiss. If he couldn’t stop this (wouldn’t), Jon wants to focus this on the sex. He and Robb don’t belong together. They don’t really know each other. They have great sex but a relationship can’t be built on that alone.

They’re both hard as rocks and Robb takes out both their cocks in response. Jon knows that Robb has fantasized about this; about taking Jon apart slowly while his parents were in the house, risking exposure. Instead, now the fantasy has become warped and Jon is not sure he can risk anything anymore. Robb has him behaving like an animal, rubbing up on him in his childhood room.

It’s kind of hot.

Robb rolls his hips against Jon’s and Jon subconsciously matches him, hips jolting. Jon’s breathing is erratic; fingers clutching Robb’s hips hard enough that they’ll be all bruised. Their cocks are rubbing against each other, pre-cum dowsing the cocks. The friction is light, and Robb forcibly rubs them against each other to get them to cum.

“I’m gonna –” Jon whines, and he tries to look away before Robb catches him into another kiss. Robb begins to fuck both their cocks into his wonderful hands, not caring about the mess on his fingers. Thrust. Squeeze. Rub. Robb and Jon came together, coming into Robb’s hand. Jon’s eyes roll into the back of his head during their orgasm.

“God!” Jon gasps as he slopes against the wall. Robb follows suite, only he rests against Jon’s exhausted body. Instead of lying down quietly, however, Robb uses his remaining strength to lick the sweat off Jon’s chest. When he feels Jon relaxing against him, Robb latches onto a nipple, sucking and biting it lightly.

He did not expect the leg coming up to his chest to kick him off. While still in shock, Robb watches as Jon struggles to put on his trousers.

“Wait!” Robb calls out desperately. He tries to get up from his spot on the bed, but Jon quickly backs away from Robb and his penis.

“No, no! No more waiting and no more sex and no more-,” He makes a motion between the two of them. “-of this! God, Robb! What were you thinking?”

Robb looks a cross between torn, and almost offended. “I’m trying to save our relationship!”

Jon chokes out a laugh, though it sounded far from humorous. “Our relationship? Our relationship? We don’t have a relationship, Robb! We may have never had one! We have sex! Great sex, I’ll give you that but that’s it! That’s no reason to break your family’s heart over! Fuck, Robb, have some bloody sense! We didn’t even know enough about each other to tell that we were cousins!”

Robb tries to defend himself, only to see that Jon has already grabbed a shirt off the floor and is moving towards the door. “Where are you going?” Robb asks instead.

“To your mother!” Jon shouts out before slamming the door. He hurries down the stairs, knowing that he only had a few minutes before Robb ran after him. He tries to find his Aunt Cat but stops in his tracks when he hears shouting.

“How could you even suggest such a thing?!”

Sneaking a glance into the kitchen, he sees Aunt Cat preparing the vegetables while nestling on the verge of a screaming match with his uncle.

Uncle Ned is sighing, looking as if he aged a decade in the last couple of hours. “They’re both adults. They can make their own decisions-“

“And they’ll make the wrong one! Or at least, Robb will. Jon knows the consequences of bad decisions, he was raised, and I use that term liberally, by your sister after all. Robb is a boy. He doesn’t understand these things. You know how he is when he puts his mind to something.”

“I know that neither you nor I can stop him when he does,” Ned pushes, and his eyes narrow at the jab at Lyanna. “And I appreciate it if you stop talking about Jon’s mother like that while he’s staying here.”

Catelyn huffs, and if Jon didn’t hear just as many horrible things about Aunt Cat from his mother, he might have been offended. Fortunately, Uncle Ned is there to feel it for him.

“That’s my sister, Cat,” Ned says in a warning tone. “And Jon’s mother.”

Catelyn snarls, and settles on chopping the vegetables in a heat of rage. Jon became a bit worried she might cut herself. “Yes, and she does such a wonderful job at being both, doesn’t she?” Catelyn bites back sarcastically.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ned asks, both angry and confused by the sudden declaration. Catelyn ignores him and continues chopping her onions. Ned forcibly takes it from her hands and tosses it to the side. He drags her attention to him and glares. “What is that supposed to mean?” he repeats.

Catelyn, in an amazing feat of strength, looks Ned straight in the eye and speaks. “I mean, maybe if Lyanna stopped thinking about herself for a change, and thought about Jon’s well being, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Jon waits for Ned to blow up, but instead, he looks sad, almost resilient. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about this. Especially not with Jon in the house.” As if on cue, Ned looks around to see if there were any eavesdroppers. Jon hastily hides himself further behind the wall, even if his uncle couldn’t see him either way. When Ned turns back to Catelyn, Jon returns to his previous position.

“Why not? It’s too late to do anything now.”

“I don’t want Jon to-“

“To what?” Catelyn questions, now exasperated rather than upset. “Know that all of this could have been avoided if Lyanna had let us adopt him like we originally planned?”

Jon freezes. What is Aunt Cat talking about? He leans in closer to hear more.

“Cat, be reasonable. We were asking her to give up her child.”

“No,” Catelyn disagrees. “We were asking her to think about her child. She was sixteen years old with no plans and no one to help her but her family. And we did. Jon should have been raised with Robb as brothers. We already had everything prepared. I bought the crib, the clothes, I even picked out a name…” Catelyn trails off, stopping herself before she could cry.

Jon closes his eyes, taking in the words deeply. All of a sudden, Jon is reminded of how little he knew of his life. On the other side, Catelyn begins to compose herself. Ned makes a move to hug her but she shakes him off. She doesn’t want to cry over spilled milk, especially a carton from twenty years ago. She returns to her vegetables. “So what are we going to do about Robb and Jon? Ignore it until it goes away?” Because it won’t, she thinks to herself. Feelings just don’t ‘go away.’

“I’ll talk to Robb,” Ned offers, knowing that his original plan to ‘be and let’ is faulty at best. “But I’m sure they’ll settle down once they both realize that they are in over their heads.”

How would you know? You were Robb’s age when you married Aunt Cat, Jon accuses in his mind. The look on Catelyn’s face said she was thinking the same thing. The tension between them still lingered, but eventually Ned worked up the courage to kiss his wife, who didn’t reject him this time. She offhandedly tells him that dinner will be ready in an hour, having been delayed by their fight.

Uncle Ned heads outside the kitchen, which startles Jon. The curly haired boy runs back to the stairs to make himself appear as if he were just coming down. He pretends to bump into his uncle, who appears none the wiser.

“Hey,” Jon greets sheepishly. “I know it’s a bit late but uh…does...uh…Aunt Cat need any help with supper?”

Ned grimaces, but he tries to look normal for Jon, not knowing that the boy heard their fight. “You’d have to ask her, but I’m sure she’ll be grateful for the help.” He gruffly (affectionately, Jon reminds himself) pats Jon’s shoulder before moving out of the way.

Jon enters the kitchen with no small amount of hesitation. He knocks on the door just to be polite. Catelyn smiles falsely at his presence

“Jon,” she addresses. She grabs a bag of spinach and a large bowl for mixing. “Could you chop up the onions and turnips for the soup?”

“Sure,” Jon agrees, rolling up his sleeves. He grabs the ingredients without hesitation and begins chopping. “What are you making?”

“Strawberry spinach salad, Scotch broth, and cedar planked salmon. I need you to work on the soup. The maids are preheating the grill so I have to head over there after I make the salad. Do you remember how to make it?” Catelyn requests politely.

“Yeah, it’s one of Robb’s favorites.”

An awkward silence comes between them.

Jon has to use all the power in his being not to stab himself with the knife. As if their entire conversation wasn’t awkward enough, he just had to remind his aunt that he has been living and banging with her son for the last couple of weeks.

Jon returns to make the soup. He never meets Aunt Cat’s eyes after that, and proceeds to get the rest of the ingredients out of the refrigerator. Ten minutes past without a word, and Jon has already prepared the pot and the lamb when Catelyn speaks again.

“When you’re done with the soup, get a few of the maids to help you prepare the dishes. They should already be done with the table by then. Oh, but don’t bother Palla. She’s in charge of getting the blaeberry pies ready.”

Jon nods obediently. Catelyn takes off her apron. She glances at Jon for a second, and then her gaze lingers. Jon tenses, wondering what he did wrong this time.

“Jon, you should consider changing your shirt. It’s absolutely filthy,” Catelyn suggests (demands, he thinks to himself). Jon looks down at his shirt, trying to find the stains she was talking about. Before he could question her on it, he glances up and all he can see is the tightness in her smile and the bitter gleam in her eyes.

She leaves. After he is left alone for a few minutes, Arya stops by.

“Just wanted to check on the damage,” Arya reveals. “How was it?”

Jon releases his knife and heaves a heavy sigh. “Well, I’m not dead.”

“Of course not, you’re too adorable to die,” Arya teases, even stepping forward to mockingly squeeze his cheeks. Jon brushes her off. “So you still staying with us?”

Jon groans, “Sure, but I don’t know how long. You’re mom’s still upset and I can’t look her or Robb in the eye. I think she hates me.”

Arya scoffs, “She doesn’t hate you. If she hated you, you’d know it.”

“She hates my shirt,” Jon pouts. It sounded pathetic out loud and he wishes he could take them back.

Arya actually laughs. “No she doesn’t.”

“She called it absolutely filthy.”

“Trust me, she loves that shirt.”

Jon glares at her. “How do you know?”

“Because she bought it for Robb two months ago.”

Chapter Text

Dinnertime amongst the Starks is always active.

Robb could spend hours cooing over his new girlfriend. Sansa never shuts up about her ah-so-mazing social life. Arya has some sort of sick obsession messing with her parents, Bran is there to provide a philosophical argument or psychological analysis, and Rickon’s overactive imagination usually led to some interesting discussions.

Thus, a quiet dinner is the first indicator that something is terribly wrong in the Stark household.

Ned clears his throat. As the patriarch of the Stark family, the task of revitalization befalls on him. Though never much of talker, he has observed his family long enough and at some points, even participated in a few conversations, to understand the gist of instigation. He can do this. He may not have his wife's charm or his siblings' charm or any charm at all, but he can do this. “Robb,” he addresses, “How has university been?”

“Fine,” Robb answers curtly. He passes the strawberries around. Prior to the salad, the eldest son inhaled the soup once he realized it was made by Jon. Robb's bitterness is evident through the sharp glares and lingering glowers he sends his mother and father. Ned, though he will not go against his wife,--he can only imagine how hard it would be for his nephew to handle--will equally not protest if the boys continue their romance. To be petulant, Ned does not understand why he's getting punished.

“How have your grades been?” Ned asks gruffly.

“Good.”

“Define ‘good’,” Ned orders. Never one for conversation, the middle child has always had a gift for making small talk seem like an interrogation. Catelyn rolls her eyes. She takes a dainty bite into her salmon.

“Three A’s, one B, one C.”

“That’s a bit of drop from last time,” Ned injects immediately, “Do you think you've had too many distractions this semester?”

Robb clenches his fork in his hand. The other people at the table look at each other. There's nervousness and amusement and horror keeping people silent. The worst part is that Ned is not even trying to be malicious. He simply cannot not read a mood to save his life.

“It was a hard semester. I’ll do better next time,” Robb promises. He bites into a half-cut strawberry miserably. Some juice trickles down his lip, causing Jon to blush. He imagines licking it off and has to will his erection away.

“Perhaps you should take a break from rugby,” Ned suggests. “Sports take up a lot of time, especially time that could be used studying.”

Sansa groans at her father’s behavior. Catelyn chokes a bit on her salmon. The Stark patriarch acknowledges their reaction with confusion. What did he say wrong? He thought he was offering a reasonable suggestion.

“Rugby is not a problem. I’m not distracted. The classes are just getting harder,” Robb clarifies. He stabs his spinach. Get to the point, he thinks. He knows his father was attempting to deviate the situation into talking about their relationship. He’s preparing for an attack. Robb is not falling for it, though. He can read between the lines.

Truth be told, Ned does not want to delve into their relationship. In fact, Ned’s primary concern is focusing on his son’s education. Other matters could be dealt with later, the solemn man deliberates. Right now, he needs to interpret what Robb is trying to say to him.

“I trust you to stop if it gets too much.” He knows Robb emulates him, at least enough to take the measures he did for his education. He wants to let his son know that he won’t be disappointed if the boy decides to take a break from rugby next year to focus on his grades. Just because Ned was on his university's rugby team doesn't mean Robb had to be. And his son is the captain, no less!

To Robb, this is a clear suggestion for him to abandon Jon before the situation got worst. “I can handle it,” Robb assures. He and Jon are meant to be. They could handle anything his parents threw at him.

Ned nods. So Robb believes he can handle it. Good, Ned thinks. His son is so talented.

“Hmm…” Ned ponders on his next statement. He wants to be reassuring. Robb is surely stressed out right now. He thinks of a compliment. “You’ve always been a good student.”

“Thank you,” Robb accepts suspiciously. He wonders if Ned is complimenting him for sake of lessening the future blow. Focusing on his studies was a strange move, but an efficient one. Try as he might, Robb cannot help the joy brought on by his father’s approval.

“Engineering involves a lot of maths, right? It’s never been your best subject.”

Oh, so his father was trying to tell him that he fell in love too often? Relationships were never his best subject, despite his countless experiences. Robb isn't going to fall for it. What he has with Jon isn't a simple relationship. It is pure, unadulterated, love.

“Yes, but I’m getting better. My professors say I’ll be getting top marks in no time.”

That is good news. Robb has always struggled with the topic (not like Arya, Ned muses proudly) but if he’s able to say it with such confidence, it must be going well. Robb would never lie to him--but just in case, Ned continues his questioning.

“Science is always changing, too. The smallest thing can change a whole outlook on life.”

So things change and people do, too. Is that what he’s trying to say? Robb cannot believe his father is using such an underhanded method to imply that his relationship with Jon is weaker now that he knows they’re cousins.

“I’ve always been good at science,” Robb grits out.

True, Ned thinks to himself. He’d forgotten about that.

“And you’re taking the course with management?”

This one was easy. How can Robb expect to manage his life when he could not even manage the love of his life?

“Mechanical engineering with management.”

“That’s good for the company.” He was surprised when Robb suggested it at first; he'd thought the boy would major in computer science or something of the like. Yet as Robb explained several years ago, he didn't need to learn computer science. He aspired to improve himself and the company. Ned agreed. The decision would benefit them in the long run. Stark Industries focused mostly on security systems and Robb’s decision to study both the bones and organs of his company made Ned proud to be his father.

“That was the intention,” Robb retorts. He’s on edge, waiting for a derogative comment towards himself or Jon. They’ve been skating around the issue since they arrived at dinner.

“Do you think you’re overworking yourself?” To Ned, he meant the course load. For Robb, his father meant Jon and him together. The boy was nothing if not dedicated.

“No.”

With that done, Ned ventures onto a different subject. “How is your personal life?”

There it was.

“It was good,” Robb emphasizes the past tense. “I’ve been very happy since Jon came into my life.” He sends Jon a hopeful look.

Jon averts his eyes. Robb’s confidence falters.

Ned does not get the message. He thinks he’s found a good way to stir up a conversation. “You’ve always been a sensitive child. Don’t you agree, Jon?”

Jon drops his fork in surprise. “What?”

“You must have noticed while…being with him,” Ned finishes strangely. It will be hard to get around this with Rickon at the table. “His grades always took a drop around a bad break up. Did anything happen during exams?”

Jon almost chokes. “Nothing that I was aware of.”

“Were you together at the time?"

“Uh…yeah. We were.”

“Were you being overly intimate? Or perhaps,” Ned coughs. "not intimate enough? Were you pleased by his performance? I know he was pleased by yours."

“Dad!” Robb protests. “It was hard!”

Ned gives him a strange look. “I know it was. Keep in mind that Rickon is here,” Ned warns cautiously, sparing a glance at the tiniest red head.

Jon turns red with embarrassment. “Uncle Ned--"

“It’s not that I’m not proud of Robb, I am. But his mother gets worried because he really can’t do anything by himself and we considered hiring a maid, but we want to teach him responsibility--"

“Dad!”

“But that’s the Stark in him. No cooking or cleaning. Ever. So now, we just hope he focuses on his studies. You understand why I’m asking, right?”

“Gods, everything is fine! Do you know how hard engineering is?”

Jon struggles with his words. “He seemed fine, I…um…try my best to help out the house so he can study.”

“Yes, you’ve been living with him,” Ned takes that in. “That’s good of you. I know he doesn’t make it easy. With the, um, intimacy. He has a lot of demands.”

“Oh dear God,” Bran mutters shamefully, just imagining the ‘intimacy.’ “Make it stop.”

“We try to get him to control it, but he has a big problem with that issue.”

“Issue?” Jon gulps silently.

“The sex,” Ned whispers, hoping to avoid Rickon’s ears. The youngest Stark rolls his eyes. He’s eleven, not four. “Don’t worry, we know you’ve done it. It can’t be avoided. It’s Robb.”

“Please,” Sansa grounds out. “Stop.”

“But I really hope whatever happens this summer does not affect his grades for next year.”

“I’m doing fine!” Robb screams out. Ned looks at him sharply. Robb, red-faced and ashamed, composes himself. “Everything is fine. I’m just getting used to the new material.”

He opens his mouth to offer another suggestion but fortunately for Robb and Jon, Catelyn cuts in. “Speaking of grades, Arya received wonderful marks this year. Sansa’s report is also exemplary. The teachers reported that they have high hopes for a good university.”

“I’m more concerned with Robb. He has a lot riding on his shoulders after he graduates,” Ned justifies. “And this is a very serious situation,” Ned adds on, hoping that his wife sees the danger in letting Robb continue depressed. He wonders if his family understands how important it was for Ned to get this point across. Robb needs his support. He is worried, damn it.

Robb stifles the urge to stab himself with the fork. Jon stops himself from interfering. This is the last place he wants to bring attention to himself.

“Harsh, dad,” Arya dryly comments. Neither of the girls is that insulted, but Arya needs to stop this heavy interrogation. At this point, she might have been the only one willing to deal with her father’s social awkwardness.

Ned interpret her words to mean she was offended. “I meant that Robb is going to inherit the company one day, he should be more focused,” Ned rectifies quickly. “I’m very proud of the two of you.”

Arya shrugs and takes a bite of her own meal. “Hmm…is that why you miss my last performance?” She puts on a hurt face.

Everyone but Jon looks at each other, guilt-stricken. Jon knows her well enough to know that Arya doesn’t give two shits who comes to her performance as long as those watching knew she was the best. Out of all the highly irregular and interesting people in the world, he can honestly say that he’s never met anyone tougher than Arya. This is the girl who danced on a broken leg, in front Tywin Lannister, on the same day her fellow dancers desecrated her costume with the word ‘whore.’ This is the girl who did a two hour show after getting her feet mutilated with glass. Arya is a warrior not a princess.

"I do have some news to announce," Arya reveals. “Mind you, it’s not as interesting as incestuous cousins,” Arya continues, enjoying the power trip of her older brother’s discomfort, “but I think it has some value.”

Jon stares at his cousin as if she grew another head. Was Arya seriously considering telling her parents now, of all times? “Arya, maybe you should wait for a better moment-“

“--My dance troupe is performing in London.”

Jon bites his tongue. He can taste the blood.

“Well, not all of my dance troupe. I’ll be the lead, either way,” Arya supplements casually. “Syrio says it’s a great opportunity for all of us and we start training in two weeks.” She throws a wink at Jon. “Who knows? Maybe a lot of important people will be there.”

The table floods with excitement. The two boys are momentarily forgotten as the attention focuses on Arya. And this is why Arya is now his favorite cousin.

“That’s fantastic, Arya!” Sansa is the first to praise. Inwardly, Sansa’s insides are fluttering in delight and envy. Oh, how she adores London! Her sister must be absolutely ecstatic.

Catelyn smiles warmly. While it still took her some time to get used to the idea of Arya as a professional dancer, she tried her best to be supportive. There are worst alternatives, after all. “Oh, I’m so happy for you! Is there anything you need us to do?”

“Why didn’t you tell us earlier?” Ned asks seriously.

Arya laughs lightly. “It was just so exciting, I didn’t want to damper the mood,” she says in airy, dry tone. “I just need parental permission. There were some legal complications last time that Syrio does not want to repeat.”

“What last time?” Cat and Ned repeat in unison.

Arya ignores her parents. “You guys are all invited, of course, but that’s a formality. Only Jon’s welcomed, unless he gets back with Robb, and then no. No monogamous, happy couples allowed. I don’t think they can handle it.”

“What/why can’t we handle it?” Catelyn and Ned ask together. In the background, Robb groans out that “they haven’t broken up!” Everyone ignores him.

“The play is explicit.”

She could already see her parents sweat. “The performance is about a passionate love affair between a young girl and this foreign stranger,” Arya begins. “He supposed to be her teacher, both…intimately,” she throws a mischievous look at her father, “...and in the metaphoric sense. Her accumulation in skill is supposed to reflect in her dancing.”

Her family remains silent.

“That sounds…interesting,” Catelyn finally musters out.

“It gets better.”

Jon lets out his first laugh of the evening. It is horribly out of place, but it lightens the mood considerably for him.

Arya continues, lost in her storytelling. “Overtime, she gets bored with this man. He’s not fulfilling her desires so she begins to look for other partners. She accrues more talent as she begins dancing with other people. There’s even this wonderful solo scene. It’s supposed to get to the point where she eventually surpasses the teacher, and they have this amazing, epic dance sequence in the end where they just dance until they both die. Le petite mort. Death by a little death.”

The image was not welcomed for anybody.

“Oh,” Catelyn lets out breathlessly. “Aren’t you a bit young to be doing something like that?”

“I believe my skill as a dancer surpasses such limitations,” Arya states proudly. Besides, Arya muses, I have more than enough experience in both fields.

“And this was performed…last week?”

“Yeah, but we did the PG version that Syrio had to edit because the hall wouldn’t let us perform otherwise,” Arya recounts bitterly. She brightens up. “This time, however, our audience is more age appropriate. And,” Arya practically beams at this news. “One of the Faceless Men saw the performance and heard about the original. He asked Syrio if he could adapt the performance with his select performers and him in the role of the foreigner. Those who get selected are going to be allowed to audition for the troupe at the end of the summer.”

Arya does not let it slip that she’s already been chosen and the performance was just a formality to see if all their candidates could actually dance alongside the Faceless Men. She looks at Jon and motions that she’ll explain later.

A long time ago, Ned and Catelyn would have had a thousand questions and a thousand more concerns. They may have even attempted to prevent such a performance from going on. After the events last year, the Stark leaders have decided that Arya was better left dancing to beat of her own drum. Arya loves them both dearly, but regardless of their permission or approval, Arya does what she wants.

“Be safe,” Catelyn offers, almost in defeat. Ned nods in agreement. “It’ll be a good experience for you.”

Arya smiles, sending Jon a look of triumph. He tips his glass to her.

“So…” Catelyn starts as she looks around the table. “What is everybody else doing this summer?”

No one answers at first. After a long pause, the sight of her father caused Sansa to speak. She smiles demurely, “I’ll be spending time with friends.”

“Kidnapping my princess,” Rickon answers offhandedly.

“Nothing,” Bran replies. He stabs angrily into his piece of salmon. Normally, this is the time Bran went rode horses or camped in the woods with his friends. A few nights ago, the park he used for such recreations closed down because of a mudslide and his specialized saddle was broken. It would take a few weeks to get a new one custom made. With his wheelchair, his options were severely limited.

It did not help that Bran’s friends had been slowly decreasing since his accident and ever since the events of last year…well, things did not look so well for Bran this summer, or the summer after that. The dinner table once again turns sour.

Catelyn smiles in spite of the circumstances. She’ll be damned if her son spends his entire summer at home while he was here. “We’ll find you something to do. Perhaps you can volunteer at the reserves. That’s what you’ wanted to do last summer, right?”

The whole table stares at her skeptically. “I thought you said the reserves are too dangerous,” Bran questions suspiciously. The reserves were something of a pet project of the Starks. The old family has donated billions of dollars over the years to protecting endangered species and promoting indigenous species. “That’s why I wasn’t allowed last year.”

“Things change,” Catelyn lies. The idea of her son volunteering amongst those wild animals still scares her half to death. It is, however, the lesser evil. “You are older now, and we have Osha. I think you’ve proven yourself, right Ned?”

Ned recognizes the cue. Unlike his wife, Ned has never had a problem with Bran helping out at the reserves. Robb started volunteering around his age and the boy always looked up to his older brother. Plus, Bran has a gift with animals. “It will be a good learning experience.”

Bran brightens up. Catelyn feels as if she has bit the bullet this time. With Bran out of the house, the chances of him running into the Reed boy slimmed down even further. The matter should have been settled. She forgot about Arya.

“It’s such a shame that Bran will be busy. I heard we will be having some interesting guests this summer,” Arya remarks. She sucks on her strawberry languidly.

Catelyn could kill the girl.

Arya,” Catelyn hisses. “We can talk about that later.”

Arya blinks her eyes innocently. “But I thought it’d be important to know. Bran--"

“Arya--!” Catelyn snaps.

“--Uncle Robert will be coming this summer,” Arya clarifies. Catelyn chokes on her own words. Arya is smirking much to the red-haired woman's chagrin. Arya, in response, sends her distressed mother a playful look. “Can you imagine all the funny, drunken shenanigans you’ll be missing? I swear, if he starts streaking, I’m taking pictures.”

Her mother shakes her head and palms her face with her hand. She doesn’t know what she did to deserve such a child, but by the Gods, she’s sorry.

Bran smiles meekly. “I think I’ll pass. Why’s he coming?”

The question never occurred to Arya, it seems. She turns to her father. “Why is darling Uncle Robert coming? I know it's not to visit Gendry."

Ned sends a look to his wife. This is where it gets tricky.

Arya hates Joffrey Lannister. Hates him with the passion of a thousand erupting volcanoes. Hates him to a point that if she saw him get run over by a car, she would literally maim the person who tries to call for help. At one time in their lives, she’s attacked him. It wasn’t a kid’s attack, either. She grabbed her pocket knife and tried to stab him with it.

That’s how much she hated him.

No one can pinpoint where or when this intense hatred started, but no one questioned it. Joffrey Lannister was a little shit, and one could wonder how Sansa managed to date him for so long. She was young, though, and so naive back then…Catelyn almost shudders at the thought. Deep inside, she wonders how far he had to go for Sansa to realize the truth.

“Robert will be bringing his children,” Ned explains. “He asks me to house them for the summer--"

“No.”

The response is immediate. The frightening thing about it is that Arya did not seem angry. She had a fierce calm to her that was more terrifying than rage. “He’s not staying here,” Arya tells them as if she’s giving Ned an explanation. “I won’t allow it.”

This is where Ned puts his foot down. He loves his daughter dearly but he would be lying if he said he didn’t spoil her. There are times when Arya acted as if she was entitled to things she did not deserve. Disrespect is one of them. “This is our house, Arya. We do not need your permission. Robert is my friend and he’s staying here for the summer.”

Arya’s eyes narrow. “You are letting a monster stay in your house?”

“Arya, please,” Sansa pleads. She knows where this conversation is going and it is not one she wants to share with her family. “Joffrey has gotten a lot better-“

“You of all people should be supporting me on this.” Arya repeats. “He’s a monster.”

Sansa looks away in shame.

Arya turns to the rest of the table. “What about you all?” Jon, who has never failed to back her up, agrees. He’s seen Arya worked up like this before and he knows to trust the ballerina's instincts.

“If Arya feels strongly about it, I think we should listen to her,” Jon supplements.

Robb shrugs. “I never liked the little shit.”

Ned glares at both of them. Bran casts a watchful eye on the scene but keeps his vote silent. Rickon remains in the dark.

“Joffrey has had a lot of problems in the past," Ned explains. Arya has a rebuttal that is cut off. “But he’s working on them. Robert has assured me that he will be on his best behavior.”

“Oh, and he’s the model of self-control,” Arya laughs humorlessly. “Just because he’s paid a shrink a fucking fortune to say he’s cured doesn’t mean he is.”

“Do not use that language in my house,” Now it was Ned’s turn to be angry. Arya falters for a second before coming back in full force.

“Joffery's a cunt.”

“Arya!” This protest came from Sansa. “Arya, please, just let it go.”

Arya turns to her, furious. “How can you defend him after what he did to you?”

Sansa could not tolerate it anymore. She stands up, furious. “That is not any of your business.”

Arya looks at Sansa as if she just slapped her in the face. Finally, she bites her lip and gets out of her seat. “I’m going to my room. You can call me when you get back some fucking sense!”

Ned is in between emotions. He has no patience for disrespect, but he does not believe Arya is entirely unjustified in her sentiments. He does not know what happened between Sansa and Joffrey, but he can only assume the best and imagine the worst. He just wish he knew.

“Sansa--"

“I am not talking about it,” Sansa interrupts. “Arya is just making a big deal about nothing.”

In the background, Jon chokes on his wine. How the hell did such a harmless comment turn into a disaster? It made his relationship with Robb seem like the bottom of Pandora’s Box in comparison. He will have to talk to Arya later.

Catelyn seems to be holding something in. She glances at Ned, before turning to Sansa. “Arya is just worried about you.”

Sansa shakes her head. “She’s worried about nothing. Joffrey and I are…fine. We’ve moved on.”

“It’s good that you’re willing to forgive Joffrey. I’m proud of you,” Ned tells her honestly. Now is as good as time as any. “You’ve always had a wonderful heart.”

Sansa smiles at the compliment. Yet, all her Stark instincts scream at her that something is wrong. "Thank you."

“That’s why I think you can handle what we’re about to tell you, and hope you can find it in your heart to forgive as well.”

Catelyn stares at the wall in defiance. Ned places a hand on hers as a sign of comfort. Whatever Ned is about to tell her has definitely upset her mother. The Stark CEO presses the button to call in Osha. Within a few moments, the Stark’s nanny is coming through the doors.

“I would like you to take Bran and Rickon to the living room.”

Osha agrees with a raised brow. The look on Ned Stark face told her to make sure they were not just sent away, but kept there. She begins hustling the children.

“But we haven’t even gotten dessert yet!” Rickon protests.

“You can have it after I talk to Sansa.”

“How come Jon and Robb get to stay?” Bran asks, almost a bit too calmly. If anything, he seems suspicious.

“Robb and Jon are adults, you two are children,” Catelyn borderline snaps. “Bran, leave.”

Bran opens his mouth again but then nods. He holds onto Rickon’s hands as he leaves the room.

He wants to eavesdrop but Osha’s face says she’s not having it tonight.

“Jojen Reed is staying here," Catelyn blurts out before Ned could settle into it. She has given Osha more than enough time to wheel the youngest boys away.

Sansa is slack-jawed and the expression ruins her pretty face. They wait for her reaction. On the sides, Robb's eyes twitch with recognition but nothing emotional. He must not know the details either. Jon watches with cautious curiosity. Sansa says nothing.

“Howland Reed is a good friend of mine and he’s in a very bad situation right now.”

Sansa’s expression is replaced with something unreadable.

“They will be located on the other side of the estate and we will limit all forms of interaction between Bran and Jojen.”

Sansa takes a sip of her water.

“I’m not happy about it either,” Catelyn amends. “I--"

“Then you should do something.” Sansa snaps. She takes another sip of water. There is more silence before the Stark beauty sighs in defeat. Instead of arguing, she gets out of her seat. “I understand. Excuse me.”

Cately tries to stop her before she leaves. “Sansa--"

“I am not Arya,” Sansa says suddenly. She faces her parents. “I won’t fight when I know things are not going to change. All I want you to know is that I was the one who found out first,” the red head spits out viciously. “And I want you to remember why.”

The guilt on their faces is evident. They allow Sansa to return to her room without further protest.

The only people left are the last people who want to be facing Catelyn and Ned Stark together. Jon and Robb have been sitting across from each other all night, not saying a word to each other. Jon wants to ask about Joffrey or the Reeds, but knows that it is the last thing to question about. He’ll get all the answers from Arya. Robb wants to talk about their relationship, and he’ll do it in a language Jon understands.

Robb takes the initiative. “Jon--" I want to make this work-!

“I got a job with Stannis Baratheon,” Jon informs his uncle and aunt before Robb can finish his sentence. “He wants me to be his nanny again.”

“Were you his nanny before?” Catelyn asks, interested in this relatively harmless news.

“When he just got married. I quit when I moved to Scotland but I guess he’s been pretty overwhelmed.”

“With all those stepchildren, I bet,” Ned chuckles for the first time that night. “You should bring Rickon along with you. He seems pretty infatuate with their daughter. He couldn’t stop staring at her at the park." He does not mention that Stannis almost threw a fit, believing Rickon's stare to be that of disgust. When Rickon called her scar beautiful, Stannis almost popped a vein for an entirely different reason.

Jon smiles fondly. “Oh, Shireen’s a real cutie. He’ll fall harder when he meets her. She’s Bran’s age, though. I wonder if they’ll have anything in common.”

“I just want him interacting with normal children for once,” Catelyn confesses. “His teachers are saying that he has a hard time getting along with the other children.”

“How un-Stark-like of him,” Jon teases. “I thought you were all natural born leaders.”

“Oh, he’s a leader, alright,” Catelyn groans in frustration and amusement. “But according to Mrs. Dubois, he’s taken to bossing the other kids around, and of course, they’re too terrified to disobey. He even has the older kids following orders.”

The conversation is at its lightest all evening. Robb is the first to dissent from this behavior. He was tired of being so utterly removed from the conversation and from Jon's life. These are things he should be discussing with him, his boyfriend, not Robb's parents!

“How much time do you plan on spending over there?”

Jon glares at his (ex/not-so ex/maybe even current) boyfriend. “We talked about this on the train.”

“You said it was part time. I think you’re going back on your word. How many hours will you be gone?”

Jon holds his ground. “We haven’t talked about it yet.”

“But I’ll bet you’ll take the full load, won’t you?” Robb insinuates viciously. “Tell me, will you be a live-in like last time?”

Jon face clouds with outrage. “Maybe I will,” Jon retorts. “I don’t have anything more important to stay for.”

“You have your family.”

“Oh, so we’re family now?”

“We’ve always been family.” Robb slips a hand on Jon’s thigh. “Sometimes more.” He tightens his grip.

Jon roughly removes it. Fuck Robb. “Let’s not do this.”

“You’re the one who wanted to talk.”

“Not here, not in front of your parents," Jon hisses.

“They’re the ones who started this. We wouldn’t be having this argument if they didn’t disapproved.”

Jon growls at his accusations. “Anyone with a decent moral compass would disapprove.”

Robb slams the table. “You are being unreasonable.”

“No, you are,” Jon deflects. “In fact, you are so unreasonable that I can’t have this conversation with you anymore,” He stands up from his seat. “God, I didn’t even know you could be like this.”

Following Jon’s stride, Robb shouts out. “I guess you can mark this up on your list of ‘why I can’t fuck my cousin!’”

“That’s not a list, it’s a reason!”

“Semantics!”

“No, it’s not Robb!”

The fighting continues the entire way. It stops when they hear two doors slamming.

Ned and Catelyn look at their empty dining room. Making a silent agreement to leave, the two are interrupted in their stride to bed when they heard light footsteps from the stairs. Theon Greyjoy stares at the dining room.

“What the hell did I miss?” Theon cried frustratingly. You take one bathroom trip, and suddenly miss the entire show!

Chapter Text

Theon has been in love with Robb since he was fourteen years old.

They first met in high school, when Robb had just entered Year 7. It was not on good terms. While Robb had established himself as an honorable, well mannered heir of Stark Industries, Theon had made a name for himself as the unwanted third son of Balon Greyjoy, the boss of the Iron Islands, a community of crooks located primarily in the Isle of Wight but have their hands all over the England as illegal traders. The Greyjoys, who had distinct ties to nobility, were the outcasts of modern day England and looked down upon by most, even commoners.

The former island dweller had been sent to Yorkshire to live with his uncle, an equally despicable human being with a perchance for loose women and gambling. For verbatim, his dad felt he was becoming too much of a pussy and couldn't stand to look at him. Even as a child, Theon had already learned to pretend that his dad’s words didn't hurt. Why did he care about what his old man thought? He was a shit dad anyways, Theon told himself. And if his brothers bullied him for being a pansy, they were just jealous. He was their mother's favorite after all.

With those reassurances as an anchor, Theon attempted to make the best of his situation while grumbling the entire time. He made up for his time at his bourgeois, all boys school by making everyone as miserable as he was. He got into fights, spent half his days higher than a kite and drunk the other half. He partied with college kids and went skinny dipping in the lake with the older girls. He messed around with some guys, too. He was cool. He was a bad boy. He wanted to prove himself so desperately it hurt. Every time they called his uncle in was another victory against his father.

When he first saw Robb, all he could see was an easy target. Total rich kid (so was he, but he was a cool one. He wasn’t some spoiled prat like this guy obviously was). Sheltered and well loved by his mommy and daddy. Theon stared down his perfect attire and combed back hair; his eyes narrowed at the way the teachers cooed at the younger’s good behavior, the way he smiled humbly when he was praised.

Theon had to fuck him up.

He and his lackeys did the usual. Pushed him around in the hallways, slammed his books against the floor. Sure, sometimes he pushed a little too hard and went a bit rougher than necessary. Sometimes, there were bruises. He wanted the kid to cry. When that didn't work, they got a bit more serious. They started stealing his stuff, calling him names and tried bullying him to submission. Robb never lost his composure and that pissed him off even more. In fact, more people started speaking out against the self-proclaimed bad boy.

Theon never listened to those posers. They never cared about bullying when it was some other kid. It was only Robb when people started giving a damn. Theon remembered the sick satisfaction he got from seeing Robb clenched his fist in anger, or the way his eyes darkened just the slightest or how his nostrils flared. He was so close to a reaction, he could taste it. Still, Robb turned the other cheek when he saw Theon. Grades were still perfect, and he even started to join clubs.

Out of nowhere, a little serendipity struck. It was a regular school day when Theon had decided to skip his geography class, lounging around the halls, and overheard someone at the staircase. They were talking animatedly in whispers, which either meant it was one of those psycho freaks with the imaginary friends or someone was on their cell phone. The fact that they were doing it in the staircase instead of one of the safer locations meant that they were underclassman or new. None of the younger kids knew any of the good hiding spots.

“It’s okay. I told my teachers I was going to the bathroom. I’ll just tell them I got lost if they ask.”

This was going to be fun, Theon mused.

Theon lived for these situations. It was so easy to convince an innocent Year 7 or blubbering Year 8 to hand over their belongings with the threat of telling their professors on them. Their school was painfully strict about those things. At best, he could squeeze out a new phone and a couple pounds from some over-privileged brat.

“You’re worth the risk. You’re all that matters to me, Jon. ”

Theon almost wept in joy when he recognized who that voice belonged to.

Little Robb was oblivious to the Ironborn male creeping up on him. Theon’s malice started to vibrate off the walls and his figure cast a shadow over Robb's smaller frame. Normally, the boy had a much better guard than this, but Theon supposed his boytoy on the phone might be a distraction. The implication annoyed Theon but the older teen shrugged it off. Whatever. Who cared if Robb liked taking it in the ass? By the time Robb noticed the elder’s presence, it was too late. Theon snatched the cellular device out of his hands and held it above his head. Tantalizing him with his stolen good.

“What do we have here? Little golden boy skipping class to talk to his boyfriend?” He mocked.

Robb growled. “Give it back, Theon.”

Ooh, so the little bitch had a bite to him. Time for the push, Theon smirked maliciously. “You know, our school has a very strict policy on attendance, and an even stricter one on electronic devices used outside of education. Damn, that’s two rules broken in one. Maybe I should call the professor here?”

Robb lips trembled just the slightest but his gaze was defiant. “You’ll get in trouble, too, Theon. You’re not supposed to be skipping class, either.”

Theon scoffed. “Like I care about that.”

At that moment, the phone started vibrating again. It’s Jon. He saw Robb’s eyes widen at the name on the screen and the desperation in his eyes turned to pleading. Suddenly, Theon has the fucking greatest idea.

“You know, if you love your little boyfriend so much, how bout I show him some real fun?” Theon suggested, already filling the message box with memorized profanities. “How about ‘hey jon, when i see u again, i cant wait to have ur lips on my cock.’”

Robb blubbered like a fish. “No, you can’t put that!”

“Oh, right, bet you’re still a virgin. Maybe that’s too much for you. Oh look, I already sent it.” Theon announced innocently. Robb’s face burns in anger and indignation.

“Ooh! I bet you like to give orders, you little freak. Here, how about ‘im so hard rite now. Send me a pic of ur cock.”

Robb watched helplessly as Theon pressed the send button.

Hours later, when the two are taken to the headmaster’s office, Robb will claim that he wasn't sure what happened. All he knew was that Theon, devil incarnate, was texting his Jon. Jon, who left last year to live with his mother in Peru, Brazil, Germany, Italy and wherever his mother needed him. Jon, whose ebony curls can still be remembered bouncing on his bed. Jon, his best friend, his companion for life, his.

Theon was on the floor in seconds.

The fight was one of the shortest in Theon’s life and ended in the younger boy’s complete victory. Turns out that Robb wasn't afraid of Theon and his friends. He was fucking holding back. Robb was strong for his age, and resilient as fuck when getting revenge. The boy wrestled the phone out of Theon’s grasp in seconds and sat on top of his hips for the remaining time. Whenever Theon tried to get up, Robb simply grinded on him (who the fuck taught him that was an adequate means of self-defense?) and ordered Theon to sit still. While he desperately tried to text Jon to clear up the misunderstanding, Theon noticed that the boy was not. Getting. Up. Theon almost shouted on him to stop being such a homo, only to receive a hand over his mouth.

“Stay. Hush.” Robb commanded offhandedly. He said the same things to his dogs and they understood perfectly.

Theon, who would deny it to this day, got hard. Rock hard.

“What is going on here?”

Both of them stiffen at the familiar voice. One promising excruciating pain and crushed dreams.

If Theon thought the day could get any worse, he was wrong. At the headmaster’s office, they were effectively getting their asses reamed. Robb looked like he was ready to throw up in shame. His mother had arrived and any jokes the could have been made about the MILF in front of him were effectively dismissed upon seeing the enraged redhead. The woman was glaring daggers at him.

He sunk further into his seat.

“Really, I expect this type of behavior from Mr. Greyjoy but you, Mr. Stark, are better than this.”

Way to keep himself unbiased, Theon thought bitterly. Nonetheless, Headmaster Cassel had every reason to assume the worst of him. The man continued his tirade of disappointment before settling on their punishments. Greyjoy rolled his eyes. What was it this time? A warning for first offenders, so Robb was probably going to be fine while Theon was expecting chores, maybe a suspension? God, his father was going to be so pissed…

“…expulsion seems to be the only choice you've left me.”

Theon jolted in his seat.

“What?”

Theon realized that the exclamation didn't come from him. Robb stood up immediately, aghast at the punishment. Everyone was bewildered by the negative response

“Headmaster Cassel, with all due respect, you cannot be serious. Expulsion is not the right punishment for something as petty as skipping class!”

“…you do realize he attacked you, Robb?” Resorting to first name basis, Theon noted. How close were these people? He should have known when Robb’s mom came in, hollering Rodrick at the top of her lungs. He guessed posh people tend to stick together.

“I attacked him, Headmaster Cassel, and it was I who decided to skip class to call Jon-"

“Ah Jon, how is the young chap doing these days?” Cassel asked, slightly distracted.

Robb practically beamed. It was absolutely disgusting how the simplest mention of Robb’s boyfriend seemed to bring out an entire different person in him. “He’s doing great! Aunt Lyanna has just gotten a job in Brazil so they will be going there next week.”

Oh? Like a dog to a bone, Theon perked up at the word 'Aunt.' So Jon was his cousin...Jon who Robb had been cooing over, risking his immaculate record and sweet reputation, was a relative. That made Theon more happy than it should have.

Headmaster Cassel nodded knowingly, annoying Theon to no end. He’s even more confused by Robb’s abnormal behavior. If he had the headmaster as a family friend, he would be getting into trouble even more so, knowing he could get a free pass.

“Irregardless of the the circumstances of the fight, this is not the first time Theon has gotten into trouble nor is it his first incident of violence. I’m afraid we can no longer let him off with a mere suspension.”

Robb seemed torn. His honor refused to let this go. “I am afraid, Headmaster Cassel, that I cannot let this go. Theon was the victim in this whole incident, though not entirely innocent, but still a victim. I must implore that you find another solution!”

Who the hell talks like that anymore? Theon wondered, even his thoughts mocked the all too proper boy.

Headmaster Cassel looked to the future criminal and his star pupil before heaving a sigh. For a second, Theon thought he’ll be getting off the hook. Maybe the prat wasn’t so bad after all?

“If anything, allow him to be under my tutelage and care, Headmaster Cassel. I shall whip him into shape!”

That little bitch.

Both the Stark matriarch and Headmaster Cassel were taken back at the suggestion. Theon was horrified. Then, a wicked smile appeared the aging educators’ face. The outcast knew he was in deep shit now. A thousand ideas must be running through the old man’s face to get him that happy. He loved causing Theon misery.

“I see…” Cassel noted thoughtfully. Robb was glowing with hope. “Well, normally I like to avoid allowing the victims to give punishments to the offenders…”

Theon sighed in relief.

“But given your exemplary school record, I cannot see why not. I trust you will be a good influence on Greyjoy, Robb! He will placed under your disciplinary care until the next break.”

“What?!” Mrs. Stark and Theon exclaimed at the same time.

“My son does not have the leisure to discipline delinquents, Rodrick!” Mrs. Stark announced. Her stink eye was particularly venomous. "Especially to an older boy whose...influence could harm my son."

“If it is what Robb wants, Catelyn, I cannot see a reason to deny him. Besides, Robb has shown great maturity outside of this incident and has proven to be able to take care of himself.”

Theon blushed in embarrassment. He does not need to be reminded that he got beaten up by a kid.

“Mother, Headmaster Cassel is right. I was the one who got into trouble and I cannot let another student throw his life away for my mistake. I will take this as a punishment as well as an opportunity to better myself and a fellow student.” Robb declared courageously.

Fucking hell, Theon knew from the look in his eye and the sincerity in his voice that he absolutely meant it.

Robb got out of his seat and faced Theon. Tilting his face up in what could be perceived as intimate, Robb told him the truth. “I will definitely not go easy on you, Theon Greyjoy.”

Theon popped his second boner of the day.

Years passed, and the two developed a strange and unorthodox friendship. Robb, true to his word, whipped Theon up to shape, badly. He had forced the older boy to attend all of his classes, do all his assignments, and forced a study regime for his exams. He was given Theon’s entire schedule, and seeing all his free time, actually forced him to join a club. Robb had chosen Home Economics.

It was a surprisingly perfect fit.

To top of all off, Theon was forbidden from seeing his friends. According to Robb, they were a bad influence. He couldn't stop Theon from smoking, and overtime (and to some sick satisfaction of Theon), got Robb into the habit of taking a fag or two after school. Robb, whose calls to Jon were lessening by every week (no reception, letters took forever, and all the other problems of a long-distance relationship), sought Theon out for companionship. Before either of the two knew it, Robb had managed to convince Theon into applying for university, with Robb promising to trail behind him.

Since then, Robb has called Theon his best mate and Theon agreed. Of course, whenever he called him a friend, it was halfhearted at least. Robb wasn't his friend.

He was Theon’s boyfriend.

He just didn’t know it yet.

When Robb started dating, it was like a slap in the face. Why was Robb looking at other girls when the love of his life was right there in front of him? Theon decided that until Robb recognized his sexuality and his love for him, everyone had to go-pronto. Setting a foolproof plan, Theon launched a crusade against Robb’s girlfriends.

Theon has always been a lot smarter than other people gave him credit for-including Robb (of course, Theon liked to keep it that way). He wasn’t proud of his skills of manipulation (except he totally was), but he knew how to get people to trust him when they shouldn't. Robb dated a variety of girls, but the two he happened to attract were easily placed into the only two categories that matter: the ones who wanted to get married and the ones who didn’t.

Theon worked accordingly to this rule.

For both types of girls, Theon knew it was important to develop some sort of relationship with them, not a friendship per say, but a level of communication that would encourage them to entrust their concerns about Robb to him. He would talk to them often about their problems and would build their trust, making them believe he was on their side. At the beginning, he was the supportive best friend that only wanted to make Robb happy and not the conniving shrew that aimed to tear them apart, bit by bit. When their relationship started breaking down, he would give a little push in the wrong direction. Watch them break into apart until finally, said girlfriend could not take it any longer.

The ones who didn’t want to get married were easy. He played on their fears and Robb’s overbearing nature (which Theon thought was absolutely adorable). He reminded them of Robb’s desire to have children, how much he wanted a wife who would stay by his side and cater to him like his mother to his father, and then went on and on about how Robb was so adoring and kind hearted and so fucking ecstatic to have a girlfriend that felt the same way.

It was cake.

The career girls, the ones like Daenerys and Dacey, defaulted immediately. They had their speech down, one that Theon helped them make, with the basic “it’s not you, it’s me. I don’t want to be where you are right now, etc. etc.” These were the girls who left Robb like a punch in the face-a clear message that was fast and ruthless. The other girls, the good girls raised to be kind hearted beings that would never play with a person’s heartstrings, became overwrought with guilt. Girls like Talisa and Meera. Robb was a good man, and none of them could ever dream of leading Robb on like that. They broke it off immediately, leading to several weeks of heartbreak for Robb until he found his new girlfriend. These were the ones that remained friends.

Then, there were the ones who wanted to get married: the gold-diggers and con artists, or the occasional ones who believed that true love didn’t wait. These girls were the hardest. Here, Theon had to adapt and attack. For girls like Roslin, who was essentially a nice girl, just a little traditional and misguided, it was simply a matter of delving her attention elsewhere. She was Robb’s ideal woman to a tee-but lacked anything of substance. All it took was some convincing (and a very timely visit by Robb’s uncle), and Roslin started reconsidering her options. Robb actually cried on his shoulder when the invitations to Roslin and his uncle’s wedding came out.

It was magical.

Sometimes, things got hard. Dealing with Margaery Tyrell was liked dealing with a hurricane. You could prepare all you want but in the end, you still had to run for cover and recuperate your losses. It took almost two months get rid of her, and Theon had to employ some of his greatest tactics to do so. But Theon won when Margaery realized that Theon was not going to go anytime soon, and Joffery Baratheon had just gotten out of rehab. Margaery was the type that hunted the weak.

Theon still took credit for that break up.

While the girls were adamant on keeping Robb taken (sluts, Theon thought, all of them). The relationships became shorter and shorter. It got to the point that the very last girlfriend Robb had only lasted a week before she climbed out of a bathroom window in her pub because her little replacement never showed up.

Theon made sure of that.

After her, Theon had sworn that he was finally going to make Robb his-officially. No one was going to get in his way. He was going to remind Robb that women were nothing but trouble and after slyly placing a hand on his lap, suggest Robb try out different vendors for pleasure. Surely, there were a lot of fish in the sea but maybe he should try hunting with Theon. After a few shots of whiskey, they would scramble onto his bed in a flurry of limbs, sweat and lust.

But Theon never got the call from the bartender that night, was never asked to pick Robb up in his melancholic state. As he waited for the phone call that could be the catalyst to everything he’s ever wanted, he was instead greeted with a five A.M. call from Robb stating that he’s found the one-another one.

A male one.

Everything would have gone according to plan if not for Jon fucking Snow.

Theon threw a fucking fit.

Women, Theon could take care of. Women, Theon was used to. Women were nothing as far as Theon was concerned.

But another man? Another man who has managed to sink his claws in his Robb? And take advantage of the fruits of his labors? Fuck no, Theon was not going to let this go. Theon turned Robb gay. There was no way he was going to let another man enjoy his fruits.

These irrational thoughts and obsessive schemes with no meticulous planning was what, in the long shot, ruined Theon. Everything he learned about getting rid of women was never used in his attack against Jon. The first thing that went wrong was their initial meeting. With all the other girls, Theon would layer on the charm and sweet nothings, showering compliments galore on the girl. Jon and Theon never liked each other from the start. You always had to get the girl to like you, Theon would tell himself as he took note of a girl’s dress and her ‘oh so cute shoes’ that were clearly last season. That’s how he got them to trust him-to tell him their secrets and insecurities. Except, Theon couldn’t go through with that with Jon.

His second mistake was not fixing his first mistake. After gaining the girl’s trust, all Theon had to do was start plant the seeds of doubt in both of their hearts. Open up the flaws in their budding relationship so that the confidant gains more power to use it against them. Robb was shit at fixing relationships. If Theon told Robb what his girlfriend wanted to fix (which she didn’t), Robb would go to the extremes to do it.

Jon never revealed a thing to him.

They loathed each other to their very cores. Jon never attempted to break their friendship up (not like some girls) but he never encouraged it, either. At the start of their trip to Yorkshire, Jon and Robb had only been together for a month, moving in together two weeks prior. Jon kept Theon and Robb time separate from Robb and Jon time, making their clandestine relationship a secret between the two of them. It was more intimate than any of Robb’s relationships and according to Robb’s retelling, it was the closest thing Jon has ever had as well. Theon was absolutely sickened, but no matter how hard he tried, nothing seemed to break them apart.

Until God decided to smile upon, and all his wishes were granted with a kiss.

Theon cheerfully brings up some booze to Robb’s room, the perfect addition for some late night comfort. The plan was a month overdue, but he supposed true love is better late than never. He opens the room without knocking, expecting a drowsy eyed, woe beaten young man; a scene that Theon has familiarize himself over the years. Instead, Theon is introduced to the sight of Robb obsessively hunched over a wall full of papers and red strings, muttering to himself about nonsense.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Theon exclaimed.

Robb turned over his shoulders with wild, red eyes. “I’m going to win Jon back.”

Not this again, Theon thought. Robb was supposed to be a depressed, sulking mess, ready to rely on Theon for his sage advice on love and reconciliation. He was not supposed to be putting on his battle armor, preparing for a war against his family.

Theon inwardly growls. “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?” He asks through gritted teeth, not able to form a full smile yet. "He's your cousin."

Robb nods, not really looking at Theon as he stares longingly at a photo of him and Jon together, moving into their new apartment.

It should have been their apartment, Theon thought darkly.

“I know he still loves me. Jon…he’s…he’s the person I meant to be with for the rest of my life.” Robb sighs, as if frustrated by his own words. “I know I said this before, but I’m not going by the book here. I can’t just follow him around like a puppy, hoping he’ll see his senses. I can’t lose him like the others. He’s too important.”

Theon cannot hide his disgusted expression, but he manages to morph it into reluctant acceptance. He hopes it comes off as a friend who’s resigned to help a hopeless cause rather than a jealous admirer.

“Well, you’re an idiot,” Theon jokes, “And Jon’s a slut.” One that needed his ass reamed and not in a good way. “But I guess have no choice but to help. You can count on me.” Like hell.

Theon will break them up once and for all, and finally lay claim on Robb’s perfect ass. Theon drools at the thought of sinking his teeth into that perfect flesh. Robb can make his little plans for now, but as Theon stares at the wall, reading the formulations and plots, he knows that this will be the last break up he has to make happen.

Robb is his.

Chapter Text

“I jacked off to Bran’s picture last night.” Jojen confesses.

The confession is not out of the blue, but it is not expected either. His psychiatrist does not seem particularly shocked, nor does he appear disgusted. If anything, the foreigner is heavily amused by the declaration. His gaze implores Jojen to continue. At least, that’s what Jojen imagines them asking. His pupils are diluted from his high and he can’t see through the smokiness. He’s sure the doctor knows what he was doing before session, what he does before all their sessions, but the man has never reprimanded him for it.

Jojen suspects the man wants him off the deep end, so desperate enough for intimacy that he will finally do something mad. People like his sister and father will never see it, people whose lucidity comes as naturally as breathing can never hear the monsters underneath their beds. The man is despicable for this, because while Jojen's whole family pushes him towards recovery, the doctor drives him closer to the ledge. There's a tightrope of sanity that the doctor trains him to tread, and it is exhilarating. Jojen stays high to keep himself from going too far. The cloudiness in his head keeps him from thinking about Bran and the things he'd do to him given the chance. The doctor knows this, and almost respects him for it. They're playing a game, and Jojen wants to lose.

“I’m not supposed to have it.”

“Are you talking about the picture?"

“Yeah,” Jojen agrees. “My sister took them all away from me when I got caught…well you know... She’d kill me if she knew I got my hands on another one, especially since we’re staying with them this summer. All month, she’s been telling me ‘you can’t mess this up’ and ‘it’s your last chance to do right.’ I don’t care about that really.”

“What don’t you care about? Your sister’s judgement? Or your recovery?”

“Either. Neither. All I want is Bran.”

“The boy you love,” the doctor describes for him. His voice is velveteen, like melted dark chocolate layered on top of a cake. Jojen is suddenly jealous of the smoothness in his consultant’s speech. He remembers Bran’s admiration of his own tone, how he softly commented to his older sister on her schoolmate’s beautiful voice. It's lovely, the enticing nymphet whispered to his eldest sister. His innocence was delicious.

Sansa had laughed when she heard the praise. He remembered her teasing little confessions, how she would transfer Bran's approval to him. Careful, she said slyly, if my brother ever meets you, he'll probably fall in love. Oh Sansa, poor sweet Sansa. Sansa who slapped and attacked him once she realized the beast she welcomed into her home, who cried ugly globs of tears when she caught him that night. 

The doctor's voice takes him away from his daydreams.

“How do you feel about this summer? Knowing you are so close to such temptation but can never taste what is yours?”

It feels like beetles burrowing beneath his flesh. “It’s for the best.” Jojen parrots without an ounce of conviction. He’s been practicing it for a year. His doctor knows the truth. He can see that Jojen is Tantalus, tortured by the sensation of Bran’s sweetness receding before he can have a taste and the touch of Bran’s form forever above his grasp. Jojen is starving for him.

His doctor smirks, and instead of highlighting the creases in his skin, it only made him look more distinguished. “Do you believe it is for the best?”

Jojen shrugs. Says nothing because there’s nothing to say. The answer is obvious. The doctor pushes anyways.

“Does Bran believe it is for the best? Do you believe that a boy you’ve worshiped from afar is without the will of forgiveness?”

Jojen leans back on the couch. “Bran doesn’t know about me.”

His doctor raises an eyebrow.

“His parents wanted to keep it quiet. They felt he was too young to understand, and they wanted him as far away from me as possible,” Jojen scoffs at their foolishness. “They treat him like a child.”

“Is he not one?”

No, Jojen denies venomously in his head. “He’s more than a kid. Bran…Bran’s beautiful. Everything about him is beautiful. They belittle him. Castrate his will until he's a glass doll they can keep on display. He's meant to be a king. He’s going to change the world through those eyes of his and they…they can’t see it. Not like I can. His soul is made by angels and they want to burn it to ashes. He's not happy.”

"Can you make him happy?"

I can set him free. Jojen doesn't answer. 

“You think his parents are stifling him? Limiting the potential you know to be there.”

Jojen contemplates saying nothing, but concedes that someone needs to hear the truth. If Jojen can convince one person of what he knows to be fact, he can die happy.

“When I was watching him, I could see how they treated him. How they all treated him. Like he was some invalid, a burden. His touch should have been blessing. I watched them sigh and worry when they should have felt honored to be in his presence.”

“They didn’t deserve him.”

No one does. “Bran should not be contained in a cage.”

The doctor pauses. He taps his pen on his clipboard once, twice. He thinks back on Jojen's words. “Were you setting him free the night you got caught?”

Jojen tenses, because this is a sore subject, a vile piece of his history that he would sooner forget. “That…I couldn’t control myself. Bran was so close and so…I should have held myself back.” Until Bran was ready.

“You have guilt for your wrongdoings,” the gentlemen claims, his Eastern accent hiding his disappointment. He's hardly impressed by the proof of conscience. “You do not, however, regret what you feel.”

Jojen understands that this is a trap, one he’s fallen for numerous times and has led him from psychiatrist to psychiatrist. Nonetheless, he instinctively acts. “I will never regret what I feel for Bran.”

"Do you believe that guilt or shame, is proof of your humanity? Do you believe it to be necessary to being a good person?"

"I think it makes me forgivable." 

The doctor nods. He scribbles a few things in his notebook. It reminds him of the sketchbook Bran carried around, the one he used to draw mythical birds and sigils. Bran had so many talents, and Jojen felt remorseful for not divulging for more information. He remembers his quiet mornings, haunting the hallways for a glance of the beauty, lounging in the parks for a chance that Bran might want to visit. His sister is right; he’s a fool, a mad fool.

“How did you get it?” The doctor changes the subject. He makes it a point to deviate their discussion when Jojen is ready to drift. The man is cleverer than any psychiatrist Jojen has ever had. He understands Jojen, and Jojen understands him.

"The picture?"

"Yes."

“My cousin’s boyfriend goes to the same school. They’re in the literature club together.”

“Is this the cousin that deals drugs? The gang leader who supplies you before our sessions?”

“That’s the one,” Jojen’s lighthearted attitude turns grim. “He’s older than me, you know? He’s older than me but he’s dating someone Bran’s age. That’s not fair, is it? Henry-that’s the boyfriend’s name-is fourteen. I have to take these sessions with you, not that you’re not doing a splendid job, but he gets to fuck-“

“Language.”

“-enjoy,” Jojen corrects himself, “his fourteen year old boyfriend while I can’t even be within two hundred feet of Bran.”

“Until June,” the doctor reminds him. “Your restraining order only lasts until next month.”

“His family won’t let me near him.”

“They already have.”

“He’s still underage.”

“So is your cousin’s boyfriend. That does not stop them, does it? I simply advise you not to get caught this time around,” his doctor jokes. “And perhaps push societal limits when you try.”

Jojen bursts out into giggles. God, any other psychiatrist would be reporting this by now. Jojen should be arrested. They both should be rotting in prison for the schemes they come up with in this room. “My cousin told me the same thing.”

“He encourages you to act.”

“Sometimes, he calls me. Mocks me. He gets off fucking with people’s heads. He has Henry breathe into the mouthpiece, moaning, screaming. I can hear him coming and I pretend it’s Bran. Only it doesn’t work. I just want Bran more."

“Do you think what he's doing is wrong?"

"He's disgusting."

"You think he's a pedophile?”

“He’s hedonist,” Jojen clarifies. “He believes that humanity needs to revert back to its primal instincts, and seek pleasure for the sake of pleasure. That’s why he loves corrupting children.” Good children, sons of school administrators and sheriffs, apparently. “Meera hates him. She thinks he’s corrupting me, and I think she’s right. He’s the worst thing for my ‘recovery.’” Worse than you, goes unsaid. “But I want to listen to him." All the time, the words grow harder to resist. Jojen relaxes into the chair. 

“You desire the relationship he shares with his lover. It should come of no surprise that you wish to emulate his actions in hopes of satisfaction.”

Jojen nods, “Last week, when I was picking up another stash, I saw him and Henry together.”

“Oh?”

Jojen got hard thinking about it. “They were having sex on his couch, in front of his entire gang. No one seemed to care that a twenty-two year old was pounding into a teenager like a blow up doll. He didn’t stop when he saw me, either, just pointed to the weed and told me to enjoy. That’s when he gave me the picture.”

The doctor could see the erection straining out of his pants. Jojen retains his calm despite his discomfort. “Would you like some next time? We can light up together.”

The doctor shakes his head. “I must pass, Jojen. I’m afraid I’ve never developed a taste for it. I appreciate the offer,” the doctor refuses politely. “It is a pleasure to know you still retain your manners under the influence.”

“I aim to please.”

“Still, your behavior has put me in a difficult position," the doctor takes a sip of his tea. His tone teasing and bordering malicious. “With your restraining order nearing its end, I am supposed to sign off on your rehabilitation. You’ve done quite well but I’m worried that being in such close proximity to the object of your obsession will result negatively.”

Jojen grins, “I think you’d like that.”

The gentleman’s lips quick, cold and calculating. “I only want what’s best for my patients,” the Lithuanian clarifies. “I will sign off on it, regardless of my concerns. Nonetheless, I will recommend to your father that you come in once a week to check on your progress.”

“We might not be able to afford that.” The state was paying for these sessions, and without the looming threat of the court, they no longer needed to dirty their hands with Jojen.

“We can work something out,” The doctor stood up. He walked over to his desk without as much as a glance to Jojen. “I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress with Bran. God forbid you become misguided in your attempts of reconciliation.”

He grabs a box, neatly wrapped in black paper and red ribbon, sophisticated with a sliver of masculinity that the man exudes naturally. “I took the liberty to prepare a treat for this occasion. Your recovery is something to be celebrated, and I hope your family takes as much pride in it as I have.”

Jojen takes the box. “What is it?”

“Something I caught this weekend.”

Oh, meat. Jojen never refused a gift from the doctor, not when his dishes resembled courses out of five star restaurants and his family had trouble putting food on the table. It was almost touching how much the doctor cared, even if it was for his own, nefarious purposes.

“You didn’t have to wrap it up so nicely.”

“Presentation is success, Jojen. The sight of a jeweled chest overwhelms the sounds of hissing from within. Remember that when you are with Bran.”

Jojen smiles fondly at the image of his beloved.

“Thank you, Dr. Lecter.”

Chapter Text

During a performance season, Arya only eats breakfast with her family once a week. It’s a hassle for the others to wake up when she does, and Arya has to get up in time for her work out or else she’ll be late for school. It also helps that her early bird habits keep her from listening to her mother’s concern about wellbeing. Arya eats a great deal, but before exercising, having something in her stomach always becomes a nuisance rather than a luxury. In the summer, she can sleep in until seven. She does warm ups for thirty minutes, consisting of push-ups, sit-ups, and then some yoga to get her stretching. Sometimes, to increase her cardiovascular work, she goes swimming in their pool or bikes around the neighborhood instead.

At the end of her routine, she goes to her family’s studio, a gift from her father for her prodigal return. Turning the stables into a studio was hardly an effort for the affluent Starks, and it wasn’t as if they were being used since they renovated their lands up north, but Arya always feels a twinge of guilt when she sees it. She knows her father only built it to prevent her from leaving again.

While her family eats their breakfast, Arya is dancing. Putting in her iPhone, she listens to see what she’ll be doing today. If it’s a familiar tune, Arya performs the solo assigned to it. If it’s new, then Arya tries a spontaneous choreography. The latter never turns out particularly well. She smiles when she hears the remix of Hansine and Maclomaire’s “Everytime” come through the speakers.

It was the first contemporary piece that Syrio had made for her when they talked about her career. Classical ballet was out of the question. Though Arya’s technique was solid, it was hardly at the technical perfection needed for the genre. Arya was an artist before a dancer. She was skilled as any novice professional (though she had years to go), but her passion set her apart from her peers. Contemporary ballet or dance was the best choice overall. 

Before her ‘sabbatical,’ Syrio told her that there were several companies already interested in her. In a few years, they would be willing to extend an audition. The Faceless Men, however, got to her first. Or rather, Jaqen H’ghar did.

Arya messes up a pirouette thinking about him.

The man is annoyingly cryptic and infuriatingly attractive. Traits that Arya, for the life of her, cannot resist. When he first entered the Syrio's dance studio, whispers broke out like a hailstorm. Everyone knew who Jaqen H’ghar was. He was one of the best dancers in the world and was coming all the way to dance with them. When he declared he was choosing one of them as the female lead, the tension trapped the girls in their place. They performed for him, did their stretches in front of them, and in the end, were lined up like cattle to be chosen. He tapped the shoulders of the five girls that made it to the final selection. Arya was not one of the slaughter.

The night after her audition, Arya found him in his hotel. She kissed him when he opened the door.

"I wanted to do that before you leave," she confessed. He paused, and pulled her into a kiss.

“The man hopes the girl knows this doesn’t guarantee a part.” He told her when they parted. "I got the part," Arya said confidently.

"The girl is sure of this?"

Arya took off her coat and tossed it past him and into the hotel. "I got the part." Arya was not well-endowed nor was she a beauty in any particular way. Her skin was peppered with bruises and there were cuts on her feet. Jaqen found her eye-catching, and her confidence was more luring than an aphrodisiac. "I know I did. You can tell me if I didn't. That won't change what happens tonight." Jaqen believed her. He confirms her theory when he lifted her up and pushed her against the wall. There was a certain talent only dancers have in their bedroom. They paid attention to every detail of their partner's bodies, could kiss places no one else could reach, spots behind the ear, curves on the waist, stretched their legs so that they could show off private places no one else could touch. It was not only their limbs that was nubile and nimble. Jaqen moves Arya the way he wants her to, and Arya does the same with him. When they were finished, Jaqen watched with a heightened brow at her movements. She was leaving to get some water. She was worn, he knew it, but she got up acting as if he were just another partner in the bedroom or in dance. The notion made him more upset than he liked.

"The girl possesses much talent in this area."

Arya scoffed. She took his shirt off the ground and dressed herself. “You weren't so bad yourself.” She drank his water and shook the bottle in his face. "Do you want any?" He thanked her and she threw him a bottle. She hopped back in bed with him and pulled his face down to kiss him, ruthless and loveless. He attempted to kiss her again when they finished only to be shoved onto the bed.

 “The girl is stronger than she looks,” he told her playfully, placing his uninvited hands on her waist, caressing his fabric on her skin. The sight of the girl in his shirt was mesmerizing and her face, so determined, so wanting, was enough to get him hard again. He lifted himself up to kiss her belly button.

“This girl,” Arya mocked, “would like you to shut up and make your new partner feel welcomed.”

Jaqen smirked. He grabbed her hips and with flexibility only a dancer could possessed, and reminded her that she was dancing for him.

Truth be told, Arya is quite fond of the foreigner. Quite fond of his body at least. The man is a god when he dances, each move so precise, almost inhumanely perfect. Arya looks forward to every possible lesson under his tutelage. A position she knows is hers.

She’ll get the part, she always does.

Arya continues her training for another fifteen minutes when she senses the presence of another. She smiles genuinely at the softness of the wheels trying to keep still. Only her little bird of a brother would be so polite as to wait for her to finish.

“What do you need, Bran?” Arya asks. Her tone is not at all harsh, but Bran flinches instinctively. Bran hates asking for help. He hates being the needy one in the family.

“Um…” Bran fiddles with his fingers. “Am I interrupting you? If you’re not done training, I can always come back later.”

“Nope,” Arya shrugs, grabbing a swig of her hydro flask. “I just finished.” As if he hadn’t been waiting for her to be done this entire time.

“Oh, I don’t want to bother you. You can take a bath if you want. I can wait…” Bran offers nobly.

Oh, she wonders what this is about. Arya sighs. “Spit it out, Bran.”

Bran gulps, a guilty look approaching his face. Whatever Bran wants her to do or answer has him shaking. It must be a pretty huge favor for him to be so nervous. Arya hates turning down Bran’s requests, he gives so little of them. She hopes it isn’t too bad.

“It’s just…I…” Bran avoids her eyes. “Uh…”

"Yes?" She urges. 

"It's honestly not that big of the deal...I kind of just want to...you know..." He struggles to find the words. 

Arya rolls her eyes. 

"I mean, I could probably ask someone else..."

“Bran!” Arya snaps, more out of fatigue than frustration. If only Bran could be a bit more assertive, they wouldn’t be having these problems.

“What if I said I wanted to date?”

Well fuck her, that’s…pretty big. Arya feels a chill run down her spine. Oh God, her cute, adorable, fourteen year old brother is talking about dating. Her little baby bird of a sibling, who spends his nights drawing comic book characters without the big breasts and revealing costumes because their mother thought it was degrading. No, he thought it was degrading. The Stark family's little chick of a child who wakes up in the morning to watch the clouds and play with the dogs...wants to start seeing people. Intimately. And he’s asking her about it, knowing that Arya is the rebellious one. The one who can’t judge him because she’s done worst.

Fuck her bad karma.

“Absolutely not.”

Bran’s face is torn between bewilderment and crestfallenness. “But you started dating when you were my age!”

Younger, Arya grimaces. And I wasn’t exactly ‘dating’ any of them.

“Bran, it’s not about the age.” That’s a lie. It is at least sixty percent about the age. Bran is simply too young to be dating. “I understand that you’re a lot more mature than your peers but that’s not the point." Actually, no, that is the point. Bran, who hardly steps out of his shell for food, cannot be seeing people. He's a pleaser, he wants people to be happy, and he wants to make them happy. He believes in justice and reason and not creepy teenager boys and girls who want to take off his pants and play doctor. Arya once joked that the best way to play a prank on him was to hide his things in a room full of people and watch him suffer. "I can’t remember the last time you made friends. It would be so easy for some sick pervert to take advantage of that." Especially the kind that go after pretty boys in wheel chairs. "There are perverts out there, Bran."

“I have friends!” Bran protests weakly. “And it’s one of my friends that wants to set me up, too!”

“Wait. Waitwaitwaitwait, are you already seeing-“

 “There’s no one!” Bran panics. “I mean…there’s no one yet. I…”

Yet. He said yet. Needless to say, Arya is freaking out.

“Henry, one of my friends,” he emphasizes the word, more than little insulted at Arya’s previous insinuation. “Has a boyfriend-“

“And you thought that justified you to jump on someone’s dick?” It's a bit crude, but if Bran can't handle that kind of language, he shouldn't be dating, Arya justifies.

“NO!” Bran shouts, aghast. “I, just, he has a boyfriend whose cousin-“

“No,” Arya repeats.

“You didn’t let me finish!”

“I didn’t have to. How old is Henry’s boyfriend exactly? And how old is Henry?”

Bran shifts his eyes nervously. Arya finds herself tapping her foot the same way her mother does before one of them would confess to a household crime.

“Henry’s my age. He’s in my English class. He writes, I draw. We're making a comic book together. His mother is our headmistress and his other mom works with Uncle Benjen. She's a cop.”

Okay, good to know where she can find the smartass kid corrupting her baby brother.

“And…?”

“His boyfriend is…well…hemightbetwentytwoyearsold.”

Arya can feel her eyes popping out of skull. Oh, she is so going to get struck down for her hypocrisy one day but today, she’s a fucking older sister. And she’s not having it. “So your ‘friend’ wants to set you up with his pedophilic boyfriend’s cousin because, let me guess, he saw your school picture, the one you took before you hit puberty, and said ‘I might want to tap that.’”

Bran is positive that’s not the reaction he received. Though, Henry did tell him that the boy saw his picture and begged for a copy. It could be totally innocent. Lots of older guys want to keep pictures of younger guys they might be interested in. Henry told him so. "You're just too pretty, Bran." Henry told him.

“They’re not the same age. He’s in the same year as Sansa," Bran defends. "And he seems really nice. We like the same things."

The ballerina rolls her eyes. “That doesn’t make him less creepy.” God, Arya should just start calling herself kettle. “Listen, I understand you want to grow up. Mom does keep us on a tighter leash than the dogs.” Arya grabs a towel and wipes off the sweat building up on her body. She’s working herself up. “But dating older guys is not the way to do it.”

Yep, she’s going to hell.

The wheelchair bound boy frowns. “It’s not just that I want to be independent…I…you said I needed to meet new people. Spread my horizons.”

"I said horizons, not legs," Arya retorts. Bran flushes red and it's the cutest fucking thing Arya has ever seen. “I know what I said and I mean it. But I meant as friends. Socialize.”

“We could be friends!” He defends.

“Please, you know I mean real friends, not ‘friends.’” Arya explains. Air quotes included.

“Like your friends?” Bran points out bitterly, hoping to rise some guilt out of Arya for her behavior. “You said your friends were great. Some of the most loyal people you know.”

“Exactly like my friends,” Arya announces shamelessly. She’s not playing.

Fuck no. Not like ‘my friends.’ Arya thinks to herself. Never like my friends. I sleep with my friends. You should not be sleeping with your friends. “Listen Bran, I may be a hypocrite for telling you this.” May be? She’s the biggest hypocrite in the world. There’s a special place in hell for people like her. “But I really think you should hold off on dating. Mom only just let you work on the reserves. If she finds out you dating behind her back, she might never let you out of her sight.”

Bran’s face turns white as a sheet. “Please don’t tell mom.”

Message received. “Promise to wait three years and I won’t”

“Fine. Promise,” Bran sulks, looking at his feet dejectedly. He briefly tells her that Jon is taking them out after lunch. He has a meeting with an old boss for a job this morning. When he leaves, Arya feels a wave of approval wash over her. No wonder Sansa likes to be so bossy. It feels good to do good.

Arya is so convinced of her moral achievement that she saunters her way to the showers without a second thought. She doesn’t see Bran opening his cell phone and sending a message to his friend, Henry. If she did, Bran would give her a repeat performance of what happened.

He would tell her that he is sending a message to Henry, telling him not to give out his number to the mystery guy. He will do this all while looking at his shoes, guiltily.

Far away, a young man stood his shabby little room, packing his belongings. He receives a little ‘bing’ on his phone, a ‘gift’ (no such things in his cousin’s language) from the older boy.

‘Hi! Um, this is Bran. Henry’s friend? I heard we have a lot in common so I was wondering if you wanted to talk some time. Give me a call or a text! I’m really looking forward to hearing from you! Have a nice day!’

Though formal for a text message, Jojen can’t stop his heart from skipping a beat.

Bran is so fucking cute.

‘Hey Bran, it’s Jo. I’m looking forward to this as well. Let’s find time to chat someday. I have a feeling we’re going to be really close. ;)’

Chapter Text

Jon Snow worked for the Baratheons shortly after deciding not to continue onto sixth form. He was sixteen, a combination of wistful and solemn, and wanted to have meaning in his person, besides being “Lyanna’s son” or “that bastard.” His record was not stunning, but there weren't any red flags either. He did fairly well in school, though was hardly an honors student, volunteered at a nursing home, and even to this day, considers joining the police academy. It was just his luck that he ran into a wailing Steffon and an utterly too composed for a lost ten year old, Shireen, at the grocery store. Quickly subduing their worries with promises of ice cream, Jon went off in search of their parents. It did not take long, as Davos practically ran to the cashiers after hearing the supermarket's speakers announce the presence of two lost children, and Jon recalls the way his eyes widened at a horde of children following him like ducklings in the water. During a conversation with Davos, he hinted at needing a babysitter or a nanny. Jon, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (and completely one to fall for such an obvious trap), offered his services. Stannis didn’t like him at first, but like many men, quickly took to Jon’s talent for dealing with chaos and his ability to soothe his lot of fiery dragons.

Years later, Stannis Baratheon is just as worn and wired as when Jon remembered. While Stannis greets him with a curt nod and a professional handshake, it is Davos that wraps him up in a warm hug and asks him how the years have been treating him.

“Very good,” Jon replies. He tells them he’s been living in Scotland for a few months now, and may be considering the police academy—again. Stannis awkwardly looks around, wondering what the protocol for giving advice is. He’s never been charming, Stannis that is, blunt and judgmental in a way that clearly stated he wanted what’s best and not what’s polite. He wants Jon to have a plan. He wants Jon to make up his mind. He wants him to follow his dreams and be happy, but he also wants Jon to be his nanny. At the same time, he doesn’t want to upset Jon, and now he’s in a conflict with his own mind. Is there a subtle way to tell Jon to get his life together? Can he kindly insinuate that this free-falling lifestyle of his has no future? Dear god, what if Jon ever finds a partner?

“Don’t mind him, Jon,” Davos remarks, lightness in his voice and twinkling eyes. “You know how he is. Come in, we had the maids prepare some tea.”

Jon smiles, and Stannis is relieved. Jon even makes a joke about how posh Davos has become, asking his maids to bring up a spot of tea.

“That’s their job,” Stannis points out. He coughs, realizing it may sound too harsh. “We pay them for it.”

Jon laughs, though not in a condescending way. “Never get tired of that sense of humor of yours, Stannis.”

Davos’s chuckles follow. The sound lightens the mood, and Stannis feels better about himself.

“So where are the other inhabitants of this fine, posh home?”

The children were practically waiting for the cue. Shireen and her little brothers come down in glorious tornado of tiny limbs, floral and paisley prints, plaid decorative pants, and an air of absolute joy. “Jon!” Shireen cried, the most confident of her siblings.

Jon wraps her up in his arms, lifts her and Steffon who is eagerly reaching out for a hug, and squeezes them tight. “Wow, you guys have gotten so big!”

And they have. It’s been two years since he last saw them, Shireen is already entering puberty and Steffon has grown at least half a foot. Stannis the Second, (who was previously just Stannis), is officially entering the realms of being an awkward teenage. He checks for Devan to no avail.

“Devan is out with some friends,” Davos supplies helpfully. “He says ‘hi.’”

“Teenagers,” Stannis mutters. He wants it to sound affectionate but was afraid that with his demeanor and tone, it would come off as spiteful. In the end, he keeps his voice unheard. Davos kisses him on the cheek, finding his behavior all too adorable.

Jon feels a pang of jealously. He puts his two human carryons down to hug Stannis the Second, who is shuffling his feet on the side.

After their greetings, Davos tells them to go upstairs and prepare for the day. “We’re going to the mall today. Stannis returns to work at the end of the week.” They had taken time off to prepare for the move and also to prepare their new headquarters of Baratheon Inc, staying that the place stank of Robert's failure. Stannis tells the children that they still need to talk business with Jon. The children whine, of course, but Davos shoos them away with ease. Jon supposed this was why he couldn’t deal with other parents. Davos ruled with an iron but fair hand, much like Ned. It was…reassuring, for lack of better words.

Jon and Stannis sip their teas. Davos rubs Stannis’s shoulders, and Jon watches their interaction, silently and enviously. He sees the quirk of Stannis’s lips, and the little twitch of his fingers to indicate he’s happy for the touch. Davos eyes always seemed to be filled with love, and the desire to kiss Stannis for being alive. Jon knows that they are happy. Knows that like Cat and Ned, they were meant to find each other in the world. Davos was there for Stannis after his wife’s tragic miscarriages, after two, horribly complicated divorces, and the subsequent custody battles that followed. Likewise, Stannis was there for Davos, through all five years of his wife’s cancer. He paid for the hospital fees, his son's university fees, and then paid for the funeral.

There was a moment in his employment where Jon suspected an affair beforehand. Such a theory was vehemently dismissed when a drunken Stannis came home, carried in Davos’s arms and weeping apologies for his kiss upon Davos when he was sleeping in his wife’s hospital room.

No, Jon thinks, no affairs. No dishonorable, torrid relations.

Stannis almost immediately goes into wages, and moves onto hours. He tells Jon it does not need to be full time work, as the older boys will be coming in sometime this summer. Stannis goes into detail about his freshly made contract and is almost grinning in joy at its perfection. Meanwhile, Davos chats him up a bit about family matters. Dale and his wife manage a branch of Baratheon industries, specializing in shipping. Allard has recently become engaged, and as Jon judges by Stannis’s dismal expression, he isn’t too happy about it. "They're too young," he protests. Matthos and Maric are in Liverpool and Birmingham respectively, earning their degrees. Stannis is incredibly proud of their hard work, and Jon announces he’s happy for them. Stannis genuinely cared for Davos’s children, seeing them as an extension of the man he loved. Davos loves Shireen with all his heart. While the older children refused because of their age, the younger ones were placed in Stannis’s will and have been legally adopted since Jon was last under their employment.

“…so due to their eventual return, I’m afraid we can’t offer the same live-in position as last time. You do have a place to stay, right? If not, we can provide housing nearby—”

“I’m staying with family,” Jon clarifies.

“Oh.” Stannis pauses. “Is it close? We might have you on call, and we need to make sure you have the means to get here as soon as possible.”

Jon squirms in his seat. He suddenly feels like he’s about to reveal a big secret, for better or for worst. “Actually, it’s right next door."

Stannis pauses. "Next door?"

"Yes, um, I’m staying at the Stark’s.”

“Oh."

“Yes.”

 Stannis's throat feels dry. “…And how are you related to the Starks? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“Uh, well, Eddard Stark is my uncle.”

“Oh.” Stannis looks over to his husband. He seems genuinely conflicted. Jon wonders about that, because on more than one occasion, he’s heard Stannis muttering profanities about Catelyn’s “batshit crazy sister”, and “Eddard Stark’s insufferable security system” though nothing demeaning. Definitely nothing to get worried about, at least. Perhaps, he’s surprised that Jon actually came from such means. 

Davos coughs a bit. “Well, that’s good to hear. It means that the children get to see you more often. Here is your copy of the contract, please look it over and hopefully we can put you to work by the end of the week. How does that sound?”

“That sounds great. I look forward to working for you,” Jon responds hastily. They look over at Stannis, and after a few moments, Jon hears him mutter “…I knew she was pregnant.”

The phrase snaps up Jon’s attention. “What?”

Stannis quickly composed himself. “Oh, sorry Jon. I was just thinking about it. You’re…Lyanna’s son, aren’t you? Not Brandon or the other one…”

“Benjen.”

“Yes, that one.” Stannis clears his throat in embarrassment. “I apologize. But your mother is Lyanna Stark? And if I recall, you’ve only turned twenty-one this year?”

“Yes,” Jon confesses to both accounts, “Though we changed it to Snow. When my mother launched her career, she didn’t want to use her name as clutch for her success. Sorry, I should have told you.”

Stannis waves him off. “It’s none of our business. It’s just…did you know your mother was engaged to my brother?”

Jon pauses. He has to think about it, because his mother has been engaged to a great deal of men. “I think…she mentioned a Baratheon,” he says neutrally. She probably did at least. Then, he finds himself pained to ask. “How far did the engagement last?”

Stannis sounds almost gleeful when he tells him “All the way to the alter.” Stannis coughs to hide his suppressed laughter. “See, everyone knew there was something wrong after she threw up at her brother’s wedding—on your aunt’s wedding dress to be precise. And well, her father actually had to drag her to her own mess of a ceremony, but before they could say their vows, she bolted back down the aisle and no one has ever heard from her again.”

Stannis recounts the day with a certain malicious fondness that Jon didn’t know he possessed. He hasn’t been this happy since he helped Cersei Lannister with her divorce and got her fifty percent of Robert’s fortune and cause him to lose his shares as majority owner. There was something about Robert that brought out the worst in Stannis. Davos knows this, and tightens his grip on Stannis’s shoulders, reminding him of their guest.

Stannis composes himself. “Just want you to know that you and your mother are always welcomed here.”

Jon nods. He looks over the contract briefly, and his cavalier manner seems to upset Stannis, who then demands that Jon look it over that instant, with Stannis lending him a helping hand. He gets quite close to Jon, leaning over his shoulder, his breath tickling his ear. If Jon was interested in being a homewrecker, he might have made a pass at his fit employer. Yet, he adores the children (and Davos for that matter) too much to let his libido dictate his common sense and morals.

“You know, since you don’t have too many activities plan, do you mind if I take them on trips with my cousins? I think Shireen would just adore the reserve that the Starks—”

“Not the youngest!” Stannis protests.

Jon raises an eyebrow. “have recently allowed Bran,” he emphasizes, “to volunteer at. He’s the same age as Shireen and I think it’ll be nice if she has a friend she knows when she enters school. She is new, after all.”

“Oh.” Stannis’s face heats up. “I’m sorry—”

“What’s wrong with with Rickon?” Jon interrupts, trying not to sound defensive.

Stannis, to his credit, looks uncomfortable and his eyes dart around like a caged tiger. Davos laughs and claps Jon on the shoulder. “No need to interrogate my poor husband, Jon. Stannis is just being a bit overprotective. He caught the boy staring at Shireen at the park the other day.”

“Staring?”

“Rather intensely, if I do say so myself.”

“Oh.” Now it was Jon’s turn to be embarrassed. “I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything ill by it.”

“Well he means to do something,” Stannis mumbles darkly, his eyes clouding over with fatherly rage.

Davos sighs in utter fondness. “He’s just being silly, Jon. To be honest,” he says this in a loud whisper, teasing Stannis with the secretive action but enjoying the twitch he gets when he plays the game. “Rickon is quite infatuated with little Shireen. He kept calling her beautiful and literally caught her a bird in the park as a gift. It was quite romantic if the bird, wasn’t, you know, struggling to get free.”

Jon can’t help feeling relief. “Rickon will be on his best behavior. I promise.”

“I don’t want any boys around Shireen.”

On cue, a loud thump could be heard from upstairs. Stannis cries bloody murder as Shireen yells at him not to touch her underwear. There’s another thump and a promise of thrashing that will come if he or Stannis uses her kitty tights as rope ever again.

“It’s a bit late for that,” Davos points out. He turns to Jon. “There shouldn’t be a problem with them spending time together. Though, I fear Shireen might be a bit bored being around someone so much younger than her. I’m sure you’ll find a way for them to have an enjoyable experience.”

Jon gets up to shake both their hands. “Well, I’m taking Bran and Arya to the mall today. If I see you, we can use it as a test run to see how the children get along. I think it’ll be fun.”

They agree, Stannis more reluctantly. Davos goes upstairs to check on the children, while Stannis offers to see Jon out. When they leave the manor, Stannis corners Jon. He slams his body against the door in a heated manner, until their faces are mere inches apart.

“Stannis, we talked about this—” Several times, actually. Stannis has mastered the art of socially inappropriate gestures.

“Listen, I don’t want that beast around my daughter, do you understand?” He whispers, low and throaty, like a wild animal. God, sex with him must be amazing when he’s upset and stressed-which Stannis is, all the time. Jon begins to feel inexplicitly jealous of Davos.

“Rickon really means no harm—”

“He’s boy, which means underneath those ginger curls are seething rage of hormones ready to rape and pillage innocent young women—”

“He’s eleven!”

Stannis hears none of it. “And I knew your uncle—Brandon not Eddard, Eddard had no sex appeal, but I knew Brandon and he was a terror. I also know your cousin—the eldest one, and he had a new girl every season since he was twelve.”

Jon’s frowns at the thought of Robb. “Robb is—”

“Whores, all of them.” Stannis declares. He gingerly clutches onto Jon’s cheek, and by using a method that could have been seen as brotherly in the middle ages, his actions become erotic and erratic, and Jon won’t lie—he’s a bit turned on.

“You’re a good boy, Jon. Take care of my daughter. I don’t want her or you, for that matter, being corrupted by those sex addicts. Keep your chastity a little longer—for me.”

A little late for that, but Jon nods, breathless and a little arouse. “Yes sir.”

Stannis straightens himself up, not the least bit stimulated by his actions. “We keep this conversation between us, yes?”

“Yes sir,” Jon repeats. Good lord, that sounds hot. All his naughty fantasies of the naïve babysitter and the strong, dominating father return as Stannis struts back to his house to his loving husband’s arms. Jon hits himself on the wall. He is not a homewrecker. He has a boyfriend. Had a boyfriend.

Gods, he is a mess.

Jon supposes he’s lucky Davos is such a trusting partner. If Robb had seen Stannis and Jon just now, he’s light a fuse and blow up the entire world.

Robb, protected by the secrecy and darkness of his room, shields himself from the rest of the house. He pretended earlier today to be out with friends, when in reality, he stayed coped in a basement level room where dozens of computer screens aligned in a row. He temporarily programed them to keep an eye on the Baratheon-Seaworth Manor, knowing full well from his father’s documents that they installed Stark Industries security system days earlier. Lucky him.

Theon walks in; the only one to know about Robb’s secret hobby. They had used this room in their childhood to plan some of the best pranks in Yorkshire history, and to keep a healthy eye on any predators after Robb’s girlfriends.

“What the hell is going on?”

“Jon went to visit some old employers today. Stannis Baratheon. Former lawyer, and now head of Baratheon Industries after his elder brother lost his majority shares in a highly publicized divorce to socialite, Cersei Lannister. Previously married to Selyse Florent for five years, then married a Melisandre, just Melisandre, for a period of two months. Previously a follower of the Red God. Now married for five years to Davos Seaworth. Including Stannis’s child from his first marriage and Davos’s previous relationship, they have a total of eight children. Theon, I think I have a problem.”

“Robb, I know you do.”

Theon,” Robb warns. “This is serious. Stannis is a threat. Look at this.” Robb replays the scene from this morning, the grinding and low whispers and threats. “I think he’s trying to proposition Jon into an extramarital affair. Theon, I cannot allow this!”

“How did you get access to their cameras?”

“I know all the override codes,” Robb admits. “But Theon, pay attention!”

“That’s super creepy.”

“Theon!”

“What?” Theon walks over to Robb, and wraps his arms around Robb’s shoulder in what might be perceived as a comforting gesture.

Robb freezes the still on Jon and Stannis together. “Stannis is trying to get into Jon’s pants. If I’m going to take Jon back, I need to find a way to make him want me more.”

“And how do you suppose you’re going to do that?” Theon asks, tiredly almost.

“Theon, I need to make him jealous.”

Robb turns around. He clutches Theon in a similar manner to how Stannis was holding Jon, and stares deep into his eyes. Theon swoons. “Theon, you are my best friend and greatest companion. I need you to do me a favor. I need you.”

“Anything,” Theon whispers reverently.

“I need you to pretend to be in love with me.”

Chapter Text

It is almost impossible for a Targaryean to blend in with a crowd, and Lord Rhaegar Targaryen was no exception. Despite being hidden by sunglasses, his vibrant violet eyes sparkle through what the magazines claim to be euphoric creativity, his platinum blonde hair, tied up and pushed back, casual wear that harshly contrasts his bespoke suit. Rhaegar Targaryen is subject to every passerby’s cell phone. Though there is a limited population in the room, it is enough for Rhaegar to wince at the verbal lashing he’ll receive when he goes home.

“We should have had someone come instead,” Aegon whines. “Our pictures will be on every blog and tabloid in the world!” He hesitates to continue when he sees a girl staring from the corner of his eye. Instead of berating her, he winks when her friend or sister holds up her 6S. They flush and giggle, returning to her parents’ side for admonishment.

“That’s quite an exaggeration. There are less than ten people in this room, not including ourselves.” Rhaegar does not mind the imitation paparazzi. He i never confident that their disguises would work, but it felt nice to be a little hopeful. He prays that Elia will not be too angry at him for what he is about to do.

Seconds after they make their presence known at the art gallery, a man in black escorts the other guests to another room. Their dealer, a lovely Vanessa Marianna who is on loan from the Scene Contempo Gallery in New York, arrives with a grace Rhaegar could have mistaken for royalty.

“Lord Targaryen, it is lovely to finally meet you.” She requests for one of the aids to bring her some champagne and sparkling water before Rhaegar could refuse.

“It is lovely to meet you as well.”

Vanessa smiles and gets him comfortable as she directs him to another room, deeper into the gallery. “We normally don’t give art screenings in advance. I’ve been told to make an extreme exception with you.” Her tone is playful and without accusation. 

“I must thank you for your consideration. It is a pity that I won’t be able to make the actual screening, considering I…” Been banned, forbidden to go, explicitly demanded to stay no less than two hundred feet away from—” have a concert during that time. But when I heard that you were in possession of Lyanna Stark’s work, I knew I had to come.”

Vanessa laughs. “Are you a fan?”

“The biggest,” Rhaegar admits. His son throws him a distasteful look. Ah, he must have heard the rumors. It's amazing what one can find on the internet today.

Vanessa says no more as they arrive to their destinatino. She flicks on the light and awards him with the sight of several unclaimed and unhung treasures, beautiful photographs in glorious frames with ivy decorations and rose sigils. Some are covered in white cloths while others depict scenes and images of hospitality and hearth. “You’re rather fortunate. Lyanna’s work has become increasingly popular. Her showing next week is expected to have the entire gallery filled.”

Rhaegar barely listened to the woman. He is too focused on a particular photograph, three feet tall, depicting an old wooden horse on the ground of carpeted floor with someone’s hand lifelessly touching it. The figure is not shown except for his appendages, but the state of his limp form implies slumber. Soft hands, Lyanna’s hands if not for their apparent masculinity. A lover? He is jealous. No, too intimate. A child but his large hands implies he’s much older. Suddenly, Rhaegar Targaryen begins to feel his age—the creeping of post-forties coming to him as he tries to imagine his youth, his Lyanna with all of her excitement and frivolousness, her long black hair running through his fingers and her pink, swollen lips pressed against his.

I’m not your Lyanna, he remembers, a crude memory of rejection follows a sweep of arousal. I’m not anybody’s Lyanna. I’m my own person, you rich twat. There was little heat to her words, only pity and a sense of resignation. Go home to your wife, Rhaegar. Be her Rhaegar.

He allows his finger to brush against the photograph one last time. “This one,” he says, finally. “This one for sure.”

Vanessa marks it off her list without hesitation. “You’ll have to wait until after the gallery showing. We won’t sell it but we’re required to have it there. Miss Snow is very particular about the presentation.”

Rhaegar nods thoughtfully. Then, he pauses when he hears the title. “Miss Snow? Not Ms. Snow or Mrs. Snow?”

Vanessa Marianna denies it immediately. “Oh no, the day that woman marries is the day winter forgets to come.” She says this in good cheer. “Snow is her surname. I believe she legally changed it several years ago when she gave...more attention to her career.”

“Oh,” Rhaegar says softly. Aegon spares a nervous glance at his father. Rhaegar walks over to another frame. He wipes away imaginary dust. “All this time, I thought she was married.”

He looks at the new picture beneath his fingertips. This time, it is a scene from a private plane, a schoolbook laying on a tray. There's a figure looking outside the window, his face not shown. Young, in contrast to a picture. Next to the figure is a champagne glass filled with juice. “What is the theme of the showing?”

“Getting older, precious things. I’m afraid it’s still being set up.”

“Lyanna never said anything?”

“Lyanna is hardly a wordsmith.” Vanessa answers. She speaks without reproach. In fact, she sounds fond. “She expects her pictures to speak for her and for us to do the rest of the work. I’ve known her for a while now. She was my first artist. It’s why they asked me to come here to do her gallery.”

Rhaegar’s eyes become intense as he stares at the picture. Vanessa is worrie  but presents not even a sliver of fear. She has been through worse;  she has seen hell and looked the devil in the eye, and she will not be frightened by some eccentric lord. “While I’m sure you possess the means to buy every single piece in the collection, I’m afraid we must limit you. I trust five shall be enough to satisfy your urge, and of course, any unsold pictures after the gallery will be up for sale.”

First there is silence. And then, agreement. Vanessa is relieved when she does not have to deal with a fight.

“I’ll take this as well. May I keep looking?”

“Of course. Take your time.” Vanessa takes a step back and gives the man his space. She makes a note to call Lyanna as a precaution.

When Rhaegar leaves the gallery, he is a small fortune down and five paintings richer. In his mind, he has to wonder where he’ll put them all. Nowhere Elia could see, that goes without saying. He doesn't wish to upset her in such a vulgar way. Though, the temptation of having Lyanna’s work in his bedroom brought all the familiar chills back down his spine. He giggles. He feels light and boyish, like some giddy adolescent adoring his first crush. His study, perhaps? His fingers twitch with newfound inspiration. It’s been weeks since he composed a new song.

“Father.”

“Yes, my son?”

Aegon opens his mouth.

Rhaegar waits.

Aegon thinks for a second, and then closes his mouth. “Nothing.”

Rhaegar gives him a once over.

“You’re so much like your mother, Aegon.”

Aegon beams with pride and resumes his behavior. He stares out the window like a dog.

Rhaegar sighs.

It wouldn’t kill their family to have a little bit of fire and hailstorm once in a while.

Daenerys Targaryen is at her dress fitting when her phone lights up, and she sees her brother and her nephew’s face plastered on the news. It’s a tabloid blog, but her brother’s curious appearance has her wondering what he’s been up to, and increasingly worried that there’s going to be a spectacle so near her wedding.

Seconds later, another notification pops up, and Daenerys frowns.

Unhappily Ever After!

A not so perfect fairy tale for the youngest daughter of the late Lord Aerys Targaryen and his widow Lady Rhaella Targaryen! In what claims to be the wedding of the century, this highborn lady is set to marry the fearsome Khal Drogo, a prince from one of the Polynesian islands—rumored to engage in acts of ritualistic cannibalism and warfare! Oh the horror! Is there more to this spoiled princess than what the world gets to see? The Targaryen have been known for centuries for their “mental problems,” most recently after Viserys Targaryen’s mental breakdown in Prague and a decade earlier, Aerys Targaryen’s arson spree. Actually, it’ll be no surprise if this lady goes off the deep end! But that’s another story!

What we’re really curious about is the necessity to speed up the wedding. Daenerys has only just came back from her philanthropy trip three weeks ago and every wedding planner, caterer, and wedding dress maker has been tripping over their own feet trying to get into their good graces? Perhaps there’s a little someone the Targaryens aren’t revealing about themselves! She wouldn't be the first high born lady to pop a bastard out of wedlock. Oh well, we have to wait and see if she can fit into her dress…

The article goes on, and there are even some accompanying pictures, some from the day she stepped out the plan with her seven foot tall husband.

Daenerys angrily throws her phone against the wall. First of all, Khal Drogo is a chief, not a prince. Second of all, how dare they? She is fucking Daenerys Targaryen! How dare they insult her husband like that? And her future child! She feels her stomach churn with something other than morning sickness and feels incredibly similar to righteous rage. She calls her publicist and then her business partners. She may be some spoiled lady, but she’s also a Targaryen and a shareholder in some of the biggest companies in the world. She wants that fucking reporter to burn.

Chapter Text

Arya likes pointe slippers and buns on the side of her head, leotards that come in black, people who say ‘turn’ not ‘spin,’ and makeup that washes off with water not sweat. She likes bruises because they mean hard work, and sex because of the release. 

Bran likes charcoal over oil, cares more about shading and lighting than color, and pays more attention to the detail of a crow’s eyes than the length of its wingspan. He wants a haircut, because his bangs keep getting in the way of his vision. He needs new gloves, because they are worn out, and maybe hand lotion when he forgets his pair at home.

Rickon likes men who listen to his orders, and women who don’t. He spends far too much time stalking the members of his community than can be considered societally acceptable, or normal, and will probably carry a record before he turns sixteen. He loves his family, but can't control his impulses for the life of him.

The three of them are Starks, and could have had the whole world handed to them. Yet, they don’t. It is silly, but Jon is proud of them, because he knows how they could have turned out: listless and unproductive, lazy, or worse, boring.

They venture off to the food court, and Bran mentions his desire for a haircut. Jon teases him about wanting to impress someone special, and instead of Bran politely declining the notion or scoffing at him like some angsty teen, he blushes. He blushes like some fair maiden in a medieval ballad. Jon isn’t blind, or deaf. When Arya harshly stomps out any possibility, glaring at Bran and making threatening comments about how their ‘mother would never allow it,’ Jon keeps his mouth shut.

Instead, Jon suggests Rickon and Arya get them something to eat while he and Bran find seats. Summer is the first to spot an empty table, pitter-pattering her way to their desired location. Her fearsome size wards off any potential suitors of the table, and at one point, she growls at a nearby couple trying to sit with them. When Jon realizes that Arya is safely out of earshot, Jon points out to Bran that he got "really nervous when Jon mentioned dating.”

Bran grimaces. “It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t sound like nothing.”

 “Trust me, it’s nothing.” Jon gives him a look and Bran relents. “Nothing has happened… It’s just texting. And we only just started today. Arya doesn’t like it.”

 Jon nods. “You are fourteen.”

 “Everyone keeps saying that!" Bran hits the table, resulting a few wandering eyes. He composes himself. "We’ve never even met. I’ve only seen a picture of him, and my friend knows him. He’s really nice, and…” Bran sighs and longingly strokes Summer’s fur. “We talk about the world and our dreams and life…”

 “That’s a lot for one morning.”

 “We’ve been talking all day.” Bran smiles to himself, his cheeks lighting up prettily. He babbles on a bit about their conversation, how wise he sounds, how light and meaningful their conversations were. Jon remembers being that young and hopeful, feeling that affection, that infatuation. Jon understands why Arya is upset, and maybe he doesn’t know Bran as well as she does, but he remembers that feeling.

 “I think you should give it a shot.”

 Bran’s eyes brighten up. “Really?”

 “I think it’ll be good for you. You seem to really like him.”

 Bran nods. “I do. I love that he treats me like an adult.”

 “Well that’s enough for me.” Jon hesitates. “But I still want to see your texts.”

 Bran clutches onto Summer’s fur. The act of apprehension alarms her, and she prepares for a pounce. “Why?”

 Jon smiles sympathetically. “I just have to make sure he’s not a creep.”

 "He's not! I swear." 

"Well then, there's no problem in me looking at your texts."

Bran considers his options. After some hesitation, he takes his phone from Summer’s vest pocket and hands it to Jon. “You won’t find anything anyways. He called me as soon as I texted him.”

“Not helping your case.” Jon scrolls down to find a few messages. When he finds nothing incriminating, he hands it back to Bran. Shortly after, Arya and Rickon return with a plate of steaming chicken marsala, bubbling butter chicken, mild spice for their Northern taste buds and extra naan for dipping, a Greek salad with a side of hummus, heavily seasoned fries, and a thick, aromatic lamb and beef gyro. There’s some water and a side plate of beef they requested for Summer.  They bring it to the table in take-out containers for easier traveling, and open them for a feast.

They are about to dig into their meal when Jon hears a familiar voice asking if he could sit down.

 Stannis and Davos arrive, not a moment too soon. Jon suspects they were waiting this entire time. All of them are carrying plates in their hands, filled with falafels sandwiches, lightly fried halibut and golden chips, and savory pies filled with skirt beef and potatoes, salty pork and sweet apples, with a side orders of pickled coleslaw and potatoes.

 “Davos! Stannis! What a coincidence to find you here?”

 They put their food down to avoid spillage and begin introductions. Stannis says, “Yes, it is truly a coincidence. We did not expect to see you here at all.”

Jon laughs to cover up the poor acting, and introduces his cousins. “Well, these are my cousins, Arya, Bran, and Rickon, you’ve probably met them already. You guys, these are my employers. I’ll be working on them as a nanny starting next week.”

“I know your father,” Stannis informs them curtly. Arya nods, remembering the him quite easily. She’s never seen the other, older man, though.

“Yes, at the charity gala a few years ago,” Arya remembers. “It’s been a while. Mother tells me you’ve moved here indefinitely.”

“Jon’s told us about you,” Bran points out. "You're Uncle Robert's brother, and you're a solicitor, right?"

"He owns the company now," Shireen brags. Her father turns red with pride. “It’s very nice to meet you. Jon’s told us a great deal about you all as well. May we sit?” 

“Of course you can.” Jon moves out of the way so that Davos and Stannis can take a seat to his right, and Stannis the Second moves to the free spot on his left. He is quiet and solemn, and Jon will never seek to question whether or not Stannis the younger has any biological similarities to his namesakes. Shireen moves over to the Starks' side.

 “You can sit here!” Rickon offers.

 Shireen accepts the offer, and is moving towards him until Stannis voices his disapproval.

“No.” Stannis shuts him down immediately. He orders her to sit next to Bran, ignoring the glower directed at him. Stannis then tells Steffon to sit next to Rickon. They are the same age—they’ll have plenty to talk about. 

Shireen, ever the picture of filial devotion, obeys, and despite the odd circumstances, remains quite pleasant. Bran and Shireen become quite heated in a conversation about books, how Bran enjoys authors like Neil Gaiman, and Darren Shan, and of course, the occasional Stephen King novel, while Shireen raves about Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin. They talk about school, and how they’ll be classmates after this summer, along with Stannis the Second, who’s more into biology than fantasy. 

"I'm going to be a doctor and cut people up," he announces. He returns his attention to an anatomy app, where he scores perfectly on each quiz.

 Eventually, Shireen and Bran's in-depth conversation becomes intense, more animated, and Rickon decides they are too close, speaking a language he does not understand, nor cares to. He pretends to drop his plastic knife and stabs his brother’s upper thigh—where he knows it stills hurts.

“Ow!”

They turn to Bran, who inspects his thigh for a bruise. Shireen, worried, places her hand on his arm and asks if he’s alright.

“I’m fine,” Bran glares at his younger brother. “I think I got a bug bite. It’s probably nothing.”

Shireen seems unconvinced. Jon changes the topic swiftly. They‘ve all finished their food by now, and suggests getting down to business. “Is there anything you need, Shireen? Bran wants to get art supplies and Arya will spend an hour laundering around the mall, looking for a dress, deciding she’ll wear the same dress as she always does, and RIckon will…he’ll do Rickon. It's quite fantastic, actually. You'll have great fun with him.” 

Rickon beams at the analysis. His joy is almost as great as Stannis's annoyance.

Shireen thinks about it. “Well, I do need a jacket. The weather here is a bit chillier than I had hoped, even for the summer. I don’t mind going to the crafts store, though. I might like to pick up some yarn.” She reminds Jon of her multitude of craft hobbies. Growing up, Shireen was a sickly child, and her mother rarely allowed her outdoors. It wasn’t until Davos came into their lives that she was allowed outside. “I can pick out a jacket with Arya, or go with my brothers, afterwards. They’ll need something as well.”

“I bet you will look beautiful in a jacket.”

Shireen turns to Rickon. Rickon, who is a Stark with all nerve and no sense, tells her: “I bet you will look beautiful in anything.”

“Thank you, Rickon.”

 “I mean it. Anything.”

 “Thank you—”

 “I could skin the hide of a cow and coat you in its blood, and you’ll still look beautiful. Better.”

 Shireen's smile falters. "Thank you...I guess?"

"You're so beautiful, I would massacre everyone whose ever called you ugly and deliver their skins as a tribute. Because you're that beautiful. "

The silence is impressive for their location. Shireen, an avid reader and lifelong literary lover, is at a lost for words. The food court appears heavy with discomfort. Arya, to her credit, does not burst out laughing. Jon saves the day by ushering them up, especially Stannis, who is glaring daggers at Rickon.

Stannis grabs Jon by the scruff of his neck and warns him not to let that “demented cannibal” anywhere near his daughter. Jon almost purrs at the placement of his neck, right where he likes it. Instead, he stands between Rickon and Shireen, forcing Shireen to walk beside Bran. Rickon seethes in bitterness. Jon wants to reassure him, but he takes a look at the newly minted teens, and watches as Shireen twirls her hair. She talks about Summer, and offers to crochet a new vest for him when it begins to wear out. Or maybe knit her something. She could do both.

Jon pats Rickon’s shoulders. “It’s okay,” Jon comforts him. “They’re just being friendly.”

Rickon swats his hand away. He doesn’t buy it, and frankly, neither does Jon. Shireen seems pretty interested in whatever Bran has to say. They get into the art supplies store when Rickon asks to speak to Bran—alone. Jon is suspicious, and is about to say no. Rickon, annoyed by the distrust, gives a sly, under the radar hand signal to the other boys, and the Baratheon-Seaworth lot dash into the store, wreaking havoc as they come. In a completely Pavilion manner, Jon runs after them, with Davos and Stannis following.

Arya, the least likely to fall for such tricks, warns them both to ‘be good.’ She enters the store as well, mostly to observe the chaos within the glass windows.

Rickon creeps out to his older brother. Bran knows Rickon loves him, would never do anything to harm him. He also knows that Rickon has a skewered sense of morality, and a child’s understanding of limits. Rickon clutches onto Bran’s handles and wheels him slowly away from the store. “Rickon…where are you taking me?” Summer, who is trained to attack when sensing danger, is at a lost. Rickon makes no sudden movement as they go forward to an open space.

“I think it’s time for you get away a bit, right?” 

“Rickon, you’re scaring me.”

“What are you talking about? You’re my brother, Bran. I would never hurt you.”

“Rickon, can we go back into the craft store?”

“Look, Summer is right here and you know she’ll never let anything happen to you, right?”

“Rickon, you’re not funny.”

“Rickon, you’re going very fast.”

“Rickon, I think you need to stop. I’ll tell mum and dad.”

 "Rickon, we are getting very far from the craft store." 

“Don’t worry, I will find you later.” Rickon promises, and he’s sincere about it. “You just need to disappear for two minutes, five tops.” Hopefully ten or twenty. 

The plan was for Rickon to take his older brother to the nice little bookstore on the other side of the mall, where Bran could peacefully read in silence and tranquility. It is a nice bookstore, too, and for the right price, they would have given him cocoa and a piece of cheesecake. Rickon would have bought Bran’s supplies, and he would have gladly done it, too, if not to help his brother than to play up his kindness to Shireen. Bran would have been safe and sound, and no one would have been none the wiser. Then, Jon, who was rightfully concerned about his cousins, rushed outside and asked Rickon:

“Rickon, what are you doing to Bran?”

And so, Rickon panicked. It wasn’t his fault! He panicked because he knew the only thing worse than someone finding evidence of a crime was when someone was caught in the middle of the crime. So he pushed Bran—and really, it was just a little push, but he’s a Stark and Starks are naturally stronger than most (at least that’s what his uncle told him), and so he pushed Bran a little too far.

“Damn it, Rickon!” Jon shouts. He orders Rickon to head into the crafts store. “I will deal with you later!” Rickon is, at first, rightfully terrified. Then, he remembers there’s a pretty little princess waiting for him, and decides to count his blessings when they come.

Summer is making a grand fuss when she chases down Bran. The barking causes people to move out of the way, avoiding a disastrous collision, but also prevents the wheelchair from stopping its locomotion. Bran keeps accelerating, and both the dog and the boy knew that without an act of god, Bran is headed towards a wall or worse.

Fortunately for Bran, there was a young man of high breeding and good taste, that had been out that afternoon. He is waiting for his tea at a coffee kiosk, being made by a lovely barista, when he hears the incessant barking of a large dog. The creature, the man notices, is truly magnificent. It’s silvery gray fur sparkled iridescently in the light, and its yellow eyes are fierce with protective worry. The man is an animal lover, and never fails to admire a truly grand piece in motion. 

The man, whose leg limps with an air of profound pain, does not hesitate to place his cane on the floor. He waits for the boy to come closer, and as the wheelchair hits the obstacle in its path, there’s a small whiplash. The man catches the boy, holding onto his body as he slumps into his arms. Despite the extra weight on his foot, he takes it with stride.

The people erupt into applause, as he helps the boy into his seat. “Are you alright?” He asks.

 Bran nods, embarrassed with a face red enough to burn. Oh, the humiliation he feels must be great. “Bran!” They both hear. The handsome savior watches as another young man, bearing a soft resemblance to the boy, except with the addition of beautiful curls and pouty lips, pulls Bran into a hug. Immediately, he is quick to check for injuries, bruises or cuts on Bran. Not wanting to be left out, the man himself makes a comment.

“Check his hands. If he tried to use the breaks, the wheelchair may have caused friction burn.” 

The young man is surprised, but checks. True enough, there are slight blisters on his fingers, probably from the lacking of proper gloving. It’s far from serious, so their savior fishes out some unscented lotion and hands it to them. “Here, use this. It’s a miracle worker.”

Jon takes it gratefully. “Thank you, mister…?”

“Tyrell. Willas Tyrell. Please, I encourage to call me Willas.”

“I’m Jon.” Jon hands it to Bran who rubs onto his hands. It tingled. “Thanks you, Mr. Willas.”

Willas laughs. “Just Willas.” The man refuses to take the bottle back. “I don’t need it too much, anymore. I keep with me mostly out of habit.”

Jon tilts his head, confused, before he looks down. There it is, a rather obvious, scarred and disgruntled injury. “Oh your leg…it’s…”

“Permanent,” Willas supplies. He smiles, completely unperturbed by the situation. “I had to use a wheelchair for the first few weeks of rehabilitation. I understand the struggle of brake burns.”

To his surprise, Jon’s expression shows no traces of pity. His gaze is almost devastatingly straightforward, solemn as he looks Willas in the eye and thanks him a second time. Finally, Jon looks away, and seems to be stopping himself from smiling.

Jon refuses to lie to himself. Willas Tyrell is handsome. He’s attractive in the traditional, princely way, the kind of man who sweeps women off their feet in white horses and decadent footwear, before the days where thugs and bodybuilders became a desired norm. Wills was the kind of man with a perfect jawline and eyes that twinkle. “Well thank you for helping Bran out. I can’t say it enough. God, I can’t believe I let you alone with Rickon.”

Rickon? The wheels turn in Willas’ head as he asks: “If you don’t mind me asking, would Rickon happen to be a rather disgruntled sibling?” 

“Worse, a jealous sibling.” Jon lets out a choked, rather amused and somewhat dark, chuckle. 

Willas is reminded of the good old days, when Garlan and Loras would hide his things in impossible to reach places and push him down the hallways of their manor. “Oh, I remember that, too.” He turns to Bran. “Brothers are the worse, aren’t they? The problem with siblings is that they don’t hold back in their pranks. They go for the jugular every single time.”

By the grin on Bran’s face, he agrees. He probably finds it amusing enough not to be too angry at his brother. The second best thing about having brothers is that they don't treat you like an invalid just because you can't walk as well anymore.

 Jon smiles, and grabs onto the handles of Bran’s wheelchair. “I have to get back to the others, though. It was nice meeting you.” And it was. The last time Jon met such a charming man, he ended up being his cousin. Willas has an air like Robb, as well. The whole ‘highborn son destined for great and glorious purposes’ thing going on. Jon wonders if being with Robb made him develop a type.

The two men share a last, longing glance at each other. A moment after rolling Bran away, Willas calls out to them. He offers to walk beside them until they reach their destination. “If you, of course, don’t mind me slowing you down.”

“No,” Jon disagrees. “Of course not. And you won't be slowing us down."  

Willas grabs his tea, and walks alongside them, his limp barely noticeable to either of them. They make small talk, Jon reveals his relationship to Bran, and various little details about their lives.  Normally, such banal conversations would annoy Jon, but he can’t help but be charmed by Willas. When they reach the craft store, Jon sees that all of them are already at the register. Even Rickon seems to be in the middle of purchasing something.

“Those better be my supplies,” Bran mutters darkly. He menacingly begins to wheel himself in the store, ready to give Rickon a great verbal lashing.

Jon tucks a stray curl behind his ear. If anyone asks, he refuses to admit he's flirting. “I have to get going. Their parents are going to want to hear about this.”

“Pity, I would have loved to get to know you better. Perhaps, I can rectify that by getting your number?”

Guilt washes over Jon. “I’m sorry I have a—.” Oh. Jon pauses. Oh. He thinks again. Does he still have a boyfriend? Jon is no stranger to being asked out, but when he was with Robb, there was no temptation to be with another man. Now, here is an attractive, charming young man whose interested in him, but can he—? Oh

What was he to Robb?

“I have a busy summer. And I—“

Willas holds his hand up. “It’s fine if you’re not interested.” He’s about to walk away, when Jon yells at him “that’s not it” before he could stop himself. 

Willas stumbles for the first time that day, and Jon catches him. Willas clutches onto his shoulders, and winks. “You were saying?”

 Jon tries to release him, but Willas has a firm grip. “You are interested?”

“I’m…” What could he say? “It’s complicated.” Jon winces at the stereotypical response. “I don’t feel right saying yes to you when I can’t commit.”

“Then don’t.”

Jon is taken back at the suggestion. Willas stabilizes himself, and fishes Jon's phone out of Jon's pocket. It is far too personal and aggressive, but Jon doesn't have the will to push him off, partially in fear of causing another injury. "I know I'm taking advantage of your kindness, Jon, and the fact that I'm handicapped. But I'm putting my number in your phone. You can delete it if you want, but one day, hopefully sometime during the three weeks I have left here, you’re going to call me. And we’re going to have a very, very romantic date, where I sweep off your feet, you tell me about your complications, and we…work around them.”

Jon understands why people say it’s all about confidence. A man can run a company, build an army, and lead a country based on how wonderful people believe he is. So Jon takes the cell phone. He doesn't delete the number.  He watches Willas walk away, and regrets it immediately.

 

Chapter Text

It should be universal acknowledged that anything that can go wrong will, and anything that has gone wrong will only get worse. When that happens, one can only blame themselves. Either for not taking the proper precautions to prevent them or for leading themselves to the circumstances. For whatever reason, Margaery never hesitates to to ensure the best possible circumstances of any situation. She’s the woman who gets things done. She doesn’t complain about them. Whereas some like to call her a manipulative bitch with a snake’s tongue, she simply saw herself as diplomatic.

 For those reasons, no one was particularly surprised when Margaery decided to become a solicitor. After all, she’s the girl who crushes compliment fishers with sly notes of improvement and a carefully worded critique. If they’re feeling fat, why wouldn’t they accept her offer to go on a jog? Is it wrong to ask a person who’s complaining about their intelligence when was the last time they read a book? The only question was whether she would attend Oxford, a solid school with a livelier reputation, or Cambridge, a home of tradition and serene landscapes.

 “It has to be Cambridge,” her grandmother decided for her. The senior Cabinet member would listen to no further arguments towards her alma mater and its rival, and despite her son’s blubbering (most likely due to his own rejection Oxford—though he never tried out for Cambridge and would have been turned down regardless), Margaery complied.

Her third year into her degree, and a summer’s vacation before her LPC, Margaery is unpacking her bags from her vacation in Croatia. It is late morning, perfect for a quaint little lunch on the patio, surrounded by family who celebrated her final year of Cambridge, Triple First Honors, of course. She hums a tune by Lily Allen, considers dyeing her hair blonde and blaming the sun for her “natural” highlights when she returns to public life. She removes a mint colored, vintage bikini with neon linings, a black one piece, and few souvenirs for her ‘friends’. When she is finished, she leaves her bedroom to enter the dining area of her family home in Norwich. Rich scents of fresh blackberry pies and raspberry tarts, glorious strawberries with a few glasses of daytime champagne rest on the table. Lights fill the room, pretty little maids giggling and happy to be employed at the Tyrell manor and not, God forbid, the Lannisters or worse, the Arryns.

Margaery takes her glass and sits down next to her grandmother. Her eldest brother, Willas, is shown on the tablet, actually reading the newspaper despite being miles away, unlike their father who holds one up for display. Willas prized himself on his filial nature, and despite being in Yorkshire for work, he refuses to miss a family breakfast. “Traditions,” he once told Margaery, “Traditions must be kept sacred if a family is to stay together.”

On the screen, he mumbles a bit about what Margaery presumes to be animal husbandry or perhaps agricultural advances. Instead of admitting her ignorance, Margaery makes a vague, yet supportive comment that causes Willas to smile, all pixels and high definition. Technology has gone such long way. Her mother sips her tea with a spot of brandy for good health and her father whispers sweet nothings about her beauty, ever the lovebirds. Loras is on a training camp with his teammates, and Garlan is out in the countryside with his dainty and darling wife, disconnected from the world. 

“He’s thoreauing his life away,” Willas jokes, relishing in how their grandmother rolls her eyes at the pun. Margaery giggles.   

A few strawberries in and lightheaded from the far too strong champagne, Olenna discusses what office Margaery plans to work at and what type of solicitation she’s decided on. “Divorce, dear. That’s where all the money’s at, and men don’t die like they used to.” “Our company could use another—” “Don’t interrupt me, Willas. It’s rude. Now, my dear. Let’s talk about marriage. I have a lecture for you.”

Margaery smiles genuinely, mostly amused because conversations about men with her grandmother always started with a good story. “Now Margaery, there’s no rush given your age, but as you advance in your career, it’ll be nice to keep a warm body in bed. No need to be an old maid like Willas—”

“I’m waiting—” 

“For true love, yes my dear, we all heard the story,” Olenna shushes. “Here, Margaery. Look at your brother: smart, handsome, more money than God. Yet he’s single.” She spat out the word like curdled milk, as if his sitting there, alone, is some sort of public offense. “Wears his loneliness like it’s badge of honor. He can’t even blame the leg, you know. I won’t allow it. In my day, men didn’t do much in the bedroom. They just laid there, like some impotent starfish. Women were expected to do all the work. Women and bottoms. All you needed in the bedroom was a pointer facing up and a pretty mouth, and you were set.” 

Willas, to his credit, laughs. At thirty-one years old, the CEO of Tyrell industries has gotten this speech a thousand times over, in a hundred different variations. “—And look at that gout, I dare say it’s getting worst! That’s what they do. Handicaps are like cysts, the infections bubbles and prospers all over your back, and suddenly, you don’t care anymore. You live with it, and let me tell you Margaery, rich people living alone is just not proper.”

“Worry not, I could always call up one of the nice young chaps I’ve met in Croatia,” Margaery teases her grandmother.  

The elder woman scrunches up her noise. “Nonsense, the only good thing that country has is cheap liquor and spectacular seafood—that’s why their residents have so many crabs.”

Alerie lets out a snort, and Mace’s laughter is heard, always following the lead of his lady wife when it came to appropriateness and social cues. Margaery then thinks of another question. A more prevalent question. “Would your interest in our love lives have anything to do with Daenerys Targaryen moving up her wedding date?”

Oh, and wasn’t that news absolutely scandalous! Daenerys Targaryen, after the scathing report from one of the tabloid magazines, Daenerys sequentially moved up her wedding date from late August to mid-July, and uninvited every reporter from the procedure. She claimed there was a “lack of venue space.” She proceeds to invite families from around the world, turning it from the wedding of the decade to the wedding of the century. The reporter has probably lost her job, and is regretting her actions as they speak.

“As a matter of fact…” 

“Grandmother, really,” Willas reprimands. “Haven’t you always told us to set trends, not follow them?”

“Not when it concerns highly publicized events where everybody is watching. Do you know how humiliating it will be for the both of you to show up alone? Why, even I managed to wrangle up some scoundrel for the night—”

“Mother!” Mace looks absolutely horrified. Willas chokes on his coffee before he starts laughing.

“Grandmother, are you seeing someone?” Bless her, Margaery sounds absolutely delighted.

Olenna waves off their excitement. “Margaery dear, let’s not waste our time with questions. Then we’ll spend our whole day asking ‘who, what, where, when.’ All very tiresome matters for an old woman—” 

“Mother, is this true? Where in the heavens did you meet this man?” Mace sounds aghast. “Do we know him? How old is he? He could be a criminal for all we know!”

“Oh hush up dear. When you get to be my age, you stop looking for men with a good heart and start searching for men with a beating one.” Olenna takes a bite of her omelet. “The point is, Willas, you need to find someone. Nobody wants to be seventy and alone, trust me on that.”

“I thought this was about Margaery?”

“Oh don’t be silly,” Olenna scoffs. “This is about you. You’re thirty-one years old. With your looks and talents, people will begin to suspect there’s something wrong with you if you’re still single. Margaery is a tenacious lady, she’ll get married whenever she wants and not a moment too soon.” Olenna winks at her favorite grandchild. “Of course, I do expect her to have a date before the wedding.”

“Of course, grandmother,” Margaery agrees, pleasantly enough. “How would you like him?”

“Young, rich, hopefully with a title but not a necessity. Stupid, preferably,” Olenna suggests. “Marriages only work with two types of husbands: the ones who know nothing and the ones who know everything. Margaery, you are far too clever for the latter. Willas—”

 “Yes, grandmother?” Willas asks tiredly.

“Find someone. You’re in Yorkshire, yes?”

“It would seem so.”

 “Don’t be cheeky, Willas. Your leg can’t support the sarcasm.”

 “Yes, grandmother. I am in Yorkshire.”

 “Well, good. Yorkshire is the home of the Stark family. I hear they have a daughter who is of age. She seems to be a profitable match. Good breeding, pretty, a bit dull but that’s all the rage with women these days.”

“She’s 17.”

“As I said—of age.”

“I’m only nine years younger than her father.”

“Ned Stark married young. It’s not like you went to school with him!”

“What if she has a boyfriend?”

“If I haven’t heard about it, my dear, he’s obviously not worth mentioning. What was it your brother used to say? ‘Just because there’s a goalie doesn’t mean you can’t score.’”

 No one dares correct her. Instead, Willas shakes his head in defeat. He asks, finally. “What if I already found someone?”

Olenna raises an eyebrow. “Have you?”

“It’s very much a possibility. And try switching pronouns, grandmother.” Willas drinks the last of his beverage and looks Olenna straight in the eye. Even if he is protected by miles of distance, it is still a bold move.

 Olenna does not bite. “A possibility isn’t an opportunity, Willas. Bring whoever you like. All I ask is for you to bring a suitable, preferably beautiful, partner to the biggest event of the decade.” She bites into a tomato. “That way, even he’s an idiot, he’ll at least be nice to look at. A painting may not serve a purpose but we still hang it, don’t we?” With that being said, she motions one of the maids to take away her plate. It is time for her daily stroll in the gardens.

 Margaery wipes a crumb from the side of her lip. “Do not fret, brother. You know how she is about appearances.”

 “Oh, I don’t worry about our dear grandmother. She knows that in the end, I’m the one who has to take care of her into old age. I’m quite looking forward to wheeling her to book clubs and bingo nights. Good day, Margaery.” 

Willas turns off his screen before he hears the rush of laughter from his family. He leans back on his chair, thinks for a bit about how being unattached has affected his life, and starts messaging his leg. Finally, he gets up, winces at the pain, and sits back down. He glances at his tablet and then his phone. 

He contemplates his options; he could wait for the beautiful, curly haired boy he met at the mall yesterday to call, or he could have another chat with his darling sister about her trip to Croatia. He could have a private conversation with his grandmother, and perhaps annoy her until she reveals the identity of her suitor. His brothers are out of the question. Maybe, he could take his grandmother’s advice, and make an appointment with the Starks. He’s always wanted to visit their legendary reserves. He might even see a wolf. 

Chapter Text

Catelyn is deciding between dresses for the wedding when her children arrive home.There's angry thumping and threats, a bit of pleading, and a great deal terror being promised. She sighs, and calls her assistant to tell her to bring both tomorrow; she’ll decide after trying them on. She hangs up and braves herself for the storm ahead. When she moves to the living room, Catelyn is immediately bombard with angry accusations and screeching defenses. She understands nothing, and hesitates to go further so that she may actually understand what is going on.

Arya walks past her with a shopping bag, and makes a quick comment about how she ‘bought a dress so no one can complain. It’s black. Like my soul. And my feelings about going to this wedding.’ Indeed, Catelyn does not complain. It’s the best she’s going to get from her youngest daughter. Bran goes with her upstairs, and shields his eyes from his mother when she greets him. Already, she can tell something is wrong.

When Jon sees her, a sullen Rickon follows. His face scrunches up in preparation for the lashing he is about to receive and his fist curls. She wonders what he did now, and why Jon looks so upset.

“Aunt Cat, I don’t want you to get too worked up...” 

“What did he do?” And Catelyn, at this point, is more tired than worried. She and Ned have settled on Rickon being the troublemaker of the family, and nothing he does can surprise her anymore. She stifles a yawn. 

Jon doesn’t say anything at first.

Catelyn raises an eyebrow. “Well, spit it out. Hurry up. How am I to punish Rickon this time?”

Jon bites his lip. “Bran is fine,” he begins.

The hair on Cat’s back rises, and a strong, defined grimace appears on her face. Suddenly, she is entirely awake and a fierce presence overcomes all of them. “What. Did. Rickon. Do.”

“Bran didn’t get any serious injuries, and he’s not angry—well, not angry now. He was upset but they’re mostly over it.”

Jon reveals the rest of the story with grave reluctance. He wonders if he can backtrack his claim. He can see the fiery rage of his aunt and decides that like Band-Aid, it is best to get the news over with. “Rickon pushed Bran’s wheelchair and slid him across the mall.”

“RICKON STARK!”

“Bran is fine. He was able to use his breaks before he crashed anything. He didn’t even get that far. I was able to catch up to him before anything bad happened.”

“Anything bad happened? ANYTHING BAD HAPPENED? My son was thrown like a ragdoll by his own brother and you don’t see that as something bad happening? Jon, what is wrong with you?" 

“Aunt Cat—”

Catelyn’s entire demeanor changed into a frazzled, unhinged creature hell bent on restitution. Rickon huddles behind Jon for protection. Jon does not know how this is going to end, but he knows well enough to never let a child witness their parents fighting--even if it's just one of them. He nods at Rickon to leave while Catelyn continues her concerns.

“I knew I shouldn’t have let him out of the house. God, what was I thinking? Jon, why weren’t you paying attention to him? You know Bran can’t be left alone for too long. Damn it, how am I supposed to let him volunteer at the reserves now—”

“Bran is fine,” Jon interjects, entirely for Bran’s sake at this point. “It was a prank. It won’t happen again.”

 Catelyn isn’t listening. “Where is Bran now? He must be absolutely traumatized!”

“Bran is not traumatized. He’s in his room, resting for the next couple of days. He’s very excited about the reserves. Please don’t take it away from him.”

“How can I not?” Catelyn all but screech. “After what happened today? Jon! Think of how Bran’s feeling. He probably doesn’t even want to go there anymore.” 

“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Jon defends. “And Bran desperately wants to work there. He’s wanted to since he was a little kid. He was begging me not to tell you because he thought you would forbid him from doing so." Looks like he was right. "Aunt Cat, these things happen. Brothers prank each other all the time. Friends do that. Bran is no different.”

“Bran is different. He can’t be treated like everyone else. He can get hurt."

Jon finds himself indignant on Bran's behalf. “Everyone gets hurt, Aunt Cat! That doesn't mean we lock them in a box or stick them in a bubble."

"So we should just let them go galavanting into the wild, where they could get maimed or worst. Splendid idea, Jon. You are doing the Baratheons a major service!"

"I am trying to do Bran a service!" Jon counters. 

"You can do that by actually watching over him and making sure he's okay!"

"We can’t treat him like an invalid his entire life!”

“I’m not treating him like an invalid, I’m taking care of him!” Catelyn denies. “You don’t understand!”

“He’s my cousin. I understand he wants some freedom and you’re—” The words die on Jon’s lips as he tries to rationally explain he’s stance. He stares deep into his aunt’s eyes. “The way you’re going at this is…you’re stifling him, Aunt Cat. The whole car ride home, he kept begging me not to tell you, because he’d knew you’d react like this. He—“

“Don’t Jon.” 

Jon doesn’t listen. “He can’t reach his potential—”

“Jon I’m warning you to leave this—” 

“—if you keep sheltering like a clipped bird—”

“How dare you—”

“—he’s never going to learn how to survive. He needs space, Aunt Cat.”

The words are a trigger for everything Cat fears. She remembers the police station, the courts, how that boy stared at her with such contempt, or worst, disgust at her behavior. He was acting as if he knew best, as if he cared for Bran all those days and nights, worrying whether he was going to wake up or not, holding him as he cried about never being able to walk again, to run, to climb, to swim, to be alive. I know him better than you think, Mrs. Stark. I know his heart. You want to limit him, I want to set him free. He needs to hold the skies in his arms, and lift the sun on his skin. He needs space. He needs more than the disinfection and the training wheels. He needs the grass and the worms, the stars and clouds. Not the trash you feed him--a cripple's bible of self-pity and false hope. He is a hawk in the skies, not some clipped bird-- 

“It should have been you!” Catelyn shouts. She yells it to an empty house, a declaration of frustration and anger, a fleeting moment of release for her own soul. She did not remember that Jon is there, right in front of her, always on her side. 

The hallway chills and silence enters the house. Time stops for Catelyn and Jon, if only to give them an opportunity to save themselves from what will happen next, to take back anything they’ll regret. Catelyn hears the ringing in her ears, and the irritation builds and mounts onto her tongue like an icon on a skyscraper. 

“Bran only got into the accident because he heard that you were visiting Robb at the reserves and he was jealous you were always spending more time with Robb than him. He thought that if he could go to the reserves by himself, you would like him more. He was nine, Jon.  He wanted to be free, independent. So he left home without permission and then he crossed the street and he wasn’t looking and then that car—” 

Catelyn wills herself to stop. Time began again. The realization of her confession hits her like a freight train, and before she can apologize. Jon stops her.

“I know.”

Catelyn gasps softly. She wants to tell Jon she didn’t mean it but he continues.

“I know what happened. I’ve known for a while now." 

“Jon, I didn’t mean to—”

Jon looks down at his feet. "It’s why…it’s why I haven’t come back in to visit. You were all mourning, and Bran hadn't woken up. I heard you talking to Uncle Ned about me and I remember you saying this wouldn't have happen if I...if I wasn't here. So I thought I leave, I just...I didn't want to stay where I wasn't wanted." 

"Jon, that was--"

"You were angry. I've never seen you that angry, not even at my mum. But you...you were right. It was my fault. I thought that if I left, you'd get Bran back." Jon pauses. He smiles, and it's absolutely heartbreaking for Catelyn to see. She's never wanted to see that expression on any of her children's faces, certainly not because she caused it. "And you did. He came back to you, and I was gone and I thought: it's true. Everything is better when I'm gone. You'd get your family back, and I could...I could do something with my life. You Starks, you were always stronger together than with me." 

Catelyn tries to say something—anything to make this better.

"Maybe I should have stayed away."

"Jon, please," Catelyn begs. She wants to get a word in, anything.  

“I think Rickon—” Jon informs her, tone flat and unreadable. Catelyn wonders if that is worse than anger. “—needs to be punished. According to how you see fit, of course." 

“Jon, I’m sorry—“

“I’m going to go out for a bit. I think we both need to cool down.”

Jon wonders if he should wait for Aunt Catelyn to gather herself. She will want to make an apology soon, but the anger, the part in him that is so Lyanna in the sense of willpower and vindictiveness wants her to feel guilty. As guilty as he did when he heard of Bran’s accident, when he ignored Robb’s messages for four years until eventually, he forgotten what his cousin, his best friend looked like.

Jon’s never forgiven himself for Bran’s accident. And maybe, just this once, he wants someone else to feel his misery.

He is out of the manor when his phone rings and Robb’s number flashes on the screen. Jon didn’t bother to check if Robb was in the house prior to entering, but the thought of being with Robb, being comforted by Robb, made him weak. He is susceptible now, and if he sees Robb tonight, he knows he will fall for him again. It makes him want to ignore the vibrations.

“Hello?”

“Hey, is this Jon?”

That is not Robb’s voice.

 “Yes, this is he.”

 “Hey, I’m Dacey. I’m a friend of Robb’s. I’m calling to say that your boyfriend is utterly pissed right now. And I don’t know what’s going on with you two but Theon, you know, Robb’s friend, is acting like a total slag and—”

 “Where are you guys?” Jon asks. He repeats the address for confirmation and adds it to his notes. “I’ll be there right away. Don’t…don’t let Theon go too far.” Jon dashes back to the manor to borrow the Stark’s car for the second time today. Catelyn is already upstairs. He breaks every speed limit possible, and he wonders briefly if the lack of law enforcement is because he’s too fast for the cops to bother, the neighborhood is completely empty, or that everyone in the county recognizes the Stark’s vehicle.

Robb, contrary to his friend’s beliefs, is neither plastered nor pissed, drunk nor legless. He is tipsy, red with bad judgement and ill intention plans, and lacks hindsight and paired vision. Theon is sitting comfortably in his lap, running his hands through Robb’s hair and whispering dirty suggestions into his ear. Robb appreciates the effort, but tells Theon to save it for when Jon gets here. Theon justifies himself by saying it would be odd for Theon to suddenly start hitting on Robb upon Jon’s arrival.

“That would hardly look natural, would it?” 

Robb reluctantly agrees, but warns him not to go too far. His friends are watching as well (ah, the intensely brutish Dacey Mormont, and the honorable Jory Cassel who glares at Theon with such fury, and a few other unmentionables) and he doesn’t want them to think his relationship with Jon is cheap as few bottles of tequila and swill.

Theon pouts, but doesn’t hesitate to enjoy the moment. He’s running his hand up Robb’s thigh when he spots the darkly dressed figure coming into the bar. There goes his night. Jon comes in, ignores the attention of a woman who asks him to show her a good time, and goes further into the pub. They’re sitting on couches, happily chatting, when Jon, in all his sulky glory, catches them. His expression is far from happy.

Robb, out of habit, removes Theon from his lap but Theon remains firm in his seat. His reminds Robb that they’re “making him jealous, remember? Play along.” And Robb does so obediently. He laughs a little harder, asks about Jon in his whispers in Theon’s ears (“is he looking at me? Is it working? Do you think he’ll drag me away from here?”) Theon laughs. He doesn’t find anything of what Robb is saying amusing, but he knows from Jon’s nostril’s flaring that he’s upset, he’s furious, and yes, he’s jealous. Theon knows that jealous people do stupid things. When he agreed to Robb’s plan, he was aware that Robb might have the right idea. Jon may be overcome with possessiveness and drag Robb back into his arms and have his wicked way with him. Or— 

He might get so angry; he’ll leave Robb for good. He will have had enough, knowing that Robb hasn’t changed his ways. He can move on from Jon. Jon was nothing to him.

So Theon rubs Robb’s shoulders, nibbles on his ear, and laughs like a whore in a brothel.

Just. For. Jon. To. See. 

Watch me, Jon Snow. You won the battles, but I'm going to be fighting the war. I'm going to fuck your boyfriend so good he screams, and it'll be my name he'll remember. He's more mine than yours now.

“Robb,” Jon addresses.

Robb waves at Jon. Casual, and without any of the clinginess that Jon so desperately hated and craved at the same time. “Hey, Jon, everybody this is Jon. My boyfriend.”

Jon nods at the guests, who sit awkwardly, watching the events go by. None of them know what to do. “Robb, you're drunk.”

 “I’m not drunk.” He really isn’t. “I’m just hanging out with some friends, having a pint, and wondering when my boyfriend, you do remember we’re still together right, has been avoiding me all week?” Robb continues. “Hey, do fancy a pint? This pub serves some of the—”

“I’m driving,” Jon points out. “More specifically, I’m driving you home. Dacey,” he threw a look to the only girl at the table. “Called me to tell me you’re pissed, and obviously not in your right mind.” He glares at Theon, who flips him a ‘V.’

Robb, in attempt to sound nonchalant, shrugs. The action infuriates Jon, who’s so used to Robb’s affection and care. Robb removes Theon in his lap, gently, and gets out of the booth. He goes up to Jon. Jon can smell the booze, and look into his red, glossy eyes, and wants no part of it. He’s seen Robb drunk before and this time—this is different. When he tries to kiss Jon, the Snow boy turns away.

Robb, in the most heartbreaking matter, shrugs again. “Guess I’m staying here, then.” 

Dacey, who’s concern is that an older sister now, suggests he go with Jon. “You’re not yourself.”

Robb refuses. “I want to stay where I’m wanted.” He pulls Theon closer to him.

Theon giggles, and agrees. “Oh, you’re definitely wanted.” And then Theon decides that in spite of Robb’s potential anger, the temptation is too great. He kisses Robb, lathers saliva onto his tongue and suckles on the flesh like candy. He completely ravishes the inside of his mouth.

Watching them was like having someone punch Jon in the gut.

Robb is stunned by the action. He attempts to dislodge Theon, who is aggressively going at his face. When he finally goes up for air, Robb laughs. He tries his best to play it off as two friends playing around and fails miserably. Everyone stays quiet. 

Jon is livid.

If Robb was any more drunk, he wouldn’t be able to see the other emotion nestling in Jon’s eyes. Jon, who is so used to hiding his disappointment and resigned to dealing with the worst that comes, looks heartbroken.

Robb broke his heart.

Jon doesn’t stay for excuses. “You can drink yourself to death for all I care,” he spits out. He rushes out of the pub, praying no one can see the tears building up in his eyes. He gets to the car, and ignores any attempts from Robb to salvage the situation. He takes deep breaths and fights the tears from falling. He’s not going to cry over this. Instead, he punches a nearby post and ignores the pulsing in his fist. "Asshole!" He shouts to the sky. "Fucking lying, two timing, asshole!" 

He gets into the car and drives back home, where he is equally not welcomed. At least the manor is big enough for him to avoid the Starks that hated him. He considers sleeping in Arya’s room because no one bothers her. He wants that, the loneliness, the security of solitary and the predictable nature that comes with relying on oneself and oneself only. Fuck this, Arya and his mother were right. People are undependable. They say things, and they let other people walk away from them.

No one wants to fight for love anymore. This isn't the Middle Ages. They want you to give yourself to them, and then, they get to decide whether they want to keep you, Jon. Sweetheart, I want you to promise to never give yourself to anybody. Never be the second person in anybody's heart. Never be content with being cherished if it makes you weak. If they deserve you, they'll fight for you. They'll give up everything to be with you.

Jon thinks about Robb. Robb, who has obviously gotten over him and under Theon. He knew there was something between them. To think, he was willing to…he was going to try and work it out with Robb. Maybe it was his punishment. He planned to use Aunt Cat’s words as justification for his reunion with Robb. Maybe the Gods saw his bitterness, and raised him irony. Robb didn’t want him anymore. 

Jon grabs his phone. Then he drops it, wondering what he’s thinking. No matter how angry he is, he still cares about Robb, maybe even l— and the admittance of that emotion, love, makes what he does next all the more painful. He dials a number on his phone and waits for the person to pick up. 

Chapter Text

It takes half an hour for Robb to realize that Jon is not coming back. When that happens, Robb rushes out of the bar, hoping that Jon is simmering in the Stark's family car, trying to collect himself and waiting for Robb to catch up to him. Jon will yell at him. He might punch the wall next to him and scream his bloody lungs out, and Robb will take every insult, every degrading remark and he will not argue. He will listen and get on his knees and beg for Jon's forgiveness. But he can't. Jon is nowhere in sight. Robb fucked up. He fucked up so badly, he could cry. And maybe it’s the alcohol, or Jon’s desertion finally hitting him, full force, knife through the cut, and punch to the face, but Jon left him. Robb starts crying and swearing and cursing the gods, and fuck, fucking shit, he's such a fucking screw up! Theon runs outside to see a sobbing Robb, and pulls him into a hug. A genuine hug. Not the kind of hug he gave when Robb’s girlfriends broke up with him and he was happy to be the only one in his arms again, or the kind where he just wanted to feel Robb’s skin. This is the kind of hug Theon wants to give Robb because he’s suffering and there’s nothing he hates more than to see Robb in pain.

Theon waits for his cries to die down, and wipes the water from Robb’s eyes. Robb asks Theon if he looks like he’s been drinking.

“Yeah.”

“Good.”

They return to the bar, where Theon orders a round of shots and another pint of beer and Robb just inhales it until he’s sick.  He talks about Jon. He talks about him every second he can, until Theon’s ears feel like they're bleeding and even he’s beginning to love Jon a little. Theon’s about to call for another pint, when Sansa’s screeching voice silences everyone. “Robert Stark, you put that pint down right now or so help me Gods, I will shove a beer bottle up your arsehole and drag you by a leash.”

Theon doesn’t know what’s scarier, Sansa yelling or Sansa sounding exactly like her mother when she does.

Robb is as pissed as Dacey thought he was an hour earlier, and while he fights Sansa’s grip for the first few minutes, he eventually submits, whimpering about her cruel treatment. Theon limps towards them, and Sansa begrudgingly takes them both into her car. Robb is tossed into the passenger seat while Theon is shoved in the back.

“I can’t believe you! I’ve never heard Jon so angry before! How could you—Gods, do you even—you know he’s in his bedroom right now, listening to angry Rhaegar Targaryen music—like—I didn’t even know classical music could sound so warlike and he’s listening to it, acting like some brooding, mopey child—and you—what the fuck is wrong with you?

Sansa," Robb whines. His head hurts so much. "Sansa...it hurts. Everything hurts right now.”

“Oh, oh I’m so sorry I’m hurting your feelings,” Sansa mocks. She makes a harsh break at the red light, causing whiplash for Theon and Robb’s stomach to lurch. “If you throw up in my car, I swear to Gods, Robb, you will clean it up.”

She glares at Theon who is trying to keep awake. Then, she sees Robb, who is already lulling into sleep. Sansa sighs for the millionth time tonight. “The least you could have done is break up with him first." She turns to Robb for an explanation, but he doesn't hear her. His snores are light throughout the drive home.

When they get back, Theon offers to carry Robb. Sansa watches him stumble his way to the door, and almost trip on his own feet. She promptly refuses. “You’re only going to make things worse."

Theon glares through the grogginess, and moves towards the stairs on his own.

Robb is heavy, weighs a ton when there’s a pound of alcohol and piss inside him, and he thrashes. He tries to escape Sansa’s arms, and more than once he succeeds. But when Robb is drunk, he is also weak. And slow. Sansa catches up to him easily, and even allows him to continue some way on his own before she gathers him up again, body leaning on hers, and takes him to his room. He’s mumbling about something, and sounds absolutely miserable. Sansa’s only experience of Robb legless was his sweet sixteen, and he was the happiest drunk she’s ever seen. All red faced and giddy with upcoming adulthood. Robb mumbles something but the only words she can decipher through his slurs is Jon’s name. When he passes his room and starts pounding on Jon’s, Sansa realizes he’s trying to apologize. 

Jon never went to sleep. The night is plagued with nightmares and former regrets resurfacing. He hears pounding on his door, and Robb’s voice. He comes out to tell him to be quiet—he doesn’t need another reason for everyone to hate him. He also wants to punish him, to make him feel like shit for rejecting him tonight. The second he opens the door, Robb tackles him. He is begging for forgiveness. The babbling and the crying and the sweet nothings, spoken when Jon feels like the most worthless person in the world, is exactly what he needs to hear tonight.

Robb tells Jon he is perfect, smart, witty, kind—that he is deserving of more than Robb (and wasn’t that the kicker? Robb Stark thinking someone was above him). Jon holds him. Finally, he lets go and tucks him into bed, and strokes his hair. When Robb says ‘I love you,’ Jon whispers it back because he knows it won’t be remembered the next day.

“Coward." Someone call him.

Sansa waits by the doorway. Her stare is filled with judgement and remnants of disgust. She looks at him like she wants to say something, and he doesn’t doubt it. Sansa always wants to say something, to correct something that can’t be fixed. Finally, she sighs, full of frustration and fatigue, and walks away.

Jon leaves to follow her. He stops when he is pulled back—Robb took a hold of his hand and refused to let go. Jon, tempted to stay and lie with him again, decides to leave. It’s a bit of struggle, but eventually, he gets away.

Sansa sits in the dining room table alone, eating leftover lemon cakes in silence. When Jon comes in, she says nothing. She does not spare him a glance.

“Are you angry with me?”

Sansa takes another bite and chews. Slowly. Looks at the wall with eyes glossed over, and a mouth pursed with petulance and chews.

“Sansa, if there’s something you want to say, just say it.”

Half her cake is left, and Sansa keeps on eating.

Jon gives up, and turns his back on Sansa, who finally puts down her fork and tells him she’s hungry.

“What?”

“Tonight, I was supposed to be out getting dinner with my boyfriend. But then you called so now I’m hungry.  And I want something to eat. You’re the only one of us who can cook and I figured you owe me.”

Jon could protest, but he doesn’t. He is a pushover for the Starks, always has been. “Hash browns okay?”

“Can’t cook. Can’t complain. I’ll take anything at this point.”

He finds a frying pan and grabs potatoes and onions from the fridge, and seasoning from the cupboards. Cheese is already on the counter. “He’s your brother, too,” Jon mutters. He lights the stove and pours some oil into the pan.

“But he’s your boyfriend. Or was he? I’ve been so confused the last week.”

Jon grips the knife handle a little too tightly. He chops the potatoes. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“Robb has. Aren’t you being unfair to him? Leading him on when you’re not sure.”

If Jon is not so frustrated, he would have patted himself on the back for his composure. He wants to yell at her that she doesn’t understand, she’s a child, but realizes that would sound too petulant. Instead, he tells her. “Sansa, I’m sorry you had to pick up your own brother from a pub when he was passed out. But I couldn’t—I needed some time to myself. Please understand that.”

Sansa stares at him. Jon hopes she is finished interrogating him and they can wallow in their own thoughts as always. Much to his surprise, she agrees with him. “What don’t I understand? You needed time to think. You just watched your boyfriend make out with another man—a man who, most undoubtedly, has been planning your demise from the very beginning. You have every right to be angry.”

Jon pauses. “But?”

“But nothing. Theon went too far, and Robb lets him.” Like he always does. “It’s about time Robb learns from his mistakes.”

Jon frowns. Her words spark a series of memories that lead to an obvious, if not frustrating conclusion. “Theon does this often.”

“Sabotage Robb’s relationships so he can comfort him? Of course. Robb is his reason to live.” Sansa’s expression turns sour. “He’s been in love with him since they were teenagers. Robb never felt the same way, and instead of confessing his feelings, he did nothing. Oh wait, that’s a lie. He singlehandedly ruined every one of Robb’s chances for love.” Sansa shrugs. “It’s quite fitting, isn’t it? Robb’s oblivious to everyone’s feelings but his own.”

Jon looks down to the frying roots, crackling as they browned to the desired amount of crispiness. He adds pepper. “I fell right into his trap. Did you know what he was doing?”  

Sansa nods. “Theon is pretty sympathetic when he wants to be, and…a part of me hoped it would happen.” Jon gives her a look, beckoning her to continue.

 “I want Robb to be happy. I’ve always wanted that, for all of my siblings. I wanted Robb to finally settle down and find someone who love him for who he is.” Sansa gets up and grabs two glasses and a pitcher of milk. “Careful what you wish for.”

Jon chuckles darkly. “I guess I must have been a disappointment.”

“No. You are perfect for Robb.” Sansa looks at him. “But you don’t think so, do you?”

No, I’m not, Jon thinks. He doesn’t answer with that. “If I gave him up, at least I know he’ll be loved.”

Sansa’s smile is tinged with sadness. “And that’s why it’s you I’m worried about, not Robb”

Jon almost drops his spatula. He asks, “Why would you be worried about me? I’ll be fine.”

“Fine is not love,” Sansa clarifies. “Fine is for people who are content with being unhappy. You’ve always been fine, Jon. You don’t accept love easily. You accept blame before you even think to take a compliment.”

“Sansa—”

“I know what happened with mum.”

Jon stays silent. He turns off the stove to keep himself from burning her meal.

“I was coming downstairs, and I…I heard everything. I heard what mother said, and it was horrible—we don’t blame you, not at all—”

“I know. Sansa, you don’t have to—”

 “No,” Sansa tells him firmly. “You need to hear this.”

Jon listens.

Sansa swallows her milk to give her time to collect her thoughts. “But you accept it. You’ve always have.” She looks over at Jon, and he stares at her in disbelief. “Do you remember, when we were children and Arya broke that man’s window? And she was all moody and ready to run, but you went ahead and told them you did it. And they loathed you for it. They blamed it on your mother, and said it was because she never taught you discipline, and called you a bastard.”

Jon did remember. He remembers every horrid insult thrown at him, and how they grabbed him by the arm and called his uncle. They called him an ingrate, a stupid troublemaker who needed to be punished. Ned had to come over to pay for the damages. Arya had confessed to their parents immediately, but the damage had been done. “Arya tried to tell them the truth, but no one believed her. To make her feel better, you told her it was your idea to play football so either way, it was your fault. That was the first time I saw her cry.” Sansa shakes her head. “Do you know why she was crying?”

“She was sad I had to get into trouble.”

“No, Jon. She was crying because you actually thought it was your fault.” Sansa is on a brink of tears. “You actually believed you were responsible for Arya’s actions. You were genuine when you said sorry. Jon…I don’t want to be cruel but I’m begging you. Don’t do this to yourself.” 

“I don’t understand.” Jon is exasperated, and he wants the conversation to end. He grabs a plate and tries to ignore what Sansa is saying. “Listen, I’m just going to leave your plate here and get some sleep—”

Sansa wipes away the tears from her eyes. She continues with a sense resilience only seen in soldiers. “Robb is going to win you over. I know it. We all know it. He’s going to convince you to run back into his arms, and live happily ever after. But tt's not going to be like that. This is real life, and there are no 'happily ever afters.' Robb isn’t going to be the one who’s going to suffer in this relationship.”

“Sansa, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Sansa’s eyes turn cold. Jon has never seen her like this, and he wonders what has happened in the last year that has aged her so. “I do. I know that you’re the bastard, and he’s the Stark heir. I know he’s the golden child who does everything right, and you’re the child who’s never had a real home. I know what they say about Aunt Lyanna. 'I pity the man who falls for her. He'll get eaten alive.' 'Such a shame that a man like Rickard Stark raised a whore.' 'No wonder that child is so screwed up. Look at his mother.'  Do you remember that?"

Jon remembers every word.

"When they find out who you are, Robb is going to be the man kind enough to look past your faults and love you. But you? You’re the whore who seduced him and led him down the wrong path. At best, you two will be made fun of and that feels like shit.”

Jon slams the kitchen counter. Sansa winces. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he repeats, though his words feel more hollow than before.

“Jon, please…”

Somewhere inside Jon knows she’s not lying. He’s only ever heard rumors about Sansa’s boyfriend from Arya, but he knows the man has never met Ned or Catelyn. Sansa isn’t stupid. She knows it is only a matter of time before they meet, and she’s prepared for the worst by the looks of it. Jon wonders if she’s willing to give everything up for this mysterious man.

“Love is hard. Love deemed disgusting by society is harder. The mockery, the dirty looks, the rumors; that’s not something that goes away, not in this family. And it stays in this family. You have to be willing to fight for him, and that’s not possible if you’re not sure he’s worth fighting for.” She walks up to him and embraces him. The action stuns Jon, and finally, he weakly wraps his arms around her. “I love my boyfriend. He loves me. I fought for him and he fought for me. We’re not what you call an appropriate couple but we’re stronger because of it. I’m so happy.”

She pulls away. She wipes a stray hair from his face. “I want my brother to be happy, but he’s not the one paying the cost for this. Decide for both of you what’s right. If you love Robb, you need to decide how you’re going to be in his life. If he can’t understand the consequences of his actions, you need to make the decision that both of you can live with.”

Jon stares at her. He says nothing for the longest time. All he can do is look at Sansa in the eye, watch her blue orbs challenge to say something, to do anything.

"Can you fix yourself a plate? I already finished cooking the food," he asks her softly. Then he, like many weak men before him, walks away. Sansa watches him leave. 

Jon knows he will not sleep that night, but he can still imagine a loop of Sansa’s words. When Jon enters the bedroom, Robb is resting soundly. Jon, weak for a lover’s touch, climbs into bed with him and wraps his arms around his cousin like old times. Tomorrow morning, he promises himself. He will tell him tomorrow morning.

This once, and just this once, Robb makes it easy for Jon. His internal clock forces him to wake up at an ungodly hour despite his blinding hangover. He is not alone, and for a second, he believes Theon has sneaked into his bed again. Instead, the warmth is derived from the body of a man much, much paler than Theon’s natural tan, and a wave of curls rest beside his on his bed—no, Jon’s bed. He is in Jon’s room, and his body flushes.

Jon groans, having finally been able to nod off. Robb kisses him before he becomes fully conscious. Jon wants to barter for more sleep but is distracted by the kisses for attention. He remembers where he is, and unlike the other times in this house, he does not pull away. Robb adds in tongue, and he licks his mouth with eagerness. Robb leans further in, and wraps his arms around Jon to hold him close.

Jon is awake, and isn’t pulling away. Robb wonders if he’s entered a dream, but knows it to be real when he grabs onto Jon’s ass and there’s a moan, a delicious, throaty moan with the potential to grow and multiply.

“I missed you so much,” Robb whispers. Jon says nothing. He keeps kissing Robb like it’s the last time they’ll see each other.

The morning is still young. No one is awake except for the maids, and none of them come upstairs at this hour. Jon and Robb enjoy their fleeting moment together. Robb strokes Jon’s hair and asks if he’s being too forward for asking him if they could make love. Jon says yes, but through his giggles he says he doesn’t care.

Robb slips his hands into the waistband of Jon’s shorts and cups and squeezes Jon’s cheeks until they are embedded into his memory. Jon’s moans grow louder as his kneading becomes harder and his fingers dip into into Jon’s hole. He adds in one finger, and then two. He pushes in and out of the puckering hole and lets it clench around him as if it is his cock. Jon grips onto Robb’s shirt.

“Does it hurt?”

“No…” Jon whimpers. “Keep going.”

Robb takes his fingers out and turns from Jon for a second. He masterfully twists his body so that he can reach the floor and grab his jeans. There, he takes out a bottle of lube. “I had high expectations last night.”

Jon wills himself not to laugh, and fails. He hugs him.

Robb is liberal with the lube, and douses himself with KY jelly. It’s been a while and he’s sure Jon’s been faithful—he's made sure of it. He plays with the goo for a bit, allows it to drip over his fingers and into Jon’s pried hole like cum. He returns to his ministrations and begins pumping in his fingers slowly, occasionally brushing against Jon’s prostate. Jon can only moan and cry. Robb plays with his body for endlessly, relishing in those soft noises of pleasure, and soaks in Jon’s wordless praise. Jon demands nothing, and allows Robb to do as he wish. Jon gasps when Robb stretches him from side to side, spreads his fingers so that he’s gaping.

Robb refuses to push his luck.

He lathers his cock up with the gel, and gets on top of Jon. He looks down at him and calls him beautiful. Jon blushes, but doesn’t deny it. Instead, he reaches up and kisses Robb again. The reaction is stunning so Robb continues the praise. "You're beautiful. I can spend my entire life inside you. I just want to spend all day coming in you until you can't walk."

Robb cradles Jon’s hips close and enters him slowly, letting Jon feel every inch being worked into as if he was always meant to be there. Every small movement feels exquisite, and as he gets closer to Jon’s prostate, he can feel the heat of Jon’s body wrapped around him and the hole clench. Jon encourages Robb by willing his body to squeeze and tighten around Robb, milking him for a full load. Robb works a slow and steady piston into him. The sensation makes Jon’s eyes roll up and Robb has trouble breathing with the beauty below him.

They go on forever. Robb keeps Jon full but never sated. His cock thrusts up to Jon in long and slow motions, each hit rubbing Jon’s insides with more liquids and gels until he’s absolutely slippery and Robb’s dripping out of his hole. All the while they kiss, they bite, they mark. Jon wraps Robb up in his legs and tells him to never stop.

When they are finished, Jon takes one last look at Robb. Happy, sated Robb who’s probably dreaming of their wedding, their lives on this estate, and their dogs, happily running together in the woods. Jon knows what Robb wants, and the desire grips at Jon’s heart like an anchor tied to a man. Robb wants to take Jon to dinner parties and introduced him as his partner. He wants Jon to be happy, and he wants the insults and slurs to stop.

But they won’t.  

“I’m sorry.”

Robb startles from his post coital high. He turns to Jon, still smiling. “What for?”

“I’m sorry,” Jon repeats, unable to form the words. “I’m so sorry. This wasn’t fair to you.”

Robb becomes worried. “Jon, what’s going on?”

Jon limps out of bed. He searches for his pants somewhere, and tries his best not to look Robb in the eye. Robb will have none of it. He grabs onto Jon's hand and forces Jon to look at him. He pulls him back into the bed, and cups Jon’s face and keeps him there. Jon’s eyes are closed. “Jon, look at me.”

Jon turns his head.

“Look at me, damn it!”

Jon takes a deep breath and open his eyes. They are completely dry and loveless. 

 “Jon, what’s the matter? I thought…is it about last night? That was nothing. Theon and I were just playing around. I love you. You know I love you.”

Robb grabs onto Jon’s hands and presses his lips against them. He stays there for several moments and then kisses him again.

Jon takes a deep breath, and pushes him away.

 “I can’t do this, Robb. We can’t do this. It’s not worth it.”

“No,” Robb refuses to listen. “No, I’m not hearing this bullshit again. I love you. That’s the only thing that matters. You and me. I care about you. I care about this. What we have is real, you love me, don’t you?”

Jon has never said it to Robb, not when he was awake at least. He’s told Sansa, he’s told himself. But he’s never said it to Robb, and he doesn’t want to. He can’t. He knows those words are the only strands of hope Robb needs to hang on forever, and Jon won’t do that to him. Jon won't do it for himself. 

It's okay to be selfish, Jon. That just means you're looking out for yourself, and there's nothing wrong with that. People like us...we need to love ourselves before we love other people. 

Jon is cruel. He has already done so much to Robb.

“I…I’m not ready to fight for you, Robb. I love you…like a brother. I realize that I’m not…we’re not worth the trouble. I can’t love you in the way you love me. I’m sorry. Please…let me go.”

Robb stays silent. 

"Robb? Please...I'm ending it. For good. I...you'll find someone else. You've always have. Okay? Let go." 

Robb lets go of his hand. He gives up like a desperate man who handing by a cliff. He watches Jon dress himself, and as he looks for a shirt, Robb stops him.

“No,” Robb says, the words coming out automatically.

Jon tries not to cry. “Robb, I have to go. I—” He gets up. Robb stops him.

“I’ll leave,” Robb says instead. Jon looks at him of his own volition. “This is your room. I’ll leave.”

"It's your house," Jon protests. The Starks owe him nothing--none of them do. 

"It's our house. This is your room. I will be the one to leave." Robb gets up. "I'm sorry for bothering you last night."

Jon does nothing as Robb gathers up his clothes. He asks if Jon can tell his mother he won’t be at breakfast. “I want to get some things done at the gym.”

Jon could nod and say yes, but he'd be lying. Instead, he tells Robb: “You have a hangover. Let me make you something before you go.”

Robb turns him down. “I’ll be fine.”

And he leaves.

Robb goes to his room to get his gym attire. His mind is pounding and his heart aches and he's angry. He heads to the Stark facilities. They have five punching bags, all in a row. He used to box as a kid. Did a bunch of martial arts because his father believed they provided discipline when he was too busy working. He put on some clothes and practiced some hits. His hits got harder, and harder, and harder, until he is sure something is sprain or broken. And then he hits the punching bag again. Every hit makes him forget about Jon. He forgets about the night they met, he forgets about their dinners together where he learned that Jon loves to over season his vegetables with pepper, and forgets waking up together and how Jon would let him steal the covers. He doesn't want to remember their dates in the park, meeting up for coffee after class, listening to Jon complain about his household habits, their conversations during the sunset, the rare days Jon would follow him to class and pay attention because he wanted to be able to understand something Robb cared about. Robb associates the pain from each hit with a memory and trains himself to forget and he can’t.

Instead, he keeps the memories. He plays them over and over again.

Chapter Text

The rules of courtship must have changed since Willas was in his twenties, because he recalls a waiting period of a week—less, if one played their cards right. He thought that by putting a time limit on his stay, the boy beauty would hasten their transactions by at least a day or two, and yet here he was. Five days have passed since Willas gave Jon his number. He hated to sound conceited but he expected a text by now, or at least a missed phone call, preferably by a blushing snow skin boy who would hang up as soon as the phone rings. But no, nothing. He assumes the complication became a problem.

Oh well, Willas thinks regretfully, these things do happen. He hopes Jon is happy, though he’s sure he could have made him happier. With his solidary status confirmed, Willas figured he might as well take his grandmother off his back, and called the Starks for a tour of their reserves.

To be honest, it is no hardship for Willas to visit the park. His leg still pulses, but it is a dull pain. Cool air and the fresh scent of grass—naturally fertilized, organically grown grass, always made him feel better. He sees the birds of prey circling the skies like dragons, and is reminded of his own hawk collection at home. There are miles of flowers, a few butterflies dancing on the tips of their pedals, and he makes note of all the buzzing beetles and slippery worms on the ground. From afar he can see the deer, prancing with one another. The reserves are large and vast, and it feels like another world here.

“You have done a magnificent job,” he praises. “The Stark reserves are legendary where I’m from.”

Ned Stark nods, serious but inwardly proud of his efforts. He tries not to show his conceit. Willas understands that this is not an attempt of false modesty; Ned is simply someone who is not used to taking compliments. “Yes, protecting the natural reserves has been the duty of the Starks for several generations.”

“I’m happy to be of service to you.”

“We are glad to receive your aid.” Ned’s eyes dart across the field. They walk closer to the deer, and Willas is surprise when they do not run away. Ned notes his surprise and responds that, “the deer know they do not have to fear humans here—only other predators. We do not interfere with the natural order of life.”

Willas understands. “I appreciate the effort. Is your entire family as involved in maintaining the area as you are?”

Ned does not hesitate. On the topic of his children, he allows himself to be proud. “My eldest son used to volunteer here in his teens. He goes to university now but he helps out when he can. Both my daughters did their work experiences in the office, though the younger one, Arya, did do some field work. My second oldest son starts volunteering today.”

“I’m jealous,” Willas admits. “I’ve always loved the outdoors. My parents encouraged me to handle the corporate matters of our company, but I enjoy getting my hands dirty. There’s something about being a part of the labor that makes the whole process more worthwhile.”

Ned agrees with the philosophy. If it weren’t for his brother’s untimely prison sentence, he would have opted to take a more physical role in his family’s company. “I believe you handle the livestock maintenance.”

Willas nods. “I do now. After my accident, my family wanted to limit my interactions outdoors. My grandmother wouldn’t have it, though. She said only cowards use excuses to prevent the pursuit of their dreams. I go on walks as often as my leg allows, and can ride horses with the proper saddle.” 

"Your grandmother sounds like a fine lady."

Willas laughs. That is an understatement. "She is a handful, but I'm grateful to have her around. Without her, I would never be able to pursue my dreams." 

Willas loves animals, always has and always will. He still spoils the hell out of Camellia, his beautiful chestnut mare that trampled his leg when he was a teenager. His family wanted to put her down, especially since she was a gift from his friend, Oberyn. They suspected foul play the night the two of them decided to sneak out of their rooms for a ride in the dark. Willas would have none of it, though. Children made mistakes, and they were such children back then.

“What happened to your leg?”

“Horse riding accident.”

“My son was paralyzed in a car accident.” Ned confesses. The news surprises Willas more than it should. He doubts his grandmother was ignorant of this fact, and wonders just how much thought went into her decision to whore him out to the Starks. Of course they would have a paraplegic son. What was he thinking? “His mother was opposed to him being here, but she was convinced otherwise.”

“But you don’t mind?”  

Ned sighs. “Some people never learn how to swim unless they’re pushed into the water.” He squints his eyes, and Willas thinks it’s because of the sun before he catches sight of someone familiar. “Bran is coming. He’s the one I was talking about.”

Willas does not have enough time to be surprised before the heart-shaped face comes into view. Bran’s eyes widen. “Willas?”

Willas waves hello. “Nice to see you again.”

Ned raises an eyebrow. “You two know each other?”

“We met the other day at the mall. I saw him wheeling down—”

“—And he gave me the lotion to help with my friction burn. After I stopped the breaks. Myself.”

Willas doesn’t say anything in response. Ned catches his raised eyebrow and in return, becomes as unconvinced of the story as he originally was. Bran senses this, and is trembling in trepidation. He looks into his lap, thinks for a moment, and then opens his mouth to add detail to his story. “And—”

The boy should never play poker, because after two brief encounters, Willas can already find his tell. The boy's father must agree. for he is starring his son down with a stern expression made for enacting discipline and serving punishment. Before Bran can dig himself a deeper hole, Willas beats him to the punch. “Your son is very brave, Mr. Stark. Lesser men wouldn’t have been so self-efficient.”

Bran stares at Willas, alarmed by the agreement. "Uh..."

"Is he?" Ned questions. 

"Yes, I was surprised a boy his age was so clever as to maneuver himself to safety. He waited until he reached a floor that was dirty to stop his break, so that the friction slowed him down. If he were riding on freshly mopped floors, he would have surely ran into a wall."

"That's clever?"

"If he tried to stop himself on clean floors, the heat from the brakes would have been too hot to withstand and too powerful to stop. He choose the best option."

"Hmm..."  

Ned continues to be as distrusting as before. He looks at Willas' sharp smile and Bran's wide eyes, and sighs. Wise man, Willas thinks, turning down this battle. Willas then suggests Bran show him around. “We can make it his first duty. If—of course, he doesn’t mind.”

“I don’t!” Bran announces. He gives himself a head start on the path, (actually wearing his gloves this time, Willas notes). “Follow me!”

Ned is tempted to go after him, but figures it is finally time to drop Bran into the water. He tells him to come back in an hour, and in one piece. Bran and Willas are already on their way; Bran eagerly chatting about how a certain bird species has flown in for the summer.

When Ned Stark is out of sight, Bran thanks Willas for his discretion. “I had to tell them that I handled it by myself. Mother already wanted to cancel the volunteering and I was afraid she was going to tell father not to bring me. I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?”

Bran furrows his brows. “For lying. For taking away your good deed.”

Willas laughs. “Bran, if a man ever complains about losing his good deed, it is a good indicator that he is a bad man.” He grins, like a child caught performing mischief but feels no shame for the crime. “Besides, I would have done the same. Hell, I have done the same.”

Bran is relieved. He makes a right turn, where the smell of wild violets end and a powerful bog begins to overwhelm. Years of horse manure and hawk droppings has gotten him immune to strong odors, but he is impressed but Bran’s nonchalance. There’s a sign indicating they are near a swamp. 

“I just don’t want people thinking I need to be saved.”

“We all need help sometimes. We are only human.”

“Not all the time.”

The mood sours considerably after the declaration. Willas cheers him up by talking about the reserves. Bran starts explaining how his father is developing the swamp because of the animals often ignored on the endangered list. From his conversation, Willas can conclude that Ned Stark is a lucky man. Bran is bright and enthusiastic about the work his family does. While he cares little for the security business, he is hardly naive about the subject. Most children would shun the darker parts of their parents work (say, for instance, the thousands of animals slaughtered for food each year), but Bran is aware of how the military utilizes his father’s systems. He’s far more concerned with preservation, though. Willas learns he wants to travel, and when he’s an adult, he considers simply running away and traveling the world.

“Where would you like to go?”

Bran thinks for a while. “Brazil, and China to see the tigers, and maybe Vietnam or Laos. Or South Africa. They have a huge black market based on poaching and animal trafficking.”

Willas finds himself overwhelmed with statistics on ivory trafficking and the number of dead rhinos and elephants a year. He suspects Bran will be quite the philanthropist in the future; he already has Willas reaching for his checkbook. 

“…that is, if I can find a way out of my wheelchair.”

The bitterness is familiar, and leaves a horrible taste in his mouth; the tang of sour lemons and curdled milk. Willas tells him with utter confidence that he is not an invalid. “You can do anything you wish. Paralysis is not a death sentence, and people have done more good in the world working with less.”

Bran pauses, and for a while, Willas wonders if he sounds too preachy, or insincere. He decides he should avoid either by explaining his own circumstances.

Instead, Bran beams.

“Thanks Willas. That means a lot to me.” His voice is sincere and melodious. He glows like an iridescent angel. Willas heart skips a beat, and he has to lean on the tree to compose himself. If all of Ned’s children are as pretty as his son, maybe he should heed his grandmother’s advice and make a call. 

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. It’s just my leg,” he lies.

Bran accepts the excuse. He asks if Willas travels much, and Willas says he does. He talks about his recent trip to Peru, and while Willas is only half engaged in his own storyline, Bran is wide eyed and awed. He tells him that he’s jealous of people like Willas. Then, he begins on his own family and their vacations. Willas picks up on the name Jon, and how he travels the world with his mother.

“How is Jon doing these days?” Willas asks. He carefully lightens his tone to sound nonchalant, and even looks at a flower—as if he were inspecting its oddities—to express his disinterest. Bran bites, but there’s a evasiveness in his answer that makes Willas wonder if he was convincing enough.

“He’s okay. He’s been kind of quiet recently.”

“Oh.” Willas makes a risky move, and asks if it had something to do with Jon’s…boyfriend?

 Bran freezes. “You know about that?”

“We talked about it while you were buying your materials,” Willas replies. “I was asking him on a date, but he turned me down.” Willas sighs, and displays a disappointed expression. Sad. Pathetic. Doglike. “I mean, he sounded really conflicted. It’s such a shame though. I was rather taken by him.”

“Well…” Bran seems conflicted about something. Willas wonders how much he understood about their situation and how well he knew the other person, before he admits that: “They just broke up. But Jon is pretty beat up about it.”

Willas wonders if a dozen roses would be too tacky for a first date. “That explains why he didn’t call me.” He looks into Bran’s eyes. He knows that to honest people, a stare conveys truth and hides bad intentions. “Do you know why they broke up? Is there anything I can do?”

“Personal reasons,” Bran admits diplomatically. Willas raises an eyebrow. Personal reasons can mean so much, but there's always a hint of scandal attached to them. If he knew anything from Margaery’s brief romance with the eldest brother, ‘personal’ meant something went wrong within the family. And the Starks are certainly an interesting family.  

He’s a bit excited.

“Bran, I hate to put you in this position, but do you think Jon would be interested in getting a call from me? He is absolutely marvelous, and I don't want to lose my chance with him.”

Bran is taken back. “Well…I…it’s complicated.”

“The best things normally are,” Willas declares. He reminds himself to curb his excitement. While he loved the normalcy of his routine life and day to day adventures, he also craved interesting interactions, vibrant socialization that changed a person’s life. He chooses to opt out of his fascinated stance, and go for sincerity instead. Sincerity, integrity, and honesty—that’s what the Starks like.

“Please Bran, all I need is a number. If he turns me down, I won’t bother him again. I just…I have to try. I really felt something with him.”

Bran seems troubled. He glances back and forth, as if expecting a wandering infiltrator. Willas wonders if that was a legit worry, or paranoia. He noticed that Ned did the same thing whenever he talked about his family. Nonetheless, Bran grabs a piece of paper from his notebook and writes down a number.

“…ob is going to kill me,” he mutters. Bran cautiously hands Willas the paper. Willas fights his shit eating grin. Starks…even when they don’t trust you, they still believe in you.

Willas folds the paper in half and puts it into his back pocket. The sun is beginning to set so Willas suggests they head back to the camp. Bran seems conflicted by his actions, and considers reversing them, either by asking for the number back or confessing to Jon what he did. Willas doesn’t want either to happen. Willas distracts him by discussing about his hobbies. He talks about breeding hawks and horses, and hooks Bran’s attention in until the end of the road.

A gust of wind passes by them, and messes Bran’s hair. He needs a haircut, Willas muses. Leaning forward, he uses his free hand to brush the strands off Bran’s hair. “If you’re going to be working here, you should consider cutting those bangs. It’ll ruin your vision to have them constantly in your eyes.”

“I was supposed to get them cut at the mall,” Bran defends. “Not my fault Rickon tried to kill me.”

Willas laughs. Bran, when he pouts, reminds him of his youngest brother. Loras always threw the biggest fuss when it concerned his hair. Willas leans forward to ruffle those overgrown locks and causes a yelp of protest when he does. Bran swats him away, but Willas prevails. 

“What’s going on here?” Ned’s question is rough and full of accusation. Bran is taken back by the rudeness. Willas, who is used to hearing that tone from the overprotective fathers of the women his brothers dated, is taken back when it’s directed towards him. He’s a cripple—he’s never gotten the threats. People feel sorry for him.

“Just a bit of horse playing,” Willas admits. “I was suggesting Bran get a haircut. It will probably be easier for him to move around when he’s not constantly wiping his bangs out of his pretty face.”

Ned snarls, “We’ll take care of that. We don’t need your concern.”

There’s an air of awkwardness that comes with the darkening sky. Willas, wary of Ned’s newfound antipathy, chooses his next words very carefully. “Ned, I was wondering if you and your family would like to join me for dinner some time before I leave. I found a delightful restaurant that I think you will enjoy, if you haven’t already been there. They use all of our products, and serve the best pie in the country. I swear on it.”

“I’m sure you’ll like it if my family was there. Bran, especially.”

“Well…yes. That’s why I’m inviting all of you.”

Realizing his own answer was not satisfactory, Ned gruffly says he’ll think about it. “Come Bran. We need to go home. Do you have a ride, Mr. Tyrell?”

Oh…so he’s no longer Willas. Willas does not bother to hide his confusion at the sudden change in attitude, but does add some goodwill onto his face and a nonthreatening smile. “My driver should already be waiting outside. Thank you, Ned.”

Willas walks ahead of them. He decides to play up his limp, maybe even spark some guilt into the Stark patriarch. When Willas is out of sight, Ned turns to Bran.

“What did you two talk about?”

Bran grimaces. He does not feel like answering his father’s question, not after Willas was being so civil and gracious towards them. He’s disappointed at his father’s rudeness, and he understands why his mother is so often irked by her husband's poor graces. “You were being very rude, father.”

Ned, who is used to being scolded for his poor manners, relents. He is revived in seconds by some form of righteousness that usually gets him going, and asks Bran again, what were they talking about it?

“Like we said, my hair,” Bran answers. He does not feel like explaining Willas and Jon’s odd flirtation, not with Robb and Jon’s separation fresh in the family.

“And that’s all?”

“We talked about animals, plants, and you know, the reserves? What else would we be talking about?”

“You didn’t talk about anything personal? Something you can’t tell me or your mother?”

Bran frowns. How much did his father know? Was he listening in—? No, if that is the case, he wouldn’t be asking all these questions. “Nothing, father. We were just talking about the reserves. If it was something serious or worrisome, I would tell you.”

“Really?” Ned looks worried. “So you’re not hiding anything from me.”

Bran stares at his lap for a lap and breathes. He then looks up. “I promise.”

Ned is troubled. He wants to push this, but he doesn’t push so far that Bran closes himself off. He’s done that before. He’s good at that. Yet, the detective in Ned, the one who spends his quiet nights reading thrillers and mystery novels, and watches crime dramas while actively participating in the detective's storyline, doesn’t relent. At an impasse, he suggests a break. “Let’s go home. Your mother will be worried if we stay any longer.”

Bran agrees, and is already wheeling his way out of the difficult conversation. Ned stays back to check on a few video feeds of Willas and Bran. The drones are supposed to check up on the animals, but he swore to Catelyn he’d use them to track Bran's whereabouts at least every half an hour. While he previously protested Catelyn’s overprotectiveness, he will have to admit his wife has some weighted concerns.

Bran has always been a pretty child. He and his siblings take after their mother in pure loveliness and, and he hates to boast, but his children are the most adorable Stark pups ever conceived. Catelyn calls him a doting father, but he’s honest about his children’s charms, and wants to protect them from all unsightly perversions. As a babe, Bran has consistently received unwarranted attention. He’s sweet, and that saccharinity attracts pedophilic stingers and lustful maggots that don’t deserve his son’s honey.

He’s not sure what he sees in the cameras, but he doesn’t doubt there’s a twinkling in Willas’ eyes that screams predator. They are talking in hushed whispers and secret messages, and after Jojen, Ned has to be cautious about people who express interest in Bran. He’ll have to look into Willas’ reputation.

Earlier, at the Stark Manor, Catelyn is overseeing the movers. Howland Reed insisted that they did not have to go through the trouble. No one in their small family owned enough possessions to require such extravagance. Catelyn agreed, but Ned liked to treat his friends and felt that the three of them lost enough that they deserved to keep whatever they had close. Howland is a craftsman, and while his jobs are far and in between, his work is beautiful.

Howland expresses nothing but his gratitude. Meera, who is growing up to be a fine young woman, is quick to say thanks as well. She tries to make pleasant conversation, but the overwhelming, overweight elephant in the room is stifling all of them. The words exchanged are terse and uncomfortable. Eventually, Meera, who is normally cheery and sociable, has to opt out. The tension is too much, even for her.

“Mrs. Stark?”

She recognizes that voice anywhere.

Jojen walks towards her, a sense of bravado and shamelessness that makes his sister cringe, and his father sweat. Catelyn thinks his confidence is vulgar; his entire presence is obscene and he makes her skin crawl. “I want to thank you personally for what you’re doing for us. I’m very grateful for your kindness, given our history—”

“It was my husband’s wish. Not mine.”

“Nonetheless, I’m thankful—”

Immediately, Catelyn tells him her son is not here.

Jojen remains unperturbed.

“Bran lives in the main house. You will not have contact with him, you will not speak to him, and you will not even look at him. I will make sure of that. If I see you lay a disgusting finger on him, I will have you arrested and prosecuted and you will never see the light of day again.”

There is silence.

Jojen finds the speech a tad bit dramatic, but says nothing. He wants to defend himself, tell her that he’s never touched Bran intimately, and that she's being unfair. She’s willing to let Joffrey stay, the guy who beat Sansa black and blue, and she’s not willing to give him a chance? He knows it’s because she’s unware of what happened back then, but Jojen can change that. He can make himself look better in comparison, and he doesn’t.

That’s something he has on a Sansa, and he’ll use it when the time comes.

Catelyn is so angry, she doesn’t see the intoxication in his eyes. For that, he’s grateful to be hated so much. The whole world is always more pleasant when he’s high. His sister grabs him by the arm and agrees to Catelyn’s conditions.

“Go,” Catelyn hisses out.

Jojen walks away. He shrugs off Meera’s grip, and says he will have a look around the premises.

“Nowhere near the main house,” Meera warns.

“I know, I know,” Jojen waves off her concerns. There’s nothing at the house for him. Bran is at the reserves. He already checked.

Jojen wanders around forever. He breathes in the pure air, and takes in the scent of trimmed grass, wildflowers and weeds, a sky perfumed with bird feathers and raven sweat. He drops onto the field and lies there. He plays imaginary songs in his head. He dreams of Bran and all that delicious, untouched flesh that yearns to be marked and that sweet voice that cries out his name.

“What are you doing?”

 Hello darkness my old friend

I've come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly creeping

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

 Jojen is a poor man, but he’s not a bad one. He does not hunt children in their sleep, nor does he steal their souls into the night. Not like the moon spirits or the fairies, not like the gypsies and the thieves. Why does he have green eyes? They’re always staring at me. I think he’s looking into my soul like there’s something wrong with me. He’s not human. He keeps staring at me like I’m his… Jojen snaps out of his thoughts.

“Listening to the birds and the bees. What are you doing here?”

The boy behind him pouts. “I live here.”

“So do I, now.” Jojen smiles like a child who has found a friend. The boy is taken back, because he wants a friend. His beast towers over the Jojen and nestles his nose into his face. The canine’s saliva drips and dribbles, yet there are no screams. He is not upset, not like how the boy’s sisters are when Shaggydog drools over their pretty dresses. He laughs instead.

Rickon is relieved. He has been warned not to go near the guests, but surely it will be okay this once. Shaggydog means no harm, and Rickon’s been so bored since mother punished him. He’s trapped, he’s caged, he’s grounded, and it is quite unpleasant.

“Just running around. I’m playing catch with Shaggy.”

“I’m not surprised. Your home is marvelous. I don’t understand how you could spend a moment indoors when there’s a body of beauty out here.”

“Wait till it rains.”

“Thanks to your father, I won’t have to,” Jojen replies. The skies are lovely for English weather. Rickon, poor thing, is bristling with unresolved energy. He must be so lonely, cooped up in that house with no one to play with. “What’s your name?”

“Rickon.”

“Well, Rickon, I’m Jojen.” He gets up and holds out his hand. “It is nice to meet you.”

Rickon takes it, but he’s a cautious bugger who immediately goes to his dog’s side. Smart boy; Jojen appreciates a bit of cleverness. “Do you have anyone with you right now?”

“Why?”

“Because I… I don’t suppose you would like to… I’ve been quite bored,” Jojen admits, adding a smidgen of embarrassment into his confession. It would be incredibly suspicious if an older boy was actually eager to spend time with someone so young. “Do you mind if I play with you?”

Rickon brightens up. Since Bran is gone, Jon is working, and Robb is doing a task on behalf of their mother, no one’s been up to spend time with him. Mother never likes to get dirty, and Sansa is on a date.

He eagerly takes Jojen up on his offer. He instructs Jojen on how to play catch with Shaggydog, especially since his wolf tends to be very aggressive. Nothing new or appears dangerous. Jojen needs to be careful, but Shaggy already likes him so there should be no problems.

They chat a bit about how their summers are going so far. Jojen’s story is considerably duller, but Rickon does not mind. Shaggydog is eagerly catching every Frisbee and ball, and performing some of the most intricate gymnastics while doing so. Rickon reveals that he’s trained his dog on how to terrify his classmates so he can assert his dominance over them.

“You will go places,” Jojen declares. He’s not lying.

 “Thanks.” Rickon gives Jojen an odd stare. “You know, mum told me not to talk to any of the guests. She said they wouldn’t want me bothering them. Am I bothering you?”

“No, not at all.” Jojen shakes his head. “Remember, I wanted you to be here. You’re doing me a favor by making sure I don’t die of boredom.”

Rickon grins at the response. “Good, because I think I like you.”

“I think I like you as well.”

Someone calls for Rickon, and on reflex, he grabs Jojen’s arm and drags him further down the fields. If Jojen is upset or surprised by the manhandling, he takes it with stride. “Over here!” Rickon says hastily. They move further into an area of the woods, where they are less likely to be seen. When they are finished running, Jojen asks about his behavior.

Rickon clarifies the situation.

“Sorry, that was my caretaker, Osha. I…” Rickon looks down at his feet. “I got into trouble recently, so if she sees me talking to you, I’ll be in big trouble.”

I will be in big trouble, too, Jojen agrees. He’s not as worried as a man with his record should be. “We’ll have to keep this our secret, then.”

Rickon agrees eagerly. He’s good at keeping secrets—better than Sansa is, at least. Shame about that particular friendship, Jojen sighs.

Shaggydog, tired from all the running and catching, decides to rest underneath the shade. Jojen asks what his crime was. He already knows what happened after talking to Bran the other night, and when the rage subsided over Bran’s accident, he soaked in the sound of Bran’s laughter. If Bran isn’t angry, then neither is Jojen.

Rickon has the decency to look ashamed when he confesses he pushed his older brother down the mall, and his wheelchair rolled out of control. “I didn’t think he would go that fast.”

Jojen laughs, not finding the situation funny in the slightest but he needs to soothe Rickon’s worries. “We all do crazy things for love.”

Rickon is quick to agree to the sentiment. He spends another ten minutes going on and on about Shireen Baratheon and her beautiful scar, how smart she was, how she’s learning how to do a bruges lace crochet and a broomstick lace crochet, and she’s having a hard time with the former, and he wants to help but he’s terrible with his fingers unless he’s punching something.

Jojen shares his own secrets; carefully omitting names and past events. He tells Rickon he feels the same way about someone; he talks about how he wants to treasure him and take him away from here. He wants to travel with him and see the world by his side. Rickon agrees wholeheartedly.

“You should. I think he’d like that.”

“Thank you, Rickon.”

At last, Rickon decides it’s time to get back. “Osha will kill me if I stay out any longer.”

Jojen agrees. “I hate to see you die.” Then he pauses. He hated if their meeting became a missed opportunity. Before Rickon leaves, Jojen makes an unassuming and generous offer to always be there for him. He does not mind lending an open ear, or a helping hand when playing with Shaggydog. Rickon approves, happy to have an extra friend to spend his time with—especially one living so close.

Jojen is whistling when he returns home. Meera is immediately suspicious, but Jojen pacifies her by saying he was enjoying the finer areas of the Stark Estate. He gives details of his discoveries, of the baby violets growing beside the dirt pathways and dry rocks that feel like charcoal upon touch. The description convinces Meera to pardon the potential wrongdoings. He wants to feel bad; Meera has always defended him, but he’s absolutely giddy with his progress.

There’s no possibility of reconciliation with Sansa. He needs someone on his side, someone to get him into that house undetected and welcomed. He chose Sansa before because she was accessible, and his friendship with her would not have raised any red flags. Now, he has a better way in. Rickon and Bran are the closest of their other siblings. Yes, Rickon is a fine option.  

Chapter Text

Three days after the Reeds move in, the Baratheons follow. On the morning of their arrival, Arya finishes her training and tells her family that she needs a ride to the mall.

“For what?” Her mother asks. Her tone is equivalent to a warden in a prison complex. She’s been on edge since the Reeds came and her fight with Jon has left her in a tense, self-loathing state of mind and a need to dominate everything she comes in contact with, regardless if it's as uncontrollable as a hurricane or as agreeable as a flower bud in spring. Arya is certainty someone she has no luck reigning in. The last time she seriously tried to inflict a punishment, her youngest daughter responded by running away from home. For a year.

Today, she is itching to enact some discipline. Though she loves her daughter, she refuses to be one of those mothers whose fear of abandonment keep them from administrating a proper grounding, a necessary spanking, or both. Arya is her daughter, and it is her job to raise her. She can play a bluff with the best of them, and Arya knows this. That’s why Arya looks her straight in the eye and says she’s going shopping for shoes.

 “We just bought you a new pair of flats two weeks ago,” Catelyn points out. She’s suspicious.

 “I need them for the wedding.”

Everyone quiets. All her siblings just stare at her in shock. Her father, who is at the table, puts down his newspaper. He hates lying, and will not stand for such an obvious one in his own home. “Arya, why do you really need to go to the mall?”

Arya rolls her eyes. "I need shoes." Bran whispers to his brother something that sounds like an accusation. Arya could smack him, but instead shrugs off their skepticism. “What? I buy shoes.”

 “You buy ballet flats,” Ned says pointedly. “And then you beat them, burn them, carve them up with a razor.”

“First, that’s called breaking them in.” She rolls her eyes. “Second, I need shoes. You know I need shoes. I haven’t needed formal footwear since I was twelve and I outgrew the ones I have.”

 “And I suppose the fact that the Baratheons are moving in today has nothing to do with it.”

“The Baratheons moving in today has everything to do with it,” Arya retorts. “I was going to wait until the day of the wedding and miss the entire ceremony and then come only for the reception. My master plan is now ruin.”

No one knows if Arya is serious or not. Arya hates public events. She hates going shopping. She hates Joffrey more than she hates shopping and public events, and that is a feat.

Still caught in their disbelief, no one makes a move. Finally, Sansa stands up. She has just finished her breakfast, and offers to drive Arya to the mall. She also invites herself on her sister’s shopping trip. “I could use a pair of shoes myself. I’m still trying to come up with the design for my dress and maybe a new pair will inspire me.”

Their parents agree without hesitation, and ignore the potential consequence of their actions. Their daughter has expensive tastes.

She tells Arya to get ready, and she’ll meet her at the car. Arya groans about being treated like a child, but complies nonetheless. This is not a fight she wants to waste her get out of jail card on. When they reach the car, however, she is free to complain to her older sister about the injustice inflicted upon her. 

“I don’t need you to keep an eye on me,” Arya informs her older sister. The chagrin is melting on top of her tongue. 

 “But our parents do,” Sansa retorts.

 They head to the mall, in which Sansa plays her own playlist and forces her to listen to repeats of the Billboard Top 100. Arya enjoys a good pop song every now and then, but refuses to admit it. She asks Sansa if she ever listens to anything tasteful, like Yiruma or Turnage. Sansa quips that she has seen Arya’s playlist and its more Nicki Minaj than Beethoven. Arya flips her off, and says she’s versatile.

 “That’s what she said.”

 Arya stares at her sister in shock. “Did you just—?”

Sansa is focused on the road and doing a horrible job at disguising her grin. Arya bursts out laughing, and Sansa follows suit. Arya tells her to hurry up and get to the mall. If there is one thing the two of them are grateful for, it is that the year apart made them closer than ever. People always appreciate their loved ones more when they realized they might not always have them around.  They agree to be educated young women and switch to the news channel where they hear reports on the serial killer and how human bones were found in the excrement of dogs. Arya switches it to an old school station filled with nineties R&B. 

They get to the mall, and Sansa asks where she wants to go. Arya shrugs and suggests the department store, saying any pair will do as long as it matches her dress and her soles touch the floor. Sansa stares longingly at the window displays of the designer tycoons, and keeps recommending a look each time they pass a new one.

 Arya sighs. “Sansa, money is like insurance. Just because we have it doesn’t mean we should put it to use.”

 Sansa pouts, but can’t deny the logic. She tells a pair of Jimmy Choo’s goodbye and waves farewell like she would a lover going to war. After blowing a kiss to a sparkling pair of stilettos, Arya submits. She tells her sister “one store” and then they are going home. Sansa almost squeals in the delight, and Arya will not lie; her sister’s smile is beautiful.

 The saleswoman greets them politely, a little hesitation reserved for youths but respectful nonetheless. She asks if they are looking for anything and Sansa is quick to say they are looking for shoes for a wedding. Sansa is not so tacky as to point out whose wedding they need it for, but she is smart enough to remark that it needs to be from a new season so that “it does not look out of place in July.” Then, she hints that Arya just bought a dress and describes the detail with such extravagance, even Arya believes she bought such a thing. The woman fills in the blanks for herself, and immediately offers them a look into their newest collection.

 Sansa mentions being thirsty and they offer her and Arya water bottles and cookies from a nearby bakery. “Would you like plain or sparkling?”

 “Plain,” Sansa answers. Her eyes focused on a pair of sparkling blue heels. 

 “Same,” Arya copies, far less interested.

 They look around, and Arya asks if they have anything flat.

 The salesperson does, but suggests heels anyway. “Heels will look wonderful on someone with your posture.”

Arya does not doubt it. “Heels thicken and shorten the Achilles’s tendon and potentially pulls muscles and joints out of alignment with the pelvic and the spine,” Arya informs. “I don’t wear heels unless I have to.”

Sansa rolls her eyes, and to the salesperson’s relief, says that Arya’s “pointe shoes probably cause more damage than two inches ever will.” The woman asks if she's a dancer, and Arya says yes. She leaves to find her a pair.

While they wait, Sansa grabs the shoes she’s been eying and also a gorgeous crystal mix pump. Even Arya appreciates them. Instead of complimenting Sansa’s choice, she asks her “Isn’t that a bit out of your price range?”

Sansa smiles. “I’m already saving father a fortune by not buying the dress. I’m sure he won’t mind if I go a bit overboard on the shoes.”

Arya sighs. “Aren’t you supposed to be adjusting to a life of banality?”

Sansa scoffs. “Trust me, Sandor isn’t banal.” She tries on the dark blue ones first, hoping she might love them enough to forgo the beauty of the others. There’s still a dozen she has to try on and it’ll save her and parents’ strife if she only buys the one. “Besides, it’s not like being with him means I have to give up the finer things in life.”

“You know, if you hadn’t mentioned Sandor’s name, this story could have passed the Bechdel test.”

“What?”

“Just saying, it wouldn’t kill two intelligent young women to talk about something other than men.”

It is Sansa’s turn to roll her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Arya, for my internal sexism. Please, tell me, what are your thoughts on Britain leaving the European Union?”

“Well, I’m not going to lie, I’m a bit concerned about how the Stark Industries’ stock is dropping but since our company has ties to the US, I think we’ll be alright. It’s only the European markets that are truly worrisome, and let’s be honest, it was time for us to leave that sinking ship anyways, and Germany was being a bit of a bitch. Of course there’s Scotland threatening to leave again—”

“Which isn’t going to happen because Scotland is always threatening to leave.”

 “Hey if I could do it…”

 Sansa laughs in spite of herself. “Okay, okay, I get it. I'm putting the women’s movement back a few years.”

“Well, if you can live with yourself than I guess I have to…” Arya mock sighs. “So what’s going on with you? Is Sandor treating you all right?”

“He treats me like a princess.”

“Even if he can’t afford a pair of thousand dollar heels?” Arya teases.

Sansa hums. She lifts her foot up and admires them thoughtfully. “Even if he can’t, I can—one day at least. It’s not like I plan on relying on mum and dad’s money for the rest of my life.”

 “But you’re okay risking,” she motions to the store. “all of this?”

 Sansa repeats her sentiment. Her conviction is as strong as it was before, when Arya first caught the two of them together. “If I wanted to shrivel into an old, loveless crone with a room of nice things, I would have stayed with Joffrey.” 

Arya approves of the sentiment. She was apprehensive of their love at first, mostly because she knows Sandor, has heard of his reputation and understands the man is dangerous. She never wants to see her sister get hurt, but at least Sandor can protect her blood. She looks at Sansa again, and sees her maturing into the woman she's always wanted to be. 

 They’ve all gotten so old.

 “Speaking of Joffrey…”

 “Arya…” Sansa warns. “I thought you didn’t want to talk about men.”

 “Joffrey’s far from a man. He’s a deranged little bitch, the kind with three legs instead of four and is too small to do anything but bark and pee.”

 Sansa giggles. It’s taken a while before she could laugh about Joffrey. “Okay, ask away.” The salesperson comes out to deliver the new pairs of shoes. Sansa takes a moment to coo at them. For flats, they are lovely. “Try them on! Try them on!” She cheers.  

Arya complies with Sansa’s request, puts on the sheer ones with polka dots. While admiring how they look on her feet, she asks Sansa why she never told their parents about what happened.

 “You know why,” Sansa says. She does not look angry, but tired that she has to repeat the answer.

 “I want to hear it again. To see you if you still believe it.”

 “How many times will it take for you to be convinced?”

 “The same amount of times you needed to repeat it yourself.”

 Sansa sighs. “Father always says you’re too smart for your own good.”

 “He’s not the only one.”

 Sansa shakes her head. She asks the woman for another pair she’s seen in the catalogue. She leaves them alone and begins. “Remember when I first met Joffrey? I thought he was the most handsome boy in the world; he looked just like a prince, like the one sin the fairytales mum used to tell us when we were children.”

 “I hated those fairytales.”

 “But I loved them,” Sansa confesses. “I loved them so much I wanted my own prince. I wanted to be a princess and live in a castle and have the prettiest dresses and the loveliest necklaces and rings and I wanted all the cutest puppies and have tea parties and eat lemon cakes and I thought Joffrey would give me that.” Sansa smiles to herself. It’s sad and regretful and all the things she felt about the past. “When he first hit me, I forgave him. He told me he would never do it again. He gave me a pretty necklace and said he loved me. The next time he hit me, he bought me a dozen pink roses and my favorite chocolates and said he was sorry—again. And he kept doing this, and I kept forgiving him because I truly believed he loved me.”

 “Sansa—”

 “When I decided to leave him the first time, he called me a whore. He asked me what he needed to buy to get me to stay. Because that’s all I wanted, right? Things. I was some whore he could buy and beat.” 

 “Sansa, you know you’re not—”

 “I know,” Sansa snaps. She looks away, a bit ashamed of herself. “I know now. But back then, he was so convincing. He made me believe it was my fault I got hit, that I was using him and I deserved it. And why wouldn’t believe him? He was first boyfriend! That’s life for a fourteen-year-old girl.” Sansa shakes her head. “I was so ashamed of myself. He kept telling me he would tell our parents what I did, what I was doing. He said they raised a whore. That they would be so ashamed of me.”

“They wouldn’t believe that.”

 “I know, but all that mattered was that I believed him.” Sansa has a far off look. “But one day, Joffrey went too far. He never touched my face, said he liked me pretty, but he…I was hurt, Arya. I could have died. And Sandor, he was working for them at the time, was furious.”

 Arya stays silent.

 “He promised me he would take care of it.”

 “And he did.”

 Sansa looks down. She has a soft, distant smile on his face. “He did.”

 Joffrey Baratheon got into a car crash a few years ago that led to his rehabilitation. Earlier that night, he was caught at a bar screaming about how he was the king and attempted to execute everybody with an ancestral crossbow his grandfather kept. He ran out of arrows and ran to escape form imaginary ghosts. Reports said he was already beaten and mangled when he came, but other claimed it was from the crash. His tox screen was through the roof.

 Arya remembers it vividly. She then asks why mom and dad needed to be kept in the dark. They know what kind of person he was; they would never blame her.

“But they would blame themselves.” Sansa explains. “They introduced us. Joffrey was a good actor, then. Everyone thought we were the perfect couple, and mum and dad were so happy that we were together. Another Stark marries their first love. Uncle Robert and father would joke about how they would finally be a family. And I…when the crash occurred and Joffrey’s problems were uncovered, they would ask, every single night, what happened between us, why we broke up so suddenly, what did he do to me? Mother was already killing herself over Bran and you…” Sansa looks guilty. Arya knows why. That was the year before she left. She was already out of the door by then.  “I couldn’t do that to them. I can’t do that now.”

 Arya is not satisfied with that answer. She knows she’ll never be satisfied. “It’s not right. He deserves justice for what he did to you.”

 “We all have our secrets.” Sansa gives her a pointed look. “I know you have secrets. Good ones. Ones you’ll take to the grave.”

 Arya stares at her. She's not denying it, but hell if she confesses anything. “What makes you think that?”

 Sansa stares at her in disbelief. “What happened to you? You completely disappeared without so much as a note, and then after a year, you come back. Mum was so happy for her prodigal daughter; she was too afraid to ask. So tell me, what happened?”

 “Mother and father tried to control my life and stop me from dancing. I left.”

 “What happened when you left?”

 Arya refuses to say anything. “That’s private.”

 “Why should I tell my secrets and you don’t have to tell yours?”

"Because it's different.”

 “How?”

 “My secrets protect myself. Your secrets protect other people—people who shouldn’t be protected.”

 The saleslady comes back with a new pair. She asks if the young women needed more alone time to talk. She does not sound aggravated, and appears sympathetic. She puts a comforting hand on Sansa’s shoulder, which makes Arya raise an eyebrow. The woman could afford to look less like guilty for eavesdropping.

 Sansa, in all her grace, thanks her but wants to know more about the bespoken Cinderella slippers. The woman cheerfully explains that they are custom made and designed to fit the user perfectly. Arya looks down at the shoes she’s been trying on forever, and decides to give it one last test run.

To the surprise of the saleswoman and Sansa, Arya does a pirouette perfectly much to the squeals of Sansa, who shouts that the shoes are “600 pounds, you monkey!” Arya laughs as removes them from her feet and says she’ll take them. The woman shakily says she’ll ring them up.

When they get to the cash register, there’s a man paying for his purchase as well. He’s a man of short stature, blond hair and high regality, and Arya and Sansa recognize him immediately. Arya wonders if this shall be summer of reckoning. It seems everyone’s past will come to haunt them.

 “Mr. Lannister,” Sansa greets politely. Whether she does so out of courtesy or guilt for a man who is often overlooked or both, no one can be sure. Regardless, Sansa has always been fond of the youngest Lannister, especially when he’d offered his protection from Joffrey, time and time again. "What are you doing here?" 

“Business, though today it's rather personal. I'm buying a gift for my girlfriend. The wedding of the century is coming up and we must be prepared.” Tyrion replies, as easygoing as always. “I assume you’re doing the same.”

 “Of course,” she agrees. “Do you need any help?”

 Tyrion shakes his head. “No, my love was extremely specific in what she wanted. I think she’ll throw a fit if I dare deviate. I see you only bought one pair.”

 “Yes, it’s for my sister.”

 Tyrion places his brown eyes on Arya, and there’s a flash of recognition.

 “Arya.”

 “Tyrion.”

 Sansa looks at them back and forth. “Do you two know each other well?”

 Arya smirks. “I know all the Lannisters.”

 “Some better than others. All better than me.”

 “We could change that if you want,” Arya offers suggestively. 

 Tyrion chuckles, amused by the suggestion while Sansa looks horrified. “No, thank you. Not a day goes by where I don’t worry about my head when he’s alive—I don’t need to be concern about my cock, too.”

 Sansa has had enough. She says they have to get going, and is pulling out her credit card when Tyrion stops her. “Let me pay for this, I insist.” 

 “Oh, I couldn’t—” Sansa refuses, already shoving her card in the direction of the register. Tyrion’s black shines brighter than her gold. Arya does not lift a finger in protest.

 “If he wants to pay for it, let him. We’re under no obligation to give him anything in return.”

 “Arya, that’s—!”

 “She’s right,” Tyrion agrees. Sansa looks troubled. Tyrion pats her arm sympathetically. “Sansa, let me tell you something and I want you to keep this to heart for as long as you live. A man pays for dinner—you owe him nothing. A man buys you shoes—you owe him nothing. Unless you specifically say you will give him sex for money, you owe him nothing—and even then, you can retract that offer like a dentist does a tooth. Bad for business if that’s your chosen profession, but still, your choice.”

He slides the card towards them and tells them to charge it. The woman does so, and happily hands the shoes to the ladies. She stares at Tyrion with newfound admiration. Arya takes the bag.  

Sansa is not convinced. “Nothing in life is free.”

 “Smart girl.” Tyrion smiles. “Then, think of this as goodwill between the two of us. Besides, I think this one,” he points to Arya, “has earned these shoes and a million times over.”

 Arya agrees, much to Sansa’s chagrin. “Send your father my love.”

 “I will.”

 “You can exaggerate the story if you like.”

 “My cock, Arya. I like it very much.”

 “I could too if you tell the story right.”

 “Arya! Stop!” Sansa hisses. Arya tells her sister she isn’t serious. Tyrion is amused by the commentary. He wishes them a good day, and perhaps, he suggests, they keep in contact for any interesting news. “So much is going on this summer.”

Arya winks at him and promises to give him an update if anything interesting happens.  

When they get back into the car, Sansa is still screeching about what Arya said. Arya is in a good mood, though, and tells Sansa to rest her vocal cords. Her ears deserve some peace before they get home. When Sansa asks what she means, Arya tells her that Tyrion is here for drama.

“Prepare for your ear drums because there’s a good deal of screaming when we get home.”

***

After Robert and his children are settled in a separate wing, Ned takes Robert to the patio to have a bottle of lager. They talk about old times at university, and their rebellious teenager years at Westchester—(“your rebellious teenager years, Robert,” Ned corrects), and lastly, marriage. Catelyn is preparing dinner while the two wait. Robert thanks her for her hospitality.

“I don’t know how you do it. Catelyn's a great woman, but staying with the same woman your entire life? Waking up to the same face every morning? I’d kill myself if I ever did that again.”

Ned chuckles and looks down. “I’d kill myself if I couldn’t see Cat’s face every day. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She’s given me all I’ve ever wanted.”

“And you’ve never been tempted, just a little, to stray? Look at another bird crossing your path…”

 Ned shrugs. “I don’t like looking for trouble in a bad place when I have a good thing at home. You don’t get many chances at love in this world.”

 Robert shakes his head in disbelief. “You know, Ned, you never ceased to amaze me.”

 “I try.”

 Robert takes a swig of his beer. “There’s only one woman I've ever dreamed of spending my life with…”

“Robert, no.”

“Your sister was the love of my life.”

 “No, she wasn’t.”

 “She belonged with me. If your sister had stayed, we would have been bound by blood. Brothers, once and for all.”

 Ned shakes his head. “Robert, Lyanna couldn’t be tied down, not by our father, not by you, and not by any man.”

 “When she left me at the altar, it was like a stake in my heart. I never knew why she left.”

 She didn’t love you, goes unsaid. She hated the thought of living a lie, was also muted. The statement raises another, more prevalent concern that needs to be addressed.  “Robert, I need to tell you something. While you’re staying here, you’ll also be living with…”

 “She would have never disobeyed me like Cersei did. She would have made me happy, happier than that bitch ever did.”

Ned always gets uncomfortable when this topic came up. He loved Robert; the man was a brother to him. But he would be lying if he said that he approved of Robert’s actions or thoughts. The man had a mean bone in his body that was aggravated by all the alcohol he inhaled. It was his crutch when times were hard, and his ex-wife often suffered for it. Despite his feelings for her, he knew that after Myrcella’s accident, he could not let his friend raise his children. He never told Robert that he was the one who sent the case to Stannis, knowing that the only man alive willing to fight the Baratheon name on a legal case was another Baratheon.

 Catelyn interrupts them with a tired, pale face.

 “What’s the matter?” Ned asks.

 Catelyn grimaces. “There’s someone here for Robert.”

Robert raises an eyebrow and maneuvers himself to the dining room. Cersei sat on the living room couch, drinking a glass of wine and looking as pleasant as she always did in their far too long marriage. “Hello Robert.”

 “Hello Cersei.” Robert glares at her suspiciously. “What are you doing here?”

 “I’m staying here. You didn’t think I would leave you alone with my children, did you? Will this be a problem?”

 Ned watches them. That was civil enough.

 “That depends, have you stopped wanting to fuck your brother?”

 Ah, there it goes.

 The yelling began. Sansa and Arya came home, mid-way through the fighting and neither of them wanted to deal with the drama. Arya manages to toss a glare towards Cersei before going upstairs.

 Catelyn will have none of it. She breaks up the argument before it cumulates in violence. “As long as the two of you are staying in our home, you will behave as guests should. That means, you do not fight in front of my children. You do not swear in front of my children. You do nothing that could set a bad example to my children. You will not be staying here unless you can say something nice about each other. Right now.”

 They are silent.

 “Now,” Catelyn threatens.

Robert looks at his best friend's wife. He looks at his own ex-wife and sighs. “Even with all the evil weighing down your body, your breasts look pretty good.”

Ned coughs. "Robert--"

"You heart must be as strong as a horse. It’s the only way you can drink the way you do and not be dead.”  

"I know with all your crazy, you find it hard not to behave irrationally. I'm impress you haven't killed someone."

Cersei purses her lips. "You must have been a genius in your youth, because even with all the brain cells you lost, you can still formulate words." 

"Your money makes up for most of your bullshit." 

"I'll bet you'll do well in the cold with all the fat you've stored--"

"That's enough!" Catelyn intervenes. The two say nothing else. Catelyn will consider it peace. 

The door opens on them and Jon announces he’s home. He comes into the living room from his first day on the job at Stannis and Davos. He was supposed to be starting tomorrow but was called in to help prepare one last family dinner. He is worn and weary from the experience. He had forgotten what it was like to have to divide his attention between four children.

He sees two unexplainable guests and cautiously walk towards them. He hates greetings; he got that from his mother. With an awkward shuffle and great reluctance, he goes up to the two and reaches in for a handshake. “Hi, I’m Jon, Uncle Ned’s nephew.”

Cersei stares distastefully. Robert actually bursts out into laughter. “Ned, you never told me you had nephew! I should have known Brandon managed to knock someone up!”

Jon frowns. “I’m not Uncle Brandon’s son.”

Robert’s eyes widened. “You’re shitting me. That little sociopath managed to copulate with a woman? He got over his fetish for old cocks, did he?”

“Uh…are you talking about Uncle Benjen?”

“Of course…” Robert stills. “Wait, if Brandon is your uncle and Benjen is your uncle…” He turns to Ned and narrow his eyes. He goes up to his best friend, the man he considers a brother, and in a heated whisper made louder by lowered inhibitions, “Ned, why didn’t you tell me you cheated on Cat?”

Cersei groans. “For the love of God!” She puts down her wineglass. “He’s not the honorable Ned Stark’s bastard son. Are you an idiot?”

“Don’t talk down to me, woman!”

Ned sighs. “Robert, this is Jon Snow. He’s Lyanna’s son.”

Silence. After a moment’s hesitation, Cersei starts laughing. Hard, uncontrollable laughter. This is the happiest she’s been in her entire marriage. She takes one last swig of her wine and walks away to her designated room. She turns to Ned. “You can handle this.”

Ned remains solemn. Robert looks horrified.

“Ned, how long have you known about him?”

Ned sighs. “His entire life.”

Suddenly, Robert appears furious. “How could you keep my son away from me all these years?”

“What?” 

“What?”

“He’s like what? Twenty? Twenty-one? I have to be his father! Me and Lyanna…Ned, me and Lyanna did it. We had sex, there’s no one else it could have been.”

Arthur Dayne, Rhaegar Targaryean, Oswell Whent…There are plenty of options. Jon lists them in his head immediately. He hasn’t even gone through all of them yet.

“Robert…”

“Sir, I don’t think you’re the only option.”

Robert pauses for a moment. Another horrifying conclusion hit him. “Was she raped? Who did it? I’ll kill them.”

“No!”

“Are you sure? I think she was raped. She must have been raped. Jon, me and Lyanna were in love?”

 Jon is taken back. His mother has maybe mentioned Robert Baratheon but if she didn’t talk about him with any sort of fondness, there must have been nothing there. Instead of dealing with him, he grabs his phone and does what he always does when dealing with his wayward mother. He waits for the dial tone. 

“Jon?”

“Hey, I have a Robert Baratheon here claiming to my father…can you take care of this?”

A woman demands something in French over the phone, and Lyanna replies harshly. “Hand the phone over to him.”

Jon obeys. “It’s my mother.”

Robert is so excited; he latches onto the device. Before he can say anything, Lyanna’s ice cold response shuts him down.

“Hey Robert. Sorry about leaving you at the altar twenty years ago but Jon’s not your son. He’s too pretty. Okay, bye.” 

Chapter Text

Since the Baratheons arrived, the Stark household has become a physical manifestation of Pac-Man. Everyone, from the Starks, the Reeds, the Lannisters, and the Baratheons, takes turns at being the ghosts. They want to evade, and they want to capture.

Arya and Sansa avoid Joffrey. Joffrey, while not looking for either of the girls (and simultaneously not not looking), is avoiding his father. His father is trying to seek out all his children (and Jon), because damn it, he wants to be a better man so “come back here you little shits,” but with the exception of Tommen, he does not succeed. Myrcella, sweet little thing who looks at Robb like he hung the moon, is trying to avoid her father and mother, because she has an audition to practice for, and will not trade precious rehearsal time for all the gold her mother can offer (though she’s willing to negotiate if the offer is Robb). She stares longingly at the eldest Stark boy when he’s not looking, and Robb does not notice or does not care. Cersei does, and considers blackmailing her daughter in order to take her shopping, but throws the idea in the back of her head. She’s too busy avoiding her ex-husband, like Robert avoids her. They run into each other against their will, because the Starks did not bother to accommodate their wishes to live in separate houses.

“Uninvited guests do not get to make demands,” Catelyn coldly informs. It was the happiest declaration she’s made all week, especially after the night with Jon and Robb.

Tommen avoids Rickon because the redhead terrifies him. Like his father, Rickon finds him anyways, and demands he come with him to follow Shireen. Tommen argues that stalking is wrong, and an invasion of privacy.

“Don't be stupid. If watching people is so bad, then why does everyone do it?”

“People don’t…”

“My father does it. He keeps cameras on all of us. It’s for our protection. Robb does it. He makes sure that bad men aren’t mean to his friends. I’m a Stark. We protect people. That’s what Starks do. Some people need to be watched over. Some people want to take other people away from the ones they love.”

“I don’t think…”

“Why are so adamant in keeping me from Shireen?” Rickon glares at the boy. “Are you trying to take her away from me? Huh? Are you?”

Tommen denies the accusation. “Shireen is my cousin!”

Rickon rolls his eyes. “Like that means anything, pervert.”

Tommen says Rickon is scary. Shireen won’t like him if he’s—Rickon hits him and says if he doesn’t shut up, he’ll hit him again. Sometimes, Tommen cries. Rickon tells him to suck it up and be a man. Tommen cries harder. No one knows why Rickon drags the youngest blond on his adventures except for Catelyn and Sansa. The answer is human sacrifice. Rickon simply wants a scapegoat in case he gets caught.
During his grounding and Bran’s volunteering, Rickon spends a great deal of time with Jojen. Jojen, who is nice and plays with him without treating him like a burden, asks a lot of questions about Bran. Rickon knows there’s something odd about that, especially when the questions become requests to retrieve goods from Bran’s room, like pants or pens with bite marks. Rickon is not stupid; that shit is weird. But just when he’s about to question Jojen’s behavior, the older boy talks about a secret pathway to the Baratheon house and the concerns disappear from the Stark’s mental vicinity. Rickon has more than the Tully coloring—he has extreme tunnel vision and it is a horrible attribute for a child as reckless as him.

In exchange, Rickon reveals day to day notes on Bran. He’s careful not to reveal anything too embarrassing about his brother. He reminds himself of how sickeningly nice Bran is, and Rickon doubts there’s a person in this world who wants to hurt him. Rickon does, however, question Jojen’s motives when the Reed starts asking about his mother’s whereabouts.

“I just need to know if she’s in the house or not. Specifically, when Bran is home.” Jojen smiles. “It’s nothing nefarious, I promise.”

Rickon does not know what ‘nefarious’ means but he doubts Jojen’s honesty.” “But why would you need to know when my mum—”

“You know, I found the strangest tree yesterday. I was looking for some time alone and imagine my disappointment when I turned my head and saw that it was right across from Shireen Baratheon’s bedroom window…"

Well played.

So occasionally, Rickon texts Jojen about his mother’s whereabouts. Eye for an eye, right? He comes to the conclusion that if Jojen is really dangerous, there’s no way his dad would allow him to live with them.
Jojen absorbs the information like a crack addict. Halfway through the week, he grows bold. He enters the Stark home when it is practically empty, and watches Bran from his doorway when he’s enraptured in a book or obsessed with his latest drawing. It is a little creepy, but Summer looks out for Bran twenty-four hours of a day, so what’s the difference with Jojen doing the same?

While watching him, Jojen notices that Bran is avoiding his eldest brother. The act is quite hard, especially with how Robb is trying to fill the void in his heart by pressuring his siblings to spend time with him.
Bran feels guilty for giving up Jon’s phone number to Willas. He knows that it is only a matter of time before Willas calls and Robb finds out. Then, he will throw a fit. Maybe he will cry. But in the end, as Robb is with all his enemies, he will be out for blood, and Bran does not want to be marked as a traitor. Bran does not know Willas that well, but he knows that guys like Willas get what they want. Always. Willas will make Jon his and it will be all Bran’s fault.

Robb, out of all his siblings, has his work cut out for him. He is avoiding his parents, for practical reasons. He is avoiding Jon, for obvious reasons. He is avoiding Theon, for no reason. While he knows it is unfair to ignore the older boy so fervently (it was Robb’s idea to make Jon jealous after all), Robb can’t fight the feeling that maybe, quite possibly, just a little bit, Theon went too far on purpose. Theon has never liked Jon. Robb wouldn’t be surprised if Theon stirred up the pot to get Jon upset. It’s an unlikely theory, but Robb cannot shake off his suspicions. His main concern is that Theon will do something stupid in their time apart. Theon always gets into trouble when Robb is not there to reign him in.

To further his cause, Robb begins facilitating bonding time with his siblings. He takes Sansa out shopping and he offers to teach Arya how to drive. Robb’s timing was impeccable. Arya, who is growing increasingly annoyed by Sansa and her incessant questioning on her relationship with the Lannisters, is desperate to get out of the house. Arya is so grateful, she does not call out Robb for spying on Jon in their basement.
While Jon is scared to face Robb, he does not avoid him. He’s played a coward too many times, and he is the one who broke up with Robb so he deserves to be tortured by the man’s handsome face and gloomy disposition. Robb makes it unbearably easy for him. On the other hand, Jon is a complete coward and a vengeful son of bitch, so he avoids his Aunt Cat and refuses to give her a chance to apologize. The guilt from his actions makes him avoid her further because shit—he is a horrible nephew and human being.

Speaking of assholes, Jon is avoiding Theon because he’s positive that he will punch that dick in the face.

Aunt Cat and Uncle Ned do not approve of violence in their home.

They would have to be in the same room together, however, for them to enact a punishment. That’s not happening because Aunt Cat, after her incident with Jon, is too ashamed to face her husband.
Ned is at a crossroad of emotions. He’s looking at a wall filled with red, yellow, green, and blue yarn, trying to keep track of the failed relationships he’s witnessed the last couple of days. He follows all of his children on his cameras and does not like what he’s seeing. He thinks everybody is avoiding him, because whenever he approaches someone to talk, they run away. Ned does not notice the people walking behind him, and assumes that it is he, who is separating his family. He does not know what he’s doing wrong, but he intends to change it.

The only person who is not avoiding him is Robert, except Robert is obsessed with getting Jon’s DNA. He’s desperate to prove that Jon is his biological son, and develops a diabolical plan to compel Lyanna into an expired shotgun wedding.

“Where is he, Ned?”

Ned reluctantly replies, “At work.”

Because Ned already refused to let him collect DNA directly from his room, Robert is forced to get Jon’s consent on the matter. “Where does he work?”

“At your brother’s.”

“What?”

“Robert, Jon works for Stannis. He—” Before Ned can finish his question, Robert is marching out the door. He asks to borrow Ned’s car, and takes his keys without waiting for a reply.
“—is his nanny. He works next door.” Ned sighs. At least that will get Robert out of his hair for a while and keep Jon safe.

That morning, Stannis offers his protection to Jon from Robert, his ex-lover, and his aunt, by telling him to get his “ass to their house as soon as possible. I saw that freak looking through our windows.” Jon complies. He tries to look for the youngest Stark beforehand, but fails to find any trace of him. Jon does not want to make any assumptions, but he’s dead sure Stannis is right. Rickon would not be avoiding him if he wasn’t guilty as sin.

Stannis may hate the Stark boy, but he’s grateful for the catalyst in his domestic sphere. Jon has developed a newfound dedication to his job, and an undeniable loyalty to his employer. He does not defend the little ingrate, but instead apologizes for his cousin’s actions and swears to punish him when he gets ahold of him. Furthermore, Stannis cannot remember such a rapid reaction time to a request. Jon has been sending him thirty minute reports since he got to their house, and texting efficient and grammatically correct updates on his children.

Davos is going through last month’s numbers when he stops midway his report to tease Stannis about his homesickness. Stannis glowers. “Don’t be silly. I know Jon can handle himself. There’s only three of them this time. Devan can take care of himself.” Somewhat.

Davos is unconvinced. “It’s okay to miss our children. We’ve been spending every day with them for the past week. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the distance.”

Stannis flushes at the wording. Our children. Not Stannis’s child. Not Davos’s children. Not Davos and Marya’s children. Their children. Five years, and he’s still red as an apple. Davos heads over to Stannis’s side and puts the reports on the table. He motions Stannis to stand so he can hold him, and places his hands on Stannis’s hips. He kisses him.

“We’re at work,” Stannis protests.

“You are the CEO of Baratheon Inc. You are the owner of the largest hedge fund company in England. No one can come in without your say so. Enjoy it, Stannis. You’ve earned it.”

The words do something magical to Stannis. He cranes his neck to give Davos better access. Davos complies with a trail of happy kisses. Stannis moans, loudly, and Davos asks Stannis what he wants.

“I want…” Stannis turns red. He’ll be happy with anything. But then there’s always that one thing they can’t do because it makes Stannis scream. “For you to…to do that thing.”

“What thing?”

“That…that thing you like to do. The dirty thing. With your tongue.” Stannis looks down. He gets frustrated with himself. “Don’t make me say it.”

Davos kisses Stannis again and says he would love to do ‘that thing’ for him. Stannis nervously turns around. He cannot see Davos getting on his knees, but he can hear Davos dropping to the floor. Davos pulls down the waistband of his husband’s pants. He caresses Stannis’s ass and expresses his admiration with kisses and squeezes. Stannis shivers in anticipation. He wants his husband to get on with it; he wants to feel his tongue inside him.

Davos pulls Stannis’s cheeks apart until they are wide enough that he can see the winking pucker. He leans closer and puts his thumbs inside Stannis and spreads his hole until it accommodates the intrusion. Without hesitation, Davos’s tongue enters his hole and begins licking the inside until he’s sloppy and wet like a cunt. He sucks and licks and probes deeper and deeper until Stannis is clawing on the table. He tries to push onto the tongue but Davos holds his hips in place. The next couple of minutes are torturous.

Davos pauses and takes a look at the swollen entrance, all cute and wanton, and desperately aching for some fulfillment. He slaps the ass, and takes a good look at Stannis’s cock and ball, all hard and leaking. “Do you want my cock or my hole when I’m done?”

“Later,” Stannis groans out. “I’ll decide when you’re finished.”

Davos grins and goes back to eating Stannis out. He could continue forever, but the thought of them both getting off inspires Davos to hasten his pace. Stannis is so close to coming untouched, that he never expects, after five years, to be reminded how much he hates his brother.

“STANNIS! I need to—what the hell is going on here?”

Within seconds, Stannis trips over himself trying to escape Robert’s perverted gaze. He crashes to the grounds, and struggles like a worm hit by a spade. His face is on the floor. His pants are wrapped around his knees. He spends a good couple of minutes trying to clean himself up while Davos stares at Robert with admirable coolness and nonchalance. He would help his husband up, but that would only add insult to his already wounded pride.

Robert marches forward. Stannis, finally dressed, reaches for Davos’s hand. He dusts himself off and turns to his older brother. Davos and Stannis stand, side by side, to face Robert. Robert grumbles something about having another “poof in the family” and takes a seat.

“Stannis, I need to talk to you about something.”

“I heard you the first time.”

Robert’s eyes narrow. He glances over at Davos and nods at him. “It’s a family issue. I suggest sending your secretary off somewhere.”

Stannis bristles. “Davos is family, and he’s not my secretary. He helps run the company.”

Robert scoffs. “If he’s a brother, I’ve never met him. Though apparently he sucks enough dick to qualify.”

“He is your brother in law and you met him five years ago—at our engagement party.” And after that, there was no way he was inviting Robert to their wedding.

“Fuck me! Aren’t you married to that crazy redhead?”

Stannis almost beats him over with a stapler. Davos holds Stannis back. He turns to the older Baratheon and introduces himself. “Davos Seaworth, it’s good to see you again. I am happy to say that Stannis has been my husband for a good five years and that lapse in judgement is severely over with.”

Robert shakes his hand hesitantly. “Guess since my brother can’t please a woman, he decided to become someone else’s, huh?” Robert laughs heartily at his own joke. Stannis twitches, and Davos is quick to change the subject.

“Perhaps, we can move onto why you are here.”

Robert agrees. Stannis has never had a decent sense of humor. “I’m here to talk about Jon.”

“No.”

Robert is taken back. “What?”

Stannis pauses. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m so used to shutting down your inane plans that I wasn’t listening. Who was it you wanted to talk about?”

“Jon Snow, your employee.”

“Oh, in that case: no. Have a pleasant day, Robert. Don’t come back.” Ever. Burn at the stake or get buried in a ditch somewhere.

“Listen Stannis, you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Jon Snow—”

“—is Lyanna Stark’s son. I know. He told me.”

Robert clenches his fist. “When the fuck was this?”

“A long time ago,” Stannis lies. “He’s my nanny. Of course I would do a thorough background check on the man who takes care of my children. Did you honestly think I would let some stranger inside my home?” That was exactly what he did. In his defense, Davos was quite convincing, and the children did love him. Besides, when has Davos’ gut ever been wrong?

“He’s your nanny? What the—so he’s not here?”

“Of course not. He’s at home with the kids. And you are not allowed anywhere near him,” Stannis declares firmly. “I’ve been through sixteen nannies. I can’t afford to lose him.”

“Did you know that he could be my son?”

Stannis scoffs. Jon Snow could be anybody’s son. Lyanna Stark was and is a very…popular woman. “I doubt that’s a fact or you wouldn’t be here.”

“But there’s a chance! I have to find out.”

“And what happens if you’re not the one? Will it finally get it through your head that Lyanna did not want you?”

“Lyanna and I were—”

“—in love. I know. You told me. You told everyone. But the thing is you weren’t in love.” Stannis pretends to be putting away some papers. “And even he is your son, Jon is twenty-one years old. He’s an adult. He doesn’t need a father figure, and his mother did fine without you. You want to use this to claim Lyanna and let me tell you something: that doesn’t work. Children don’t keep relationships alive. Your partner does. You do.”

Robert slams his fist on Stannis’s desk and gets up. Davos takes a protective stance and steps in front of Stannis. “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Robert roars. “You think because you found someone who can stand you long enough to walk down the aisle that you’re an expert? How long do you think this will last, with your personality? He’ll be bored to death of you and when the next best thing comes? That’ll be all you have. Money and a name.”

Stannis does not hold back. He can withstand the insults directed at him, but Davos is his husband. He starts throwing out every dirty secret, every love child, and derogatory name and broken skeleton at his older brother. He talks about Robert’s black outs, the bruises on Cersei’s body after she got too mouthy, how Stannis had to spend half his life cleaning up his mistakes. Robert tells Stannis that his wives never loved him, one was force to marry him by her father because she was pregnant, and then miscarried anyway, and the other only wanted him for his money to fund a cult. They trade insults like stock. Davos allows Stannis to handle it at the beginning, but when Robert attacks Shireen and claims that Stannis failed her by letting her get sick, Davos demands he leaves.

“What did you say to me?”

“That is our daughter you are talking about. I want you to leave.”

“Your daughter? Which one of you gave birth?” He mocks.

Davos stands up straighter. “I love that girl like my own. She is my child as much as she is Stannis’s.”

Robert, whether he is impressed by Davos’ declaration, or tired of fighting with his younger brother, leaves in a huff. He swears that he will get to the bottom of Jon’s paternity, whether Stannis likes it or not.

When he leaves, Stannis curses his luck. He is about to grab his cell phone to warn Jon but Davos already has his out. He begins texts at the speed of millennial.

“Aren’t you going to call him?” Stannis asks.

“He’ll pick this up faster.” Davos tells Jon about Robert’s plans, and orders him not to let him into the house no matter what. He also tells him to prepare Stannis’s favorite meal, because he’ll be in a bad mood for the rest of the night. When Davos sends the message, Stannis is completely sprung. He sinks his head into his hands and grumbles about his upcoming meeting.

“You still have thirty minutes,” Davos points out.

“I can’t relax in thirty minutes.”

Stannis is never truly relaxed. “I can give you a massage.”

“I don’t want a massage; I want…” The words die on Stannis’s lips. He groans miserably.

Davos and Stannis share the same thought. Stannis takes a deep breath and follows through on an idea. He licks his lips and awkwardly looks up to Davos with a mimicked expression of seduction. He’s stiff and anxious, and so nervously he could bang his head on the mahogany desk and still not beat the humiliation out of his head.

Davos is already hooked.

“Davos?”

“Yes?” Davos asks, a teasing note in his vote.

“I think I made my decision. About earlier.” Stannis whispers something in Davos’s ear. The older man’s eyes widen, and then he chuckles. He pulls Stannis towards him. They kiss.

“As you command, my lord.”

Jon is baking with Shireen when he receives the messages. He puts the phone away, and returns his attention to the Baratheon sweetheart decorating cakes with edible diamonds and pearls. Her brothers are in the living room watching TV. They turned down Jon’s offer in the kitchen.

“You don’t get lonely being the only girl?”

Shireen shrugs. “It’s better than London.” She begins quilting the pink delicacy with the precision of a surgeon. “When I was living with mother, she wouldn’t let me talk to anybody, or go anywhere. I was home schooled because it was ‘safer.’”

Jon frowns. He’d forgotten that Shireen didn’t live with her father until his second marriage.

“Melisandre was nice, but scary,” Shireen explains when he asked about it. “She tried to teach me about her faith, but her stories were boring and strange. So I didn’t listen.” Shireen shrugs. “She told father that I should continue being taught by her for a ‘proper’ education.”

“Your father let that happen?”

Shireen does not look at Jon. She is completely focused on the lines of the cake. “When I was younger, father took me to an event with other children and they made fun of me. Father didn’t know what to do.” She finishes her work and moves on to the jewelry. She carefully organizes them in separate piles. “Davos was at the hospital a lot. His wife was dying. Father tends to make bad decisions when he’s sad and Davos isn’t around.”

Shireen smiles to herself. “But now Davos is here. He’s my second daddy now, and father is happy and I have brothers and I have you and everything will be okay. I’ll go to school, and Bran already promised me at least three friends when I get there. They’ll be boys too, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Jon thinks about Ygritte and Val, and hopes that Shireen can find a few female friends of her own. He doesn’t think its necessary, but Jon doesn’t want Shireen thinking less of herself because she lacked female role models. Maybe he should consider signing her up for a class, or asking his uncle if he knew any families with girls Shireen’s age.

“In that case, do you want me to bring my cousins over more often?”

“Well, Bran was talking about his comic book he’s working on, and I’ve wanted to see it. Rickon is nice, but he needs to stop watching me outside my window.”

Jon freezes.

“Don’t worry, I’m not angry. He’s just a kid, and I’m sure his crush will pass. But when he gets older, it’ll be super creepy so you should establish some boundaries. Plus, father might get an ulcer. The doctors are worried about his stress levels.”

Jon clears his throat. “…I’ll talk to Rickon about that.”

Shireen returns to her counting. When she finishes, she frowns. “We’re don’t have enough jewels.”

Jon looks over to her piles. “Can you make do with what you have?”

“No,” Shireen refuses. “If you’re going to do something, you do it right. We have to go to the grocery store.”

Jon thinks about it. Davos did ask him to make something Stannis will like, and Devan is old enough to watch his younger siblings for an hour—he probably won’t kill them. Jon already prepared their snacks, and they’re pretty consumed with the new television series they are binge-watching.

Sighing, Jon agrees to Shireen’s request. He tells her to grab her coat. While she dashes upstairs, Jon heads to the living room to warn Devan. “Devan, I’m going to the grocery store to pick up something for Shireen. Don’t let anybody into the house unless they have a key and the security codes.”

“Then, I wouldn’t need to let them in.”

“Exactly, take care of your brothers.” Jon pauses, in case his message wasn’t clear. “Oh, and your Uncle Robert is here so don’t let him in.”

Devan’s eyes haven’t left the screen. “Because Stannis would give his security codes to the man who was caught banging his ex-wife at his engagement party to his second wife. Yeah, I got it the first time.” Commercial break goes on and he gets up. “Did you prepare snacks?”

“In the kitchen!” Jon yells at the doorway. Shireen comes rushing down and waves her brother goodbye for the trip. Devan ruffles her head as she passes. She tells Jon she’ll meet him at the car. As an afterthought,

Jon tells Devan: “Don’t let your siblings touch the cake!”

“Got it!”

“And take a break from the TV to do something productive!”

Devan rolls his eyes. “Jon, I have two dads. I don’t need a mom, too.”

Jon chuckles tells him goodbye. The second he closes the door; his phone gets a text message.

‘Take me wit u 2 the store’

Jon is about to text him back. He wants to know how Rickon found out where they were going, but then he receives another text.

‘Do this 4 me or I will do something stupid. Again.’

You shouldn’t be doing that anyways, Jon thinks. He texts back that he has to ask Shireen.

‘K. Do it. Now.’

Jon groans and sees Shireen eagerly waiting at the car. After unlocking it, he tells her that Rickon wants to come along but not if it makes her uncomfortable. Shireen giggles and says it’s fine but he needs to stop watching her through the windows.

Jon relays the message and is met with a hesitant ‘fine.’ He promises to stop looking into her bedroom window but makes no such vows towards her living room.

“It’s for her own safety, he defends. “People are crazy.”

They pass the Stark entrance way and Rickon is already waiting outside. He gets into the back, right behind Shireen who sits in the passenger seat. If Rickon is upset, he doesn’t show it and stares longingly at Shireen’s backside. He focuses on where her braids come together and opens up her face to show off her scars. Shireen, with too much maturity for a fourteen-year-old, has long stopped covering her flaws. If people want to look, let them.

They get to the grocery store and head to the bakery aisle. Rickon is quiet, too quiet, but Jon chalks it up to him wanting to avoid a greater punishment then the one he’s going to get when Jon informs Catelyn and Ned about his behavior. For now, the youngest Starks settles for watching Shireen from a polite distance.

While Shireen picks out her decorations, Jon thinks about what he’s going to make tonight. He turns around and runs into a familiar face.

“Oh, sorry I wasn’t—oh. Hi.”

“Uh…”

Seeing Dacey Mormont in a grocery store feels equivalent to finding a bear in a zoo. It is not an abnormal sight, and some might say it’s expected, but there’s something wrong about the image. She coughs when Jon keeps staring at her. “Hi, I’m Dacey. One of Robb’s friends…we met the other night. Sort of.”

Jon composes himself and holds out his hand. “Yeah, you called me. I’m Jon. I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself then.”

Dacey shakes it. “No, it’s…alright. Robb was a right prat and Theon was…Theon is an ass. I’m just going to say it. He’s an ass. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I heard…” Dacey hesitates. “I heard you guys aren’t together anymore.”

Jon shakes his head. “No, we’re officially over.” He tries to smile but fails.

“Are you still living with the Starks?”

Jon wonders how much she and the rest of Robb’s friends know about them. “Yeah, I mean, they’re family.”

Dacey seems surprised. Then she grins. “That’s good of you. I’ve dated Robb before and I know how he is. I’ve never seen him act that way, though.”

The news surprises Jon. “You did? What happened?”

Dacey shrugs. “We grew up? I was his first ‘girlfriend.’” She adds quotation marks for emphasis. “We were twelve. Back then, it was just holding hands.”

Jon remembers his youth as a combination of Stark family dinners and private jets across continents, playing doctor with a much younger Robb, having his first kiss stolen by his best friend after getting pissed, losing his virginity to Ygritte at seventeen, experimenting with Satin, and other trysts he placed in a mind folder labeled poor judgements and bad decisions.

“Yeah, I understand.”

Dacey’s response is interrupted by a petite girl with a fearsome expression on her face. She carries a cart full of roots, greens, and steak meats. “Dacey, enough small talk. Let’s go home and fail at home economics.”

Dacey closes her eyes and displays a pained expression. “Lyanna, we are not going to fail. I told you…”

The name caused Jon to raise an eyebrow. He forgot what a common name it was in this region. “You told me I needed to learn how to cook. I told you that I rather learn how to make money and hire someone to cook for me.”

“Lyanna…”

“Then you said ‘that’s not the way the world works.’ And I said ‘Dacey, you are twenty years old and your greatest achievement in the kitchen is not burning water.’ Now, we are here. Wasting money on food we cannot cook.”

Dacey looks like she’s fighting an internal battle. Instead of engaging in the walking entity of sass that is her little sister, she turns to Jon. “Jon, this is my little sister, Lyanna. Lyanna, this is Jon. Uh…he’s Robb’s cousin.”

The title causes Jon’s heart to ache. Instead of lingering on the feeling, Jon says hello. Lyanna nods at him. Shireen comes back with her choice of sugared gems and crystals, along with a bouquet of gumpaste violets and roses and cupcake wrappers. “I thought I could make cupcakes next week so father and Davos can bring them to work.”

Jon tries not to coo at her. “That’s a great idea. Let’s make a stop at the produce section. What do you think your dad would like to eat today?”

Shireen thinks about it for a second. “Well, if he has a bad day, we can make Lancashire Hotpot since we have time. And Italian meatballs. He likes them better than Swedish or Welsh meatballs but refuses to compliment Americans so we almost never have them.”

Jon tells her that it's a great idea. He’s about to say goodbye to Dacey and Lyanna, when Lyanna goes up to Shireen. “You’re new here.”

Shireen takes a step back. “I am.”

“Where are you from originally?”

“London.”

“Who are your parents?”

“Stannis and Selyse Baratheon. Well, my father remarried so I have another dad now. His name is Davos Seaworth—”

“That’s too many words. Who are your parents?”

Shireen is stunned. She answers, “Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth.”

“How do you know this one?” Lyanna motions to Rickon. Jon did not notice it before but Rickon is standing very, very far away. He looks at Lyanna like she’s the Queen of Hell and plans to bring forth all that is unholy.

“He is Jon’s cousin. Jon is my nanny,” she informs before the younger could question their relationship.

Lyanna frowns. She stares at Shireen like a bear waiting to strike a languid fish, the kind that has given up the stress of going upstream and is now content to be lingering near a log and waiting for its death.

“So you can cook?”

Dacey and Jon look at each other. Jon leans over and whispers, “Where is this going?”

“I don’t know, but the last time Lyanna talked to another girl, she ended recruiting someone for her plans to become the leader of the world.”

That’s all Jon needed to know. He tugs on Shireen’s sleeve. “Sweetheart, let’s go get those ingredients. I don’t think we should leave your brothers alone any longer than we have.”

Shireen nods, and is about to follow Jon’s lead when Lyanna grabs her and pulls her back. “I’m not done talking,” she exclaims. Her eyes peer straight into Shireen. She does not even glance at Shireen’s scar, a first for many. “Why did you learn how to cook?”

“…Because it’s useful?”

“Do you know where to hit a man to leave him paralyzed for life?”

“…No?”

“Can you recite the ingrediants used to make a hydrogen bomb?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s useful isn’t it?”

“I guess?”

“So it’s not about the utility.”

Shireen looks to Jon for help. Jon is as confused as she is. Finally, Shireen tells her she likes it.

Lyanna scoffs. “Who taught you how to cook?”

“My stepfather, Davos. And then Jon, my nanny. My brothers are bad at it.”

Lyanna looks displeased by the answer. “So you were trained by men to serve men. And because you’re a girl, you like it. Were you told women belong in the kitchen, too?”

This time, Shireen’s eyes narrow and she removes Lyanna’s hand. Roughly and ready for an argument. “Women do belong in the kitchen. Men belong in the kitchen. If you need food to survive, you should be in the kitchen. Cooking it.”

Lyanna’s frown decreases by a miniscule. Her mouth screams murder but her eyes are intrigued. “You don’t have many friends do you?”

“Why do you care?”

Lyanna stares her down. She looks at her oldest sister, and then at Jon. She considers her options, and before anyone can do anything, she goes into Dacey’s purse, ignores her protest, and grabs a pen and paper.

“I have a slumber party on the first full moon of the month. You will be there.”

“What?” Jon exclaims.

“No!” Rickon protests. He leaves his safe spot so that his complaints can be heard. Lyanna ignores him and turns to Shireen. She writes down her number and address.

“Here. Don’t be late. I can’t stand tardiness.”

“I will?” Shireen coughs. “I mean…I will?”

“I like you. You can cook, and you have a brain. I like having friends who know things I don’t. Those are the friends you really need.”

“Oh,” Shireen takes the information. “So…what do you during sleepovers?”

“We play games. We eat food we order. We roleplay what we would do if we were given more power in the world and deal with problems like food shortages and enemy attacks. Do you want to be a princess?”

“I can be a princess?”

“Someone has to be. It’s a lot of power and you have a lot of enemies. No one has been ready to take the mantle yet.”

Shireen, having completely forgotten their bitter interaction, accepts the invitation.

“I’ll expect a call from your guardian. Tell them to ask for Lyanna Mormont. Once that happens, we can exchange further details, such as transportation.” She looks at Jon. “I’m sure you will take care of that.” She turns back to Shireen. “If you are well received by my friends, you will be invited to more events. I like to go hunting. How old are you?”

“Fourteen.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Are you interested in dating?”

Shireen blushes and think of Bran. She shuts that train of thought down. “No.”

“Good, men are the last thing we need at our age.”

Before Lyanna leaves, she sends Rickon a look of courtesy. “Stark.”

Rickon retaliates with a glower of his own. “Mormont.”

All of them leave the grocery store in the next half hour. The Mormonts leave before the Starks, because Jon still needed to pick up the items for dinner. He drops Shireen off at her house first so that she can prepare the ingredients beforehand, and Jon tells her to make her brothers help. Afterwards, he takes Rickon home.

The second she leaves the car, Rickon is quick to voice his disapproval. The friendship, he claims, will ruin Shireen. “She’ll eat her alive. Lyanna Mormont has no mercy for the weak. She broke a kid’s arm when he called her sister mannish. She took me down with a single tackle. I couldn’t get up for a week.”

“You fought a girl?” Jon teases.

“When a bear comes at you, you don’t stop to check its part,” Rickon tells him seriously. “When Lyanna Mormont goes after you, you bet I’m throwing a few punches.”

“Why on earth did she attack you?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Rickon explains. “One of my underlings told me she was strong for a girl. I dragged him over to her class to apologize to her.”

“Why?”

“Because women aren’t strong for girls, Jon.” Rickon tells him, the petulance practically visible in the air. “If you are strong, you are strong. It doesn’t matter what you look like.”

Jon is taken back by the declaration. Wow, Jon thinks, Aunt Cat and Uncle Ned raised him well, didn’t they?

“And then I hit her.”

Jon almost slams the brakes. “You did what?”

Rickon sighs. “Jon, if you want to test someone’s strength, you get them to hit you. Men or women. So I told her to give me her best shot, and she told me to eat shit and get the hell away from her. Then, I hit her. I never saw that tackle coming…” Rickon remembers it like it was yesterday; his face is completely in awe.

Jon does not know what to say. So he laughs, he laughs and laughs until Rickon flushes a red as dark as his hair and tells him to shut up. Jon doesn’t, and only collects himself when he gets to the Stark home. He tells Rickon that he’s eating the Baratheons and won’t be home for dinner.

Rickon rolls his eyes. He already knew that.

When Rickon comes home, he yells to announce his presence. Shaggydog is already running to the entranceway, excited for his master. His mother greets him, and he relays Jon’s message as asked. His mother appears disheartened by the news but recovers enough to tell him to take a bath. Rickon grimaces. He heads upstairs and does as requested. By the time he is finished putting on his clothes, dinner won’t be ready for two hours. He settles for wasting his time watching the telly. Suddenly, the door slams open.

“You are such a hypocrite, Robb, it’s not even funny!” Arya screams.

“How am I a hypocrite?” Robb yells back. “I’m just saying that maybe you should start respecting yourself a little more—!”

“I respect myself just fine!”

“Really? I couldn’t tell!”

Arya shakes her head and laughs. “Oh, like you’re so much better? You call a girl your girlfriend and that means she’s special, that you’re not slutting it up with a new bird every month? What does a relationship even mean to you? How is Jon any different from all the other girls?”

“Don’t start that with me, Arya!”

“I don’t need other people to define me, or my happiness, Robb! You! You’re afraid of being alone! Everything about you is about being with someone else! Do you even have an identity, Robb?”

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Robb Stark, Ned and Catelyn Stark’s son. Robb Stark, the heir to Winterfell and Stark Industries. Robb Stark this, Robb Stark that. Your entire person is made of titles and responsibilities!”

“That’s because I care about other people!”

“I care about other people!”

“No, you don’t! You don’t worry about the consequences of your actions, everyone is just another stepping stone for you! You’re spoiled, Arya! You do whatever you want because you know you can always count on mother and father’s support!”

“And you don’t? At least I’ve tried living on my own, and you know what? I’ve succeeded. You have never strayed off your ‘path,’ Robb! You’ve never taken a risk unless it’s being backed up by a dozen of your friends!”

Before Robb can say anything else, she heads to her bedroom. Robb orders her not to turn her back on him and she ignores him. On her way up, she tells her mother she’s going out. Catelyn protests but they fall on deaf ears.

Catelyn gets down to the living room, and asks Robb what happened.

Robb groans. He wants to hit something.

“I took her driving.”

Chapter Text

Arya switches lanes like a pro, and can parallel park with her eyes closed. When they get off the motorway, Arya suggests getting something to eat for a job well done. Her driving is faster than Robb likes, but she’s efficient at turns and knows exactly what she is doing.

Robb’s eyes furrow. “You already know how to drive, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. Gendry taught me.”

Robb recognizes the name as the young mechanic Arya is always hanging around with—the one who fixed their father’s car when it broke down a few years back. Arya gave him her number within moments of meeting him, and though he swore to their father back then that “he doesn’t go for jailbait,” Robb wonders how long he lasted before his little sister dug her claws into him.

“When?”

“Last year, before I left home. It felt like a good skill to have.” And hot wiring a car, but that’s a completely different discussion, and she rather not have her brother advocating for her separation from Gendry. It is not his fault he’s whipped.

Robb frowns. He’d forgotten about that. “Where did you go?”

Arya takes a left turn. “Why does everyone want to know that all of a sudden?”

“It’s a reasonable question. You were gone for a year, Arya.” Robb stresses the ‘year’ aspect.

“And so were you.”

“I was at university. Mum and dad knew where I was. We had no clue you were alive except for the occasional phone call and that email you sent from Aunt Lyanna’s townhouse—which you broke into.”

“First of all, that wasn’t her townhouse. That was her former beau’s beach house. Secondly, why does it matter so much where I went? I left. I came back. None of us can change the fact that it happened, and I don’t plan on running away again. Once was enough.”

“Once was too much.”

“Once was necessary for me to find myself.”

Robb doesn’t agree. “Your relationships with other people define you. Your values, your likes and dislikes, how old you were when you first learned to speak, who you fall in love with…Arya, we’re your family. We should be a part of you.”  

“Sometimes you need to remove the things that make up who you are so that you can see if that’s actually you.” Arya signals for a right turn. “Robb, nothing bad happened to when I was gone. I went to New York, spent some time in Asia. I danced, I found a way to make ends meet, but I’m fine. I’m not ashamed of what I did.”

“Then why won’t you tell us what happened?”

“Because I don’t like dredging up the past in a way that only makes people upset. My life is my life. I own it. I live it. I should be the one to endure it, not you, not mum, not dad.”

Robb wants to protest, but he knows that Arya will not budge on this matter. Instead, he gives a name of nice café that serves French Paninis and ice tea that’s far too sweet, and offers to treat his younger sister. She agrees, and after some time, puts on the radio, where the news of a mangled finger was found underneath a trash can, not too far from where the bone filled shit was discovered. Robb switches the channel.

“It’s depressing,” he justifies.

Arya turns it back on. “It’s the most exciting thing to happen all year.”

Robb fights her and switches to some music. “Dead women are not ‘exciting’ stories, Arya, they are tragedies. People are dying.”

“That’s what people do.”

Robb stares.

Arya scoffs. “It’s a quote.”

Robb continues to judge her.

“It’s from Sherlock.”

“The books series? I don’t remember—”

“From the BBC series. For goodness sakes, watching the telly once in a while will not kill you Robb, no matter what father says.”

“Father wouldn’t lie to us,” Robb defends. Arya pouts, but eventually comes to the realization that Robb might be serious and actually believed their father when he said that television was dangerous and caused brain damage, and that the only reason they kept one in their house was to watch the news.

They get to the café, and are seated near the window. She orders an iced jasmine and mandarin orange tea blend, and asks for time to look at the menu. Robb requests a dripped iced coffee and chooses to order with Arya, despite already knowing what he’s going to get. While they wait for their drinks, Arya wonders about the serial killer.

“I heard he feeds his victims to his dogs, and chases them throughout the city at night, when no one is on the streets. I also heard that the victims are all prostitutes, so no one helps them or they can’t get help legally.”

Robb nods. “It makes sense. Killing for fun is not like killing for greed or envy. You want to keep doing it then you need a plethora of victims. Or the funds to keep moving elsewhere.”

“Or both.”

“Or both,” Robb agrees. “If he’s moving north, he’s going to be trouble, though.”

“Do you think Uncle Benjen will be put on the case?”

Robb shrugs. “If they know what they’re doing. But they definitely have to bring in new people soon.”

“Why?”

“The case is getting too big. They started investigating again in West Yorkshire and found similar cases in Bradford and Lancashire.”

“How do you know this?”

The server comes back with their drinks. Robb orders a turkey and pesto panini and Arya gets a small salad with dressing on the side. When she leaves, Robb tells her that he overheard Uncle Benjen and Ned talking. He keeps his tone even, and bites into his sandwich with perfect nonchalance. Arya then asks how he really knows.

"What do you mean? I just told you--"

“You just said you didn’t know if Uncle Benjen was on the case, and now you revealed that you heard them talking about it. You have no reason to lie about it now, which means you were lying earlier. How do you know?"

Robb stares at her, a little bit amaze that she caught his lie so fast, and then laughs. “You caught me.”

“I’m good at that.”

Robb sighs. “I was checking our sales reports and noticed that there was an increase in home security purchases in those areas. I asked father and he confirmed it.”

“Father told you information about a classified police case? Which he's not supposed to hear about in the first place?”

Robb drinks his tea, biding time to find an appropriate answer. Arya narrows her eyes.

"How dumb do you think I am?"

"Arya—"

“You’re watching us again, aren’t you?”

Robb drinks his tea.

“Robb!”

He keeps drinking until he’s full and choking.

“Robb, it’s bad enough that father does it, but now you? Anywhere else, this would be a crime. I can't believe I can’t even go to the bathroom without someone being able to track the frequency of my bowel movements.”

"I have a very good reason for doing so," Robb announces. He tries not to look guilty, and goddamn it, he probably has already justified it in his head. As he speaks, there is more conviction in his voice. To him, Arya's privacy is no concern if it means her safety. He sounds like their father, and it is absolutely infuriating. "In these times, it's important to be cautious, even overly so. I rather be sure of where everybody is than to wonder if they're laying in a ditch somewhere." 

"I don't care if you have a good reason," Arya retorts. "You need to stop, or I'll tell father." Because only one person is allowed to be the paranoid bugger in their family, and even he will not approve of Robb's ability to access private security cameras. 

"You can't do that, Arya." 

"I can, and I will. I don't like feeling like a prisoner in my own house." 

"I'm not watching you."

"Like I believe that, and even I wasn't your target, I still can get mixed in the crossfires—"

“I’m watching Jon!” Robb blurts out.

Arya is taken back.

“I was worried about him working for the Baratheons and so I hacked into their systems—I know, it’s illegal—”

“And morally egregious but go on.”

“But then we broke up, and I just…I kept watching. Okay? It makes me feel better to see him.”

"Why not try talking to him?" Arya asks. "Why not treat him like an actual person and have a conversation with him? You're keeping tabs on him. That’s not healthy, for either of you.”

“It’s therapeutic,” Robb justifies. “I can’t face him without wanting to get on my knees and beg him to take me back. But that’s not an option anymore. Jon has made it clear he doesn’t want me.” 

 “That’s never stopped you before.”

“Well it has never worked before,” Robb snaps, his bitterness is strong enough to taste. “Things need to change. I need to change.”

Arya stares. She knows she should push the camera thing further, get Robb to stop this insanity, but she can’t. Instead, she sighs. Robb was torn by the break up, even more so than Jon. As much as she cares for her cousin, she also wants Robb to get better.

“If you really want results, changing bad habits is a good place to start. But in the future, I think you should be more focused on us.”

“Us?”  Robb raises an eyebrow.

“Yeah, us,” Arya spins her straw around. “Me, Sansa, Bran, and Rickon. Your siblings. I bet you never realized it either.”

“What?”

“Robb, we’re tools for you. You spend the most time with us after you’ve been through a break up and need the distraction. That’s how we knew you were single.”

“I don’t…” But the words die on Robb’s lips. He remembers going out with Jeyne and forgetting to pick Arya up from school. When he finally realized what happened, Yoren had already showed up on their doorstep with a black eye because Arya thought she was getting kidnapped. He also remembers dropping Sansa off for a date with Joffrey so that he could spend time with Talisa, and getting a phone call saying she dumped an entire cake on Cersei and left the house during a storm.

Fuck.

“I’m the worst fucking brother in the world,” Robb moans. He sinks his head into his hands.

Arya shrugs. “It’s okay. I’ve stopped worrying about it.”

“No!” Robb protests. “No, you should not be okay with my shitty brothering.”

“’Brothering?’”

“Yes, brothering. I can’t believe…if this were the middle ages, I would have sold you off for a cattle and a goat for winter.”

Arya rolls her eyes. “Don’t be dramatic. I’m a girl, you would have had to pay a dowry to get me away.”

“I’m not being dramatic, and it’s not funny. What if you were held hostage somewhere? What if father dies and I can’t take care of you because I don’t know what to do? Fuck,” he repeats. “Fuck, I can’t believe it.”

Arya giggles. She tells him it’s fine. They know he loves them. Robb shakes her head and starts mumbling about the shit he’s done in the past. While he gets lost in his own maniacal strategy plans, Arya catches the eye of a dark haired man from another table. He’s sitting with a group of guys, trading japes with one another, and throws her a wink. Arya smiles and looks away. Not her type.

Robb notices, and looks behind him. He turns back to face her. “Stop.”

“What?” Arya asks innocently. She sips her drink like Lolita come to life, and Robb is not buying it.

“He’s too old for you.”

“Really?” Arya glances over again and the guy is talking to his friends. “He’s your age at most, and besides…” Arya grins. “I’m sixteen now. No one is too old for me anymore.”

The statement makes Robb uncomfortable. “Except him. He’s too old for you.”

Arya shakes her head. “You’re taking to brothering pretty quickly.” Robb can be so silly sometimes. She smiles at him. “Do you know why I’ve never had a boyfriend?”

Robb never noticed actually, with all the gentlemen callers riling up her phone.

“Because when people are young and get in romantic relationships, they fuck themselves up for the future. They begin to see themselves as being whole with another person and not whole by themselves. They don’t have time to respect themselves because they’re thinking of their partner’s opinions, they don’t have time to develop friendships because they want love.”

Robb remains silent.

“If you want Jon, then give him time. Be friends with him. Fall in love with him again.”

Robb looks down. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

Arya tells him: “You used to. And he loved you, too.”

Robb looks at her in her surprise, and then chuckles. “When did you get so smart?”

“Last year,” Arya quips and laughs with him.

They get their food and eat it in relative comfort. They chat about miscellaneous things, like Arya’s London performance and how she’s working with Jaqen H’ghar. She talks about university with Robb, and carefully avoids his questions about college next year.

Near the end of their meal, Arya goes to the bathroom. Robb watches her leave, and does not miss the guy from before checking her out. More importantly, he was staring at her legs and ass. He turns to his friend and makes an unheard comment, before giving Arya a onceover. One guy says something and they all laugh.

Robb knows enough about guys his age to know he’s not admiring her shorts. He leaves his table and goes up to the ringleader whose been watching this entire time. The guy sees Robb go up to him and smiles, guiled and full of kindness.

Robb doesn’t buy it.

“Can I help you, sir?”

“Yeah,” Robb answers. “You can help me by removing your eyes from my little sister.”

The young men around him laugh. The guy smiles. “Oh you’re her older brother. I didn’t see that coming. That’s good.” He actually sounds happier. Before Robb can tell him to back off, the guy continues. “You know a girl’s real whore when she dresses like that around her brother. Means she’s begging for a good lay.”

His friend laughs, and Robb fights back his own chuckle. Jokes on him, because this fucker is not the first person Robb’s considered killing and he won’t be the last. Hell, he’s a Stark. He can make some asshole disappear with nothing more than a pair of matches, baby powder, and an unidentified vehicle.

“Care to repeat that?” Robb warns.

The guy smirks. “I have this game, you see. It’s called ‘Find the Whore.’ We go to a room full of people and we try to spot the one just asking for it. Then we take her home and show her what’s she’s missing. And I never lose. So when your sister comes back, why don’t I give her a—”

Robb grabs his head and slams it against the table, over and over again, until there’s a sudden shriek and a rain of gasps. Then, the whole restaurant quiets. When Robb lets go, the man’s face is bloodied from a broken nose. He looks at the other men. “Anyone else?”

The other young men get up. The asshole cups his injury. “You’re going to regret that,” he tells Robb. He’s smirking as the blood runs past his lips, and he’s completely calm.

“Oh really?” Robb challenges.

Arya chooses that moment to get back, and looks at the situation at hand. “What happened here?”

The bleeding man walks up to Arya. He becomes dangerously close. Robb clenches his fist and is about to push him away from her when Arya takes it a step further. Literally. She goes up to the man nursing a broken nose and meets him face to face, mere inches apart.

“What did you do?”

The man does not flinch. “Your brother just attacked me. I’m innocent—”

“What the fuck did you do?” Arya repeats.

The guy stares at her unflinching face. He turns to Robb. “Oh, she’s good.” He cackles and turns back to Arya. “See, pretty lady. I called you whore. I can smell it on you. See that your little throat is meant for cum guzzling and that ass is supposed to spread and used and I generously offered my services to your brother.”

“Is that so?” Arya is unimpressed. Bored, at worst. Her behavior unnerves the young man because she can see his smile falter. He’s not used to dealing with women who can handle themselves. He has probably never met a girl who could fight back.

Robb is about to give him another punch in the face, and honestly? Two or three years ago, Arya would have done the same. Instead, Arya gets closer to a point their lips are almost touching. She tells him the truth.

“I don’t want you.”

The man’s eyes narrow. His smile doesn’t leave his face but it becomes tight, unhappy.

“But I am a whore,” Arya tells him, her voice as sweet as sugar drops and candy canes. “I am a whore and I don’t want you. Do you understand that? That’s how pathetic you are. A whore doesn’t want you.” She caresses his face. He flinches because she’s being tender. “I bet you’re thinking about me now. I bet you’re imagining me on that table, crying, begging you to stop. But I won’t. You’re calling me a cunt in your head and it’s killing you that I’m not scared. You’re bigger than me. There’s six, seven of you and one of me, and my brother probably can’t stop all of you. But even if you fuck me, you can’t own me.”

His smile is gone. “You—”

“Me?” Arya whispers. “Me. I’m going to my car. My brother is going to pay the bill for me because I’m a whore. And then I’m going to walk away like a whore, and I’m not going to think of you, like a whore—but you’re going to think of me.” She grins. She leans into his ear. “You’re going to look at my smiling face and you’ll remember it for years. Because guys like you? They don’t forget about whores like me.”  

Arya walks aways. Robb quickly drops a few bills on the table, and runs after his little sister. She gets into the passenger seat. When he gets in, Robb asks her “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Shouldn’t that be my line?”

“I had every right to get angry. He called you a whore.”

“Which sounds like it should be my problem, not yours. Another piece of advice, Robb? Next time, maybe slamming a guy’s head into the table when he’s with seven other guys is not the best idea. I wanted to avoid an altercation.”

“Since when? You love a good fight!”

“I like to fight battles I can win.” Arya rolls her eyes. “Come on, years of counseling and disciplinary action and the one time I prefer words to conflict, you have a problem with it.”

“Arya, I don’t have a problem with how you dealt with him. I have a problem with how you described yourself. You shouldn’t be saying things like that.”

“Like what?”

“You called yourself a whore!”

“Well I’m certainly not a lady.”

Robb almost hits himself on the wheel. “It’s disrespectful to yourself, and you can’t go riling up guys like that!”

“Like what? I’m not riling anybody up. I’m defending myself, like you tried to do.” Arya scoffs. “Robb, I know you said you’re going to be a more attentive older brother but I was hoping for things like gifts, a new leotard or food. None of this ‘protect my sister’s virtue’ bullshit.”

“Arya, I’m worried. We just spent half an hour talking about girls getting hunted down and mutilated, and you pissed off a guy who basically fantasized about raping you! What if he was the serial killer?”

“What if he was? I’m sure attacking and humiliating him in public might have done a bit more damaged.”

“I’m your big brother. It’s my job to deal with scum who want to hurt you.”  

Arya stares at him seriously. “Robb, I’m not some damsel in distress. I don’t a glass slipper or a prince to slay my dragons. I will deal with scum who want to hurt me.”

Robb frowns. He keeps his voice low, but even with a mutter, Arya understands him. “This is so like you…you’re too fucking reckless…” He says more things, and Arya snaps.

“Just because Jon leaves you does not mean you can take your anger out on other people, especially me,” she throws at him. “You can’t protect me, and you’re not responsible for him.”

Now neither of them are happy, and Robb tightens his grip on his steering wheel and retorts with another backhanded comment. Arya rages up and snidely remarks on his lack of priorities. They continue with even tones for the first street, and are up to full blow yelling when they reach the drive through. They don’t stop until Arya is running up her room.

After the fight, Arya decides she needs a walk. Serial killers be damned. She gets a leash, and goes to the yard to get Nymeria. She dials Gendry’s number on the way down and asks him to come along with her. When he refuses, she name dropped the serial killer. Gendry tells her serial killers should be afraid of her. Arya tells him to shake his ass and pick her up. He does.

Nymeria is in the yard, watching the east house with an alarming amount of stillness. She’s never liked the Baratheons or the Lannisters, and would growl at Joffrey whenever he got near or would bear teeth at Cersei. Sansa used to accuse Arya of training her to do so.

Back then, Arya scoffed. “I wish I could train Nym to follow my commands.” She told this to Sansa and got a huff and an argument in response.

Gods, they were children then. Now, Nymeria has grown up and so has Arya. Nymeria is smaller than her siblings, but there are moments when she becomes abnormally wolf like. She stalked people and observed them for hours as if they were prey. When she ‘played’ with her siblings, it was closer to fighting than actual roughhousing one expects from siblings.

Arya calls out her name and waits for Nymeria to come to her. She clips on a collar and leash, which is loose and easily removable, but keeps up appearances for the family. All the dogs are clever enough to be left to their own devices. But their big sizes leave people agitated, and they’re required to put them on leashes when they go out. Only Summer is allowed without her leash in public, and that’s because of her vest.

Gendry texts her that he’s on his way. He’ll meet her on the next block to avoid running into Robert or his children, or worst, Cersei.

The walk to Gendry’s car is longer than she remembered. He used to park there all the time, when Arya was thirteen and not allowed to even think of boys, let alone be going out with them in the middle of the night. Till this day, she wonders if her father actually believes that ‘midnight dance classes’ were actually dance classes.

She reaches the Baratheons’ home, and notices that the sun is oddly bright today but no one is on the streets. They are probably at the mall or out at the park or at home. She heard that women have been keeping themselves in, and men are at home with no birds to chase.

There’s a light breeze, but not so much as a wisp of hair or a broken fingernail. It’s empty enough to hear a ghost moan. With the exception of the random vehicle driving down the two-way street, Arya sees nothing.

She passes the Baratheon house, and is now walking by fences that look like prison bars. The next house over, their yards are not as well trimmed. The weeds escape the fences like hands grasping for freedom. Nymeria growls at something. Arya looks behind her.

There’s no one.

Nymeria keeps growling. “Hush,” Arya orders. Nymeria does not listen. She starts barking. Staring at the streets and the random cars passing through. She barks at the houses beside them. “Hush,” Arya repeats. Nymeria bears her fangs, and there’s the wolf in her again. She never listens, and Arya doesn’t know why she tries. Instead, she bends down and cups her dog’s face and asks her what’s wrong.

Someone grabs her shoulder.

Arya turns around and punches them in the face.

“What the—Arya!”

“Gendry?”

Arya watches in horror as her best friend clutches his nose.

“Fuck!” he swears. “We talked about this! You can’t just go stabbing people you just met!”

“I didn’t stab you!” Arya defends. A voice in her head says she should have said sorry first, and so she says “Sorry! Are you okay?” after.

“Yeah, yeah…” Gendry checks his nose. There’s no blood, so Arya went easy on him, but it definitely feels strained. “At least it isn’t your knife.” He glances at her pocket, and notices that her left hand is on her knife. No wonder this one didn’t hurt as much.

“You punch with your right hand?”

“My aim is better with my left hand,” Arya clarifies. She remembers her father’s self-defense education. Do the most damage with what can cause the most damage.

Gendry shakes his head. “So what did you want to talk to me about?”

“I…” Arya tries to find the words. “I want to go for a drive.”

“With Nymeria?”

“She helps me think.” The dog stands at full alert. She hops on Gendry’s stomach and attempts to stretch up and lick his injury. Gendry appreciates the effort and bends down to make it easier. He scratches beneath her ears, and Arya tells him to stop.

“She likes it.”

“She’s only doing it to get the passenger seat. Nym, he’s not giving it to you. You’re staying in the back.” 

Nymeria whines a bit, and licks Gendry one last time. She gives him her biggest puppy-dog eyes, and acts insanely cute, but Gendry eventually agrees with Arya. With a growl, she returns to Arya’s side, proving her master’s point.

They head to his car. They keep all the windows down because Arya demands to feel the air in her face and so does Nymeria. Princesses, both of them. They drive for an entire hour without saying a word. Arya keeps her thoughts to herself, only making occasional demands to change the music. She taps her feet and hums to herself. There’s a slight doze to her head.

Arya phone dings and there’s a message from her mother telling her to come home. Without asking, Gendry makes a U-turn and heads back. They stop a block away again, when Arya asks Gendry to come with her. “You should meet him.”

“Who?”

“The pope…who do you think I’m talking about Gendry?” She raises an eyebrow. “They’re staying for the summer and will be leaving before we know it. This could be your last shot.”

“He’s not my father, Arya,” Gendry inform her. “He didn’t raise me. He left me with my mother and never looked back. All those millions and he’s never so much as spared me or my mum a glance.”

“Well then you should tell him that.” Arya looks towards the direction of the house. “I don’t care about him, but I care about you. I think you need the closure.”

Gendry contemplates his options. He thinks about all those days wondering when his next meal was, living in the estates and trying to stay on the right side of the law even though it was so easy not to, quitting school because he had no choice, and then finding that picture with Arya, and realized that all of it—watching his mother cry at night, telling his teachers he was dropping out, the hungry nights after working his ass off all day—all of it was for nothing.

“I’ll go in. But if he doesn’t want to see me, that’s it. We won’t talk about this again.”

“Deal.”

Gendry drives them across the Stark estate and walks her to the door. He pauses at the entrance, a little terrified by the spikes on the gates designed to keep men like him out, and is in awe when Arya types in the passcode and invites him in. The doors open up for him.

He’s inside.

He sees freshly cut lawns and bountiful flowers more beautiful than the blooms on the first day of spring, or his week in Wales when his mother finally scourged up enough money for a vacation. They walk past the house and through the windows, he sees carefully aligned oak furniture and paintings from famous artists and genuine artifacts from areas around the globe. Arya’s mother is talking on the phone, and she’s wearing a fancy dress and her hair is tied back in a regal manner, not like the women at the pubs he frequents, who let their hair down after a few drinks or push their dirty blonde hair into a loose ponytail to get it out of their faces. Nymeria follows them the entire way, and even she is pitter-pattering down the pathway with greater dignity than he can ever muster.

Arya is unimpressed by all of it; to her, this is just her home; this is the Winterfell Estate, this is the Stark Manor; this is where she was raised in her entire life, and to her, it’s just a gas station in her grand journey of the world.

She drags him by the hand to the east wing where Robert is staying. “My father told me that Winterfell Estate was once this gigantic fort with towers that could reach the sky and the entire area was covered in stone and ice. Everything fell apart in this large battle, cannons and the dead rising to tear down the walls and wreck habit on the inhabitants. Finally, when they rebuilt, they wanted to honor the people who had fallen, and decided not to cement the grounds or anything of that like. Instead, they divided Winterfell into separate houses and turned the fort into home. The only thing that remains from the original design are the godwoods.”

“Godwoods?”

“They’re traditional forests of the Old Gods. We even have a weirwood tree—that’s a tree with faces carved into them.”

“I didn’t think people still followed those practices.”

“We do,” Arya proclaims proudly.  Finally, they arrive at the entrance of the other house. From outside the window, they can see Robert. He’s having a pint and watching a football game with Myrcella. Bless the girl, she is as kind as she is beautiful. She does not look put out and watches the match with the attentiveness of a referee. She makes a comment and in response, Robert asks her something. Suddenly, she brings out her hands and tries to show her father something. Maybe teaching him a word or two. Robert tries to mimic it, and fails. Myrcella laughs, and though embarrassed, Robert has a happy expression on his face. Myrcella continues to help him until he performs it properly.

“She seems nice,” Gendry says at last.

“She is,” Arya agrees. “I don’t know how given she’s lived with monsters her entire life.”

Gendry smiles in spite of the circumstances. “She’s blonde, like my mother.”         

“Gendry…”

“What’s she like?”

Arya hesitates to answer, because she doesn’t know Myrcella that well, except that she has a crush on Robb and is the smartest of her three siblings. But she does not want to disappoint Gendry, and tells him: “She’s auditioning for a performing arts school in London. She’s a cellist, and she’s pretty talented. She…” Arya struggles to come up with words. “She’s good with her hands. One time, at a Christmas party, Cersei and Robert made everyone in the room stop what they were doing to listen to her play the piano.” That night was the happiest Arya had ever seen the two of them together. “She…”

“Is she deaf?” Gendry asks. Myrcella has started teaching her father on another phrase. Robert is long distracted from the match and is completely enraptured by his daughter’s tutelage.

“Half-deaf. When she was younger, someone tried to kidnap her and…they got her before a ransom was made but the van she was taken in was really dirty and she caught an infection in her ear and…” Arya lets him fill in the blank. “She still plays music though. But Cersei asked for a divorce afterwards, and they moved away.”

“She’s sounds amazing.”

Arya wants to laugh at his admirable tone, but she knows that’s unfair of her. Gendry has never met his siblings, may never meet them in person. Myrcella says something to her father, and he waves her good bye. Awkwardly, Robert reaches up for a hug. Myrcella seems surprised, but then kisses him on the cheek. Robert chuckles, pleased by the action. The moment was sweet. Gendry felt wrong intruding on them from afar.

“Let’s go. I don’t want to meet him tonight.”

“Gendry, please…” Out of nowhere, Nymeria barks. Arya tells her to be quiet, or they’ll get caught.

“Arya, I can’t do this. I’m a fucking drop out who works as mechanic. I’m not some pretty blonde heiress…”

Arya tries to reason with Gendry but her efforts are interrupted by a familiar nasal voice, rich with maliciousness.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” Joffrey mocks.

“Fuck off, Joffrey,” Arya exclaims, a little tired of this bullshit. Nymeria almost escapes her leash, and Arya has to pull her back. She pulls on Gendry’s sleeve. “Let’s go.”

Joffrey stops her. Up close, she can smell the alcohol on his lips. “Oh, don’t leave so soon. I want to have little talk with you.”

“Well, I don’t want to talk to you.” Arya drags Gendry away. Joffrey latches onto her arm and pulls her back. Nymeria’s leash slips out of her hand and her mouth takes ahold of Joffrey’s wrist. It is a mere scratch, but it leaves Joffrey howling in pain.  

“You little bitch!” Joffrey shrieks. “I’ll have that dog put down!”

Fear flashes onto Arya’s eyes, and concern weighs on her face. Joffrey hand is bleeding. Gendry, forever protective of Arya, goes forward and punches Joffrey in the face. “Don’t talk threaten her like that,” Gendry orders. Joffrey clutches onto his face, and is now swearing about his broken nose. Gendry tells him to stop crying because he did not punch him that hard.

Arya protests. “You can’t just punch people for me, Gendry! You have a record!”

Gendry looks at his fist and turns to her. “I was talking about Nymeria. Poor dog has no way to defend herself.” Arya, in spite of her trepidation, smiles. “Besides, I only punched his mouth. Idiot doesn’t even know where he got hit.” Arya laughs. Her humor is short lived when Joffrey begins swearing up a storm and menaces her with promises of the cops, and a trip to the pound and a needle. He continues to say that Nymeria is dead; her last meal comes tonight; he is a goner.

The whining attracts the other residents of the east house and the main house, and suddenly, all the lights go on. Doors are opened and people rush to the scene of the crime. Upon seeing Joffrey’s swollen lip and bloodied hand, they are aghast. Robert and Myrcella are shocked. Cersei’s face burns with rage. Catelyn and Ned are surprised by the injuries, but are more surprised to see Gendry present. Robert asks what is going on. He turns to Gendry and asks who he is, and if he attacked his son. He asks if Gendry knew who he was messing with and whether he was aware of the consequences of his actions. “That is my son, you little bastard! Do you think you can get away with this?” In a booming voice, he tells Gendry he is Robert Baratheon, and he demanded Gendry pay for this. Ned tries to stop him from saying anymore. Arya attempts to drag Gendry away. She’s made a mistake, and she refuses to allow Gendry to suffer any further for it.

Robert’s presence does something to Gendry that no one expects. He does not cower, nor does he allow Robert’s ignorance to hurt him. He takes every insult with stride, and puffs up his chest in honor with every spiteful threat. He turns to Arya, and sends her a look that settles her guilt. Gendry does not regret tonight, but he plans on making Robert pay. When Robert finishes, Gendry is quick to respond all the callousness with sharp words of his own.

“You want to know who the fuck I am? I’m Gendry Waters. Your fucking bastard son.” 

 The declaration forced the Starks to call for a mediation.

Before they enter the room where Cersei seethes and Joffrey whimpers about his broken hand (Arya insists it is just a scratch), Robert asks how long has Ned known about him. “A long time, Robert,” Ned responds evenly enough.

“Do you know about all of them?”

“Arryn did,” Ned admits. “He said you prepared a fund for all of them in case a new one popped up. He left the matter to Stannis to handle, but sometimes Stannis asks for my help in securing them homes or jobs. I found Gendry at a cheap garage that was a front for some mob. Had him transferred over to nicer place, better business.”

Robert chuckles. He looks into the other wall and sees Gendry glaring at the Lannister children. Myrcella looks away in shame, while Joffrey makes a few snide comments about bastards and lowborns. Tommen, so innocent and pure, was sent to be by his mother.

“Varys prepared that fund. That poof told me it would help avoid a lawsuit. Stannis agreed, and so I agreed.” Robert shakes his head. “Just my luck the boy who looks like me gets involved with your daughter. I always thought she look like Lyanna.”

Ned’s eyes twitch at the mention of a relationship, but he does not retaliate with a denial. Instead he tells Robert they need to take care of this first before he gathers anymore regrets. Catelyn agrees, and while she has stayed silent for most of their conversation, she does push them into the room to settle this matter.

Cersei is hungry for vengeance. She does not care if Gendry is Robert’s son, and actually uses the bloodline as proof that Gendry carried Joffrey ill will. “He did this on purpose, Cersei reasoned. He wanted to hurt Joffrey.” Cersei wants to call the police, and she wants the dog as dead as Joffrey desires. Joffrey moans that his hand hurts, and Robert fights the urge to tell him to shut up. If he says anything, he’s sure Cersei will be screaming of favoritism. She was already eagerly waiting for the moment to whisk them away from Yorkshire.

Arya is the first to defend Gendry. “Joffrey grabbed me and Nymeria bit him to protect me. They’re trained guard dogs. That’s what they are supposed to do!”

“And what about that boy? Is he trained to assault people on your behalf as well?”

Arya retorts that Joffrey called her a little bitch. “Besides, Joffrey has a history of violence. His record is still on file. You call the cops and it’s our words against his.”

“You can’t expect me to believe that boy has never committed a crime,” Cersei sneers, because she knows about the whores Robert used to play around with and she’s well aware of the children they breed. The estates aren’t typically known for producing nobles and millionaires.  

Arya stills at the implication, and so does Gendry. Cersei grins when her theory gains ground. They are all on equal playing fields, then. She turns to Robert. “If you do not press charges against him, then I will.”

“That’s not fair!” Arya protests. “Joffrey wanted to hurt me!”

“I did not! She’s lying!” Joffrey screams. “Her dog attacked me, and now she’s trying to save the beast by making it seem like I did her harm. I only wished to talk to her!”

Robert says nothing.

Jon and Robb are standing on polar opposite ends of the room. Before Jon can stand by Arya’s side, Robb warns Cersei to calm herself. “Ms. Lannister, forgive my rudeness but you are not exactly a valued witness to the incident. Let’s hear all sides of the story.”

“Your sister—”

“—Is not a liar. And your son does not exactly have the best reputation in this house. You are a guest here, and I don’t appreciate the demands you are placing on us. We are Starks. We listen to family first and the threats of others, second.”

Cersei is taken back by the declaration. She huffs and continues screaming to Robert and repeating old threats. Arya, on the other hand, is warm with love. She looks at Robb, and though he does not smile, he sends her a nod of good faith and support. He may be mad at her, but she is still family, and she will always have his loyalty and trust.

“And let’s be honest: your son is a royal prick.”

And then, there’s Theon. Cersei is about to lash out at him but Theon merely raises his arms in innocence. He cares little for these matters, but he will stay by Robb’s side until the end of time.

Cersei does not falter, and continues yelling at Robert to fix this. Robert responds by saying he is trying to, but he needs time to think. He orders Cersei to be silent, and is surprised when she asks him “or what?” Robert is tempted to backhand her again, but pulls himself back. He is stronger than that.

At first when I see you cry

It makes me smile

Yeah, it makes me smile

At worst I feel bad for awhile

But then—

Theon picks up his cell phone before the ringtone goes any further. “Hey, what’s up?”

They all stare at him.

“Yeah?”

“Uh-huh?”

“Okay then.”

Cersei wants to go on arguing but is surprised when Theon walks past her and hands his cell phone to Joffrey. Joffrey glares at Theon like he’s shit on his shoes. “My hand is injured, you ingrate.”

Theon, being the walking ball of ‘I don’t give a rat's ass’ he is, shoves it into his other hand. “I think you might want to.”

“Who is it?”

“Someone who wants to talk to you.”

Joffrey narrows his eyes. “Put it on speaker, then.” ‘

"I don’t think you’d like that.”

Joffrey frowns. He puts the phone to his ear and asks,“What?” Joffrey waits for a moment, and everyone watches his face changes from surprise to shock to anger and irritation to bitter reluctant. “Fine, but don’t go expecting any more favors from me.”

He hangs up the phone and throws it on the table. He turns to Gendry. 

“Given that we are brothers, I’ve decided to forgive you on the condition that I never see you again. This is your only warning.”

“Joffrey—” Cersei protests. “You can’t let him get away with this!”

“I’ve already decided!” Joffrey snaps. He turns to Gendry. “You are lucky I’m so kind.”

Gendry raises any eyebrow. He looks at Robert and looks back at his half-brother. “Agreed.”

Gendry is already heading outside when Arya stands up to follow him. Before she reaches his side, she receives a text from Sansa.

‘You’re welcome.’

It is written right underneath Arya’s warning to not come home tonight. She had not wanted to involve her sister with the asshole's issues anymore than she already has. She feels a wave of guilt overwhelm her, and it does not settle, even when she gets a second text warning her that Sansa expects her to answer some questions when she gets home tomorrow. Arya groans, knowing she now owes Sansa a great favor. When she catches up to Gendry, she thinks of nothing but apologies and false promises to keep him happy and to comfort him. Instead, she asks if he is alright and if there is anything she can do.

“I think enough has been done tonight.”

Arya frowns. “I didn’t want it to be like this.”

“I know,” Gendry shrugs. “We can’t always get what we want.”

He leans towards her, and just when it looks like he’ll kiss her, he instead reaches out and pats her on the head.

“Not even a kiss?” Arya teases.

Gendry tells her not tonight, and not at the Stark doorway. “Bye, my lady.”

“Not a lady,” Arya whispers. "Get home safely." 

Gendry leaves the manor and heads across the street. When he arrives to the car, he hears a twig snap and turns around. There is no one there. He frowns, and opens the door.

“Excuse me?”

Gendry turns around. Before him is a curly haired man with bright eyes and a smile. His hands are in the pocket of his trench coat. “Yeah?” Gendry asks, eyes on the man’s hands.

“I was a bit lost and was wondering if you could help me find this address?” He takes out a piece of paper, and Gendry, on reflex, takes a step back. The man is not offended by the obvious display of mistrust. He seems amused. He hands the paper to Gendry.

Gendry recognizes the street name as the one he is on, but tells him that he’s a block early. “You need to head forward. It’s the second house on your left.”

The man thanks him graciously. “Thank you. I’m a rubbish at directions. I swear, I could get lost in a bathroom.”

Gendry nods, unamused but remembers his manners. The man asks if he’s going home tonight. Gendry says he is, he just wanted to drop a friend off from home.

“Friend or friend?” He winks.

Gendry cannot help a chuckle. “A little bit of both, actually.”

The man laughs with him and finally agrees to leave him be. He thanks him a final time, and gets back into his car. He leaves first, and Gendry waits until he is out of view to check his backseat.

It is empty.

Gendry breathes a sigh of relief. He is not dealing with a horror movie tonight.

Chapter Text

Sansa hangs up the phone. Sandor comes back with two plates of chicken Alfredo, and Sansa moans at the smell of cream and buttery chicken. He sets both their plates down while he goes into the kitchen to get some wine. Sansa is already bouncing. Sandor comes back and hands her a glass of white.

“I’m so hungry. This smells amazing,” Sansa tells him. She digs into her plate and moans. “Have I ever told you how much I love that you can cook?”

Sandor chuckles. “It’s just chicken, cheese, and pasta. How come you never learned?”

Sansa takes another bite. “No one in my family knows how to cook. Except my mother, and Jon.”

“None of your siblings?”

“It’s not the Stark way,” Sansa explains. Sandor sighs, as if exasperated by her ignorance. She grins at him and continues to eat her meal. Sandor takes a bite of his own dish. It is pretty good; but hell if he ever reveals to Sansa that he knew she was shit in the kitchen and he figured that if she wasn’t going to be the one who survived there, then he’ll pick up the apron in her stead. Carving a chicken isn’t too different from cutting up a man, anyways.     

“What was the mess about?”

Sansa takes a sip of her wine and peers at him.

“Don’t,” he warns her.

“Don’t what?” Sansa asks innocently.

“Don’t look at me with your big blue eyes and start coming up with fancy words so that you can avoid telling me the truth.”

Sansa pouts. “I don’t want you to be worried.”

Sandor sighs. “Is it about Joffrey?”

“How do you know about Joffrey?”

“Because his bitch mother was staying with me last week.”

“Cersei Lannister was staying here?” Sansa sounds aghast. “And you never told me?”

“You didn’t tell me about Joffrey.”

“That’s different!”

“No, it’s not.”

Sansa stares at him, open mouthed and then frowns. “Okay, it’s not. But still, we should be telling each other these things.”

“We’re telling them now.”

“We should be telling each other these things when they happen!” Sansa exclaims. She puts down her plate in frustration. “I don’t even know why I’m upset but I am.”

“Are you?”

Sansa has to think about that. “I don’t know but I feel like I should be.”

“Alright, what do you want me to do about it—whatever it is?”

Sansa picks up her plate when she realizes she has no clue. “I don’t know. But we should do something.”

“Okay, well then why don’t you tell me what happened and we’ll decide from there.”

Sansa bites her and twirls her fork. She stops when she realizes that Sandor used fettucine and not spaghetti, and it looks stupid to do so, not cute. “My sister got into a scuffle with Joffrey tonight, and I decided to help,” Sansa confesses.

Sandor chugs down his glass. “What did you do?”

“I told him he should repay mercy with mercy, and reminded him of how kind I was not to press charges against him all those years ago.”

There’s a silence. “Your limitation period is almost finished.”

“I know,” Sansa says. “But he doesn’t.”

“Fuck,” Sandor says. He shakes his head. “What if he tries to get back at you?”

“Then, you’ll take care of him of him, won’t you?”

“Will you be okay with that?”

Sansa shrugs.

Sandor stares. “I’ve been a bad influence on you.”

“I like it,” she teases. She begins eating again. She licks the cream off her lips and stares up at him through her long eyelashes and tells him, “This is really good.”

Sandor chuckles, and asks if she wants to watch a movie while they eat. Sansa says if they watch a movie than it’ll get late, and she’ll have to stay over. Sandor responds that she should stay in anyways. He doesn’t want her going out there alone. He’s spoken with his contacts, and there’s something out there that he doesn’t want her to get caught in.

“The nights aren’t safe travel in, little bird. You might meet someone dangerous.”

“You’re dangerous.”

“I am,” Sandor admits. “But I’m on your side. And there's someone out there chopping up girls, I don’t think he’ll be so inclined to fall for your pretty eyes like I did.”

Sansa pouts, and pretends to be reluctant when she agrees. Truth be told, she’s happy she’ll have an excuse to stay over her "friend’s" house when it gets too late. If she plays her cards right, she maneuver more accidents in the future and be forced to stay over a lot.

“If I stay over any more, I’ll be living here,” Sansa jokes.

“What’s wrong with that?” Sandor asks. He puts in a DVD of an action movie starring an actor Sansa likes, and hits play. He gets back to the couch to see Sansa staring. “What?”

“Do you mean it?”

“What?”

“Living together…do you mean it?”

Sandor shrugs. “Like you said, you’re already here half the time. I figured that’s what we’ll be doing when you leave for uni.”

Sansa feels herself choke up. “But I told you I’m thinking about studying in America!”

“And I told you I knew people in New York. That’s where you wanted to go, right?”

“Yes but…” Sansa wonders why she’s so taken back. Sandor is right. They have talked about this before, and each time, Sandor has been incredibly accommodating to Sansa’s dreams for the future. “You’re okay with moving for me?”

“All the schools you’ve talked about were in London or New York. I told you I can get worked there. It’s not like you’re asking me to move out to some fishermen’s town on the coast of Spain.”  Though, to be perfectly honest, he would have followed her there as well.

“But…” Sansa bites her lip.

“What’s the problem, dove? Do you not want to be together after you graduate?” The possibility is a real one, and while Sandor knows that it will kill him, lead him to throw himself to suicide missions and death squads, he’ll wish Sansa the best if it means her finding her way in this world.

“No!” Sansa protests. “I just…I don’t know how you could be so willing to move for me when I can’t do the same for you.”

The confession is heartbreaking, and for all the right reasons. Sandor would never ask Sansa to give up anything for him, and that makes Sansa want to cry. She knows she’s selfish, and she loves that Sandor thinks of her enough to sacrifice everything.

Sandor pretends not to care. “I don’t want anything but you.”

Sansa kisses him, and almost knocks the plate out of his hands when she does. She tells him she loves him and has only ever wanted him and she hopes they're happy together. They continue to watch a movie for the rest of the night. Sansa receives a phone call from her mother, and she responds that she’s staying the night at a friend’s place. Her mother does not buy it for a second, but she’s worn and wearied from the incident with Joffrey and she’s let it go before, another hundredth time won’t change anything.

When Catelyn calls Bran’s location, she is met with the snide reprimand of his school’s headmistress. She tells Catelyn that picking Bran up at this time at night will be too much trouble on her end. Regina, with feign innocence and faux worry of having put Catelyn out of her way, insists on letting Bran stay over tonight. “Henry is always sleeping over at your place. Let me return the favor.”

“It’s not trouble at all,” Catelyn corrects, hoping she suppressed her irritation enough that Regina could not tell how badly she wishes to strangle her. Regina can always tell when someone is being snide.

“No, but as an educator, I am in charge of the wellbeing of children, and I can’t possibly encourage one of my students to wander on the streets.”

“He won’t be wandering,” Catelyn snaps. She takes a deep breath and removes all derogatory names towards Americans in her vocabulary. “I’ll be right outside.”

“But Bran should be inside. In the safety of my home.”

“My home is the safest place for him. In case you don’t remember, my husband runs the world’s best security company.”

“Well, my wife is a cop. If something were to happen, you’re going to call her anyways.”

They continue the conversations for a long time, throwing words like ‘serial killers’ and ‘guns’ and ‘mutilated women’ and ‘pedophiles’ with the addition of insults and backhanded compliments towards each other. By the time they finished, Bran has already finished inking four pages and coloring two. Henry finished the script for the ending. Regina enters the room and says she’s making some pizza bites and popcorn balls. 

“So Bran is staying the night?”

“Yes,” Regina grins victoriously. “He has no choice. His mother will too inconvenience to do so.”

Bran stares at Henry who is unperturbed. When she leaves to get the snacks, Bran sends a look to his best friend. Henry shrugs.

“Mom has trust issues—well, she doesn’t like it when people don’t trust her.” He looks over the completed pages. “She thinks that when your mother doesn’t let you stay over, these are really nice,” Henry compliments the work, momentarily distracted. “—it’s an attack against her ability to raise children.”

“Oh.” Bran frowns. Bran would have questioned the notion further, but the phone in his left pocket beeps, and he grabs it before he has a chance to realize he left his phone on the table. What he sees on his pseudo-cellular proves that it is certainly not his. He shrieks, loudly, and throws the device up in the air. Henry catches it before it drops to the ground and when he sees the message, forces it back into Bran’s hands.

"Take it!"

"I don't want it!" Bran protests. 

Henry’s mom pops in to check on the noise and asks what’s wrong.

“Nothing!” Henry squeals out. “But Bran has to use the bathroom so I’m going with him—you know, to help him out.”

“Bran knows how to get there by himself,” Regina points out. She crosses her arms, immediately suspicious of the excuse.

“Well, he wants me to keep him company. Girls do it all the time.”

“No, they don’t.”

“We need to talk about something private.”

Regina narrows her eyes. “How private?”

“Guy stuff.”

“Guy stuff? Or older guy stuff?” Regina takes a step further. “Who was texting your phone just now? It better not be—”

“It was my phone, Mrs. Mills!” Bran comes to Henry’s defense. He holds it up in his hands for evidence, after making sure there is nothing incriminating on the screen. “My mother was making sure I was safe.”

Regina frowns. For a second, the boys think that their lies failed, but then Regina angrily stomps back into the kitchen, swearing a storm under her breath about psychotic gingers, and comes back with a bowl of deceitful health snacks disguised as unhealthy promises. “Your mother needs therapy,” she tells Bran, before marching into the other room to vent to her wife.

Henry, in an amazing bout of strength, drags Bran back to his chair and wheels him to the downstairs’ bathroom. When he first visited Henry’s home, he was surprised by how spacious it was, even with Bran's wheelchair, it could easily fit two more people inside comfortably. Henry is taking advantage of this when he locks Bran and himself inside. Bran waves the cock defiling his not-phone in front of Henry’s face, and the writer swipes it out of his hand, blushing furiously.

“Sorry you had to lie for me, but my mom checks my messages when she thinks I’m not looking. She’s probably doing it now while I’m gone,” Henry explains. If Bran wasn’t a Stark, he would have found that information to be disturbing and worrisome. Instead, he is a Stark, and his parents put cameras all around the house, and in Bran’s bathroom because Catelyn is afraid he’ll slip and fall to his death.

“How did you get it into my pants?”

Henry isn’t trying to be mean, but he’s definitely Regina’s child when he bluntly points out that Bran can’t feel his legs. “It’s not that hard to slip something inside your pants.” Henry pauses, grins as his mind conjures up some perverse joke, and then shakes his head when Bran sends him a warning glower.

Bran frowns. He could counter that argument, but instead, focuses on the curiosity burning inside him. He thinks about the picture, about the…sext and asks what’s going on. “Did your boyfriend send…that?” Henry smiles, amused. Bran glances over at the mirror and sees that his cherry red lips are the same color of his skin.

“Peter has gotten himself into something dangerous again. One of his friends moved here, so he doesn’t want me around.” The corners of the smile weigh down into a frown. “But Peter does not handle celibacy well and if he doesn’t stick his dick into me, he’ll take up the first offer he gets. That’s why he keeps sending me these pictures. It’s his way of telling me he still wants me.” To his surprise, Henry tosses the phone back at Bran. He tries his best not to look, but manages to see that Henry did not respond.

“You’re not going to text him back?”

“Nope, because if he’s doing this, then that means he cares more about my safety than getting laid. If that’s true, it means he’s getting involved with someone really dangerous. So I’m going to punish him for it.”

The statement unsettles Bran, and though he could think of a number reasons why, it does not stop him from asking about Henry’s relationship. “Why are you with him? He seems…off.”

“Probably the same reason you’re still talking to Jojen.”

Bran is taken back. “What do you mean?”

Henry puts his phone on the kitchen sink. “Listen, I’ve seen how your mother treats you. My mom treats me the same way, like we’re made of glass and can’t do anything on our own. It comes from a good place, but…sometimes I want to have some fun, too. Don’t you?”

Bran is inclined to agree, except he remembers the fight Henry and Peter had after school one day, when Henry caught Peter slipping one of their classmates a plastic bag filled with white powder and refused to see him for weeks. Peter snuck into the school to apologize to Henry personally in the boy’s bathroom. Bran frowns and asks, “But…is it the right kind of fun? Aren’t you afraid of getting into, I don’t know, trouble?”

“It’s not like I’m joining his gang, or anything. I just hang out with Peter and we do stuff,” Henry explains. “Besides, doesn’t it feel good to do something wicked?”

Bran fiddles with his fingers. He musters up an amicable nod, and then dives deep to dig out some courage. He takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes, and asks, “Like, what kind of stuff?”

Henry raises an eyebrow. “You know, stuff. Peter really likes that he’s my first—he has this major virgin kink because he wants to teach me everything.  He loves tying me up and making me follow orders in these skimpy outfits, like a sexy maid or, this one time he had me in a sexy Tinkerbell costume, which was freaking weird. But you know, it wasn't like a red light for me or anything.”

Bran, whose face is already bleeding red, asks him for more details.

Henry has to think. “Well, he’s also a major exhibitionist. Sometimes, we’re just making out on the couch, and his friends come over. All of a sudden, he has to have me on my hands and knees, or you know, just my knees.”

Bran nod as if he actually knows, instead of just assuming from the various details Henry lets on about his personal life. He’s not a kid, he knows about sex, his parents just gave him the talk a few weeks ago—a fact that actually de-ages him in some way—but he’s curious. And it may or may not be because of the really nice, older boy who calls him up every day to check on him and make sure he’s happy.

Henry asks Bran if he’s thinking about Jojen.

“What?”

“Well, that’s why you’re asking me, right? Because you’re thinking about doing things with him?”

A lump finds its way to Bran’s throat. “I…well…I don’t know. I’m not looking for that kind of relationship.” Bran wants a friend, who he can share his deepest secrets with and build a bond of trust and love, and hold hands with and maybe kiss every now and then. And while making out looks really good, and Henry makes sex sound really, really good, Bran is man enough to admit he’s not ready.

“Okay, maybe not now. But you’ll want it one day, and Jojen definitely wants you. Have you thought about all the things you wanted to try out?”

“Oh…” It’s a good point, but the thought never crossed Bran’s mind. He wonders if it’s because of his…condition. Suddenly, another fear strikes his heart. “What if I can’t get hard?”

“What?” Henry sounds surprise.

“What if I can’t…do stuff with him?”

“Have you tried masturbating?”

Bran shakes his head. “No! I mean, I never wanted to.”

“You should give it a shot,” Henry suggests.

“I…but I don’t know how. I don’t know the first thing to do with another guy.”

“It’s okay, Jojen will teach you. It’s like I said, right? Older guys love teaching things.” Henry winks, and Bran fails to copy his confidence. Henry tries to soothe his worries by giving him instructions on how to give a decent blowie, or how to curl his fingers so that he can hit his prostate. He talks about rolling his r’s, and licking up the glans because that’s where guys are most sensitive. When things get too explicit for Bran’s ears, he suggests that Henry’s mother will get suspicious if they take too long. Henry freaks out, and starts wheeling Bran out of the room.

He returns home the next morning, and curses the night before with Henry’s name. He remembered his sleepover vividly, because while he was content with staring at the ceiling, trying to imagine the location of the stars, Henry was reading over his boyfriend’s messages and then finally submitted to his pleas. He demanded Bran help him send a dirty, full bodied picture so that Peter could be jealous of the fact that someone else saw him naked. The reaction was perfect, and Bran wanted to die.

When Henry finally went to sleep, Bran was haunted by another concern. He looked down at his paralysis, his scarred and unmoving legs, and wondered if it was such a stretch to believe that someone would reject him for them. What if his other parts didn’t work as well? The doctor never mentioned it, but it was a possibility, wasn’t it?

The thought is on Bran’s mind when he rolls through the door. His mother is frantic with worry, but Bran ignores her concerns and asks if he could go to bed. Catelyn accuses Regina of letting her son run wild when she hears he did not get any sleep. Bran soothes her concerns (and spares his headmistress the drama) by saying it wasn’t her fault, he just has a lot on his mind.

“Henry’s place was a lot of fun,” Bran tells her, and in hindsight, his sleepover was a turning point in his life. Catelyn’s face falls, and sends him to his room. He knows he won’t be sleeping today either. All he’ll be thinking about is Jojen, sex, and the possible inability to have either.

He passes by Robb on his way out of the elevator. Robb asks Bran if they could have a talk, and while Bran intends to refuse him, he is convinced that this is the perfect opportunity to have all his questions answered when he remembers Arya’s earlier suggestion. Robb is dating Jon. Robb was dating Jon. Robb used to be in a relationship with a man, and knows all the mechanics but has all the common sense not to tell Bran what he does not want to hear. Robb is his brother. Brothers are sworn to protect each other by the unwritten laws of the bro code. Robb can keep a secret.

“Come in,” Bran offers, and tries not to yawn in his presence. His mind is positively wrecked with fatigue. Later, he will accuse exhaustion as the primary factor in his decision to ask Robb of all people for love advice.  

“I know it’s a bit late, Bran, and you’re probably going to tell me it’s not a big deal, but I wanted to say sorry for not being there for you.”

“Oh that’s cool—”

“No, it is not,” Robb denies. “I’ve been using you to satisfy my own loneliness.”

“That’s fine,” Bran interrupts again. He wants to get this over with. Seeing Robb guilty makes him feel even more guilty for what he did to him. “What are brothers for?”

“No, it’s not. I’m supposed to be there for you—”

“—you can be there for me now—”

“—I hope to. Hey, why don’t we spend some time together—”

“—Robb, I need to—”

“We could go out to eat, or I could hang out at the reserves tomorrow—”

“I need you to talk to me about sex!” Bran blurts out.

“What?” Robb’s eyes look like they bulged out of his head. “Sex? Like…”

“Like the common way to show affection, especially with people who love each other a lot.”

“Haven’t you already gotten the sex talk?” Robb hesitates. “Maybe, we should get dad to do this; he’s had a lot more experience.”

“No!” Bran protests. “It can only be you! Dad can’t help me here. He doesn’t know how to do it…with guys.” Bran winces at his own explanation. “And I…like a guy. And one day, I might want to have sex…with a guy.”

“Oh.” Robb’s face becomes furious. “Bran, I hope you’re not being pressured into anything you don’t want to do. You can say no whenever you want.”

“I know!” Bran squeaks. “Why does everybody treat me as if I'm some sort of invalid?"

"Bran, you're too young to know these things. Maybe you should wait a bit—"

"No!" Bran shouts. "I'm not too young to know. It’s not knowing that’s scaring me. What if one day I meet someone special and I want to have sex with them but I don’t know what to do? What if I can’t tell the difference between nervous virgin jitters and ‘there is something wrong, I don’t feel safe?’ If I know what to expect then I can protect myself! A guy won’t be able to convince me to do something I’m not comfortable with by saying it’s normal if I know it’s not!” Bran reasons, a fierce conviction in his stance. Almost instantly, he feels like an idiot for making such a declaration. He waits for the disapproval. Robb sighs instead. He mutters something like “you’re too young for this,” and Bran’s face deflates. He is about to ask Robb to keep the curiosity a secret until he sees his older brother take a seat on his bed and asks Bran what he wants to know.  

“You’re really going to tell me?”

“You’re not wrong. I don’t want you to be taken advantage of by some creep who makes you think that being scared is normal.”

Bran beams. He thinks about all the stuff Henry talked about, and things that were on his mind before. They come out in a vomit of concerns and excitement. “Uh, well…how much will it hurt? How can you tell who’s the top and who’s the bottom? What is a gag reflex? What is felching? How do I decide on a safe word? Who—?”

“Okay!” Robb makes a time out sign with his hands. He takes a deep breath. Gods, who is teaching Bran these things? “Let’s start with the basics. Do you know how two guys have sex?”

Bran opens his mouth, closes it, and then nods.

“Okay, you’re nodding but I don’t believe you. How do you think two guys have sex?”

Robb listens to his little brother describe anal and oral sex with utter technical precision, and without describing any sort of emotional attachment or anticipation of the act. He makes it sound like a chore, something he has to do to please his boyfriend, and that worries Robb more than anything. He stops Bran before he goes any further. Bran furrows his brow, probably concerned that he got something wrong or said something immoral. He remembers Bran’s previous answers. He didn’t ask if it hurts, but how much it’ll hurt.

“First, anal sex is not a requirement between two guys. You can have great sex with your boyfriend without there being any penetration.”

Bran is taken back. “But is that really—”

“Yes,” Robb answers before Bran can even finish his question. “Frottage and oral counts as real sex. I think, when and if you’re ready, you should try it once and see if you like it.  It hurts the first time, but that’s why you need lube, and patience, lots of patience. And once you hit that prostate, gods, it feels like heaven. If you get used to it and you trust your partner with your life, you can start to go faster, maybe get more…adventurous, but not a second earlier,” Robb warns. He’ll kill the guy who forces his little brother into doing anything he doesn’t want. Hell, he’ll kill him for suggesting it.

Bran nods. He stares at Robb as if analyzing him, and considers his options. Then, he turns away. He tells Robb that’s enough for tonight, and thanks him for his help. Robb sighs and asks Bran to just speak his mind—he’ll be happier for it and much less confused if he does. 

Bran gulps. “You said it hurt? Have you ever tried…doing it?”

“Yeah, of course.”

The nonchalance surprises Bran. “So you’re the bottom?”

Robb laughs, making Bran turn red with embarrassment. He must have asked a really stupid question to get that kind of reaction. He tries to save face by saying he needs to look over his drawings, it’s getting late and—Robb soothes his concerns with an apology. “I’m sorry for laughing.” He smiles warmly, and is now leaning against the wall next to Bran. “It’s a fair question, especially with all the stuff on the internet now.” Robb looks up at the ceiling and then back at Robb as he explains, “Bran, there is no ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ in relationships. There are people who prefer penetration, and people who prefer being penetrated, or both. There are guys who like giving head,” Like Jon. Robb shakes the thought away. “And people who like to receive. It’s perfectly fine to do both. I love being inside Jon,” Robb confesses.

Bran scrunches his nose in disgust, but does not stop Robb from continuing. He may not want to hear about his brother’s sex life, but he fears he has to. “And I’d be lying if I said having his cock inside me felt just as good. But it’s nice, sometimes, to feel someone become a part of you. I know Jon enjoys it both ways, but he accommodated to my preferences because he respected my boundaries. In return, I listened to what he wanted, and we decided on what we could enjoy together as a couple.”

“Was there anything you didn’t like?”

“Yeah,” Robb admits. “I’m not the first guy Jon has ever been with. He is, however, my first boyfriend. I knew just as much as you did not when we first got together. But,” Robb shakes Bran’s hair. He wonders why everyone loves doing that so much. “He was patient with me. We talked about things we were willing to try, and things that made us uncomfortable. Turns out, I really like giving orders.”

Bran rolls his eyes. Figures Robb would be into that. Robb laughs at the reaction, he grins and informs Bran that Jon really loves “giving head” just to see him squirm. After he’s gotten a good laugh out of Bran and a pillow shoved his face, Robb says that he trusts Bran’s instincts. “The person who knows you the best is you. If you’re curious, that’s means you’re interested. But if you’re unsure, it’s a good time to inform your partner you’re not ready.”

“How can you tell the difference?”

Robb thinks about the best comparison. “If someone suggests something to you and you get butterflies in your stomach and a tingle down there, you should look into it. If the suggestion makes you sick to your stomach and hide under your covers, I suggest avoiding the act altogether. Don’t entertain it at the cost of your own sanity, and don’t lead your partner on. If you feel more comfortable further into the relationship, you can always go back to it.”

Bran feels relieved, except the words tingle down there ring in his head like the incessant church bells of a religion he doesn’t follow.

“I don’t know if I can get the tingle.”

Robb grins, unaware of Bran’s drop in mood. “It’s probably because you haven’t gone too far yet but when it happens—”

“No,” Bran says softly. “I don’t know if it’s possible.”

Robb grows quiet.

“Robb, I haven’t felt my legs in years. I’ve never…touched myself. What if I…what if I get really close to someone and it turns out I can’t be intimate with them? What if they hate me for it?”

“No one can ever hate you, Bran.” Robb tells him. Bran frowns as if he doesn’t believe him.

Robb sighs. “I’m not going to lie to you. I won’t say sex is not important, because for me, it is. I love sex, I love having that intimacy with my partner.”

Bran wonders if there’s a nice way to ask Robb to leave so that he could cry.

“But to some people, sex isn’t a big deal. Maybe your first boyfriend won’t be satisfied with a completely romantic relationship. If he leaves you because of it, that just means you’ll be single for the person you’re meant to be with.”

“But I really like him!” Bran blurts out. He sees the surprise in Robb’s eyes and turns away. “If you really care about someone, shouldn’t you try your best to make them happy? I want him to be happy because he makes me happy.”

Robb agrees with the logic, but Bran is his brother and his wellbeing is paramount. “You’re not going to be happy if you’re obsessed with being good enough for someone else. I...” Robb stops. Suddenly, the ghosts of his past girlfriends tackle him with an amazing amount of fury. He remembers their constant excuses for breaking up. “I am not a mother,” said Dany. “I am not a wife,” said Dacey. “I’m not perfect,” said Talisa and Jeyne. When they broke up, Margaery kissed Robb at his graduation and told him she was going to Cambridge, not Edinburgh, and she never actually planned to leave with him in the first place. When he asked why, she touched his face and said the girl he saw in her was not who the girl she was.

Robb puts his head in his hands and whispers, “Fuck.”

“Robb?”

“It’s nothing,” Robb says. “Bran…this guy, he likes you, right?”

Bran bites his lips and nods. Robb takes his hand and tells Bran to call him. “If he likes you, it’s because you’ve made him happy. And by your logic, he wants to make you happy as well, right? If he knows you, he won’t…ask for anything until you’re ready. If you’re meant to be together, then you’ll want the same things and trust me, your first intimate moment, whether it’s losing your virginity or sleeping underneath the stars, it’ll be perfect.”

The words are like a panacea to most of Bran’s worries. Bran thanks Robb for his advice. Robb says no problem, and leaves the room so that he can collect his thoughts. Bran attempts to salvage some courage in his muddled concerns, and takes his cell phone out to contact Jojen. He wonders if he should text, but decides the issue is too serious to risk miscommunication. He calls him.

“Hello Bran,” he answers on the first ring. His voice is smooth as velvet, and Bran imagines cream cheese frosting on top of devil’s food cupcake and there’s a delightful shiver up his spine. Bran guesses that’s part of the tingle Robb talked about.

“Hey, Jo,” Bran wonders why his face is so hot. “I wanted to talk to you about something.” Stupid. You just called him, Bran thinks, of course he knows you want to talk to him about something.

Jojen tells Bran he can talk to him about anything. “You can’t even begin to imagine how good it feels to hear your voice.”

Bran coughs, because the sentiment is returned but he can’t bear saying something so embarrassing. He doesn’t know how the older boy can say those kinds of things without shame—Bran would have an easier time burrowing a hole in the sand and sticking his head in it.

“Bran?” Jojen sounds so concerned.

Bran takes a deep breath. “Jojen, I was with Henry the other night…” He explains that they discussed relationships, and the intimacy expected of being in one. With a minor tremor in his fingers, Bran confesses that he really likes Jojen, and he wants them to go further. He wants a boyfriend. His heart is practically exploding with excitement at the hope that they will meet in person soon. “But I’m scared,” Bran reveals.

“Of me?”

“No!” Bran protests. “I’m scared of getting serious. I don’t want to get attached to someone who might walk away for the first person who is willing to put out. I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want me for who I am and what I can or cannot do.”   

“Bran, there has never been a moment in my life where I wasn’t serious about you. You are perfect. You're more than I deserve. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool or a liar. You are the only thing that matters in this world. I don’t care if every moment we spend together is in your garden playing with Summer, or if all we do in bed is listen to the rain fall on the window panel. I can go at your pace. Our first time together, it’s going to be wonderful because we’ll both be ready. There are so many things I want from you, and it’s not only physical. I want you in every way. And if you’re the one making the first move, it will be more special because I’ll know for sure it’s what you want.”

Bran finds it hard to breathe. Jojen's speech made him overwhelmed. He wonders how to respond; what kind of declaration he can make but he knows that nothing he says can remotely match the passion of the older boy. Instead, he asks Jojen what will happen if Bran is not ready for years.

“I’ll wait years,” Jojen pauses. “I'll wait forever. You give me life, Bran.”

Bran gulps to relieve his dry throat. He feels hot underneath his collar and wonders if he should change into something more comfortable. “I—” What could he possibly say? “What do you think of doing with me?”

“Are you asking me about my fantasies, Bran?” Jojen teases. His voice turns to husk, and Bran can only imagine the way his eyes must be looking at him. He fears that if he does not stop blushing, all his blood will leave his body and make his head burst. “Are you asking me if I lie awake at night, thinking about your body underneath mine? How I envision the way you would squirm when I lick down your pretty nipples to your belly button? How I would just wrap my tongue around your cock?”

Bran mouth is try. He finds himself envisioning Jojen’s hungry gaze, and wonders if it would be wrong, a little too daring to ask him to continue. Jojen does so regardless of any encouragement. “I would make you feel so good, Bran. I would worship every part of you. I would suck your fingers until they are dripping, and douse your skin with kisses. At night, I would take you to the godswoods where I’d hold you in my arms and count the stars and pray that they would fall so you could make wishes on them. I would never let you forget what it feels like to be loved.”

He can imagine it, and he’s squirming in desire. “I want that,” he whimpers. “I want to meet you.”

Jojen sounds elated. “I want to meet you, too.” There is a pause. “Call me tomorrow, and we can schedule a meeting time.”

The phrase is more technical than Jojen’s usual manner of speaking, but Bran is so immersed in arousal that he does not notice. He says goodbye, and drops his phone on the bed. When he positions himself further up, he only makes himself more uncomfortable. He frowns, and looks at his lower regions where he spots a very unfamiliar, but absolutely distinguishable erection.  

Bran bites his lips. His door is unlocked but getting up to close it is such a hassle. Bran weighs his options before he tugs at the waistband of his pants.

Slow, and with a lot of patience, Bran remembers.

“Who were you were talking to?” Meera asks when Jojen hangs up.

“Dr. Lector,” Jojen lies. “He wants to check up on my progress  since coming here.”

Meera tries to read his face but Jojen is calm, his heartbeat is soft and steady and he stares at Meera with clear eyes. After a few more moments of suspicion and pause, Meera says, “That’s nice of him. He’s a good doctor.”

Jojen puts his cell phone in his bag. “His empathy to my situation is astounding.”

Meera sighs. “How are you doing, Jojen? The property is big, but it’s not big enough to hide you two forever. You’re bound to run each other, or at least see each other once.”

Hopefully more than once, Jojen thinks. Meera does not have to know that. Jojen sits down on their couch, a lovely piece of furniture, pure Italian leather, which no one enjoys sitting on because it is too expensive to relax in, and offers Meera a seat. When she does, Jojen immediately explains:

“Meera, you need to understand that my recovery is a working process. You can’t go from being utterly consumed with the thoughts of someone as beautiful as Bran, to not acknowledging his existence. I’m trying to respectful, but attaining satisfaction in the matters of the heart has many causalities.”  

“What do you mean?”

“I’m saying I want to be loved; I no longer wish to stare at my affections from afar. Dr. Lecter has encouraged to find an equal, not a fantasy and I’m following his advice.”

Meera furrows her brow. She’s uncomfortable, because she believes Jojen but is also too smart not to remain cautious. Jojen smiles; he brushes a curl away from his sister’s face.  “Don’t look so sad, Meera. I hate it when you’re sad. You look too much like our mother.”

“Jojen…”

“Though, we have to be grateful you aren’t as fragile, or father would lose a daughter and a wife.”

Jojen hopes the matter is settled, as most conversations are when someone mentions his mother. Before he can leave, Meera tells him they need to talk about something else. She takes a wad of cash out of her pocket and places it on the table.

“I found this in my coat last night.”

Peter raises an eyebrow. “Congratulations? Are you suggesting I scour my wardrobe for loose change?”

“This isn’t loose change. That's over two hundred pounds! I bet if I checked father’s wallet there would be an influx cash as well.”

“Father has gotten several new clients since moving. He knows how finicky you are about taking money.”

“Because we talk about it. Together. You listen in the shadows and whenever times are hard, we mysterious find a way to make ends meet.” Meera takes a deep breath. “Jojen, are you working for Peter again?”

Jojen’s stance is unwavering. “I told you not to look so sad.” He wraps his arms around his sister and ignores her stiffening. “After all these years, I still cannot tell when you were most miserable: when I got arrested or when our mother died.” The smell of carbon monoxide is almost off his clothes. He picks up the money and places it in Meera’s hands. “Compared to that, me spotting you a bit of cash every now and then is nothing to cry about. I want you and father happy, because if you’re happy then I’m happy, and being happy keeps me sane.”

 

Chapter Text

Myranda Kennel was female, early twenties, white, brown hair and brown eyes, pretty or would have been if her face wasn’t completely torn apart. She was a fighter, judging by the signs of struggle on her arms; she fought to the death. Her fingernails were completely ripped off from her desperate attempts to fight off her assailants—a pack of vicious dogs hungry for human flesh. Behavior analysis points them to being hunting dogs, like hounds or possibly guard dogs like Dobermans. For the life of them, no one at the precinct was able to figure how such large creatures could walk the streets unnoticed.

“He’s escalating,” Emma points out. She just came in with an arm holding a coffee tray and another bag full of pastries. Yoren wonders if it is an American thing to always have snacks on hand. Today are apple strudels and bear claws, all baked by her gorgeous and fearsome wife. Emma is one of the only women in the murder force, and is also one of the few who actually manages to stay married to her first spouse. She sees the pictures and points out that Myranda wasn’t a prostitute like the others.

“She might have known the perp,” Yoren agrees. He takes his coffee and sips it; the picture of leisure as he leans back on his rolling chair. “We got one or two accounts saying that the women were propositioned by a couple. Maybe they had a lover’s quarrel, or she wanted out?”

“Maybe she got jealous,” Benjen recommends. In contrast to his partner’s backwards mobility, he moves over the desk to take an apple strudel from Emma. His ass is on full display, directly in front of the commander’s office. Yoren rolls his eyes at the view. Benjen is wearing his fuck me jeans. “This guy, whoever he is, likes a chase. Maybe he got attached to someone and that pissed off his partner. She got insecure and decided to take matters into her own hands. Guy doesn’t like his toys being taken away, or he doesn’t like it when someone disobeys his orders. Took her out for a hunt. She figured out that she was the prey. Lesson learned.”

“Not everything is about jealousy when a woman kills,” Emma grumbles, though she barely believes it herself. “She can be bystander—maybe she saw something she shouldn’t have and he removed a witness.”

“She’s a pretty frequent witness, then. We have a paper trail on her. She moved to every location the murders frequented. No more than an hour away from the next spot,” Benjen bets. “I say she was in on it. It explains her moving record, and why her murder is so different from the others. All the other girls were taken away, hunted down, and then killed. She was just hunted down.”

“There are plenty of explanations, maybe—will you stop doing that? He’s not going to look.”

“Doing what?” Benjen askes as leaned over to grab a pen, or a paper, or something that would make his ass clench from outside the Captain’s, otherwise known as the Lord Commander, window. He is strutting up a storm, practically preening for attention.

“Doing that,” Emma accentuates that, because she knows Benjen knows. Everyone in the precinct knows about Benjen’s daddy issues. “We have a case to work on.”

“He’s going to look,” Benjen denies. “They always look. It is only a matter of time before he gives in to this perfect Stark ass.”

“He’s not going to look, he has more important things to worry about. Like dead women in Yorkshire.”

“Well, not looking is not going to bring them back.”

“Aren’t you supposed to mourning?”

Yoren scoffs. “His sugar daddy died, not his boyfriend. The only one mourning is his ass at the loss of an old, wrinkly prick.”

“Just the way I like ‘em,” Benjen admits. His tone is dry and welcomes good banter. “And he wasn’t my sugar daddy—I wasn’t with Mr. Arryn for the money, just the sex. There’s just something about being on top of a guy who is old enough to remember Churchill that really gets me going.”

“You lost me at Mr. Arryn,” Emma retorts. “You called your lover by his last name.”

“It made him hot. He loved being reminded of his age just as I much as I love reminding him. His wife never appreciated the way he worked his cock, said he was too old to please her. Turns out, she was just frigid.”

Emma rolls her eyes. She looks at the Lord Commander, who seems enraptured by papers. “Either way, let’s get back to the case so that we may save some lives. Can we all agree that the victim knew the attacker?”

“Aye,” Benjen and Yoren chimes in. Benjen looks into the metal plate and sees the Lord Commander in the reflection. He is still not staring. He pouts and asks how hot the coffee is.

“No,” Emma replies.

Benjen pours a bit of his mocha onto his pants. He makes a declaration to undress.

“Stop it!”

Yoren laughs. “Ten pounds says he calls in Stark for some discipline.”

Emma agrees to the bet, and when the captain comes out, eyes full of fury, ordering Benjen to make his get inside his office, she swears. Benjen walks with a glide and smirk. He enters the office, and once there, he casually pulls down the blinds.

Emma turns to Yoren, and also sees the entire precinct watching. “You’re all perverts,” she reprimands.

“Better his ass than yours,” says Yoren. “That’s a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen.” 

“People are dying and we’re betting on asses.”

“I’m betting—you lost.”

Emma rolls her eyes and gets back to work. When Yoren sees how sensitive she is, he walks up to the board. “You’re right about one thing: he’s escalating. Even if it was a fit of passion or something of the matter, if we let him get away with this, he’ll think he can get away with more. He’s gotten away with a lot already.”

The notion is frightening. Emma suggests looking at all the new residents that moved within a twenty mile radius to the crimes. Ones who live in open areas perfect for dogs to run and hunt, private residents, for example, or a home that might have soundproof rooms. Yoren suggests looking at large spots of land, particularly people with enough real estate that the crimes are so distant, finding them would be equivalent to pinpointing a tree falling in a forest.

Yoren has already prepared them. He talks about the few suspects they have, particularly the ones with records. Some older criminals who got out of prison and were recently released, and a few juveniles who are supposedly ready to join ‘the outside world.’

Emma takes the files. “I can’t believe you guys don’t close records when they turn 18.”

“Once an asshole, always an asshole,” Yoren remarks. He looks around. “Don’t quote me on this, my money’s on these younger guys. Here are their files. Messed up in the head, both of them. Seems like the type of thing loonies would do.”

“Who are they?”

“First one is Ramsey Bolton. His father is Roose Bolton; he does military contracts for Stark Industries. Ramsey moved here to manage the contracts while his father is working in Russia. He has a history of violence and sexual assault. He went to a detention center when he was fourteen for those reasons. When he was eighteen he was accused of raping a classmate. Girl who accused him died from an accident before there was a trail.”

“Well that wasn’t the most suspicious thing I’ve ever heard,” Benjen points out as he comes back. To no one’s surprise, he does not sit down on his chair.

“Rough lecture?” Emma asks.

“The roughest.” Benjen smirks.

“Smart kid,” Yoren continues. He ignores the interaction for actual police work. “After the incident, he deferred his admission to Oxford and studied abroad at Yale University. He graduated in the top percentage of his class. His psychiatrist says he might be a genius.”

“So we have an intelligent suspect with lots of money to move around, killing young girls? This just keeps getting better and better. I don’t even want to hear about the other one. My money is on him.”

“Don’t be so quick to judge,” lectures Benjen. “There’s more than meets than eye.” He takes out the file on their second suspect.

“Second is Jojen Reed. He got arrested when he was a juvenile for stalking, breaking and entering, and has gotten involved with drugs, both using and selling. He’s more into little boys than girls, but his record states that he’s not afraid to snap a finger or two to get things done. You’ll see how in his record. Like Bolton, he’s smart. Unlike Bolton, he’s been tested. Qualified for MENSA three years ago.” Yoren whistles. “We should look through the other files, but my gut says it’s one of them.”

Emma’s eyebrow furrows. She flips through the file. She sees a familiar name, and questions his legitimacy. “Is he related to Peter Pan?”

“The drug dealer?”

“Yeah.”

Yoren moves a couple of papers around. Benjen takes the faster route and looks through his computer screen. He finds the file almost instantly, and spins the screen around to show Emma. “Jojen’s mother was Pan’s mother’s sister. They’re cousins.”

Emma slams the file on the desk. “Changed my mind. I think it’s him.”

Yoren chuckles. “Let’s not get hasty. Is there bad blood between you and Pan?”

“You could say that.” Emma really does not want to get into the drama of her son and his hopefully ex-boyfriend. “All I know is, you have to be really messed up to work with Pan.”

And if there are two words to describe Jojen Reed, it is ‘messed up.’

-

Jojen Reed can count his best traits on a single hand. His intelligence, or at least the numbers he scored on a test when he was a child, is one of them. So far, his IQ has been his guarantee when shit hits the fan. His mind is his safety net and his curse. Long ago, it was the argument used to sway a corrupt judge who was unable to handle how a man of Stark’s wealth can hold such honor and not be swayed to provide a ‘donation’ towards the judge’s wellbeing.

Jojen sees the world in particles, in alternate dimensions and cosmic forces unable to be understood by man, and that makes him attractive to prestigious universities like Cambridge and MIT. He would never leave too far from home, though, from either Bran or from his family. The latter, particularly, needs him.

His second best trait, the one that reminds him of his beating heart, is his devotion to his family. On his life and on his soul, Jojen swears he loves his family. His father is a good man who stays by his side, even when he knew Jojen was guilty of the crime against his best friend’s son. He was the one who got on his hands and knees and begged Mr. Stark “to forgive Jojen. He’s my son, Ned. I love him, please, I can’t lose someone else.Please, if you have any respect for me, you'd forgive him.”

His sister is fierce and intelligent, and has worked to the bone to put herself through school. She wants to provide a better life for him and their father. She loves her father’s art. She loves how the wood speaks to a person’s being instead of catering to the masses’ affection. She does not want him to give it up, and so she hopes to provide for them. She loves Jojen, and prays every day for his mind to hear reason and not wayward voices.

But we can’t always have what we want, Jojen thinks. He smiles to himself, unpleasant and without amusement, because while he loves his sister and commends her efforts, he knows that hardwork and labor is not enough. A degree takes time, a job needs to fertilize before it grows into something substantial. Meera has loans, and though her scholarships are effective, they are not a panacea for her student debt. They need money, and Jojen loves his family enough to find a way to provide it.

There’s a hotel within the city that enjoys hiring baby faced boys with smooth voices. They judge the young men on their ability to smile and charm aging women, sing praises with tongues laced with honey and cyanide to them. They form a world where they can relive their golden years first, and their pasts never. Jojen doesn’t even have to sleep with them. Just be there, hold their hands while they tell him stories of their youth. It is not a fun job, but it is legal and profitable in more ways than one. The women are eager to slip Jojen a fresh tenner every time he throws them a wink or delivers a well-illustrated premonition (“I’m psychic, I swear, and I see a desirable future for you,” he purrs, just the way they like it and tells them anything but the graveyards and crows he truly imagines), but it is also provided a believable alibi to his family. They would much rather accept that Jojen is whoring his time out to various grandmothers and fading duchesses than to worry about his lingering hands in his cousin’s side businesses.

Jojen is a screw up but he doesn’t screw up. He’s smarter than half the boys Peter employs, and because Jojen loves his family, even those who do not deserve to be loved, Peter trusts him. He gives Jojen odd jobs every now and then, and the pay is phenomenal and the benefits unheard of (seriously, who else considers a bag full weed and a sliver of snow a ‘bonus’). Jojen supposes that is his third best trait. He doesn’t waste his money on stupid shit. He’s a sucker for the good stuff but he’s not an addict. He wouldn’t pay for this crap, even though it feels like heaven, because that’s money Meera needs for her tuition, and that’s cash his dad could use to buy a new knife for his newest piece. That’s food on the table, and that’s fire in the hearth.

The jobs aren’t as dangerous as they were before. He makes deliveries most of the time, and sometimes it is as simple as playing messenger for Peter’s boyfriend when they have a spat. Then, Peter gives him the cash and in sequence, he puts it in his father’s jeans or his sister’s jacket (though he supposes he’ll have to find a new way to go at it—maybe start a savings account or a safety deposit box that cannot be traced).

There’s nothing odd about today, except that it is fuller than usual. Jojen took a morning shift from his coworker, and though it was slow, the women were friendly with slippery hands. Afterwards, he made a few deliveries to the estate, and avoided a cop who tried to proposition him for a baggie. He politely refused and told him he didn’t trade. They both knew he was lying, but without evidence, neither of them could act. Jojen has a gift for spotting coppers. At the end of the day, he returned to Peter’s hideout. Everything went perfectly well, except for the chill in Jojen’s spine that proclaimed a messy evening. Sometimes, he truly hated his cousin.

Today, Peter has a guest over. Upon Jojen’s arrival, Peter’s eyes light up with recognition of a smooth day’s work. He introduces him to the fleet of young men who are too old, with hands too dirty, to be recruits for Peter’s lost boys—he likes them young and uncorrupted, which these men certainly aren’t. In the center is a handsome, chilling young man who smiles like his teeth are made of knives and his tongue quivers for blood.  “This is Ramsey Bolton,” Peter familiarizes. “We were cellmates in juvie. I invited him over to discuss his hard work over the last few weeks.”

“It’s good to meet you,” Ramsey greets, and oh, how he sounds so excited. Jojen hates it. He’s already imagining his death by a hundred starving dogs. Maybe in another life, he wistfully dreams. “Would you happen to be this legendary Henry I’ve been hearing about?”

Ramsey’s back is turned from Peter, so only Jojen sees the flash of surprise that passes his cousin’s face. Then, he spots the irritation as Peter sends Felix, his right hand man a look, and receives confusion in response. Now, Peter is angry. He hides it as soon as Ramsey turns to face him.

“Actually,” Peter clarifies. “He’s my cousin.”

The air grows tense. Ramsey disregards it with a chuckle. “Oh, I just thought because he looked so young…really, your family’s veins must be running with the fountain of youth. I bet none of you ever age. I’m jealous. What is your secret?”

Peter chuckles and smirks like he’s amused. He splits the cocaine into four straight lines with a gift card from a toy store, and Jojen scoffs as if it isn’t the most ironic sight ever. Then, Peter tears the paper decorated in snow apart into perfectly even halves and slides Ramsey’s share over.

“Salute,” Ramsey announces. He grins like a trickster as he snorts a whole row. Peter smirks, and sends an order to Felix with his eyes. Jojen watches with no amusement when the boys, some as young as Bran, bring the other men some of their own pleasures. While they enjoy their intoxicated pursuits, Ramsey becomes relaxed. He leans to the chair, and peers his wily blue eyes onto the gang leader. “I bet you’re wondering why I’m here.”

“The thought crossed my mind, yes,” Peter admits. “I thought I’d gotten rid of all the major competition.”

Ramsey waves off his concerns. “Oh, I’m not interested in ruining your monopoly. I’m an honest man, now.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes,” Ramsey chuckles. “Graduated from a fancy university in America, away from trouble. Started anew. I’ve even got a real job now, working for my dear old dad. No more off the book sales; all my crimes are sanctioned by the government.”

“Good for you,” Peter praises. “But from what I hear, even if you’re not dealing in drugs, you’re still dealing in bodies, or am I mistaken?”

“More like leaving bodies,” Jojen mutters without thinking. Ramsey is surprised by his sudden input, but instead of becoming defensive, he laughs. His men follow suit and laugh harder.

“Yes, old habits die hard. I haven’t found ‘the one’ to capture my heart completely.” Ramsey sighs. “I thought it’d be Myranda; she was childhood sweetheart. Her father took care of my father’s hunting dogs—I do love those dogs. Loyal, savage beasts. Not like humans. Nothing so weak. Then, she got a little mouthy, got boring, and while she was amendable to my games, she didn’t have what it takes to keep my attention.” He moved towards Peter. “So I found other playmates, and then she got jealous and thought she could keep my attention by fucking another man. I decided to remind her who she was messing with.” He snorts up another line.

“You were jealous,” Jojen points out.

Ramsey laughs, crude and rough. “No, she wasn’t enough to get my blood pumping. I just don’t like it when my things think they have a mind of their own.”

Jojen is disgusted. He wants to leave as soon as possible, but Peter calls for more celebration, more drugs and more alcohol to warm their bellies. Jojen knows if he leaves he won’t be receiving his payment, so he steps outside to escape the catastrophe and tries not to think of the crying victims and wailing women, their bloodied corpses on the streets, and their nails covered in excrement.

After hours and hours of tortuous shouts of glory, the noises die down and the men are escorted to their cars. Ramsey is not stupid enough to not prepare a designated driver, and another beast of man carries him to their car. Jojen hands it to men like Peter and Ramsey. They know how to make their bitches reliable.

Peter sees them out, and once he reaches Ramsey’s car, Jojen watches as they embrace like old friends departing. Ramsey slips some bills into Peter’s hands, and while the other man refuses, he is eventually pushed into accepting. They hug again. Peter walks pasts by Jojen, and the lonely house encourages Jojen to follow him inside.

As soon as they reach the living room, Peter pushes the contents of the table onto the ground and lets the air become polluted with the fog of depravity and addiction. “He knows!” Peter shouts. “He knows!”

Jojen frowns. It has been a long time since Peter has behaved in such a manner. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m saying that Ramsey Bolton knows about Henry.” Peter finds some more things to destroy, artifacts and decorations get thrown to the ground in rage. He grabs a poker for a fireplace he doesn’t have and starts whacking the ornaments off the shelves. He accidentally hits one of his boys, and doesn’t look the least bit guilty. “He knows because someone told him.” The boy groveling on the floor looks fearful, and Peter takes it as a sign of guilt. He beats his face first, and ignores his scream when he starts on the leg. “Did you tell him?” The boy whimpers. Peter stabs his face into the ground. “I asked you a question: did you tell him?”

Jojen stops his cousin from going further. “He’s too scared to speak. You’re blowing this out of proportion.”

“You don’t know Ramsey,” Peter warns. “He likes weakness. He knows he’s found mine, and I don’t have his. He has the upper hand. He knows something about me that I don’t know about him. He can hurt Henry, and he knows that hurts me. Fuck!” Peter drops the poker onto the floor. He starts pacing around the room. Jojen reads it as a sign of the storm, the omen before the apocalypse.

Jojen reminds him that his dramatics serves no purpose, and neither does beating his men until he finds a traitor that may or may not exist. “Henry’s mother is a copper. Not even a lord can protect himself from a mother’s wrath. Besides, you’re worried about the disadvantage, right?”

“I’m not worried, I’m angry,” Peter hisses. “What would you have me do?”

“Find someone he loves.”

“Ramsey loves nothing.” Their kind do not have attachments. “Everything he owns always breaks before we come to love them.” Peter already expects the worst for Henry, and his cock grows hard at his lover’s tears. Jojen wonders if he would have killed Peter by now if he wasn’t family.

“Well, what made you desire Henry? Why has he lasted so long?”

Peter quiets for a second, and then he answers: “Because he’s broken.”

“What?”

“Do you know why I’m so fascinated by Henry? Because he’s broken and no matter how hard he breaks, I know he can be healed. I know that no matter how many times I shatter him to pieces, there’s someone waiting to put him together. He has someone—someone who will love him regardless of what I can do to him.” Men like Ramsey fear and crave that one person who can never be broken. It makes them feel powerful and powerless at the same time.

“Then find that person and give him to Ramsey.”

Peter chuckles. “No…if Ramsey found out about Henry, it means he’s keeping tabs on me. It has to be someone he can’t control, someone living outside his line of sight. Someone I can trust.”

“No.”

“What?”

“I’m not going to be responsible for bringing an innocent bystander into your sick games.”

Peter scoffs. “I’m not asking for you to slaughter a baby and send it to the altar. Find me someone broken. Someone pretty enough to catch Ramsey’s eye. Someone who has enough people who love them that they could escape Ramsey’s grasp but not enough people to shield them from their own self-loathing.”

“The world is filled with bastards, cripples, and broken things. You’ll find someone without my help.” Jojen is not a good man, but there are things he will not do.

Peter glares. He will not be denied. “Maybe I will go looking and find someone incompatible. Someone who will just spark Ramsey’s wrath. Perhaps a stubborn little Stark girl or boy…”

“Maybe I can burn your house down and everyone in it.”

“Like mother, like son?”

“Peter…” Jojen warns. Peter refuses to back down and when he looks prepared to give names for potential victims, Jojen brings up another argument. “Even if I were to give him someone, what’s to say he’ll keep them? People like that, they throw away their toys even after they come to love them.” Like monsters, Jojen believes.

“Kids who throw away their toys may one day become collectors. Ramsey wants that ‘person to give his heart to’ and if there’s one thing you are good at, Jojen. It’s finding a person’s true nature underneath the disguises they display.”

Peter drops on the couch and asks for the profits from today, as if the matter has already settled. Jojen hands him the total, and from it, Peter leisurely counts it and then rewards him with his share plus a little extra on the side. He always does this, and Jojen wonders if it is because he’s family or if he knows the bit of generosity keeps Jojen coming back for more.

Before Jojen leaves, Peter repeats the order. “I’ll call you tomorrow to see what you’ve accomplished.”

-

Because of Theon’s consistent presence in their house, Winterfell has a de facto room for Theon with all his personal belongings from his clothes to a safety stash of cigarettes that Mrs. Stark contributes to on her more stressful days. While the Starks protested his original involvement with their eldest son, Theon likes to think he’s grown on them in his own way. At least, enough that they would leave him alone in the house and not be worried about missing objects when they come back.

The Greyjoys are a notorious crime family stationed in Liverpool. They began in the 1740s with the transatlantic slave trade—back when their businesses were still legal. On their tax papers today, they are fishermen. Underneath it all, they are common crooks who are slowly losing their power to young, bigger start up criminals who know how to work the system with cool manipulation over hard, crude force. Theon has never told anyone, but he suspects it is only a matter of time before his older brothers get arrested for their recklessness. Asha, who is born to rule, is simply biding her time for when they go too far. Their father favors her as well. He knows that if anybody can bring the Greyjoy name to their former glory, it is her.

Ever since Theon met Robb, he made a vow not to think of them again. His father found him too soft, and unlike his sister, who wanted him gone to escape their family’s hard life—she didn’t believe he could handle it, not her poor, weak little brother—his father wanted him out of his sight. He already tried to be the child Balon Greyjoy wanted, and hated himself for it. He hated how rough his hands became when he punched a guy in the face, hated the people he surrounded himself with, hated that he could never make someone smile unless he was pretending to be some douche. He decided that if he could not be the perfect Greyjoy son, then he can be the best friend and boyfriend to one of the most powerful men in the world. Robb will go places, and Theon will be by his side.

Ride or die, bitches.

And though it was a slow process, he knows the rest of the family is warming up to him. It helps that Robb’s last boyfriend (former beau, ex, all words are so delicious to his ears) is his cousin. Sansa, especially, has taken the advantageous position of being his friend, especially considering he’s been accepted as a transfer to Central Saint Martins, a school he knows she has her eye on. When he is undressing, he takes a casual glance as his hands because they’re still rough—but not from fighting or from hard labor like his brothers, but from years of putting his bitterness to his work. “We do not sow,” his family motto, can go down in flames, because Theon does sew and he does it well. 

He puts on his swimming trunks and heads to his favorite place in the house—a high tech twenty-meter marble pool with turbos and a waterfall. It is extravagant, but one of the many prized facilities of the Stark estate. Catelyn Tully was a competitive swimmer in her youth, and along with a grand sept, Ned Stark completely refurnished their pool to cater to her childhood dreams of being an Olympian. In total, Winterfell has two top of the line gyms with the latest equipment, a dance studio, several acres for jogging through the gardens, a playground, and north of their estate, they owned a stable.

The entire family is obsessed with fitness. They don’t care about attractiveness as much as they prize their health and hard bodies. Theon was in awe when he first visited. They have a paralytic kid riding horses, a ballet prodigy, an obstacle course disguised as a playground for Rickon, Robb competed in boxing and rugby, and Sansa, who he originally thought to be a run of the mill lady, participated in track. For a while, he suspected Robb was a part of a cult that wanted their members to become Olympic gods. It would not have changed anything if he was, but Theon would like to know what he was dealing with before they got married.

When Theon gets into the pool, his phone rings. He dips into the water and ignores the lyrics “at worst, I feel bad for a while…” so that he can be left alone to his thoughts. He knows who it is already. He tries to see how long he can hold his breath.

Underneath the water, he remembers the text message he received a week earlier from Asha. It was short, and rough, and demanded he come home. Their mother misses him. Finally, in a gentler manner, she confesses her concern by saying that he “was her brother, too.” For some reason, the women in his family have always cared about him as much as the men don’t.

He remembers his mother fondly but not well. He can feel her hands on his hands, teaching how to hold a needle properly and encouraging him to make his little designs of seashells and crabs. She kissed him and loved him, even when his father called him indulgent and his brothers teased him for being a sissy. He remembers Asha as the girl who pushed him into the mud, and when he cried, she told him to shut up and be a man. To fight back. To attack her. He kept on crying, and the next morning, she bought him a chocolate bar with her own allowance so that he would forgive her. He didn’t.

He remembers how his brothers once locked him in one of the boat’s cabins overnight for a prank, and slept amongst the stench of fish guts and the clacking of lobster claws. He remembers getting a cold from the sea water, and how his father, instead of taking him to the hospital, put him in his room without medicine and only gave him a thin blanket to warm up. He remembers his mother crying, and his sister pounding on the door, trying to get in but the lock was on and Theon couldn’t move.

Throughout his memories, he cannot forget his uncle who he was sent to live with after Theon got expelled for assaulting another kid in school. Theon gets out of the water to take a huge breath before diving back in. He lasted almost a whole minute. The phone is still ringing. On his second time under, he thinks about his uncle, Euron and wonders the ways he could die. As much as his other uncles were indifferent to Theon’s presence, they were adamant in not allowing him to be sent to their menace of a brother. Victorian destroyed a table and called Theon’s father mad. Aeron asked him to reconsider and Balon, in his unique brand of sadism, slammed a door so hard the hinges screeched like a dying woman and the younger men shivered. Balon ordered them to stand down.

Theon heard horrible things about the man, and his mother warned him never to be alone with him. For all the good it did, Theon quickly found out that whatever Euron wanted, he got. If he wanted to make Theon submit, he would. He tortured Theon in a way he would never confess to, not even to Robb. He keeps those dirty sheets a secret, and denies those immoral trysts against the wall as if his life depends on it. Theon is scum, he’s disgusting, and he’s a fucking mess of a human being, but he’s not someone’s bitch. He won’t tell a story to people who don’t care.

Robb was godsend when they met. He spent every waking moment with Robb and the Starks, because as long as he was with them, with sheets that are clean and clothes that were brand new because Mrs. Stark had bought the wrong size, he was free from the Greyjoy influence.

As long as he has Robb, Theon is safe and he is secure and he is happy. No one else deserves to be as happy—Theon deserves Robb. He’s suffer enough. He wants someone who is good and kind and not as messed up as him. Robb will make him so happy.  Being a Stark will be wonderful.

Chapter Text

Robb’s father once told him that if he woke up with his head spinning like a wooden top, it meant his life was out of focus. The only way to cure disorganization was to do something simple, something so infuriating straightforward that not even the world’s hardest hammer could bend it. Robb left for the gym at a godforsaken hour to hit the punching bag like he was slamming his fist into a a rugby rival's face. One whose illegal move was missed by the referee. 

When he is finished and his knuckles are white and his hands bruised purple, he walks into the kitchen. His head is clear and he muses that today is a great day for pancakes. He gathers up all the ingredients, flour, blueberries from the garden, fresh milk, and takes a whisk, pans and bowls from the cabinets. He hums a eighties rock song from his father’s vinyl, grinning like a fool, before he realizes that it is all for nothing. He cannot cook.

To satisfy his urge to break something, he smashes three eggs against the cutting board and slides them into a bowl, shells and all. Suddenly, he is furious. He cracks another egg. He smashes a few blueberries. He throws the flour in the air. Had he not receive a notification from his phone, claiming that the weather is perfect for a camping trip, he would have continued his egg cracking vendetta.

Robb assigned the alert because he’d been planning to invite Jon and his siblings on a retreat so that they could get to know each other. Robb thought about sobbing his lungs out, but finds that the self-loathing aspect of his soul was exhausted. He needed more batteries for his misery, because the ones he was running on—the countless memories of Jon reminding him that he was not ‘relationship material’ and Robb ignoring every single word, was almost gone. Today, he wants to purchase a new device.

Robb walks up the stairs with unbroken eggs, fresh berries and carries a sealed bag of flour underneath his arm. Then, he knocks on Jon’s door.

Jon opens it on the fifth or sixth knock, and is only half awake when he does so. When he sees Robb, his mind swallows shock and the serum is faster than any caffeine pill. He stumbles out a “what morning you doing good here?” before deciding on the polite “good morning’ should go first. Then, in attempt to sound smooth because he is drained from working with the Baratheons yesterday and spent hours last night digging a hole to bury his guilt corpse, extra fresh and big as a giant, he asks how Robb is doing. 

Robb unleashes everything.  “I was making pancakes. I needed to clear my head because the world was spinning and then I got hungry and pancakes, the overwhelming desire for pancakes entered my body—no, not my body, my soul. My inner being demanded I eat pancakes. Maybe it was because I went boxing and I was hungry. Maybe it had nothing to do with the boxing. I could have just been hungry.  But I needed pancakes. I got all the ingredients, stared at the blueberries and eggs and you know what?”

“You can’t cook?”

“I can’t cook!” Robb agrees. He laughs. “But why did I get the ingredients if I can’t cook?”

Jon does not know the answer. 

Because pancakes aren’t actually pancakes. Pancakes is Jon and Robb. I need pancakes, the same way I need you—please don’t give me that look—that’s not what I mean! I need you to be by my side, Jon. I don’t care if it is as a friend, a cousin, a brother but I need you. I want to start all over, I want us to be together and love each other.” And maybe have sex—but Robb is not stupid enough to say that out loud. “Please make pancakes with me.”

Jon is tired. He wants to sleep for another five hours, before he has to head over to the Baratheon house to plan a picnic for his bosses. Yet, Jon takes one look at that face, those perfect blue eyes he used to read in the morning, because they were clear when it was raining and crystal when it was cloudy. He sees the flour weighing on his shoulder, and trails downward to his knuckles which are on the verge of bleeding and Jon wants nothing more than to kiss them better and maybe make an ice pack.

Robb requesting his presence for breakfast is the most progress Jon has gotten all week, and the act is heaven sent. Pancakes and reconciliation and a cute Robb making him feel like soft sweaters and warm milk.

“Well, I don’t want you to burn down the house,” Jon says instead of 'I love you.' For a moment, he is concerned that the humor does not make it through, but Robb’s grin proves otherwise.

When they arrive to the kitchen, the place is a mess. Jon is thankful Aunt Cat isn’t here to see this catastrophe. He questions the egg vomit in the trashcan and Robb replies with a lazy shrug, saying his first attempt got out of hand.

Jon refuses to linger on the sentiment. He organizes the ingredients into one pile, the measuring cups and the bowls into another, and the last was on the stove with a slip of butter inside the pan. He does not turn on the heat until he finishes mixing the ingredients. Robb watches, fascinated by the way Jon swirls his wrist and the flick of his fingers when he adds in the yeast. He says it makes the pancakes fluffier. Watching Jon in the kitchen is more enticing than seeing him posing in his boxers. Robb, entangled with the domesticity, attempts to build a conversation with Jon. He starts small.

“Do you remember how old you were when my mother taught you how to cook? You were did so well. It’s like you were made to wear an apron.”

Jon hesitates to drop the blueberries in, and then rains them into the mix unceremoniously. He seems wistful. “Eight, I think? Maybe seven? That was a long time ago.”

“Why did you learn?” Robb asks. “I know Aunt Lyanna just dropped you off for the summer. Were you trying to get along with mother, or was it because Aunt Lyanna couldn’t cook, or…?”

“Yes, yes, and yes,” Jon answers. He pauses. “I think it was after you won your first rugby game. I couldn’t join you no matter how much you begged. I arrived too late for the practices. But you came into my room and started crying about how you thought you were going to choke the next match. You kept saying 'everyone is going to hate me, Jon. I’m the one who they’re counting on.’” Jon scoffs, though the noise is tinged with delight. “Imagine if rugby was a team sport.”

“In all fairness, I was nine.”

“I told you that winning wasn’t important.”

“That’s what losers say,” Robb answers before he can stop himself. The sentiment was a phrase from his past, from the hot-tempered boy who would chase after goals like girls, who held an illegal boxing match without gloves because his opponent dared him to. The conceited nature of his own statement amuses him, and he starts to laugh. “Okay, I was a dick back then.” He strides over Jon’s side and swipes a berry from the bowl. Jon swats him with the whisk.

“Down,” he orders. “Don’t you want to hear the rest of the story?”

“Sorry,” Robb grins sheepishly. He sucks the batter off the berry and chews. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Either way, you won me over. I just had to make you feel better. I asked Aunt Cat to teach me how to make you pancakes. You were obsessed with them. Buttermilk, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate chips, but most of all, blueberries.”

“You promised to make me a plate of pancakes for every goal I made.” Robb pretends to be aghast. “I was bribed!”

“Yes, you were. Your honor suffered a great defeat.” Jon grins. “Death by blueberries.”

“Practically medieval.”

Robb swears the kitchen became brighter with the blissful bells of laughter. Robb creeps his wandering hand past Jon’s own. Jon captures the slippery digits instantly. Robb plays off the gesture as a thief getting caught, and Jon is none the wiser.

“Do it again. I dare you,” he challenges.

Robb complies. He plays the game, he aims for blueberry after blueberry, and even throws in a few pinches of flour. Over and over again, Jon captures his hand and intertwines their fingers. “Caught you.”

“For now,” Robb teases. He pulls his hands a way, careful not to linger in case Jon fears the electricity pulsing through their palms. He feels it, and if he allows Jon to focus on the magnetic force, he will run away like he always does. He makes sure to escape Jon’s peripheral several times, just to keep the game exciting, and lets Jon win at least half the rounds.

Jon cannot stop laughing. He only quiets down when Robb shushes him in fear of awakening their entire family.

Once back on track of their breakfast, Jon continues the second part of the storyline. “You grounded the ball five times, and scored a penalty kick the referee should not have given you because you got fouled on purpose.” Jon smiles to himself. “For such an honest guy, you’re just full of deceptive moves, aren’t you?”

“I like to be unpredictable. Keeps things interesting.”

Jon hums. “I came up with a dozen new recipes so that you wouldn’t get sick of them.”

Robb remembers the maple bacon chocolate with great fondness. “They were delicious.”

Jon finishes making the batter and grabs the ladle. He turns on the heat and lets the butter melt all over the pan. When the steel is completely covered, Jon drops in the mix for the first batch. The mood lightens considerably, and as stress as Jon is about their interaction, Robb cannot miss the smile on his face.

He leans over to rest his chin on Jon’s shoulder. He is careful to place his hands half a foot away from Jon’s hips. He does not want to scare him; their progress has been too great. He makes an exaggerated breath and moans at the smell of sizzling blueberries. The berries dye the batter with lightning strips of purple. “Don’t tell mother but you’re my favorite cook.”

Any respectable young man would have requested Robb move away, but Jon is far from respectable. He thanks Robb and ignores their proximity for the sake of letting the sensation linger.

Robb makes a prayer towards his nether regions, and distances himself an entire centimeter. “Do you want to go out sometime?” He murmurs, lost in the song of their reunion.

Jon snaps his head in Robb’s direction. His eyes are wide and fearful. Robb attempts to rectify his mistake.

“I meant as friends!” He clarifies.

The look on Jon’s face says he doesn’t believe him.

Robb takes a deep breath. He cannot sound defensive about the situation, or else Jon will know he is lying. Robb is a terrible liar. The room for error has passed, and Robb spares not a single second longer to reply. He maintains a resolved stance.

“Jon, I’ve been through hell these last few days. Just because I respect you and have accepted your decision doesn’t mean I can let go all at once. I miss you.”

Jon is inclined to agree. He turns the stove onto a lower heat. “I…I missed you, too,” Jon confesses. “These days haven’t been easy for me either.”

Robb considers asking if Jon has changed his mind, but brushes the optimism away. If Jon wants him back, he knows he can have him. Jon is maintaining his standpoint, regardless of who suffers from it.

“I spent some time talking to Bran and Arya. Turns out for kids, they’re pretty smart. Smarter than we ever were at their age.”

“I could have told you that,” Jon replies. Despite the jest, the comment alleviates the original pressure in the room.

“I realized that we...I’ve been going at our relationship the wrong way. I admit, I don’t know you that well. The only thing to do about that is to be your friend again. Jon, I want us to recover our childhood bond. When there was none of these complications, none of these worries about sex or romance. When we loved each other unconditionally and did not have to worry about what other people had to say.”

Jon is moved. Yet he cannot fight his suspicions, and voices his concerns. “So there’s no ulterior motive here? You don’t want me back?”

Robb could not bring himself to lie, so he fuddles with the truth instead. “I do want you back—whether I get Jon Stark or Jon Snow, that's up to you. I want to be by your side. That’s what I want.”

They wait a moment. Jon returns to the pancake, slightly burnt but still scrumptious.

Finally, Jon agrees.

“Okay.” He flips the first layer onto the plate, and gets started on the second part of the stack. “What do you have in mind?”

Robb perks up at the submission. “I was thinking we could vist the reserves! We used to go all the time when we were kids, and…maybe make up the date we were supposed to have.” Robb remembers waiting for Jon for hours because his flight got delayed. When Jon finally arrived, Robb made the suggestion of camping in the safe zones of the reserves instead of heading home together. He told Jon he would wait for him. He did not expect Bran to try and follow them. Robb never saw Jon that day or any day after until that fated meeting in Scotland.

“Can we bring Bran?” Jon asks softly.

There’s apprehension that does not deserve to exist. Robb does not hesitate to agree. “I think that’s a marvelous idea.”

Jon finishes up the first stack with a conversation about their work and school. Robb feels at home again when Jon tells him to get their utensils—he can’t expect Jon to do all the work. The command is light and teasing. Glee bubbles within Robb as he gets their knives and forks, and sets the silverware next to each other so that the conversation is more amicable.

When Jon sits down, Robb suggests they do it this Friday. “The sooner the better. I heard the weather will be lovely.”

Jon heard the same thing, and dread boils in his stomach when he turns down Robb’s offer. “I have plans that night.”

Robb, for all intents and purposes, cannot sense an ill omen if it hits him on the head. He asks if Jon is working that night.

Jon could agree with the suggestion, he could lie and soothe Robb’s concerns, or he could be a man, suck up his fears through a soulless straw and tell the truth. In the spirit of their comradery, he chooses the last option. If Robb is serious about being friends, he deserves to know. “I…I actually have a date that night.”

Robb pauses mid-cut of his perfectly golden pancake before returning to make a perfect triangle. He bites into the buttery goodness, allows the creamy bread, more soufflé than breakfast, to melt in his mouth. The blueberries pop, and the butter skips on his taste buds. He chews as if the treat is a rare delicacy. “Well, maybe we could do it on Saturday then. Either way, we have to ask Bran if he’s available.”

Jon, in contrast, almost chokes on his own pancakes. He wants to ask how Robb is so calm about the situation, but finds the question narcissistic at best. He has never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and says he'll put forth the request. 

“So do I know who you’re going out with? Is he or she a friend?”

Jon is reminded of the man he’s been seeing for the last month. He rises his hackles despite Robb’s lack of weaponry. The chime of innocence is the vocal equivalent to a Trojan Horse. “I don’t think talking about him is a good idea.”

“Why not?” Robb asks. “If we’re going to be friends, I’m going to need to hear about your relationships. You need to trust me, Jon.” Gods, his tone does not miss a beat. He sounds like an inquisitive girlfriend rather than a jealous ex-boyfriend. Jon knows better, he does, but he cannot help but be hopeful that Robb is willing to let him move on and be happy. There’s a hiss in his mind that’s screaming for Robb to act jealous, to demand answers from Jon and cause a scene over him but he shuts that voice down. He needs to set an example.

Jon pours maple syrup over his pancakes. “His name is Willas Tyrell. He’s here on business.”

Robb recognizes the name at once. “Of Tyrell Industries?" 

Jon is surprised. “Yes. Do you know him?”

“Not personally, no,” Robb answers. His mind is already conjuring up all the facts he has on the Tyrell CEO, and a couple of theories as well. “I used to date his sister, Margaery. She studied here for a year before going to Cambridge. She told me their entire family is very close.”

Jon nods. “Willas says that as well.” The conversation is more comfortable than Jon would have liked, and contrasts the awkwardness building inside of him. Before Robb can ask him anymore questions, Jon announces he needs to get to work. If he heads there now, he will be an hour early but Stannis respects punctuality. He devours the pancakes in a flash, ignoring the obvious stomachache that will come. Robb watches him from the corner of his eyes and wonders how many cameras he has to hack to get the recording of Jon eating. He does not finish when Jon does, but when Jon puts his dishes in the sink, Robb surprises him from the behind with a hug.

“Have fun at work,” he tells Jon. He cannot resist placing a goodbye kiss on Jon’s cheek. “I’ll see you when you get home.”

Jon meekly nods, and gets out of Robb’s way. The eldest Stark eats his pancakes alone, and tries to unclench the hold he has on his knife. Old Robb would have thrown a tantrum by now. New Robb is smooth. New Robb is going to get his shit together.  New Robb is going to finish these delicious fucking pancakes, and then he is going to go upstairs and do some work for the company. Before that, he is going to stalk Willas Fucking Tyrell and make sure he is good enough for Jon. He puts all the plates into the sink for the housemaids to clean and heads to his room where his laptop awaits.

Before using his advanced search engine, Robb prepares himself for a good looking man. If he is a Tyrell, he is guaranteed to be a supermodel in a business suit or a god in a jersey. All of Margaery’s siblings are as beautiful as she is. One of her brothers is married, strong as an ox with a mind to match, kind and wholesome—Willas cannot be him. Her second brother is Loras, soon to be married to Renly Baratheon—Robb attended their engagement party. He knows Loras is about as sharp as a decade old crayon. He is not the type of guy who could catch Jon’s eye. Willas has to be the oldest. That means he is the CEO of Tyrell Corporations, which also means he has his wits about him or else the infamous Queen of Thorns would never allow him to take the reigns over their empire.

Fuck, Robb thinks, fuck his life for Willas being available. 

He uses a basic Google search first, finds a few articles about Willas’s impressive work ethic and legendary achievements—at least by corporate measures. The eldest Tyrell prefers to stay in the shadows otherwise. No reports on his relationships. Not a single photograph of an affair. He has a noticeable leg injury from a horse riding accident when he was a teenager. Smart, graduated fourth in his class at East Anglia with a degree in business and agriculture. Strongly involved in philanthropy, specifically in conservation and world hunger. He donates a portion of his company’s produce to feeding starving populations in third world countries, and spent a year in Rwanda to personally provide aid.

Robb slams the computer screen down in anger. He is an angel. He even has that wounded duck expression on his face whenever he talks about his injury. He takes several deep breaths, before opening up his computer screen again.

No, Robb refuses to give up. If a man that perfect is single, there must be something wrong with him.

Jon believes that their separation will be good for them, but that only means that it is Robb’s duty to ensure that his cousin receives the best possible partner. He loves Jon, and he is going to guarantee perfection. Robb moves onto his advance search engine. Everyone has a skeleton in their closet. A man like Willas has an electronic footprint whether he likes it or not; Robb is not some teenage girl going through her crush’s Facebook or Twitter. He pulls out a blank notebook and titles it Tyrell. He means business as he scribbles down every single piece of information he can get.

Arya pops in after her workout to ask Robb if he can take her to dance practice. She knocks on the door twice and receives no response. She knocks on it again, and there’s nothing. Finally, she opens the door and sees Robb hunched over his computer screen with an array of papers everywhere and a notebook filled with illiterate scribblings. Robb has not looked up from the screen once.

“Robb?”

Robb can type an estimated ninety-five words per minute, as evident of his test scores and the flurry of dust he leaves behind when he obsesses over a new project. Her older brother is immersed in his target, and believes no detail can be spared when going forth on a new endeavor, no knob or nook should remain unclaimed. It is what makes him successful in his academics and in his career. Such a trait makes Arya worried when he focuses that attention on other people.

“What are you doing, Robb?” She asks, cautious of how he’ll react to her presence.

“I’m taking your advice.”

“What advice?”

“I’m going to be Jon’s ‘friend.’” He does not look up from the screen. “You were right. If I really love Jon, I would want him in any form he’s willing to give me, and that is friendship.”

Arya is suspicious of the display of maturity, especially when his eyes gleam manically.

“What are you working on?”

“Jon and I are going camping sometime this weekend.”

Arya stares at the scene before her, and wonders if she should play along or question Robb’s motives. Camping is the playground of serial killers. “Good for you…?”

“We would have gone on Friday but Jon has a date. With a guy. Who is not me.”

Arya has a lump in her throat. “Are you okay with that?”

“Yes, why wouldn’t I be?” Robb laughs. He sounds delirious. “I am just so happy that my ex-lover, the man I was supposed to marry, is going on a date with another guy richer, smarter, and more charitable than me. It’s fucking great. I’m so happy that Jon found someone worthy of him.” Robb’s focus never wavers. He mutters nonsensical things like, “Martell…bad blood…Obie…who the hell is Obie…”

Arya backs out of the doorway.

Robb catches her retreat. “What did you want, Arya? Is there anything I can do for you after you’ve given me such fine advice?”

Besides not killing her, Arya states that she needed a ride but is sure Sansa can take her. “She’s about to finish her jog anyways—you do…whatever this is, Robb.”

“Thanks, Arya.” He puts down his pen. “Willas Tyrell seems like a wonderful man—that’s Jon’s date. Despite having a leg a step away from amputation, he has a clean bill of health. Blood pressure is currently a steady 110/80, though it deviates. Sometimes, it drops lower depending on the hours he puts in at work, and on other occasions, it heightens when he puts on a bit of weight. The heaviest he has ever been was fourteen stone and four—right after his accident. Stress eater. Mild case of depression. He’ll enjoy Jon’s cooking skills. High cholesterol runs in his family. Last month, he placed in over eighty hours of overtime—how on earth does he think he can give Jon the attention that he needs—never mind. He has a 971 credit score—not surprising given that his family is bloody rich. His national insurance number is—”

“That’s government information!”

“A government that uses our firewall systems. I can’t break into a house if I know the security code.”

“You can if the house is in another person’s name and you don’t have their permission to come in,” Arya protests.

“That’s a technicality, Arya. Say I kill someone and the cops come. If they said there are no signs of breaking and entering, it’s not listed as such. Therefore, I am not doing anything wrong.”

“No! Just…no, Robb.” 

Robb ignores her. “I think I saw him once, at graduation. He was taking pictures with Margaery. Nice guy.” But then again, he thought Margaery was nice, too and she crushed his heart and sprinkled the remains all over his graduation gown. 

Sansa chooses that moment to return from her job. She pops in, effortlessly beautiful with a sleek ponytail and classic Lululemon attire. Arya is reminded of the models in those Victoria Secret commercials advertising sportswear. The ones who look perfect when they should be dying. She knows she's never looked like Sansa when she's finished a work out. 

“Arya, do you have spare earphones? Mine broke.”

“Sansa!” Robb shouts. Sansa stares at her brother incredulously.

“Robb?”

“Sansa!”

“I have them,” Arya interrupts. “Come on, they’re in my room. Let’s go.”

“Sansa, I need a favor from you.”

“Don’t answer him—”

“What do you need?” Sansa asks, a little breathless and fatigued from her workout. She can feel the dead skin contaminating her sweat and causing erdu, and she desperately wants to take a shower. “Is it going to be quick? Because I really need a long, hot bath.”

“Do you have your phone on you?”

“Always,” Sansa responds. She takes it out and Robb grasps onto the monstrosity of flamingos and polka dots. “What are you doing?” She asks as she tries to get it out of his hands.

“I need Margaery’s phone number—found it. Thanks, Sansa!” He writes the number down.

“Why do you…” Sansa recognizes the look in Robb’s eyes and immediately regrets humoring him from the beginning. Instead of asking him head on for the truth, she turns to her sister and demands an explanation.

“Long story short. Jon is going out with Willas Tyrell this Friday night. Robb is not handling it well.”

“I am handling it just fine!” Robb denies as he takes out a two-year-old notebook titled Margaery from his trunk of girlfriends past. Out of sick curiosity, both girls sneak their way to the sealed trunk before Robb regains the sense to close it. They find stacks of books on Daenerys Targaryen, Meera Reed, even one coated with dinosaur stickers from his days with Dacey.

“He has Daenerys’ psych evaluation,” Sansa gasps. “From when she was seven years old!”

“Is that half as bad as the list of potential organ donors in case they ever get into an accident?” Arya brings up a page from Talisa’s notebook, listing a series of relatives, their blood types, and any listing medical irregularities to make sure their bodies did not reject the treatment. “Oh god, he has blackmail and incentives in case they refuse.”

Sansa goes up to her older brother and slaps him on the shoulder with Alys’ report. “Why do you have all these?”

“Because I don’t have an eidetic memory,” he explains. “How else am I supposed to know every single detail about my girlfriend’s lives?”

“You’re not,” Arya groans. Another thought occurs to her. “Okay, how on earth did you not realize that Jon was your cousin with all of this here?”

“When I was presenting evidence on why we should rent a new apartment, I pulled up his bank records. He got angry and threatened to move out if I did it again. The temptation of using private knowledge on a daily basis was too great, so I placed a block on any details relating to ‘Jon Snow.’” He has since removed the block, but he does not tell his sisters that. 

The sad part of the explanation is that Arya becomes slightly more convinced that Jon is as close as true love as it gets for Robb. Before she can express her sympathies or voice her disapproval, Robb hands Sansa back her phone. He proceeds to grab the both of them by the scruff of their necks and tells them not to worry as he kicks them out of his room.

“This is for Jon. I am making sure that Willas is a good match for him.”

“What if he isn’t?” Sansa points out. “What if Jon just wants to be with him—even if he isn’t perfect?”

Robb thinks about it, and Sansa, in the bleakest night with not a window of salvation, sees a sliver of hope in Robb’s contemplation. Then, Robb brightens up with the most brilliant idea.

“I could just kill him.” 

Sansa blanches. He shuts the door in their faces. Sansa and Arya do not collect their wits in time for them to stop his self-imprisonment. They start pounding on the door, and then they remember the time of day, and resort to gently knocking.

“Robb!” Sansa hisses out. “You can’t kill Willas, it is illegal!”

Arya scoffs. “That’s never stopped him from doing anything.”

“Robb, you could get suspended!” Sansa corrects herself.

“Much better, but mention father,” Arya whispers. “That always gets to him.”

“Father will be very disappointed in you!”

“Only if I get caught!” His voice is muffled through the doorway. He opens it to soothe his sister’s concerns. The look in his eyes resembles the ferocity of a general facing down a treacherous deviant. He is powerful and in control and he wants to slay his enemies and dance in their blood. “If Jon falls in love with him and he turns out to be a serial rapist, he’ll be heartbroken. If I kill him, I’ll make sure he dies a warrior’s death. Jon will be happy, and he’ll think ‘well, my last boyfriend was a serial rapist so dating my cousin can’t be that bad.’”

“He is not a serial rapist!” Sansa protests.

“Well I’m about to find out,” Robb claims as he shuts the door on them again.

Sansa rests her head against the door. “He can’t kill Willas! That’s Margaery’s second favorite brother!”

Arya raises an eyebrow. ”Who’s the first?”

“Loras, but only because Margaery suspects Willas is playing dumb and might be smarter than her.”

The truth sparks a discussion in her brain, as she nosily asks, “Who’s your favorite brother?”

“What?”

Arya appears detached from the severe situation. Sansa is incredulous. “Is this really the time? Robb is planning on killing someone!”

“We come from a big family. There’s bound to be a ranking. You must have thought about this before. Hell, I’ve thought about this loads of times.”

“I love everyone equally,” Sansa claims as she returns to pleas. "Rob,  stop this insufferable behavior right now!" Sansa likes Margaery, and she has a feeling that the older girl might stop being friends with her if Sansa’s older brother kills her older brother!

Arya calls bullshit. “Everyone has a ranking. Even our parents have a ranking.”

“What’s your ranking?” She asks, exasperated.

“Easy. Jon’s first—yes, I consider him my brother. You’re second. Don’t give me that look. You taught me how to use a tampon. Next is Bran. Easy choice, he and I played together the most when we were children. Robb goes next. Rickon is last, but that’s more an age factor than an actual indicator of affection.”

Sansa sighs. She looks back and forth in case her other brothers have woken up from the noise and reveals her own proclivities. “You first. Rickon second. Robb third. Jon fourth. Bran last.”

“Bran is last?” Arya all but shouts.

“Shh!” Sansa almost groans at her sister’s big mouth.

“How can Bran be last? He’s adorable! He talks to birds and drinks juice out of a bendy straw!”

“I don’t not love him,” Sansa defends. “I just get along with him the least. Besides, you ranked Rickon last. Shouldn’t you feel ashamed putting our baby brother at the end?”

“I have a justifiable reason for choosing Rickon. What’s yours for choosing Bran?”

“We just haven’t been able to get along, okay? Bran and I drifted apart when you were gone, and we don’t spend as much time together anymore. It’s nothing.”

“Sounds like something,” Arya mutters. Robb interrupts their moment by opening the door to reveal Robb dressed up in business casual, a simple but suave button up shirt coupled with a pair of dark pants. He is holding his laptop case, and looks every bit the young professional Ned parades him to be. His hair is slicked back, and he shaved. Arya does not know what’s more disturbing: the fact that he keeps a shaving kit in his room or that her older brother, who possess all the means to perform a murder, is now the equivalent of a twenty-something Patrick Bateman.

“If you excuse me, I’m going to check out the Aldwark Hotel. They’re an old client of ours, and I want to offer them a chance to update their security. Then, I am going to have lunch at the Blue Wisterias.”

“Alone?” Sansa knows those names, and she knows Aldwark is the principal hotel used in the area for housing business conglomerates. She is also aware that the restaurant named is far from a rinky dinky drive through.

“Yes, I checked their guest list, and the hotel has a string of interesting occupants that may be interested in hearing about the new advances in Stark Industries.”

“What about the restaurant?”

“The restaurant has raved reviews, especially after the Tyrells started providing them with their top of the line produce. A great chance for surveillance.”

“Are you okay?” Sansa asks. Arya rolls her eyes because she already asked that and Robb lied. Her brother is obviously not okay. He is so far from okay that ‘okay’ has divorced ‘fine’ because ‘fine’ was having an orgy with ‘disaster’ and ‘meltdown.’

“Sansa, I am in a good place right now. I’m going to focus on my work and make father proud.” He pauses and turns around to make sure the door is closed. “I hope you know I was joking about earlier. I wasn’t going to kill Willas.”

He leaves in a hurry and turns around to asks Sansa and Arya to explain to their mother that he won’t be at breakfast today. When he is gone, Sansa asks Arya if she saw it.

Arya groans. “Yeah, I saw it.”

Sweet tooth comes from the Tully side, the inability to cook is all Stark. Tunnel vision is a Tully trait. Paranoia is a Stark’s curse and blessing. Tully colors are red and blue. Starks are black and gray. They are all their parents’ children, except on some occasions, they lean towards more one than the others. Only Sansa and Rickon can tell a lie without giving the truth away, all the other Starks have tells. Arya taps her left foot. Bran looks to his feet.

Robb looks behind him.

Chapter Text

Halfway through Guns N Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle, Margaery Tyrell picks up her phone.

“Hello? Margaery Tyrell speaking,” she answers without a trace of guile. Margaery has mastered the art of appearance; with a single question, she can replace a complete stranger with a childhood friend and, a novice with a professional. On his car speakers, she sounds every bit the rose she is. Robb cannot help but smile. It is heartening to learn that she is happy and well. 

“Hey, Margaery, it’s been a while.”

“Robb?” Margaery laughs. For some reason, it reminds him of bells ringing. “Is that you?”

“Yeah, it is." 

“Well, it has been a while!” She seems amused. Robb has not spoken to her in years. With the following girlfriend, he had thought to make amends. They agreed to leave their hard feelings in the composte and prepare the fields for friendship. Robb is grateful she considers his contact charming rather than bizarre. “How have you been?”

“Good,” Robb says at first. Well, he’s been worst so he’s not lying. “You?”

“Good,” she mimics. There’s light teasing in her voice that makes Robb sweat. Out of all his girlfriends, Margaery was the most difficult. And though deceptive and entirely too clever for him, he found her to be the most intriguing member of his past. “I’ll be in my last year of Cambridge soon, and then I’ll be starting my practice course. I’ve been getting loads of offers. It’s all very exciting. Your company is one of them. Have you heard about that?”

Robb has not, but he isn’t surprised. He knows that Margaery’s loyalties are to her family in the end, but Stark Industries would be a fool not to acquire a sample of her intelligence—however brief. Besides, Stark Industries and the Tyrell Corporation are not in competition--not even close. “We’d be lucky to have you.”

Margaery laughs again. “If I remember correctly, you’re at Edinburgh. Are you in your third year now?” She asks as if she doesn’t know.

“Yes,” Robb answers, as if he doesn’t know she knows. “I just finished my second year. Time flies by pretty quickly. My father has already tasked me with a few assignments for the company. That’s why I called you.”

“Oh?” Margaery is intrigued. She enjoys talking business--it's her favorite form of conversation. “So this isn’t a call of pleasure?” She is purring, trying to get a rise out of him for the sake of a better deal.

Robb has become immune to her flirtations—a far cry from his puppy eyes and everlasting adoration when they were dating. His tone is steady when he confirms her assessment. He is not harsh, his poise is a blessing from his mother. He is glad he will never have to find out what life would have been like for him if he had his father’s social skills.

“It is,” he agrees easily enough. “I wanted to talk to you about updating your security systems. We recently brokered a new deal with an overseas company. Japan, to be precise. The new software runs substantially smoother than the previous ones. We’re still in the testing stage but we’ve received positive results so far.”

“Very impressive,” she praises. She tries her hardest not to sound impressed. “But the Tyrell Corporation has already installed all the latest advancements from your company. I’ve never felt safer.”

“Oh, I’m well aware of that. Your business is appreciated.” Robb does not falter. “I figure I should let you know, as a gesture of good will between us. Since Tyrell Corporation is hoping to advance their production globally and provide a bigger presence in the east, they might like to guarantee potential partners of their commitment to those countries. Foreign agriculture does not have the best reputation in the Asia, especially after the farmer’s suicides in India and the riots in Nepal…”

“And how could a security company help us with this?” Margaery loves business but she hates complications. Robb knows from experiences about the clippers she keeps on hand whenever a bud needs to be nipped. She is on the edge of defensive.

At least she’s interested, Robb muses. 

“Stark Industries, on the other hand, has been in league with countries from around the world. Japanese corporations are constantly doing business with us, and we have brokered several successful agreements with third world nations—countries that your company is interested in renting lands from. I would be happy to throw in a good word for you.”

“That would lovely,” Margaery tells him evenly. “I suppose you would like something from us in return.”

“Did I not say to consider this as an act of good will?”

Margaery remains suspicious.

Robb laughs. “Well, my father has been very grateful to the support lent to us by the Tyrell Corporation. Our reserves are prospering immensely. We’re hoping to expand our safaris and would appreciate your continued support.”

“How philanthropic of you,” Margaery quips. Even over the phone, Robb can tell she does not buy the entire story.

“We would also appreciate further alliances in the future. Say, a heads up if anybody tries to interfere in our field.” He's heard from a few board members that several Lannister members are aiming to expand their markets, and are considering security as a field. 

“Of course.” Margaery sounds more secure in this agreement. “I think that will be beneficial for both our families.”

"Wonderful. Would you be willing to travel north to discuss this in person? I would love to see you again.”

“Are you trying to seduce me, Mr. Stark?”

Robb laughs. He remembers why he thought he was in love with Margaery all those years ago. Beyond the fact that she is beautiful and intelligent and all those traits he admires and yearns to emulate, she is fun. Like Jon, she made him laugh. And like Jon, she made him cry as well. He knows better than to dip his wick in her quicksand again.

“Maybe I just miss you,” he retorts. He matches heat with heat, and there’s nothing sexier than a man with confidence.  A lesser woman would have melted like butter. But Margaery knows Robb only talks to women like that when he has an agenda. He closes deals with that voice, and he acquires girlfriends through his speeches.

Margaery suspects she’s in the former category.

“Unfortunately, I am busy for most of the week. And to be honest, Robb, I know you adore your county but a semester was enough for me.”

“Got it. Is there anybody you know who would be willing to make the trip? Someone you trust?”

Margaery does not even have to think about it. “You're in lucky. My older brother is in the area for business. He’s almost finished but I don’t think he’ll mind staying for a few more days.”

“Are you sure? I’d hate to keep him away from his family.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it.” Robb imagines her delicate hands--the perfect manicure, French tips or even a tasteful baby pink acrylic, brushing off his concerns. “He’s quite infatuated with a boy he met there. I’m sure he’ll take any excuse to stay longer.”

Robb tightens his grip on his steering wheel. “That sounds great. Can you give him my number and have him call me when he has the time?”

“Of course.” Margaery pauses. For a moment, she considers asking if there’s another reason he called. She does not doubt that business is a concern of his—for as long as she’s known him, he’s always been committed to his father’s company. When boys their age were still finding themselves, Robb was completely aware of his wants and desires. She considered his drive as his allure and simultaneously, his repellent. “I’ll set it up at once.”

“Thanks, Margaery. You’re aces.” She can see him grinning in her head, a strings of pearls aligned to make a necklace a girl swoons for, and her heart flutters with the memory of tussled sheets and bubblegum pleasantries.

“Bye, Robb.” She hangs up, and wonders if he’s single. Then, she giggles at her own naivety.

After calling Margaery, Robb dials another number.

“Good afternoon. Martell Dynasties. You’ve reached the London office. How may I direct your call?” 

“Doran Martell’s office, please.”

“May we ask who is calling?”

“This is Jory Cassel calling on behalf of Stark Industries.”

There’s a pause. He hears some papers being shuffled. “One moment please.”

He waits just that moment, and is immediately redirected to a Spanish ballad. Robb cannot understand a word; he can barely speak the French he took his A-levels in. Not like Jon, Robb admires, Jon’s French is lovely.

“Hello. You’ve reached Doran Martell’s office. He is not in right now. Can I take a message?”

Robb snaps out of his thoughts. “Good afternoon. This is Jory Cassel. I wanted to reschedule the skype appointment. Mr. Stark has become preoccupied with another venture, something that requires the utmost attention. I hope you understand.”

The implication is a little more than a threat. Everyone knows the reputation of Eddard Stark is that he would never miss a meeting or avoid appointments unless the issue is paramount. The woman is so concerned with the possibility of involving national security that she does not acknowledge that no such meeting existed before this moment.

Before she could find the inconsistency, Robb proposes a solution. “Since he cannot make it next week Thursday, Mr. Stark would like to suggest his son take his place.” He suggests an inconvenient time—one he knew Doran Martell could not make.

“I’m sorry. Doran Martell is completely booked for that day.”

Robb hesitates long enough for concern. “We won’t be available for the rest of the week.” He sighs. “Between you and me, the issue is not urgent. Stark Industries simply wants to initiate a relationship with Martell Dynasties. We would be more accommodating, except the CEO of Tyrell has a date,” Robb perfects a beautifully-made, exasperated sigh, “and due to already existing relations, we have to adhere to his schedule.” 

The secretary makes a sympathetic noise. “I understand, perhaps—”

“Excuse me. We’re receiving another message from one of our main vendors. How about I call you some time tomorrow, and we can continue this conversation?”

“That would be fine. Thank you, Mr. Cassel.”

Robb hangs up. If he played his cards right, the message will get to the right person. He checks his planner and finds there’s only one number left. He decides she can wait. He wants to be at his full strength when he confronts her. Robb scrolls down his playlist, and finds a new song to enjoy his ride to.

-

The gods of dance wanted Arya on the stage, for they invoked a charm of green traffic lights and speeding grandmothers. Arya arrives miraculously early, a salmon bagel contently in her belly, and well hydrated for the next six hours of practice. Syrio seems surprised to see her, checks his watch once and then checks it again a second time to be sure.

He tells her, “You must really want this.”

“I do,” she says, but only to herself. To Syrio, she nods in agreement.

She drops her bag in the carrier section and goes to stretch. There’s only one other girl who arrives earlier than she does and it is Waif, her understudy. Waif is glaring daggers and knives; she wants Arya to screw up in the smallest matter to the big bang so that she can lord it over her. Arya refuses to submit She is not going to be late, she is not going to screw up, and she is going to dance until the stage is stained with her blood and the room reeks of iron.

More girls come in. Most of them are not in the performance, but participate in the fundraising. All of them hope that their hard work and efforts will lead them to being casted in the future, and for some of them, their theory proves true. Syrio pays attention to everybody. When there’s a complaint, a whine about the late night practices, a grumble about the unfairness, he hears it. He sees the understudy that practices her heart out beside the star performer and he’ll find something for her next time. 

The girls file in ten minutes after, and after twenty, everyone who is supposed to be in the room, is. Syrio begins the conversation by thanking them all for being there, and welcomes them to their summer training. He explains their summer schedule, and congratulates them all for making it this far. When on the subject of their grand performance, they must also discuss fundraising, and how a number of the girls will have to perform at their opening party. Pyp asks why the guys can’t dance with them, and Jorelle Mormont points out that girls bring in more money.

“All the fat old pervs rather watch us shake our asses than yours. Unless, of course, you’re eager to have your leotard-clad ass spanked.”

Pyp turns red. He keeps his mouth shut after that.

Syrio goes on for a while, discussing the order of their performances, everyone’s roles and positions, how they must all work together to achieve their goals. Dancing, he reminds them, is not made up of solo performances but a solo performance of dancers. The line is cheesy and distressingly heartwarming and brings a smile to everyone’s faces—except the Waif’s. She is solemn and sulking in the corner where mushrooms grow and spider webs prosper.

“Bitch,” Arya mutters.

Jorelle asks if she said something, and Arya waves her off with a “nothing.”

Someone opens the door, and the smiles drop from their faces. With the fairy dust of nutcrackers and witches, everyone’s posture is perfection. They preen for the golden geese that have enter their peripheral. “Look at me,” says their lithe bodies. “I’m special,” screams their eyes. All of the students in the room have been dancing since they were three; all of them selected from hordes of aspiring eight-year-olds hoping to become prima ballerinas and cavaliers. It’s a lie when people say that ballet turns a person needle thin or gives them nymphet nimbleness. The teachers pick the true potentials out when they are young. Then, they enter the big leagues in hopes of joining the biggest league: an actual dance troupe.

The girls can not stop their breath from catching when Jaqen H’ghar walks into the room.

“He is as handsome as ever,” whispers a girl from the second row. Arya agrees but has the sense not to say it out loud.

Jaqen’s pheromones secrete with his steps—the dust rises every time his foot hits the floor and the chemoreception imbedded in every dancer is activated with unusual amounts of sharpness. Out all the Faceless Men, he is the most recognizable. His face is the envy of every dancer; half of the troupe’s full houses are credited to his being.

The second person to enter the room is not as intriguing; she does not make their loins wet with lust. She does, however, bring forth an air of excitement and sunniness to their otherwise high pressured and stakes filled environment.

Lady Crane is a legend. She is one of the few dancers who has not faded in old age; now gracing a movie screen instead of the center stage. “Not out of love,” she defends, “But necessity.” Dance is cruel to the body, and at her age, she can no longer perform the way she used to. She is a realist, but stands as a beacon of hope to the girls and boys. Instead of dying off like the other swans, or harboring her own nest of vicarious chicks, Lady Crane remains in the business. She choreographs, she teaches, she performs—albeit not the way she would prefers, but her livelihood is secured for the decades to come.

“For the next eight weeks, Lady Crane and I will be supervising the rehearsals as directors and the original choreographers. Please show your deepest respects for the woman who has taken time out of her busy schedule to attend to our pool of misfits. If all goes well, you will learn plenty from her.”

“And hopefully, I will be educated by all of you,” she says, charming as a lady in court. “May none of us become disappointments to one another.” Quicker than lightning, a vicious gleam flashes in her eyes. The students shiver except for Arya, who is exhilarated as an ant dosed on a sugar cubes and candy canes.

The students clap, and Lady Crane delicately thanks them for their appreciation.

Syrio introduces Jaqen without having to. “And I welcome Jaqen H’ghar; you may remember him from our auditions. He will be our primary liaison with the Faceless Men and the male lead in the recital.”

Wylla Manderly raises her hand and asks where the other Faceless Men are. “I thought they were supposed to be a part of the performance as well.”

“They have already learned their steps,” Jaqen informs. “They will be joining us on the second week for cohesion. They prefer not to come until you are at the level necessary to perform alongside them.”

"Oh." Wylla cannot hide her disappointment. While she is one of Syrio’s selections and was invited to perform on stage, her role is curt and a little more than a background accessory. She wants to meet the other dancers in hopes of gaining leverage. Everyone knows that Arya is guaranteed a spot, and the Waif is almost a sure thing. The others are still fighting.  

Once introductions are finished, everyone is ordered to their positions. They do their daily exercises with agony weighing down their shoulders and nerves threatening to explode with a single touch. Jaqen never stays in the same place for long. He inspects the chosen ones with unsettling stares, and his gaze lingers on an unselected few that could have made it but didn’t. He stops only when he reaches Arya.

She is in the middle of a reaching Rond de Jambe when Jaqen places his hand on her back and tells her to straighten her spine. She obeys and his hand reaches just high enough to be registered as decent.

“Perfect,” he murmurs. His hand travels down her thighs, and he orders her to keep her body parallel. His touch does not go away, not even when she returns to her first position.

Arya can barely breathe.

“You should leave me alone.” She is taken back. Is that her voice, so calm and composed in the face of danger? She has been doing this for far too long. Men, and sex, and sensuality. “Everyone will say you favor me.”

“Does a man not?” He asks, and his sea borders the lands of curious and charmed. He wonders to himself how much he cares as he places his fingertips on her waist and admires the fragility of her body. Small and supple and easy to mold and easy to break. Her bones are hard and her muscles tough. They are next to the mirror. Their location, which Jaqen is sure is an act of provocation, arouses him. As a boy, full of carnal whims and youthful passions, he used to fantasize about fucking his partners over the Barres. He imagines Arya sitting on top of the bars, spreading her legs for him while he splits her in half, tips her over so that her ass is the only thing keeping her on the pole and she is forced to watch herself in the mirror. Arya is tiny; when she is filled, she appears obscene. He leans down and keeps his breath hot on her neck.

No one dares look at them. No one has the courage to break their position and risk Jaqen’s wandering attention. They do not need to see them to watch them; Arya can sense their disgust and relishes in their envy. She will play the game if Jaqen likes, but she does not intend to ruin her practice in the process.

Syrio instructs them to move on to the next exercise. Jaqen releases Arya, and without missing a beat, she resumes a proper attitude. Jaqen returns to his scouting. He crosses paths with Syrio, who grabs his arm before he can move onto the next row. He has to pull him down to whisper in his ear. Jaqen is a tall man who is flexible to demands.

“You’re not the first instructor to sleep with his student and you will not be the last. But you will be very careful about how you treat my protégé. She is not a mouse to feed your snake,” Syrio hisses, and he sounds as if he just grew a fresh threat on top of his newly shed skin.

Before Jaqen can respond, a quip in derision, a jeer about a teacher’s inclinations towards his student, Arya captures his attention again. Her hands move the way wind is drawn on paper—like waves in the sky. She is boneless and for a brief moment in time, he believes he’s obsessed. Arya smirks when she catches him staring. She forgets herself, and moves a second slower than the rest of her classmates. She quickly returns to pace.

Jaqen chuckles. Syrio is not amused.

“Arya, that boy,” he emphasizes the contrast to Jaqen’s own title for her. Arya is Syrio’s boy, and he will do anything to keep her from becoming Jaqen’s girl. “-has a lot of potential. She will prosper under professional guidance.”

“A man can be professional while succumbing to his personal pleasures.”  

“Give her one and forgo the other. Let the sun illuminate the flower, and the winds move the leaves. She does not need the hands of a praying mantis on her form.”

Jaqen sighs. Syrio is a worrisome creature, and though Jaqen considers him a convenient companion, he does not possess the strength to stop the younger man's interest. Jaqen craves her again, and again, and as many times necessary to get her to submit to him like the others. He wants to drown her with pleasure--enough until she loses her voice and the feeling in her legs. He wants the only thing to carry her on the stage is the vibrations of symphony and strings.  

The exercises end and the lessons begin. Syrio walks over to Lady Crane, and makes a suggestion Jaqen cannot hear. When they are finished talking, Lady Crane sends him a derisive look, and walks over to Arya. The girl grins in delight. When Syrio comes back to his side, he reveals that Lady Crane will be giving Arya a private lesson.

“Was that necessary, friend?”

“Arya appreciates the assistance. She wants her solos to be perfect.”  

Lady Crane and Arya walk past them to get to the door. Jaqen’s fingers touches hers, and there’s a spark that forces their gazes to meet. Arya is the first to look away, but her timing to turn is slow.

Want, Jaqen believes, is not something men can control.

To his credit, the German stays for the entire lesson. He provides instruction to the students—as he has been assigned to do, and through the flushes and the terrified expressions, his insight leads to admirable improvement.  

When the first portion of practice is over, the students are given a break. Jaqen offers them a chance to meet him in his office for notes, but does not stay after class to give them. He walks past the glass window that contains Arya and Lady Crane. Arya is bouncing; she is practicing her first solo—the dance that begins the play. Arya’s character is supposed to be the picture of innocence; a young, nubile heiress who rides horses amongst a field of lilies and freesia. Arya, to several people’s disappointment and delight, performs it with grace and familiarity. She is as much a spirit as Ariel of the Tempest, and her eyes extend a certain softness resembling teddy bears and cream.

“Mr. H’ghar?”

Jaqen turns around to see Waif. For someone so expressionless, she cannot suppress her bitterness. She was watching as long as Jaqen was.

“Yes?”

“I want to talk to you about the upcoming performance.”

He figured a conversation was in procession. He wonders what took the understudy so long to confront him; he knows her jealousy has been seething for a while. He agrees to take her into his office; a loan from Syrio that held too many possessions for him to feel at home.

Once the door is closed, Waif goes forward with her complaint. “Why did you choose Stark for the role? I am the better dancer.”

No one ever accused Waif of subtlety.

“You are,” Jaqen agrees. “Far better.” The confession surprises Waif, who expected a long line of excuses and an explanation that traveled in circles not rays. Her disbelief is taken over by her outrage.

“Then why did she get the part?”

Jaqen ignores her. He looks through his collection of recordings.

Waif’s frustration grows.  “Did you sleep with her?”

“A man did.”

Waif makes a noise that imitates a drowning fish. Loud, bubbling gulps of misery, and the sound entertains Jaqen. She was his favorite once. But she bored him easily; she was all talent and no passion, a flawless design when he desires the chaos of broken windows and faulty roofs. There is no beauty in utility; no lust in function. Jaqen wants a hurricane; not the rain.

“So it’s true then, she—she got the role by sleeping with you.” Waif’s frown turns into an ugly sneer. She is aghast to have lost her opportunity to some slut. “That’s not fair! She’ll ruin the performance. She can’t do the part! I—”

Jaqen dismisses the allegation. He finds what he was looking for. “She received the spot before a man and girl slept together.”

Waif is taken back. She recovers, and accuses him of lying.

“Why would a man lie?”

“So that—so that you can save your own face!”

“A man does not need saving.”

He tells her to take a seat while he places the DVD in the player. He begins the video. Waif is alarmed by his nonchalance, and thinks of vengeance for her disgrace before Arya’s obnoxious laughter is heard. She sees Arya’s audition being played on the screen, starting from Arya’s introduction. 

“What style are we going to see today?” Lady Crane asked. 

“Contemporary,” she told them, before laughing again. Nervous giggles, Waif concludes, they all nervously giggle when they are put on the spot. Waif never succumbs to such ticks. She is proud of her restraint. She never laughs in the face of adversity; she is the picture of professionalism. Someone cued the music for Arya, and the Stark delved straight into her performance. She became lost in her dance—Waif can see how her eyes cloud over before a quarter of the piece is through. Her movements were organic and intense, and she was so absorbed with her own arms and legs, she missed a beat.

Jaqen turns the television off and the Waif’s attention shakes. She cannot think of the words to say, and finally starts with the obvious. Arya’s flaws, which she has recorded every single day. “Her rhythm was off by half a second. She didn’t follow the song.” Waif curses her syntax. She sounds petulant, not instructive, and Jaqen can claim her resentment leads her to being unnecessarily unfair towards Arya.

Jaqen returns the DVD to its case, and hands it to her.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Watch it. Watch it until blood pours out of your eyes and dyes your green red. You are not wrong. In terms of technique, your work is perfection.”

When Waif opens her mouth to submit another objection, until Jaqen continues. “A man does not want perfection, a man wants passion. He does not want flawlessness, he wants effortlessness. Arya does not fake her motivations, she does not need to pretend to be the girl, she is the girl. She captures an audience’s heart with a single step.”

“I can do that!” Waif protests.

“A man noticed that you did not blink during her performance. Why is that?”

Waif is speechless. When she tries to answer, Jaqen silences her with his own theories. “The girl enamors, she plays the Venus in a flytrap and captures a person’s soul before they recognize themselves as prey. They see her sweat and they imagine licking the water off her flesh. She stretches her legs, and they imagine them wrapped around them. She seduces an audience. Can you seduce an audience?”

Waif says nothing. Jaqen pushes further.

“Can you make a man want to fuck you?”

Waif has heard enough. She swats the disk out of his hands and storms out of the room. She swears, before she leaves, that she will get the part. “I’m still the understudy,” she threatens.

“That you are.” Jaqen is not the least bit concern. He has no doubt that Arya will be on that stage, beside him, where she belongs.

-

After their independent practice expires, Lady Crane invites Arya for a spot of tea and rum. Arya accepts the tea and forgoes the extra splash. “I still have another three hours of practice,” she reminds her.

Lady Crane accepts the excuse. “That was a test,” she jests.

They laugh.

Lady Crane asks what she plans to do after retirement. The question is dismal, but sensible. Arya takes no offence, for she understands that Lady Crane, out of everybody, is sympathetic to the struggle of a body past its prime. Arya has often contemplated the fate beyond her thirties, thoughts propositioned by her mother and father. As the daughter of Eddard and Catelyn Stark, her financials are stable. She will never have to marry well, or bear the agony of squeezing a child out of her tight pelvic floor. She can continue to work behind the scenes, passing on the sacred flame either as a coach and teacher, or work in administration. Dance is a cult that does not take kindly to outsiders.

Otherwise, she can pull a Lady Crane and consider acting. She enjoys traveling, and has developed a modicum of skill with roleplay.

“Marry well,” she answers. Lady Crane bursts out laughing, and Arya cracks a smile as soon as she says it. Lady Crane reveals she has never been married, but has taken many lovers.

“My taste in men range from vile to utter filth. I was never stupid enough to marry; I knew myself too well,” she proclaims. “What about you?”

“Marriage, or men?”

“Both.”

Arya sips her tea. “I like men who are not good for me.” She thinks of Gendry. “And I like men who are too good for me.”

Lady Crane hums. “The trials we women go through.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Arya brings forth her cup to salute Lady Crane’s glass of rum. She drinks her hot chai and waits for the spice to scratch her throat. Afterwards, she confesses that she’s not the marrying type. “I don’t think I can ever be happy in one place.”

“I thought that, too, when I was your age.”

“What happened?”

Lady Crane smirks, devious as the devil, bold as a harlot. “I was right.”

Arya giggles so hard she ends up falling to her side. She wonders if Lady Crane laced her tea with something stronger than cinnamon. She wipes a tear from her eye.

Lady Crane finishes her glass and pours another.

"If you drink anymore, you won’t be able to stand for the rest of practice."

The retired ballerina's eyebrow raises. "I've been doing this a lot longer than you girls have. I know what I can handle.”

When she is halfway through her second glass, she informs Arya that, “I only ever drank after a performance, and never, ever before. When I could no longer perform on stage, I kept drinking. If I didn’t have acting, I would be laying on a couch for the rest of my life, smelling of booze and bonbons. Thank god for my talent.”

Arya agrees, for she does not know where she would end up without her dancing.

“It’s a lonely life,” Lady Crane reveals. She is wistful. They are mere minutes away from joining the other dancers. “You never stay in one place for too long; you never have time to develop relationships. Every dancer is a competitor. They can be your friend one day, and your rival the next. Ruthlessness, a trait praised in men, is abhorred in women. Never listen to those laymen, Arya, and never let your affections prevent you from achieving your dreams.”

Arya soaks in the advice. “Do you regret it?”

Lady Crane has been dancing since she was three. She is still dancing today. She walks outside without her sunglasses in Paris and is immediately recognized by half the city. She has more friends now than she ever has before, but none of them are close enough for her to attend their children's baptism or stand at a wedding. She enjoys her brief moments with her students. She is successful. She is the dream.

“No,” she answers. “If given the chance, there is nothing I would do differently.” She pauses. “Well, maybe fuck a few more men.”

Arya looks down at the sliver of tea left in her teacup. It is nearly the same amount in Lady Crane's. They chink their glasses one last time, and down the remains. When they are both finish, Lady Crane gets up, opens the door and holds it.

“After you,” she invites.

Arya hesitates, and then walks out.

-

By the time the rehearsals are over, half of the kids have seen the light on the other side of the tunnel and the other half are being spit roasted between heaven and hell. Arya does not know which half she is on, but she is pretty sure she’s seen purgatory on the way to heaven because hell is full of girls like Waif.  

Syrio sends them all to the showers. He makes sure all of them have rides home, and refuses to let them leave before he sees them off. When he returns to the studio to get his belongings, Arya is there. "What are you still doing here?"

Arya informs him she wants to stay a little later for practice.

“I have a home, too,” Syrio prompts her. “And I am responsible for seeing Lady Crane to her hotel.” He tries to sound teasing, but in reality, he is as tired as the rest of them. These rehearsals always take a number on his body. “I am not as young as I used to be. I can’t go on all night.” Lady Crane says nothing as she waits on the sidelines for an answer. When Arya tells him to leave without her, he refuses. He wants to see her get home safely.

“You let me close the studio before,” she reminds him.

“Before we did not have a killer on the streets. I must make sure all my students are safe.”

Arya tries to counter the argument, but is met with the same firm opposition. Before she can go forward with her “I am not a child” speech, Jaqen places his two cents in.

“A man will stay.”

Both of them look alarmed.

“We should practice together for the sake of solidarity. A man barely had time to spend with his partner all day. A man will take her home afterwards.”

Arya leaps on top of the saving grace. “See? Jaqen will stay.”

Syrio desires nothing more than to keep them apart. Alas, he is tired and Arya is not the child he cradled into greatness. He tells her to be safe, and descends to the parking lot with Lady Crane by his side.

Despite their lack of distance, Arya is concentrated on her dancing. Jaqen complies by keeping his hands where they belong, and guiding her through her positions. Their first dance was supposed to be full of fumble and inelegance. Arya is too comfortable in her own body so Jaqen rectifies this by whispering dark secrets and insecurities. For a moment, her confidence is lost and she turns into a little girl, unready for the big, bad world ahead of her. They practice the dance again, and this time, Arya performs well without the instruction. “But not good enough,” Jaqen points out.

The comment frustrates Arya, who practices harder the second time they run the routine and harder after that. When they finish, the night is pitch dark. Arya’s phone rings like her mother is warning her of the second coming. She grabs her bag and takes out the keys. Jaqen swipes them away from her.

“A girl can shower,” Jaqen advises. “A man will take care of the studio.”

“Do you even know how to close it?”

Jaqen gives her a look.

Arya sighs. “Fine.”

Syrio receives children from some of the wealthiest families in England. Though he has a few girls and boys who come from lesser means, the fees he charges for his privileged pupils make up for them tenfold. He receives heaps of donations every year from numerous dance troupes for the opportunity of having first pick of the litter. Their showers are always steaming, and their facilities are never less than top notch. The have organic soaps and fluffy loofas for cleaning, and shampoos and conditioners from actual stores instead of the generic brands sold to hotels.

Arya moans when the water hits her muscles. For a while, she does not do anything. She just stands underneath the shower head and lets the steam release her pores and the water douse her. Her head hits the shower wall and for the first time all day, she takes a break—she stops overworking her body, she stops thinking about the future, everything just ends.

All at once, the pressure returns to her full force. She thinks about failure, and what it means for her to falter during this performance. She remembers that she is Arya Stark, and that things are expected from her because she isn’t a normal girl—she’s a Stark. She is a girl who has been given everything: tutors for when she falters, world renown dance teachers, the best equipment money could buy—what does it mean for her when she falls? She should be the best because her parents can afford the best when other people can’t even afford mediocre.

Her thoughts consume her, and when she hears the shower door open, she does nothing. She does not even turn around to confront the presence behind her.

Jaqen grabs the soap, and lathers himself up. Arya smells the salt on his skin and finds herself more surprised that he can sweat than by the fact that he’s behind her. She turns around. He walks towards her until her back is touching the wall. For the longest moment, they just stare at each other. Arya makes the first move. She runs her hands through his hair and lets her thumbs brush against his cheekbones. Then she traces down his chest and he captures her hands. He pushes her against the wall.

 “What do you want?” He asks her.

Arya raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you mean, ‘what does a girl want?’”

He leans down and kisses her. She responds favorably to his actions, and their tongues languidly play with each other until he pulls away. Arya’s heart is calm. He asks again. “What does Arya want?”

Arya craves the admiration from being acknowledge as the best. She wants everyone to recognize her name beyond her family’s titles and lands; she yearns to capture everyone’s hearts with her soul and not anybody else’s. She lusts after Jaqen, but like all her lusts, she is willing to forgo him for the end game. Arya does not want him. Arya Stark wants the world.

She pulls him into a kiss this time, like their first time. She has to be in control because every aspect of her life is a result of her family’s manipulations. She claws her way out of her mother’s dresses and her father’s guiding hand, but she is still a Stark. A fact, she loves and loathes, and Jaqen hopes to make a distant memory.

Jaqen grabs her hips and tries to wrap her thighs around him but she pushes him away. He is taken back by the gesture, and rescinds from the kiss. He looks into her eyes and she looks into his. She resumes their caresses, and allows him to move downwards so that he can attack her neck. She gasps when he licks and nips, but when he bites her, she pulls away again and slaps him—hard.

“No marks,” she warns him. “You don’t get to mark me.”

Jaqen touches his cheek. The pink of his bruise is covered by the steam of the shower. The time he takes to recover from the action is enough time for Arya to decide to leave. When her shoulder and his are side by side, he stops her. He throws her back against the wall. His intentions are not to force her so he isn’t rough. He puts his hands side by side of her face. He pauses, he doesn’t hesitate. He waits for her to move. She stares at him but does not leave.

In response, Jaqen leans downwards to suck her breasts. Her buds are barely blooming and her nipples are little more than ladybugs. Jaqen thinks they are prettier than Persephone.

Arya bites her lips when he travels downwards. He licks her abs, perfectly aligned from years of training. He gets on his knees and runs his tongue along her pelvis, almost completely hairless except for a small patch. Arya likes being prepared for anything. She’s always well shaven and smooth where it matters.

Jaqen shows his appreciation by touching her pussy with his tongue and then sucking on her clit until it becomes red and swollen. He divides his time between kissing her labia and humming on her clit. The vibrations send a shock throughout her body. She lets out a throaty gasp before clamping shut again.

“Fuck!” She swears. She doesn’t want him to win so easily.

Arya rests her cunt on his face and rides him like one of her family’s horses. The water rains down on them, and stifles most of her moans. She interweaves her hands into his long hair and pulls at it. He glares at her and digs his tongue deep inside for revenge. He hits all the best spots, and lathers constant attention on her lower lips. He does not fuck her with his tongue; he massages her labia and reaches for her g-spot. His tongue brushes against it several times but never hits it. He stuffs her with his tongue. He plans to keep eating her out until she is screaming.

Jaqen does not have to wait long. After he makes a rather hard suck on her clit, she lets go of her bleeding lip and wails. She orders him to go faster, to make her come all over his face. She wants his lips dripping with her. She promises to let him fuck her however he pleases if he lets her come this once. Jaqen smirks, victorious, and abides to her wishes.

When she orgasms, she stains Jaqen’s face and turns his lips red. He gets back on his feet and leans down so that she can taste herself on his lips.

“Disgusting,” she informs him as soon as they part. She is gasping. Her words come out as pants. She sees stars and black splotches and wants to lie down and catch her breath.

He chuckles.

“It’s an acquired taste,” he admits. “Would a girl like to go home tonight?”

So she’s back to being ‘a girl’ again. Arya wonders how long this man planned to mess with her head. She sighs, because she knows that after a few minutes, she’ll be restless again.

“We can go to your hotel,” she surrenders. For a long as the man is here, she wants to get her money’s worth of his tutelage. In her head, she imagines of all the positions a man as flexible as Jaqen H’ghar can perform.

Chapter Text

Robb arrives at the Blue Wisterias at approximately 11:25 AM, positively ravenous for a decent plate of Bavarian cream and strawberries, or a bowl of salted caramel pudding. His sweet tooth is acting up again. He remembers his father’s austerity and controls himself. He may have performed a king’s worth of duties—multimillion dollar contracts are not exactly easy to manage—but that does not mean he can behave like a barbarian. The waiter comes by and provides him with some suggestions. Robb nods his head politely, but in the end, asks for none of the recommendations. He wants something small to settle his stomach, a chive blini with Crème Fraiche, quail eggs, and tarragon, and tells the man to leave the dessert menu. Before he goes, Robb asks the man for the wifi password. He pulls out his mobile. “I have some business to get done. Is that alright?”

The waiter, used to the corporate types occupying his lunchtime slot, hands the information over without a fuss. Robb thanks him and waits until the man is gone to obsess over his phone The waiter is grateful. He has worked in customer service long enough to know that when a guy like that comes in, consumed with his numbers and statistics, he will barely notice his treatment.

For such a prosperous brasserie, Robb is disappointed by their computer security. After connecting the wifi to a separate router, he is able to find a way into the restaurant’s reservations page. He scrolls through the appointments on Friday until he sees a golden star—how quaint—attached Willas Tyrell’s name.

While Robb considers his agenda for Friday night, he receives a phone call from an unknown number. He recognizes the area code instantly, and waits for a ring or two before picking it up.

“Robb Stark speaking.”

Buenas tardes, Robb Stark. This is Oberyn Martell, brother of Doran Martell.”

Wow. Wow. Robb catches his breath. Now, that is a voice he wants narrating his sex life. He wants that voice. He wants to make love to that voice. He wants to stick his dick down that—okay, no old Robb. New Robb can control his penis.

“Yes?” He squeaks. He takes a breath. Deeper, he tells himself. More masculine, with the possible implication that his balls dropped. “Yes, this is Robb Stark. I’m happy to hear from you. Have you called to schedule a meeting for your brother?”

“Si, but unfortunately my brother is not well. His doctor has limited his traveling capabilities to only the most crucial circumstances. I hope you are not offended.”

“Oh, not at all.” Robb tries to curb his excitement. He does not want to appear too eager. “It’s wonderful to hear from you, Mr. Martell. Are you in England right now?”

“Please, call me Oberyn. And yes, I am in London as we speak. Though I confess I am visiting for pleasure over business.”

"Oh,” Robb musters just the right about of sympathy to sound sincere. “I’m sorry to disturb your vacation. I’ll call again next week—my schedule is completely booked until then, but I can move a few things around.” He adds meat to the pretense by implying that doing so will not be a problem. “With how infatuated Mr. Tyrell seems to be with his new beau, I’m sure it won’t be that hard for him to accommodate.” He remembers Margaery’s assurances. “If anything, he will jump at the chance to stay longer.”

“Nonsense,” Oberyn interrupts. His voice carries a bit of an edge this time.“I am always at the service of my brother. I hate for him to lose a potential alliance.” Oberyn Martell had a reputation for being hot-headed and callous, so Robb is surprised by the tact he displays when he asks Robb about the Tyrells. “I hope the Tyrells are comfortable with you contacting us. They have a habit of making accusations against our good name.”

Ah, the infamous horse riding incident. There are a number of ways to answer the question, and Robb has a million excuses listed in his head. Thanks to Willas’ emails, he knows the perfect response. “Willas Tyrell has nothing but praises for you and your family. He was the person who recommended we speak.”

The compliment lightens the mood, even over the phone. Struck by cupid’s arrow, Oberyn turns a new leaf during their conversation. He praises Willas with the ease of a bard. “I have traveled the world and have yet to meet a man quite like Willas. He is a diamond amongst coal.” He pauses. “It is quite unlike him to have canceled on you so suddenly. He is a professional in every degree. Do you know of the circumstances regarding his withdrawal?”

“Yes, though that might have been my fault."

"Oh?"

"See, my cousin is staying over for the summer, and I made the folly of introducing them.” Robb chuckles first for authenticity, and second to clear his throat of cupidity. He cannot afford to sound like a spiteful lover. “I should have known he would fall for Jon. Everyone does.”

Oberyn says nothing. The silence upsets Robb, who needs the fury of a thousand fighting men and the jealousy of a hundred harpies. So he continues his praises and is careful not to sound too love stricken. “I hope this does not sound as if I am being advantageous, but I am grateful Jon has found someone worthy of him. He is my beloved cousin. I love him more than life. And Willas seems like a wonderful guy. Jon deserves that.”

“Is he truly as amazing as you claim?” Oberyn is doubtful. Angry almost, that Robb can even make such a comparison. “I have never met anybody worthy of my…friend. Ever. I doubt such a being exists.”

“Jon is perfect,” When Robb realizes how defensive he sounds, he coughs. “I mean, he is a beaut-attractive young man. I swear, the way his curls bounce on his shoulders is reminiscent of sprites hopping on waves, and his smiles are like diamonds. Rare, precious diamonds and you’ll find yourself digging to the ends of the earth for a chance to get one. He can make anybody’s heart skip a beat. I swear, you don’t want to get me started on his body—I mean, he’s quite fit. In a completely objective way. Because he’s my cousin. Only my cousin.”

Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. So much for not being in love. Before Robb can retract his ode, Oberyn asks:

“What does this Jon do?”

“He’s a nanny.” For now. “And the way he is with children—gods, one time we were at the park and this kid got lost, bawling and screaming and would not let anybody near him to help. We tried to get him to the playground but he wouldn’t follow anybody. Jon was magic. He held his hand and got him to trust him so that we could find his parents. He did everything he could to make him happy. He played with him, talked to him—he was just…he was an angel.”

Robb slams his head against the table. Why does he keep doing that? He receives his dish at that moment and the waiter quickly retreats.

“Willas loves children,” Oberyn admits at last. Robb perks up. Oberyn is wistful when he relishes how doting Willas was on his offspring. “I have eight daughters. My oldest is barely younger than him. You can imagine how terrified I was of introducing my girls to him.”

“Did he liked them?” Robb is hopeful for a ‘no.’ The thought of a chink on the golden statue that is Willas is orgasmic.

Oberyn laughs. “He loves them, and they love him. All the time, they ask me and my girlfriend, ‘when is Uncle Willas coming to visit?’ or ‘I miss Uncle Willas.’ I watched them play in the water gardens all day, and to compensate for his leg, he would make up these new games so that they would not feel guilty for leaving him out.”

“Great,” Robb mutters. He says again, louder, how happy he is to hear of the fact. “He and Jon have something in common.” 

Oberyn scoffs; he resembles a bitter horse. “One thing you should know, Mr. Stark, is that Willas wants the fairy tale, not the movie. No one has been able to convince him that perfection is not an option. He wants true love. He wants the perfect wife. He hates sharing and compromises and mistakes.” The older man sighs. “It’s a shame he has never been able to find that someone who can give him what he wanted.”

Robb swallows to satisfy dry throat. In order for the words to come of his mouth, they claw his tongue apart. “Well, maybe they will have something special.”

Perhaps.” Oberyn returns to his usual state—vibrant and passionate and full of life. “Or perhaps he will fail—like all the others who could not meet the impossible Tyrell standards.” Robb hears a voice over the phone. Oberyn responds in Spanish, before returning to the conversation. “I can meet with you this Friday. I’ll take a plane immediately.”

“Are you sure? I’d hate to cause trouble.” Robb means it this time. Then, he almost slaps himself. No, he thinks. This is for Jon and making sure Willas Tyrell is the man he claims to be. To that, he needs to clean up those revolting loose ends. 

“No trouble at all. How about I fill your empty slot? Hmm? We can have dinner. I know a wonderful restaurant. Have you ever heard of the Blue Wisterias?”

Robb takes all his doubts and pounds it to dust. He focuses on the grand prize. Everything is falling into place, and he will not allow anybody to catch the pieces before they land—not even him. “Yes, I have. Willas recommended it to me.”

Robb can practically see the smirk on Oberyn’s face. He hears another word, perhaps the Spanish equivalent to ‘figures’ and agrees to let Oberyn make the reservation.

“I look forward to meeting you.” More importantly, Robb looks forward to reuniting Oberyn with his friend.

-

Robb departs the restaurant with two cheese tarts, a Battenberg cake, and sticky toffee pudding for his mother and little siblings, sans Arya. The last time he brought her dessert during a training season, she threatened to throw out his laptop. On his way home, he develops a craving for some brandy snaps and stops by a grocery store to pick an instant pack. He spots a cartoon of raspberry ripple on accident (and he swears it was an accident—never mind that the two items are four aisles apart) and picks it up for Bran. If Sansa was with him, she would have accused him of eating away his guilt—Robb would deny it. He is not guilty of anything.

He drops everything off in the kitchen and asks one of the maids to get him a bowl and some chocolate syrup. Once she hands it over, he carves out two scoops and douses the frozen confection with layers of hot fudge syrup—just the way Bran likes it. His little brother will worship him.

On his way upstairs, he hears his little brother on the phone and waits for him to finish.

“A lecture? A physics lecture?” There's panic in Bran's tone. “Do you…I don’t think I’ll be good company for that. I’m rubbish at any science that’s not anatomical or cannot be made into a landscape painting.”

There’s a pause. Robb assumes the guy on the other side is persuading him otherwise. Suddenly, Robb is relieved. How harmless can a guy be if he’s planning on taking his little brother to a science convention? No shoulder-yawn moves, no necking in the night, just a dark room where all potential sex appeal is wiped off by the aging professor on stage explaining antimatter and star cycles.

Bran giggles and he sounds adorable—albeit flirtatious. Their sexual inclinations are a result of their fused Tully-Stark genes. Their sexual prowess came from their Tully side, and their inability to control or recognize their urges was all Stark. At least Robb knows the actions are subconscious. He hears Bran submit, “yes, he will give it a shot” and “no, he cannot be angry at him if he falls asleep.” They say their goodbyes, and Bran hangs up. He is more red than the raspberries in Robb’s hands.

Robb makes his grand appearance with a bowl of slightly melted, but still delectable, ice cream. Bran is ecstatic and reaches out for the bowl.

“Thanks, Robb!”  Once in his hands, he devours it. “What’s the special occasion?”

“Isn’t that my question?” Robb teases. “It seems you and your mystery man finally set a date.” Bran blushes. He mutters about the invasion of privacy, but can’t stop his smile. “It’s nothing special. He wants to take me to a lecture. Some famous physicist is coming here to discuss the theory of universal…waterfunctions? Wavelengths…? Wave…”

“The theory of universal wavefunction,” Robb corrects. “Also known as the Everett Interpretation, or MWI, the many-worlds interpretations.”

Bran stares at him.

“Parallel universes.”

Bran groans. “How do you know these things? How does everybody know these things?” He digs his face into a pillow. “Jo is going to think I am an idiot.”

“I have to take physic courses for my degree,” Robb clarifies. “You’re not an idiot. Just because he knows something you don’t, does not make you any less brilliant. It just means you have a lot to learn from each other.” 

Bran chomps on his early dessert. “I guess.”

“You’ll be fine. He is going to love you. He probably chose this as a first date so that he can impress you.” Inside, Robb is squealing with excitement. His little brother’s first date. With a nerd—someone who could not possibly pressure anybody into having sex. To think, he was actually worried about Bran getting his heart broken by some pervert with a fetish for wheelchairs; the kind of guy who uses the pick-up line: “I know your legs don’t work but I bet your tongue still does." He is safe. 

Bran finishes up his ice cream. When he is about to ask Robb about his day, he gets a phone call. The caller’s name flashes on the screen like a scarlet A and before Bran can swipe the treacherous device out of Robb’s peripheral, the older boy lunges at it. 

“Robb, I can explain—”

“Why the hell is Willas Tyrell calling your phone?”

 “I-I…I…wrong number?”

“He’s on your contact list!”  

“A so wrong it’s right number?”

“Bran!”                                     

“I’m sorry!” He takes back the phone to cancel the incoming call and accidentally presses answer. No! Bran screams in his mind. Willas’ perfect, stupid, incredibly grateful voice comes through the phone and thanks Bran for all his help.

“Hey Bran. You probably already know this, but Jon said yes. I called him today to confirm the date—clingy I know, but he seems like the type who would bail—and he told me he was looking forward to seeing me again.”

“That’s nice, Willas!” Bran squeaks. Robb is growling. “But this isn’t the best time—”

“I want tell you how grateful I am. There’s no way I could have done this without you.”

Bran blanches. He acts in the name of personal salvation, telling Willas that there’s no way this has anything to do with him. “Oh, I don’t think you can blame it all on me.”

“No, I owe it all you to you.”

There's a pair of scissors in Bran’s craft's container that Robb eyes with a discomforting about of consideration.

“Really? I didn’t do anything. At all. Nothing.”

Robb returns his gaze onto Bran and he is glaring daggers—no, he’s shooting lasers.

“Are you kidding?” Willas laughs. “When I told him you gave me his number; he knew that I had gotten your stamp of approval. If it wasn’t for you, none of this would be possible. Bran, you brought us together.”

Robb takes a step closer. Bran whimpers.

“Anyways, I’ll let you get back to your business. I’ll see you soon!”

Willas hangs up. Bran prepares his defense. “Robb, I can explain.”

“Can you, Bran? Or should I call you Brutus?”

“Robb! I’m not Brutus! I didn’t betray you!”

“Of course not! Brutus didn’t give Ceasar an explanation. Brutus just stabbed Ceasar. Like how you just gave Willas Jon’s phone number.”

Bran rolls his eyes. He doesn’t feel that bad. He’s guilty of giving out his cousin’s phone number, not murder.

“I’m sorry, Robb. I really am. But…it’s not like you two are still together and Willas is a great guy. He’s funny and nice and he really likes Jon. They’re super compatible. I mean, they both love animals and traveling and food.”

The appeasement infuriates Robb more. “Great, Bran. So you found a better me for Jon. Why don’t you just rip out my heart and feed it to Summer?”

“Hey!” Bran protests. “First of all, Summer doesn’t like human flesh. It’s too bony and lean. Secondly, you’re supposed to be getting over Jon. Why are you behaving like this?”

“I am behaving like this because I found out that you were never on my side. I bet you wanted us to break up!”

“I did not!” Bran doesn’t know what he wants. “I was on your side—no, I am on your side. But I want the both of you to be happy. You’re the one who told me that just because two people like each other doesn’t mean they’re meant to be with each other.”

“And what about me?” Robb protests. “What about my happiness? I want Jon to be happy—more so than anybody. But what kills me is the fact that my little brother thinks I’m not good enough for the man I love!”

“Robb, you need to be reasonable. You’ll just find someone else—”

Bran shuts his mouth mid-sentence.

Robb becomes deathly still.

“Robb, I didn’t mean that.”

“No, you did.”

“Robb, please.”

“You think he’s just another fling. You all think that.” Robb almost punches the wall. “After all, I’m Robb Stark. I get a new girlfriend every single month and I can’t find one person to stay with me—but that’s okay because there’s plenty of fish in the sea and I keep swimming. Everybody assumes I’ll just ‘get over him.’ Let me tell you something. Jon is my first boyfriend. Do you think it was easy for me to accept that I was suddenly into guys? Because it wasn’t. And I’m not. I’m into Jon. Jon is the first person I have ever wanted to give a real ring to, not some mass produced item from Kays or a Harry Winston trend. I was going to ask father to give me the family ring to propose with. I wanted to take all of us camping instead of springing on an engagement like I did all the others because I needed him to like you all. I needed you to like him because I wanted us to be a family—not Robb and his new girlfriend, or Robb and his future wife. For gods’ sakes, I don’t even use a condom with him! So no, Bran, Jon is not some fling. And you think he is, and that’s why you thought it was okay to give Jon’s number away to someone who deserves him because I don’t.”

Bran is taken back. The horror of what he’s done finally settles in. He feels like compost in sewage water. “Robb, I’m sorry.”

“Sure you are,” Robb agrees. “Maybe Willas can send you a fruit basket to make you feel better.”   

-

On the third floor, Sansa and Theon share a sewing room that’s the size of an average studio. It has dozens of mannequins, several yards of fabric, and beads and ornaments carefully organized into separate containers. There’s a stereotype about how messy artists are, but Sansa and Theon refute the claim with their existences. They compartmentalize everything in order for their personal belongings to not cross paths and have a middle ground where they share their goods—paired with a sign-in sheet consisting of what is borrowed, the length of the lend, and the amount being taken.

Today, they are sitting together on the neutral ground’s couch. Theon flips through her portfolio and provides his input on which design he thinks she should keep and which should be removed. Sansa has the oddest obsession with dragonflies, and so he all but crushes her soul when he ends up eliminating half of the dresses that contain the insect.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a theme.”

“I like krakens and mermaids but I’m not going to embed them into every suit I make. Stop it, Sansa. You aren’t Kate Spade launching a new collection. You’re an applicant who needs to show the admissions office you have flexibility in the midst of your distinguished aesthetic.”

Sansa glows. “You think I have a distinguished aesthetic?”

“Yeah, the same way I think dirty sex is awesome but will still refuse to fuck in a mud pit.”  

Sansa purses her lips in disapproval at the analogy. Theon ignores her to list his favorite sketches. “You should shoot for twenty-five to thirty different looks, and you’ll need quality photographs for the finished product. If you've used any couture technique, those need to be highlighted in the photographs. How long do you have again?”

“A year and a half.”

Theon raises an eyebrow.

Sansa blushes. “It’s good to be prepared. It’ll take me months to make some of these dresses.”

Theon rolls his eyes, though inwardly, he respects her dedication. “You don’t have to make all of them—just the best ones. You might come up with something better later and there’s a chance it’ll contrast with the original theme.”

Sansa grimaces, but nevertheless heeds his advice. She gathers up her papers and divides them over on her side. She asks Theon if she could get the portfolio he submitted to Saint Martins. He scrummages through his belongings—grumbling the entire time—and tosses his flash drive over to her. “Here.”

He hopes his pieces don’t psych Sansa out. Their styles are completely different—Sansa aims for timelessness, chic and classic outfits that can be worn throughout the decades versus Theon’s flamboyance and couture.

Sansa thanks him, and her smile is the second most genuine and heartfelt smile he has ever received. “You smile like your brother,” Theon comments, and there’s degree of fondness he cannot remove from his voice. He figures a compliment would not hurt the situation—given that Sansa may be the only future in-law who likes him.

He tries not be unnerved when her smile drops. Hesitantly, she puts the goods in her bag and asks Theon if he’s still in love with Robb.

Theon shrugs. His faux nonchalance fails him when he glances at his reflection in the mirror and sees his anxious expression. So he tells Sansa that it’s none of her business, and she should focus on getting into a good school rather than his love life.

Sansa sighs. “Listen, Theon, I’m grateful you’re helping me but…I know why you’re doing this, and it’s not out of the goodness of your heart. You want me to like you."

Theon glares. "Why the fuck would I care about how you think of me?"

"Fine, let me correct myself. You don't want me to like you, you want an ally. You think getting at least one of Robb's siblings to be on your side, you'll be able to win his heart.”

Theon glares at her. Who does she think she is? “And you’re such a saint? We've shared this room for years, and you only started talking to me when I got into your dream school. You’re using me just as much as I am using you.”

To his annoyance, she does not deny it. The accusation does nothing to stop her lecture.

“Be that as it may, I think you should…" Sansa rubs her temples. "Theon...it's time to get over him." 

What. The. Hell.

What?

Sansa winces at the shriek. “Listen, I’ve been watching Robb for the last few days…and there’s something about this break up that’s really messing him up. I mean, he’s always been a bit crazy about his girlfriends but with Jon…it’s on a whole other level.”

Theon is adamant about keeping the code of clean in the sewing room, otherwise, he would have knocked over a few pins by now. “Jon was a fling,” Theon hisses. “All of them, they were just flings. Robb doesn’t know what’s good for him. He doesn’t know what he wants.”

“And you do?” Sansa challenges. She gets up. “Theon, you’ve never given Robb the opportunity to genuinely fall in love.”

“So it’s my fault Robb has shit taste in people? None of those girls were good enough for him—if they were, it wouldn’t have been so easy to break them up. They weren’t right for him.” Not like he was. Theon was perfect for Robb. Theon is his best friend. 

“No,” Sansa denies. “Theon, I am not accusing you of anything.”

“But you don’t think I’m worthy of your precious brother. Not like those whores.”

“Stop,” Sansa orders. Some of those whores are her friends. “I’ve been a front row witness to all of your past manipulations. I am not saying you are the only one to blame because I don’t know if any of those relationships would have lasted with or without your interference. What I do know is that those girls were never given a fighting chance to be anything more than an infatuation. And with every new relationship, there was a ticking time bomb attached to it. Robb behaved like a buffoon because of it. He was terrified of things blowing up in his face that he rushed into love too fast and snipped too many of the wrong wires in the process.”

“What do you want, Sansa?” Theon growls. “I’m not giving up on Robb.” He is so close—the opportunity for his master plan is finally coming to an end.

“Give yourself a chance to be happy,” Sansa advises. “Forget about Robb. Be the best friend you can be, and find someone who loves you for you and not the façade you put on to get close to Robb.”

Theon’s phone decides to ring. There’s only one person it could be, and Sansa begs him not to take it. “For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve never missed Robb’s call.”

“And I’m not starting now.”

Theon picks up the phone.  

“Hey, Robb.”

“Theon? Gods, it’s good to hear your voice.”

Theon’s heart flutters in delight. Sansa shakes her head in disappointment. She knows Robb means nothing by it, but her heart breaks by how effortlessly Robb leads his best friend on.

“Listen, I’m sorry for avoiding you these last few days…I just…I needed some time to think. Can we meet up? I really need to talk to you.”

Theon’s heart skips a beat. This is it. This is his moment to shine and no one, not even Robb’s family can stop him now.

“Yeah, of course. I’ll meet you anywhere.”

Sansa rolls her eyes. Theon glares. To further infuriate her, he tells Robb that he will do anything “to hear his voice again.”

“How about we meet up at the bar? I’ll get us a private table and we can talk.”

“Sounds great, thanks.” Before he hangs up, Theon pauses and then confesses to Robb that he really misses him. “I hope I’ve haven’t done anything to upset you.” His voice is laced with sincerity and saccharinity. Sansa’s stomach churns at the contrast between Theon’s smirking face and the pitiful nature of his speech. He’s lied to Robb far too often if such a combination exists.  

Robb’s guilt radiates through the phone. He reassures Theon that he alone is responsible for their distance and he wants to make it up to him. Theon forgives him easily and says he will meet him as soon as possible. When Theon hangs up, he is grinning. Sansa frowns.

“See, Sansa? Robb and I are finally getting our happy ending.” He puts his phone in his pocket. He grins. The time has come. He is going to find love, or die trying.   

-

Robb and Theon meet at the pub where Robb’s relationship with Jon ended. To the Stark heir, the location is the unsexist place he can imagine: a reminder of booze filled regrets, a bar wet with tears, poor judgements and ill made plans. Numerous girls and a number of guys go up to him for a chat. He turns them all down, saying he is waiting for someone. Theon arrives when the latest flirt is shot down. He glows when the girl sends him a glare. Yes, Theon grins. That’s a glower of jealousy. She is jealous of him.

When they meet up, they hug like lovers—not friends. Robb leads him to a table—there’s a private room prepared for their VIP guests and Robb is basically royalty in these parts. He orders for Theon like he always has—because Robb knows Theon’s favorite drink. Theon wants to call this their first date, but realizes that’s too tacky. He’s a man of class after all.

They start their conversation with small talk. Robb must be overwhelmed with guilt if he’s too nervous to look Theon in the eye. The older boy finds it adorable, and takes Robb’s hand. He assures Robb that there are no hard feelings. He understands that Robb needed some time alone to collect himself after the breakup. Besides, it is not like his life revolves around Robb either. “I’ve been working on my designs, and I’m helping Sansa with her application. Do you know that she’s a year ahead?”

They laugh about it—the way couples do. They get their drinks and Robb takes a long, hard chug. He almost slams the glass on the table.

“Theon, I know this sounds out of character for me, but…I’m going to try and let Jon go.”

There’s a tourney of candy knights and popsicle lances jousting inside of Theon’s heart. This is it. This is fucking it. Theon swears he’ll start praying again after tonight. He’ll visit his fucking weird-ass church and go swimming every day in the testicle popping, balls-freezing ocean if the Drowned One gives him Robb, once and for all.

“I mean, I’m still crazy about him, and there’s just one last thing I have to do before I completely let go.”

“What?” Theon asks. He’s clenching his fists so hard his manicured nails are digging into his skin and causing baby cuts on his hands. He leans forward enough that he might fall over the table.

“Jon has a date this Friday. The guy seems…adequate.”

That fucking slut. That stupid twat. Theon can think of a million different insults and none of them taste as delicious as the savory sensation of Robb finally being his. Theon nods his head so rapidly it just might fall off. “And?”

“And I think he might make a decent match. For now. But I…I just want to make sure. I have a plan—” Oh god, one of Robb’s ridiculous plans that have a fifty percent success rate and a fifty percent ‘burn the building to the ground’ rate. “—And it’s brilliant. I’ll be able to see this Willas Tyrell’s true colors.”
Theon pretends to be interested. Robb lost him at “completely let go.”

“And then you’ll be over him?”

Robb chuckles. “Well, I don’t think I’ll ever be—”

Theon cuts him off. “But you won’t pursue him after this?”

Robb shakes his head. “Not unless he goes after me. I think it’s time for me to get a grip. Enjoy the single life for a while.”

Theon’s heart drops. “What?”

Robb motions the awaiting waitress to fix him another drink. She already has his favorite prepared. “Cheers,” he tells her, all charms and style. Theon snaps his fingers to get his attention.

“What did you say? About being single?”

Robb nods, and sips instead of chugs. This time, he enjoys his whiskey and the accomplishment of attaining maturity for the first time. He feels more like a man now than ever.

“I haven’t been unattached since I was twelve. Arya was right—I don’t know myself that well, and maybe it is time for some rediscovery. Perhaps…I was meant to fall so madly in love with Jon so that no one could replace him afterwards. I think this is the best decision for me. I can focus on other things.” Like stalking Willas Tyrell, ruining his life if he does Jon harm, and/or potentially killing him and getting away with it. 

“But…” Theon chokes up, he grasps for salvation with his hands and there’s nothing to hold onto. Finally, he takes his drink and gulps down his lager like it’s water and his mouth is on fire. Then, he takes Robb’s drink and lets the liquid burn his throat. He needs it. Robb warns him to slow down.

“Theon, is something the matter—”

Theon responds by grabbing Robb’s collar and kissing him. He smashes their lips together with more finesse than actual romance. He’s panicking, and it shows in his sloppy tongue and chapped lips and the taste of rich whiskey and cheap beer.

Theon releases him when he runs out of air.

“I love you!” Theon confesses.

Robb touches his lips. He stares at Theon, jaws drop and eyes wide with shock.

“I’ve loved you since we were schoolboys and you were this sexless nerd who wrestled me on the ground and gave me a hard on. I love your family—even if they can’t stand me half the time because they’re the only family I’ve really known. I love that your mother knows my size and pretends to buy clothes on accident because she knows my family would never pay for them. I love that your father set up a fake scholarship so that I could attend the school of my dreams. Your siblings are the most annoying brats in the world and I love them. Robb, I want to be with you. I want to be a Stark.”

Theon stares at Robb like he’s a god, but Robb cannot reciprocate. He looks at Theon as if he’s seeing him for the first time, and unfortunate, there are no hearts in his eyes and his skin is flawless—free from cupid’s arrow. Robb is sorry, but worse of all, he is pitying Theon, as if he just discovered how poor, how useless, how unimportant the Greyjoy is in the grand scheme that is Stark. 

“Theon…”

No, Theon thinks. This isn’t supposed to happen. Tonight is a fairy tale. Robb is his prince, and he is the princess whose been given his voice back.

“Theon, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you felt that way.” Robb’s eyes glistens with tears. Theon gets up from his chair. He tries to run for it. Robb calls him back, and on reflex, Theon stops. They do not face each other.

“Theon, you…you are my best friend. I don’t…I wish I felt the same way.”

The kindness feels worse than a flat out rejection. For the longest time, Theon has been avoiding the truth, the notion that Jon isn’t special, that Robb could suddenly fall in love with the man whose been here for him the entire time. But no, Robb won’t even try for Theon’s sake. The Stark reaches out for Theon’s hand but Theon shoves him off. “Don’t touch me,” he spats. “Don’t…fuck you, Robb!”

Theon runs out of the room with Robb calling his name. He took a cab to get here and he’ll need one to return home—Robb’s home. Theon curses and tries not cry. A cab means waiting on the corner and giving Robb the opportunity to catch up to him and persuade him to forgive and forget and Theon is tired. He is so tired of playing the best friend. He wants to be the boyfriend. He wants so desperately to be the one that gets obsessed over and bought gifts and treated like a prize.  

He hears Robb come closer, and he reacts badly. He grabs a guy, the closest guy that looks relatively decent through his tears, and forces their lips together. The act invokes a minimum amount of silence and a few awkward and interested looks.

Before the young man could counter with a negative reaction, Theon makes his intentions clear.

“I want you to fuck me. Here. Now. In the bathroom, in your car, I don’t care. I want you to make me scream.”

The shock disappears from the man’s face and a malicious grin replaces it. For a second, Theon regrets ever making the offer. He has no time to linger in his stupidity when he is dragged to the nearest bathroom, outside of Robb’s reach. Theon is thrown like a ragdoll into an open stall and his head hits the concrete wall. The man locks their compartment.  

“Fuck you!” Theon shouts. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

The man grabs Theon’s hair and shoves his face against the closed door. “Ramsey Bolton.” It sounds like he’s bragging. “But you can call me sir, or master.”

Theon turns his head to spit in his face. “Fuck you!”

Ramsey slams his head against the wall again. Theon whimpers. Ramsey gets harder. Fucking sicko, Theon thinks. He struggles to get away. Ramsey holds him back, grabs his jean button and rips it off. “That’s exactly what I’m planning to do, bitch.”  He leans in to whisper in Theon’s ear. “That’s what you asked me to do, you stupid slut.”

He presses his hard on against Theon’s crack. He’s impressive, and with a different personality, he’s exactly the type of guy Theon would have a one night stand with. Theon’s pride orders him to fight back. He made the mistake of propositioning the sick bastard, but that does not mean he should stay to regret it. When he tries to elbow his assailant, the move is met with a harsh slap on the ass.

“Listen, I’m not the bad guy here. You came onto me. You shoved your cunt in my face and asked me to jam my cock down your throat. What was it you said. ‘I want you to make me scream,’” Ramsey mocks. “Well, I want to screw your pretty like bitch brains out. You’ve caught my eye the moment you walked into this pub. You’re the prettiest hole in this dump and I’m not leaving until I pound your brains out.”

Theon’s cock is straining against the door. Ashamed and red with humiliation, he asks Ramsey if he truly meant it. “You think I’m the prettiest person here?”

Ramsey thanks some god he doesn’t believe in. Fuck, he must have done something special in his last life if he manages to catch a bitch with low self-esteem and an ass that would not quit. “Considering everyone in this shithole is equivalent to a subpar mongrel, I wouldn’t take that as a high compliment. Serves me right for listening to an idiot’s recommendation.” Theon’s face faltered. He returns to struggling again, and almost succeeds until Ramsey rips off his boxers and shoves his finger in his ass. Theon yelps. He fights back harder.   

Ramsey loves a good rollercoaster. “Gods, this ass is a treasure. Tight as a noose, just the way I like it. I take back what I said. You should be proud of this desperate hole. I bet guys are just lining up for a chance to get in. In fact…” Ramsey scissors Theon with force. Tears welled up in Theon's eyes. Ramsey leans down and whispers his final verdict. “I think I’ll pass. I don’t like used goods.”

Ramsey releases Theon from his grip. He buttons up his own pants and sighs dramatically to convey his disappointment. He mutters, louder than his usual grumble, that he cannot believe he almost wasted his spunk on damaged goods.

“I’m not damaged!” Theon defends. His pants are still unbuttoned. His face is wrecked with red eyes and dried tears, and his lips—those sexy, pink, cock-sucking lips—are quivering. If this bitch is not ready to get on his knees in the next ten seconds, Ramsey is going to force his cock down his throat. Shit, he should have just raped him when he had the chance. “You’re a fucking psycho.”

Ramsey pretends not to care. “Whatever. Get out of my face. I’ll find some trollop to ride me before the night is through—even an ugly virgin is better than some pretty slut.”

Theon twitches. There’s that look again. That semblance of hope that appears whenever he’s being complimented in the worst way. Pretty, he likes being called pretty. Ramsey uses it again to make sure.

 “You said I was tight.”  Theon points out. He’s petulant now.

Ramsey corners Theon and leans in until their lips are almost touching. “Yeah, and I meant it. But I’m sure pretty boys like you know how to keep themselves nice and snug for their next master. It keeps the cocks coming.”

Theon grimaces. He says, this time with falsified confidence, that he’s “better than all the whores and virgins in the room.”

Oh, and Ramsey does not doubt it. “Prove it,” Ramsey challenges. “Give me what you promised.”

Theon knows it’s a trap—he’s not stupid. But he was planning on getting fucked anyways, and he really wants to prove this son of a bitch wrong. He turns around and shoves his ass out.

Ramsey lines his cock against Theon’s twitching hole and rams it it in, setting a rhythm of ruthless pounding from the start. “Fuck!” He shouts. He has to grip on Theon’s hips for balance. “Fuck, your cunt is better than I imagined.”

Theon moans at the intrusion. His eyes watered. The violation is brutal and arousing, because while Ramsey goes in without lube or consideration, he’s also a master in hitting Theon’s prostate every single time. The violation gets worst when Ramsey starts speaking.

“Fucking hell, you’re better than a fleshlight! I bet you love this! Being made into someone’s personal slut—bet you love the thought of being my private cock sleeve. You really lucked out tonight, because I’m going to ruin this hole.”

Ramsey controls the pace at all times. When Theon’s knees begin to buckle, Ramsey shoves him further against the door and goes to town on him. Numerous times, Theon attempts to match Ramsey’s thrust. Instead, he clenches down on the hard cock, making him tighter than ever.

Ramsey swears a storm. He calls Theon’s vile names, and makes even more disgusting promises, starting with how he is planning to indoctrinate Theon into being a cum dumpster, and make him forget that his head is filled with anything but thoughts of cock.

At last, Ramsey releases a huge load into Theon’s ass. He’s so distracted by Ramsey's flaccid cock being removed from his ass that he doesn’t even have the sense to worry about the lack of protection. He slumps to the ground. Drool pours out of his mouth.

Ramsey cannot control himself. “That was the best sex I’ve ever had,” he gasps. As soon as he says it, he regrets it.

Theon smirks, and though debauched and ruined for all men, he knows he’s gain the upper hand. “I told you so.”

With any other whore, Ramsey would have smacked him around for being so cocky. Instead, he sees the pretty hole dripping with his spunk and wonders how many loads could he shove in his ass and force him to guzzle down his throat. The possibilities are endless.

“I should keep you.” Ramsey winces at the affectionate tone. He amends himself by saying that, “It’s always nice to have a bitch on hand.”

Theon continues grinning.

Ramsey gets up, and instead of demanding Theon to stay, he offers to pay for his cab ride home. “It’s the least I could do for a decent screw.” At this point, he plans to ruin him with a few extra bills—make him feel really cheap and whorish.

The word ‘home’ sparks something within Theon, and the boy begins groveling. He’s reckless and stupid and this results in a terrified, passionate kiss. Before Ramsey could protest, Theon is already on his knees, taking ahold of Ramsey’s limp cock. He does not bother to breath before he bends down and swallows his cock whole.

Ramsey closes his eyes and groans. Theon scraps his teeth on the sides—just the way he likes it. The action makes him feel huge.
Theon manages to force an inch down his throat.

“Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes,” Ramsey mutters. “I’m definitely going to keep you.”

Chapter Text

Bran changes his outfit four times before Jon drags him into the car dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a black t-shirt that showcases his nipples when the temperature drops the slightest degree. Jon deals with Bran's concerns with the patience of young man experience with squabbling siblings and elderly disputes. Despite this, he is not immune to irritation and cannot help but roll his eyes when Bran frets about the matter in the car. He theorizes that such a blatant display of mammary glands appears sluttish, and that's the last thing he wants to display. "Class not ass," he quotes--and the proverb is vaguely reminiscent of Aunt Cat or Sansa, but Jon can honestly expect Theon saying such a thing as well. 

“He’s going to think I’m a tease, or that I want him to attack me and get him arrested!” Bran moans.

Jon reassures him that he has nothing to worry about because Bran looks fine, and this ‘Jo’ is already half in love with him. Jon has read the texts. He's listened to the conversations. He knows the older boy is bonkers about Bran and reassures him of this. Bran heads his assurances as if they are raindrops in a monsoon. He wants the date to be perfect. Jon takes a different approach and reminds him of his familial lineage. "There's no way someone with siblings like yours can be remotely unappealing." Bran has those same Stark and Tully genes, and in combination, they produce visual royalty like Robb or Sansa, or unconventional scene stealers like Arya and Rickon. While Bran falls into the latter category, there is little to be ashamed of in the looks department.

When they arrive at the science museum, Bran makes a heel face turn and demands that they go home. Jon puts his foot down. "You're going on this date. You will have a wonderful time with a boy who worships you and you will be happy."

Bran begs him to reconsider. Jon repeats his answer and unlocks the car’s doors. “Flutter away,” Jon orders. “You have a couple of hours. We told your mother you’re working on a project at Henry’s house. If the date is not what you expected..."


“I go to the bathroom to text you discretely and we pretend there’s a family emergency.” Bran gasps. “Do you think anything will go wrong?”

Jon gets out of the car to gather Bran’s wheelchair. Then, he opens the door on Bran’s side. “Nothing will go wrong. You just have to give it a shot.” He helps Bran onto the device and leads Bran to the entrance where he is expected to meet Jojen. There are several people who fit the age range, but the one who catches Bran’s eyes is a tall, fair skin boy with eyes that can only be described as drop dead gorgeous (or Green Lantern's ring if one is in a comical mood) and is looking at his phone like he’s waiting for somebody and gods be damn, Bran is not ready to go out with a man that looks like that.  He tries to turn around but Jon has a firm grip on his handles and rolls him towards the fountain. When he is close enough, Jon makes a dash back to the car. Bran is close to hyperventilation when he does so, and tries to follow him, or at least protest his treacherous ways when someone calls out his name.

“Bran?” He hears. Bran shuts his eyes. He is too late, and he needs to cut off the gorgon’s head in order to win the princess. He bites his lips and turns around. Jojen is staring at him, and there’s no mistaking the look in his eyes. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

Jojen thanks the gods he decided to brave through his nerves sober. He would have regretted his high until the day he died if he missed a moment of Bran’s exquisiteness. The boy is every dream, every fantasy, every wish he’s had since the day he was born, and having him in front of him was like drinking ambrosia. He introduces himself as Jojen, and calls Bran stunning. He pulls back his intensity when the younger boy blushes and looks away.

“I like your shirt,” he tells him. “And great idea with the sweatpants.”

“Really?” Bran is doubtful. Jojen is wearing a button up shirt with slacks—he looks every bit the model student his intellect implies he is.

“Yes. The lecture will be long so I’m glad you opted for comfort. You’re so clever, Bran.”

Bran lights up at the compliment. Jojen takes the initiative to wheel Bran towards the slope. He breaks down the complexities of parallel universes through analogies and metaphors. The last thing he wants is for Bran to be so frustrated with the terminology that he leaves. Jojen’s inadequacy will not prevail today.

“…And the best thing about today’s lecture is that Dr. Wheeler is going to discuss how alternate universes interact with each other. A lot of physicists shy away from the topic because it borders the science fiction.”

“Really?”

Jojen nods. “There’s a lot of stigmas attached to it.” He grins. “It is a good thing you’re interested in science fiction.”

Bran nods his head and tries to keep up when Jojen returns to his lesson plan. Bran appreciates the simplicity of Jojen’s explanation and links to the vocabulary to his late-night cramming session. Minutes before the lecture starts, Jojen gives him a corner tour of the museum where they touched these plasma globes and blue electricity traces to Bran's fingers.

Bran giggles and Jojen’s heart skips a beat. If only one of Jojen’s friends did not recognize him, he could have devoted his last five minutes to Bran.

“Well, I'll be damned! Jojen Reed, is that actually you?”

And for the first time since they met, Bran saw Jojen wince. The older boy turns around to exchange pleasantries, but Jojen’s shields rise like the Great Wall of China and he locks up his emotions like treasures in a vault. His manners are impeccable and his tone is polite, but his posture is tense and unforgiving. Bran wonders what cause the change in demeanor, but Jojen returns the greeting with falsified contentment.

“It’s been a while, Myles.” Jojen, out of respect for etiquette, asks how his family is doing.

“Oh the usual…my older brother is trying to take over the world and Beckett is getting involved with rugby.” The youth shudders. “Sometimes, I wonder if we’re actually twins.” He glances over at Bran and introduces himself. Bran notices his accent is off—a mixture of Irish, English and American.

“Myles Fowl, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Are you a friend of Jojen here? Or perhaps doing one of those ‘big brother-little brother’ schemes?” He scowls before Bran can answer. Truth be told, Bran does not know how to answer. There’s too little time to explain his relationship with Jojen. His friend? His date—? Each suggestion makes him feel as if he’s jumping the gun and walking backward at the same time. “My professor tried to manipulate me into one of those charity projects—said it was my duty to help nurture another great mind into this world. Bullocks and bullshit, I swear. He just wouldn’t stop! I had to make it clear to him that every moment away from my lab is the dismantlement of a greater mind.”

Jojen raises an eyebrow. Myles must have read this as a sign of disapproval. He rectifies his faux pas by saying he admires Jojen for his dedication to the scientific community. Bran seems like a worthy pupil. Before Bran can correct his mistake, Jojen beats him to it by clarifying that he is not Bran’s mentor. “We’re on a date.”

Myles, who Bran initially reads as pompous and vain, turns a furious shade of red. The boy stutters out a response that is incomprehensible, and the Stark is fearful he’s made things difficult for Jojen. What if the boy found him unworthy? Did Bran accidentally cause Jojen to be an outcast from his friends?

“Oh! Wow! Boyfriend! Okay! He’s very cute…you’re very cute!” He praises. Bran is taken back by the compliment. He did not expect such a positive response. Myles laughs nervously. “Well, I see why you’ve taken a break from the center. Shame, the program has not been the same without you. How long have you been dating?”

Again, Jojen answers, “Just this week. This is our first date.”

Myles nods furiously. “That’s great news! I couldn’t drag one of my partners to these events. If I had someone that is—shame that everyone I meet at school is a prat with a single digit IQ—you think for a school promising the most challenging curriculum in Europe, there would be better conversationalists. The Citadel…what a load of crock!” Then, he hesitates and stares at Jojen strangely. “Well, if he’s not the reason you’ve gone missing, what happened? You’ve been out of the program for over a year! Seeing you here…it’s like you’ve come back from the dead!”

Jojen tightens his grip on Bran’s wheelchair handle. He decides that the only way out is to force an uncomfortable conversation in. “My mother died.”

Myles blanches. He struggles to find the right words, and goes for a shamefully generic response of “I’m sorry, what happened?” The genius cringes at his own ineptitude.

“Suicide.”

Two of the three young men are startled by the confession. Bran’s eyes widened. Jojen sends him a pitying look and squeezes his shoulder to indicate that he’ll explain later. Bran could push, but holds Jojen to his silent promise and keeps his concerns muted.

The statement is the last nail in the coffin, and Myles bids his adieu. “The lecture is about to start and I need to get to my seats—I’ve already reserved a place in the front.” He offers a chance beside him, but Jojen politely refuses.

The future physicist rolls Bran to the disability seating. The location is plush and vast in space—to which Jojen explains that ‘Stephen Hawking made waves for the handicapped.’ They sit down.

As soon as Dr. Wheeler arrives on stage, there’s a sudden round of applause that Bran is obligated to join in. The man is much younger than Bran expected—early forties at most. There’s a certain nerdish charm he exudes when he talks about his childhood in America, his obsession with Dungeons and Dragons, and his love for his friends. The childhood interlude leads into his theory. Bran is taken back by the claim that “the foundation of the multiverse relies on the understanding of Brane cosmology’s theories,” he finds the discussion intriguing. He makes mental notes to keep it for his future plotlines.

Jojen half listens to the lecture, and half watches Bran out of the corner of his eye. His date is paying attention to whatever he can, and though there are occasion flickers of confusion, Bran remains alert and awestruck. His hands are rested on both the armrests. Jojen has an opportunity.

He inches towards the virgin palm. Bran’s fingers twitch and Jojen retreats. He curses his cowardice and tries again. The hand is right there, so petal soft and snow white. He slinks closer and closer until he’s an inch away. Bran’s finger clench when the doctor lets out another vibrant proclamation—Jojen isn’t listening. Bran returns to normal and leans against his chair. Jojen can feel his warmth. He withdraws from the heat to develop a game plan. His schemes are cut short when Bran squirms and makes a move to place his hands on his lap. Jojen acts instantly. He grasps onto Bran’s hand and links their fingers together. He forces them on the armrest. He makes sure not to look at Bran in the eye. 

Jojen did it. His heart is pounding in anticipation but he did it.

He held Bran’s hand.  

And Bran is not pulling away. If anything, he’s encouraging their intimacy by curling his fingers so that their digits intertwine. Jojen gasps.

He is holding Bran’s hand, and Bran is allowing it.

If he bothered to look at Bran’s face, he would see an equally red, love-stricken boy. 

The lecture finishes with two utterly wrecked young men holding hands. Forced to let go, their parting does nothing to cure Jojen of his paralysis. His dazed mindset continues when he wheels his date to the dining area and does not diminish—not even when he orders his meal. When they get their dishes, Jojen relishes in the sensation of Bran’s skin.

“So…” Bran begins nervously. He nibbles on his chips. Jojen wants to be one of those chips. He swears at his lack of self-control. “That was interesting…”

“Was it?” Jojen draws out; thoughts tunneling through the crevices of his brain. He can barely remember a word spoken, still enraptured by his progress. They held hands, Jojen moons. He recovers enough to ask Bran if there’s was anything he didn’t understand.

“Most of it,” Bran admits, a nervous, sheepish smile following his confession. Jojen chuckles and the noise makes Bran swoon. “I got that alternate universes are based on…string theory?” Jojen does not correct him so Bran assumes he’s on the right track.

“Correct, but Dr. Wheeler used the example of a tightrope, but I think that’s an outdated image.” Jojen grabs two of Bran’s chips and lathers sauce between them. He smirks at Bran’s pouting protest. “So let’s start small. I want you to think of each chip as a parallel universe and the sauce is the spacetime between them. Now, imagine yourself as a fly. You can hop on one chip, but if you try to get to the other chip, the sauce stops you.” He mashes the chips together. “However, if we’re following Einstein’s law of general relativity, the spacetime can get warped. And notice how the chips are getting soggier before the movement?”

Bran nods.

“So do our universes. Every action or change to the spacetime affects our current universe.” Jojen suddenly forces the two sides together, leaving potato-ey, saucy, mess. “For the two universes to meet, there’s need to be energy—an intense, massive amount of energy. And if you happened to be in the sauce when that happens…”

“You die,” Bran squeaks out.

Jojen nods. “Everything caught in the spacetime gets decimated. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who you ask, you won’t be able to find an institution with the means to produce a proper experiment.” Jojen chuckles. “So we won’t be meeting the alternative version of ourselves anytime soon. No princesses or dragons for us.” Jojen sends a sly look over to Bran, and the sultry expression alone makes him squirm. “Though I imagine the other me is having the time of his life calling you, ‘my prince.’”

Bran coughs up his soda. Jojen offers him his water bottle. When Bran recovers, Jojen asks how long he has him until. Bran reveals he is supposed to be at home at six, and Jojen checks his watch. He lights up.  

“I get you all to myself for two whole hours? I must in heaven.”

Bran rolls his eyes. He recognizes Jojen’s sincerity but finds himself building an immunity to Jojen’s flattery. He has to find a way to keep his heart from bursting with every compliment. Nevertheless, he believes his heart fluttering around Jojen is a permanent condition.

Taking a break from the science conversation, Jojen asks about Bran’s week. He listens with his full attention, as he always does when Bran talks about his life. He leaves out his familial drama, and the absence of his siblings in his discussion raises a dozen red flags.

“Is there something wrong? You haven’t mentioned any of your siblings.”

Bran swallows his own saliva. “No…there’s just nothing going on right now.” He will not be the one to ruin the mood. Things are going great—way better than anticipated. “I mean, Arya is doing her dance thing and Sansa has a boyfriend and Rickon is being Rickon…he’s always getting into trouble…things are fine. Boring, really.”

“What about Robb?” Jojen asks, and the pointedness of his question is as unnerving as a nun. Bran gulps and is about to sputter another lie when Jojen stops him. He reaches over to grab Bran’s hand and reminds him that, “You can tell me anything.”

Bran lower lip quivers. “Robb is…Robb and I aren’t getting along right now.” Somewhere in their universe, a cat runs across the room, trips his owner, and everything on the table spills to the floor. Bran mimics the experience and misery pours from his mouth. Jojen is as attentive as ever and not once does his adoration falter. At the end of Bran’s rant, Jojen reassures him that he is not at fault—his brother’s love life does not rest on his shoulder and he has no right to blame him for any of the follies.

“But I gave Willas the number—”

“—which would have only happened if you thought Willas was worthy of it. Jon trusts your judgement and so do I. It’s on your brother if he doubts you.” Really, Jojen sighs, Robb appeared to be a more sensible man when he was dating Meera.  “I would have given a suitor my sister’s number if he met my standards.”  

The comment lifts bricks and boulders off of Bran’s shoulders. While he inwardly knows Jojen to be biased, the relief of being told he is not at fault is immeasurable. He smiles.

“Thank you, Jojen.”

Jojen stares at Bran. There are millions of universes where Jojen Reed exists, and not one of them would have been able to resist Bran Stark’s smile. Jojen leans forward, and Bran catches his breath. Bran’s entire body tenses, his breath is held still, and the hair on his back rises. His lips pout subconsciously and he bites them for a second—a moment where flesh meets teeth and the interaction results in red, apple delicious red.

Then, Bran’s phone rings.

They freeze. The phone keeps ringing, and they rise to action. Jojen pulls back. Bran retrieves his phone. Both of them scream in silence, and once the moment has passed, they yell at the heavens above for their misfortune. Jojen curses his eagerness—he’s going too far, too soon, and the universe is cockblocking him for it. Bran needs further wooing, more intimate discussions and dates consisting of star gazing in the gardens. On the other side of the kiss that never was, Bran swears a grave punishment to whoever interrupted their date. He was so sure that Jojen was going…

“Hello?” Bran answers, sour as a lemon. He glances over at Jojen to make sure he isn’t insulted. To his relief, the older boy casts an understanding smile. If anything, he is curious.  

“Bran I need your help!”

“Rickon?” Bran raises an eyebrow. “Rickon, I’m kind of busy—”

“Shh! Don’t talk so loud!” Rickon interrupts. There’s some shuffling over the phone. “They might hear you!” His voice is hushed, but the urgency of his whisper is loud and clear. Bran almost hits his head. He loathes to imagine what trouble his little brother has gotten into.

“Rickon, what did you do now?”

“It’s not my fault!” Rickon defends. As if realizing who he is talking to, he changes his tune. “I mean…it is my fault. Completely my fault, but that doesn’t matter now! I’m trapped, Bran. Trapped!” He quiets down, and Bran swears he hears a high-pitched giggle in the background. There’s an absence of breath on the other end, and Bran can practically see his brother on the other side, hiding his breathing through inane measures and curled up in a ball for discretion. Then, the giggling dies down and he hears a door shut. Rickon speaks again. “I was tricked! Bamboozled! Lyanna Mormont, she—” The laughter returns with an accompanying trail of footsteps. Again, the door slams and Rickon regains his voice. “Bran, I need you and Robb to pick me up. Don’t tell Jon. Or Sansa. They’ll kill me if they find out.”

Find out what? Bran wants to ask but deep inside, he knows he’d rather not hear the answer. “Where are you?”

“At the Mormont house, keep up, Bran!” Rickon chides. Bran rolls his eyes. Rickon proceeds to give him the brief explanation of his predicament. He spins a tale of infiltration. Lyanna Mormont was having her bimonthly sleepover and he was determined to get access to Shireen’s innermost secrets while also shielding her from Lyanna’s influence. Lyanna must have seen through his plans because she installed a program that prevented anybody from leaving the house without inputting the passcode. He was stuck, and the girls were arriving. To get him out, Bran needs to get there, distract the girls, and get Robb and to override the alarm codes.

Rickon is about to give further instruction when Bran cuts him off by informing him that he and Robb are not speaking to each other. Bran is tired of letting people walk all over him. Jojen is right. He will not apologize without wrongdoing. He’s having fun on his date, and Robb is being completely illogical. Rickon is a troublemaker, and it is time for him to face the consequences of his actions.

“I’m busy, Rickon. Whatever you did, you need to take responsibility for it. You’re not a baby anymore.” Bran takes a deep breath. “I won’t help you.”

Silence.

Bran awaits the storm.

Nothing.

The muteness alarms Bran more than a thousand screams. Was he being too harsh? He held his ground but wonders what he will do if Rickon hangs up. Oh, the eleven-year-old will never forgive him if Bran’s callousness leads him to lose his first love!

On the other side, Rickon is stunned by this newfound assertiveness. He finds his voice. He does not have many moments left to talk and will not waste it. He starts by telling Bran that he is sorry for ruining his date, and he adds that he genuinely means it. “I love you. I hope you’re having fun. Is he nice?”  

Bran stares at Jojen, who stares back. They smile at each other. “He is,” Bran agrees.

Rickon says he’s glad to hear it. Then, he reminds Bran that he is not the only Stark who is not where he is supposed to be. “When you’re finished, are you going to get Jon to pick you up? I mean, you’re not calling mum, are you?”

Bran’s throat dries up like a grape in the Sahara, and he takes his entire cup of orange soda and downs it like an alcoholic with a bottle of whiskey. That little shit. Once sated, he finishes up hacking the dribbles that went into the wrong tube and wipes his mouth. He whimpers to Rickon that “he’ll be there.”

“Good.”

Bran is left with a dial tone. His mind runs through a thousand apologies. I’m sorry, my brother fucked up. I’m sorry, I have to stop my brother from doing something stupid. I’m sorry, my brother is ruining my life but I really like you and I would love to reschedule our kiss. He hears the chiming of keys and jumps to the worst conclusion. Jojen is up and preparing to throw away the trash. Bran’s heart sinks. Jojen is abandoning him. He’s leaving him and Bran will never see him again and it will all be because of Rickon and stupid, impulsive ways—.

“Let’s just get rid of the rubbish, and I can give you a ride instead of your brother.” Jojen offers a kind smile. “We can even plan our next date—something you love.”

Bran gapes. “You want to see me again?”

Jojen is surprised by the question. “Of course.” He pauses. “Do you not want to see me again?”

“No!” Bran squeals. “I just…I thought that…Rickon…”

“Your little brother got into trouble and now you have to bail him out. It happens.” Jojen immediately thinks of Meera. “I love how important family is to you. I am not going to condemn you for it. If anything, it makes me love you more. So let’s do this. We’re going to call your older brother, save your younger brother, and figure out where we’re going on our second date.” Jojen takes ahold of the handles. “You ready?”  

Bran considers responding but knows that nothing short of a love confession is leaving his lips. He nods instead and is pleased when Jojen directs him to the parking lot. He swoons. Jojen even knows his preferred ‘rushing’ speed.

 

Chapter Text

At three o’clock in the afternoon, Robb and Theon have set a personal record for longest ever post conflict limbo. Robb had been dialing Theon’s number like a man on crack, and every redial acted as a hit. He tried tracking down Theon's number, but wherever the Greyjoy was, there must have been a satellite in the vincinity that was making the signal bounce.

Robb tries calling the number again, but when he hears the voice mail pick up his call, he throws the infuriating device onto his bed. He marches out of his room and across the hall. He barges into Jon’s room. There’s no one there. Robb remembers that Jon drove Bran to his friend’s house—a lie, Robb growls, because Bran was on a date. Robb enters Bran’s room and sees a pile of clothing on the floor. “That treacherous tart,” he hisses. He heard the crisis this morning and knew the little traitor was terrified of screwing up his chances to suck dick. And he isn't alone. Robb imagines Jon’s intentions are not far off from his little cousin, Jon craves a solid member in his mouth, is probably creaming at the chance to be with Willas and suck that limped leg’s golden dick. Because Jon just loves to suck cock. He is a cocksucker and Willas is a dick. Robb leaves for Arya’s room and when he gets in, unsurprisingly, she’s gone. Oh right, she told them that she was at dance practice but he knew the truth. Arya was a paranoid munchkin who always locked her door unless she was too excited and the only thing that made her excited was dance and dick. She was sucking dick like the rest of them! He sends an accusational glower to the second oldest Stark’s room and kicks the door down. He sees underwear on the ground and picks it up. He clenches onto them in anger. Black panties! Black panties on the ground meant she was wearing the red ones and red panties meant dick sucking! His sister is a whore. He should have known. Sansa is a part of the licentious community of cock loving Starks. He knows where she is—sucking her boyfriend’s dick. Sucking more dick than all of them combine. Everyone in Robb’s family is leaving him to become a bunch of dick suckers and that’s not fair!

The mania launches fireworks in his head as he compiles thousands of inane theories consisting of his siblings disloyal and dishonest behavior. He needs sweets. He’s desperate for some cream—he knows his mother has a secret stash somewhere. He’s ready to grab a bag of sugar and a spoon and shovel it in his mouth like a dead body in a trunk. He goes upstairs to look for the goods. The kitchen is too obvious. The maids are there. He does not want to be seen. He walks pasts his parents’ bedroom and freezes.

Panties. They hang on the doorknob, mocking him. No, worse than panties, he thinks. His eyes narrow at the lace. Red panties.

Without permission or prompting, he barges into the room and catches his parents el flagrante, soiled in sin, his father’s dick poking out of the sheets and his mother’s face caked in semen. Those hussies! They scramble to hide their shame. His mother speaks first. Aye, this must have been her doing. She must have seduce Robb’s father with her seductive wiles; the same hereditary techniques she passed onto her dick loving children.

“Robb!” She scolds, and oh how clever she is to turn the tables on him. “What have we told you about coming in when mummy and daddy put a pair of pants on the knob?”

“You were sucking dick!” He accuses furiously. He turns to his father. He glares. “You were letting her suck your dick! How could you? What kind of example are you setting for your children? That two people can suck dick whenever they want? As long as there’s consent and boundaries are respected?”

That is exactly the kind of message he wants to give to his children. “Robb…we’re married.”

“Oh, so you’re using the married card again. Well, that does not give you a free pass to stick your cock inside my mother whenever she asks for it. You need to learn some self-control.” Robb’s indignation, which he often confuses with passion, is blazing. “And chastity! What ever happened to chastity? We Starks use to have a community; one that puts our family first and our loins second! If one person in our family is not having sex, then no one else can either.” Robb nods at his own proposal. The wheels turn in his head as he develops plans for voice activated chastity belts and fingerprinted tongue locks.

Ned sighs at the irrationality. He checks on his wife, who is both concerned about her son’s behavior and annoyed that he caused her orgasm to flee. Having dealt with years of Tully temper tantrums, he knows exactly what to do. “You’re distraught,” he points out. Robb is displeased by the diagnosis. He is about to protest when Ned makes room in the center of the bed. He urges Catelyn to do the same. She groans.

“Ned, I think we should…”

“Robb is upset. He needs to lie down and think about his feelings.” Catelyn’s mouth is still open, but she complies with the demand—if not a bit reluctantly. Ned turns to his eldest son. “Let’s talk about this. Come. Lie with us.”

Catelyn tries to leave, but Ned stops her. “Stay. Catelyn, our son needs us.”

“Ned, we’re not exactly dressed for this conversation,” she grits out.

“I don’t mind, mum. I know what you did,” Robb chimes in, sounding resigned with a touch of bitterness. He crawls onto the sheets and rests in the center. He waits for his mother to lie down again. “Less clothes mean less secrets.”

Ned nods his agreement. His cock is already flaccid. From his point of view, the appropriateness of the situation is a nonissue.

Catelyn ignores the dysfunctional scene before her and gets back on the bed. Robb snuggles closer to her. His affection causes her to sigh and submit to his plea for comfort. He is their first born. They are prone to doting on their children but how could they not with such lovely babies? Ned, who is not a man to spare the rod, simultaneously does not hesitate to reward his children for every and any accomplishment they achieve. He, like Catelyn, often felt unsettled with the presence of moaning spawn.

In the bed, a womb of wool and fur, Robb reiterates the timeline of his broken heart and subsequent betrayal (leaving out the scandalous detail of his little brother’s affair—he’s not so angry as to betray his own kin) and his fight with Theon, who refuses to pick up his phone. The worst punishment for a stalker is a disappearance. He ends the rant by lamenting the birth of Willas Tyrell. His mother lets him lie on her bare shoulder and strokes his hair. She spoils him with praises, calling him a strong, resilient boy who will find a way above these circumstances. Inwardly, she cheers at the hope that her nephew has found a distraction from her son. Willas Tyrell, she muses. The only way Jon could have done better was to stay with Robb. While Catelyn celebrates Jon’s newfound romance, Ned simmers in his own suspicions. He tastes each piece of information and swallows it with a grain of salt. Willas is as smart as he looks—using Ned’s nephew to get to his son. He could sense the predator in the man; a vicious beast who is willing to play with the heartstrings of an innocent boy for the sake of feasting on the flesh of a babe. He will not make the mistake of accusing the CEO outright—he’s had too many problems in the past concerning that habit—(Cersei Lannister still sends him Joffrey's blood test every birthday) but instead voices his approval Robb’s methods

“Willas Tyrell, I’ve met him. Nice, but he seems…soft.” Conniving is the right word. “Jon enjoys being active. He deserves someone more…adaptable to a sportsmen lifestyle.” As soon as he says it, he’s proud. His wife is wrong—he can be tactful. Why, he's as sly as a snake!

Catelyn disagrees on the spot. “I knew his mother. She was my upperclassman at Glenlola. Willas is a fine young man and I’m sure he’ll make Jon very happy.” She squeezes Robb’s shoulder. “Surely, I raised a boy who wanted the best for the people he loves.”

Robb whimpers because she did raise such a man and he hates disappointing her. He recites the mantra in his head. I want Jon to be happy. I want Jon to be happy. Jon is happy with--. Me. Willas. Me. Willas. Robb's head is wrecked trying to find the ending to that sentence. Thankfully, his father pulls him away from his thoughts and forces them face to face. 

“Robb, I raised a man who can pick his battles. A hunter, a wolf, a man with instinct and integrity. If you feel something is off about Willas, act on it. Follow him around. Make sure he is never around Bra-Jon. Jon should be protected.”

“Ned! Robb’s poor behavior should not be encouraged. He needs to think things through like a gentleman—not a half-crazed loon!” She rubs her son’s shoulder. “Listen, my little king, some relationships are not meant to be. Like your uncle Brandon and me! Where would we be if I, against all odds and criticism, refused to take my chance with your father?”

“You did not take a chance—you seduced me,” Ned grumbles. He follows in after with his own retort. “And think of all the problems we could have avoided if your grandfather looked past my brother’s exterior and saw him for the hotheaded, unfaithful man he was.” His blood boils at the memory. Several holidays ago, he gathered up the nerve to ask his brother how he could be unfaithful to a woman as beautiful and bright as Catelyn Tully. They were young then. The twenty-year-old shrugged and told him he couldn't resist--"There are too many fishes in the sea. You can't expect me to eat Tilapia my whole life."

The fist fight that followed was brutal. Catelyn cried--for she was a lady and ladies cried when their loved ones are being taken away by EMTs (they also developed a spontaneous phobia of hospitals, which forced her to spend the next few days in the Stark estate being catered to by Ned--Catelyn demanded it was the only fitting punishment while slyly undressing her future husband with her eyes). 

“Ned.” Catelyn warns him. Her memory of her stripping off to reveal her skimpy bikini in their once shoddy pool--a great risk for she could not pinpoint Ned's exact affections towards her but knew she had to take a chance on this wonderful man who loved children and learned all his staff's names because he understood the value of hard work. “Robb should let Jon and Willas be.”

“A small investigation never hurt anybody. Except the guilty.”

“Ned!” The storm rears their grey clouds and his parents begin their disagreement. Robb takes one final breath. He absorbs the comfort of his parents’ scent, made heavier by their mid-coitus sweat and leaves the vicinity.

Once Robb returns to his room, he hears his phone ringing. He dives onto it.

“Hello?” he answers. He expects to hear a hesitant request from Theon, either to pick him up from whatever shithole he's crawled in or a copper requesting a pickup for someone that needs to get out. 

“Robb? It’s Bran.”

“Bran?” Robb clenches the phone a bit tighter. He holds back his irritation and focuses on the anxiety in his chest. Bran and him are technically not on speaking terms, so if his little brother is calling, it must be serious.

“Yeah, I’ll explain to you later, but I need you to meet me at your old girlfriend’s house. Rickon’s in trouble.”

“Which one?”

“The tall one.”

Dacey? Robb, who is worried but not stupid, asks if Rickon is in trouble, or trouble.

“Both.” There’s an exasperated groan shared by the two of them. Robb hears someone over the phone ask for directions. Bran responds with a “left turn on the next street.” That must be Bran’s date. Robb's heart aches. He hates being single.

“Okay, I’ll get there as soon as I can.” He hangs up, grabs a coat, and his keys. When he goes downstairs, he ends up running into the last person he wants to see. Jon is blissed out and content with the world, which means he’s either worked with one of those attention-seeking Baratheon brats, or had wickedly good sex. Robb acts up his rush by dashing past Jon and pretending not to see him. Before he could walk past his cousin—wearing body spray layered with sugar glazes and vanilla—he catches a glimpse of Gage’s Mellow Yellow and Green Dots Delight box, and stops in his tracks.

“Do you have cake?” Jon grins.

“I wanted to celebrate Bran’s completed comic book,” Jon announces with a wink. Jon and Bran used the phrase as code for the latter’s romantic indiscretions. “And one of the kids is having a sleepover. I wanted to celebrate so I stopped by a bakery on my way back. I'm saving strawberry tiramisu when she gets back.” He smiles to himself. Robb’s heart flutters. Jon loves those children--he'll worship theirs. “It’s Shireen’s first sleepover so she’s super excited.” Jon becomes aware of Robb's frantic appearance and asks if anything is wrong.

"Nothing," Robb lies. For there's nothing he wants to do more than bask in Jon's happiness and share a moment of domestic joy, a little bit of cake and tea on a cold night where they share their day's stories and think about the future. Jon, not entirely convince, lifts up his bakery box. “Okay, well I got you a sunflower cake with extra sunshine.” He heads into the kitchen to put them away and puts some molasses into his step. Robb wants to use this opportunity to escape, but he immediately recognizes the trap. Running away from cake is as suspicious as it gets in this family. He waits for Jon to come back to say goodbye.

When Jon comes back, cake less, Robb's resolve crumbles for a brief moment. Jon asks about Robb’s plans. “Where are you heading off to? A pub?”

“Uh…yes?”

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Are you asking me or telling me?”

Out of habit, he teases Jon’s about his authoritarian approach. “Are you going to spank if I give you the wrong answer?”

Jon bristles, His face turns red with embarrassment and he bites back a clever, flirtatious retort. He’s been working with children for too long and Robb happens to be the worse of his charges. “Where are you going? Honestly, this time.”

Robb considers lying but knows that’ll take too long. He settles for a half truth. “I’m picking up Rickon from a friend's house. The party ended early.”

Jon frowns. "Did something happen?"

"Not sure. He just needs me to pick him up."

"Why you? Why not mom or dad or me? He knows I was out."

"Well, I am his big brother," Robb points out. He savages some indignation and puts it into his next question. "Why? Do you think he can't rely on me to pick him up?"

Jon does not take the bait. He can tell the difference between Robb's fake indignation and his genuine irritation. “Where is he?”

Robb sighs. “At Dacey Mormont’s house…don’t ask why, I don’t—”

"Get your keys. We need to leave."

"What?"

Jon grabs Robb’s wrist and drags him down the hall. The action is sudden and rough, a tragedy for it forces Robb to ignore the enjoyment of Jon’s skin.

“We have to leave immediately. He’s going after Shireen.”

“For murder?” Jon groans. Fucking hells, where did they go wrong with this boy?

“No, he’s spying on her!”

“Oh well, that’s not so bad.”

“Robb!”

“I mean that’s horrible. He should respect Shireen Baratheon’s revulsion of his presence and keep a healthy, court-agreeable distance.”

Jon sends him a look saying he does not appreciate the sarcasm—the same look he used to send Robb when he asked for help with the housework of their flat, and Robb's attempts failed so miserably that Jon had to send him to the couch so that the Stark would not get in the way, and his only response to his jail sentence was a saucy grin and a sly innuendo. Robb manages to produce the same, sexual gaze, but holds back the comment.

In the car, Jon calls Bran to receive further details. He is livid—and Bran does everything he can to call him down without incriminating Robb. The reveal that “Robb watches you, too” will help no one, least of all Rickon—who is trapped in a closet in the least metaphorical manner the proverb could mean.

Bran explains the situation with lots of speed and little finesse. Jon suspects the soft-spoken boy theorized that leniency is a companion of confusion. Bran is dead wrong. Jon absorbs the information and prepares a devastating punishment for Rickon once they get him out.

When Jon hangs up, he repeats the information—mostly as a note to himself but since Robb is in the car, he pretends to make a conversation. “Okay, so Rickon took a cabbie to Dacey Mormont’s house for ‘unknown reasons' and now he's trapped there and can't get out.” Had Robb not recognize the dire situation, he would have laughed at the air quotations. “Because he did not plan ahead, he is now trapped inside a house with no forms of escape. The codes are changing every hour—”

Robb interrupts by saying it’s the latest in home technology. “You connect the alarm to your phone and change it upon request. They must be doing it for individual rooms.” He is predictably hushed for not reading the mood.

“And we have to save his ass. Perfect.”

Robb shrugs. Rickon is his brother so he'll support him whenever. Robb looks down at his phone and checks for any messages. He tries calling Theon again, followed by a text with the denotative message of “My brother is in trouble. Meet me at Dacey’s house.” And the connotative implication of “I’m emotional guilt tripping you so please come before I break out the broken leg possibility.” He sends the message and sighs. He hopes this one gets through at least.

Jon sees his panic and tells him not to worry about Rickon.

Robb scoffs and says he’s not worried in the least. “Rickon is a survivor. He can handle himself.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Theon’s not picking up his phone.”

“Again, what’s the problem?”

Robb sends him a tired look. Jon sighs, and asks what happened between the two of them. When he came home this morning, there was no sight of him. His morning was too pleasant for his liking.

Robb keeps the storytelling to a minimal. He’s already revealed too much to too many people, and he does not need Jon to know the main issue of their fight had to do with Robb’s ignorance. Jon has always been suspicious of Theon and early in their relationship, tried to insinuate foul play. Robb didn’t believe him back then but he understands now that Jon was correct. His pride refuses to give Jon proof of his naivety; his heart needs space to contemplate it freely. Theon is in love with him and there’s not a thing he could do about it.

“I told him I wanted to stay single for a while and he got really upset. We started saying mean things.” Lie. “And accusing each other of wrongdoings.” More lies. “I have to apologize. I was too honest and it broke Theon’s heart. I’m worried. I have no clue where he is and it’s scaring the shit out of me.”

Jon uses his free hand to hold onto Robb’s. He reassures him that everything is going to be alright. Theon is probably out with some one-night stand and if he’s gone for this long, that means he's having both the best and the worse sex of his life.

“What makes you say that?”

Jon grins for the first time since he heard about Rickon’s escapade. “Robb, Theon’s resilient. The only way for someone like him to get over a guy like you is to have the dirtiest, raunchiest sex possible with a complete asshole who will ruin him. Trust me, whatever happened last night, it'll make him forget about you for days.” He makes a left turn. “That’s what I would do.”

-

For a man who rejects any similarity to the bastard, Theon and Jon are true to their impulses. Theon rests on a king size bed, wrists bound on the bedposts, mouth stuffed with a ball gag, and a crimson blindfold over his eyes—silk, because even though Theon’s refused to be someone’s bitch, Ramsey forced him onto his bed anyways. He complained so much about the quality of his handcuffs that the Bolton bastard relented with his higher end goods. Theon’s body is covered in cum; there are fresh splotches of semen on his torso, his legs, his ass; the places that aren’t dripping are caked on and crusted. He is boneless from release. He cannot move, and he stopped protesting ages ago. Right now, he could be replaced with a sex doll and no one would be able to tell the difference.

His unresponsiveness does nothing to deter Ramsey’s orgasm. If anything, the creep likes it better if the bondage is any indication of his inclinations. Ramsey shoves his cock in Theon’s face and slaps his cheek with it. He wants his money shot and rubs himself so hard that Theon wonders if he plans on hammering out his teeth. Ramsey unleashes a large, husky moan and shoots all over Theon’s face.

“Fuck, that’s good!” Ramsey announces. He drops down beside Theon and sounds all proud of his orgasm—as if this one masturbation sequence was better than Theon’s hole and his mouth or his fucking smooth hands that have been lathered with hand cream every single day since he discovered shea butter. His indignation inspires him to shake his hackles and make a demand of release through his muffle.

Ramsey contemplates the action. “If I let you go, you have to promise not to attack me again.”

Theon nods frantically. Ramsey sighs. He regretted the offer as soon he made it, but there’s something about the way Theon begs that drives him crazy. As he undoes each tie, he’s already contemplating all the potential problems to occur. The bitch is a mouthy one and it’ll take more than an eighteen-hour fuckfest to rid him of that attitude. Oh well, he muses, at least he has the punishment to look forward to.

When Ramsey removes the last ribbon, Theon spits out his ‘chew toy’ and throws it across the room. He lunges at Ramsey and knocks him on his back. He tries to choke him and Ramsey laughs harder than he has his entire life. The sound incenses Theon, who moves in for a punch. Ramsey kicks him off in response. They wrestle for a good amount of time, tumbling in the sheets, falling off the bed. Theon’s pushing and screaming profanities, scratching any part of Ramsey’s skin he can get his hands on. In the end, Theon’s body has experience hours of forced orgasms and his eyes have reached parts of his skull he has never thought possible. He rolls onto his back to experience the sweet sensation of rest. His body has been used—he feels raw, violated, and oh so wrecked.

Ramsey asks if he’s ready to behave. He crawls over to Theon and nuzzles his neck. If it weren’t for the wandering hand fingering his hole, he would have thought the action was affectionate. Fortunately for Ramsey, Theon’s limp figure doesn’t have the energy for a fight.

"Sod off, you fucking asshole. I told you I didn’t want to be tied up.”

“But you enjoyed it.” Ramsey sucks on the flesh. Theon stifles a purr of approval—he is sucker for attention. “I could tell you would. Bitches like you pretend to be so much better than us plebs but that doesn’t stop you from getting down on your knees whenever the thought of a long, hard fucking makes itself known.”

“I’m not a bitch.” Theon scoffs. “And you’re not a pleb. This flat costs at least a thousand pounds a month.”

“Actually, I don’t pay rent. I own it.”

“Fuck you.” Ramsey giggles, the calling card of a child whose prizes mischief or an unhinged stranger with a chainsaw. Nonetheless, the fatigue is eating Theon’s sanity and he begins to adapt to his one night stand’s strange proclivities. He’s been called far worst by his family members and the asshole did just give him the best sex of his life—not that he’ll ever admit it to this lunatic.

The cock touching his thigh hardens. Theon regains the strength to push his assailant off. “We just fucked for hours.”

“What’s your point?”

“Hours, you twat!” Theon struggles to get out of his grasp. “And I bet I wasn’t even conscious for most of it, you fucking rapist.” He grabs a nearby shirt, and sniffs it. It’s not his, but it will do for a quick escape.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.” Theon looks for his phone to message Robb. The Stark must be worried sick. He’ll have to start all over again now that Robb knows about his feelings for him. He groans. Robb will never trust him alone with one of his lovers again. Then again, Theon realizes, Robb is now dedicated to his own self-discovery—without girls. This means he won’t have to watch Robb get moony eyed over some undeserving twat. Yeah, he can work with this new ‘single, find himself Robb.'

“Looking for this?” Ramsey asks. He waves Theon’s phone around like a master lording over his dog with a treat.

Theon curses under his breath. “Give it back.”

“Your boyfriend’s really worried about you,” Ramsey points out (He’s glaring—no staring at the words on the screen. He’s not jealous—there’s no way he’d be concern over some cheating slut.). Theon is livid. Ramsey is reading personal text messages from Robb for Theon's eyes only. He musters all his strength to rescue the device from the psycho’s hands. Ramsey easily fends him off. He pushes Theon back on the bed and climbs on top of him.

“‘Theon, I’m sorry.’ ‘Theon, we need to talk.’ Theon, please pick up your phone.’ Wow, he must have really fucked up!” Ramsey grins. His bends down to deliver a vicious and bloody bite on Theon’s neck. Theon screams. He struggles to break free but he can feel the teeth lodge in his bone. He finishes it off with languid lick on the scar. “I wonder what he’ll do when he sees my mark on you. Maybe he’ll figure out what I discovered in seconds—that you’re nothing more than a pretty whore. A warm fleshlight that knows how to clench and cum upon command.” Theon whimpers. He turns away so that Ramsey cannot see his tears. The Bolton forces him to face him. He grips onto the boy’s hair, and hears him whisper. “…notmyboyfriend.”

Ramsey pauses. “What?”

Theon sniffles. “Robb’s not my boyfriend. We’re friends.” The confession distracts Ramsey enough that he lets go. Theon uses the time to wipe away his tears. “We got into a fight at the pub and I didn’t want to go home…” he explains.

“You live together?” Ramsey sounds doubtful. Then, he gets angry. "You lying slut. Do you honestly think I believe that I bullshit?"

“Only for the summer!" Theon clarifies. "And it’s not just us—we live with his family. It’s his parent’s home.”

Ramsey scoffs. “He still lives with his mother?”

“For the summer,” Theon defends. “And he goes to school, too. He’s at top of his class and he’ll run Stark Industries one day and…”

“What?”

Theon shuts his mouth. Shit, he didn’t mean to say the last part. “Your friend is a Stark? He’s…he’s Robb Stark.” There’s an undeniable chill in Ramsey’s eye. Theon panics, and tries to recover by saying he exaggerated. Ramsey hears nothing of it. He mutters something to himself, phrases of connected fates and vengeance. Theon takes the shot and aims for his phone. Even in his scheming, Ramsey stays aware of his surroundings. He pulls back before Theon can swipe it from his hand. He reads the new message. “It’s seems your friend is having trouble with his brother. A Rickon?”

Theon does not give up. He keeps on trying until Ramsey clutches onto his neck and kisses him until his lungs give out. He throws Theon on the bed and gets off. The younger man wonders what’s in store for him, and reminds Ramsey of the pre-existing conversation. “Since Robb’s not my boyfriend, you can’t make me do anything for you. I can’t be blackmail. Just let me go—” Ramsey interrupts Theon’s ‘persuasion’ with a pair of jeans. He tells him to get dressed.

“I’ll give you a ride,” he offers.

“What?” Theon’s fingers clutch onto the pants. He holds them up a bit higher, as if the denim will shield him from Ramsey’s manipulations.

Ramsey holds his hands up in innocence. “You don’t have money for a cabbie, nor any means of going home. I checked your wallet. So, out of the goodness of my kind, merciful heart, I’ll give you a ride.”

Theon’s eyes narrow. “Why?”

“Well, I can’t just let you wander the streets alone. My conscience would never allow it. There’s a serial killer out there. He might hurt you.”

“Like you care.” Ramsey chuckles. “Nope! But I don’t want my new booty call to disappear on me so soon. Thanks for the number. I’ll trust I’ll be seeing you very soon.” Theon thinks about protesting that ‘he’s never given the twat his number’ but settles on a succinct: “I rather eat pig shit.”

Ramsey’s grin grows larger. He puts on a t-shirt and draws closer to the younger man in a predatory fashion. He gets on his hands on knees but there’s nothing about the action that seems submissive. He’s crawling towards the Greyjoy like a tiger or a wolf. “Don’t be like that, Theon. We had such a lovely time last night.” He strokes Theon’s cheek. The softness unnerves Theon, whose only experience bruises and scratches under Ramsey’s hand.

“What will you do if I refuse?”

Ramsey stares. In a single moment, he grabs Theon until their chests are touching each other but their lips are an inch apart.

“If I don’t see you again, I’m afraid I will become very upset. I’ve developed a…taste for this body of yours. I intend to have my fill.” He licks the spot where he marked Theon. Theon shivers. “I’m going to give you back your phone. Then, I am going to drop you off a few minutes away from your intended destination so no one sees us together. In return, you are going to pick up all my phone calls—no matter where you are. I don’t care if you’re on the toilet or getting fucked by another man--and it better not be the latter-ever. I don't need some diseased whore in my bed." Theon whimpers when he tugs his hair. "I call. You answer. I tell you to get on your knees. You bark. If you don’t…well, let’s not get to that point.” He brushes away Theon’s hair. He rubs his finger on Theon’s lips. God, he loves that mouth. He’s tempted to break a few teeth to get him really slurping him in.

Theon falls victim to an esurient manchild who fucks his mouth with vigor and viciousness. Theon’s mouth gets ravaged and raped by Ramsey's tongue. As soon as they part, Theon whimpers out his approval. Ramsey leaves the bed to get him a new pair of clothes. Theon will be wearing his old ones from last night. He will not take a shower. “Be careful about letting people get too close to you. You reek.”

-

Jojen offers to stay with Bran until his brother arrives, but Bran turns him down. Logically, Jojen is relieved. Robb might recognize him from his brief stint as Meera’s boyfriend and that might lead to some accidental revelations to their wolf mother. Things are going too well for Jojen. Once Bran and him are officially lovers in mind, body, and soul, bound by the gods and forces beyond the earth, no one can tear them apart. But for now, their bond is fragile and the egg must be nurtured before the raven is born.

He is, however, reluctant to leave Bran’s side. “Would it be too much to ask you to call me after this fiasco is finished? I want to see you again.”

Bran blushes. “When?”

“Every day,” Jojen blurts out. He laughs at himself. Bran doesn’t know how serious Jojen is, and every bit of his honesty could be interpreted as jest. “Whenever you’re available? I just want to see you. Gods, being without you…it’s just unbearable. I wish I could come with you but…”

“It’s family business,” Bran clarifies. He takes Jojen’s hand in his. Jojen is taken back, as the action is the most forward Bran has been all day. “I would love to hear from you again. I…I had a really great time. I’m sorry it ended so soon.”

Jojen squeezes the offered palm. “I did, too. I…” His words die on him when he sees the incoming lights. The street is completely empty. Few people are willing to travel this far for the sake of anything but business, and at this time at night, there was either the worst business to be had or no business at all. The latter is almost assured, given that the former would never alert anybody to their location using headlights. Jojen stares at one of the familiar, incoming cars. His eyes narrow.

“That’s my brother…I…” Bran smiles at him. “I’ll call you tonight. I want to see you again, too.”

“Do you know I look forward to the most, next time?” He attaches a suggestive look. Bran turns red as his mother’s hair. Jojen leans down, and Bran panics. He did not prepare for this to be the moment. Instead of closing his eyes or leaning forward to reciprocate, he freezes. Jojen pauses midway to tell Bran, “the perfect first kiss.”

Bran’s heart tackles his ribcage. It wants out, and into Jojen’s arms. Jojen reluctantly leaves and tells Bran to be safe. He carefully leaves when the lights are drawing near—enough brightness for a distraction but not enough for seizures. Jojen disappears while Bran is still wincing. Soon, his brother and cousin come running out and a few minutes later. They hug. Both of them ask if Bran was alright waiting alone, but Bran tells them he wasn’t alone. Before they could read into his enigmatic statement, he points out that Jojen waited until they came.

“A man of mystery,” Jon notes wryly.

“Shame, I’d like to meet him,” Robb agreed.

Bran is immensely grateful it did not come down to that. There’s a reason why Sansa has not brought her boyfriend home yet. About ten minutes later, Theon arrives on foot. They know he must have been given a ride—and no one believes it was by cabbie, as evident by the huge love mark on his neck. Theon gives them a cover story of a bug bite. Jon remarks that he must have been bitten by a radiative centipede for a hickey that big. Theon asks him to “sod off.” A fight brews between the three of them. Bran attempts to intervene but is met with ignorance and dismissal. Finally, he prepares a dog whistle he cares for Summer and blows. The noise is supposed to only work on dogs but…

“What the hell was that?” Robb asks as he shuts his ears. Jon had winced at the frequency, but the sound did not physically pain him as it did Robb. Theon was unaffected.

Bran puts the whistle away. “Now that I got your attention, let’s get straight to business. What are we going to do about Rickon?”

Chapter Text

Lyanna Mormont has three stuffed bears carefully seated on her windowsill and her bedsheets are made of plain blue wool. Her closet contains a healthy amount of skirts, pants, and dresses—jeans are folded next to the sweaters, and her accessories are located in the same drawers containing her shirts and undergarments. She owns a bookshelf with several classics and textbooks and organizes her assignments in alphabetical order. Anything from the previous year is disposed of immediately. When he was snooping, he noticed that Lyanna receives exemplary marks on all her assignments. She has another container filled with her football activities but they are located near her hamper for efficiency. Rickon has been stuck in the closet for hours—he's memorized every single detail of the slayer’s room, and he finds the place absurdly dull for someone so remarkably interesting. If anything, her austerity tells more of her personality than the thousands of flowers and gemstones filling up Sansa’s room or the layers of dirty clothes in Arya.  He becomes annoyed—there’s something unnerving about someone his age being so mature. He wants to mess up her bed or knock down her books. She’d kill him—but he’s been in the closet long enough to hallucinate the benefits.

Rickon sighs. Being alone with Lyanna, or the lack of Lyanna has gotten him more invested than he liked. He should have never come, but now that he’s here, he cannot leave. Literally. He’s stuck. And it’s all Lyanna’s fault.

Lyanna, for all her adult mannerisms, finds an outlet torturing Rickon. She pretends not to care about him but relishes in the fact that she can claim an imaginary moral high ground. They are a year a part in school, Lyanna’s reputation is known throughout the academy. The teachers are terrified of her, but the students respect her enough to leave her alone and do her bidding at will. He should not be as surprised as he was when Lyanna extended her friendship to Shireen. She sought the best for her empire (and there was no one better than Shireen Baratheon) and was determined to rid herself of her enemies—namely Rickon. From the moment she’s met Shireen, she could see how Rickon felt about her and launched a war against him, beginning with an invitation to her sleepover.

Jon called him overdramatic. “Lyanna may be…precocious, but I think her and Shireen will get along. Davos and Stannis already met her. She’s made a good impression on them.”

Rickon groaned. It was a trick, he tried to convince his cousin. Jon brushed him off.

In a way, this was all Jon’s fault. His inaction forced Rickon’s hand. When he overheard Jon promising to take Shireen to the party early—Lyanna requested they “prepare” beforehand, Rickon took initiative. He called one of his minions and they called Catelyn Stark to sanction a sleepover. Ten minutes later—Rickon will have words with the little bastard about that—the Frey child called Catelyn Stark to ask if Rickon could stay over. Catelyn agreed without hesitation—it’s not like he’s Bran, Rickon muttered to himself. He shook his head. This was no time to be feeling resentful. Catelyn dropped him off promptly, giving him more than enough time to call a cab and drive all the way to the Mormont manor. Most of the residents were already out, and Rickon knew enough of the location to sneak in. The Mormonts were long time employees of the Starks and his family kept blueprints of all the houses they provided services to.

Here’s where Rickon should have known something was wrong.

Rickon knew the security codes and lock combinations to the Mormont gate. He knew the right passageways to go through at all the right times. He even, to some degree, knew where all the hidden surprises were because the Mormonts loved a good old fashion bear trap hidden in the grass. He did not know, however, who was in the house and who was leaving. The fact that he was able to get in without being seen should have struck him as odd, but being a prideful young boy, he ignored it. Rickon is not an idiot but he’s a Stark in love and a Tully in training and that disastrous combination leads him to perform acts of face palming, mouths gaping, and fist balling stupidity that not even Robb can condone.

But Rickon ignored his better instincts. He was the type of person to travel straight because everyone knew that the fastest way out of the forest was to go through it. He managed to sneak all the way into Lyanna’s bedroom (a discovery made through several trials and errors) before the inkling that something might be wrong occurred to him.

Rickon’s intention was to do a quick in and out job—secure a few cameras in carefully placed locations and be on his way. He did not expect Lyanna’s room to be so…open. There was no place to hide a camera except in spots that were either too high or too secluded to be effective. He walked towards the closet to inspect the espionage potential. Before he could finish his scan, he heard footsteps coming towards him. He sprung into the closet and slammed the doors shut.

“I thought we were going to bake cookies.” He recognized Shireen’s voice anywhere. He swooned.

“We are but we should change. You have a pretty dress on. We should not let it get dirty.”  

Shireen denied the sentiment. “I brought pajamas. That’s what I’ll be staying in most of the time so I can just stay in this and change later.”

Lyanna paused. Rickon breathed a sigh of relief. If Shireen could convince Lyanna to go back into the kitchen, then Rickon could use the opportunity to escape. Lyanna was determined to make Shireen and Rickon suffer.

“I already borrowed sweats from my older sister. Here. Take it.”

Shireen’s nimble fingers captured the tossed hand me downs. She was helpless, mute, unable to deny anything Lyanna forced upon her—be it her sister’s clothing or her friendship. She asked for privacy to change and Rickon swallowed his spit the wrong way. He choked. Both girls were alerted by the noise. Lyanna turned her attention to the closet. Her eyes narrowed. Rickon huddled to avoid being seen. For the longest time, Rickon believed she would investigate the sound. He surprised her by turning back to Shireen.

“What was that?” asked Shireen.

“Nothing,” Lyanna pointed out. Her response was fast—too fast. “My house is very old. Sometimes the pipes get stuck and rub together.”

“Oh.” Shireen made no sudden movements. She remained clothed in her personal wears.

“What’s the matter now?”

“It’s just…” Shireen’s face burned. “I’m not used to dressing in front of others. Can you wait outside?”

“It’s my room.”

“I know but…”

“We’re both girls. I live in a household filled with only women. I’ve seen your parts my whole life. I have your genitalia.”

Shireen struggled with a response. Rickon suffered indignation on her behalf. He almost tore apart the closet doors to come to her defense and had Shireen not brought her shaky fingers up to her dress, he would have. Rickon froze as the barest hint of skin appeared on Shireen’s neck. He salivated when she undid her second button and fell apart when he caught sight of her pulsing scars. They were layered on top of her skin like flat Twizzlers and bulged out like a three-dimensional tattoo. He thought they were stunning—but Shireen lacked the same affection for them. She was an utter wreck when she began to remove her dress.

Flashbacks of her younger years came forward, and her shoulders were burden with the cruel jeers and disgusted looks of her classmates. She remembered sitting out for her swim days because the kids refused to enter the pool after her. They were afraid of being ‘contaminated’ and their parents were equally resentful. She could never forget the way the girls in her locker room would stare or the incident where one crossed paths with her and demanded to go to the nurse’s office because she was sure Shireen infected her. Despite the severe circumstances, Shireen withstood the abuse for as long as she could to prove to herself and her family that she was not a crybaby. She was strong—though not as strong as Lyanna, who grew impatient with her whimpering and swiped the garments off her body so fast Rickon’s pervasions remained unsatisfied. Lyanna’s position was strategic and purposeful—she placed herself directly in front of Shireen and covered the closet view.

Shireen gasped. She closed her eyes and prayed for the best.

“Here,” Lyanna said. She did not miss a beat when she forced her sister’s shirt into Shireen’s hands.

Shireen opened her eyes. She expected Lyanna to walk away afterward but the girl stood there—staring. Her gaze was neither hurtful nor pitying. She seemed intrigued, a sentiment confirmed when she asked Shireen about the source of her scaring.

“They look like burn marks, but those are skin lesions underneath them. I've seen them in pictures of sclerosis. What happened?”

Shireen got dressed immediately. She tried to keep her voice calm. Lyanna’s gaze was unnerving as they were inquiring. “An experimental treatment. I have—had scleroderma.”

Lyanna raised an eyebrow. “Going through an experimental treatment seems a bit much for an autoimmune disease.”

Diffuse scleroderma,” Shireen clarified, letting her indignation slip out by a sliver. “It started to affect my lungs and heart so I couldn't breath properly. My parents signed me up for an experimental treatment and it cured me of the major symptoms but…”

“The scars are permanent.”

Shireen nodded. “Sometimes I get the spots but the burns from the treatment cover them up.”

After her curiosity was sated, Lyanna did not speak of the matter again. She moved onto business: their sleepover. “There will be seven of us altogether. This is the first time we’ll be…making desserts instead of ordering them or buying them premade. I expect there to be no complications—no ovens blowing up, no stoves being lit on fire, none of the stuff you typically see in a kitchen.”

“What kind of kitchen do you have?”

“One that’s highly flammable.” Lyanna sighed. "My house is old, Shireen." 

Shireen laughed and felt relieved when Lyanna smiled in response. She was a frank creature of a humor as dry as year old paint, but every new discovery made Shireen elated. She was delighted to be this person’s friend. She listened on as Lyanna discussed the night’s future. She wondered what kind of friends Lyanna would have. Would they be as straightforward and fearsome as the girl herself? When Lyanna stated she liked people that challenged her, did she mean they were akin to Shireen? How would they handle her presence within their sisterhood? Shireen heard that hazing situations were common in cliques and she did not know if having a girlfriend was worth it. Although…

Shireen took in her surroundings. She was in another girl’s bedroom. Her sleeping bag was located next to the closet and marked her territory for tonight’s slumber. She was going to bake cookies with this strange girl she had met twice, and be joined by half a dozen girls whose names she didn’t know. Lyanna Mormont was the type who said whatever was on her mind and twisted the knife without reserve. Shireen felt safe with her. If she was the ringleader in her group—and Shireen had no doubt that was the case—there was no way she would select someone who would make Shireen feel uncomfortable.   

“What’s going on in your mind?” Lyanna pursed her lips. “Tell me. And don’t lie, I can tell when people lie.”

Shireen hesitated and then brushed her hair behind her ear. She got into the habit because Davos encouraged her to show her pretty face.

“I’ve never had a female friend before,” Shireen admitted. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.” She was ashamed of the confession. Lyanna had loads of girlfriends. She must think there was something wrong with Shireen if girls didn’t like her.

“Do whatever you do with your male friends. Find a common interest and focus on that for conversation. There’s not much of a difference.”

Shireen was doubtful. Lyanna furthered her explanation by explaining that there was nothing wrong with Shireen. “Humans are creatures of habit. You live with only men. Of course, you will have more male friends. I was raised in a household of women. I find girls easier to deal with. When they meet me, boys are…”

“Intimidated?”

“Emasculated,” Lyanna growled. “Except for Rickon, but he’s a Stark. They have no sense of fear.”

Rickon knew it was an insult but chest puffed up regardless. Shireen laughed and agreed with the sentiment. Despite Lyanna’s assurance, Shireen’s self-esteem forced her to keep her opinion. For further persuasion, she pushed Lyanna for advice. “When I was in London…the girls weren’t nice to me. So my parents took me out and I…was homeschooled for a very long time because of it. I don’t think I can handle a repeat of what happened.”

“You won’t.” Lyanna sounded so confident. “I choose the people I associate with wisely. If they engage in bullying, there will be a punishment.”

Shireen became worried. “What kind of punishments?”

“Warranted punishments.”

“What are…”

Punished, Shireen. Punished.”

Shireen shut her mouth.

When they were finished with the overview, Lyanna stood up to indicate her departure. Shireen followed with the obedience of a puppy. Before they left the room, Lyanna turned around and lodged her hands onto Shireen’s breasts. Shireen squeaked at the intrusion.

“What are you doing?” She squealed. Oh dear gods, she was being fondled. Lyanna tilted her head and made an approving noise. When she let go, Shireen was too shocked to be cross. Instead, she gaped and sputtered out unrecognizable words and questions.

From the closet, Rickon practiced his internal scream. Someone else was touching his girlfriend slash future wife slash soulmate’s breasts and it was not him. He could do nothing to stop it. He’d seen enough movies to know that once a girl took off her clothes, getting caught was no longer an option. He was condemned to the prison and he did not even enjoy the crime. While he was lamenting his actions, Lyanna defended herself.

“Oh, don’t give me that look. Girls grope each other’s breasts all the time. It’s perfectly normal.”

Shireen was about to protest before she recognized her lack of grounds. She had no clue what girls did in sleepovers. Perhaps Lyanna was right, and girls grabbed each other’s parts all willy-nilly and proceeded to do things in the videos her brothers liked to watch.

“You have a respectable pair of tits,” Lyanna continued. She opened the door and motioned Shireen to go forward.  “Women in my family either carry melons or as flat as a board. There’s some charm in a pair of average sized breasts.”

Rickon gurgled about the injustice. Shireen was not average in any way, shape, or form. She was exceptional. His impulsiveness led their attention towards him again. He covered his mouth to cover his breathing.

“Are you sure it’s the pipes?”

Lyanna was quiet for the longest time. She stared directly through the closet slits and into Rickon’s eyes. Finally, she reaffirmed her initial statement. “…yes.” She turned to Shireen. Her face betrayed no emotion. She was stoic when she asked, “What else could it be?”

Shireen had an answer but chose silence over it. She was being paranoid. “Nothing. I hope it stops when we get to sleep.”

“It will.”

There was a knock on the door. Lyanna allowed the person to come in and Dacey was revealed. She smiled at Shireen. “Your friends are here. Should I send them up?”
“No,” Lyanna told her. “We’re going to the kitchen first.”

“What’s in the kitchen?”

Lyanna did not respond. She was staring at the closet.

“Lyanna, what did you do?” Dacey’s question bordered on exasperation and fear. Shireen was concerned by how genuine the worry was.

The youngest Mormont pulled her attention away to relieve her sister’s paranoia. “Shireen and I will be baking sweets with the other girls.”

“Will that be alright?”

Lyanna bristled. “You said we should learn how to cook.”

“You said that wasn’t a possibility.”

Lyanna shrugged.

Dacey continued the sentiment by pointing out that, “If something bad happens, I can’t help you. You’re basically swimming with a drunk lifeguard on duty.”

“We have Shireen.” Lyanna pushed her newest friend forward. “She needs to prove her worth.”

“Friends don’t have to prove their worth,” Dacey lectured. She nonetheless moved out of the way to grant Shireen access to the hallway. Lyanna lingered in her bedroom. She ordered Shireen to get acquainted with the rest of the girls.  

“You should get to know your new friends. Some of them go to your school and one is in your grade.”

“Who is she?”

“Find out,” Lyanna instructed. “That’s how you make friends. You get information on them and you used that information to build alliances.”  

Shireen was a bundle of nerves when Dacey led her downstairs. She was not ready to talk to girls. She wanted Lyanna there to mediate, to hold her hand, to guide her through the fearsome process but the Mormont shut the door in her face.

Left alone, Lyanna wandered around her spotless room and investigated the contents. Her fingers traced every surface—from her folded blankets to her dustless desk. She molested her books for wires and squeezed her stuffed animals for cameras.  She moved as if she was scrapping steel on top of the lacquered wood. Then, she walked towards the closet.  

From where Rickon was, the pressure was heavier than gravity times infinity. He already made enough noise to attract her attention. The pressure was immense. Logically, she should be bursting in any moment.  As soon as Lyanna’s hand touched the closet door, she turned on the balls of her feet and tossed her comforter for refolding. She spared Rickon nothing—not a corner glance or a fraction of a sweeping gaze. Rickon prayed for the senselessness to be a fool who counted his blessings—but his tired eyes missed too many warning labels and he could not risk falling for another trap. When Lyanna finished her ministrations, she walked over to her door. Next to the light switch was a panel of numbers. Cold sweat froze Rickon’s back.  

Lyanna used one hand to cover her tracks, and the other to type in a code. “It’s been a while since I had to resort to this. It’s hard to recall the code.” The light turned green. “Fortunately, that just makes it harder to guess.”

Lyanna left her room dancing to the sound of Rickon’s internal scream. With her footsteps echoing in his waking nightmares, he sprung out of the closet and darted over to the door. He tried his best to unlock it, used every override combination he could think of, only to be disappointed by the constant red beeping. He was stuck. Older houses had a limited amount of chances—five or six at most. Only freaks like Robb kept the passcodes on hand. For the first time in his life, Rickon asked for help.

-

Bran downloads the blueprints to the Mormont house while Robb is fighting with his ex-boyfriend and best friend. He figures he’d give them ten minutes for a healthy spat—Robb’s disagreement with Bran paled in comparison to his precarious situation with Theon. When they reunited, the older Stark was giving out hugs and kisses like he inherited Hershey’s. At the moment, he is lecturing Theon as if he has the right to. (Bran isn’t aware of the details but he silently advocates on Robb’s behalf—he’s too busy saving his little brother’s ass to do so out loud, however. Theon is reckless and stupid, and while he’s always been a second brother to him, there were moments in their history when it was clear: he needed to be taken care of).

Theon, whose habit is to put up a fight for the first five minutes, dimmer into a slow reluctance for the next two and finally accept Robb’s dominance in the last few, stands his ground. He reminds Robb that he is his own person. He can do whatever and whoever he wants. He says to Robb, “It’s not like you care. Or even try to care.”

Bran recognizes a landmine when he sees one, and digs deeper into his planning. He’s heard from Shireen that the Lyanna, the youngest Mormont girl is having a sleepover tonight and he knows Rickon is stuck somewhere in her room. Bran’s father is adamant about providing the best security for his customers and is doubly cautious towards his employees. Like their home, the Mormont rooms are given their own individual security locks. Most people don’t use them—in their family, only Arya, Robb and their father employ the method and their usage is sporadic at best. Lyanna was using the protection as a prison for Rickon. Over the phone, he swears Lyanna is keeping him trapped. For good reason, Bran bitterly responded. Rickon growled and told him to mind his own business (and threw in a threatening comment about minding other people’s privates). Bran shut up immediately afterward.

When Robb, Theon, and Jon’s fight runs over their allocated amount, Bran step in to remind them that they are here for a reason outside of their polygamist spat. They need to get Rickon out and undetected.

“He doesn’t have a lot of time. He says the girls are baking right now and will move on to watching movies. They’ll be upstairs in a few hours—three tops.”

Jon groans. He cuts their fight short by asking Robb if he can get Dacey to help them out. “Maybe she can help Rickon out and have him escape through a back door?” So that he can kill the little ingrate on his own time, goes on unsaid.  

Theon scoffs. “You’re mad if you believe Dacey Mormont will let a boy who sneaked into her sister’s bedroom go unscathed.”

Jon glares. He turns back to the Robb and repeats the question. “Do you think she’ll be willing to help?”
To everyone’s disappointment, he agrees with Theon. “Dacey would sooner kill Rickon than help him. At best, she’ll drag him out and call our parents to enact punishment. We’ll never hear the end of it.”

Instead of brainstorming more poor ideas, Jon accepts the possible outcome as justified. Rickon should be punished. If he continues down this road of perversion, it won’t be long until he escalates and becomes a more active version of Robb. One obsessive Stark is bad enough, but two? Jon shudders at the thought.

As if reading his mind, Robb reminds Jon of the Stark family pact. “Jon, Rickon needs our help. I understand he’s in the wrong, hells, after this, we can punish him together! On our own terms. But gods, he’s a boy in love. We can’t just take that from him and let him ruin his chances on in one night. He’s begging, Jon. Please.”  

Jon sighs. He wants to refuse, but a single look into those perfect blue eyes and Jon falls apart. He asks Bran what they needed.

Bran answers with the truth. “A miracle.”

Robb grabs the phone out of Bran’s hands and studies the information. The Mormont house is old and he discovers that the wrong passcode has already been done twice. He tested out the potential override code on his mobile to get through the gates and succeeded in breaking through the first barrier. If what Rickon is saying is true, the girl’s party will be held in the kitchen or the living room on the first floor. Lyanna’s room is unknown except that it’s on the second floor. Dacey will be keeping an eye out like a decent chaperone and be situated in a room not too far off from the girls but distant enough to be out of the way. He knows that the eldest Mormont girl likes to stay in the room closest to the door because her little sister gets testy when her favorite scene is interrupted by a consistent doorbell.

There’s a possibility of success if they can distract the girls to a nearby room. Robb runs down the list of adequate distractions. He could try and seduce Dacey into letting him in. Then, he could set off all the sprinklers and mess with their plumping system so that the house floods. He could dress up as a mass murderer and force the girls outside where he’ll head in and sneak Rickon away. He considers making a report to the coppers about a strange man in area wielding a butcher knife, and allow the cops to question the girls about his whereabouts. Those investigations took forever. At worst, it will buy them more time.

When he reiterates the solution out loud—Jon angrily turns them all down. “We are not ruining Shireen’s first sleepover because Rickon cannot keep it in his pants.”

Gods, Jon is so sexy when he’s being protective. Robb agrees to Jon’s requirements with a mild swoon. Theon does not and suggests they set the house on fire instead. “They’ll be heading to a safety exit so Rickon can escape.”

Jon considers whacking him on the head. “Your idea of a distraction is arson? Are you mental?”

 “I don’t see you coming up with anything better, bastard.” Theon glares. “Besides, the house is huge. We only need to set the alarms off—not burn the entire house down.”

“No,” Robb disagrees before Jon can. “We would need to burn the entire house down. The manor has heat tracking system. It locates the cause of fire and incapacitates the heat before it can get too far. The only way to encourage emergency evacuation is set off simultaneous alarms.”

“How many matches will that take?”

Jon hits him this time. The boys get into a scuffle which leads to Robb joining in to break up the fight. He makes it worse when he pulls at Theon’s arm and Theon’s response is to yank Jon’s hair. Jon grapples Theon to the ground. Robb tumbles down with them.

Bran affirms his earlier suspicion. This sausage fest needs a woman’s touch. 

Chapter Text

On average, ninety-five percent of cookie dough ends up in a person’s mouth before it even hits the oven. When Wylla Manderly tries to swipe a few chips, Lyanna slaps her hand hard enough to give her whiplash and forces her to spit the saliva laden mixture into a napkin. The hostess is adamant in her belief that hazardous materials are at play and such chemicals are not allowed in their orifices.

“You’re going to get salmonella,” she lectures. “And die.” The warning is something Shireen’s father would have said, but coming out of Lyanna’s mouth, the statement mimics a martial command over parental concern. She condemns Wylla to the chopping area—the portion of the kitchen that has been relegated to a pizza hut because they needed substance and Lyanna was already in for a penny so she decided to go for the pound. 

While the girls are distracted with busy work, Lyanna orders each of her friends to drop off their sleeping bags in her room. She makes them go up one by one. Shireen finds the behavior peculiar but is terrified of drawing attention. Her goal is to blend into the community, not stand out as a leper. While she stirs the chips into the last batch of batter, she looks down and keeps her thoughts to herself. Ironically, if she had bothered to ask the other girls, they would have informed her that they too found the command unusual.

Lyanna is adding in the extra candies—a collection of Reese’s, crushed Butterfingers, chopped up Bounty and Chomps—when the last two girls return. They ignore her harsh stare and continue their giggling. Shireen admires their brevity. Lyanna asks if they could find a place in her room and the girls agreed that there was no problem. One of them points out that Shireen’s added presence adds a homier touch to their group. Shireen flushes in pride. She continues mixing with a hum on her lips. The sentiment is sweet but unnecessary. Lyanna could care less if they made Shireen comfortable as long as they didn’t make her uncomfortable. No, Lyanna had only one thing in mind when she sent those girls individually.

She wanted to make Rickon Stark sweat cold, hard balls of fear

By the looks of it, no one but her has noticed the extra presence in her room. She has yet to settle on a suitable punishment for the pervert but she wants it to be good. She is well aware of the boy’s obsessive crush on her newfound friend and while she finds the extents he’s willing to go through admirable, she has little patience for burglars and creepers. Especially incompetent ones who tripped her alarms upon entering the gate.

Hastening his discovery would only put him out of his misery. The best way to bury someone is to dig a hole too deep to climb out of. Lyanna puts the last of the cookies and pizza into the oven and orders the girls upstairs to change. “You must feel disgusting,” she insists.

Beth Cassel disagrees and licks her fingers off to savor the delicacy. “This was fun. We should do this next time, but bigger. Something more fulfilling—ooh! Like cakes or pie! I bet we could do it. Shireen’s a great teacher,” she praises. “The food smells amazing.” Beth is the same age as Shireen and her future schoolmate. Lyanna’s reckoning is temporarily forgotten when she sees Shireen’s face light up.

Lyanna retrieves her vengeful spirit when she hears creaking from upstairs. Her house is old. The floors creak when there’s a mouse sleeping on her bedsheets let alone a primary schooler in her closet.

“The food won’t be ready for half an hour. Dacey can take them out for us when they’re ready.”  

“I can?”

“You can,” Lyanna reassures. She turns to Arra Umber. “Set the alarm five minutes early.”

“I heard that.”

Lyanna raises up ten fingers.  The girls laughed and Arra sets the alarm for exactly twenty minutes. Lyanna shoos the girls upstairs and is tempted to order them into a single file line so that they could enter her room one by one; each footstep hammering nails of terror into Rickon’s soul. Odd commands are commonplace in her household but they needed to be justified by internal reasoning on her guests’ part and without her personal input. She wants to avoid the questions attached to that particular command. With great reluctance, she carries on silently but asks her friends to walk slowly.

“My stairs are creaking,” she tells them. She’s not lying. They creak every day, but no one ever minds. Her mother has been busy with work and most of the time Dacey is too worn out from her school and work experience. The only other person who can fix the stairs is Alysane and she has other priorities—namely her newborn child fathered by a mysterious man none of her sisters can ever dream to meet.  

The girls tumble into the room like the seeds of a dandelion. Some race to Lyanna’s bed while others make themselves comfortable on her carpet. The most peculiar quality in her sterile room is a monstrosity of fluff on the floor—pounds of pillows embroidered with bears, stacked on top of each other. Lyanna suggests they change into their pajamas and carefully leans against the closet as they oblige. Shireen is less nervous the second time around, especially since the other girls are minding their business instead of eyeing down hers.

Once the last girl is finished, Lyanna slaps her closet door, a grand gesture that gathers everyone’s attention, most of all Rickon, whose face was peering against the doors for a glimpse of Shireen and had the wind knocked into him. His head slams against the wall. Lyanna hears a few of hangers tumbling down. The girls hear it too but suspect no foul play except what originates from Lyanna.

To remove the attention away from herself, Lyanna asks Shireen a question. “Since we’re getting acquainted, Shireen, what are your plans?”

“For tonight?” Shireen squeaks.

“For life.” Lyanna strolls over to the bed with the dignity of a shield maiden. “You must have goals in your life. I can’t be friends with someone who doesn’t have goals.”

“Oh.” Shireen brushes away a strand of hair. “Well, my father owns a hedge fund and I’m planning to take it over one day.” She does not mention that her father is only the partial owner. Uncle Robert and Uncle Renly both own minimal shares, but either lost or sold so much of them that they no longer owned a high enough percentage to placed them on the board. Their interest in the family business is nonexistent. Uncle Robert travels the world and owns stock in various companies and Uncle Renly is enamored with his magazine. Their laissez-faire treatment of their legacy made it easy for Davos to convince the other shareholders to sell their stocks to her father and make him the majority owner.

“Oh, that’s where I know you,” Wylla points out. “You’re the Baratheon heiress.” Out of all the girls, she is the only one Shireen vaguely recognized upon meeting. Though they’ve never spoken, she remembers seeing her at a party somewhere, decked out in silver and diamonds. Her grandfather owns private ports and leases the area out to sailors and shippers. “Has it already been decided that you’ll inherit the company after your father?” 

“There’s no other option,” she informs. Her response borders on a snap and Lyanna picks up on the defensiveness like a bear to a fish.

“Don’t you have a cousin?” Wylla asks. Her intention is not to upset Shireen. As someone whose family remains intimate with the politics of aristocratic legacies, a curiosity towards the Big Seven has been instilled in her over the years.

“He’ll get it over my dead body,” Shireen hisses.  

Shireen, on an objective note, understands her interest. Yet she cannot help but defend her position as heiress against Joffrey Baratheon. She refuses to lose to a demented ingrate whose father stole the position from her own because he was older and had “charisma.” Never mind that Stannis eventually received the crown—Shireen used to look at the albums of her father’s academic accomplishments and sportsmanship awards and wonder why he had to be unhappy for so long after working so hard. She refuses to let that boy take her father’s hard work away from her.

Wylla is taken back. Shireen’s face burns with embarrassment, but with her scar, her skin appears to be pulsing with rage. She regrets her dramatics as soon as they appeared and hopes no one thinks the worst of her. She already looks like a demon—she doesn’t need to be acting like one as well.

“It’s an admirable goal,” Lyanna agrees. The other girls chime in their support, with Beth Cassel praising her for not wasting her parents’ resources.

“If my father wasn’t the headmaster, there’s no way I could attend a public school. I see so many girls wasting their parents’ money and it’s so frustrating. Being given everything and not using it to better themselves. Thank goodness you’re not like that.”

Shireen breathes a sigh of relief. She has not been fed to the lions just yet. Furthermore, she cannot help but grin when she realizes that her newest friend has shared a fact about herself. Beth is the headmaster’s daughter. Parental information is something friends share with each other.

“Don’t get too impressed. Working hard does not stop you from being fortunate. You’re luckier than most of the girls in the world.”

Shireen pouts at the glory lost. She asks Lyanna what she wants to do. “Take over the world or something?” She means it as a jab, but the other girls laugh.

Beth answers for Lyanna. “Sorry to disappoint, but Lyanna’s going to be a doctor.”

Shireen’s jaw drops. “You?” She asks before she can stop herself.

Lyanna glares while the other girls laugh harder. One of them points out that they all had a similar reaction to the news. Lyanna counters that the shock is undeserved. “The last thing I want to control is a literal natural disaster. I’ll do more harm than good if I ever aspire for something that doesn’t want to be mine.”

“But why a doctor?” Though Shireen values her presence, she admits that Lyanna is the last person she wants by her bedside. Lyanna goes over to her bookshelf to retrieve a worn out volume that smells of mothballs and moss. She tosses the book over to Shireen and orders her to open it. Shireen complies, albeit fearfully, and sees pages of handwritten notes of varying signatures.

“Turn to page five,” Lyanna instructs. Shireen complies and sees a familiar name instantly.

“That’s my family!” She reads over her list of ancestors. Men and women who once held the lands and titles that her family prospered off of. Some of them shared the same names as her current relatives.

“Over the centuries, noble families have been dropping like flies. Their lands and castles are impossible to upkeep and their investments no longer show the merit they used to. Their former glory is lost. Like idiots, those people relied on their inheritance to get them through the days to come. If they had any sense, they would have followed the examples of their leaders.” Lyanna walks over and takes the book from Shireen’s hands.

“The Lannisters started it when their mines depleted. They used the rest of their savings towards colonization and finding finite resources they could exploit. The Stark took note of the changes in time took an austere lifestyle approach. Unlike the other noblemen, they did not wait until they were forced to downsize. They stopped repairing their castles and built homes instead—for them and the noblemen who resided in their area. Over time, more noble houses in the country lost power so other houses invested in the modern world. The Tyrells started importing their produce to different countries. The Martells, who initially kept to themselves, suffered a huge draught. The climate change affected their agriculture, forcing them to move onto more substantial areas like textiles. The Tullys invested in energy—namely electricity. The Arryns worked on communication, though their stock has gone down with the death of their CEO.  The worst of them were the Greyjoys, who became heavily involved in the slave trade. When that became illegal, they resorted to crime. Their influence is waning each day.”

Shireen nods. She’s heard the history before but found the matter boring compared to her fantasy novels. Coming from Lyanna, the words shoot straight into her ear. “Your family, the Baratheons, got more involved in the banks, given that the current lords owed a lot of money to them. Over time, they started to gain more control over their debtors.”

“What about the Starks? What did they do?”

“Security systems, obviously.” Lyanna plays with the pages until she lands on the Stark family tree. “The Starks began by working for the government. They temporarily separated from the country and used their distance to be hired as legal mercenaries, or as they’re called today, ‘private military contractors.’” The look on Lyanna’s face made it clear she did not care for the term.  “They do what the government can’t do. When they got reinstated as citizens, the Starks focused on maintaining an acceptable public image—basically locks, safes, alarms. Move up the levels and that means online security, physical access systems for companies, monitoring. Get good enough and you don’t even have to give out anything. There’s consulting. Intelligence litigation and vulnerability management. The highest is military. The Boltons, who’ve been a part of the North since the beginning, are in charge of managing defense contracts. The Karstarks are in charge of developing the new systems and installation. The Mormonts are traditionally in charge of the domestic issues. I think it’s the same for your family as well.”

Shireen remembers a man from the Caron family being in charge of advertisement and wonders how far the other managers go back in their history. “What does that have to do with you being a doctor?”

Lyanna closes the book. “Dacey is going to inherit my mother’s position, as the law of nepotism goes.” She takes the book and puts it back. “Alysane is already doing her work experience in the company. My sisters, regardless of what we tell them, will end up working for the company. Whether I am there or not there, my presence will be completely disregarded. I won’t do anything of value.”

“That’s not true,” Shireen defends. Lyanna can do anything she wants to and the older girl doubts there’s someone who can stop her. Lyanna raises up her hand to silence the Baratheon heiress.

“Security is a field where we are responsible for the lives of others before ourselves. I’ve seen people die because someone couldn’t get to them in time. I have responsibilities beyond what my family name is—I need to be able to salvage people whenever I can, not just if I can.”

“Oh.” Shireen is speechless.

She admits her desire to take over her father’s company is selfish—she wants to prove to herself she can do it. She wants to prove to other people that she’s stronger than what they expected of her. Her admiration for Lyanna grows. The other girls watch with bemused expressions when Shireen is swayed into Lyanna’s encompassing influence. The sentiment is shared by the shrouded Rickon, who stares at Lyanna through the closet in a whole new light. When he sees Shireen’s smitten expression, however, he decides to put an end to it but knocking down another round of hangers. Shireen snaps out of her trance. The girls all direct their attentions to the closet.

“Lyanna, you have got to get this house fixed up,” Wylla groans. “I get that you’re used to it but it’s terrifying to use the bathroom in the middle of the night and think an ax murderer’s behind you because you hear creaking on the roof.”

Lyanna says there’s nothing wrong with her house while narrowing her eyes at the closet.

“It’s older than the gods.”

Beth agrees. “Remember when we went upstairs to your attic and my foot was nearly impaled by that board?”

“Don’t make it sound like you were punctured. You only got a few splinters.” Lyanna grumbles.

“I had to go to the hospital!”

“But no one died,” Arra Umber points out. “Not the worst Friday night we’ve had.”

Before Beth can respond or Shireen could ask questions, Lyanna dismisses her concerns. “You’ll be fine,” Lyanna assures her. “Besides, I’ve been taking first aid for a while now. I can fix you up if anything happens.” Lyanna walks over to the wall beside her closet door. She slams the doors open and there’s no one there. Her sweaters and jeans are bundled on the ground and if Lyanna had the decency to unravel them, she would see a redheaded Stark at her mercy. “See, no monsters.” Lyanna turns around to face the girls. “You’re all safe with me. I grew up learning how to break bones. It’s only fitting I figure out how to fix them, right?”

Lyanna slams the doors shut. As soon as she closes them, Rickon tosses the sweaters away. He takes huge gulps of breath before falling down on the duvet of knits and wool. He’s played into every trap, made all the possible setbacks. He’s not going to make his situation worse by drawing more attention to himself—and he means it this time. He remains quiet for the rest of the sleepover. Even when the girls leave to pick up the cookies, he does not make a sound. The house would have to crumble to make the pipe bit any more believable.    

-

When Dacey left her movie to retrieve a pop, she discovers her sister set the alarm ten minutes early. Spiteful in the way sisters are of each other, she takes Lyanna’s lack of faith as a challenge and makes a mental note to collect them exactly as the watch intended. Those cookies are going to come out raw as a monkey’s ass and Lyanna has her own paranoia to blame.

When she retreats to the couch, five minutes before the alarm goes off, Dacey hears the doorbell ring. Her intuition urges her to ignore it—she has cookies to retrieve and lessons to give. Real domestic shit. The doorbell rings again and Dacey tells herself that the only person who would be at her door this late at night is a serial killer. If she waits five minutes, she can go into the kitchen, secure the cookies, grab a knife, and then stab the serial killer before he hurts any of the girls. Her discourtesy should be commended. The doorbell rings a third time but all she can do is glare down the timer. She uses her mind to push the minutes forward and with each second she finds herself more successful in her goal—as all matters revolving around time are. The guest is insistent and attacks her in the most medieval way.

She gets a phone call.  

Dacey snatches up her phone and without a hello, asks her caller if he wishes to die a violent death or suffer castration, the latter of which is directed towards Smalljon if he had the gall to call her tonight for phone sex. Her girlfriends know better than to bother her during Lyanna’s sleepover—a biweekly occasion that brought the worst of the Mormont girls because of the circumstantial misfortunes that become of them on these nights. Maybe it was the full moon, maybe it was the fact they still drank spring water from a mountain they weren’t entirely sure produced liquids.

On the other line, there is a long winded pause and a then a hesitant address. “…did I call at the wrong time?”  

“Yes, you did. What is your emergency? Is it a Meera or a Roslin?”

“It’s a…what’s the minimum for me to call you again?”

“On average, a Margaery. But tonight is Lyanna’s sleepover. You need at least a Daenerys bordering a Jeyne slash Talisa to bother me.”

“Can we please stop calling that level Jeyne slash Talisa? I’m still trying to forget about what happened.”

“You’re trying to forget that you dated twins and didn’t know until you showed up at their conjoined birthday party?”

“They were fraternal twins and they had different surnames.”

“Robb, they were nearly identical,” Dacey reminds. “Besides, we’d thought that after that particular incident, you’d be a bit more cautious about choosing your partners. I didn’t think you’d miss the insignificance of a surname twice. Whatever happened to the crazed stalker I know and love?”

Dacey hears Robb groan. His dating history will forever be the seasoning of his roast. She grins despite her predicament and asks what he needs help with. “I’m feeling generous and you’re amusing me.”

“Can you come to the door? I was ringing it but no one was picking up.”

Dacey leaves her couch to greet her friend. When she opens the door, she sees a worn out Robb dressed in his button downs and dress pants—an attire signifying that a formal meeting precluded his visit or he was in the midst of one his lurker plots.  Either way, she understands that nothing good could come from his presence. She invites him in regardless.

Robb turns her offer down. “I only wanted to talk to you for a bit. Do you mind if we have a moment on the porch?”

Truth be told, Dacey should mind. She should loathe whatever scheme Robb wants her to participate in but she doesn’t. Robb has dragged her into a number of plots in their youth, all of them entertaining as they were troublesome. When she follows him on her porch, she anticipates the worst because she is friends with a madman and she loves it. “Is it urgent? Should I call Smalljon?”

“Depends. Tonight, I just want to talk.”

Dacey is both relieved and disappointed when she follows him on the porch. She knows she cannot afford to leave the house while her sister is home alone but at the same time, she misses the thrill of her schoolgirl adventures. She and Robb, Smalljon and the rest of them use to have the time of their lives.

“Okay, I can’t be long. There’s a serial killer on the loose and I have to protect him from my sister.”

Robb laughs but there’s a nervous edge to his giggle. He becomes more peculiar when he tries to sit on the patio chair and before Dacey can warn him, his ass slips past the fabric and drops him to the floor. Dacey rushes over to help him out. Robb does not laugh like she expects; instead, he curses about the length he goes through and asks Dacey what’s wrong with the chair.

“The bottom is bonkers. No one can sit on it.”

“Why do you keep a broken chair?”

Dacey sighs. “For the memories, Robb.”

“What memories? The memory of a broken ass? A twisted leg? You could get hurt!”

“We like to keep our history intact. Mother is a bit of a hoarder.”

“It’s broken.”

“So? Everything in this house is broken, Robb,” Dacey sighs.

“Since when?”

“Since forever!”

“You updated your security system two weeks ago!”

“Security is different from furniture.”

Robb mutters the injustice of her living in such poor conditions. “I’m getting this hell hole fixed.” Dacey curses because she knows he is serious. Robb is generous to a fault; he believes his wealth is a blessing and a responsibility and he never hesitates to lend a dollar to people in need. The problem is that for a man of Robb’s fortune, almost everyone is in need by comparison.

“My house is fine. What are you doing here?”

Robb opens his mouth. Then, he closes it. “I’m…here to check on you?”

“You wanted to talk about me?” Dacey raises an eyebrow. “Why would you need to check on me?”

“Because you live in a death trap.” He walks over to the door and plays with the handle. Against her protests, he lets himself in and tests out the stability by tapping on the wall. He presses his ear against it and frowns. “Your internal infrastructure is damaged.” He wanders around to check out more details. Dacey gives up on stopping him. He asks her about the pipes. “They must be rusted ten times over. When was the last time you had them replaced?”

Dacey remains silent.

Robb glowers at her. “Dacey…you have gotten them replaced right? This house is almost as old as mine. The first modern sewage system was built with lead.”

“We’ve been busy,” Dacey defends. “I’m sure my uncle or grandmother or someone in my family had it repaired at one point in time.” Maybe.   

“How is this house still standing?”

“The iron from the blood of our enemies?” Dacey suggests.

Robb is unamused. Dacey wonders how long the lecture would go on for. If Robb is passionate about anything, it is about the well-being of his loved ones. Time passes by as she watches him rant about her untreated wood being the perfect breeding ground for termites and how she is the prime target for mold and mildew.

During this time, Robb forgets about his original plan to distract Dacey because he is so utterly focused on preparing her for the avalanche of brick and wood. He drags her down on the floors and gives her an estimate on how long they’ll last before they start becoming trap doors.

“Better for my enemies,” she counters. Robb grows more exasperated with the nonchalance and begins to work on the windows. He taps on them and then punches it with finesse. He swears a storm afterward.

“You have bulletproof windows that are designed to prevent light but floors that date back to the 17th century.”

“Sometimes mother gets nostalgic.”

“Your mother ran a motorcycle gang in the eighties, she didn’t own a brothel for Henry the Eighth.” His bitching grows incessant and he gets to the point where he threatens to put Smalljon on the line and ask how he could let his girlfriend live like a tramp. Dacey points out that she’s not his responsibility to take care of and he respects her life choices because he’s a real man. Then, Robb hits a nearby table and one of the legs crumbles into dust.

“Okay, so he hasn’t visited in years. Regardless, my house is just fine. People would kill to live in a home as grand and as cultural as this one”

“They wouldn’t have to kill anybody, they could just let them live in this house and watch them die.”

They continue arguing. Dacey, who is as stubborn as bull, refuses to let Robb lecture her into obedience and Robb is unable to allow one of his best friends meet a dishonorable end by her own house. Neither of them is aware that the cookies are burning.   

-

Behind them, Arya uses the opportunity to sneak into the doorway. Jon has already secured a spot at the back entrance. Over the phone, Sansa informs her that the girls will be coming down to pick up the cookies. She should find a place to hide until the footsteps are finished. Almost immediately, Arya discovers a broom closet and shoves her body inside. The door hinges when she tries to close it.

“Fuck,” she curses.

Sansa hears her and asks her what went wrong. She panics enough for the entire group and is silent when Arya explains the door is broken. “This entire house going to fall to ruins. I almost stepped on a nail,” she hisses.

Sansa chalks it up as a sign.

“We shouldn’t be helping him at all. Rickon should face his punishment for sneaking into a girl’s room. What kind of message are we sending to him? That it’s okay to be a stalker? To be a creep is acceptable and we’ll be there to bail him out whenever?”

“Sansa,” Arya interrupts. She keeps her voice to a low whisper. From above, she can hear the girls coming down the stairs. “Rickon is our brother. We are obliged to help him when he does something wrong. It’s the Stark way.” She plays with the handle. “Besides, he’s eleven. He’s not some mass murdering lunatic or a serial rapist. He just wanted to see the girl he likes.”

“Yeah, and next week, he’ll be watching her undress through the window. Slippery slope, Arya, slippery slope.”

Arya has no patience for her do-gooder behavior. “Okay, Sansa. Let me put this in a way that will make you compliant.” Sansa makes a noise of disapproval. “Rickon knows all of our dirty secrets. All of them. He’s not afraid to use them against us. So unless you want mum to find out about your secret boyfriend, you keep your mouth shut and navigate me through this house.”

Sansa gapes. Through the phone, she screeches that Rickon would never do such a thing. “He’s just as loyal to us as we are to him.” Never mind that seconds earlier she was on the verge of selling him out.

“No, but can you imagine being at the dinner table and having him shame you with puns and insinuations. It’ll be torture. We’ll be eating our food and he’ll pull some crap like ‘oh, mum, dad, do we only eat female chickens or do they eat males, too. I would love to try a cock, don’t you agree, Sansa?’’”

“What?”

Sansa is aghast. She tells Arya to get back to work and to hurry.

Arya hangs up and leaves the broom closet. She runs up the stairs, careful not to hit any spots that cause a creak or a crumble. When she is in the hallway, she follows the directions given to her by Rickon and finds the room.

Over the phone, Sansa lists out the possible override combination. “This is the tricky part. We managed to get their security codes but we can’t tell which one belongs to which room. Plus, after six chances, the alarms get triggered.”

Arya does not see the problem. “So? I have exactly six combinations.”

“No, you have four guesses. Rickon used up two of them. So choose carefully which of the six combinations you’re going to use.”

“Sansa!”

“Don’t worry,” Sansa soothes. Arya is not dumb enough to miss the smugness in her tone. She wins regardless if Rickon gets caught or not. After all, she made the effort to help him. “Your chances of getting them right are over sixty percent.”

“Oh, like Russian Roulette. Perfectly safe.”

“Okay, your attitude is not appreciated.”

“Your—” Arya gets cut off by an incoming guest. She panics and hangs up as she looks back and forth for an escape.  When she sees none, she jumps on top of a doorknob and uses the momentum to grasp onto the hanging chandelier. The girl dashes past her to enter the bathroom. “Fuck,” she swears. She is confident she can hang all night, but judging by the dust coated lights and cringing nails, the chandelier does not feel the same way. She considers her options and decides that this escapade is not worth her dancing career. She drops to the ground before the ground can hit her and runs to find a hiding space next to a painting and a table. Holding herself impossibly still when she hears a flush, she prays the girl is in a rush when she runs downstairs to join her friends.

And the girl stops at Lyanna’s doorstep.

Arya holds her breath.

“Oh shoot, I need the passcode!” The girl grumbles when she is unable to turn the knob. “Lyanna has gotten so paranoid lately…”

She leaves in a hurry, missing Arya as the older girl slinks closer into the shadows. When she is officially gone, Ayra takes a deep breath and grabs her phone. Since Lyanna is the youngest, she assumed her code would be the latest one. That theory results in a bleeding red dot. She puts in the second option and that’s a bust as well. Before she can waste her last two chances, she texts Robb for help.  

-

Robb gets the text message in the middle of his critique. He’s checking the dust on Dacey’s couch—which he swears is laced with mercury.

“The couch is a gift from the Forresters.”

“When?”

Dacey rolls her eyes. “It’s only thirty years old. It was an anniversary present for my grandparents.”   

Robb wants to explain to her that the only thing a couch can be when it reaches double digits is a rodent’s nest. He reluctantly switches his attention when he receives a second, more urgent text asking for his assistance.

“Hold on, I have to take this. And don’t think your cabinets are off the hook.”

Dacey shakes her head. She watches Robb fumble and grumble about his text messages but proceeds to answer them to the best of his ability. While he is typing, he asks Dacey how often she changes her personal codes. After listening to her best friend lecture her on biohazards and bodies punctured by wooden planks, she cannot sense a trace of ulterior motives. She answers without hesitation.

“I change mine’s every six months. Mum adjusts our home security more frequently.”

He smiles. “At least you’re doing something right. Are your sisters as tactful?”

“Gods no,” Dacey groans. “Jorelle and Lyra can barely be trusted to memorize their own middle names let alone a new passcode every week. They still use their birthdates. We barely utilize them, though, so there’s no point. Besides mum and myself, Lyanna is the only one who changes hers remotely frequently.”

Robb says her family is better than hers. He tried to encourage his siblings to replace their passcodes every month but they have either refused or stopped using them altogether. He finishes up his text message and goes over to the cabinets as promised.

Before Dacey could wait to be lectured, she hears her little sister call for her. “Be right back,” she promises. Robb waves her off as he begins tapping on the wood. As soon as she leaves, he presses his phone against the base station on the wall.

-

Jon sees the green dot flashing. He grins and more than a little fondly, he inwardly cheers when he realizes this success is one of Robb’s successes. He loved making cakes for Robb whenever he scored well on a test or received particularly fine praise at his rugby practices. When he enters, he sends a quick text message to Sansa and Theon saying he’s in position.

Sansa gives the okay for Bran to make his phone call. While her younger brother is properly distracted, Sansa turns to Theon and asks if he’s feeling alright. She overheard from her mother about what happened to him and Robb at the bar.

Theon shrugs, as if the whole situation is no big deal. “We’re going to remain friends for now. It’s fine.”

“Oh.” Sansa looks away. Sansa does not ask any further questions, but she is not foolish enough to disregard the term ‘for now.’

Theon does not meet her eyes. Instead, he plays on Robb’s laptop for a bit. He is not as computer savvy as Robb, but he understands the fundamentals of programming from dealing with the Starks all these years. This includes unlocking GPS satellites, switching the system from automatic to manual, or focusing a camera’s resolution on a particular target. That was heaven during their rugby days.

Inwardly, he thinks about his master plan to get through to Robb. Jon is going on his date this week. If Theon plays his cards right, then Jon and this Willas guy will have a blissful future together in Norwich and stay far, far away from him and Robb.

The best part about last night is that Theon is more confident than ever that Robb loves Theon as more than just a friend. He saw the texts messages. He listened to the voicemails. Similar to his reaction with Jon’s dating life, he got extremely jealous over the possibility that Theon could be with another man. He smiles to himself as he thinks about Ramsey. Ramsey is perfect for making Robb jealous—and he’s great in bed, too.

There wasn’t going to be any difficulty using him to make Robb want him.

-

The girls’ cookies are mildly charred when they receive them from their culinary furnace. Lyanna mutters that she should have set the timer at fifteen minutes beforehand, but finds herself unable to complain when she sees how thrilled the girls are by their creations. Only Shireen looks dejected but brightens up immediately when Beth compliments her.

She is about to order them to the living room when she hears her sister groan about the couch. She hears another voice respond, an unfamiliar voice but not one that belongs to a stranger. Like many curious girls, she decides to investigate. Lyanna peeks into the living room and her eyes widen at the sight.

Robb Stark, her sister’s ex-boyfriend, and Rickon’s older brother is investigating her house. He begins by checking their decrepit couch and complaining about the mercury-infused linen. She narrows her eyes when his phone gives him a text alert and becomes overcome with suspicion as he begins to question her sister on their security habits.  Not wasting any more time, she retreats back into the kitchen and from a distance, calls out for her sister. She remains far enough from the other girls that they cannot hear.

Dacey arrives. Before the eldest Mormont girl can question her motives, she is dragged into a corner of the room where no one can hear them.

“What the hell is Robb Stark doing here?”

Dacey pulls her hand away and rubs her wrist. “He came to check on our house.”

Why?”

“Because we’re one screw away from becoming a construction zone?” Dacey suggests. “Lyanna, he’s not a stranger. I know you’re worried about the serial killer but trust me, it’s not Robb.”

Such a thought has nothing to do with why she’s paranoid! “How does he know about our house? He hasn’t been here in years!”

“I don’t know, Lyanna. Why else would he be here?” Dacey too assumed that Robb used the house as an excuse. Only in her mind, he found out about her conversation with Jon and wanted to discuss it with her. She chose to count her blessings and be happy he wasn’t here on a get Jon back scheme.

Lyanna opens her mouth to answer but quickly shuts it. She’ll be in as much trouble as Rickon if Dacey finds out she let a boy stay in her closet just to humiliate him.

“Why’s he alone?”

“Because you dragged me out of the living room.”

Lyanna’s begins to push Dacey back to her quarters. “Keep an eye on him—don’t let him out of your sight.” Once Dacey gets her foot in the other room, Lyanna dashes back to the rest of the girls. Pass the allure of sweet smelling morsels and boiling pizza sauce, she sees they already started to enjoy their slices. Beth pushes Lyanna’s plate towards her. “Here’s your portion.”

Lyanna disregards the food. She looks around. “Where’s Shireen?”

Beth swallows her piece. “She got a phone call from one of her brothers. She decided to take it outside.”  

“She let her go outside alone?”

“She says she’ll be back in a moment.”

 Lyanna thinks about banging her head against the table and decides against it. Being frustrated won’t do anything for her. Just as she’s about head to the backdoor to get Shireen, the lights go out. One girl screams in terror while Lyanna curses with more viciousness than someone her years should possess. She orders everyone not to panic. She grabs a flashlight she knows is located in the second drawer and uses it as a directory.

“There’s candles underneath the sinks. Beth, get them and light them with the stoves. They run on gas so they aren’t affected by the blackout. All of you, stay here.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get Shireen.”

“No you won’t,” Dacey instructs when she comes into the kitchen. Like Lyanna, she is also holding a flashlight. “We’re heading to the backdoor now. We’ll send her in if we see her.”

Lyanna glares at Robb. The darkness shields her glowers with like the shade shielding archers in a tree. Dacey and Robb move forwards to the outbox despite Lyanna’s protest. Truth be told, she wants to head upstairs but knows that’s a horror movie willing to happen and she’s not getting hacked by a chainsaw tonight.

Beth tries to soothe Lyanna’s worries. “Shireen is fine. She’ll be here any moment, I bet.”

“How do you know?” Lyanna retorts. “Nothing ever good happens during a blackout. I need to get her. She could have fallen down a trap door or a pithole or dropped into the basement. It’s a mess. I’m pretty sure there’s a mummified relative there.”

“What is wrong with your house?” Lyanna turns around and shoves the light into Shireen’s face. Placed in the wrong direction, the girls scream. Shireen winces and tries shove off the familiar reaction. It turns out to be relatively easy when Lyanna whacks her on the head.

“What are you doing going outside when there’s a serial killer on the loose?”

Shireen apologizes. “I had to…my brother called. He had a few questions he wanted me to answer. Personal questions.”

“Why’d you have to take it outside?” Lyanna asks. In the dark, she was twice as menacing.

“He didn’t feel comfortable with the noise in the background. He said he needed to speak to me alone. I wasn’t that far. I was just outside the backdoor.”

“What?”

Shireen raises an eyebrow. “I was practically in the house. Gods, you’re paranoid.”

“No, I mean, how did you get through the back door?”

“It was open.” Shireen pouts. “Really, for someone who values privacy, you should really pay attention to that type of stuff. Anybody could have come in.”

“Did you lock it?”

“Yes, of course, I did—“

Lyanna groans. “Well, you shouldn’t have!”

“What?” Shireen is taken back. “Lyanna, you can’t leave those types of doors unlocked.”

Before Lyanna can explain her positioned, the lights went back on.

Dacey comes back with a triumphed grin. Robb Stark is by her side. “Sorry to interrupt. Someone must have accidentally triggered the light box when they closed the door manually. God, that’s such an archaic security measure.”

“I’ll have it fixed when I get the renovations on your house,” Robb promises.

“You’re not getting anything fixed except what’s down there,” Dacey threatens. She turns to the girls. “The problem should be solved. Are you girls okay?”

“How did the door get unlocked in the first place? She would only need to manually close it if it was already opened.”

“One of us must have forgotten to,” Dacey shrugs. “We have so many codes, Lyanna. We forget them all the time.”

“I never forget. Not on my sleepover days.”

“Lyanna,” Dacey warns. “I’ll check all the locks before we leave tonight and the cameras for good measure. For all we know, the mice chewed on one of the wires and caused an outage furthered triggered by manual use. It happens. Look at our house.”

Lyanna remains unconvinced. She wants to argue but refuses to do so in front of Robb Stark. Instead, she orders Wylla to go up to her room to get something from her closet. She gives her the code. Wylla is confused but does as commanded. Robb is about to leave when Lyanna asks him to stay.

“I want you to stay for this.”

Dacey calls her childish, but Robb does the unusual and agrees. He’s calm, which confirms Lyanna’s suspicions. When Wylla comes down, she is empty handed. “What did you want me to bring again?”

Lyanna considers making up an item but then shuts her mouth. She mutters nothing as she crumbles inwardly in defeat. Well played, Rickon Stark. She looks into her sister’s eyes and asks if the rest of them can have the living room area.

Dacey complies. She takes Robb by the arm and shows him to the door.

“Sorry about my sister…she’s intense.”

“No, don’t be sorry. She’ll go places for sure.”

Dacey laughs and says that’s one way to look at it. Robb wanders back to his car with a mind of refurbishment and renovations and thinks of all the new security systems he could be making. Sansa, Jon, Theon, and Rickon are in their own car while Arya, Robb, and Bran take their second one. The eldest Stark girl and the Snow boy took on the responsibility of disciplining the youngest Stark.

-

At the end of the night, Shireen puts her two cents in for the movie commentary. She is blissful and happy and chatting up a story. On the far side of the room, Lyanna is watching a video.  The cameras are blocked during the darkness. Certain aspect of the cameras had been removed, most likely from an outside source. Nonetheless, it does nothing to stop the cameras working outside the Mormont security cameras, such as the one Lyanna placed in her teddy bears years ago. She sees Rickon sneak into her closet.

“Pervert,” she mutters.

 “What’s wrong?” Shireen asks.

“Nothing,” Lyanna answers as she tucks her camera phone away. “I’ll just take care of it later.”

 

Chapter Text

To no one's surprise but their parents, Rickon is on his best behavior all week. He even keeps a safe distance from Shireen—the recommended amount advised by courts in harassment suits and definitely not of his own volition. His siblings told their parents that Rickon caused a ruckus at the Frey house by sneaking out of the sleepover and walking home because he got bored of his company. Rickon played along without a single hitch in his deception. His mother made it clear that she would not tolerate his rudeness in the future. She kept him under house arrest, or as they liked to claim, ‘grounded until the next full moon.’ In the past, a simple grounding was nothing. It was not until his siblings offered their time as prison guards did Rickon actually come to terms with his entrapment. 

With the few spurts of freedom he has, Rickon complains about the situation to Jojen. He emphasizes on the injustice of their punishment.

“They’re keeping me trapped! I overheard Jon saying that Shireen wants to visit a pool. We have a pool! Instead, he’s planning to take them to a lake! Do you know what that could do to Shireen’s skin?”

“What can it do?”

“Who knows? But it’s either going to have a really good effect or a really bad one! Can you imagine her skin glistening with water? Or bursting into hives? So many things could happen and I can’t watch a single second!”

Jojen fights back his amused smirk. Rickon’s precocious nature will be the death of him. “You’ve gotten yourself into enough trouble. Shouldn’t you take a break from all this surveillance?”

“But she’s beautiful!” Rickon’s exclamation is entirely sincere. If Jojen asked him where the sun shines and the flowers bloom, Rickon would answer ‘Shireen’ with every fiber of his being. Jojen appreciates the passion. Rickon’s schoolboy crush made his feelings for Bran seem normal.

Before Rickon can call his older companion out on daydreaming, Jojen changes the topic by asking what the youngest Stark plans to do once he’s free. Having held Bran’s palm in his hand, Jojen believes he’s a bit of an expert in getting one-sided romances to be reciprocated.

“Have you tried courting Shireen?”

Rickon rolls his eyes. “Of course I have. That’s what I’ve been doing this entire summer. That’s what got me into this mess with my family.”

Jojen laughs. “No, I mean …actually courting her. Sending her love letters, or love texts. Finding out how she is feeling that day and if she doesn’t respond, give her time to enjoy her solitude. Give her flowers. Read the books she likes so that you can quote them in a conversation because you know it makes her smile when she realizes you thought so much of her.”  

Rickon stares at Jojen like he grew a second head. “…does that work?” He sounds amazed. 

Jojen grins. “It worked for me. Bran and I are going to have our second date soon.” To save Bran’s innocence, he refuses to investigate the methods Peter used to acquire the items Jojen asked for. His cousin owes him a number of favors and he cannot think of a more worthwhile cause to cash them in beside Bran’s smile.

Rickon is not sure he believes Jojen—the older boy is equipped with loose screws and faulty reasoning. He cannot deny, however, that Jojen has made advances with Bran that Rickon could only dream about with Shireen. He held Bran’s hand. They might start kissing each other soon. On the lips.

From doubt to regard, Rickon vocalizes his brainstorming to Jojen who in return, aids him by rejecting any advance that might be misconstrued as threatening. They continue their conversation consisting of Rickon’s rapid-fire ideas and Jojen’s lazy responses. Jojen does sense the oncoming presence—he saw the flash of red from afar—but cannot find the point in shielding himself from ridicule. The summer is to run another two months. He might as well face the music—even if it is only the interlude.

“Rickon, what are you doing out?”  

Sansa keeps her composure though Jojen can tell, underneath all that stiffness and poise, she is seething with rage. Rickon is far too comfortable with him—his body language, Shaggydog’s familiarity—she knows that this is not the first time they’ve met. She suspects the worse—he does not blame her but he cannot help but feel resentful that she thinks so little of him. He crossed the line with Bran, yes, but only because he is Bran. Rickon is charming, the way all Stark-Tully breeds tend to be, but he is not Bran and Rickon will never cause his brain to have a biopsy of reason and rationality.

“I’m still at home,” Rickon defends. He senses her mood as well but owes it to him being grounded and wandering around without permission. 

“You still need supervision. Go inside and have Osha get you a snack.”

Rickon grumbles—he hates being given orders. He gets up regardless and says goodbye to Jojen. Sansa watches her little brother pitter away into the house and then directs her attention to Jojen. He defends himself by saying he is not interested.

“I wasn’t aware pedophiles had a type.”

“They do," he informs her for the sake of contrary and correction. "And I’m not a pedophile,” There is sass in his sentence. They have been through this before. “Bran is the only one I have ever wanted and he will be the only one I ever want. My love is not confined to a contraption used to segregate society.” He smiles at her—completely at ease, as if they are in the fields on holiday, enjoying the sun. “How are you, Sansa?”

Sansa ignores the question. “I don’t want you talking to my brothers—either of them. You are going to stop all communication with Rickon and if I find out that you have contacted Bran—”

“Too late for that.”

Sansa’s eyes widen. “What?” 

“Yes, I figured I’d be honest with you to make up for last time. What does it matter anyways? What can you do to me?” Jojen challenges.

"I can have you arrested. Again." 

"Yes," Jojen agrees. "You could. I let you do that last time. I'm afraid, though, I cannot let you get away with it again." Jojen sighs as he thinks about Bran's smile, the shape of his knuckles, the pen marks on his fingers. "I never thought I would get to where I am today. I will not lose him this time." 

Sansa scoffs. "And how are you going to stop me?" 

“Well, in order for you to stop me, you'd have to tell your mother. And I’m not the only one with a past, Sansa. The difference between the both of us, however, is that I have paid my dues. When will you remove your debts? Because as far as I am concerned, you had someone else write the check.”

“Is that a threat?” Sansa asks. She grasps onto the remaining crumbs of courage that’s left on the plate and they do nothing to sate her fear. “Because I’m not falling for it. You have nothing on me but the odds are against you.”

“And what did I do? No, what did you see me do that night? The lights were off. You saw nothing but what your mind imagined. If not for the evidence in my room, the prosecutor would have never been able to use your testimony. Your truth does not exist.”

“Jojen, I am warning you. As someone who was once my friend, you know I would do anything to protect my family.”

“I know,” Jojen assures her. “I know everything. Things you have told me; things you haven’t told anybody. We swim in the same circle now and both our moral compasses are leading south.” He looks deep into her eyes. “I’ll tell you a secret, Sansa, as someone who was once your friend. Bran and I are going to fall in love. Regardless of what you do, what your mother does to separate us, there is no point. The strings have come together to make our romance a reality. They cannot come undone. While you would do anything for your family, I would do anything for Bran.” He gets up. 

Chills dance on Sansa’s spine as she latches onto Jojen’s arm. She looks into his eyes and they are hazy—they are always hazy and fearsome and peering. She holds her ground despite her fear. Desperation enters her heart and she throws a low blow. “If you love him so much, you’d want him to be happy. He won’t be happy with you.”

“You don’t get to decide that,” Jojen replies sharply. “No one but Bran and I get to make that decision.”

 “Bran is fourteen. He cannot make those kinds of decisions!”

“Were you not only a year older than him, Sansa? When you fell in love with Sandor?”   

“This is not about me. This is about Bran and doing what is best for him. I know that look in your eyes, Jojen.” Sansa turns around. “You are mad if you think I will let this go.”

“No, I am fine. You are mad if you think I won’t tell your boyfriend what really happened that night with Joffrey.”

Sansa stops. She turns around.  

“Don’t pretend like you are a saint. There’s darkness inside you—a shrewd sense of entitlement embedded in your soul that demands the world. What other people do not see is the lengths you would go to achieve it. They think you are weak but in reality, you will survive us all.” Jojen reminds her of the ultimate truth. “I see everything,” he tells her. “I am not stupid. I helped you back then because I needed you to be distracted enough. You knew there was something wrong about my compliance and you did nothing because you were desperate. We are not good people, Sansa. We are lovers—and in this world, love is stronger than any man with a bag of gold or a sword.”

They stand together in silence. When Sansa says nothing, he chooses to make his departure. Sansa, for all the hatred in her heart, does not bare him the same ill will she does Joffrey for Jojen is right. They are cut from the same cloth and though she loathes to admit it, she understands Jojen’s motives as disillusioned but pure. She is sickened with herself.  

Instead of returning to her design room, she grabs her keys and heads to the garage. She thinks about Bran and her mother and wonders what fate is waiting for the girl who is willing to betray her own family for the sake of protecting her first love.

No, she thinks. She cannot start lying to herself now. Sansa understands that whatever Jojen claims to know (and he knows more, he always knows more than he lets on, for if she gives him bones, he will find the meat), the knowledge incriminates her most of all.

While Sansa is consumed with her thoughts, she barely has time to notice her surroundings. The situation is ideal for a tragedy. When a young teenage boy, not much older than Bran, runs onto the street, there is no reason Sansa would not hit him; not leave him as broken and bruised as her younger brother for demons to feast on.

She is fortunate in the regard that she steps on the brakes in time. The boy in question expresses his grievances with words that would make a whore blush. She takes it all with heavy breaths and grand relief.

Like Joffrey, she was born with a pot of gold. Her stomach churns and she pulls over to the side to draw some heavy breaths. When she regains her health, she recalls the last time she was put into this situation. The memory pacifies her. Whenever she thinks about Joffrey, she remembers that everything she has done, was done to bad people.

-

If Sansa Stark could return to any point in time, she would return to when she was fifteen. Not fourteen, when she first accepted Joffrey’s date and fell madly in love and then devastatingly on the floor when he first struck her. She wanted to remember every hit he gave her so that she would have the sense not to believe in “I’ll never do it again.” Fifteen was how old she was when she forgave him the second time. Fifteen was when she was self-deprecating and desperate enough to be with a boy who hit her because she believed she was damaged goods. She did so many stupid things when she was fifteen, but getting into a car when Joffrey was drunk was one of the worst.

Sansa sat in the backseat. She was condemned there because Joffrey’s friends decided to tag along and only a whipping boy let his girlfriend ride shotgun when his mates were in the car. Instead of dropping her off home, he drove to the nearest pub, playing music that made her eardrums pop and keeping the windows down so that the pedestrians could hear their cheers. He kept going faster and faster. His friends were hooting and howling—one made a pass at Sansa. Touched her thigh and called her pretty. Joffrey was too intoxicated to care. He would find out about it later and blame her—he always blamed her for everything.

The car accelerated until the street lights blurred into streaks and shooting stars. Sansa wanted to cry. She prayed for a copper to see them. It would be humiliating to have to face her parents but anything was better than death. Joffrey cheered into the sky as he went a staggering twenty miles over the speed limit. The bile pushed pass Sansa’s throat. She tried to swallow it back.

Out of nowhere, Joffrey slammed the breaks. Sansa’s head hit the back of the car seat at full force. The vomit poured out of her throat. She could hear Joffrey swearing but it wasn’t at her. He was screaming profanities at whoever was in front of him.

“You stupid cunt! Get the fuck out of my way! What the fuck is wrong with you!” Sansa looked up and saw a teenage boy flip the ‘V’ before scampering off once he caught sight of the other men in the car. Joffrey choose his friends wisely. Cowardly brutes who liked gold and the whores it bought them. 

Joffrey returned to his recklessness shortly after. Sansa saw the green on the floor and for the first and only time tonight, was glad for the lack of lunacy in the vehicle. No one could pin the vomit on her.

They arrive to the pub with prior inebriation and caused a scene upon entrance.  Sansa sunk in their shadows. She was the only girl amongst a group of vulgar young men and she cringed at the thought of running into someone she knew. The only saving grace was that Joffrey chose a pub that was nearly empty, a hole in the wall with scatterings of unsavory individuals who stared but did nothing.

Joffrey demanded a pint for him and all his friends. When they came, he demanded another and then called for round of shots. More brown, gold, and white foam made its way onto their table and Sansa wondered how long she could stomach the madness. She could taste her dinner again. She thought about leaving but realized she had no ride. The only other option was to wait for Joffrey to be finished. 

Sansa got up from her seat. When Joffrey grabbed her arm, tightened his fingers around her wrist and forced bruises on her flesh, he asked where she was going. She told him she was getting a drink. He liked it when she drank—alcohol made her soft and pliable. She never got as drunk as he would like, though. He stared at her suspiciously. She could tell him the sky was blue and he call her a liar. Finally, he let go of her wrist. Once at the bar, she asked for the owner to call for a cabbie.  

The man complied with a weary glance towards his new patrons. If not for Joffrey’s grandfather, the men would have been escorted out before they even got through the doors. The sound of a stumble drew near and Sansa winced. Joffrey and his pungent breath felt heavy on her neck.  

“What’s my girl ordered?” He slurred. He swung his arm around Sansa like he was laying a jacket on a chair. He pulled her towards him. His touch felt like a slug slobbering on her skin.

The bartender, to his credit, did not answer. Instead, he pulled out a glass and made a show pouring out the golden liquid. He pushed it towards Sansa. Sansa stared at the bartender as if he was a traitor.

“What’s the matter? Drink it.” 

Sansa hesitated. She wanted to refuse but the grip around her body grew tight. With a shaky hand and water welling up on her tear line, she took the glass and sipped. She paused and took another gulp. She let the fizz pop on her tongue and savored the sweetness. Soda, she thought, with added foam for the pretense. She took in slow sips, making a show to wince whenever Joffrey was watching. When he was satisfied, he went back to his mates.  

They continued to be amused with themselves like monkeys in the zoo. When five minutes passed, the bartender took away her drink and discretely handed her a note, saying that the cabbie was here. She told Joffrey that she was going to the bathroom. Almost as soon as she stood up, Meryn Trant called foul play.

“Where’s your girl going?” He asked Joffrey.

Joffrey, forgetting Sansa’s excuse immediately, narrowed his eyes. “Where are you going, Sansa? I didn’t say you could leave.”

Sansa composed herself. She smiled and lied, “The bathroom, Joffrey. I told you.”

“That’s not where the bathroom is,” he told Joffrey. “I think your girl is trying to pull one over you.”

The accusation incensed him. Sansa’s eyes widened as Joffrey marched towards her. She tried to run. He caught her in his grip and dragged her to the table. Her heart was pounding. He dug his nails into his skin. She could see her blood on his nails. She sobbed and begged Joffrey to stop. “I was going to the bathroom, I swear! Joffrey! Please! You have to believe me! I would never lie to you! I love you!”

“I hate liars,” he hissed. “You’re such a good fucking liar, aren’t you, Sansa?” He tossed her onto the table. Sansa cried louder as her back slammed against the edge.

Joffrey looked at his men. “I think my lady needs to be taught a lesson.” He nodded towards her. “Why don’t you show her what happens when pretty little girls act like whores?”

Sansa screamed as the men grabbed her by the arms and held her down on the table. The bartender watched but did nothing. He walked away. The man must be indebted to the Lannisters—Sansa was used to the indifference whenever Joffrey’s family got involved. One of the men ripped apart her skirt. The other tore off her blouse. When she felt an erection against her palm, she screamed again, praying to the gods someone heard her.  

“Please Joffrey! Stop! I’m sorry! I’m sorry for lying to you! I won’t do it again!”

Meryn took the opportunity to slap her. Joffrey had another swig of his drink. Then, he scolded his friends for being too harsh. “Try not to ruin that face of hers. I like her pretty.” He did not seem to care if his friends did anything else. He let them squeeze her breasts and massage her thighs. When Boros Blount drifted towards her cunt, things were put to an end.

Sansa could feel the blood drip on her thighs before she could see it. Boros’ head was being split apart by the wooden table he laid her on. His head was slammed repeatedly. Every time he was brought up, more blood rained on her. Her wrists were set free but by then, it was too late. Boros’ limp body fell with a thump—a sound reminiscent of his heavy form. The other men were just as lucky. Sansa watched as they were thrown on the ground, against the walls, and tossed on top of the counters. They were beaten within an inch of their lives. All of them would not leave this bar without swollen sockets and open wounds. Some would need to be hospitalize. Meryn Trant withstood the beatings the longest. He tried to slam a bottle on his assailant’s head. Sansa was grimly amused when her savior showed no signs of terror. He took the shattered glass pieces and shanked his stomach. Meryn Trant fell to the ground.

All the while, Joffrey hid like a coward.

Sansa took note of her savior. She recognized him instantly for his trademark scars and large form. At fifteen, she only remembered Sandor as Joffrey’s disfigured bodyguard who quit several months into their relationship. Though he was not handsome, Sansa found him intriguing in the way posh girls did with all dangerous men. When Sandor was finished with Joffrey’s mates, he faced their leader. The boy shrieked with every step. He tried to save himself by appealing to his sense of nostalgia. He reminded Sandor of his past employment. When Sandor proceeded, Joffrey screamed that he was Joffrey Baratheon. His father would make his life hell. His grandfather would have him killed. Sandor bore the bastard no regard. He took another step further and grabbed him by the collar. Sansa gasped as her boyfriend was lifted in the air with one hand.

Sandor said nothing. He wanted Joffrey to beg.

Snasa had never felt arousal before that day. Whether it was seeing Joffrey grovel and watching Sandor brutalize half a dozen men to defend her honor—like she was princess and he was her knight—she knew that she was dripping in more than just blood.

She was distracted from her thoughts when she heard Joffrey squealing. He sounded deliciously like a pig and she was feeling peckish for some bacon. To her disappointment, Sandor did not smack him around like the others. He was still a Lannister, after all. Instead, Joffrey was tossed towards the door like an empty sack. His ass hit the floor first.

“Get out,” Sandor growled. “If I see you again with her, your grandfather won’t be able to save you.”  

Joffrey scrambled to the door and crawled his way out. He did not look back to check on Sansa. Sandor could have raped her for all he cared. When he was out of sight, Sansa took a few shallow breaths—for her, the nightmare was not over. Any one of those men could wake up, or Joffrey could return. Her fears were assuaged when she felt a jacket drape over her shoulders. Unlike Joffrey’s arms, she felt safe under its protection. She looked up at Sandor but the man was already at the counter. The bartender had a piece of cloth and ice prepared. She saw his ashamed expression.

Sandor returned to her side and pressed the coolness against her cheek. Tightening her thighs, she made sure to keep her expression demure underneath her lustfulness. She was lady, after all. “Thank you,” she whispered, hoping her breathlessness could be disguised as relief over desire.

“We should call you a cab after we get you fixed up,” Sandor told her. He ignored her gratefulness. “Or I could give you a ride but I don’t think you want to be next to a man right now—”

“I would love to ride with you!” Sansa protested. Oh, she flushed with shame. She must sound so wanton! “You saved me. You are…Sandor, correct? You used to work for Joffrey.”

Sandor grunted. “Fucking hells, I can’t believe you remember that.”

Sansa smiled. She hoped the blood didn’t stain her teeth. “You were always so kind to me, of course I remember.” She touched his arm. “If it is not too much of an inconvenience, I would be grateful to have you take me home.”

Sandor seemed reluctant. He turned around and asked the bartender if he needed anymore assistance. The man shook his head. Sansa grinned triumphantly as Sandor helped her to her feet. She did not know if her lightheadedness was feigned, but she did know that she was tired. She wanted to be held. Sansa took one step forward and landed in his arms.

“I’m sorry,” she told him. Her forehead was still resting on his chest.

“Yeah.” He responded by wrapping his arm around her waist. “This okay?”

Sansa nodded. His touch felt good.

He took her outside and led her to his bike. He asked if she was well enough to ride, or else he would order her a cab. Sansa assured him that she would be fine as long as they sat extremely close together. When he asked if she still lived at the same location, she hesitated to answer.

Sandor waited.  

“Can we…I don’t want to go home right now,” she answered. “Just drop me off somewhere near and I’ll be fine.” She set out the bait. If Sandor was half the man she hoped he was, he would take it.

True enough, Sandor growled. He offered up his own home in response. “You can wait there until the bruises settle. I bet your parents think you’re staying over at a friend’s house.”

Sansa nodded. She got on the bike and let him put on the helmet for her. She told him she had never ridden a motorcycle before. She shivered when he touched her neck to get her hair out of the way.

During the ride, she pressed her tender breasts against his back and hoped he could sense her perky nipples against his shirt. He was not wearing his jacket—she was and the scent of his aftershave was intoxicating—but that meant he had no protection from her arousal. His back riddled with scars and keloids. Sansa’s hands caressed the muscles on his chest.  Her purrs were overwhelmed by the sound of the engine. Joffrey was not as hard. Sandor was a real man.

The ride to his flat was short. Sandor lived in a middle class neighborhood with tinted windows and empty streets. He kept Sansa by his side at all times. When they got into his flat, he took back his jacket and offered her a seat on the couch. When she took it, he went to his bedroom to find her a shirt to wear. He returned and asked if she’d like a drink.

Feeling bold, she requested a glass of wine. It was the only alcohol she could tolerate and she hoped the elegance of the liquor made her seem older. Sandor’s lips twitched as if the action contradicted her intentions, but he complied to her request.

“I only got the cheap stuff,” he told her when he handed her a glass of red. “Don’t blame me when it burns through your tongue."

Sansa would never blame him for anything. She took the glass and made a few sips. He grabbed a beer and told her where the bathroom was. “I have a guest room you can stay in. The swelling should go down by tomorrow.” 

The mention of her mother and father made her seem obscenely young. She put down her glass and left to change. She tried to sway her hips a bit when she walked—at fifteen, her body was already reaching her twenty-five. She knew she was beautiful and Sandor knew it as well. She could feel his eyes on her.

Her return was well received. When he saw her in his nightshirt—and only his nightshirt, he paused. Sansa bit back her grin when his eyes trailed onto her thighs. She tried to wash off the blood on her skin but the residue was still there to remind him what he won. Her sister would lecture her mercilessly about her behavior—she was not some prize for men to fight over. Yet, the thought of the lengths Sandor went to keep her chastity made her burn. She wanted Sandor to appreciate her more.  

In the past, Sandor was always kind to her in his own rough way. Joffrey’s cruel intentions emerged in the third month of their relationship. She still remembered her first bruise—left cheek with a scratch below her eye. Before, she did not appreciate Sandor’s efforts to prevent the escalation. Then, he was gone and Joffrey became more brutal and there was no one to back her excuses anymore, no more seconding on events that never occurred. 

She forgot about him until tonight.

To her surprise, he asked if she would like something to eat. He could order something for her. The lady in Sansa did not want to intrude but the teenager in her wanted to be spoiled for once by a man who was not a part of her family.  

“Yes, that would be nice. Thank you, Sandor.”

Snador nodded and asked if curry was acceptable.

“I love curry,” she told him. She was lying. Curry was fine, but she didn’t love it. She loved that Sandor was getting it for her. Then, he let her pick whatever channel she wished and offered her a sheet if she found his apartment chilly. He refilled her wine glass when it was done and set the plates when the food came. For the first time in a year, she was being treated the way she always imagined she’d be and the man who was treating her that way was not her boyfriend.

Sansa did not mind one bit. Later into the evening, she grew more entitled. She enjoyed making demands for she made so little in the past couple of months. She did not answer any of Joffrey’s text messages—no matter how threatening they became. In fact, she pretended to be more scared than she was when she saw the first one. Sandor told her to call him if he tried to hurt her again.

 “You’re being so kind to me. I don’t know how I could repay you.”

Sandor savagely ripped off a piece of chicken. “I’m not doing much.”

“You saved me,” Sansa argued. She made sure to bat her pretty doe eyes up at him. “I don’t know what would have happened if you didn’t come in time.” Joffrey would have let them continued to rough her up. Touch her more. Violate her in all but the worst way. The only thing he would not have done was let them rape her themselves. Joffrey always needed to have the first taste.

“Yeah.” Sandor took another swig of his beer. “Well, I didn’t do much for you back then. Might as well put in some effort now.”

Sansa tightened her grip around the scar. She did not want this conversation to turn into a guilt trip. She figured that on some level, Sandor might have only saved her for the sake of relieving his past regrets. He owed the Lannisters a lot. The second he was freed from his debt, he left with only a warning for her to get out while she could. She did not listen. Sansa would never blame him for doing what she could not.  

“How did you get your scar?” She changed the topic after finishing her second glass of wine. The curry was half finished. She was feeling frisky.

“My brother.”

Sansa stared. Sandor sighed when he saw her expression. “You really want to know?”

After a pause, Sansa nodded.

“I was seven years old. Every time my father came back from his business trips with Joffrey’s grandfather, he gave us a gift. Except I decided that I wanted my brother’s toy. It was a wooden knight, all painted up. Gregor didn’t give a shit about it. He was too old for toys, he said. But he didn’t like people touching his things and he didn't like me. One day, he caught me playing with it. Are you listening, pretty bird?”

Sansa gasped. She was in too deep; she could not even enjoy being called pretty by Sandor.

“He took me outside where we had a grill. Without saying a word, Gregor turned it on. I tried getting away from him but he made me watch. He broke my arm so that I couldn't struggle. He forced me to stare at it until i could see the coals turning red. When it started to sizzle, he shoved the side of my face onto the burning coals and held me there while I screamed. Do you know what happened afterward?”

Sansa shook her head.

“Do you want to know?” He asked her again. He was daring her. He was waiting for her to say no, to go to bed, to apologize for pushing him. Sansa stayed. 

“Nothing,” he answered. “My father was too weak to stop him. The most he could do for me was get me medical attention and that demanded a lot of money. We became more indebted to the Lannisters after that. Every day I worked for your bastard of boyfriend, I wanted to punch his golden face into his ass.”

Despite her misery, Sansa coughed out a laugh. She wiped away her tears and looked at Sandor. Try as she might, she could not hide the pity on her face.

Sandor shook his head. “Don’t look so shocked, little bird. Not everybody grows up with brothers who read them bedtime stories and check their closets when they are scared. Some of us just get the monsters.”

Sansa knew this intellectually but her heart did not understand. Even Joffrey, a monster by all means, used all the red left in his black soul to love Myrcella. She put down her plates to lean over to Sandor’s side.

Sansa reached out to him. She hesitated. “Can I touch it?” She asked softly.

Sandor stared at her. Then, he nodded.

Her fingers traced the lines of his cheekbones—so sharp she feared they would cut her and turned the pulsing skin red if she bled over his leather. She brushed away his thin, dark hair on the right side of his face. She wanted to see the contrast of ruined flesh and the untouched man. She tried to imagine what he would look like without the scar but she couldn’t. Sansa was not sure she wanted to. Character was what they called such destruction when they were being nice. Sansa touched the hint of bone where flesh was seared to a point of no return. He flinched. She touched the hole where his ear should be. She trailed further down where the burns met his lips. Half of his wonderful lips were smooth as butter and the other half felt like hides. 

Without warning, she kissed him.

His lips were charred and hers were cherry red. Together they fused to form an unforgettable moment for Sansa who had known nothing of passion or desire. She opened her mouth and let his tongue enter her. She made a shrill noise when she was pulled into his lap. He placed his hands on her waist. This was nothing like Joffrey. The men who assaulted her could not compare to the pleasure of being handled with care. Sandor’s hands were rough but they skirted so delicately on her body she thought he was holding glass. Her hands were still on his face. When they parted, she kept them there so that she could look at him.

His face was misery incarnate and she wanted nothing more than to kiss him all night.

“I want you,” she told him as she pulled him into another kiss.

Sandor resisted for a brief moment. He told her she was fifteen—too young to want anything. She denied it.

“I want you,” she repeated. “You must want me back.” He had to. She could feel underneath her, growing harder with every second as she kissed his neck and fondled his body. He had never been with a woman as beautiful as her—she could not confirm her suspicions but she knew she was right.

Without a word of protest, he took her into his arms and carried her off into his bedroom.

In a romantic comedy or a perfect world, that night would have led consummation--to powerful declarations of love and lust and devotion. He would have taken her maidenhood in a second and she would have enjoyed every moment of it. But the world was not so simple, and the memories from earlier resurfaced. Whether it was the roughness of her treatment or a belated response to trauma, she was reminded of Joffrey and his friends and the way they mistreated her. She was helpless again. She cried out in protest.

“Stop!” She shrieked. As soon as the sound left her, Sandor’s froze.

Sansa realized what she had done and tried to protest. “No! Sandor, I didn't mean that—! I want you! No, I won’t—”

 He punched the pillow by her side. Sansa gasped. Immediately after, Sandor got off the bed and ordered her to get some sleep.

“But Sandor—”

“Go to bed, little bird. I’m not asking you again.” He sighed. “I won’t be able to control myself a second time.”

Then don’t, Sansa’s mind cried. Yet, she could not deny that she was shivering and the goosebumps were not from the cold.  He shut the door on her before she could change his mind. Undone by her own cowardice, she resigned to laying on the bed and keeping her thoughts company. She wanted someone by her side. She played with her hair and checked her breasts and body for imperfections and found nothing. At fifteen, she was a conceited in the way beautiful girls pretended not to be.  No matter how hard Joffrey tried to break her, he could not deny her beauty. Her parents would never allow self-deprecation in their household. Instead, Joffrey called her stupid. Only a small part of her believed that—the part that encouraged her to stay with Joffrey even when he was clearly a monster.   

Sheltered by her own confidence, her thoughts turned to Sandor. She remembered his time with the Lannisters and her memory became contaminated with vivid recollections, some real and others imagined. She supposed he always wanted her if the looks he sent her were any indication of desire. She hoped they were.

Sansa turned her head and her nose touched the pillow. She inhaled Sandor’s scent. He brought her into his room with the intention of fucking her like she was his woman. There was so much musk and sweat and iron. He was a man, wasn’t he? Surely, he came on these sheets at least once, either by his own hand or by through another woman. She stifled her jealousy at past indiscretions that may have never happened or at least occurred before her time with him. Her hand trailed down lower. She bit her lip but then released it. She wanted him to hear her.

The thought of Sandor barging in mid-fantasy was enough to get her coming. Instead, she thought about Joffrey. Throughout their relationship, she forgave him for crimes that were hellworthy. She would not let this matter go.

Whenever the notion of separation came to her mind, Sansa defeated them with her own doubts. She could not bear to explain to her parents about the matter of their break-up. She feared that doing so would cause her to fall apart. She also imagined the complete destruction Joffrey would do to her reputation. The pictures he took of her, the way he would speak about her if they left. They would believe him. He was so good at playing the part of the prince. With the exception of a few, her classmates would decimate her socially.

To leave him, she would need to ruin him. His grandfather was too good at saving his reputation, there was no way a simple scandal would be enough. Sansa alone would be powerless to make such an occasion occur. Yet, she did not need to be alone. Sandor was there. Sandor, who wanted her and protected her and felt so guilty about leaving her the first time. He would not let her go back to Joffrey or any of the Lannisters.

Sansa dug another finger into herself and came. For the longest time, she laid on his bed and imagined their life together. She was such a child but at fifteen, everything was forever and everything was the future.

With shaky legs, she got off the bed and wandered through his flat. Instead of being in his bed, she found him with a glass of whiskey looking over some papers.

“Working?” She suggested. Her presence surprised him and he got up with an expression to kill. She pretended not to be scared and walked towards him.

“Thank you,” she said, for the hundredth time. “For everything. I can’t remember the last time someone treated me so kindly. You are such a good man, Sandor.”

“No, I’m not.”

He wanted to keep their interactions curt. She knew why and yet she could not allow him this victory. She touched his arm. He winced. He was seconds away from removing her hand when Sansa told him that she would like it if they kept in touch.

“Joffrey…I cannot imagine the things he has planned for me when he sobers up. I think I could use a friend for next time.”

What?” Oh, his deep, raspy voice almost shouted that. “You’re going back to him?”

Sansa played up her reluctance. She hesitated for the just the right amount of time before slowly nodding. “I…I don’t have much of a choice. Joffrey, his family could ruin me. And, if my parents found out what he did, they would never forgive themselves. I’ll just wait it out. He’ll grow bored with me. I’ll attend a different university and then it will all look natural.”

She continued her excuses, knowing full well by Sandor’s tightening fists that he was growing more frustrated by the second. She ended her rant by telling Sandor she was thankful for all his help, but—“You know how the Lannisters are. You left them for it. I don’t have that luxury.”

For that last comment, Sansa felt remorse. It was wrong of her to use his guilt to her advantage but it needed to be done. She would make it up to him later. She promised to make up as many sins as possible in their future.

Sandor behaved accordingly. He forced her to face him by grabbing onto her shoulders and keeping her in his grip. The roughness was familiar but the concern was not.

“You’re not going back to him,” he ordered. “Over my dead body.”

He took Sansa’s breath away with that declaration. She responded by raising up her hands to remove his.

“I wish you didn’t leave,” Sansa whispered softly. “I would have liked it if you were by my side instead of Joffrey.”

In the following year, Sansa would come to the realization that Sandor, for all his strengths, considered her his greatest weakness. She was right—he had always wanted her. The thought of watching her get hurt while he was powerless to stop it forced him to leave—leave before he could develop anything of substance for her. Yet she was here now and offering him everything he had ever wanted. He owed the Lannisters nothing.

Sandor pulled Sansa into a lustful, long-awaited kiss. Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck and further the kiss. Patience lost, he took her to the couch and caress her body with care and precision. He was not used to ladies, but he tried his best to treasure her. Sansa doubted they would get far tonight, but she knew the gears were already in motion.

When they parted he moved onto her neck. Sansa sighed in pleasure.

Sandor leaned into her ear.

“I’ll take care of it,” he promised.

Sansa allowed herself the freedom to touch Sandor wherever she pleased. He controlled himself. She was still fragile from that night so he would let her be in control. She touched his scars, some no older than a day and the tingles down her spine were relentless. She was sure he would take care of everything.

-

Sansa’s driving is impeccable when she reaches Sandor’s apartment. She received a traffic notification about an accident on the freeway and had to take the longer route. She is good about keeping her alerts. She still remembers hearing about Joffrey’s disaster over the news. He was hospitalize for two weeks. All at once, his secrets came out on his deathbed. No one knew where the sources came from. No one except for Sansa and Jojen. When Joffrey woke up from his coma, Sansa’s stomach dropped in fear but she pulled through when it became clear that no one expected them to stay together. He was damaged goods. Footage of his vile behavior came to light. Someone leaked a video of him verbally abusing Sansa. (She would forever be grateful it was not a video of a post-beating. The point of this was for her to leave gracefully, not be the victim). He should have died—his reputation would have stayed intact.

Stepping out of the car, she sees one of Sandor’s neighbors wave at her. She waves back with a smile. The days where Sandor kept her under his shadow were over. No one would dare harm her now, not when she became Sandor’s ‘woman.’

She opens the door to his apartment and he is cleaning something he doesn’t want her to see. He keeps the case cover up. When she makes her presence known, he puts everything away to devote his attention to her.

She walks over to him and kisses him with the same passion she carried that night. He kisses her back and carries her to his couch where he lays her down and climbs on top of her. They shared no words when he takes off his shirt for her viewing pleasure. He lifts up her shirt so that it bundles beneath her breasts.

“I love you,” she confesses when he licks her stomach.

Sandor tells her that he knows. He pauses from his ministrations to ask her what she wanted from him.

Sansa pulls herself up by wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him. “This,” she rasps out. “I wanted the choice to have you,” she confesses. She is so vague. She wonders if he will understand what a cruel person she has been and if he did know, did the love he carried for her make up for her sins.

“What happened?” He asks again.

“I’m not a good person,” she tells him instead of explaining.

Sandor scoffs. “Compared to me, you’re a saint.”

Sansa laughs in spite of her sorrows. She continues her advances until they are making love on the couch and on the floor and somehow manage their way onto their bed. Once she is in her right mind, she confesses everything to Sandor—about Jojen.

“I have to stop him before he gets too close to Bran. He already made his advances.”

 “You won’t tell your family, will you?”

Sansa grimaces. “I have no proof. And he knows things about me that I can’t let go. He knows about Joffrey. He might know about more.”

That was bad, thought Sandor. He sighed. “Do you need me to do anything?” Sandor offers without hesitation. Sansa puts it under consideration.

“We’ll see. But I won’t let him hurt my family again. He’s insane.” Sandor pushes her hair away from her face.

Sandor did not bother asking about the details last year. He saw how distraught Sansa was—how overwhelmed she was when she discovered that no one believed her. He would never doubt her. Yet, he felt that if he was going to join her crusade, he needed to know more.

“What happened with Jojen that night?”

For the longest moment, Sansa said nothing. She stared off into space with dead eyes before she answered him.

“He tried to rape Bran.”

Chapter Text

"When Jojen finalized the details of his second date, he thought it proper to schedule a session with Dr. Lecter. He was pushing his luck avoiding him. Meera was growing suspicious. Jojen made an appointment for 9:00 AM. Dr. Lecter was no stranger to odd hours—his afternoons were racked with psychopaths, his nights a playground for prey, and the only leisure he had that entire week was held exclusively for an adoption agency. When he received the call, dead at night and on short notice, a flash of anger came upon him. The behavior was quite rude. Nonetheless, Jojen apologized profusely for his interruption of Hannibal's pre-coital rituals. Grievances were forgotten. 

Jojen was one of his favorite patients; he deserved companionship for his hardships and a mentor to smooth the ridges of his craft. He accepted Jojen’s explanation for his abruptness.

“You were right, Dr. Lecter. Having Bran by side has released me from my shackles. I believe my progress warrants one of our…special conversations.”

Dr. Lecter nodded though there was no one to see. He was having a nightcap— dressed in his pajamas while his lover slept on their Egyptian cotton sheets, waiting for Hannibal with his legs spread. “I am delighted to hear that.” Hannibal listed his sparse availability and Jojen agreed upon the early slot. Before the boy hung up, the psychiatrist invited Jojen over to his house. If they were partaking in each other’s company—alongside the crooning birds who only knew the sight of the sun and the smell of dew grass—they should aspire for optimal comfort.

“I will make us breakfast.”

“I’d hate to inconvenience you.”

“Nonsense,” Hannibal assured. “There’s nothing more delectable than having a guest over.”

-

Jojen arrives ten minutes before his session. Dr. Lecter’s manor appears as if in the middle of an identity crisis. He has researched enough about Bran's interest to pick up a few things about art. From that, he assumes the house was built during the transition from the Romanesque period to the Gothic preference—as indicated by the flamboyant arches that frame the doorway and windows, while the severity of slaughtered men decorated the frescoes. Jojen found the image quaint. He knocks on the door twice. It occurs to him that he should ring the doorbell instead—the house must be as grand inside as it is out and his physician may not have heard his call. When he settles on the idea of pressing the ringer, the thoughts are for not. He can hear Dr. Lecter’s footsteps coming forward. When he opens the door, the man looks established. He wears what Jojen can only describe as dress pajamas. 

“I apologize for not receiving you earlier. I wanted to finish setting up the table.”

Jojen tells him that the wait was no grievance. He is led to the kitchen, where an immaculate dining table is set up. On top of it is their beautifully displayed meal. Dr. Lecter describes the entire expenditure as “sourdough focaccia with mozzarella di bufala and tomatoes paired with a dipping sauce of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.” To add practicality to the luxury, he prepared sausages made of pork, jalapenos and mango for protein. On the side, there are two cappuccinos with a leaf drawn in the foam.

Jojen expresses his gratitude. The smell is mouthwatering. “This is too much, Dr. Lecter. I hardly deserve such extravagance.”

“I aim to make my patients as comfortable as possible. I find good food elevates any conversation. Please, have a seat.”

Jojen complies.

The kitchen has large windows that display a view of the yard—several hundred square feet of trimmed foliage and the greenest grass Jojen has ever seen--even on the Stark estate. Dogs are scattered throughout the area. They howl, bark, yip—whatever it takes to capture their master’s attention.

“Your husband does not mind you having breakfast with another man?”

Dr. Lecter blocks his smile with his fine china and steaming café. “My Will understands how important it is for me to take care of my patients.” He puts down his cup. "They tend to get unruly when I don't give them enough attention."

Jojen would be more worried if he gave them too much attention--like him. He takes a bite out of his sausage. The sweetness of the fruit melts on his tongue and he almost moans from the contrasts of the spices. “He is missing out. Are you sure you don’t want to invite him in?”

Dr. Lecter shook his head. “He prefers the company of the canine variety. Who am I to deny him?”

Jojen finds himself agreeing with the unseen man. The species have become quite endearing as of late. “You have quite a few dogs. I never expected that of you.”

“Oh?”

“You carry the air of a man who abhors disorder and chaos. I imagine those creatures must shed more fur than mountains do snow.”   

Dr. Lecter chuckles. “They are a handful,” he admits. “But they serve their purpose well.”  

“For protection?”

“For my husband,” The Lithuanian dips his bread into the oil. “They keep him happy. For that reason, they bring me joy. On occasion, they make worthwhile companions on a hunt.”

Jojen watches one of the Saint Bernard’s tackle their comrades. Whimpers echo in the air. Dr. Lecter’s husband orders them off with a manmade whistle. Jojen finds their obedience impressive and voices his approval. "Are they trained?"

"Only by my husband's loving touch. They are not bad for a pack of strays.”

“No purebloods or pedigree?”  

“None.”

Jojen grabs the focaccia. The display is too beautiful—he takes no pleasure in ruining the image. Dr. Lecter has no such qualms. Jojen keeps his bites small to avoid crumbles.

“Tell me about Bran,” Dr. Lecter asks once they are halfway sated. “The last I heard of you, you were taking him on a date.”

Jojen wipes away the cheese on the side of his lips. “I took him to a physics lecture. We were about to kiss but he had a family emergency.”

“You choose an area of expertise to display your prowess. A move of the old, but effective I assume?”

“He had stars in his eyes when I spoke,” Jojen sighs. “I couldn’t keep my own off him.”

"Love is an opiate found in the deepest tunnels of the lucidity, that make men leap into despite the threat of treachery. I found that even the greatest minds will crave the sharpness of Eros’ point.”  

Jojen smiles. “And you, Dr. Lecter? Were you such a victim?”

Dr. Lecter does not answer the question directly. He cuts off a piece from the final half of his sausage. He asks Jojen if the boy is familiar with East Asian folklore.

“I can’t say I am.”

Dr. Lecter’s fingers twitch. “There is a common belief in Japan that lovers are joined together by the ‘Red String of Fate.’ According to this myth, the gods tie an invisible red cord around the fingers of destined lovers. In Chinese myth, the string is wrapped around their ankles and connects soulmates to each other—regardless of their intentions. Death has knuckles and joints connecting to every living being on this earth.”

Jojen raises an eyebrow. “Sounds ominous.”

“For those destined for brutality and misfortune, that is true. But for those who are loveless and whose pleasures are unreciprocated, it is their highest advantage. No matter where we are in this world, the thread that keeps our gloves intertwined remains intact.”

If I am meant to be with Bran than I shall be with Bran, Jojen translates. Dr. Lecter is a monster who blooms flowers on his tongue. Jojen blossoms under the lyrics; whether he becomes a rose or a flytrap is up in the air. He hears the door open and Dr.Lecter's husband makes his appearances. The man hesitates when he sees the two of them.

“Am I interrupting?”

An American, Jojen notes, whose accent holds a drawl Jojen has only heard in movies. Dr. Lecter smiles at his spouse. “Not at all. We are not even finished with our breakfast.”

Will walks over to get a cup and some ice. “Well, I’ll leave you to your own devices.”

Jojen says nothing as the man walks pass him to get to the other room. Up close, Jojen admires his handsome face—his blue eyes are as wide as a baby deer's and he has the softest curls he has ever seen on a man—Bran’s cousin included. His skin is ivory, much like Bran’s own, and there’s a fragility hiding underneath his iron exterior. Jojen makes the mistake of staring a bit too long and they lock gazes. For the brief second, Jojen feels himself being invaded—as if someone has possessed his body for observation but not purpose. He turns away for the sake of survival.

Will says nothing.

Directing his attention back to Dr. Lecter—the bastard is smirking and Jojen is not naïve enough to believe it has nothing to do with all-seeing spouse—he compliments the man for his choice of partnership.

Dr. Lecter, who has been a proud man for as long as Jojen knew him, never looked more gratified by a compliment. “For as long as I have walked this earth, I have found no finer creature.”

“I assume your years on earth vastly outnumbers his?” Jojen quips. He drinks his coffee and avoids looking at Dr. Lecter. Jojen’s tongue has been running amuck as of late. Though hardly a child bride, it is obvious that there’s an age difference between the two. While Dr. Lecter is the epitome of gentlemen and an icon for silver foxes, his spouse is comparable to a waif, a certain youth-driven boldness that comes with being acquaintances with Death but not friends.

Jojen hopes Dr. Lecter does not take too much offense.

“Careful Jojen,” Dr. Lecter warns, though his tone remained civilized, almost jesting. Jojen sighs in relief. He does not need to be this man's enemy. “I’ll let that bit of rudeness slide this time but be careful.

Jojen says he is sorry without meaning it. He does not know why Dr. Lecter chose to move into a dead county to restart his practice but Jojen understands that like the universe, there are some questions that will never have answers. All he needs to know is that Dr. Lecter, on the same degree that people admire colors that are not their favorite, likes him. They spend too much time conversing about non-therapeutic subjects for his assumption to be anything but the truth. 

“How did you seduce your lover?” Jojen wonders. Will unnerves him in the same way that Sansa or Robb or most of the members of House Stark unnerves him. They all carry dark spots in their souls but the majority of them bask in a golden glow of goodness. Jojen, who has not known the light since his childhood—an estimated year before his mother was first institutionalized—is not sure how to handle that.

Dr. Lecter’s best advice is no advice. “I do not believe my methods will prove effective in your situation.”

“He was your patient, wasn’t he?”

“In my defense, he was an extraordinary patient.”

Jojen sighs as if he is disappointed in the doctor—a part of him is. He suspected that a man as mad as Dr. Lecter would not settle for anyone less than absolute godliness and the only way to seek such perfection is to know the person’s mind intimately.

If only the story was not so cliché.

Jojen shakes his head to avoid lingering on those thoughts. Instead, he finishes off his meal. On his last bite, Dr. Lecter asks about Jojen and Bran’s first meeting.

Before he answers the question, he pauses. He puts his fork down and offers to put it in the sink. Dr. Lecter allows him but pushes the question once more. “I assume the memory is as clear as the pools of an empty pond.”  

“A pond that is too clean won’t have any fish,” Jojen jokes from the counter.

Dr. Lecter’s lips twitch in amusement. "Is it not worth the satisfaction of an untouched drink?" 

Jojen reminds Dr. Lecter that he already knows how they met. “Last year, when Sansa brought me over for tutoring. She needed help on her physics A-Levels but didn’t want her parents to know she was struggling.”

“And so you were hidden in her room for the time being, away from sight.”

“I didn’t mind. Sansa was my friend.”

“Funny how often our close friends become our deepest enemies.”

“If only we could all be tied together,” Jojen quips.

From afar, there’s a contemplative look on Dr. Lecter’s face. Jojen pretends not to see and runs water on his plate. He returns to his seat while he ponders the circumstances. Jojen assumes that the question is another one of Dr. Lecter’s mind games and attempts to discover the trick before he answers. Jojen, for all his foresight, can only scratch the surface of the curious façade. He formulates a response in his head. There’s no going back in Hannibal’s mind maze. Dr. Lecter waits patiently for the tale as if does not expect a fabrication. Together, they have found the equilibrium of not trusting someone and being their friend.

For the purpose of throwing off his not-friend, Jojen starts telling the truth.  

“It seems you have caught me, Dr. Lecter."

Dr. Lecter has a glimmer in his eye. He wants to see where Jojen takes this. 

"To be perfectly honest, I met Bran a while ago. My father…suggested that I keep the fact to myself. He said that if I told them the truth, the incident would appear premeditated.”

Dr. Lecter is intrigued. “You never said anything before.”

“I was afraid you wouldn’t sign off on my recovery,” Jojen lies. Truth be told, he never trusted Hannibal enough not to delve deeper once he realized how messed up Jojen was. Since reuniting with his love, Jojen has aspired to be better—if only for Bran’s sake. The frequency of his deliveries have been cut in half and he spends more time with his studies than ever. He smokes less, snorts less, masturbates more. He hopes Hannibal does not let his efforts go to waste.

“Tell me about it.”

Jojen remains unflinching.

“We met at a hospital,” Jojen reveals at first. “When my mother was institutionalized.”

“How long ago was this?”

Jojen sighs. “Bran had just gotten into an accident—the one that caused him to lose his legs.”

“And your mother?”

“First your patient and then my mother? You are better than this, Dr. Lecter.”

Dr. Lecter chuckles. “My dear Will calls it ‘lazy psychiatry.’” 

“He and I have that in common.”

“Nonetheless, I will insist you answer. With each honest statement, the fruit of denial further shrinks into the distance. You want that, don’t you? To be cured of the proclivities that may lead you to harm whom you love? Proclivities passed down by your maternal lineage?”

Jojen tries not to glare. “You know why my mother was there.”

“Remind me again.”

Jojen contemplates a lie. He wonders what Dr. Lecter would do then. After a moment, Jojen tells him the truth.  “The first time she was institutionalized was because of her depression. She tried to kill herself after Meera was born. The doctors said it was PTSD. Two years later, I came into this world and it got worse. The doctors tested her—turns out she had a bipolar disorder all along.”

“What happened afterward?”

“They gave her medicine," Jojen repeats what he has been told. It was a long time ago. "At first, everything was fine. She took it for the first few years without complaint. Then, the medicine stopped working so they changed her dosage. She didn’t take to it well. The pills made her sick; she used to throw up every morning and night. She had these tantrums. She decided to stop taking them when it became too much for her. Dad was furious when he found out."

"How did he find out?"

"He caught her flushing her medication down the toilet. I was in my room. He came home from delivering one of his pieces and found out that she clogged it." Jojen chuckles. "She threw the entire bottle down the hole."

"How did he react? Did he yell loud enough for you to retreat underneath your covers? Or did he try to inject reason into the madness?"

Jojen wonders how he should answer that. "He was not so much angry about the pills as he was about the fact that I wasn't fed yet. My mother was too busy cleaning up her mess to get me lunch. He sent her to the hospital after that." Jojen has always been careful about using the word 'sent' and not 'forced.' 

“I assume she didn’t respond favorably.”

“Fought him kicking and screaming.”

“Do you resent your father?”

“No.”

“No?”

Jojen has been asked this question before, mostly by the numerous psychiatrists he had been assigned to before Dr. Lecter and a few relatives who knew of his situation. His answer is unsatisfactory. They always think he is hiding internal resentment for the man who took his mother away—never mind that doing so saved Jojen and Meera's life.

“My father did what he had to do.”

“A mature assessment. Your father must be proud of you.”

“He tells me so.”

For as horrible as Jojen is to his father, for the blood bags and scrolls of shame, the man has never loved him less. He knows he would not be alive if it were not for his father. His mother didn’t want children. His mother wanted a husband. His father, on the other hand, wanted children. His father did not need a wife.

Dr. Lecter moves on. “When you met Bran, how did you know he was the one?”

“You don’t believe in love at first sight, Dr. Lecter?”

“Whatever I believe in does not exist in our conversation. Your world is of your own making, Jojen. The laws of attraction are formulated in your design.”

“Like a god,” Jojen muses. “If you truly believe that, one might question your moral boundaries, Dr. Lecter. How do you stop a man who fancies himself divinity?”

“The same way an ant would protest a lion’s touch.”

Jojen laughs for that joke. He proceeds to disagree with Howland’s analysis. “If there is any holiness in the world, it is held under the protection of Bran’s body. To say otherwise is sacrilege. I saw it in him when he was being wheeled into the emergency room, decked out in halos with his fingers clenching onto the sheets. He was fighting for his life. I visited him in his room and his body was ice but his mind burned with the sun. His wings were clipped by fate and yet the flush of earth’s finest roses appeared on his cheeks.”  

“What else?"

Jojen complies. “I visited in his room after he stabilized. He was in a coma. Doused on anesthesia and painkillers, morphine and dreams. I touched his hand for a brief second and I swear, he grasped onto me. I will never forget the feeling—” Especially not after their date. “—then I bent down and kissed him. His lips pursed. His eyelashes fluttered for a second. Then, the heart monitor began to beep. I kissed him again; I saw the world in a different color. He started to wake up—I thought I was in a fairy tale.”

“He woke up for you.”

“It was as if I was meant to be there." Jojen smiles to himself.

Dr. Lecter puts his own plate away. Such an action was long overdue. He asks Jojen another question and he makes it sound so casual, Jojen almost believes he intended polite conversation.

“Did you seek out Sansa Stark on purpose?”

Jojen is quiet. He chose honesty with the intention of unsettling Dr. Lecter’s opinion of him but must deal with the consequences of digging his own grave. He wonders if his past virtue warrants him a piece of vice.

“No.”

Dr. Lecter seems bemused. “I thought we were being honest with each other.”

Jojen captures his eyes and after an unrelenting staring contest, looks away. “How can you tell when I am lying?”

“A gift I have no qualms about flaunting.”

Jojen sighs. “I was not the one who sought her out.”

“No, she did. She needed a tutor and you responded to her request. But you had no intentions of befriending her and no need to make her trust you...that is until you heard her name?”

“I thought it was fate,” Jojen admits. “I had not seen Bran in years. I wondered about him every single day. Any news of the Starks that appeared in the papers, online, anywhere, I read for the sake of a single line or a glimmer of his figure. Then, she came to me. She asked for my help. She invited me to her house.”

“And what did you do, Jojen?”

Jojen is responsible for all wrongdoings; he has been told that enough times to make himself believe it and it is only under the doctor’s guidance that he realizes the truth. Dr. Lecter has provided him with a new set of lens—one that forces him to come to terms of his own faults and the vices of others.

“I knew if she trusted me, she could take me to Bran. I did things for her I wouldn’t do for anyone who wasn’t my family.”

“But your intention was to have her as family.”

Jojen nods. “I was close. If not for my own recklessness…I would be with him by now." Jojen is sure about that. "She was going to bring me over to her house to celebrate the success of her A levels. 'Finally!' I had thought. I was going to meet Bran outside the whispers of the walls. He said my voice was beautiful, did you know that? That’s all he’s ever known of me. Yet when we exchanged numbers, he did not recognize my voice.” Jojen tightens his fist. The bitterness can be tasted on his tongue.

“Yet,” Dr. Lecter pushes. “You could not help yourself.”

Jojen does not answer. He refuses to indulge in the nightmare. That was the past; he refuses to settle for anything less than the glorious future set ahead of him. He does not want to play this game. Instead, he takes the initiative and asks the next question.

“Do you think I should tell him the truth?” He wonders. The thought has been on his mind for a while. The lies will eventually resurface. He will not keep Sansa silent forever. Catelyn Stark will sooner murder him. But he needs Bran like he needs air and earth and honey and stars—for nourishment and joy, Bran has to be by his side.

“If the circumstances come together, why not grasp the opportune fortune?”

“He might hate me.”

“There are no obstacles in the trial of love that are impossible to overcome.”

Jojen chuckles. “You sound like a romantic.”

“I am a champion.”

Jojen looks in the direction of the living room where Dr. Lecter’s lover awaits him. Ah…he would be the expert, wouldn’t he? They continue their discussion in Dr. Lecter’s study, where Jojen sees a collection of fearsome pictures. He cannot recognize the artistic technique nor could he pinpoint the influence. “Bran would love these,” he mutters. Dr. Lecter critiques him.

“It is rude to mumble.”

Jojen speaks up the second time. “Bran would love your work. He was classically trained before he switched to comic art. He’s thinking about going to art school.”

“He might like Paris,” Dr. Lecter suggests.

“Paris is very far away.”

“I prefer not to linger on the distance but the atmosphere—it is the perfect place for a pair of young lovers to settle down discretely.”

Jojen’s lips twitch. “Oh?”

“Yes, I went to school there before joining John Hopkins for my residency. They have a few notable universities—and you could always pursue your graduate studies elsewhere.”

The notion is beautiful. He imagines a simple flat all to themselves, with white walls covered in Bran’s drawings and a balcony for Jojen to admire the open sky. He sees books scattered about a mattress on the floor because it is too much of a hassle to climb out of bed in the morning and they could barely keep their hands off each other to try. The place would be dirt cheap and small as a mouse’s home but perfect because Bran was there and that was all that mattered.

“It would be perfect,” he says out loud. He waits for a moment and as Dr. Lecter settles into his chair, he decides that for his second date with Bran, he wants it to resemble their future.

“I’m going to tell Bran,” he confesses as soon as he sits down.

Dr. Lecter shakes his head as if Jojen was the child he never had.

What a foolish boy, the doctor thinks to himself.

-

After doing several extensive Google searches on Oberyn Martell, Robb decides that if he does not gain a new layer of abs and a voice as rich as Godiva, then he is not attending the dinner. For the following week, Robb has made the gym his second bedroom. He eats, breathes, and snorts up adrenaline like a junkie, doing mile long runs and weight lifting like he’s got an audition to be a Hemsworth brother. When his mother and father ask about his increased drive, he explains that he is training for rugby. He convinces them that since he has been assigned captaincy, he needs to set an example for his men. His father is the first to express his approval. He even suggests they eat healthier. While all the children are sugar addicts, they also grew up with two accomplished athletes who stressed the importance of activity. Robb feels guilty for lying to them but reassures himself that things worked out for the better. The change in diet actually encouraged Arya to eat with them occasionally.

When he is finished with his final session, Robb checks himself in the mirror. He knows the effects are kicking in—he caught Jon staring a few times while Robb had accidentally accosted him in his room, post shower, for towels or soap or whatever the fuck he said he needed. Willas may be handsome and have the arms of a Tennis pro but overall, Robb is the superior specimen. 

Unless, of course, he is being compared to Oberyn Martell. 

Robb analyzes his body and finds that while everything has expanded for the better, he is not fit enough to stand next to Oberyn Martell, king of men. Without a doubt, the Spaniard will make him look fat. He cannot afford to look fat in front of Jon. He finds himself getting angry as he scrutinizes the lard in his ass and his asymmetrical cheekbones. He simmers in his thoughts as if his mind is brewing a pot of sludge and defamatory statements. The worst part is that Robb is better than this. His mother and father raised him to never compare himself to the unfair standards propagated by the media. But this wasn't the media ruining him, this was about dealing with better-looking men in real life.

If his father was here right now, he’d tell Robb not to worry about it. He’d tell Robb that he was beautiful. And that anybody would look bad next to Oberyn Martell.

Sansa would look bad next to Oberyn Martell.  

Sighing, he makes plans for some pre-date stretching before his date. For now, he heads to the kitchen for a light energizer. His mother and Jon have been preparing him snacks every single day. He grabs a bowl of Jon’s homemade Vietnamese yogurt and a handful of strawberries and granola.

Before he can dig in, he hears the doorbell ring. Robb pouts, looking at the delectable reds that blend so beautifully with the golden honey and creamy whites. Fortunately, a maid catches him about to stand up and offers to get the door. She has always been fond of the eldest Stark.

Robb devours the bowl as soon as she leaves. He is halfway done with he hears a set of footsteps enter the room. Robb’s hackles have yet to rise. The staff members, while on good terms with the Stark, are not prone to chatting. He only turns around when he hears a smooth but unfamiliar voice.

“I hate to interrupt your meal, Robb Stark, but I’d like to have a word with you.”

Robb turns around, a bit wide-eyed and cautious. When he sees the individual, he is taken back at the sight of his ex-girlfriend’s brother in the kitchen, holding a picnic basket and a bouquet of flowers.

Chapter Text

 Robb is caught between the rock of brotherhood and the hard position of being a son. Ever since Bran's accident, Robb vowed to ensure his little brother’s happiness at any cost. He made this oath under the impression that Bran wasn’t Arya—there was no way Bran’s decisions would contradict those of their mother. The fourteen-year-old’s greatest act of rebellion to date was having a secret boyfriend—whom Robb was misled to believe was a sexless physics nerd whose love for Bran was reserved to soft hand holding and Disney worthy kisses—and yes he did read Bran’s texts.

But this is not some sexless physics nerd; this is Jojen Reed. Jojen Reed has brought flowers for Robb—and of course the older boy takes them because who doesn’t like flowers—in a show of good will and as payment for the older boy to listen to his side of the story. Robb is nervous, as one should be around a stalker and for the fact that he has a date to crash and this is not how he imagined the pre-ritual going. His nerves are chewing through his flesh and he needs sugar.

Having watched the Starks for weeks, Jojen pulls out a plate of tiramisu from the basket. He delivers it to Robb and Robb knows he should not take it—again, he has a date with Oberyn Martell—but damn it, he has been starving himself all week and he wants that cake. He grabs it and sets the cup aside his yogurt. He deserves two treats today.

Jojen takes Robb’s acceptance of his gift as a good sign. He grabs a seat beside the young man and waits for Robb to finish appreciating the first bite. Jojen recalls Meera baking Robb a cake for his 15th birthday because she could not afford anything else. Robb loved it; he acted like it was the best cake he’s ever eaten. Meera laughed when recalled the event. She told Jojen that Robb genuinely meant it; the older boy had eaten three cakes that night and could barely taste anything during his post-sugar high. Jojen remembers that though they’ve only met once and that moment was as brief as a glance, he respected Robb. And yes, perhaps he hoped him and Meera would have stayed together a bit longer for the sake of introducing Jojen to Bran, but he has made a resolution not to dwell on what could have been.

“Meera says ‘hi.’” Jojen begins with the neutrality of common ground. He is lying. Meera has not said ‘hi.' Meera does not know he is here. Jojen stifles his guilt with his own reassurances. He is quite confident that once his older sister is over the lies and betrayal and the whole ‘going behind her back to date Bran and ruin his recovery’ thing, she will want to say ‘hi’ to Robb. “She’s been wanting to visit, but with all the tension between our families…”

“Yeah, uh, she texted me.” Robb swallows and the taste is so good but the atmosphere feels so wrong.   

“Oh? Right, sure she did. You’re still friends.”

“Yeah, we are. Meera’s great. Is she, um, still dating that guy? With the…um…with the face. From her school?”

“Oh um…no. She broke up with him. She um…she wanted to focus on her studies. She’s starting her work experience next year.”

“I know.” Robb needs a drink. “She…uh…she told me she’s working at the reserves. The research sector. She told me that.”

“Of course she did. Right. Because friends tell each other things.”

“Yep.” Robb nods. “And we are friends.”

The two of them sit in silence. Robb puts down his fork and offers to get Jojen a cup of tea. “Um…since you’re a guest, I should get you some. But uh…I’ve never made tea before. I can try, though.”  

“That’s quite alright.” Jojen refuses to be worried about a man who is not only older than him but is deemed an appropriate supervisor for the love of his life. He winces when the pots fall out of place and the avalanche is heard throughout the kitchen. Jojen gets up and offers to make the tea for himself. Robb, who protests out of habit, is relieved when Jojen holds his ground and pulls out the kettle. Robb sits on the table and enjoys his cake.

“Earl Grey,” he requests once Jojen turns on the stove. It takes him a moment to realize that Jojen is neither the help nor Jon, who finds his spoiled behavior entertaining after the customary complaints. To his relief, Jojen does not seem insulted. Instead, the younger boy asks where the tea bags are. Robb points him to the second cabinet. The beverage acts as an icebreaker for Robb, who watches Jojen familiarize himself with the kitchen.

“Do you know how to cook?”

Without missing a beat, Jojen admits that he is learning. “I know how to make simple meals—pastas if I use the instant sauce, stir-fry, a few chicken dishes. My doctor offered to give me lessons if I wanted to improve.” Jojen pauses. Instead of going back to his seat, he stands, watching the water burn.

The elephant in the room trumpets and the sound is bursting and boisterous. Robb chooses to ignore the creature until the time is right. He compliments Jojen on the virtue. “I think that’s a good idea. Lord knows none of the Starks can cook.”

Jojen has a hint of smile on his face. The kettle whistles and Jojen moves to pour the water into the two tea cups. When he was retrieving the tea bags, he had the sense to take the sugar and the honey located alongside them. He brings the plate over to Robb. They sit in silence. Jojen takes a sip; he allows the liquid to burn his throat before taking the plunge.

“I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for about a year now. He was assigned to me after I was sentenced to a detention center for six months and I continued seeing him afterwards. He’s been...helpful.”

Robb swallows his tea to wash down the grudge of cream in his throat and the thickness of tension in his stomach. “That’s…good to hear. I’m happy for you.”

“Do you know why I was sentenced?”

Robb pauses. He selects his words with the precision of surgeon. “I’ve heard stories.”

“From Sansa? Or from Meera?” Robb understands the bias of both parties. He tries not to dwell on either heresy.

“Both. They were rather conflicting tales.”

“And the truth lies somewhere in the middle?”

“I suppose so,” Robb agrees. “But I doubt I’ll get there with you.” The last statement is intended to be a jest but sprouts out of his mouth like an accusation. Robb winces, not because he is guilty but because he is not. Meera is his dear friend but he trusts his sister. Meera would go to hell and back for her brother and she would defend him to her dying breath, regardless of whether he is innocent or not. It is faith in the law that keeps him from removing Jojen from his presence. The courts found him guilty but not of all sins. Sansa's pleas ring through his head at the same time Meera's reasoning—her desperate yet sound contentions are racked against each other. 

Jojen has no shame. He laughs. He thanks his lucky stars for a sister he does not deserve and a father whose loyalty extends not only to his family but to his friends and by some, dumb luck, his best friend reciprocate his devotion. He laughs because he knows he is one for one. Rickon will take his side. Sansa loathes him. He is left with Arya and Robb and he has the strongest inclination that Arya will swing in her sister’s favor but Robb—Robb, who grew up with the values of an honest man, who was taught that every person deserves to have his story heard, no matter how damning the evidence—he has a chance

“The truth is that I love Bran,” Jojen confesses. “That truth is that I’ve been courting him since the beginning of this summer and that we went on our first date last week. The truth is that I’m not going to stop seeing him unless he asks me not to and no one can tell me otherwise.”

“I know that’s the truth,” Robb finishes for him. “Or else you wouldn’t be here.” He stops. “Why are you here?”

“To take Bran out on our second date.” Jojen lifts up his picnic basket and a folder of unknown files. Robb is curious but Jojen pulls back the goods. He meets Robb’s eyes—an action intended to display honesty even thought there is none. “We’ve established one thing in the last twenty minutes.”

“And what is that?”

“That while I may not be an honest man, I am not a dishonest one either.”   

Despite the dire situation, Robb cannot help but quirk his lips. He credits Jojen with the cleverness his sister raves about. “Well then I am inclined to hear your side of the story.” Robb keeps his expression neutral. “Go on.”

There are a million places to begin so Jojen settles on the route most indicative of his sanity—the one riddled with half-truths and white lies. “Last year, your little sister asked me to tutor her on her A-levels. She didn’t want your parents finding out she needed help with her studies so we pretended to be working on a project. We became friends—or at least, I thought we did.”

“She thought so too,” Robb clarifies. His first instinct is to defend Sansa. His second is to care for Bran and that means provide Jojen with the benefit of the doubt, if only for the smile Bran has whenever he receives a morning text from the older boy. “She passed, if you’re curious.”

Jojen could care less. “I’m happy for her.”

Robb looks away for a second, as if to collect his thoughts, before turning back to Jojen and asking him how Bran plays into this story. He’s heard Sansa’s accusations—“He attacked him, Robb. I know what I saw. He snuck into his room like a rapist and fondle our little brother!” and Meera’s defenses—“The room was pitch black. Your staff confirmed this. Unless your sister is the latest advancement in evolution, I’m going to assume she does not have night vision!” Both continued their arguments for nights to come. Robb loves his sister, but the evidence was against her and even the judge considered her testimony to be unreliable. Meera fared no better. Who, but a Stark, understands the love one has for a brother?

“Bran was in the house during these sessions. I used to walk past his bedroom on his way to Sansa’s. Before long, I was making excuses to wander the hallways.” The memories of such days linger in his mind like the aroma of sugar and apples out of the oven. “I remember watching Bran huddled over a drawing or a book; he would use his laptop to look up creatures he’s never seen and create homunculi to decorate his walls. I became entranced.”

“So I’ve heard,” Robb notes with wry dismay “They found a number of photographs in your bedroom.”

“An imitation to keep my whims at bay,” Jojen justifies, hoping Robb does not consider his ‘whims’ to belong to a deviant. He wants to avoid sounding defensive. “I want-needed something to keep to memory. I admit,” he tries to chuckle, smile, or do anything to rid himself of the madness in his eyes, “I was overeager. But you have to understand, from the moment I saw Bran, there was no one else in the world for me.”

Hannibal advised him to heighten his pitch by the slightest degree to appear more honest. Eye contact, no matter how painful, is a must to be considered trustworthy. Before he arrived to the Stark’s main house, the two of them listed out plights to plea for Robb Stark. Robb is no stranger to forbidden love; if it was any other boy but Bran, he would have express his support from the start.

Except, this was not any other boy, this was Bran.

Robb keeps his distance nut he allows Jojen to continue.

“But Bran was thirteen and I was not. Those pictures were the closest I could get to the real thing; I couldn’t court him like I would a peer. I kept my hands to myself. This, I swear to you.”

“That night…”

“Nothing happened,” Jojen tells him. He makes the effort of swearing on his mother’s grave—may she never wake from the kiln she rests in. “I…heard he had a fever. I went inside his room to check up on him. I…may have touched his forehead—but I needed to see if he was okay.”

Robb narrows his eyes suspicious. “You expect me to believe that?”

Jojen sighs, as if he is exasperated, as if he was the one who was wronged. “I checked his temperature. He was on fire. He kept moaning for comfort and coolness. I tried to take the sheet off him and his shirt rose. I…may…I wiped off the sweat off his stomach. I did not mean to go beyond that, I promise. It just…it felt so good touching him.”

“So Sansa misunderstood the whole thing? She imagined everything?”

Jojen has offered his fair share of guilt. Any more admissions and Robb will never allow Jojen within ten feet of Bran. “I was willing to wait. I am willing to wait. After Sansa reported what she saw, the police went through my stuff. They saw the photographs and my writings and called it an obsession but it was not. Robb, I was infatuated and now…now I know Bran. My feelings have not changed except for the better.” He clenches his fist. “I know we’re both young. Bran is only fourteen. But I’ll wait for him forever. I don’t care if our first kiss happens tonight or in a hundred years. Please, regardless of what Sansa has told you, hear it from me. I love Bran and I will do anything to make him happy.”

Robb’s expression softens. His grimace has melted into a contemplative frown. His eyes are no longer accusatory but sympathetic. He is pained and Jojen relishes in his victory against Catelyn and Sansa Stark. Before he could dig the dagger deeper, the sound of the door opening alerts both the young men. He hears Bran’s chime through the halls. His father’s heavy footsteps follow.

Jojen remains still. He remembers his list. If he runs now, Robb will consider his actions cowardice and rule that his declarations from before are made of hot air. When Bran draws closer, Robb redirects his attention to Jojen and orders him to wait on the porch.

“I can stay,” Jojen affirms. He is too close.

Robb sighs; the breath weighs on Jojen’s mind. “Don’t worry; I’ll send Bran outside. You can have your date tonight.”

Jojen cannot leave fast enough. He dashes outside before anyone can see him. Left alone, Robb stares at his tea, cake, and yogurt. He takes a moment to consider what has happened and sinks his head in his hands. Bran’s wheels scratch the floor and Robb looks up for the sake of glaring. Bran responds to the glower with an innocent ‘hello,’ as if his boyfriend didn’t just accost Robb with his ‘ride or die’ speech and bribed him with tiramisu and flowers.  

The younger boy glances at the bouquet of sunflowers and coos at their loveliness. “Who are the flowers for?”

“Me,” Robb answers defensively. Just because he is the only person in this household not sucking cock does not mean someone won’t buy him flowers. “Your boyfriend gave them to me.”

Bran almost falls out of his chair. “What?”

Robb nods, staring at the flowers and wishing they were not laced with ulterior motives. The last time he got flowers was when Joffrey had sent them to Sansa as an apology gift but his little sister had thrown them in the trash. He retrieved them for the sake of brightening up the décor. His mother still receives blossoms from Mr. Baelish and if they were willing to utilize the gifts of one creep, they should do so for every other.

“He asked for my permission to date you.” An embellishment of sorts. He is sure that Jojen will continue courting Bran with the fury of a thousand hurricanes regardless. Yet, he has a soft spot for men in love, especially those who resort to viciousness to remove their obstacles.  

Bran gapes. He stares at Robb as if trying to catch him in a lie.

Robb informs him that Jojen is waiting outside for him. “He’s been waiting to take you on a second date.” Bran does not move. “You should hurry. He had a picnic basket. I don’t think it’s a good idea to let the food spoil.” When Bran still does not budge, Robb sighs. He gets up and takes ahold of Bran’s handles. He delivers him to the backyard porch where Jojen is nowhere in sight. Robb purses his lips, hoping the younger boy was not caught by a member of the staff and forced to flee.

“What’s that?” Bran points out. Robb sees an envelope on the couch, with Bran’s name written in the most illegible print Robb has ever seen. He is about to open it when Bran coughs, a forceful look on his features. He swipes it out of Robb’s hands. Robb’s little brother flushes beautifully. He tucks the letter into his chair and asks Robb to wheel him to the godswoods. Robb chuckles, wondering what event the maverick has planned for his sweet brother. His humor is lost when Bran asks Robb for a favor.

“You want me to do what?”

Bran brings out a blindfold hidden in the package. It’s the type of fabric sold as a gag gift in sex shops and pornographic catalogues. “He wants it to be a surprise.”

Robb chokes on air. He tries to protest but Bran masters the most innocent bow behind his head and his eyes are covered for Jojen’s surprise. He tells Robb that he is ready and Robb is too afraid of the answer to ask ‘for what.’ He swears that if Bran is entering a garden of debauchery and boxed dicks, Jojen will no longer have to worry about prison because Robb is sending him straight to hell.

***

When asked who his favorite artist was, Bran would answer relatively notable names in Pop Art such as Roy Lichtensten or Luis Toledo. He is not lying. Out of all the genres, perhaps, save works from the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood and their successors, he enjoys pop art the most. With every painting or sculpture, Bran is reintroduced to a world of vibrancy and business, of comic books, graffiti, trash, protest art, lifestyle collages. His parents are supportive of him to a fault. They take him to galleries and fly him out to auctions for the chance to acquire the real deal or a spectacular imitation.

Yet, while he is not telling a lie, he is not admitting the truth either. He respects those artists as inspirations and influences, but they’ll never provide the same joy for him as a sample of Dustin Nguyen or Fiona Staples’ print will. He wants the story, the expressions, the action and the drama; he wants to live the tale. It’s why got into comic books and graphic novels in the first place.   

Robb does not know this. All he knows is that when he releases Bran from his blindfold to the sight of over two dozen pictures posted on every tree in eyes’ view, Bran is the happiest Robb has ever seen him since the accident. His eyes are blown out of reasonable proportion and his mouth is as open as the moon. Jojen has just finished setting up their meal but the gallery is clearly the pleasure of the evening. The pictures are so perfectly aligned that even Robb is awestruck. He composes himself in time to exchange a nod of approval towards Jojen. Bran does not notice his older brother slip away.

Jojen initiates their date by moving Bran to their picnic blanket. Instead of removing Bran from his wheelchair, he prepares the softest shawl and wraps it around Bran for comfort. He adds a table stand to lay on Bran’s lap and helps set up a plate. He asks Bran what he would like, but the younger boy is too overwhelmed to decide so Jojen makes his decision for him. He hands him a mug. The boy takes it before realizing that he is not alone.

“W-what…are…how did you do this?” Bran gasps when he sees an autographed picture from Fiona Staples—a sketch of her character from Saga.

“People owe my cousins a lot of favors and my cousin owes me a lot of favors and so here we are.” Jojen is amused. “I must admit that most are copies, but there are a few—“
“Some of these are genuine?” Bran announces. Shock electrifies his body. “These must have cost a fortune! Jojen, you really didn’t have to!” Bran has been made aware of Jojen’s financials from the start. The older boy refuses to engage is superficial dishonesty. He does regret, however, the horrified expression on Bran’s face when he realizes the cost of these pictures. Copies were costly as well, but genuine pieces from these artists must be worth a fortune.  

Jojen laughs. “I only spent a bit to purchase the copies. Turns out some of my clients are quite charmed by the fact that I intend to make my boyfriend the happiest guy in the world. They were very generous with their tips.”

Bran blushes at the title. Boyfriend, he thinks. He cannot help but be amazed by his own fortune. Fourteen, and his first boyfriend is charming, smart, and ridiculously handsome.

Jojen refuses to listen to any more protests. He leads Bran around each sketch as if he is a tour guide, getting a ridiculous amount of details wrong and instead of finding his inaccuracies annoying, Bran is smitten by Jojen’s effort. He ends up correcting him half the time before assuming the role of the teacher. Jojen listens as if every word needs to be reprinted on an exam. Bran tries his best not to blush when Jojen calls him ‘wonderful’ and ‘blessed.’

They are on their last picture when twilight enters its last moments. The moon will rise and Jojen will have to leave.

The whole ordeal is tortuous because Jojen is forced to remain on the same land, knowing that Bran will always be at arm’s length but never within touching distance. He wants to kiss Bran senseless in the night. He wants them to sneak out into the godswoods for midnight trysts. He can do that, but before anything happens, Bran needs to know the truth. If Jojen reveals his living conditions, Bran will want to know why he did not say anything sooner. He will want to know why Jojen’s identity was kept secret when his father was such a pivotal member in Ned Stark’s life. If anything, they should be best friends.

Jojen wheels him to the picnic blanket, resting underneath the tree. He carries Bran off his chair so that he can position him against his chest. They lean on the tree and watch the day turn to night. Bran is hot—hotter than he was that night. This time, however, Bran was his. He cradles Bran’s hand. He presses his lips against the boy’s hair. The moment is coming. The sun dies and the moon rises into the night sky. It is beautiful, though only a quarter moon. Bran croaks his neck so that they can face each other.

The date has turned the Stark bold—he resembles the wolf on his family’s sigil. He leans in with the most forwardness he has ever drawn out of his life. Jojen will not make him suffer any longer. They kiss and the moment is tender. Bran is red and breathless when he parts. Jojen is breathless and insatiable. There’s a moment of unspoken agreement between the two of them. They are bundles of uncertainty and hormones. Bran clutches onto his hand. He opens his mouth and licks his lips. Jojen leans in with more force. They kiss, more ravenous of each other. Jojen cradles Bran’s body towards him. He slips his hands underneath his shirt. He wishes he could get enough but he fears such a sensation is an addiction without rehabilitation. Jojen craves and Bran wants.

Jojen growls. He cannot resist maneuvering their positions so that Bran is seated on his lap. There is no strength in Bran’s legs to support his body so he must fall on Jojen’s chest. Jojen makes no complaints. Bran is his for tonight. They partake their fill of each other. Bran, who is so inexperience in the realms of fantasies and deviances, acts on the instincts that are ingrained in all Starks. Jojen, true to his faith, is equally untrained in the act but relies on the images of his deepest desires. He has been Bran’s since the moment they've met, regardless of age restrictions and whatever propriety dictates.

Bran removes himself for air and despite Jojen’s attempts for more—the suckling on his neck is surely a purposeful attack on his sanity and the licks to his collarbone doubly so—Bran asks that they control themselves.

"Why?" Jojen growls.

The sound sends shivers up Bran's spine. He blushes when he tells Jojen that he wants their first kiss to be a wondrous moment by itself. He wants their first everything to special for what they are.

“Is that weird?”

Jojen protests the notion. Reality settled in. “No, you’re right. I want every moment to be special, too.”

Bran smiles so brightly, he makes the stars swoon. Jojen’s heart lurches and he knows the truth must come out. He swears that after tonight, he will never tell a single lie to him again if it means forgiveness. If Bran will let Jojen taste those lips for days to come, he will become the best man he can be for him.

What he does next is out of his control; he is out of fucks to give when he blurts out to Bran that they’ve kissed before.

Bran reveals a number of feelings on his face, but the two most prominent emotions are confusion and disbelief. “How—? Jojen, I think I would’ve have remembered—“

“Not if you were sick,” Jojen interrupts. “Not if you had a fever of 38 degrees and could barely remember your own name let alone the strange boy who crept into your room at night to watch over you.”

Bran does nothing. He tries to smile, but the reluctance is evident. His expression pains Jojen, who never wants to put such uncertainty on Bran’s face again. “Jojen, I haven’t been sick all summer. In fact, the last time I was that sick was…”

“Last year,” Jojen finishes. “When you were thirteen and I was sixteen. A year before I was sent to a juvenile delinquency center for stalking and harassment.”

“What?”

“Remember when Miles asked about my disappearance? It wasn’t about my mother. She died several years ago. She committed suicide—I wasn’t lying about that. But—she wasn’t—she had nothing to do with what happened between us. Between me and Sansa.”

“What? Sansa?” Bran is taken back. He pulls away as far as he can but his body is stuck. Jojen has forced him to hear the brutal truth and it hurts the older boy as much as it stabs daggers into Bran’s heart. “What does Sansa have to do with this?”

Jojen swallows. “If I tell you, you must promise to listen. You have to promise to give me an answer about us. I will never stop fighting for you to forgive me if you don’t and if you do, I will never stop making you happy.”

“Jojen, you’re scaring me.”

“Promise me, Bran. Please, I will take you home but you need to promise to listen.”

Bran is helpless. Jojen asks him again, “Promise me.”

After a pleading glance, a look that aims straight into his soul, Bran nods. “I promise,” he whispers.

Jojen sighs; he is relieved but he knows he should not be. The hard part begins now. Here is where the manipulation comes to hand, where the lies must become truths but truths Bran can appreciate and forgive. Even the most unforgivable crimes can be locked away in the mind palace if the love is strong enough; Hannibal and his husband are proof of that.

“Last year, I was sentenced to a year at a juvenile detention facility for harassment and stalking. I was released after six months on good behavior, but my restraining order stood until the beginning of this summer, when I was no longer required to stay sixty feet from Brandon Stark.”

Bran chokes. Jojen takes a few deep breaths.

With courage that surprises both of them, Bran asks the real question:

“What did you do to me?”

***

“Nothing that can ruin your reputation?” Jojen asked as he scanned Joffrey’s iCloud for injustice. There were hundreds of incriminating photos. He supposed that Joffrey’s grandfather must have the world’s busiest social media advisors to keep his grandson in check. Jojen had the grandest selection—substance abuse, animal abuse, domestic abuse was out of the question, but the rest was fair game. “I don’t think you have to be too worried about that. There’s enough on this phone to get him locked up in the bin for decades.” He removes a picture containing Sansa's bruised arm. 

Sansa told him to select only the best and to plan them accordingly. “If we release them all at once, it looks like sabotage. We can have reporters find them after the accident.”

“How are you so sure there will be an ‘accident?’”

“Sandor promised me he would take care of it. There is only one way a man like that takes care of things.”

“He takes care of you pretty well,” Jojen teased with a suggestive shimmy of the eyebrows. 

Sansa threw a pillow at his face. Jojen laughed.

Sansa’s phone received another text. She jumped at it before Jojen could beat her to it. It was a game they played. Jojen embarrassed the shit out of her and Sansa pretended to care more than she did. When he saw the disappointed look on her face, he knew who the sender was immediately. She tossed the phone on the side. From the glare in her eyes, she was praying it broke.

“Joffrey wants to meet up today. He says he has a surprise for me.”

“Can you turn him down?”

“I turned him twice this week already. He’ll suspect something is amiss.”

“Oh, so I suppose facilitating a gang rape of his girlfriend doesn’t count as something ‘amiss.’” Jojen returned to his research. The apathy in his tone made Sansa envious. She wished she could sound so nonchalant while judging her companions. Jojen was impossible to read and Sansa was told she was an open book.

“He isn’t going to hurt me. This is his apology week.” Sansa grimaced. “He hurts me and then he gets me to forgive him with gifts. If I accept the gifts, he calls me a whore. If I don’t accept the gifts, he berates me for being fickle.”

“So go,” Jojen advised. “Accept the gift and play the game.”

“Are you serious?”

“You want to take him down, you need to make sure he cannot tie any of his downfalls to you. Attend the masquerade. Besides, Sandor will be encouraged to move faster if he sees you’re still with him. He loves you.”

Sansa was as red as her hair. “Stop it.”

Jojen repeated himself instead. “You know he loves you. He just needs motivation to act. Be his motivation, Sansa.”

Sansa giggled, the sound was as light of Christmas bells. He found the noise charming, if more feminine for his tastes. She took the phone and asked Jojen if she should text Sandor that she was going out with Joffrey.

“Definitely,” Jojen encouraged. “He’ll be mad with jealousy. Give him the locations as well. That way, he can keep track of you and it'll give the impression you're more afraid than you actually are.” Jojen added that if Joffrey saw her on her phone most of the time, he will assume the worst. That way, she would be able to provoke a violent reaction. “You want that, don’t you?”

Sansa, who was a lady and was taught to abhor violence, did desire such an outcome. She wanted to be fought over—and Sandor would kill Joffrey if the circumstance